Daylight Is Their Greatest Enemy   (2016Mar12)

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Saturday, March 12, 2016                                        12:42 PM

In the present political climate I often wonder how the world I grew up in became so surreally chaotic. But then I realize that the staid and stuffy aspects of society that bothered me as a youngster have all been, to varying degrees, knocked into rubble—silence is no longer the answer to an ugly problem. And we have found many ugly problems had been caused by the suppression of beautiful people—real people, not just the idealized Dicks and Janes of the 1950s. That people, in all their variety, can no longer be publicly shamed for being different, in whatever way, is a great step forward—but institutionalized biases persist—and individual families’ lore makes bigotry an eternal legacy—so true equality and acceptance continue to elude America.

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We have today a clash that was impossible in the 1950s—Plurality has won many Supreme Court battles, from Thurgood Marshall’s historic vindications to the recent acceptance of gay marriage—thus the laws that made equality a joke have all been deemed unconstitutional—but the personal hatred and fear still persists. The cancer of Capitalism confuses the issue enormously—especially because lots of old, bigoted, homophobic, evangelical white men have most of the money. The opium of Religion confuses the issue, too, by supporting ancient codes of morality that predate both science and medicine, i.e. they were written by ignorant people—and by making up ‘teams’, each religion vying for supremacy, as god intended—their god, anyway.

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In the 1960s, the growing liberal population was relegated to the ‘sub-culture’—equality and free speech used to be something of an underground movement, vulnerable to police brutality and legislative bans. Criminalizing drugs, particularly weed, was targeted at the subculture. Lenny Bruce, the stand-up comic, when he wasn’t being arrested for talking openly about sex or using profane language, was being arrested for possession. Schools banned long hair on boys and pants on girls. Looking back we are tempted to say, how trivial, how silly—but this was the level of blind conformism that those in power presumed upon themselves.

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Thus ‘the establishment’ made themselves easy targets for lampoon and ridicule—and liberality became more mainstream—there was a backlash of ‘what’s the big deal with long hair and dirty words—especially while our kids are being sent into a meat-grinder in South East Asia?’ And ever since, it has been more and more the case that the establishment is now the underground movement –and the trouble is that evil thrives in secrecy—especially wealthy evil. The worst disaster to befall the Republican party in the last election was when some journalist smuggled out a tape of a meeting where they spoke plainly among themselves. When we heard Romney’s ‘47%’ comment, he lost the race. Daylight is their greatest enemy.

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The sixties were an era of great conflict—even riots in the streets—and that was when truth and justice were ‘the underground’. Now that greed and evil are the new ‘underground’ movement, we can just sit back and wait for the end of civilization as we know it—the bastards. Like all poorly-shaped minds, they search the new liberality, cherry-picking those freedoms that allow for dirtier tricks than ever before, while ignoring the ideals behind those freedoms.

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Their idea of ‘fighting fire with fire’ is to lie and twist the truth and engender fear and loathing of one group for another, while pretending to be good businesspeople, good family people, and good Americans. I hate a bald-faced, shameless liar—and so I don’t much care for Republican politicians. At least the Democrats accept Science—I mean, really.

In a way, Trump, by presenting the GOP as the naked fascism it is, is a breath of fresh air—finally, a blatantly stupid, hateful pig who doesn’t try to pretend he’s just as intelligent and sensitive as a Democrat.

Super Leap Week   (2016Mar01)

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016                                                  5:18 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay then.

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Negligence   (2015Aug06)

Thursday, August 06, 2015                                               12:34 PM

I take the approach of tonight’s GOP debate show as my cue to break my promise to myself not to upset myself by discussing current events. My love/hate indecision about talking politics is, I suppose, like my feeling about bad drivers on the road. There are a lot of bad drivers out there—if I allow myself to dwell on them, I only upset myself and make it harder to contain my own barely contained road rage—but I can only ignore them at the risk of mortal danger to myself and the others around me. It’s a catch-22.

As I surfed from one noon-time news reports to the next—all slathered with saliva over tonight’s big circus—I found myself yearning for November. I thought to myself, “By November it will only be a year to go before all this mishegas is over.” Think about that. These many months of back-and-forth babbling between the talking heads debating the 2016 presidential election (not the candidates so much, mind you, but the anchors, correspondents, and pundits) have been ubiquitous. And we still have more than a year to go before anyone actually casts a vote.

The idea that this election is that important begs the question—shouldn’t we be talking issues, and legislation? Shouldn’t we be talking about the other elected offices, federal, state, and local—if only to correlate their effects on whoever ends up with the office of president? It is a three-part system of powers in balance, after all—the president, in and of him-or-her-self, can do nothing alone. Even the executive orders that have been in the news lately are subject to review by the judicial branch.

Never has the term ‘weapons of mass distraction’ been so apt. Why does mass media get tunnel-vision over this single event scheduled for the November after next? I’m tempted to say it’s for the same reason that Donald Trump is ahead in the polls—because the media have become champions of ignorance and instant gratification. Election Day 2016 will be an exciting day—why not simulate a bit of it every day, just for the thrill? And why not flood us with examples of this one bully’s idiocy?—He sure is entertaining.

In “Good Night And Good Luck” we saw a reenactment of the moment when adult, responsible analysis of our times first when down in defeat to the public’s ceaseless hunger for distraction. Since then there has been an evolution of further and further focus on titillation in favor of substance on television. And commerce has not been lazy about nailing down its influence over many other aspects of our lives—the people who believe money is everything have managed to insert that belief into our laws, our arts, our culture, and our educational system. It would be quixotic to hope, at this late date, that any maturity could be brought to bear on the mass media’s choice of content.

I feel that Obama’s election to two terms is indicative of the majority’s thirst for enlightened government by sober, intelligent adults. Further, I consider all of the GOP candidates to be ‘far right’ in the historical sense, regardless of how they appear in relation to each other. The entire party seems to have been hijacked by cranks, cronies, and the super-wealthy. Their greatest support comes from those who get all their information from television. Their greatest detractors now come from the ranks of those with a passing knowledge of science, ethics, or the arts.

