A Lover of History   (2017Aug26)

BoucherAllegoryOMusic

Saturday, August 26, 2017                                                3:30 PM

A Lover of History   (2017Aug26)

I’m not a believer, but I sing “God Bless America” just as loud as anyone else—I love this country. And I admire its greatness—its ideals, its inventions, its victories, and its opportunities. When Trump says MAGA, he simply reveals his ignorance of America’s true and enduring greatness—something he has continued to do for over 200 days now.

America is a dream dreamt by most of the rest of the world—not the land, but the culture of freedom and inclusion and opportunity—that’s America’s greatness—and ironically, it is threatened by the very con-man who ran on MAGA. Big surprise, right?

But I don’t want to discuss that blimp today. I want to talk about seeing America with open eyes—seeing that, in spite of its many achievements, there is plenty to regret in its bloody and divisive history. We are currently at war with a country that surrendered to us sixteen years ago—and at war with another group borne of the fighting—that’s some sad, stupid shit.

But America’s history is not a pretty picture. Those of us with the luxury to sit around and post online all day, with a fridge full of food and an electrified house and good roads—we tend to forget that it took over four hundred bloody, horrifying years to get here—and if we’re not mindful, it will all go down the drain.

GiaquintoWinter

First, we killed off all the innocent native people, who lived here before we ‘discovered’ it. Then we set to shipping as much of the natural spoils (fur pelts, lumber, new products) as possible back to Europe. Britain and Europe sent criminals and refugees off to our country—just to remove such people from the civilized world.

Okay, that was glib—but let me just say that I still respect Americans who take pride in their pioneer and settler forebears—that process was a grueling one, demanding incredible courage and sacrifice. But it was also a bloody one—and the pioneers were, from the aboriginal viewpoint, merciless invaders.

Even when native Americans surrendered to the ‘civilized’ white people, it was always a lie—the colonists and later, the United States, would always make a binding pledge to their captives—and then turn around and break it—always. If one is proud of one’s heritage, it’s always dangerous to examine that history too closely.

Further, let me point out, the Europeans prized furs and lumber because they had denuded the European landscape of same—even without the benefit of industrial technology, human beings, like goats, can destroy an ecosystem simply by living there.

Also, the vast majority of immigrants (colonists) being criminals and refugees made for a rather anti-establishmentarian culture in the North American part of the ‘New World’. Eventually, we rebelled against the Church, the King, and wrote Founding Documents that specifically direct the citizens to keep firearms and rise up against the government again—whenever we weren’t happy with the people in charge. And people wonder why the United States has ten or twenty times the annual gunshot deaths of the rest of the world combined.

So, that’s just for starters—then we started kidnapping Africans, shipping them to America and making slaves of them. It seemed like a great idea at the time, I’m sure—but, in hindsight, it had a few problems. And slavery was the worst of it—but it was far from all of it.

BoucherAllegoryOPaintg

The white, English-speaking Protestants (along with the Dutch in New York) have always exuded a pompous, entitled discrimination against anyone from out of town—like Peyton Place people. They persecuted the Asian immigrants, the Irish immigrants, the Scandinavian immigrants, the Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, the Jewish immigrants, the Indian immigrants—I know I’m leaving a few out—Americans love their pet peeves.

Nor is this ancient history—as a child, I remember people discussing whether an Irish Catholic (John F. Kennedy—and me) could ever be elected president of the United States. But African-Americans still win—white America has, somehow, made a fetishistic art-form out of hating African-Americans.

We’re the only country with an entire region characterized by a nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of African-Americans in chains. We’ve had a hundred years of ‘the first Black this’ or ‘the first Black female that’—and you’d think Barack Obama’s two terms would put a period to all that, but no—there’s still some slots open for discriminating white people to take note of.

We even have a white nationalist movement—right now—that sees a leveled playing field as ‘reverse racism’—these are many of the same yahoos that complain that our religious-freedom-laws are an imposition on the freedom of their religion—no one has the heart to explain to these morons that that’s what it’s for.

But all the above is just human nature—we haven’t even started on how greed (aka Capitalism) has transformed our environment, our lives, and our laws—even our elections. But pollution, corruption, neglect, and community apathy are all much too complex, ingrown, and depressing for me to go into here and now.

All I’m saying is that America is neither simple nor easy, neither perfect nor perfectly evil—it is a struggle, a moral experiment, a system that bets on good against bad. It is complicated enough that sloppy-thinking, ignorant people like our president just get in the way of people of good will—the entitlement that makes them ignorant of our true character is the same entitlement that makes them a danger to the character of our nation.

GiaquintoAutumn

greatshakes

Denial   (2017Jun09)

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Friday, June 09, 2017                                               10:35 PM

During the Depression, it became obvious that business owners were a threat to the equality of the workers—but with the Red Scare, we managed to deny that—and denying that business owners are a threat is a founding pillar of the Republican platform to this day. When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a new awareness came to the public—an awareness that what we do, and the waste we produce doing it, and the poisons we use doing it—has an effect on the places where we live.

Even as we busied ourselves, learning to throw our trash into receptacles (instead of on the ground)—chemical and petroleum companies began to push back on the idea of ecology—denying that our use of natural resources could have any ill-effect on the Earth—or that resources would ever run out. And climate-change-denial is still a part of the Republican platform, as well.

It was different in the past, when big money and big business had an understanding ear in the GOP—now, it seems more as if the fat cats outright own the GOP—lock, stock, and ethics. The masses of people who overlooked the favoritism of the entitled for the promise of conservative, unchanging security—they have become dupes of those who would make great change—and most of it retrogression or partisanship. And now they have a crazy man in charge—it may take time, but they will come to see him as a dangerous man.

So many of our political footballs carry within them some sort of denial on at least one side of the argument—right-to-lifers deny that legal abortion is better than illegal abortion—climate-change-deniers ignore the preponderance of both scientific authority and evidence—marijuana-haters deny the probability that pot has many medicinal uses—gun-nuts deny that the ubiquity of guns has any connection to our sky-high murder rate—it goes on and on.

And these people have their arguments, their points-of-view—but seem, in the end, to simply deny something which they are uncomfortable accepting as part of their reality. I can sympathize—but I still think they’re wasting their own—and everyone else’s—time.

Improv – Woods Trails

Improv – High Notes

Bach – Prelude in C (with Improv)

Satie – Gnossienne (with Improv)

Improv – Maelstrom

 

ttfn.

More Than Anything   (2017May18)

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Thursday, May 18, 2017                                          1:45 PM

Humankind has a pretty long history—even the special case of United States history, alone, is a pretty thick almanac of ups and downs, bests and worsts—centuries of heroism and villainy, celebrity and infamy, achievement and catastrophe.

When Trump says ‘Never before in history…’, he does not speak as an historian. He is using the phrase ‘in history’ as a synonym for ‘very’. He is not merely being (laughably) ignorant when he claims his historical superlatives—he is also, subliminally, undermining the concept of history as meaningful archive. For Trump, a meaningful archive is a threat—evidence of the past.

For an old wheeler-dealer like him, the point of mistakes is to get people to forget about them—to gloss over any negatives and make that sale, close that deal—and move on to new sales, new deals. But for an elected official, the point of mistakes is to investigate them—to scour the records. It would be odd indeed if Trump were a history enthusiast—most of his mistakes have been made before.

But me—I am a history enthusiast—and Trump offends me on many levels, not least of which is his pretense of scholarship:

This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” – D. Trump

No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly…” – D. Trump

These are professorial wordings, usually used by someone who isn’t pulling facts out his or her ass—Trump uses the words of intellectual rigor, as if to give his bullshit respectability.

Getting down to cases: Mandela spent decades in prison before becoming South Africa’s president. Lincoln and Kennedy were both shot in the head. Hitler and Mussolini were ridiculed in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” so ruthlessly that the government tried to block its release in theaters.

If we want to talk history—Donald Trump may have a claim to being the biggest pussy ever to take office—as far as his other historic deeds go, we’ll have to wait until after the investigations to say with any real ‘surety’.

Obama – The Final President   (2017Mar08)

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017                                            12:06 PM

In 1941, when our country was attacked, FDR told us the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. After the war, Truman assured us that the buck stopped with him. Eisenhower, a former general who knew about such things, warned us, in his farewell address, that a military-industrial complex was commodifying violence and leaching our strength during peace-time. JFK inspired us to reach for the stars. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Nixon, while a crook, at least ended our military involvement in Viet Nam. Ford pardoned Nixon, but in his defense, he always pointed out that accepting a pardon was an admission of guilt. Carter helped us begin to accept responsibility for our effects on the environment and the planet. Reagan won the Cold War. Bush-41 freed Kuwait. Clinton defended abortion, saying it should be kept ‘safe, legal, and rare’, and signed the Family Medical Leave Act, and Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell—the first acceptance of gays in the military. Bush-43 enacted No Child Left Behind—an attempt to democratize our educational system. Obama recovered from Bush’s ‘great recession’, passed the ACA, and killed Bin Laden.

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As you can see, every modern president has made a significant contribution to our nation and to the world. By being responsible, semi-woke leaders of the free world, they all used judgement, insight, and patience to achieve things that few people have the character and determination to achieve. And those presidents had educated, responsible legislators to work with.

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So join me in having a good cry—those days are gone. America has been broken into tiny pieces by a bunch of selfish, ignorant hacks and poohbahs. The world laughs at us, as their ‘Igors’ go on TV and parse ‘alternate truths’ and unfounded libel against the former president. They hand us to the Russians for thirty pieces of silver. They rush to pass laws that allow coal waste to be dumped in our drinking water—but dither over ongoing lead-poisoning in Flint that is destroying the nervous systems of a whole generation of kids.

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Photo by Eric Draper, White House.

These evil cynics and hypocritical truth-twisters don’t need to be resisted—they need to be lined up against a wall. They call themselves conservatives—but they only conserve their bank accounts. They call themselves people of faith—but the only faith they have is yours (if you’re fool enough to give it to them). They confuse governing with poker—where lying with a straight face is an integral part of the game. They have no ethics. They have no honesty. They have no shame.

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(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And me? I was proud to be an American. There was a lot to be proud of. And we were just about to go on to even greater things. My dreams are shattered. My heart is broken. I see only darkness ahead. Where did this sudden lobotomy come from? Can we really blame the Russians for voting in this clown? And, if so, can we really expect his cronies to uncover the truth in these investigations? And even if we nuked Russia tomorrow, would that rid us of the yahoos that shouted ‘Trump that bitch’? I don’t think so. The explosion of racism in this country of late is all on us—election notwithstanding, we have people being violently xenophobic at every opportunity.

Stupid people have decided that they have a voice. And they do—it’s the voice of stupidity—and I have a message for them in return—shut your fucking mouth you stupid fucking asshole. I want America to go back to when stupid people had at least enough sense to respect intelligence, even when they didn’t understand it. And for all those of you who’ve gone all the way past crazy, to science-denial—here’s a special message for ya: Go eat a bag of dicks. I want my fucking country back.

