Concerned Over Comedy (2018Apr08)


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Sunday, April 08, 2018                                            2:34 PM

Concerned Over Comedy   (2018Apr08)

The new logo for HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” is Mr. Oliver slumped over his desk, face down, with one forearm raised—index finger aloft—as if pausing during a collapse to interject, “And just one more thing…” It perfectly symbolizes satirical political commentary in the Trump crisis, wherein comics must first present the actual facts of a premise, wait for the reaction of horror and nervous laughter, and then proceed with putting a punchline on the end—as if the facts weren’t ludicrous enough.

Comics who wish to point out the paradoxes, the hypocrisies, the tomfooleries, and the blatant, outright villainies of political leadership—these comics used to rub their hands in glee when a president stumbled on an airplane ramp or a vice-president fired buckshot into a friend’s physiognomy—any target-rich environment that made their jobs easier for a day or two. Now, they are more and more like John Oliver—exhausted by the firehose of inanity coming from our seats of power—exhausted by its diluvian persistence, but even more so by its frightening instability and provocation.

John Oliver is a funny man and I enjoy his show—one of my top three shows—so, no shade being sent his way by what I’m saying: Last Week Tonight is not a comedy show pretending to be news—it is current-events-in-civics pretending to be a comedy. The reason it works is the political and social conditions of our time are laughably paradoxical, hypocritical, foolish, and blatantly villainous. Our country is so hagridden by ignorance, corruption, and selfishness—in both its individual ‘statespersons’ and its ‘institutions’ (remember the Donald Trump Trust?) that the rest of the globe is embarrassed for our electorate.

How could American voters, possessing the jewel, the most envied government of the entire world—how could these idiots have ever let things come to the present pass? How self-destructive and mule-headed can we be, to throw away the wonder of the world—to obvious crooks and transparent charlatans? How could Ignorance have so fully won the day?

Television bears some responsibility, as do Facebook and Putin—and, frankly, the Democratic Party, which took the best, most popular and historic choice ever presented—and pissed it away. But ultimately enough voters consciously chose to hurt their country this way—and I think many of them did so purposely. They expressed their anger in their vote—much like a rioting mob will burn down its own neighborhood.

We have to remember what voting means. You find someone who will do what you want—and you make sure that person gets your vote. You don’t wait for a bunch of strangers to present you with some ‘lesser of two evils’ contest—you get the person who will do what you want him or her to do. Hint: It has something to do with people—and a lot less to do with economic interests.

I applaud the mobilization of our youngest adults, and demi-adults, demanding more common-sense-based legislation on one particular issue—guns. Of course, having been shot at for quite long enough, we must hold these youngsters blameless for attempting to defend themselves, even politically. Teachers, as well, have mobilized—making the excellent point that one should not have to choose both to teach our children and live in poverty, as a package deal.

The plain fact is that these schools are underfunded—the teachers’ salaries are simply the vocal, visible part—the crowded classrooms, the lack of books and supplies and computers—hell, the lack of desks… You can’t neglect the next generation without nulling the value of everything else you might do. So, when the leaders tell you the answer is to arm these teachers with guns—the question is not ‘Should we elect new leaders?’ so much as ‘How the hell did they get elected?’

I’m sure there’s a laugh in there somewhere—I leave it to the professionals to find.

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Stewart’s Impending Sign-Off (2015Jul02)


Wednesday, July 01, 2015                                                11:59 PM

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Wow, I guess I’m a creature of habit—the time-stamp is just one minute off of last night’s time-stamp. But that figures—lately, all work stops for me at 11 PM. I don’t want to miss any of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show hostings. He’s off in august and that’s like five minutes from now in old-guy time. I’ve enjoyed the political satire of the Daily Show since Craig Kilbourn, i.e. since day one—‘fake news’ was an idea whose time had come, and Claire and I loved to watch it.

But Jon Stewart made it more than just a joke–he turned it into a public service. For seventeen years he’s made us laugh while informing—and while castigating those who deserved it. I’m going to feel a little lost without Jon Stewart saying all the things we all wish we could say to power and to pretense. The foibles and evasions of today’s corporate and political powerbrokers are bad enough—why should they escape without even having to pay the minimal price of public exposure to well-deserved ridicule? I hope Stewart’s replacement is up to filling those shoes.

Yet I have been wondering of late whether Jon Stewart isn’t too much of a good thing. His prey has adapted to the constant lampooning—and worse, we the audience have perhaps taken a Daily Show ‘public flogging’ as sufficient response to politicians who we’d be better off voting against than laughing at.

But that’s the Catch-22 of the Daily Show. It’s the only news program that doesn’t cater to the egos and the agendas of its subjects—making it the straightest-talking infotainment in the whole news line-up. You really can’t not watch it. Fortunately, one of Stewart’s old ‘correspondents’, John Oliver, with Last Week Tonight on HBO, has refined the format’s technique to the point of activism—many of John Oliver’s hashtag-coaxing broadcasts have been followed by headlines the next day—displaying the power of combining Oliver’s immense influence and the might of the Internet.

I’m not really too worried about what comes after the Jon Stewart era. Ever since Will Rogers, Americans have had an appetite for an acidic but humorous observer of the human condition as it manifests itself in current events and personalities. That’s now a vacuum that will always be filled by someone somehow. But Jon Stewart has set the bar pretty darn high.

Now, as for today’s improv video—today was one of those lazy days where I left in some sight-reading without identifying the pieces properly. Some days I just can’t be bothered. But I’ll tell you now, so you’ll know: in the middle of the improv, I play a piano transcription of the aria “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from ‘Messiah’ by G. F. Handel. After the improv ends, I play two more pieces: the “Evening Prayer” theme from Englebert Humperdinck’s opera ‘Hansel and Gretel’ –and- the “Largo” from G. F. Handel’s opera ‘Xerxes’. I won’t win any prizes for the sight-reading, but it’s not completely terrible. And the improv came out real nice, I thought. Tell me what you think.

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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