Therefore I think it’s perfectly safe to miss out on the big debate tonight—the biggest gaffes will be replayed ad infinitum over the following few days; the chances of someone saying something intelligent are vanishingly small; and by this November (still a year from the election) none of what happens tonight will matter.

To me, the only real question is whether Bernie Sanders will become so much more attractive than Hillary Clinton that the Democrats will forget that Bernie can’t possibly draw enough of the middle to win a national election. Not that I wouldn’t vote for him—it’s just that he’s less likely to win the big one.

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

Monday, August 03, 2015                                       6:55 PM

Here’s a T. S. Eliot quote:

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

A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,

Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle

With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.

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

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

Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity

And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us

Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,

Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,

The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets

Useless in the darkness into which they peered

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

At best, only a limited value

In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived

Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.

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

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

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

And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,

Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear

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

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

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

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

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

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

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

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

“Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Rolling, Stone   (2015Apr06)

Monday, April 06, 2015                                            1:18 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Hence This Essay   (2015Mar22)

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Sunday, March 22, 2015                                            12:13 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why We Fight   (2015Mar19)

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Thursday, March 19, 2015                               2:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s Your Opinion   (2015Mar17)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015                                 12:20 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Piggies   (2015Mar14)

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Saturday, March 14, 2015                                1:05 PM

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Happy Pi Day, everybody!

We are supposed to wander around begging for a job—if we don’t find a job, we go hungry and die. That’s our 21st century paradigm—and we are so married to it that Texan racists have been known to comment that black people were ‘better off’ as slaves. What they’re really saying (although their tiny brains don’t realize it) is that anyone who isn’t rich is better off in slavery—and they have a kind of a point. Let the employer go through all the hassle of finding housing and three meals a day and health care on the pittance that an employer is willing to pay for labor. Let the employer figure out how you’re going to earn your keep. After all, it’s bad enough that the wealthy get that way by underpaying their employees—it doesn’t seem fair that we get screwed by both the bad pay and the many inconveniences of trying to stay alive on subsistence wages.

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And what are the differences between today’s workaday workplace and slavery? Oh, they’re there—but when you think about it, you find that they’re rather subtle differences. Both situations take away a person’s self-determination and place them under the command of someone who isn’t interested in leadership, only in using you up and giving back as little as possible. Both situations infringe on the personal liberty of the victim, separating them from their families—sometimes to the point of destroying their families. And both give unwarranted power to some jackass who has no inherent intelligence or ability, only the power of financial life or death over the persecuted.

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Yes, slavery had the added drawback of giving the overseers the literal power of life or death over the persecuted—and that’s certainly important—but in most other ways, employment is self-imposed slavery. Conservatives will blow hard, insisting that a real man has to work to earn his way through life—but is that true? Do we have to work hard every day to survive? No, we don’t. Not in the 21st century. All we have to do to survive today is get a paycheck, an income, some revenue—it’s not hard work, per se, it’s just a matter of pleasing an employer. And employers have somehow worked it out in their heads that, even though the company is making them filthy rich, they still owe the people that make that happen nothing more than the legal minimum—and then they bitch about how there shouldn’t be a legal limit on how little they can pay a worker. Aren’t they sweet?

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It’s a good thing I don’t get out much. If I were to meet a rich person in person today, I’d be hard pressed not to just slap them right in the face—they disgust me. “Have you seen the little piggies rolling in the dirt?” sang the Beatles, once upon a time. Oh, we’ve seen them, alright. The natural shame that such people used to feel about being publicly piggish has evaporated—they bankroll political campaigns, lobbyists, hate groups, and fundamentalists—and they do it right on CNN, in front of the whole world, like they had nothing to be embarrassed about. Sorry, rich people—you do have something to be embarrassed about—but if you want to ignore that and just wait until there is such pressure from social inequality that it turns into an uprising, like they do in third-world countries, then go ahead. Just be advised that someone at some time is likely to decide you all deserve a bullet in the brain.

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I’m a gentle flower—I would never be able to do violence to anyone, no matter how deserving they are. But I’m well aware, and the fat cats should be likewise, that there are plenty of less-gentle people in the world. And after that first one or two billion, what’s the point, anyway? Why are you so greedy? What makes you such a pig? If I had too much money, I’d use it to get a degree, without having to go into debt. Why aren’t you idiots going to school? Are you so detached from the human race that you don’t want to know anything more than how to rip other people off? Have any of you ever noticed that non-rich people have friends, fun, happiness? You do know that no amount of money will get you those things, don’t you?

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Okay, now I’m in danger of making the mistake we always make—we pay too much attention to these scumbags. They are little in every way, other than their bank balance. They are stupid. They are greedy. They are blind. Yes, they have too much influence on our culture—but we should always be on guard against giving them any importance outside of the power of their money. They are sad, sorry creatures with no understanding of the world or of people. They only know about their filthy, worthless money. They’re like a disease in our society, creating imbalances and competitiveness where neither is needed, warping the purposes of both government and commerce. They are the bad apples at the bottom of our barrel and should be treated accordingly.

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Capitalism only works when it’s new-ish. But American Capitalism is old and settled now—laws and regulations by the thousands have worked their way into our legislation, making it nearly impossible for someone new to compete with existing businesses. Monopolies have fought against the anti-monopoly laws long enough that they no longer exist. Financiers have fought against regulation and oversight for so long that they now give orders to the government instead of the other way around—even when they screw up badly enough to throw us all into a Great Recession.

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Then, during that disaster, instead of being chased through the streets by angry mobs (like they should have been) they were busily foreclosing on every mortgage—even the paid-up ones. And their excuse for foreclosing on all their mortgages, regardless of their status—was that they had sold so many bad mortgages that they didn’t have the time or the manpower to carefully go through them all—like that’s our problem. You see, my problem isn’t with these people having so much money. My problem with the filthy rich is that somehow having a lot of money turns a person into a big pile of crap.

If only the drug companies would stop stacking up profits making boner pills, and tried to find a pill that would turn a rich person into a human being. Now, that would be ‘better living through chemistry’.