The Dust We Stand On   (2017Feb04)

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Saturday, February 04, 2017                                             5:31 PM

So, I was reading about my hero, Joseph Henry, who grew up in Albany, New York at the turn of the nineteenth century. That got me interested in the history of New York State. Today I started reading one such history and it described the Native Americans of the area prior to First Contact with the West—the Iroquois and the Oneidas, Mohawks and what-all—what was the Five Nations and would become Six. It described their early agriculture—the Three Sisters, which were beans, corn, and squash—the beans climbed the cornstalks like a trellis and the squash leaves kept the moisture in the ground, plus their root systems descended to three different levels, so the three crops weren’t competing for nutrients.

The East Coast Native Americans were different from the Plains Tribes and others further West and South—and certainly different from the Natives closer to the Arctic Circle, up North. They lived harsh lives, from our perspective—but looked at differently, they lived in the ultimate health spa—living and dying exactly as nature had evolved them to live. They hadn’t even gotten around to metallurgy before the Europeans came along.

Yet there was a civilization—with a spiritual framework, a wide-spread confederation of oversight (one couldn’t call it governance—since their lifestyles precluded the need for taxes or prisons) and, more to the point, a society just as complex—and more humane—than any we have created or seen since.

It is melancholy to imagine what the Americans would have done with their land, left to themselves. A land without livestock, mining or metalwork—an incentive to live less bellicose lives. Who knows how that would have panned out, given some space? But now we’ll never know—and given the reality, we are fortunate that any record of their cultures survives (not that all of them have).

So, I’m going to slog through this pre-invasion history—and then try not to think about it, as I move forward to the more modern history of colonization and ultimate statehood. What else can be done—rewind the past? There’s no helping the fact that the birth of the United States was the death of something else, something that had a right to exist, something beautiful—but no one can undo the past.

The genocide, like Henry’s discovery of Electromagnetic Inductance, is both a foundation of the present—and entirely irrelevant to the present. It is now nothing more than dust—but it is the dust we stand on. A fascination with history can turn sour if we don’t keep our heads above water—there’s a limit to empathy and we are only human.

The early chapters of my history also describe the geography—the many lakes and rivers—particularly the Hudson River and the Great Lakes—and what a convenient harbor New York had at the mouth of the Hudson. It is strange to think that waterways, today, tend to be obstacles to transport rather than a means. The vast majority of international shipping still travels the oceans—but today’s technology makes inland travel almost entirely a dry-footed affair.

The Native Americans hadn’t much technology above the bow and arrow—but they had invented canoes (and moccasins—a technology the Europeans first ridiculed—then instantly adopted). And water was kind of handy to have around in those days, even if you didn’t travel. They had a great trail that went from Manhattan all the way up to Canada—today we call it Rt. 22, mostly—and 90% of New Yorkers still live along that trail. But when they weren’t walking, they were using the profusion of rivers and lakes that New York offered.

I read somewhere that New York State has the greatest diversity of trees of any state. I read somewhere else that an early European colonist once described flights of migrating birds so vast that they would darken the sky from horizon to horizon. Can you imagine what it was like back then? Virgin forests, pre Iron-Age culture—golly.

 

I feel a little jinxed, peering into the details of the improbable history of the Empire State—the stuff of legend, half of it, and the rest merely incredible—here at a juncture in time when the whole thing may be balanced on a knife edge—and only because the entire world as I’ve known it seems bound and determined to hurl itself into the abyss as quickly as possible. From what I can tell so far, what we call New York was a great land before anyone ‘discovered’ it—it became a colony and a state that was an empire unto itself, regardless of the federal government—and the tip of it became a city so busy with power and life that it, too, became an entity unto itself, outside of its state.

New York State is one of those things so large and diverse that we are taken unawares by the sudden realization of its existence—this massive determiner of so many destinies—so much a part of our lives that we hardly realize it’s there. And it is even easier to overlook, given that each of its nooks and crannies—particularly within the five boroughs—is a province unto itself.

New Englanders are known to be flinty, anti-social types—but they are a step down from Manhattanites, who are actively antagonistic towards their neighbors. Yet New York City remains such a gravitational force on the globe that we can excuse the inhabitants their need to be actively repellent—they need to make sure you really want to be there—it’s crowded enough already. And the pressure at the center of human civilization is not for the faint of heart.

It makes me superstitious—as a computer guy, I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning about things that disappear—old hardware, old software, old businesses that have faded away—all my precious knowledge becomes so much sewage clogging up my brain—and it’s not as if that stuff was easy to learn, dammit. And now, as I study American history—and my home state, no less—I feel a cold draft on the back of my neck—it could be melting ice caps, it could be Trump’s inability to resist the big red button—I can’t help worrying that I’m learning about something else that may disappear someday soon.

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper? (2016Dec14)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016                                               9:57 AM

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper?

During my reading of Joseph Henry’s biography, I’ve acquired a sudden interest in the history of New York State. As I researched the reference material, I ran across someone’s comment that there were scant histories of the state, which they found odd, considering its size and importance—and that would appear to remain the case. Amazon is strangely ungenerous when searched for the ‘history of New York State’ specifically.

The first book I came across was “New York” by James Fenimore Cooper. One passage stopped me in my tracks, right off:

“We are not disposed, however, to look for arguments to the debates and discussions of the Convention, in our view often a deceptive and dangerous method of construing a law, since the vote is very frequently given on even conflicting reasons. Different minds arrive at the same results by different processes; and it is no unusual thing for men to deny each other’s premises while they accept their conclusions. We shall look, therefore, solely to the compact itself, as the most certain mode of ascertaining what was done.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 190-193).  . Kindle Edition.]

I couln’t help thinking that nothing has changed in this regard—and that we are careless to overlook it. No matter what excuses or rationales are offered for a given legislation, all that truly matters is its effect. If poor people and prisoners can become ‘profit centers’ using the existing laws, then no amount of blather can forgive the fact that our laws promote a form of Capitalist slavery. If pro-business legislation gives power and security to businesses at the cost of fairness to the people, then such laws are unjust—and all the BS in the world isn’t going to change that.

Then I came to this part:

“A great deal that has been done among us of late, doubtless remains to be undone; but we are accustomed to changes of this nature, and they do not seem to be accompanied by the same danger here as elsewhere. The people have yet to discover that the seeming throes of liberty are nothing but the breath of their masters, the demagogues; and that at the very moment when they are made to appear to have the greatest influence on public affairs, they really exercise the least. Here, in our view, is the great danger to the country—which is governed, in fact, not by its people, as is pretended, but by factions that are themselves controlled most absolutely by the machinations of the designing. A hundred thousand electors, under the present system of caucuses and conventions, are just as much wielded by command as a hundred thousand soldiers in the field; and the wire-pullers behind the scenes can as securely anticipate the obedience of their agents, as the members of the bureaux in any cabinet in Europe can look with confidence to the compliance of their subordinates. Party is the most potent despot of the times. Its very irresponsibility gives it an energy and weight that overshadows the regular action of government. And thus it is, that we hear men, in their places in the national legislature, boasting of their allegiance to its interests and mandates, instead of referring their duties to the country.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 287-296).  . Kindle Edition.]

Déjà vu all over again, huh? Could our King Clown have won the late election if he had not, however contrivedly, attached himself to the Republican party? And how many Republicans, while eschewing Trump’s lack of ethics or character, were nonetheless still staunchly behind his candidacy, because he ‘stood’ for their party? The more things change, the more they stay the same, James old man.

Moreover, one of Trump’s endless empty promises was to abolish this partiality to party over public good, to ‘drain the swamp’—a problem he thoughtlessly claimed to be able to solve, in spite of the fact that Cooper saw its operation way back in the years leading to our Civil War, and attributed it, rightly, to human nature—which is something even Trump cannot ‘solve’.

I purchased two other references from Amazon: “Colonial New York: A History” by Michael Kammen, and “New York State: Peoples, Places, and Priorities: A Concise History with Sources” by Joanne Reitano. I’m looking forward to reading them, especially since I expect their prose to scan somewhat more lightly than that of James Fenimore’s.

There is nothing more exciting to a hopeful writer than to catch the scent of a hitherto-unexploited scenario, full of unfamiliar stories and strange new characters—and the history of the State of New York seems to offer just such a niche. With some notable exceptions, up to and including “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin, I believe it was Cooper himself who last took advantage of the wealth of material inherent in our State’s story.

 

psalms83

Fan Mail?   (2016Dec14)

As an unabashed and vocal atheist on social media and elsewhere, I sometimes garner the special attention of evangelicals—I consider it a point of pride that I can sometimes bother them more than the average atheist does.

Ms. Sue B. of White River Junction, VT, out of an abundance of solicitude for my immortal soul, has sent me a letter—well, an envelope, at least. Inside was a typical Jehovah’s Witness flyer, with exhortations about how much God cares for me and how He can make me a better family man. I examined it closely, wondering why a stranger would send me anything by snail-mail (with a Christmas stamp, no less) and have nothing personal to say—and there was a handwritten note added to the inside of the flyer. It said ‘see Psalms 83:18’.

 

Psalms 83 (A Song or Psalm of Asaph.)

 

Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.

For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:

The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarites;

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.

Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kishon:

Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.

Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.

O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.

Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.

 

The eighteenth ‘verse’ is that last line: ‘That men may know…’ The entire Psalm appears to be an exhortation to God to punish the unbelievers, to make us ‘as the dung of the earth’, or as wood burning in a fire—to make us afraid with His storms and fill our faces with shame and let us perish, etc.

Now, I don’t mind so much—that’s an old Book from a rough-and-ready era of history—from religious freedom these folks did not know. But it does strike me as rather snotty—here’s Jehovah, who is supposed omniscient and omnipotent, and then here’s his people, all in his face, telling him what he should do and which of his ‘children’ He should be smiting left and right.

I suspect this Psalm was authored by ‘management’—it has the flavor of an inter-office memo advising the staff not to decorate their desktops with personal items, family photos or potted plants. You know the type—always enhancing their own authority by reminding everyone he or she speaks for the big boss.

I consider it one of the obvious pitfalls of religiosity—if one serves the all-powerful, then one must have power, n’est-ce pas? If religious zealotry makes a person a ‘cop for God’, that person can spend a lifetime regulating the behavior of others, without having to waste an uncomfortable moment examining themselves. It’s literally a cop-out, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But all evangelicals have that velvet-glove thing going on: God loves his itty-bitty childwen—but if you don’t love him back, well, don’t forget to duck, brother. Some parts of the Bible are patently childish, making it clear that it was written long before people had the self-awareness to hear the ‘whine’ in their supplications, or the ‘mine!’ in their fervor.

So, Sue B., whoever you may be, I appreciate your concern for my waywardness—and I don’t much mind the slap on the ass that lies behind it. But you and I aren’t going to get very far, condescending to each other’s apprehension of reality. I chuckle (fondly) at your blindness and you chuckle at mine—we’ll both be fine if we don’t confront each other with ultimatums—that’s where the trouble always starts.

It’s ironic, really—my atheism was born partly from an overabundance of enthusiasm for my childhood faith, Catholicism. I was willing to be a soldier of Christ—hell, I wanted to be a Kamikaze for Christ—and I soaked up every word, every idea that was taught me. But I was a logical little kid, and certain things began to sully my perfect reality. Nuns, for instance, would never miss a trick when delimiting our behavior in CCD classes—but their own behavior seemed to cut a few corners in the service of classroom law-and-order, even going so far as to contradict their own previous reasonings to suit a new scenario of rebuke.

