Monopoly   (2016May23)

Monday, May 23, 2016                                            11:32 AM

What is improvement? If we get too extreme in bodybuilding, we become muscle-bound, unable to move about as easily as someone who doesn’t exercise. We often comment that there is a thin line between genius and madness—and the competition to be the ‘smartest’ puts college students at risk of nervous breakdowns and suicides, as well as brilliant careers. Business executives who perform at their peak can easily succumb to ‘burn-out’ in the same way.

Success and wealth for a parent rarely translates into success for their children—being raised wealthy robs them of the struggles that tempered their parents’ steel. More lottery winners go broke or have life crises than the rare few who survive being made instantly rich.

Extremes are dangerous—even little extremes can be unsettling. If I have a pile of books I’m looking forward to reading, I get confused about which book to read first. I think they call that ‘rich people’s problems’. Not that I’m in the one-percent—but I am, like most Americans, fabulously wealthy compared to any third-world citizen. And the existence of ‘rich people’s problems’ itself is proof that ‘improving’ one’s lot in life can be more accurately described as acquiring different problems.

But I don’t wish to oversimplify—one of ‘rich people’s problems’ is that other people are poor. This makes Charity an exercise in which rich people, with ‘rich people’s problems’, try to help people with poverty problems. Notice how charity never consists of simply handing poor people money. It’s an ‘if you teach a man to fish’ thing—rich people don’t see redistribution as a solution. They want to enable the poor to join them in a competition the rich have already won—it’s like lending money to the loser when you’re winning in Monopoly—you want to keep the game going.

And Monopoly is a good illustration of modern capitalism—most Monopoly games reach that point where all the potential plans have been played out and purchased, where one player has almost everything and the rest are a dice-throw away from bankruptcy. That’s why many Monopoly games don’t reach the finish—the end becomes a foregone conclusion long before. Monopoly, at the start, is full of possibilities—end-game Monopoly is more an on-rushing train. Likewise, American Capitalism started out as a world of possibilities and is now in a straight-jacket of previous purchases. Just as the second amendment made sense for muskets, but became madness for automatic assault weapons—success is a one-time thing.

America has trouble with success—our early financial success was based on the use of slaves—our early wealth of natural resources trained us to become despoilers of nature—our early adoption of public education made us think we were smarter than everybody else—and our invention of the atom bomb made us think we were in charge of the whole world. Every time Americans win we learn a false lesson from it.

Basing everything on money rather than birth seemed like a freeing sort of approach—you could, through personal effort, rise. Your future had potential that went undreamed-of in a class-based society. That image persists, even now, when all the years of effort by others has gelled into a rigged game. Wealth once again comes almost entirely through inheritance—and opportunities for the common man have become as rare as in the time of kings and serfs. Capitalism is no longer the handmaiden of Freedom—and it has become something darker.

A fragile web of distribution keeps food on supermarket shelves, gas in the stove, oil in the heater, water from the tap, sewage down the toilet, and electricity to the phone-chargers. Disruption of the system is dangerous to us all—destroying the establishment would mean a return to primitivism. The infrastructure of capitalism holds us hostage—it makes us need it. And the need to earn a wage holds us prisoner—which makes us need employers. The rich have more power over the rest of us than kings or pharaohs could ever imagine—yet we call this society a free one. Like children of an abusive father, we have no place else to go.

Changing capitalism won’t be easy—we can’t rebel against it—if we attack it we only hurt ourselves. A subtle, drawn-out political process is the only possible escape. Yet see how easily we are diverted and entertained by our politics—that’s not an accident. If people took politics seriously, we’d be talking about change in a pragmatic way, instead of shouting buzzwords at each other—we might enact some changes—and that is the only real threat the one-percent are facing. I wish we knew that as well as they do.

Money and Time (2016May07)

Money

Friday, May 06, 2016                                               11:33 AM

America was relatively young and full of beans after the second World War—the middle class exploded, salaries climbed to the sky, and poverty reached a record low of 11% in 1974—a figure we haven’t seen since. My whole adult life has been witness to our economic decline—so I can easily understand people wanting to ‘go back’ to better times. But grow up, already—hey, I’d like to be twenty-one again, too—but that ain’t gonna happen. We call it the ‘past’ for a reason.