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

Friday, March 13, 2015                                    9:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Madhouse   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:32 PM

It’s like being trapped in a nightmare. I don’t want to steal stuff, but plenty of people in this world do. I don’t want to own a gun, but plenty of people in this world do—and some of them even want to use them. I don’t want to fight, but plenty others do. If I go into business with someone I wouldn’t feel right unless it was fifty-fifty. But there are plenty of people who think it’s okay to hire twenty people at minimum wage and keep all the money for themselves.

I think the unfairness of the world would make a lot less sense if we were less accepting of the way things are—because the way things are is crazy. We don’t want to admit that—we don’t like to confront the fact that society is a madhouse—and by denial, we institutionalize the madness. The media reports on insanity with probity, as if the old men (and occasional woman) in charge gain dignity through wrinkled flesh. But those jerk-offs started out as egotistical little jerks, and they’re just older now, not all that much wiser. When they get on TV, I shudder at their mealy-mouthed evasions and mis-directions. They’re not fooling anyone but themselves, but the well-paid talking heads react as if they’re speaking plain English and using intelligence. What a load.

Someone shoots an unarmed person and we debate whether to throw the killer’s ass in jail, because he gets paid to carry a gun. Shouldn’t those people be held to a higher standard, not a lower one? If I kill someone, you can bet it’s because I was being an asshole—but if a cop kills someone unarmed, they’re being unprofessional. Don’t take the job if you can’t control yourself. End of fricking debate, unless you have some cleverly veiled racism to interject?

We’re going to look a grown woman straight in the eye and tell her that we, not she, are going to decide whether she has a baby or not? What jesus-freak planet does that logic come from? But, wait, since we’re discussing insanity, I’d better steer clear of Christianity—I don’t want to still be typing when the sun comes up.

I’m just sick of money and violence and the stupidity that incites it, excuses it, rationalizes it, and perpetuates it. Did you know that 75% of ISIS’s arms are made in the USA? Well, now you can add that to the insanity you’ve already accepted, like the scientists who are paid by the wealthy industrialists to deny the reality of climate change. You just sat there and took it, didn’t you? Even though we both know that our children’s middle-age will be a sci-fi-apocalypse nightmare—and it’ll be our fault. Just like it was our fault when all the yahoos started burning Dixie Chick CDs—and all us reasonable folk just sat back and watched while hundreds of thousands of young Americans were sent to turn Iraq into an incubator for terrorism, based on lies told to us by our leaders—and thousands of young Americans didn’t come back.

Bertrand Russell once complained to the effect that educated people were never sure they were right, but ignorant, crazy people were always positive. I have an addition to that postulate—ignorant, crazy people are more activist than reasonable people. Paradoxically, if we want the world to be less crazy, or at least slow down the expressway to crazy, we have to get a little crazy ourselves. We have to do the unthinkable—we have to get involved with politics. We have to get so involved that there are just as many reasonable people in politics as there are crazies—and I know that’s asking a lot, but I can’t change the facts of the matter.

When someone like that butt-head senator from Texas opens his yap, he should hear a room full of people laughing in his ignorant face. But he doesn’t—because he’s surrounded by butt-head senators. We’ve had democracy for a long time, but we only recently started voting for people as stupid as ourselves, instead of people we knew were smarter. I think it was Reagan who turned the presidency into a popularity contest–he was certainly the first openly stupid modern-day president we ever had, and the first movie star. (Beiber in 2036, anyone?) Sure, we’ve always resented intelligent people, but it used to include the grudging respect that intelligence deserves. Where did that kind of common sense go? When did we turn into children?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the past was any great shakes either. We had women virtually chained to kitchen stoves, and Jim Crow was not confined to the Deep South—we had corruption, fundamentalism, and elitism like you wouldn’t believe. The changes were good there, for a while. But then we all seemed to decide to get amnesia and re-examine debates that were settled in the 1950s. We started sliding backwards in our social progress, in the quality of our education, and in our perception as voters. Suddenly, only rich people were seeing things get better—the rest of us watched us go to war over a lie, lose our homes to the banks that lost us our jobs, and watched our government turn into a undisciplined kindergarten classroom.

The rich get upset over anything that smacks of humanity. They’ll tell you it’s too expensive. They’ll tell you it infringes on their rights. They’ll tell you it will bring ISIS to our shores. They’ll say anything—and they’ll say it a lot, through every media outlet they own, which is all of them. Those bastards are in charge and they want it all—the only thing they don’t want is change. Informed, self-determining people are so hard to push around. Luckily for the fat-cats, such creatures seem to be an endangered American species. Where have you gone, Kurt Vonnegut?

As Stupid Does   (2015Mar02)

Monday, March 02, 2015                                 4:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, February 27, 2015                                10:30 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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So I’m An Idiot (2015Feb06)

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Friday, February 06, 2015                      9:08 AM

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

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

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

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

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And, of course, someone replied:

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

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

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

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The Great Man (2015Feb05)

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Thursday, February 05, 2015                          9:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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O–and, while I’m posting stuff:

Strangling Big Government   (2015Jan30)

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Friday, January 30, 2015                                            11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank Goodness They’re That Bad (2015Jan26)

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Monday, January 26, 2015 10:07 AM

They’ve gone too far this time—and that’s a good thing. In their towering passion to oppose Obama, the Republican all-stars that made their bones sniping at him now find themselves objecting to and opposing everything, even each other. The same convoluted mind-set that found flaws in every action or aspect of our current President has gotten them into the habit of attacking anyone, even themselves, in the same way. After years of oblique responses, left-field criticisms, and denial, they can’t help but turn these awful weapons of unreason against each other.

 
Now that it is within their power to recreate the Dark Ages in the 21st-century, their well-sharpened debate reflexes have them arguing amongst themselves just how Dark the New Dark Ages should be. That’s good news. We have stood aghast as these new tricks learned by the powerful and the ignorant have stymied many of our government’s efforts to improve the lot of its citizens, and to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.