My parents, also, were happy to have me indoctrinated into faith—but if I should criticize anything based on my CCD teachings, it was waved away like a pesky fly—apparently, only those in authority could cite the rules of Christian behavior. My life became the reverse of the Parable of the Talents—I was to ‘render unto the Church what was the Church’s’ and otherwise just shut up and do what I was told.

As the years passed, I learned all kinds of things about history, society and people—I accumulated a mountain of contradictions that disprove the seriousness of people of faith. But all that came later. My original fall from grace was the result of simple observation—grown-ups wanted me to take religion seriously, but they weren’t taking it very seriously, themselves.

It was a more-serious, year-round version of Santa Claus—aimed at kids, but scoffed at between grown-ups. And that condition remains—if you look at the way we live, it’s difficult to claim that most of us are ‘Christians’ in anything more than lip-service. We use Christianity when it suits us—and discard it just as quickly when the going gets tough.

I would gladly live my atheist existence away without once raising my voice against the faithful, but for one thing—I’m a little too OCD about the truth. Faith may be many things—hope, conscience, a dream, an anchor in the storm—but it is most definitely not the truth. Sane people don’t fight and die over the truth—they seek and find it, or they do not—but they don’t fight over it—that’s for opinions.

There is often conflation of argument and fighting (see my previous post on the art of argument) but argument is, in purest form, an investigation after truth—it only becomes a fight when it goes off the rails and becomes a debate, AKA ‘fighting with words’. The religious have the advantage in debate because language grew out of a religious society and inherits a bias towards it, down to the very vocabulary we use—much like misogyny, the assumption of faith is built-in to the fabric of our speech.

Thus, I am always willing to argue the question of God, but I stop short of debating it—uncovering universal truth is impossible enough with a friendly devil’s-advocate—to verbally spar over someone’s adherence to an ancient, easy solution is a complete waste of time.

History With A Grain Of Salt   (2016Dec03)

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Saturday, December 03, 2016                                           1:41 PM

I’ve just watched the first five episodes of Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” on Netflix. The thrust of his re-telling of our modern history begins with an analysis of Russia’s virtually lone struggle against Germany, transforming what we think of as the main events of World War II into relatively minor clashes—in terms of land-area fought over, scale of destruction, length of time, and number of lives lost and persons wounded—and the stats certainly make that much plain. The Western Front was smaller, shorter, and less bloody in many respects—even with the Pacific War thrown in, ‘our’ War involved about a tenth of the size and horror of the struggle between Hitler and Stalin.

statue-liberty-evacuation

As he continues to explore the question of Truman’s decision to use the bomb, he frames it as more a demonstration for the Soviets than a body-blow to Japan. Stone suggests that the end of the Nazis enabled Russia to turn and join the US, as agreed, in fighting Japan, months afterward—and that their announcement of their intent to do so—came at about the same time as the two nuclear blasts—and was a great shock to an already-battered Japan. Thus, he presents the possibility that Russia, and not our new A-bomb, was responsible for Japan’s surrender, as well as Germany’s.

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His revisionism also puts America squarely in the docket, to blame for nuclear proliferation, the military-industrial complex, and the entire Cold War that followed—and we must admit that the USA, being suddenly omnipotent (and not having their country reduced to rubble by the fighting, as was the case almost everywhere else) became the prime superpower—and had all the problems and corruptions that absolute power is known to herald.

Oliver Stone does have a habit of mentioning Stalin’s atrocities in asides, often, as if afraid someone will accuse him of glossing over them (which the asides almost accomplish, ironically). But while Stone presents a new perspective and a clarification of several old false assumptions—and highlights some overlooked or hidden aspects that radically change the context of certain events—he is still dealing with the problem of ‘history as general summary’.

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His review, for example, leaves out the details of China’s suffering and transformation, its revolution and great famine. The British role in the man-made starvation in India during World War II, resulting in a genocide greater than the Nazis’, was overlooked as well (see Howard Fast’s “The Pledge”). An historical review, by its nature, leaves out more than it puts in.

His view of the last seventy years may be clearer-eyed, less American-centric—but it is still an impossible task to pick and choose the stand-out events of world history over so large a span of time, without putting one’s own ‘centrism’ into the picking. Still, Stone’s gruesome view of modern American history is, unfortunately, solidly-grounded in facts and records, shorn of the ‘spin’ which events are often given in their own time, and which tend to continue to stand as fact, absent an Oliver Stone.

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The show, ultimately, is a flat statement to Americans that being ‘the world’s greatest superpower’ and being ‘the good guys’ are, almost by definition, mutually exclusive concepts. He almost makes us embarrassed that we don’t see something so obvious. Our laser focus on the high-points of American History, and our brushing aside of all the many sins: the original genocide of the natives, the kidnapping and slavery of the Africans, the dehumanization of ethnic and racial minorities, the industrialism that spawned sweat shops, child labor, tenements, and all the rapacity of Capitalism—we wave these things aside and point to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t look over there—look here—o, pretty!

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Most of history is a horror—and American history no exception. If you think about our greatest moments—the Bill of Rights, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, etc.—they are all merely points at which those in power finally conceded, for this specific case, for that specific group, that people should not be used and abused like farm animals. Points on the Timeline when those in authority declare, “Oh, did that hurt? I’ll stop now.” It’s almost funny that we have these tremendous struggles, usually over the question, “Why should I treat you like a human being?” It’s as if, when someone gets a little power, the rest of us have to turn as one and shout at them, “Hey, right and wrong still apply, douchebag!”

I suppose the great lesson of history is that victory is a sort of lobotomy—it convinces the victor that force is effective. And with force must come control. And with too much control comes the need for struggles anew, and a new victor, and on it goes.

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In sum, I was reluctant to watch another rehash of the last seventy years of world conflict—but I was not disappointed in my hope that Oliver Stone wouldn’t have bothered to make this series without some surprising and new information—and observations that really change the context for lay-historians like myself. I love this sort of thing, because you can’t really change the accepted view of history without adding in some new data—and this series exposes many overlooked, obscured, and newly-discovered bits of information, and makes connections that seem obvious once made—making one wonder why Oliver Stone had to do it, all this time later. But I’m glad he did.

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The subject guarantees that viewing will be somewhat daunting, and hardly inspiring—but looking ourselves straight in the mirror is ultimately a very healthy thing, if uncomfortable. I can’t help reflecting, however, that if Oliver Stone can take the old story and re-tell it as something almost unrecognizable—then I suppose someone else could do the same to his. When studying history, one must never neglect the grain of salt.

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Beaux Artes, in Passing   (2016Nov19)

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Saturday, November 19, 2016                                          12:44 PM

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore—send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

—Emma Lazarus (from “The New Colossus”)

I can’t vouch for perfect accuracy of the above quotation—I typed it from memory. Sometimes it feels good to type something out, instead of just remembering to myself.

I suppose if I lived in a city, I’d spend part of my day on a soapbox. Once this journal-writing/blog-posting/daily-commentary thing gets under your skin, you become a wild-eyed prophet of sorts—whether you’re smart, stupid, or just plain crazy (or all three, as in my case). And it is odd that an activity so clearly aimed at others’ ears (or eyes) should reveal itself to be pure self-involvement. I start out expressing what I think others should know—and, without fail, I end up telling them what I want to say.

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I was just playing some Haydn on the piano. Haydn is the guy—he always puts me in a good mood. Whether you favor Beethoven or Brahms or Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky, you’ve got to give it up for Haydn—he has the best sense of humor of any composer in history. I always loved the drama and the towering emotions of the other great composers—but as I get older, it occurs to me that Haydn was the only composer who regularly laughed at himself. And it takes a certain genius to write music that makes people laugh—I have a hard time telling a joke, with words—it’s kind of awesome that Haydn can do it with sheet music.

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I have always loved art and music and poetry. When I experience the great peoples’ masterpieces, I am always a little bit tempted to envy them their seemingly superhuman talents. But I always yank my focus away from that, so that I can just enjoy the wonder of their works. Envy is always just under the surface with me—but I try to rise above it. When you spend your life trying to do something worthwhile, envying the greats is hard to avoid—especially if, like me, you’re a little defensive. But because it pollutes my enjoyment of their stuff, I always try to turn away from envy.

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In fact, it kind of bugs me, as an atheist, that I respect the Seven Deadly Sins—but, like the Ten Commandments, there’s a lot of good advice under all the mumbo-jumbo. Religions have that going for them—between the mythological parts, there’s a whole lot of experience-based, how-to ‘life-hacks’ included. It is the codified version of advice from old people—and now that I’m old, and know something about human nature, I find myself in agreement with many religious principles, in spite of my rejection of religion as an institution.

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Once you’ve gotten five or six decades under your belt, you witness how people can self-destruct through Envy or Lust or Pride, et. al.—religions label them sins, but even un-washed savages, once they reach a certain age, come to recognize these things as dangers—and that younger people don’t usually see that clearly. Religion includes a lot of old-people-advice. Perhaps that’s why a lot of people get ‘Saved’ or ‘embrace Islam’ in prison—it may be the first time in their lives when they’ve received advice from an experienced source.

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Another reason even we atheists have to give it up to religion is the inspiration it has provided to artists and musicians over the years. Bach seemed to feel that his compositions were prayers of a sort—when his fugues invoke a sense of grandeur, they are his way of glorifying God in music. Now that’s religion I can get behind.

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And it’s funny that a section of Germany that became so progressive about musical religious strictures (and music was bound by many limitations, back then) would produce, in rapid succession, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. One might speculate that any portion of Europe that enjoyed a sudden freedom in the creative arts would have produced similar giants—talent equal to our historic composers may have resided in many people, living in many places where such expression was illegal or sacrilegious. We’ll never know—this is the way it worked out. So, that’s a point against religion, as well.

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You can tell I’m a lapsed Catholic—we are the only atheists who obsess over religion more, as unbelievers, than we ever did as members of the church. But I’ll tell you why that is. Catholicism is very strict, very powerful—Catholics would make good Jihadists (just kidding—although, in the past, that was actually true in a way). My point is that they make this world seem like a temporary inconvenience—as if the important stuff is outside of reality. That was my home. And now I live in reality—dusty, achy, pointless, bothersome reality. I miss my home—recognizing that Catholicism is a delusion doesn’t change the fact that I was happier under that delusion.

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Recent archeological studies have raised doubts about the biblical account of the Jews who left Egypt for Canaan—scripture would have us believe that Joshua led the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan, and renamed it Israel, or ‘the promised land’. But it appears that the writers of Exodus may have indulged in a bit of revision of history, for appearance’s sake. Digs in the area now indicate that the Canaanites held sway long after the appearance of the tribes of Abraham, and that rather than conquer the land, the Hebrew culture insinuated itself into the area over generations. It seems the children of Abraham were not conquerors, but simply a more productive and stable society than the one it lived among.

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That struck me, when I heard of it, as an odd sort of propaganda—after all, conquest isn’t very godly—and the fact that the Hebrews changed the lands, and the people, of the area they settled in, non-violently and almost purely out of living in a better, more civilized way than the natives, says something better, to modern ears, than that they ‘kicked ass’. But it also proves that the Old Testament is as much an exercise in creative writing as it is a historical document, or the ‘revealed word of the Lord’.