And America, having reached those historic highs by being America, is never going to recover that prosperity by undoing the social progress that is America’s defining feature. That’s a bill of goods being sold to us by the finger-pointers, who blame various groups for something that is systemic—the changes in global and domestic economy that have brought us to where we are now are not going to be fixed by targeting some ethnic or religious faction—and certainly not by blaming the poor.

Business used to be a social contract that included stockholder profits in the equation—it has been whittled down to where it now concerns itself solely with that one objective—and as always happens when greedy people oversimplify a situation, we are seeing a lot of dysfunction in business—especially in the area of employment. For one thing, nobody has had a raise since 1980. People don’t make money in America anymore—a few people own money, and the rest of us have to scramble for the scraps. You’re not gonna fix that by blaming the Mexicans—or the Chinese. You’re only going to fix that problem by returning to a world where employees matter to their employers.

And if America has let itself become too accepting of child-slave-labor products from overseas, we’re not going to fix that by importing that cold-blooded attitude back here to America. Businesses have been very eager to cancel their interests in North Carolina due to gender-rules in bathrooms—when are we going to stop importing goods from countries that treat their workers like serfs? It doesn’t help that our politicians spend more time and energy on rationalizing our dysfunctions than on finding solutions—but the real problem is that too few people have too much say, and those rich bastards have hearts of stone. The easy answer is just to kill all the rich people. Maybe after they spend a few days ducking bullets, they’d re-acquire some respect for the people that actually create their fortunes.

It’s a puzzle, alright—how can we keep getting new gadgets, new discoveries, new insights—and the result always turns out to be a bigger mess than we’ve ever had to deal with before? How can we have unheard-of productivity and at the same time suffer under unemployment and low wages? What the hell? Someone has rigged the table and we’re all getting taken.

Time

Thursday, May 05, 2016                                          11:37 AM

Our kids were born in the 1980s. I was born in 1956, my parents in the 1930s, my grandparents were born in the 1910s—we’ve been a very 20th century family for quite a while. Here we are, 16 years into the next millennium, and I’m about to become grandfather to our first 21st-century kid. To him or her, my entire century will be a vague notion in a schoolbook; I will be a strange, wrinkled old man; his or her world will be something I never fully understand.

You can see why people are so fascinated by stories of time-travel—time-travel isn’t that much different from a genie granting wishes—you can have whatever you want, but the genie will put a fatal twist on it that you didn’t see coming. Time is such a troublemaker that even if we could jump around in it, we would still have problems with it.

My biggest problem with time is that time only goes quickly by when I’m happy. What’s with that? What evolutionary advantage is there in losing track of time when you’re happy? Maybe it’s our bodies saying to us, “Well, there’s no danger here—don’t pay any attention.” If danger can heighten our awareness, then perhaps happiness does the opposite. Maybe that’s why orgasms are so brief—it’s Mother Nature getting us back in the game, so we don’t get eaten in the afterglow. Happiness is a blank space to our instincts, and they just shut down until we return to the drudgery of survival. And perhaps that’s why an old codger like myself is mistrustful of happiness—we are at our most vulnerable when happiness turns off our alarm system. Perhaps that’s why the Puritans were so dead set against being happy—it has similarities to intoxication.

Then again, I have to wonder why I’m so afraid of being vulnerable—I made it sixty whole years without ever having to use a gun or a knife—or even my fists. It reminds me of how bad my fear of dogs once was, without ever being bitten—there was a mean dog on our street, but it never bit me—it just strained against its chain, making the most angry barks and growls. I think I was frightened by its display of viciousness—it obviously wanted to confront something. Also, I think people treated their dogs worse back then—mean dogs don’t come out of a vacuum—they are a reflection of their owners. I was no less afraid of people—they had more bark to them, back then, as well.