 

They oppose health care, particularly a women’s right to choose her own health-care options. They oppose homosexuality—statistically one in ten people, which seems to me enough people that ostracizing them becomes a threat against all our freedoms. They wish to establish the primacy of Christianity in a nation that prides itself on religious freedom. It seems pretty clear that they wish to retain their racism while debating racism’s existence. In a nation of immigrants they see new immigrants as our greatest threat. And in the wake of our nation’s greatest financial meltdown, their first priority is to undo the regulations that would prevent any future predatory banking and investment.

 

I’ll never understand how they got so many people to vote against their own interests in the last election. I knew that we, as a nation, pay more attention to TV commercials than we do to our teachers, but I never realized that such superficiality went ‘to the bone’, all the way to our decision-making process. The fact that many of their stratagems relied upon the success of bare-faced lying left me with a sense of overwhelming futility—not just that they would tell lies, but that we would be ignorant enough to be taken in by them. The changes wrought by the Citizens United ruling on our democratic process have brought me close to despair.

 

Our democracy, once a marketplace of ideas, has been downgraded to a mere marketplace. Money bought the offices won in the last election, not honest appraisal. It seems the voters have forgotten to look at their own lives as an indicator of whom they should vote for. Today, they are urged, and very convincingly, to vote based on the fictitious bugaboos of the GOP media machine. Dirt-poor voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that oppose financial regulation and government subsidies of the poor. Ignorant voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that prefer funding our military to funding our educational system. The unemployed were persuaded to vote for the super-wealthy’s candidates, who were unanimous in denying the income-inequality gap.

 

It was an election of madness. We chose our own self-destruction, and walked out of the polling booths proud of ourselves. And the only thing saving us now is the Republicans’ inability to switch gears from obstructionism to actual governing. Having opposed our government for so long, they seem at a loss as to how to become our new government—as if it were a crime to do the job they were elected for.

 

I know that people, as a group, are incapable of intelligent decision-making. I wasn’t born yesterday. But I’m so tired of Stupid. Aren’t we all pretty exhausted with Stupid? I’d like to kick those bastards out of congress, but Stupid is so damn popular. It must be all that money—even an ugly idiot is popular, when he’s filthy rich. Is it self-loathing? Why else would we millions with so little money be attracted to those few who have too much? Even that I find incomprehensible—what do we think, that the rich are going to share? Sorry, but Sharing is not in the Rich Guy’s Handbook. Wake up to yourself already.

 

I’m a fairly well-educated guy—but I don’t know everything there is to know about politics. Maybe, in the end, the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. I know that Obama is special—even if the rank and file of the Democratic Party are no better than the their GOP counterparts, Obama is the best they have to offer—and his own party chose, at various times, to support him or not support him, based on the passing whims of the poll-takers. Perhaps Obama’s bare-faced progressivism has given me a false sense that the Democrats can save us from the Republicans. It’s entirely possible that they are just as bad, as a group.

 

But if we look at the two parties’ platforms, we see a decided left-leaning in the Democrats, and a definite right-wing flavor to Republican goals. And the characteristics of progressivism and conservatism, while they may have represented nothing more than a difference in opinion in days past, have real-world consequences in the present. Conservatives are somehow against literal conservation. Progressives are concerned that an individual can make too much progress, to the detriment of others. It’s a hall of mirrors. Just add arguments over syntax, stir, and Voila!—perpetual chaos. I’m too old for this shit.

 

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I See What You Did There (2015Jan24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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On Statesmen and Business Leaders (2015Jan15)

Thursday, January 15, 2015                             8:49 PM

Same stuff, different day: An improv, a few Beatles covers, and a cantankerous essay comprise your XperDunn blog-post for today:

 

 

 

 

On Statesmen and Business Leaders

The prior essay (“Do Your Worst”) unsettles me—I always want to take my temperature and blood pressure whenever I catch myself advocating anarchy and destruction. And I’ll cop to that—I’m a little ‘unstable’—I think is the fashionable term these days. But it’s also partially the fault of whoever’s in charge of our businesses and our government—they make it so that advocating anarchy is nothing more than a difference of degree to what we already endure. I’m not saying they suck—I’m saying they suck the big, hairy, hard one.

Neither am I talking about a mob—nor even a crowd. There are only one hundred senators and fifty state governors—and I doubt there are more than another 150 chairpersons of the kinds of bloated multi-national corporations that squat upon humanity and bring shit to everyone’s lives. So, say maybe three hundred and change, tops—that’s the number of people that keep the tens of millions of Americans from having decent, secure, dignified lives. That tiny army of power-mad mongrels does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us in misery. Just think—in the olden days, we’d need thousands upon thousands of these assholes to do the same job on so many people.

It’s impressive, too, when you consider that they all have to spend most of their time pretending to be the kind of person you’d invite into your home without worrying about the inviolability of your house-pets. These men, and a few women, too (let’s not be sexist about this) spend the whole day babbling vacuous PC-speak about values and concerns, initiatives and committees, convincing the gullible among us that they have some concern for the average citizen—yeah, right. It has become so accepted that their job-description precludes plain speaking that we have a special term for their lies—when someone is never comfortable with honesty, we call the noises they make with their mouths ‘spin’, which is a euphemism for BS, and plenty of it.

We have to call it ‘spin’. Can you imagine news-reports, otherwise? “This afternoon, the heads of the major investment banks told a bunch of lies. Five senators who head crucial senate sub-committees told even more lies. The CEO of America’s largest petroleum producer told a total of ten real whoppers that no one in their right mind would ever believe for a second. And now, the weather…”

And what do these people do when they are not busy ensuring our perpetual misery and lying through their asses about it? They spend a lot of money. They have to—there’s little else a soul-less, hollow shell of a human being can do to pass the time. They can’t have real relationships—that would involve emotional maturity—and while these people may be alpha dogs, strong and successful and loaded, the one thing they never have time or talent for is learning to know themselves, or to truly care for another. Outside of the rough and tumble schoolyard of corporate and political in-fighting, they remain the children that all business-leaders must be to devote so much energy and determination to something so trivial as being first amongst douchebags, the top of the shit heap.