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But there are other, more recent, records that serve as a source of controversy as much as they serve as a source of information. The Bayeux Tapestry, for example, is as much a collection of mysteries as it is a treasure trove of historical information. To begin with—it is not a tapestry—technically it is an embroidery. It is over two-hundred feet long and twenty inches high. And although it commemorates William the Conqueror’s Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain, the tapestry was worked in the Anglo-Saxon style over several generations. And it is worth noting that French historians are only recently admitting that it was not done in the Norman style.

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Damage to the Bayeux Tapestry is to be expected—Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry, has said “Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous…” And while that is true, the beginning panels and ending panels are either missing or beyond repair. Historians speculate that the tapestry was always stored rolled up—and, depending on how it was rolled, either the end panel or the beginning panel was exposed to air and moisture far more than the rest of it. Thus the story told on those missing or damaged panels remains a mystery—over the centuries, many enthusiasts have attempted to recreate possible replacements. The missing panel at the end, in particular, has inspired several artists to re-imagine the tapestry’s continuation, telling the history of England far beyond its original story of the Battle of Hastings.

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The story the tapestry was intended to tell is obscured by the damage and by the various interpretations of certain scenes and Latin phrases (the exact truth of which has been lost or forgotten over the centuries). But the tapestry still illustrates for us a host of facts about the Norman invasion—and tells another, unintended, story—about how those 11th century Britons lived, worked, and fought. Above and below the main scenes in the tapestry are borders that depict a variety of subjects. People are shown fighting, hunting, weaving, farming, building, and in other activities. Animals, both real and fantastical, are also used as border decorations. Many tools, weapons, and techniques of the times are clearly illustrated. And the story told by the major scenes is augmented by Latin labels, comments and explanations (which are referred to as tituli—which I guess is Latin for ‘sub-titles’, or something).

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All in all, it is an awesome thing—a piece of embroidery, showing what amounts to an historian’s paradise—and it outlasted a multitude of castles, fortifications, and whole nations—a roll of fabric that only becomes more priceless as it disintegrates. And the most capricious aspect of all is that this ‘Britain’s first comic-strip’ tells us more about that time than all the source documents or written accounts that survive from that age.

Sunday, November 20, 2016                                            5:24 PM

I’ve been pondering the beginnings of formal music in Western Civilization. There has always been folk music—or so I assume, since even children will hum or whistle or stomp to a rhythm—but since folk music was ephemeral, passed from parent to child, never notated, never recorded, that is the only assumption we can make about early folk music.

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Some records have survived—the Bulgarian Women’s Choir famously performs songs that reach back to the work songs, love songs, and laments of the peasants of Tsarist Russia. Musicology researchers in 1920s USA found folk music among the hill-people that may be near-perfect preservations of that of the Elizabethans who first settled there—and British, Irish, and other musicologists have found similar hand-me-down relics of the folk music of the British Isles, closer to their origin. Many sources from many places give us remnants of the music that existed before music became the formalized fine art we practice today.

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But when I speak of our ignorance of folk music, I mean that we don’t know where the surviving fragments evolved from, what came before that, and what came even earlier. We can never know—because music has its own pre-history, which dates to far more recently than pre-history in general. I assume that people made music for millennia, but the ‘civilizing’ of music in the formal notation and harmonies that we loosely call ‘Classical Music’ is the first time that any records of music were made. There is some notation stuff from the Roman Empire—but nobody knows what scale it’s based on, and other important contextual stuff that would allow us to translate it into a performance—that isn’t an exception, so much as an example of my point.

So, aside from whatever we might guess, or imagine, or assume about music’s history, the very beginning of its recorded history was Gregorian Chant. Original manuscripts of Gregorian Chant still exist today—and they are still often sung as written, today, by groups that specialize in archaic music. I believe there is an ensemble of monks who are famous for their recordings and performances. The Vatican preserves some beautifully illuminated neumes on original parchment.

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In the late 800s, something called the Metz project developed a system called ‘neumes’, which would develop into today’s standard staff notation. The Gregorian chants from all the surrounding areas were collected and recorded using neumes—and thus the church standardized its musical portion of the liturgy. These chants were very simple by today’s standards—to our ears they sound quite monotonous, but there is a rough grandeur to them—and their main purpose was in singing the words from scripture—or, really, chanting them.

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As with anything, formal music then developed through a combination of new ideas butting up against established norms, popularity overcoming prurience, and tradition often stifling innovation. And there was a lot of ground to cover, if we were to get from Gregorian chant all the way to Ariana Grande, so it isn’t too surprising that it took centuries for music to reach the variety and sophistication we enjoy today.

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The church would remain the sole source of formal music for centuries—until the advent of court musicians, members of a royal household whose sole function was to create musical entertainment. After that, further centuries would see formal music confined to the church and the nobility. Don’t worry—the regular folks still had their folk music—and if I had to choose, I might have preferred their entertainments over the renaissance and early baroque composers’ refinements.

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Classical music would not see verve equal to Folk music until the advent of Ragtime and Jazz. Even when a composer like Brahms would adapt a Hungarian folk tune, say, its wildness would be contained by an over-civility inherent in composed works of the age. So don’t feel too bad for the poor riff-raff excluded from the fancy music chambers of royalty—they knew pleasures far more vital than those heard by the stuffed shirts at their concerts.

In those pre-industrial times, a commoner’s life was hard work—the chance to gain a post as a church musician or a court musician was no small advantage—and the internecine rivalries and petty squabbles of the musicians vying for these posts was a constant. The film “Amadeus” shows us something of this, but in a rarefied form, since its ‘villain’, Salieri, is tortured by envy over Mozart’s heavenly talent more than his professional position.

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We also note the high number of composers who come from musical families—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and others had musician parents, even musician grandparents. A sure sign that competition for these sinecures was fierce: once someone got their foot in the door, they did their best to secure the same for their children. Though in fairness, every trade and career in those times was primarily handed down from father to son. Women, with rare exceptions, were excluded from the music profession.

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I used to think of composers as wise men who sat writing down notation all day—but I’ve come to realize that many of these great composers led lives of constant busyness. You can read it in their records—complaints about the amount of work expected of them, their students needing training, their ensembles and choirs needing rehearsing, problems with money, instruments, venues, and preparations for big events—and in their few, free, hurried moments they would jot down the actual music we love them for, even today.

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I doubt most people consider the effort involved—writing down every note sounded by every instrument and choir-voice, in separate manuscripts for each performer’s music-stand (and this was back using a quill pen and rough paper)—the notation alone must have been incredibly tedious, notwithstanding the need for the finished product to create beautiful music. Thus I have come a long way from seeing my books of piano music as ancient, alien diagrams from the forgotten past.

Today, when I play, I think of that person—the life they led, the place and time they lived in, and the shared humanity between myself and this or that guy who lived in 15th century England or 16th century Germany. If you listen closely, you can almost hear them saying ‘hello’. It’s a little miracle.

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History   (2016Oct13)

Thursday, October 13, 2016                                             1:44 PM

We all have history. I have incidents in my past of which I am not proud, things that make me wince to remember. But I tell myself that I learned from those mistakes, that I’ve become a better person by feeling the shame of past sins—I’ve come to realize how thoughtless behavior can feel to the person on the wrong end of it, and now I am more careful in my words and deeds.

I’ve also learned that mistakes can’t be undone. If confronted with my past, I tell myself, “Don’t deny that you hurt someone—that would just make it worse—like hurting them all over again.” It’s easy for me—I don’t have any dark secret to confess—I’ve simply been rude or thoughtless in my youth at certain points—and felt bad enough about it afterward that the memories haunt me.

Donald Trump didn’t coalesce into existence behind a podium one year ago—he has a history, too. Now, he prefers to label it a ‘media conspiracy’, but it used to be a reputation he was proud of—the wealthy Manhattanite man-about-town, with an eye for the ladies. His boasting, aboard Billy Bush’s bus, is an example of him propagating that rep—and his bragging about being the owner of a pageant, thus being able to pop into dressing rooms, jibes neatly with the accusations of then-fourteen-year-old girls who describe the same experience from their point of view.

Of all the blatantly transparent lies that Trump has told throughout the campaign, his denial of his own personal history is the biggest whopper so far. It must be dizzying, even for him, to go from bragging about this aspect of himself, to denying it as a filthy lie. I’m starting to think that Trump’s emphatic untruths are a subconscious compulsion—when he says, ‘Lock her up’, he’s really shouting to the world, “I should be locked up!” Perhaps that explains why he mirrors everything Secretary Clinton says, in reverse—he’s actually agreeing with her in the only way his ego will allow him to say it?

Who knows? I’m no psychiatrist. Yet, as a layman, I still feel confident in saying he has a screw loose. Millions of Americans find it appealing—that’s the real problem. I can see that he’s crazy—but how in the world do I get someone else to see it? I can’t put my eyes in someone else’s head.

I saw a Facebook comment this morning where someone said everything I have said, that Trump still won’t show his taxes, he’s horrible and unfit, etc., but ended with the conclusion that our country needs to be ‘disrupted’ by someone like him, because it is too ingrown and self-defeating. I don’t dismiss those points but, as I’ve said before, you don’t fix a computer by taking a hammer to it. And governing fifty states at once, plus being the world police, makes the USA as complicated as any computer. In many ways, it is more complex—people always make everything more complicated. Setting off a bomb, as a president, seems more an expression of frustration than a thoughtful judgement call.

Plus, Trump and the Republicans habitually downplay all the good news coming out of the latest stats. (Isn’t it funny how we value stats based partly on how well they agree with our opinions?) If you look at the stats, the idea of ‘four more years of Obama’ is hardly the threat they wish it sounded like. If a Democrat President with the entire Congress standing in his way could have this much success, imagine what Hillary could accomplish with a willing Senate, maybe even a House of Representatives.

This women’s-equality thing and inclusion-of-gays thing is working out just fine—to the outrage of the far right. Their only chance was to bring us backwards before the new attitudes could settle in. Trump was their shot at that. But it looks as though we may have dodged the bullet.

Trump’s campaign boils down to: ‘Who ya gonna believe?’ He does this because, in business, the answer is always ‘the bloated billionaire’. Unfortunately, this is politics, where the answer to ‘Who ya gonna believe?’ is never ‘the bloated billionaire’, it’s ‘the lifelong public servant’. Vote for Hillary.

Journal Entry   (2016Aug14)

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Saturday, August 13, 2016                                                8:04 PM

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         12:48 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         6:48 PM

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

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

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

 

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The Wizard   (2016Jun06)

Monday, June 06, 2016                                            6:13 PM

Walt Disney created the animated film “The Sword In The Stone”, based on part one of T. H. White’s classic, “The Once and Future King”—it is a well-known story of how young Arthur grew and learned from his tutor, Merlin. Aside from all the magic and wonder of the story, my young, book-worm self was jealous of the young king’s schooling. Not that I wished to study nature by being turned into a fish or a bird for an afternoon—though that was certainly cool—no, I wanted an old scholar to inundate me with arcane and disparate knowledge. I wanted to delve into gigantic, dusty tomes and perform burbling, sulfurous experiments with curlicued distillation-piping and whatnot. I wanted to learn the proverbial ‘everything’.

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There’s a reason why pre-digital civilization impressed on youth the value of a ‘liberal arts’ education. Metaphors, analogues, and cross-references form a large part of our intellectual development—learning about one thing teaches us about much more than that one thing. The reasoning went that a greatest possible multiplicity of things learned allowed the greatest possible number of avenues for reasoning and problem-solving. In modern terms, it created the most complex network within the brain.