Nowadays, fear grows and grows—and it has less cause than ever. I go through night-terrors and anxiety attacks without any reason—I’d be more comfortable with actual dangers—at least those can be faced down. This vague, unfocused terror is a thing unto itself—it just is—what do you do with that shit?

Lesley Stahl has come out with a new book, “Becoming Grandma”, about the wonders of being a grandmother—she claims there is an actual biochemical change in a person who is granted a grandchild—I hope she’s right. Claire and I are fairly dancing with anticipation. And time bustles on.

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.

Pro-Iranians in Congress   (2015Jul25)

Saturday, July 25, 2015                                            9:34 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Geeks We Trust   (2015Jul19)

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Sunday, July 19, 2015                                              6:06 PM

Some people get whiny when their cell-phone service isn’t perfect. It’s a mistake to take instantaneous light-speed communication with anyone else on the face of the Earth for granted. For thousands of years of civilization, no one could speak to anyone who wasn’t within shouting distance. And that’s still true whenever there’s a power outage, a natural disaster, or if you travel too far from where people make money.

The electromagnetic umbrella of cell-phone coverage does not blanket the Earth. It doesn’t even blanket where all the people are. It only covers where there are people making and spending money. Some people purposely vacation where there is no cell-phone coverage, to hide from people who abuse the privilege—but those people are usually involved in over-intruding on others, when they’re not on vacation, so most of us aren’t driven to such an extreme.

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When we lose cell-phone service because of a storm, we don’t think of it as a deadly threat—we wait for someone to fix it. But if it didn’t get fixed, we’d be in a bit of a mess. The further we travel down the road to wireless everything, the more resounding the thud when Mother Nature or some other cause brings down the network. When we began using computers in our office, back in the seventies, we kept paper back-up records of everything. The computers broke down sometimes, and we had to be able to go back to the old paper records to continue doing business.

After a while, we stopped doing that. Not only were the records a huge storage problem, but the volume of transactions we were doing on a daily basis had grown far beyond what could be done by hand in the same amount of time. We were doing business faster using computers than we could have physically done by hand on paper. Suddenly, our digital back-ups became important—even vital. Hard drives can die—and without a digital back-up to restore from, an entire business can disappear—all the records of sales, bills, and payments gone—poof.

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Now we’ve invested in digital to the point where even an individual can find themselves in big trouble through the sudden loss of a cell-phone. To a large degree, they’ve replaced wallets, address books, calendars—they’re even starting to replace credit cards recently. We don’t just talk on them, we exchange memos, agenda, travel info, we have meetings with small groups, we get directions, we store passwords and account info. Pretty much anything that used to involve a piece of paper or the use of a reference book or map or required memorization—it’s all been digitized down into that one little gadget.

Back-ups became as important a part of our personal lives as our businesses—enter the ‘cloud’. A cloud is a place where you rely on someone else to make reliable back-ups of your stuff. If you lose your phone, you can get a new phone and replace everything from your cloud. Clouds are billed as ‘conveniences’, but this belies the enormous trust and reliability implicit in (1) trusting someone with all your personal info and (2) relying on them to do a better job of keeping your data safe than you could do yourself.

For most people this is natural—they don’t know from back-ups and would have, in the past, simply accepted the fact that they lost all their data whenever they lost their phone. But my background goes back far enough that I still talk about ‘computers’—I’m old school. I spent most of those old days worrying over my own back-ups, in the office and at home. My home PC is fully backed up, in duplicate, on CDs (for the older files) and external hard drives (a more recent, easier and cheaper alternative due to the plummeting cost of digital media storage).

EarthlyDelights(DETAIL)

But even for me, the cloud offers something important. One rule of safe back-ups is to always have one copy off-site. A cloud allows me to have another copy of all my personal data files in a place other than my house—in case it burns down or something. For now, I’m not doing this—clouds are expensive and new, which makes them unreliable. And this idea that new technology guarantees trust is ridiculous—I’m never getting behind the wheel of a vehicle that can be hacked—that’s insane. And I’m never going to trust my data to a cloud until clouds have some kind of industry oversight or government regulation. If information is the new currency, then where’s the Federal Reserve Board for my personal data?