So, while these idiots may enrage us, frustrate us, drive us to the very edge of sanity—we may nonetheless be thankful that, at least, we are not one of them. For while they may ultimately (and frightfully soon) bring the entire planet to death and ruin, and kill us all—they are already dead, insofar as the ability to truly live like a human being was never in their grasp.

But if you ask any of these psychos whether they, personally, are part of the group I’m addressing, they will, without pausing for breath, start explaining furiously how they could not possibly be one of the damnable damned—and you will then hear what we like to call ‘spin’.

Do Your Worst (2015Jan14)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015                        10:42 AM

In Politics, the news is full of stories about how the Dems did this, the GOPs did that, big business is lobbying and buying elections, legislation concerning health care, banking regulation, gay marriage, minimum wage, social security, ad infinitum—is being debated, blocked, criticized, snuck through, fought over, and stalemating the legislative process. Then elections happen, where all that stuff is ignored and the same old pols get re-elected. Occasionally (and this is new) the government shuts down in a fit of pique—politics as scorched-earth warfare—with the odd caveat that all that needs to happen to end the shut-down is for our elected officials to say so. This is what we call ‘representation’.

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In Money, the news is full of stories about how unemployment is slowly improving, but wages are not—even while big business seems to think that it’s in the middle of a burgeoning recovery. Energy and mining industries continue to destroy the environment in the name of the almighty dollar—and its latest poster-boy is Fracking—a method that permits America to supply its own petroleum, as long as we accept living with earthquakes and flammable tap-water. The overall thrust is that corporations are attacking mankind on two fronts—they attempt to enslave us all in various forms of draconian ‘employment’ while simultaneously buying government influence to pass laws that enforce their kill-or-be-killed economic paradigm. Meanwhile, ‘austerity’ programs ensure that none of the damage caused by all the unethical, inhumane corporate gamesmanship is balanced out by any government support of the disenfranchised.

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War and starvation are everywhere. The governments in such places are either unable or unwilling to end the suffering—and the larger, more powerful, neighboring countries pretend that their sovereign borders absolve them of any responsibility to help. That doesn’t stop them when it’s a matter of exerting their economic influence on trade partners—but when it concerns ‘just people’, the line is magically un-crossable.

Then there’s the arms industry. These folks are supplying the wherewithal for all war, terrorism, hand-gun deaths, and basically any violence more lethal than fisticuffs—yet they are never burdened with the responsibility, or the ethical onus, for any of this violence and suffering. Their profits are as ‘clean’ as a farmer’s, while their output continues to make a hell on earth. They are almost as repugnant as bankers.

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I won’t even get into the details of global terrorism, race-hatred, and misogyny—that’s just the icing on the shit sandwich that our civilization has become. Our ever-more-complex technology seems to spur chaos, rather than purposeful growth, organization, or cooperation between people, groups, states, or countries. And this is not happening on its own—it is being nurtured by a media industry that is controlled by psychopathic owners and aimed at sensationalism rather than elucidation. The crazier and more horrible a situation gets, the better they like it, and the louder and longer they shout about it. The more mature and civil an issue, the more they ignore it.

And these politicians, corporations, media outlets, and arms manufacturers do not operate in a vacuum. They’ve grown out of our responses—we watch their TV shows, buy their guns, vote for the pols, and go to work every day for these fat-cats. I won’t waste my breath suggesting that we stop watching TV, owning guns, voting for Republicans, or quit our jobs—but I have an idea.

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Corporate America, around the time of the great Japanese economic surge, got very frightened (or pretended to) and began adopting many Japanese business practices. Not the good ones, like guaranteed job security, but the ugly ones, like longer, unpaid hours, lower wages, and curtailed benefits. They sought not just to destroy the power of unions, but to deprive labor of any pride or self-worth—and they have succeeded.

Americans now consider themselves lucky to have a job, even a job with long hours, unlivable wages, and zero benefits—they just kill themselves holding two or three such jobs. So here’s my idea. We’ve all been treated like shit, so let’s all start doing a shitty job at work. Let’s do things wrong at work, like they do in life. Let’s lie about everything at work, like they do in life. Let’s make their profits evaporate, like they did ours. Let’s show them that, while they may at some future date replace us all with machines, that we are still human beings—and while we are, we are going to kick back when someone kicks us in the teeth. If they want to ignore our humanity, let’s rub it in their faces.

Do your worst at work. The people in charge have gotten used to taking advantage of their positions—let’s all start doing the same.

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Brrr! (2015Jan09)

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Friday, January 09, 2015                        1:42 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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Warning Signs (2015Jan08)

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Thursday, January 08, 2015                             3:31 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The man that hath no music in himself,

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

Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;

The motions of his spirit are dull as night,

And his affections dark as Erebus:

Let no such man be trusted.

—Mark the music.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Whose Authority? (2015Jan07)

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

 

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

– The New York Times

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015                        11:05 AM

On Whose Authority?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

 

 

 

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014                        12:39 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Your Choice (2014Dec14)

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Political Arrangements! (2014Nov18)

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Hook (2014Nov15)

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Saturday, November 15, 2014                       1:02 PM

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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…

My Turn To Talk (2014Oct24)

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Friday, October 24, 2014                     4:50 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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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Higher Education (2014Oct17)

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Friday, October 17, 2014              10:44 AM

An online Facebook-meme mentioned Pain and Rose Kennedy yesterday and, shooting from the hip, I commented, ‘Pain is the Teacher—and I fear poor Rose was over-educated’. A freshet of comments debating the point followed. I was tempted to add a second comment but, as I thought on it, I realized it would be rather lengthy—and here we are:

Pain teaches us lessons which we can never share. Those whose lives are mercifully light in such lessons enjoy an ignorance that is not to be despised. Such lucky folks see the world in a brighter light. We who have experienced pain are forever adjusted to see the world as a place where pain is a constant. The more we suffer, the more prepared we are for more suffering—it doesn’t surprise us and it doesn’t destroy our existing perspective on life.