Science of old, starting from way back, when it was still alchemy and ‘sorcery’, had an image problem—outright scientific study was a good way to get burnt at the stake or run out of town. Secrecy led to obscurity—and early scientists went to great lengths to complicate their elucidations, making them seem more impressive—and excluding those without the drive to wade through all the double-talk. You can still observe this behavior today, in the insider-speak of tech-geeks.

In addition, science could only cut across the Old World’s many cultural boundaries by using a lingua franca—or two, really—Latin and Ancient Greek. That is why the nomenclature for many scientific terms is derived from these dead languages—they were only ‘dead’ in the technical sense. The pope could issue a papal bull in Latin and send copies to every church in Western Europe and beyond.

Both the church and the early philosophers used these languages to provide a standard that crossed boundaries of local language—and originally, a Classical education was a literal term—students learned the classics, which meant learning the classic languages they were written in. You’ll tend to see a lot more Latin in the arts, and a lot more Greek in mathematics and the sciences—there are reasons for that which I won’t get into here.

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Digital enhancement of education techniques, job-market prep, and economic competition are all factors that tend to reduce the educational experience to a monaural playback, trimmed to its ‘essentials’. And that, of course, is when the educational system is functional to begin with. But education is the perfect example of something being more than the sum of its parts—and the more parts to an education, the greater the total sum.

Merlin wasn’t trying to teach Arthur to become a wizard—but he was trying his best to give the boy a wizard’s perspective—a knowledge of, if nothing else, the breadth of knowledge. He did this because he knew that a king could never be wise without some perspective. And if the history of technology has taught us anything, it is the importance of perspective—burning oil can be very useful, but burning too much oil is a problem; growing a lot of food can protect us from famine, but eating too much food can make us unhealthy.

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And now, as global warming re-shapes our coastlines and submerges islands, as low-earth orbit becomes a navigational hazard due to decades of space launches, and as YouTube makes it possible for terrorists to indoctrinate teens a half a world away, we need breadth of perspective like never before. STEM is a great initiative, but as our science progresses, we are more than ever dependent on our ability to extrapolate and explore the consequences of each new and changing aspect. Engineering new gadgets is just the starter pistol—what happens when the whole world gets a new ability, a new insight? Sometimes you get Angry Birds, sometimes you get ISIL online—sometimes both.

Narrowing our field of view to the mere engineering and manufacture of new tech, without the humanities, without history, without the insight of creative expression—that’s a recipe for disaster. Yes, keep STEM—it’s a great idea—but don’t stop there. The more advanced we get, the less we can afford the luxury of shortsightedness. People always want more tech, or more money, or more guns—but the smart people always want the same thing—we want more ‘More’ in our vision—because we know that that’s where all that other good stuff came from in the first place—and much more.

Balance is an unappreciated virtue—as an example, consider: we have made so much progress in digital programming that we are possibly on the cusp of creating a machine that can out-think us. Cool, right? But those with a broader perspective have pointed out that a machine that’s smarter than us just might be a risky proposition. Well, I don’t expect humanity will be overwhelmed with common sense overnight—so I guess we’re about to find out. Are you ready to meet the Wizard?

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That S**t-Eating Grin    (2016Mar11)

Friday, March 11, 2016                                  12:26 PM

History proves, huh? I can’t even remember last night—how can you think that the past tells us anything but what we wish to hear? Yes, this happened, but that happened too—and who knows what else happened that’s being left out, or what’s been added with the ‘benefit’ of hindsight? Even in the present, we don’t know people’s mindsets—what they’re thinking, how they see things—we certainly can’t pretend we know what went through the minds of those long gone.

The only thing history proves is that we, here in the present, are the survivors of an endless struggle—a struggle with ourselves, with others, with the elements, with ignorance, with knowledge—it’s all chaos. Pinning it down to prove a point only twists the few facts we know into a narrative that proves our point—and that isn’t proof, that’s rationalizing. You can’t use history to prove anything—history is a list of experiences—that’s its value—we can learn from history.

But we don’t. We didn’t learn from Prohibition—we still have billions of dollars and millions of people embroiled in the criminalization of drugs. We didn’t learn from Sandy Hook, et. al.—we still pretend guns are a safety measure. People are stupid, but we’d rather die than admit it—the Trump rally supporters are just the cream of the crop—and even those morons have worked it out in their heads that they are the tip of the spear of common sense.

As a highly educated person, I have a warning for all you students out there—stop now, while you still have a chance of living your life without frustration and bitterness. Only the ignorant know bliss. Step one—believe in God—that’s a good start—that’ll have you deluded right from the get-go—and it makes all the other stupidities of convention that much easier to swallow. Step two—never listen to anyone who disagrees with you. Step three—be afraid—be very afraid—it doesn’t really matter what you’re afraid of—as long as it keeps your mind closed to new ideas.

There, now you can float through life without being driven mad, as I am, by the countless daily examples of humanity’s idiocy. Trust me, you won’t regret being stupid—look at that shit-eating grin on Trump’s face.

Lachrymosa Regina   (2016Feb06)

Saturday, February 06, 2016                          9:43 AM

Struggle, Weep, And sacrifice

Snuggle, Sleep, And love a wife

Burgle, Beat, And stab a knife

Gurgle, Bleat, And laugh at strife

Wiggle, Crawl, Behind the lies

Giggle, Beam, As sun will rise

In the olden times, a man could spend all day chopping wood—and he’d have been a hard-working, responsible adult with profitable employment; a woman could spend a week sewing a single fancy dress—and she’d have been considered quite clever and industrious. Today, either person would be considered to be wasting their time. The Bayeux Tapestry took an army of ladies-in-waiting, through three separate reigns, over many years, to complete—today it could be scanned into a digital loom’s memory and printed out in a few days’ time—possibly a few hours.

Travel was simpler in olden times—it simply wasn’t done. Those few times when anyone left their home for somewhere more than a mile off was called a Pilgrimage—and it was the event of a lifetime. Even in the beginning of the nineteenth century a trip up the Rhine from say, Bonn to Vienna, was a week-long excursion that took the form of a traveling celebration—I learned this today from reading a biography of Beethoven which describes just such a journey. Before trains (and then cars) travel was, and had always been, at a walking pace—nobody ran, and a team of trotting horses was considered positively speedy.

Communications were only possible within shouting distance—anything further off, and you had to write a note and have someone carry it to the person you wished to speak to. Medicine was as famous for its frauds and failures as for its rare successes. In short, life was simpler. The question that harries me is this: is life required to be simple? Are people who evolved to chop wood and sew their clothes capable of being happy in a world of traffic-jams, I-phones, and 3D-printers?

The popularity of Zumba classes speaks to our need to go out of our way to find some semblance of the exertion that our bodies have evolved to expect—exertion that our bodies, to some extent, need to remain healthy. The popularity of Zen, Yoga, and meditation speaks to our need for quietude—and to how difficult it is to find in our modern lives. Our interest in gourmet cuisine shows that even when food can be prepared in seconds, we are happier when we can make a production of its preparation, and a ritual out of its serving and its consumption.

The entire human race is, to some extent, being hauled forward through time, like a child being marched down the sidewalk by an impatient parent. We are given no time to appreciate our surroundings, no time to contemplate our simple existence, and no escape from the arcane complexities that our lives have come to contain. When we began to rebel against the childish despotism and the simple-minded morality of past centuries, we also began to distance ourselves from our childish nature. Today’s pre-pubescent middle-schooler has more sophistry than the most jaded courtesan of a few hundred years ago—and while that includes the blessing of women’s liberation, it also requires a maturity that may exceed our natural limits.

Complexity and self-control are assumed by the heralds of Progress—it’s taken for granted that, if man can create automobiles, for instance, then man is capable of using automobiles correctly. Highway safety statistics put the lie to that assumption—even after we’ve created protocols for testing, licensing, and registering drivers—and created highway patrols to enforce safety regulations. Weapons offer another example of technology being embraced without any thought for its dangers—as do drugs, banks, and computers. All of these ‘wonders’ present us with as many risks as benefits. Hence the growing complexity.

Only a student of history can envision how completely modern civilization has severed itself from its roots. Humans used to be fairly fancy animals—we had risen above bestiality, but we still bustled about with simple tools—we were animals that had found a few handy shortcuts. Today’s human can go for years without leaving a paved surface, a home, or an office—they never have to plant anything, dig anything, or exert themselves in any way—yet their food will be cooked, their clothes washed, and their homes kept warm (or cool, if needed). Money is involved of course—which means a job is probably involved—but in these times, a job doesn’t mean real work—it means something quite different from chopping wood or making clothes by hand.

This is a philosophical discussion, of course—we are well past the global population size that could have been supported in olden times, using man-power-based agriculture and transportation—so it goes without saying that we can’t go back. There’s no need to point out that I would be uncomfortable without the luxury of running water or flush toilets—I’m not unconscious of the blessings of modern life—nor is there any need to point out that democracy and free speech are an improvement over absolute monarchies or theocracies—I’m actually a big fan of human rights. But it would be jejune to imply that Progress comes without cost—many an immigrant to America has testified to the subtle panic at suddenly realizing total personal freedom—the right to make our own decisions is also a heavy obligation.

The strangest part of modern life is that things that once seemed acceptable—natural human impulses—become either impossible or criminal. Whittling was once a popular pastime—someone would pick up a piece of wood and starting carving it with a knife. Nowadays, carrying a knife is considered somewhat belligerent—and finding wood on the ground is a rare thing—and the pile of shavings might even get you a ticket for littering. Spitting used to be a common affectation—spittoons were once profligate, attempting to keep the mess of indoor spitting to a dull roar. People used to be more careless—and far less mature. It was 1920 before anyone even recognized that excessive drinking was a problem—and then, of course, we overreacted—childishly.

Are people still childish at times? Of course they are. My question is should we expect humanity to be as adult as a modern civilization requires them to be? I suspect we have over-reached ourselves. If we consider the sophistication of global issues in modern times—and contrast them with the regressive attitudes of the Republican party—we see a picture of hosts of immature, thoughtless people railing against the constraints of modernity—they want a return to conformity, bigotry, and dogma—and while we may all agree that they are wrong, we must still ask the question: are we asking too much of the human race as a whole?

When Einstein first published his Relativity work, it was famously incomprehensible. When Turing first published his work on automated computing, it too was beyond the understanding of people. Both Einstein and Turing had insights so profound that even the best and brightest of their peers had trouble comprehending them—and the public at large was left with buzz-words and jokes about relativity being gobbledy-gook. And Turing wasn’t helped by having his work kept secret for fifty years—Einstein was fortunate to have achieved his fame before the atom bomb made his work a state secret. And even before the bomb, public opinion was encapsulated in “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, which includes the lyric “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 let’s face it—while far simpler, Edison’s electric dynamo, the combustion engine, and even Watt’s primitive steam engine, while familiar to us in concept—are also beyond the ability of most people, myself included, to explain in any detail. We are surrounded by mystery—reassured only by the assumption that if we studied engineering, we could probably understand these things. But that doesn’t change the fact that only one in a million people truly understands how most of our technology really works. It works—is the most we know about most things.