I don’t want to get all survivalist about it—but those people are correct when they point out the fragility of our existing infrastructure. The more complex the system, the more vulnerable it becomes. Our digital technology gives us great speed and convenience, but our trust and reliance on its uninterrupted, secure continuance is based on wishful thinking rather than any proof that the digital industry has the gravitas of a life-supporting industry. They are more like kittens, easily distracted with a laser-pointer.

Delighto_s1

Hacking can come from friend and foe alike. Parents can hack their kids. Kids can hack their schools. Government can hack us all. And black hats can hack the government. Businesses, without any actual hacking, can take your life story and sell it as demographic research to marketers and retailers. Online services can take tacit ownership of your intellectual property through draconian EULAs that users never even read before clicking ‘I Accept’. Banks and phone companies and credit cards can stick little charges in your bills, hoping that you won’t look close enough, or care enough, to complain. Insurance companies routinely refuse claims, or make you jump through an exhausting number of hoops, knowing that a certain percentage of people will just throw up their hands and walk away. We’ve been ‘hacking’ each other for long before computers got involved—they’ve just added another layer to the conundrum.

Yet we willingly place our trust in anything that’s got silicon chips inside. I can see where it got started. People used to have to trust nerds—we were the only ones who could tell you how to work a computer. But it’s not like that anymore—except in the basement of development labs working on new tech. Everywhere else in business and consumer electronics, the nerds are no longer in charge—or they own the company, which amounts to the same thing—a billionaire becomes a businessperson, nerd or not. Just ask Bill. And there is one thing we know for sure about business—it can’t be trusted with the public welfare.

Durerx_s

As digital becomes more important in our lives, we see many bad side-effects. We see poor driving—make that dangerous driving. We see a lack of social interaction and a rise in online addiction. We see misuse of mega-data collected for one purpose and used for a hundred others. We see online stalking, online bullying, and online terrorism. We see ubiquitous surveillance. We see the markets being manipulated by micro-traders. Drones and hackers range from the harmless to the bloodthirsty. What we don’t see is regulation and oversight.

I want to keep the Internet free and open to equal access—but that’s the only thing I want to see remain in its wild state. Everything else should be managed and regulated with the same stringent requirements as money or medical records. I know that such an initiative would just draw all the lobbyists out of the woodwork, trying to tie us all into a tighter-still knot of commercial peonage, rather than acting as the civil service I’m suggesting. But there’s little enough accountability in business and government today—the digital industry should have at least a taste of it. After all, we aren’t that far from a day when we’ll all die without it—shouldn’t we take it a little seriously?

We can’t take a bottle of water onto a commercial airplane—but we can take a laptop, cell-phone, i-whatever—and we’re not all agreed yet on whether those things can crash the flight electronics of certain planes. Does that make any sense? Electromagnetism is invisible—we’re always tempted to think of it as harmless. We’re lucky there’s thunder—or we wouldn’t have the sense to fear the lightning.

CuriousOnes

Obama Put the Good Back in News   (2015Jul14)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015                                             10:04 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War-Torn Porn  (2015Jun11)

20150609XD-S-s-Gardn_1663

Thursday, June 11, 2015                                          1:52 PM

Everyone chases after wealth and attention but Love brings riches and celebrity that you get to keep—which is nice.

I was just sitting outside my front door. There’s an ornamental bench there that wouldn’t even bear the weight of a more fulsome adult and I was trying my best to act comfortable while unsuccessfully trying to find a painless position. Props to furniture makers—it seems that just nailing some lumber into the shape of a bench can easily result in an instrument of torture if you don’t know what you’re doing.

As I sat there I noticed that various birds were calling and singing around me in every direction, that bees and insects were making different buzzing sounds all around me as well. And the whisper of distant conversations from different homes within earshot of my door murmured to me—the distant traffic of various vehicles quietly rasped afar. Each sound had a spherical range with radii that varied. At this time of early summer in Westchester everything happens in a flotilla of green—profusions of grass, weeds, ivy, shrubs, bushes—and the mighty trees making a ceiling of green. It was beautiful. Then a bunch of cars drove by (I think one was a rental truck) and the bubble popped. Oh well.