Young people, simply due to the time factor, are ordinarily ignorant of the sudden changes that loss can bring—and the few who receive an early education find themselves lost among their peers, stripped of the bottomless optimism of youth. Old people, by the same notion, are almost unanimous in their expectation of worse times to come—and the optimistic oldster is a rare find.

Pain is random—it can average out, over large groups, over time—but it strikes here and there, willy-nilly. Pain comes in a variety of flavors—loss due to death, loss due to absence, loss of health or limb or sense, the pain of wounds and insults, existential pain, loneliness, anger, despair—and it can have a wide spectrum of intensity, from annoyance to overwhelming grief.

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Our adventures in pain grant us a depth of character—our extrapolations are broadened beyond ‘wishful thinking’, our precautions stretched to include the ‘probably not’. We foresee potential pitfalls with a clarity that can mystify the more rose-colored-sighted. We ride out the surf and chop of Fate’s dice-game with equanimity of expectation—and in so doing, we often avoid risks that appear vanishingly small to the less pain-evolved, making us appear dull, even cowardly.

The challenges of youth often require a madness of bravado to overcome—the winning of a mate, the starting of a career, the invention of something new—such youthful pursuits often mandate a blindness to caution that takes a parent’s breath away. And many of the good die young—statistically, anyway. The late teens and young adulthood both have a terrific death rate—and that rate drops to almost nothing (relatively) for those who make it through to full adulthood and middle-age—we don’t start dying again until old age. Thus we see that an early education in Pain can cripple the developmental course of a child—they need that heedlessness to puncture the seal of adulthood and find a place among the independently-living. That some will die in the attempt is simply the cost of doing business, if you will.

By the same token, adults who lack the normal familiarity with struggle and loss are often dismissed as immature. These lucky people have lives of surprising peace, and peace of mind—but their judgment cannot be trusted with regard to the big, bad world of adulthood. They can still be caught unaware by troubles the rest of us have long been familiar with—making them dangerous people to have in charge of adult responsibilities.

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So Pain divides us—not in twain, but into two spectra. Our experiences, particularly our unpleasant experiences, give us a perspective on what we falsely assume are absolutes—good and bad, progressiveness and conservatism, risk and safety—even life and death. Death, especially. Our lives are line segments, with the two end-points of birth and death. Our exposure to pain dictates how easily we overlook this simple fact. Life can be lived without any thought of death—but pain solidifies death in our minds, making it more real with every loss.

Those of us who know this would never want to teach it to those who don’t. Ignorance of pain is a blessing—no one wants to tell the kids the truth about Santa Claus. And those who do not know pain’s lessons can never learn them second-hand—so it would be a waste of time to try.

As an atheist, I see this more than I used to. An atheist’s first impulse is to share ‘enlightenment’ with those who are ‘deluded’ by faith—but faith is a valuable mind-set, keeping believers happy, hopeful and secure. What point is there to destroying that? I save my atheist rantings for those who have been hurt by faith, or those whom faith has failed to succor—they actually need an alternative. The rest I leave alone—it’s not my job to make the world see things my way—particularly at the expense of others’ happiness.

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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?

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My favorite are the ‘parental’ trolls—they adopt a knowing and dismissive tone, usually managing to drop mention of their advanced degree in whatever the discussion is about, then spout off ‘correct solutions’ that only reveal that, yes, they have probably spent their lives in a classroom, and not out where reality has a nasty habit of intervening. We cannot write about anything without revealing our personality—indeed, those in the arts and in entertainment are well aware that we can’t create anything without imbuing it with our personality. Trolls, like all children who act out, and most of all, like bullies, only reveal through their derogations that they are mentally broken and emotionally hurt.

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But the world is full of people who are mentally broken and emotionally hurt. The young who suffer from poor self-approval are the trollers’ most vulnerable prey—they have neither the self-confidence nor the experience to understand all the hatred being fired at them online, just as they make easy prey for the bullies in school hallways.

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Before caller ID, the anonymous phone-call was the weapon of choice for those who had the same twisted drives as the trollers of our times. The same anonymity cloaked their ludicrously evil whispers through the phone-receiver and the same anger and frustration drove them to it. Technology changes our life-styles, but never our natures. The first time I asked a girl for a date was, like millions of others, on the telephone. Such sweet conversations people can have on the phone. Yet ways were found to use it to defraud, to threaten, and to hurt. When we make our lives easier, we make all of it easier, even the bad stuff.

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So every time we invent something that gives us greater ease and power, we inevitably follow up with regulations against using the new thing for bad purposes. But now we have the Internet—and regulating it will remove its chiefest good. Plus, we have seen regulation go from a public service to a protection for the big corporations against limitations on their profit-making activity, and against potential competition or lawsuits.

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Regulating the Internet goes without saying, to some people—to others, the idea of regulating it seems a defeat of its potential. I suggest that these two ideologies have non-internet related origins. The simple truth of computing is that any security protocols must be coded and implemented by people, imperfect people. Further, computer-systems security is based on mathematics—more specifically, cryptography—and will always be vulnerable to superior mathematicians. The fact that such people are rare as hens’ teeth doesn’t decrease my sense of insecurity one bit—especially with American education in such a pitiful state, compared to other countries.

 

Spencer  -born 1988

Spencer -born 1988

Articles were written as far back as the 1980s delineating the impossibility of total digital security on an open network. Having worked with computers, I was aware of their physical fragility and their reliance on disinterest as their chief deterrent to hacking. I doubt I was alone in my surprise at the willingness of security-sensitive industries like banking, air-traffic-control, and government agencies to convert themselves into digital entities so early on. Even when they found themselves looking down the barrel of the Y2K crisis, there was no thought of retreat. I guess there’s another simple truth—computerized organizations function exponentially better than a pure-paper office ever could.

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We regulate everything but what matters—people. It would be unthinkable to pass laws forcing expectant mothers to refrain from drugs and alcohol, or mandating that parents read to their children for at least one hour every day. Such regulations would violate our civil rights. And what is the punishment for bad parenting? Domestic child protection agencies already face this dilemma with regards to parents who commit felonies—separating a child from his or her parents is much more a punishment of the child than of the bad parent.