Our Constitution, while not technological, is also a complex invention that most people do not fully understand. And I’m not talking about internecine debates in the Supreme Court over fine legal points—I’m saying that too many of the people who live by, or at least under, our Constitution don’t have a firm grasp of its basic points. The fact that the world’s greatest democracy also enjoys the lowest voter turnout per capita for its elections is just one of the failings I could place in evidence. The evangelicals’ lobbying for theocratic legislation is another. These people obviously have no understanding of the system. Conservatives used to do their best to suppress free speech—reaching a high-water-mark during the red scare of the McCarthy Era—now, neo-cons have flipped the script, embracing ‘free speech’ as a license to ignore the rules—the so-called ‘teaching of the controversy’. But dumb is still dumb.

People are dumb. We are children—I’m sixty years old and I still have to remind myself to act like an adult. While I would never advocate giving in to the regressives, I think we need to ask ourselves—how far can we push ourselves in certain avenues while merely maintaining the status quo with others—or more to the point, pretending that there are no other avenues? We can push ahead with technology and social change—but if we don’t match that with some progress in pluralism and income equality—if we don’t delve as deeply into the quality of human nature as we do into changing the ways we live—we court chaos—and disaster. The hell with courting it—we live in chaos, on the edge of global disaster. And it seems to me we don’t have the sense to even ask ourselves why.

It’s the proverbial modern dilemma—how do you fix a car while you’re driving it down the freeway? Stopping, much less going backwards, is not an option. I believe we need to broaden our understanding—to go beyond economic absolutism, beyond political demagoguery—to seek working compromises between personal liberty and social support programs—between ownership and responsibility for others. We need to envision a world without starvation and war and slavery—and ask ourselves: how do we get there from here without dropping a stitch? And most importantly—how much do we need to ask of ourselves to get there—and do we have that much to give?

It’s a Win-Win (For Me, Anyway)   (2015Aug25)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015                                           4:01 PM

Well, we’ve been confusing two different things for a long time—for so long that it’s become a part of our national character—a lot of us think that good business practice is the same as good governance. So we must not blame Mr. Trump, who simply surfs the wave of public approbation.

I’m reminded of how the ‘modern’ age of machines brought so many sudden changes that some changes in our thinking went a little too mechanistic—into fascism. Fascism seemed reasonable at the time—it had logic and (pretend) science, and modern folk were all about the logic and science and mechanization back in those days.

Opnamedatum: 2010-1-19

Inflating of Nadars air balloon on a field outside the Barrier Utrecht, Amsterdam, September 14, 1865, John D. Brewer, 1865 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Likewise today we have great changes that influence changes in our thinking—we don’t even need wires today to make a connection, never mind something as arcane as eye-contact. We’re de-centralizing—we’re going Uber. And Americans maintain a firm belief that business will ‘regulate’ itself—although that is only true in terms of fair competition between companies, and has no relevance to the way in which business treats people. Unfair business practices do somehow persist—proving that business regulates itself on the same model as evolution—a bloody, kill-or-be-killed status quo that ends up with the winners becoming alpha predators—and everyone else is the food. The endgame is simply a new monarchy based on ownership rather than bloodlines—if those two things are truly separate.

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Hemelvaart, Jan Punt, 1748 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Because of technology, we have lost the connection between ourselves and our world—our survival is more dependent upon the economic infrastructure—the stores, banks, office buildings, mines, factories, ports, the housing, highways and airliners—than it ever was on the source material for those sophistries: the crops, water, air, lumber, cattle, and cotton—the stuff that hitherto more visibly either grew from or fed off the Earth.

Opnamedatum: 2012-07-19

Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

We used to husband our resources, tend our fields, plant and harvest our crops—now we buy stuff. Some guy with a huge machine is doing all the agricultural stuff, somewhere out in that blank breadbasket between the coasts. Except for that one Mr. Greenjeans out in Iowa, the rest of us are working on maintaining our infrastructure—though it should more rightly be considered a superstructure, as it is built upon a natural world that once had a structure of its own—we couldn’t control nature like we do our modern environment, but we didn’t have to maintain it, either.

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Dolls-house Ceiling-Painting of a Cloudy Sky with Birds, attributed to Nicolaes Piemont, c. 1690 – c. 1709 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Progress isn’t addition, it’s a trade-off—you get the new, but you lose the old. And while we are marveling at the brave new cyberworld of our present—where paper is disappearing and robots are working faster and better than the humans they replace—we should give a thought to the tremendous loss that implies. It’s not a question—it’s a given. Worse yet, history tells us that we never appreciate the true value of something until it is gone beyond recall. So, while we know that our loss is enormous, we are still waiting to feel the pain. Some days, it feels lucky to be old.

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Paradise, Herri met de Bles, c. 1541 – c. 1550 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

As I see it, ‘isms’ will always trip you up. Take any Ism to its logical conclusion and you get mayhem—capitalism turns to thievery, democracy turns to mob rule, Christianity becomes a platform for hate and violence. None of our societal systems and structures stand on their own, alone—they all must be leavened with humanity. One sign of our modern progress is that some people are finally trying to turn humanity into ‘humanism’—they may mess it up—people usually do—but at least we recognize that there is something there, something elemental—that outshines any system of government or faith or justice. It is humanity that allows compromise, forgiveness, and tolerance.

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Loss of Faith, Jan Toorop, 1894 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

These are the foundation of freedom and justice—without them, we have only an eye for an eye and the whole world blind—or at least lacking depth-perception. The most singular aspect of humanity is that it isn’t a system of checks and balances—it’s just giving. It’s what we do for infants, for the sick or hungry, for our grandparents and great-grandparents, for anyone we truly feel love for—or even for a stranger—we give, and we don’t look for compensation.

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The Shipyard of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Ludolf Bakhuysen, 1655 – 1660 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

When I see these crowds at campaign rallies shouting for justice, I want them to stop shouting long enough for someone to tell them that you don’t get justice—you give mercy, and you hope for justice. Laws help keep the injustice to a dull roar, but nothing will ever end injustice but mercy, compassion, and generosity. If you’re fighting for someone else’s rights, you have a shot at being a force for justice, but if you just looking to get your own, Jack—you’re being selfish. Your therapists will tell you that’s a good thing—but your therapist is an idiot. Still, what can your therapist tell you? How do you tell anyone exactly how to be a human being?

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Val van Icarus, Hans Bol, Anonymous, c. 1550 – c. 1650 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Thus endeth the lesson, as Sean Connery intones in “The Untouchables”. I’m wearing a T-Shirt today that I’ve had since one summer of the 80s, when our onetime family business, Mal Dunn Associates, threw a pool party, back in the day–pretty good shirts–still looks good:

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I used the above photo, along with my usual pilfering of the Rijksmuseums website’s collection of masterpieces, for the three videos below:

Collaboration   (2015Aug19)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015                                           1:03 PM

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

FamPh 063

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)

Friday, August 07, 2015                                           9:48 AM

An Off Day   (2015Aug07)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Saturday, August 08, 2015                                                11:53 AM

Stupid by Crazy   (2015Aug08)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-Iranians in Congress   (2015Jul25)

Saturday, July 25, 2015                                            9:34 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking Of Swing   (2015Jul09)

Thursday, July 09, 2015                                           3:39 PM

The first time I got a true sense of history was when I asked my parents about World War II. My parents were children of the thirties, so WWII was their childhood, for the most part. But WWII as history—as it was presented to me in school, on TV, and in books and movies, was a historical event. When I asked them about it, it seemed to be something they heard on the radio news—no more a part of their everyday lives than I found the reports of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which was a big part of my youth but which I found to be nothing but an annoying part of every day’s newscast and paper headline.

Most grown-ups of the early seventies were relieved when Nixon’s administration went to jail and he finally resigned—I was simply relieved that everyone could stop talking about it. My parents felt much the same about the last World War—it was something horrible that the grown-ups got upset about. There were things I learned about the Second World War that my parents didn’t know about—and didn’t have any interest in knowing about. I consider myself lucky that none of my kids ever took an interest in the Nixon era—I’d be just like my folks.

Similarly, we here at home knew far more about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the soldiers who were doing the fighting. They probably don’t get CNN in action zones—and they’re probably too busy to watch it, even if they did. It’s always about perspective—if you can climb a tall tree in the middle of Kansas, you can see more than everyone else—but the people on the ground are the only ones who matter, the ones who get things done. On the news we see what’s happening everywhere—a soldier under fire has strictly local interests.

History, despite its importance, has already happened. We can talk about it, we can learn from it, but we can’t change it. Our interests in history tend to focus on whatever means something to us on its face. Everyone likes the Revolutionary War because it was a war for freedom—and freedom is a popular thing. The history of science has fewer fans—science is a forbidding enough topic without the addition of dry old history. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has remarkable success at it—yet he has to leaven it with plenty of the new, the latest things, the wildest new theories, the bleeding-est-edged tech. My point is that you don’t have to stray far from the beaten path of military events and inventions to find areas of history that have no writers, never mind no readers.

It makes sense. History, in a sense, is a playback of the past—put too much detail into it and you end up without enough of a present to do anything but study the past. Plus, history is the history of all—we have enough trouble keeping track of all the details in our own solitary lives. To tell the story of everyone mandates that we speak in mostly general terms—else we reduce history to a series of actuarial tables.

I was equally nonplussed by my parents lack of interest in the classic movies that I watched incessantly on old late-night TV, and later, at the dawn of  cable, on American Movie Classics, followed, finally, by Turner Classic Movies. But those movies were seen by my parents as they were meant to be seen—in a big old movie palace with close-up faces ten feet high. Those stars weren’t legendary to my parents in the same way—they were contemporaries, even if my parents had never left Bayside Heights to mingle with the Hollywood elite.

More importantly, I have contemporaries of my own, many of whom have no interest in old movies. A taste for cinema isn’t all that common, no matter what generation you’re a part of. There are lots of people who go to the movies—that’s not quite the same thing—in the same way that lots of people listen to and dance to popular music, but have no interest in music in its broader sense.

One piece of music history that has relatively few fans is swing music. It gets by—no genre is completely ignored in this age of media. But being so distinctively antique while lacking the gravitas of classical music—plus being confined to such a tiny slice of the historical timeline—it has a specificity that limits its mass appeal to the occasional cameo in popular culture. I count myself among its adherents, though I don’t pretend to any great learning on the subject—I just like to play it. Don’t get me wrong—I listen to early Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw, and lots of others. There’s a sense of power to the percussion in swing music that isn’t exceeded (perhaps couldn’t be exceeded) until the advent of electric instruments and amplifiers.

I admire that—I’m always trying to get the maximum effect from my baby grand’s acoustic sound alone. I feel like whatever extra fanciness I could get from a synthesizer or a beat box would be frosting rather than cake—not that I don’t like frosting. And I recognize that there’s a power to amplification and synth that nothing I can do will match—maybe a great pianist could take that challenge, but I’m still shooting for ‘good’.

The jingoism of the post-war forties and fifties was out of favor by the time I ran across “They Call It America (But I Call It Home)” by Freddy Grant (1953). Singing such unabashed patriotic mush was frowned upon by my Flower Power generation (see this wonderful essay on Patriotism in Music).

Nevertheless I can’t deny the thrill of such crowing. It feels good to celebrate the greatness of America, even if we are far from the perfect picture being painted in the verse.