Before the cars came I was thinking that the profound beauty of a quiet street in Westchester is partly due to its permanency. The last military action Westchester saw was when they captured Major John Andrè, the British spy, over in Waccabuc someplace, in 1780 or so. And I’ve only lived in Lake Lincolndale for thirty-five years, but I’m pretty sure if the police ever came here in force it was for a barbeque at the club house down by the lake.

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People where I live have no way of knowing what it is to live in a place that doesn’t have that kind of security—except for the vets, I imagine. It’s almost cruel to be showing us world news.

When I was a kid, the news would expose something bad happening—and the bad guys would be taken down, the war would end, segregation would be abolished. It was your civic duty to keep up with the news—‘the news’ was important stuff. This thing we have in its place now is a shadowy insult to the memory of the old days and worse than useless—more like harmful. But enough about things that are invulnerable because they make money.

Now the things we see on the news don’t get fixed. They don’t get noticeably worked on. They get discussed. On the news, no less. How imminently useful that is. If the news is no longer an instrument for public engagement in government then World News reports’ only function is to frighten us into sending our young people to PTSD camp. Why should I get my heart ripped out by reports of the suffering across the globe when the news is guided by sponsorship and the elected officials are guided by polls? Isn’t it just ‘war-torn’ porn?

Maybe when you get old enough, you start to see that the people in charge are not running things—most of them are being run. And with a preponderance of such people, the rare good ones can do little more than add entertainment value to the political process and the news. It’s a well-rigged machine—money can do amazing things. Not all of them good.

I still think it’s important to keep up with what’s going on with the human race. I get increasingly resentful of how much garbage I have to sift through to do that with today’s media. Most days I just avoid the whole thing for the sake of mental health—god, the world is crazy—and not in a good way.

But my front yard is wonderful.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015                                              12:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure at CNN and The New York Times   (2015Apr24)

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Friday, April 24, 2015                                              5:59 PM

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What with FOX News, Court TV, Network TV news, and MSNBC all out there working their angles, I use to tell myself not to worry—after all, there was always the ‘Gray Lady’ and CNN. They both have respectable histories and both seemed to display a real dedication to journalism. But I’ve been noticing the mob mentality of mass media inveigling its way into the thinking of even the ‘respectable’ news-editors lately. I’m even starting to wonder about Gwen Ifill!

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Let me give two examples from today that raised my blood-pressure and totaled my peace of mind. The first was the headline of the New York Times issue on the kitchen table: “Obama Apologizes For Drone Strike that Kills American and Italian Hostage” What the hell is that? We didn’t take those people hostage. We don’t use human shields as SOP military strategy. And Obama wasn’t at the controls of the drone that hit the innocent victims. It’s ISIS who should apologize (if those fuckers had consciences, like human beings). These fucking savages terrorize the planet for years, and we focus on the rare mistakes where one or two of the deaths can be laid at our doorstep (if you ignore the source of the exigent circumstances).

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When are we going to cut this poor bastard a break? But Obama is nearing the end of his last term—for my second example, let’s turn to Hillary Clinton. I wouldn’t be Hillary Clinton for all the tea in China—this poor lady is America’s favorite target. I hope she doesn’t get elected—you fuckers don’t deserve her. And she certainly doesn’t deserve the treatment she gets at the hands of all the hacks pretending to be journalists.

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I saw three assholes talking on CNN. The left-wing-view guy makes a simple declarative statement—that ‘no evidence has been produced to support any charges of wrongdoing in the case of the Clinton Foundation vis-à-vis contributors getting special favors’. End of story, right? I mean, they’re journalists, right? Wrong. The moderator asshole responds, “Well, isn’t that just daring people to go and find proof?” In what bizzaro universe is an avowal of innocence the same as a dare to find wrongdoing? Only a total asshole would twist a simple sentence to mean its opposite—and only in the name of high ratings, truth be damned. A professional journalist wouldn’t even be talking about malfeasance without proof in the first place, never mind insisting on speculating on the whispers of her self-professed haters.