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We could try the crèche approach—take children away from parents and raise them using an institution with a professional staff. But negligent crèche-workers are no less likely than poor parents—and children still lose something without the focused love of the ‘traditional’ family. We could try monitoring—but that would be the biggest civil-rights infringement of all. We need our kids to be raised right—rich or poor, smart or dumb parents notwithstanding—but that need finds little support in a country that prides itself on personal freedom. Let’s face it—parenthood is the opposite of personal freedom, at least in terms of daily behavior. Good parenting is downright un-American.

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It’s Hard Out Here For An Atheist (2014Aug31)

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Sunday, August 31, 2014              3:28 AM

Being an atheist is not easy, especially if you’ve been raised in a religious family. First of all you have to deal with this sense of lurking, just outside of your vision—that’s religion, waiting to enfold you back into its welcoming arms. Make no mistake, opting for faith is far more comforting than anything atheism has to offer. For some folks, that may even be the rational for faith—but I’m too stubborn to settle for that. I’m not going to believe in a religion as a form of intentional escapism—even if I did, the back of my mind would always be heckling me for sticking my head in the sand.

So, I began by facing the obvious—without religion, there are no rules. God is not in his heaven and all is not right with the world. If I do something wrong, no one will bother me about it, ever (unless I get arrested). But being arrested is beside the point—there’s plenty of wrong being done without breaking any laws—just as there are people being arrested, at times, who haven’t done anything wrong. It’s an unfair, tough old world—but it comes with civilization.

Civilization makes stability possible. Without our societal norms, the streets become a free-for-all. We prove this every time there’s a disaster—suddenly, a part of the people feel free to steal and fight and who knows what-all. Civilization is my friend—I depend on it to walk down the street in my town and not be afraid I’ll be attacked by a random gang of outlaws, or be afraid of getting shot in the head by one of my neighbors, just ‘cause they felt like it.

This is one of the very rare places on Earth where a self-declared atheist can do that—walk down the street free from fear—and that’s just one of the many things I love about America. Atheists are a bug in the system—if you don’t believe in one religion, you at least belong to some other faith—good people can disagree, so that’s alright. But opting out of the whole concept is a direct criticism, whether it’s meant to be or not.

I cannot disbelieve in traditional faiths, particularly Christianity, without implicitly insulting everyone I know. I accept that—it can’t be helped—truly, if I was capable of traditional faith, I’d be practicing it with gusto. I can’t do it. There’re all kinds of debating points this could lead to, but I’ve already written them all down and posted them, and they simply incite a post-modern, unfriendly debate with high emotions on both sides. The faithful have faith and I haven’t—that’s all I got.

But beyond that, I have no wish to insult the faithful. These New Atheists, with their angry, anti-Theism attitudes, are obviously suffering from a sense of betrayal—they often come from strictly religious families that have repressed their spirit—perhaps even physically harmed them. Their reaction to religion is not to simply turn away from it, as I did, but to turn on it and attack it for the remembered inflictions. Some of them are even activists because they sympathize for their siblings, still caught in what the New Atheist sees as a sort of mental prison.

I don’t know what to tell someone in that position. For me, it’s a matter of letting go of things, out of deference to peoples’ feelings. But a real dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist is more than a match for the New Atheist—neither of them care to look at the other side of the issue. This is a futile activity and I avoid it. I might get curt once in a while with an annoying bible-thumper—but that’s because of their personality, not their faith.

The biggest problem with the New Atheists is that they bring threats and hate to the party, not realizing how badly that can backfire. They may be just talking tough, but their targets, those with strictly-held beliefs, have gone to war throughout history at the slightest provocation. And no river of blood is deep enough for a man on a mission from god. So I see little good in taunting them, even if I was inclined that way.

I’ve been through some stuff, though. Back in the seventies, with the Born Again revivalists, there was one group from Maine that had snagged some friends I’d known for years. I went to a meeting on Holly Hill Lane once. I came into a room full of people, many of them my friends—they told me they loved me and would pray for me; they started praying in unison. I was very uncomfortable but I managed to say, over the noise, “Don’t pray for me. I don’t believe in God.” There was some back and forth, but once I’d managed to spit it out, the rest was easy. They told me they were sorry, but they couldn’t associate with me, or even talk with me, any more. Two of my brothers would join the same group and neither of them spoke to me for over a year.

But it was a passing fad for many of the young people who had been swept up in the first excitement of it—the daily reality was far less glamorous and most of them were soon back hanging out, their faith still intact, but their fervor substantially cooled. People deigned to speak with me once again, but no apologies were offered. I’m still nervous about public speaking, but not so much, since I can’t imagine a tougher room than those Born Agains.

Besides the adversarial aspects of atheism, there’s also the question of creation. The universe is too big for us to comprehend, too complex for us to decode, and had to come from somewhere. I accept this—it’s common sense. But I don’t look at it as proof of any institutional religion, just proof that there’s a lot we don’t know—and may never know—and may not even be capable of knowing. We are tiny specks on a huge planet, and the planet is just the beginning of all the hugeness.

I find it amusing that some hierophants will claim they know what it’s all about. The world around us is full of secrets. The universe beyond our world is full of mysteries. We’ve discovered some basics, but they are just a handful of tricks called science—science is far from finished, if it ever can be. I believe that theorizing is beneficial and that reproducible results are worthy of note and study. But I don’t believe science has all the answers—no one who truly understands science believes that—the whole point of science is to keep going, to keep trying to learn a new handful of tricks from the universe.

Kurt Vonnegut had some very funny theories about the purpose of humanity—one possibility was that we were meant to rise up to a technological height that would allow us to manufacture a special wrench that some stranded alien needed—to fix his spaceship. It’s as hard a theory to disprove as any other, and it’s funny—that’s why I like Vonnegut. ‘So it goes’, as he used to say. He also theorized that all language boiled down to one message: “I’m here. Hello. Look at me.” That’s it. As the years go by, I understand him better and better. We don’t want to merely exist; we want to be seen to exist. We want to be noticed—otherwise, we don’t fully exist.