The “Our Love Affair” cover is not the famous “An Affair To Remember (Our Love Affair)”—a romantic song composed by Harry Warren for the 1957 film An Affair to Remember”, but the lesser-known song from “Strike Up the Band” (MGM, 1940) in which it was sung by Judy Garland.

I used a bunch of my classical art graphics to create the video backgrounds today—they give a sense of history, though I didn’t put them into any chronological order or anything. I’m kinda pushing the copyright envelope today—song covers with screen-grabbed art-works. Hey, I can’t do everything myself—and my amateur status makes it all fair use, since nobody really watches my videos anyway.

The following songs are performed in “Six (6) Swing Songs That Start With ‘S’ “:

“Seems Like Old Times”  Words and Music by  Carmen Lombardo & John Jacob Loeb (© 1946)

“Should I”  Music by Nacio Herb Brown (© 1929)

“Spring Is Here”  Words and Music by  Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers (© 1938)

“Stompin’ At The Savoy”  Music by Benny Goodman, Chick Web, & Edgar Sampson (© 1936)

“Street Scene”  Music by Alfred Newman (© 1933)

“Sunday In New York”  Words and Music by  Carroll Coates & Peter Nero

Yesterday’s I-Phone   (2015May25)

Monday, May 25, 2015                                            2:56 PM

The rise of the digital age has many markers: the first PCs, the first off-the-shelf software suites, LANs, the Internet—but nothing singled out such a tectonic shift in society as the I-Phone. Hell, it even started a revolution in Egypt, not to mention the slew of new businesses, of whole new industries, it spawned.

In many ways, we can draw parallels in the rise of the Electric Age—it started with light-bulbs, phonographs, silent films, electromagnets, and dynamos—but nothing pulled the populace into the new age like the radio. Today, we view the radio as archaic and primitive. But it was really the first time that we used our burgeoning understanding of physics in a way which affected the whole population.

But what is radio? Pierre Gassendi proposed a theory of light as particles in the 1660s. Newton agreed with him. Robert Hooke proposed a “pulse theory” of light as waves in 1665. The argument over whether light was made of particles or waves would continue until the mid-19th century.

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In 1845, Michael Faraday discovered that light was related to electromagnetism. James Clerk Maxwell’s studies of electromagnetic radiation and light helped him conclude that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation and in 1873 he published A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Heinrich Hertz confirmed Maxwell’s theory by generating and detecting radio waves that behaved exactly like visible light, with properties like reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference. Maxwell’s theory and Hertz’s experiments led directly to the development of modern radio.

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Marconi

Marconi’s Law, concerning the relation between the transmission distance and the square of the height of an antenna, was tested in experiments made on Salisbury Plain in 1897. Guglielmo Marconi did pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission. His development of Marconi’s law and a radio telegraph system has him credited as the ‘inventor of radio’. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”. Braun also invented the first Cathode Ray Tube and the first Oscilloscope—but we are talking about the birth of radio, not television.

Einstein published his “Theory of General Relativity” in 1915, so we can see that ‘scientific’ progress has always been far ahead of commercial applications. But commercial applications are always the ‘stamp of approval’ that humanity gives to the occasional geek working in a back-room laboratory. For more than a century, great scientists had worked on these mysteries of physics while being dismissed as loonies by their more-practical peers. There’s a wonderful song by Gershwin, “They All Laughed”, which catalogs in its lyrics the many innovators who were laughed at until they literally changed the world. It includes the line: “They told Marconi wireless was a phony—it’s the same way now.” And boy, is that true.

Radio-telegraphy, i.e. early radio, had only maritime and military uses, the most notable being its use during the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. But World War I ‘goosed’ the development of military-communications radio, and the first vacuum tubes were used in radio transmitters and receivers. Electronic amplification was key in changing radio from an experts-only practice into a home appliance.

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Commercial radio broadcasting began in the 1920s and exploded across American society, so that by the 1930s it had become ubiquitous–the first mass media, the first location-independent human interaction, and a characteristic that not only defined modern society, but had enormous power to change it.

Radio then spurred unstoppable growth in the new ‘broadcasting’ industry and the electric-manufacturing industry, which in turn gave rise to a variety of new entertainments—news broadcasts, radio serials, classical music for the masses—even an end-of-the-world, alien-invasion panic that swept the country on Halloween in 1938, following the infamous Orson Welles broadcast of a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. Seven years later, scientific research into the same physics of electromagnetism would lead to mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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It is strange beyond words how our understanding of electromagnetism has two lives—one of quiet, focused scientists working in anonymity, and the other a crazy story about what the mainstream of humanity does with specific applications that eventually catch our eye. And I think ‘crazy’ may be understating the case. Sometimes I think it might be better if we had mandatory inclusion in science—if the majority of humanity has no clue about the inner workings of our tools and machines, maybe we shouldn’t use them. Okay, idealism overload—never mind!

When television came along, in the 1950s, everyone imagined that it would supplant radio and the movies. Now, we can see that early TV, while wonderful, couldn’t quite replace the experience of a panoramic, full-color movie screen. Radio, too, had a quality that TV couldn’t quite replace—variety. The wealth of radio stations, and the diversity of radio programming, provided a wealth of audio-only entertainment that left radio in command of most of our attention, except for what came to be known as Prime Time, that work-is-done, after-dinner period when people naturally enjoyed a reason to sit around the family room and stare at the screen.

I can still remember when the time of day made a difference. At midnight, the TV stations would run the National Anthem and sign off “’til tomorrow” and if I woke up too early and switched on the TV, that test pattern would still be there, waiting for a decent hour before sending entertainment over the airwaves. Radio stations, too, designed their programming with the assumption that people slept at night—and that anyone in their broadcast range was in the same time zone. As the evening wore on, even in the 1960s, the number of entertainment options slowly dwindled down to zero.

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Also, radios had become a part of the automobile dashboard by the 1930s—something TV would never do, since driving requires one to look where they’re going. By the sixties, radio had been transistorized, as well, and tiny, hand-held radios were everywhere. I remember Jones Beach, on Long Island in summer, would be blanketed with sun-bathing families and friends—each with their own radio, but all tuned to Cousin Brucie—I could walk along the beach and hear “She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…” from a hundred tiny speakers.

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By the 1970s, radio had matured from Amplitude Modulation (AM radio, with that annoying ‘carrier signal’ whine) to Frequency Modulation (FM radio, noiseless—and capable of stereo). Radio had finally equaled the sound fidelity of vinyl. TV wouldn’t match that sound quality until the 1980s, when retailers began to market ‘Entertainment Systems’ that re-routed the TV’s sound through multiple speakers using the Dolby system.

Even XM radio, which broadcasts not through the air, but over the Internet, has yet to overthrow broadcast radio, though it may be nearing that point, out of sheer market pressure—I don’t think anyone is building new radio transmitter stations anymore. But I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the original “Wireless”.

Memorial Day – Observed   (2015May25)

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Monday, May 25, 2015                                            12:14 PM

Remembrances are tricky. There’s no critique in a eulogy. Why speak ill of the dead? They can’t hear you. I’m looking forward to my own eulogy—must be nice to have people talk about the good and overlook the bad.

Americans have little sense of soldiers as defenders of the homeland. We don’t have any borders to speak of—just oceans. Hence our navy is really the picket-line for the USA. But 9/11 changed even that—as have drones. The conservatives describe the modern military paradigm as ‘fighting over there so we don’t have to fight here’. Yet we are just as vulnerable to the keyboard of an angry teen hacker in Teaneck, perhaps more so, than any imaginary horde attempting a beachhead on Martha’s Vineyard.

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It’s become so tangled that many people have begun to see non-involvement in the Shia/Sunni civil-wars of Mid-East nations as a viable military strategy. Recent perusals of Bin-Laden’s archives show that he wanted to keep American targets as the terrorists’ focus—and he did succeed in virtually bankrupting this country by blowing up a single skyscraper. Lucky for us, he’s dead—and ISIS is a far more benign group of thugs who prefer to shoot at things closer to home. If we can just counteract their YouTube recruitment videos, they’re dead to us.

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Unfortunately, they have stumbled onto something that is almost as aggravating to Americans—they’re destroying the cultural history of our earliest civilizations. Human suffering is common—but these jerks are smashing museum artifacts—priceless, irreplaceable art from the dawn of humanity. But that is just for PR—they take most of their plunder and sell it on the black market to fund their armies.

So let’s not forget, on this Memorial Day, that Americans who get rich selling arms to the globe, and rich Americans who buy artifacts on the black market, are the support network for these ‘terrorists’. People say we should stop sending drones into the Middle East—I say we should stop sending money and arms there.

But today is about honoring sacrifice. Mothers who’ve lost one of their own children in battle are troubled by the paradox of glorifying something that could very well take another, or one of their children’s children. Young men who are proud to play their part in our military sense a dark message that their greatest glory will be found in death. Disabled veterans may find themselves bitterly reflecting that the dead have it much easier than some of the living—and get the lion’s share of respect and honor from their countrymen.

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To me, it’s a historical issue. To honor the dead from the two World Wars, the Civil War, the Revolution, et. al. is a straightforward sentiment. By comparison, all the ‘wars’ that followed the advent of the A-bomb—Korea and Viet Nam—became something less than ‘all out’ warfare—they were Political. We tempered our forces, fearing that ‘all out’ aggression would involve the Red Chinese—which would have transformed those ground wars into a nuclear World War III. The interpolation of politics into the fighting and dying became the kindling that sparked the anti-war movement.

Subsequent ‘wars’ drew even further away from the idea of fighting with all our might and resources—today’s military actions are a hodge-podge of nation-consensus-building and domestic opinion-polling. The boys and girls who are ‘sacrificed to our freedom’ today are just as likely to be the victims of one day’s poor polling points—or some cheap contractor’s shoddy manufacturing.

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Plus, there is no more ‘war at home’, as we had in WWII, with USO stations, fund drives, ration books, and flags in the windows. Part of the PTSD suffered by today’s returning veterans is the disorientation felt when they return to a country that’s barely aware of what they’re doing. They suffer, bleed, fight and die thousands of miles away, on the other side of an ocean—and come home to bored, sensation-seeking civilians who hardly knew they were gone.

If we’re going to have war in the Middle East, we should have a little Memorial Day every damn day. Failing that, we should stop sending our young people to die in places we don’t care about. Or maybe we should rename today “Oil Day”.