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These people are lucky they live in a modern world where they can say these things in print or on a TV screen. If they said this shit in public, I’d fucking attack them—what a bunch of scum. You’ll notice I mentioned glancing at a newspaper headline on the table and seeing three assholes on CNN. I did not read the paper and I didn’t watch CNN—these were just snippets that I noticed in passing—and wished I hadn’t. I’ll pay actual attention to the details of these jerks when journalism comes back in style—and that’ll happen as soon as the major media corporations go bust, not before. So, I’m not holding my breath—or watching the news. Fuck’em all.

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Iran Hawks   (2015Apr03)

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Friday, April 03, 2015                                                7:38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Birthday, Emmy Noether!   (2015Mar23)

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Monday, March 23, 2015                                          11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Fight   (2015Mar19)

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Thursday, March 19, 2015                               2:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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?

Melt-Downer   (2015Mar08)

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Sunday, March 08, 2015                                  5:14 PM

The snowing-est winter of recent memory sure had its excitements—and while most of them had to do with cold, discomfort, inconvenience, and cancelled work, school, outings, etc., it nevertheless feels a bit boring on this above-freezing, ice-melting day—even for a Sunday. The forecast is to reach into the forties every day this week—no blizzards, no storms—just melting snow and plenty of it. Early spring is like an early pregnancy (from the guy’s POV)—there’s little sign of it other than the knowledge that it’s on its way. In the meantime we just deal with the mess left behind by all of winter’s meteorological excitement.

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I saw a Facebook post about someplace in California that’s closing down its oil pumps to save water during their historic drought. It sounds like symbolism, a bit, but it’s really just the whole world in microcosm—it’s too real to be symbolic. People in the future will no doubt wonder what we did in the years leading up to and immediately following that recent announcement by scientists that we’ve reached the point-of-no-return on greenhouse gasses warming the globe. I’m starting to wonder a little myself. Should I already be long dead from a gun-battle with industrialists? Should I have long since emigrated out of the first-world, just to stop being a part of it all? I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be typing away in my oil-heated home on a machine that requires mining rare-earth elements to manufacture.

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The people that know (scientist-type people) have already determined that we’ve crossed a serious line in our altering of the atmosphere and the oceans. The people that live in fear (leaders and wealthy people) are still furiously insisting that the problem doesn’t exist. They point to the fact that it still snows in winter—case closed. I resent the problem being discussed primarily by old farts—my age or older—who’ll be dead by the time they’re proved wrong.

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Oddly enough, our impending self-destruct is just one of the symptoms of a larger problem. By accepting technology into our lives, we’ve put ourselves in the hands of the technicians. When they say, ‘don’t stick your finger in the light-socket’, we should listen. And we do—when it’s as straight-forward as a zapping from a light-socket. But when it concerns something more complex  or subtle, like an atom-bomb, people just say, “Thanks, scientists.”, and take it away to do with it whatever they wish.

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A technician discovered how to build factories and power stations and cars—and we started making stuff, manufacturing stuff, marketing stuff—we know all there is to know about these inventions because we use them all the time. We don’t need the technicians any more, do we?—especially not if they have some crazy idea that their very convenient inventions have innate problems when used in large numbers. We don’t need to listen to technicians unless they have good news. Our grandchildren will have no such luxury. They’re going to have to listen to the technicians that tell them how to build sea-walls, how to electrify formerly combustion-driven machines, and how to keep breathing in a toxic atmosphere.

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There’s a lot of talk about money being free-speech, about corporations being legal persons—and that’s a problem. But the bigger problem is that capitalism causes us to give money more than free-speech—we give it judgment. People have known since the late sixties that our planet was endangered by technology—but we’ve wrung our hands for fifty years over the fact that ending our pollution would damage our economy. We’ve allowed money to convince us that pollution isn’t important, because the alternative is too expensive, or too inconvenient. Well, take a look at this place in twenty years and then come tell me about expensive and inconvenient.