One way to fix that is to have an imaginary someone watching all of us, all the time. But I will settle for other people, whom I see exist, as they see me exist. It’s enough. I learned there’s a name for people like me—apparently, I’m an ‘ethical humanist’, but I was what I was before I’d ever heard of them, so it’s mostly a coincidence (although, I must say, it’s nice to know I’m not completely on my own out here). Besides, they’re city folks and, while I once lived there, I learned that I can’t take the roaches—so they’re too far away for me to participate.

There is one thing atheism doesn’t change—Sundays are still boring. If only I was a football fan.

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I Think I’ll Quit Facebook (2014Aug21)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014                10:14 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click picture above to hear Playlist..

Click picture above to hear Playlist..

 

Love or the Patriot Act (2014Aug15)

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014                  3:11 PM

 

Love or the Patriot Act

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Civilians or Hostages or What? (2014Aug09)

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

palestinians

The Specialization of People (2014Jul03)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

our Bee-Balms...

our Bee-Balms…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our little baby watermelon--coming along...

Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

 

The War for Heaven on Earth (2014Jul03)

Hi everyone! I wrote a poem today, then a drew an illustration for it, then I recorded a music background for it.

Click here to hear the poem:

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Click here to listen to my piano soundtrack:

 

Click here to see the Graphic Print Version of the Poem.

 

And here are the drawing and photos used for the artwork:

Original Sketch
Original Sketch
Photo-shopped
Photo-shopped
our Bee-Balms...
our Bee-Balms…

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Catnip
Catnip
Blueberries ripening...
Blueberries ripening…
Our little baby watermelon--coming along...
Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

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Hope You Enjoyed…

O—and, since this is the next day—Happy 4th of July!

Paradox for June 13th, 2014

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Happy Friday the Thirteenth everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Planet Rise" by Xper Dunn

Friday, June 06, 2014                  7:01 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can’t We Have Just One Good Thing?

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Monday, June 02, 2014               10:07 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts On Print’s Twilight (2014May23)

Friday, May 23, 2014                  1:58 PM

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My friend, Chris K., has brought up the grinding of gears that ensue when retail leviathan Amazon’s standards-and-future-goals butt heads with the last, great publishing houses’ standards-and-traditions. There’s a temptation to mention ‘buggy-whips’ and move on—but literacy is still a goal more than a condition in many parts of the world—and the question of how digital texts will impact that is only one of the many things that are being politely ignored by a First World culture that doesn’t dare appear as anti-progress, particularly against digital innovation.

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Reference books once wore a solemnity that stemmed from their careful accrual of methods, measurements, calculations, and organization of information that reaches back to Ptolemy, Archimedes, and Euclid. The precise science of modern astronomy still owes its huge record of observations of the night sky mostly to centuries and millennia of serious observation and record-keeping.

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The supertanker that chugs along mid-Pacific without any qualms over its exact location and bearing—these are supplied digitally, i.e. magically. What few people realize is that large reference-tables of important navigational values are built in to the ultra-post-modern instruments on the bridge. Without those tables of constant-values, a computer would have no better idea of its position than a human navigator without charts and table-books and chronometers.

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Having lost our hero-worship of literal ‘history’, we now have historians who look at certain people, places, and events from different points of perspective. We now recognize that history is as much a matter of missing documents and contradictory documents and accounts, as it is a matter of what we actually have on paper. Nonetheless, we treasure our Founding Documents, creating a whole sub-topic of document preservation and examination, within the library sciences (or is it archaeology?) Now that we are apparently just going to watch as printed matter becomes obsolete, without any battle-cry to preserve any real value in books, one wonders whether this makes our archival treasures more valuable or more trivial.

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Yes, we are losing something great by doing something new—but I still listen to broadcast radio, so what do I know? I was just yesterday bemoaning the disappearance of that great stationers shop in Brewster—it was a palace of office supplies.

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But my old industry, direct mail marketing , and the shopping-catalog boom were already threatening their existence before e-commerce really started. I remember it was newsworthy and remarkable when Sharper Image debuted the first store without a building—making big bucks in retail without paying rent—well, for the storefront, at least.

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Catalogs and third-party deliverers, like FedEx and UPS, created the ‘virtual mall’ before cyberspace opened its ‘e-doors’, if you will. Now that newspapers are passé (excepting The Gray Lady, of course) and e-books have a strong beachhead—now that education is focused as much on using digital tools as on using one’s mind (perhaps more so) we must let the grand tradition of bibliophilia sink or swim on its own virtue.

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Remember, there was once a paradigm wherein only the nobility were offered literacy, when artisan monks illuminated home-cured vellum with sometimes crushed-gem-based pigments, gold-leaf, and the great wellspring of imagination such labors bestowed upon them. Such treasures were one of a kind—Bibles might be copied, and perhaps a few other books, but many books of that era were unique treasures—as indicated by the practice of chaining them to the wall.

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That grandeur was lost when Gutenberg, et. al. began printing with movable type—mass-publication, relative to the copyists it replaced. Aside from ‘Domesday Books’ and other governmental and commercial records-keeping, there was really only one book—the Bible. The sudden ability to hand out copies to every churchgoer denied the priests, etc. of the power of interpretation—prior to Gutenberg, the Bible was what your Priest told you it was, it said what he said it said—case closed. On top of which, the Latin Scriptures were being made accessible by translations into common speech—which many church leaders felt was a sacrilegious degradation of the Word of God. That is why printing presses were illegal for about a hundred years after they were brought into common use. And printing is still a bone of contention between the authorities and the public, in some cases, even in America.

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The latest instance of this friction is, oddly enough, a digital publication by one Robert Snowden—and it must be noted that the sheer weight of his information, printed on paper, would have circumscribed it’s distribution without the existence of the Internet. So the benefits of digital text do exist—and they are tremendous. But it is hard for me to accept that something I have loved so faithfully all of my life, books, may become obsolete. As is usually the case, we will find out what we really lost, and how much, only after we’ve reached a point of no return.

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In the meantime, it should be remembered that self-publishing is a wonderful thing for a writer—it remains to be seen if its value holds true for the reader.

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