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

Friday, May 22, 2015                                               10:52 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015                                              12:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Know   (2015Apr12)

Sunday, April 12, 2015                                            2:10 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Hawks   (2015Apr03)

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Friday, April 03, 2015                                                7:38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Birthday, Emmy Noether!   (2015Mar23)

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Monday, March 23, 2015                                          11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Fight   (2015Mar19)

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Thursday, March 19, 2015                               2:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s Your Opinion   (2015Mar17)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015                                 12:20 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As Stupid Does   (2015Mar02)

Monday, March 02, 2015                                 4:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-Thinking   (2015Feb18)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015                                11:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Somebody Else’s Blog (2015Feb15)

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Sunday, February 15, 2015                              4:53 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have a Koch and Be Beguiled (2015Feb08)

Sunday, February 08, 2015                              6:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Great Man (2015Feb05)

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Thursday, February 05, 2015                          9:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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O–and, while I’m posting stuff:

Strangling Big Government   (2015Jan30)

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Friday, January 30, 2015                                            11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I See What You Did There (2015Jan24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Still A Student (2015Jan24)

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Saturday, January 24, 2015                    11:07 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State Of What Union? (2015Jan21)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015                        5:25 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Just out on VOD:)

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

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

Director, Screenplay: John Ridley

Starring: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brrr! (2015Jan09)

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Friday, January 09, 2015                        1:42 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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On Whose Authority? (2015Jan07)

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

 

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

– The New York Times

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015                        11:05 AM

On Whose Authority?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 03, 2015                    2:19 PMadven312

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seasonal Withdrawal (2014Dec29)

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

 

ESSAY:

Monday, December 29, 2014                          2:13 AM

 

Before The Beginning And After The End

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Coming Out My Ears (2014Dec20)

 

 

 

Your Choice (2014Dec14)

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tortuous Debate (2014Dec11)

torture

Thursday, December 11, 2014                        6:21 PM

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

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

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

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

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

national-threats

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Political Arrangements! (2014Nov18)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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…

Gun Owners (2014Oct25)

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Those who own guns want to own guns—that’s the sad, simple fact—and that’s why reasoned arguments don’t go over so well with them. I admit, there is one thing in this dangerous world that guns will protect them from—other gun owners. Unfortunately, the stats show that gun owners shoot themselves and their families far more than any outside faction.

You can use a rifle to hunt for dinner, or to kill a wild beast in the woods (if you get one angry enough to attack you—they prefer to avoid us) and this allows pro-gun nuts to confuse the issue over hand-guns, open carry, and school shootings. So, sure, keep the rifles—at least until you can get your ass to the A&P to buy dinner, like a normal person. Come to think of it, hunting rifles are closest in kind to the “arms” noted in our second amendment—so if you’re thinking of overthrowing the tyranny of our present government, by all means, keep that rifle.

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But if you just want to feel that deliciously heavy steel killing machine in your mitt, and your neighbors all feel the same way—well, you’re all just looking for an excuse to feel the Power—that better-than-sex power you feel with a pistol in your hand. You’re in love with violence. Go on—admit it. You just want to shoot somebody—because what bigger thrill has life to offer? The power of life and death—strong stuff. I mean, they’re there, they’re right there—and if you don’t own one, someone else will—and then you’ll be helpless against their childish impulse to try something that goes bang. Happiness, as the Beatles pointed out, is a Warm Gun. (Bang, bang, shoot, shoot…)

Geometrically speaking, if we consider the ever-growing incidence of school shootings, parents shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. But then, the psychotic teenagers that perpetrate school shootings don’t always get their arms from their parents. So, better idea, gun owners should only live in child-free zones, so the two never intersect. (Or is it ‘children only in gun-free zones’?) Still, I’m starting to think that all these school shootings may have something to do with bad parenting—maybe we should focus on random, adult shootings, instead. After all, parenting is hard—and 99% of us do it wrong—so let’s leave the kids out of this.

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Maybe it’s religion—is there anything more terrifying than a fundamentalist with a fully-loaded firearm? Ask ISIS. But I have to say, if these people really believed in anything other than their own hatred, would they need weapons to enforce their ‘heaven on earth’? Isn’t God supposed to have some kind of power? Other than a tank battalion, I mean. Belief in God should disqualify us from weapons purchasing for two reasons: If you die unarmed, isn’t that a free pass to the Magic Kingdom? And isn’t God’s will going to triumph, regardless of firepower?

Religion, kids, dinner—these are the real problems. Owning a hand-gun means nothing—after all, guns don’t kill people—they just make it so damn easy.

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Booked Into the Awesome Suite   (2014Oct22)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014            11:41 AM

It’s dull and chilly and damp today. Hardly inspiring. My mood slips in and out of types: melancholy, disinterest, avidity, disinterest, persistence, disinterest…. All in all, a good day to go lie down.

Well, big mistake—I got back up again. I played Bach’s English Suite No. 5 in e minor, plus fore-and-aft improvs. I’m making the videos now—not as exciting as I might have wished, but something to do.

I’m thrilled with this sudden increase in my ability to sight-read and play piano in general—but there are limits. For instance, no one should be surprised if the last few dances from the English Suite sound a little raggedy—after the first twenty minutes, even ‘new, improved’ me wasn’t really bringing the awesome.

Still, it’s so nice to be going through a slight improvement, for once—I can’t help but get carried away…

 

 

 

 

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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Worlds of Dark and Light (2014Oct16)

FP411T19570501Thursday, October 16, 2014                  8:50 AM

We grew up in Bethpage, Long Island, absorbing the conventions of the times. Our dad (well, everyone’s dad) went to work every day and our mom stayed home and did homely stuff. We siblings lived in well-justified fear of their anger, drunkenness, or just lousy moods. No one mentioned sex (I heard about it later on, from other people). Authority was absolute—and punishment knew no limits. Homosexuality, women’s reproductive health, domestic abuse, incest, rape, bigotry and anti-Semitism didn’t exist—in spite of the mystifying glimmers of such things all around us.

Women simply weren’t the equal of men. Ethnic humor was a riot—we could just ask Jose Jimenez. Drinking and smoking were what grown-ups did—and there was nothing wrong with that. Driving a car as fast as possible was a God-given right (our major highways had no speed limits until the seventies)—and driving safety was the other guy’s problem.

It was a machine of a world—one knew that standing in the road meant being run down, and that it would be one’s own fault for getting in the way of the car. ‘Family values’ were survival tools—if dad got mad enough to put us out on the highway and keep driving, we would surely be devoured by the cold world lurking outside the family circle.

If we got in trouble Christmas morning, if they raged and screamed at us—we’d better shake it off and get back into Christmas-cheer mode when we arrived at Gramma’s house, or we’d be in even deeper trouble. “If you don’t cheer up and have fun, I’m gonna beat the living hell out of you.”—that sort of ‘reasoning’.

Actually, ‘reason’ was the most dangerous material a person could handle back then, especially a kid. Being the logical winner of a debate with an angry father makes a child anything but the ‘winner’. “Don’t get smart with me.” “Don’t be a wise-ass.” “Because I’m your father and I said so, godammit.” “Just shut up and do what you’re told.” These were but a few of the idiomatic gems we lived with.

We lived insular lives—no history beyond our own lifetimes, no society outside our own neighborhoods. We felt perfectly right to classify anyone with unusual interests as an oddball—even reading a book made someone a target of ridicule (Who the hell’d they think they were—Einstein?)

You, dear reader, may have lived a better version of this in your childhood, or perhaps an even worse version—or you may not even be old enough to know what I’m talking about. The fact remains—the developed world (and not so very long ago) was not a civilization, it was a Neanderthal’s fantasy of civilization.

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Any real question of ethics was put off to the priests—and the priests were put off till Sunday. Any real appreciation of the arts was the domain of homosexuals (or, in the parlance of the times, ‘sexual deviants’—or just plain ‘perverts’). Any issue of philosophy, not to mention hard fact, was left to college professors—funny little men (like Einstein) who may know book-learning but who had no practical knowledge of any worth and were, therefore, idiots.

In the 1960s, thoughts and ideas and ethics and personal expression became subjects of news reporting. They didn’t know that, of course—they thought they were reporting on men growing long hair, boys burning draft cards, and girls burning bras—but they were unknowingly publicizing the value of individual thought as equal to the value of convention. The underdeveloped world continued with their focus on who was stronger, who could kill who—but we had finally begun to talk about who was ‘righter’. And through the practice of civil disobedience, we often proved that right had its own kind of might.

Intellectual awareness made a few gains, but pencil-necked geeks were still targets of society’s abiding heroes—the fit, the rich, the unremarkably normal. Then electronics stepped in and by the 1980s, being ‘smart’ had the potential to become ‘rich and powerful’—and the era of the mind had begun.

The context of our lives is now moot. What once was common sense is now the height of ignorance. What was propriety is now bigotry. What was manly is now sexist. What was feminine is now self-loathing. Trust in authority became paranoia. Progress became pollution. And capitalism has become slavery (or rather, it has finally been recognized for what it always was). These are good changes—this is progress—but that doesn’t ease our confusion.

Now we must second-guess every thought, every word, and every assumption. We live with dual minds, judging our surroundings by two conflicting perspectives, repressing most of what we ‘knew’ in favor of what we now ‘understand’. Life is complicated—and not everyone is comfortable with that.

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Prior to this, the physically weak were the losers—we pitied them (or ourselves, depending on genes and physique) but otherwise relegated them to the ‘unimportant’. Nowadays, the intellectually weak are the losers—but for some reason, they have retained importance. An ignoramus like Sarah Palin can become a public figure. Idiocy like Creationism can be taught in public schools. Neo-Jim-Crow local law-enforcers feel empowered to gun down young, African American men at the slightest whim. Politicians even celebrate reactionary ignorance, as evidenced by the Tea Party.

So it isn’t confusing enough to come from institutionalized repression into a society just beginning to embrace reason—we have to deal with the sore-losers who want to move back into the cave, as well. God forbid we ever do things the easy way.

Reason is dangerous. Being a billionaire while millions starve is unreasonable—if we embrace reason, what horrible fate befalls the poor billionaire? Manufacturing weapons in a violent world is unreasonable—but that is not a problem so long as we are willing to put all the reasonable people in front of a firing squad. Reason precludes religion—but what good is reason if life isn’t a prelude to ‘an eternal afterlife in paradise’? Who wants to see the world as it is when, if we shout loud and long enough, we can insist the world is what we choose to believe?

Okay, all that aside–here’s my latest improv:

Do Your Parents Need Regulation? (2014Sep09)

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Sunday, September 07, 2014                 9:17 PM

Some people seem to think that plain speaking is a sign of anger. This is incorrect—speaking plainly is a product of fatigue. Fatigue is far more accessible to us now that the Inter-Web has given us Social Media (in some digital environs, it could just as well be called Sociopathic Media). Once a Thread begins, particularly a cultural-socio-economic-politicized-cause-type thread, I see both the hard-minded-ness of their side and my own. I argue for the right and just, not because I want to prove myself right. And the casual, very personal vitriol is totally outside of whatever point is at hand, if there is one.

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There are a crowd of possible responses to any statement—the less concern for the point of a discussion, the wider the crowd. If I seek to understand the speaker, and to give a considered, reasonable response, my possible actions are at their least prolific, i.e. listening carefully, with an open mind, and thinking hard about what I’ve heard—being on the lookout for distractions such as my desire to win the argument or simple impatience masquerading as righteousness—and forming a response that respects the other person’s ideas while forwarding my own as clearly as possible.

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But if trolling threads is my favorite past-time because I get to cuss and dismiss and insult without consequence (or without the courage to look a person in the face and say such things) then I can say what I want. I don’t have to pay attention to other posters in any way other than to find key-words to hang my taunts on. ‘Kill yourself’ is a favorite among the trolls—and that outlines their thought process to a ‘T’. Only children (many of them overgrown) have the urge to titillate themselves by trolling the internet—grown-ups are far too busy with more real pursuits, online and off. Part of the thrill, I suppose, is the ability to jump into any formerly rational discussion thread and mess it up for everyone else—and no one knows who to blame. What finer mischief could be imagined?