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Do I sound crabby? I know I do—I don’t know why I asked. I’m in a lot of pain today—and I’m not really sure why. I overdid it a bit yesterday, walking through deep snow until I was gasping for air, my limbs burning from the effort. I was just returning from the house next door—it’s just a few yards—but the snow was up to my waist and there’s an ice layer on top that collapsed only when I stood up on it. It was like climbing giant stairs. It took forever for my breathing to get back to normal—I was exhausted. So maybe that’s it—after all, I haven’t been able to exert myself like that for twenty years—and that sort of thing took a day or two to recover from, even back when I was healthy.

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I’m also tired and a bit let down by my gargantuan post from last week—I spent two days playing piano and four days editing and posting all of it (ten complete videos—1 hour, 20 minutes total listening time). It’s going to be a long time before I record myself at the piano again—it’s a lot of work to post videos, but I don’t notice when I only do one or two of them every other day. If I was Horowitz, I’d gladly embrace the effort, but my little ditties make me wonder why I’m killing myself to share them. I’m starting to hate music as much as it hates me.

Or maybe I’m just tired.

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As Stupid Does   (2015Mar02)

Monday, March 02, 2015                                 4:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-Thinking   (2015Feb18)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015                                11:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have a Koch and Be Beguiled (2015Feb08)

Sunday, February 08, 2015                              6:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Poor, Poor Jamie –or- ‘What’s That Smell?’ (2015Jan16)

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Friday, January 16, 2015                        12:50 PM

Two days ago, Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times reported that JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, ‘lashed out at regulators and analysts’, quoting Dimon as saying, “Banks are under assault”. As I looked at Dimon’s photograph next to the Popper article I understood for the first time just how much drama there is in investment banking. Dimon’s bland, style-less garb somehow managed to say, “We are very expensive clothes” without saying anything else; his pouty poker-face seems to proclaim ‘I’m better than anyone else in the room’ while his wooden body-language chimes in that ‘he’s not really so sure’.

I had my belly-full of these hand-tailored he-divas since their 90’s quest-to-become-‘Masters-of-the-Universe’ profiteering utterly destroyed our manufacturing base. Bankers’ exertions towards making the financial industry seem masculine and powerful have only gotten more extreme with the subsequent decades. Their attempts to make purchasing power, or high credit ratings, seem equivalent to bulging pecs or abs, are absolutely operatic. I see now that Dimon, rather than an able administrator of brokers and investors, is just the front-diva for an industry giant whose welfare relies almost wholly upon his projection of his company’s image as something it truly isn’t.

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Here’s a company that shares the blame, with all the other major investment banks, for the crash and Great Recession of 2008 (and the uncounted, unethical mortgage foreclosures they rushed through in its aftermath). Here’s a company that has recently been fined billions for unethical practices, a company that has just set aside another billion for further anticipated sanctions. Dimon even complains that new government insistence on greater capital holdings, which would make JPMorgan Chase a stronger element in our overall economy, would make the bank itself a weaker entity—as if that were a rational argument.

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Even non-government, industry-savvy analysts say the company would operate more efficiently and more profitably if it were broken up into several smaller companies—but Dimon insists his company’s bloated structure makes it a more effective bully or, as Mr. Popper put it, “argued that the bank’s size gave it many advantages against competitors — “the model works from a business standpoint,” Mr. Dimon said.”

Finally, to put the fear of God in all of us, Dimon suggests that regulating the ethical practices of American banks will allow some other country, mostly China—the boogeyman under our beds—to become the new world leader in banking. It’s pretty neat phrasing—he’s implying that unregulated, unethical American banking is vital to national security—but what security can such economic buggery truly offer us?

So I see now that Dimon is not actually the Chief Executive Officer of his bank, but of its public image. He knows that, like money itself, JPMorgan Chase’s value is only what others believe it to be. He seeks to match the recent monetization of politics with a politicization of money. While sticking his head up his own ass, he bids us follow him—to safety. Don’t go—it stinks in there.

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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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On Whose Authority? (2015Jan07)

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

 

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

– The New York Times

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015                        11:05 AM

On Whose Authority?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 03, 2015                    2:19 PMadven312

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Hallmark-Variety

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…

 

Spy-Tiger In China!

Saturday, October 11, 2014             3:36 PM

“Okay, everybody out of the pool!” I shouted, sitting up alone in my bedroom, watching CNN. My brain had reached ‘full’ and it had begun to spill over with uncontainable rage at the global idiocy being portrayed—and the idiocy with which CNN, like all present news outlets, presented their ‘facts’.

We, the public, want information—our TV-watching stats may not show it, but that doesn’t disprove my premise. We don’t want to be intrigued, titillated, or shocked—those are reactions we’ll deal with as best we can, not goals that we seek with our remote controls. We would prefer half of our news report on the overwhelming chaos—and the other half report on the mature, reasonable solutions that leaders, trend-setters, and financiers have found to fight back the tsunami of modern global turmoil.

Talking heads had successfully replaced journalism-trained news-reporters on TV round about the 1980s—but the new millennium has seen that trend evolve into talking heads talking to talking heads—bubble-brained ‘reporters’ interviewing ‘knowledgeable’ insiders. This gives us an opportunity to witness what happens when a large mass of ‘stupid’ is compressed into a small space. But it doesn’t inform us of anything other than the commentators’ personal agendas and ignorant prejudices.

ISIS-asshole

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is compulsively incestuous with all of his male relatives. Vladimir Putin has a tiny brain to match his dick. John Boehner is a completely unfunny joke of a dried apricot, with the morals of a lump of shit in a sewer. Rupert Murdoch, the world’s most famous walking ball-sac, is comprised of equal parts disease, ignorance, self-obsession, and eructation.

I don’t have the time or stomach to discuss the character of every chief officer of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Barclays Capital, UBS, and HSBC. Let me just mention that many people work at these banks, some good, some less good, I’m sure. But the ones who actually control these institutions are empty, pitiable, scum-souled jackasses without the slightest idea of what life is about. They only know what money is about—and they rely on the fantasy that money is real. While they clutch at this delusion, they work tirelessly to ensure that human-need-and-suffering maintain maximum levels on every continent.

The politicians and potentates, the celebrities and PR-whores, and the ‘plain old business-people’ (i.e., fat, rich fucks) that are responsible for the shit shape the world is in can all just kiss my ass. Every one of you motherfuckers needs several lifetimes in cages in the middle of Times Square, where we can throw crap at you day and night.

Are you important? Are you in power? Then Fuck You, you couldn’t do a worse job, you worthless bags of shit. Go look in a mirror. No one else wants to see your ugly face.

Love or the Patriot Act (2014Aug15)

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014                  3:11 PM

 

Love or the Patriot Act

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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The Specialization of People (2014Jul03)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

our Bee-Balms...

our Bee-Balms…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our little baby watermelon--coming along...

Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

 

Paradox for June 13th, 2014

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Happy Friday the Thirteenth everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Planet Rise" by Xper Dunn

Friday, June 06, 2014                  7:01 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can’t We Have Just One Good Thing?

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Monday, June 02, 2014               10:07 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Easter Thoughts (2014Apr20)

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Sunday, April 20, 2014               5:54 PM

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

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

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

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

My Family's 2nd home in Katonah, NY

My Family’s 2nd home in Katonah, NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JJHS, Cross River, NY

JJHS, Cross River, NY

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

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Reed College, Portland, OR

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

SUNY at Oswego, NY

SUNY at Oswego, NY

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

Castleton State College, Castleton, VT

Castleton State College, Castleton, VT

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

SUNY at Stony Brook, LI, NY

SUNY at Stony Brook, LI, NY

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

SUNY at Purchase, NY

SUNY at Purchase, NY

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

Pace University

Pace University

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

Married 1980

Married 1980

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

Jessica Duffy  born 1982

Jessica Duffy born 1982

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

Spencer  -born 1988

Spencer Thomas -born 1988

I am here

I am here

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

Monday, April 07, 2014              2:28 PM

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

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

Museum of Science and Industry

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

Milwaukee Art Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Dividing Line

Tuesday, March 18, 2014           2:52 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said, “What? For having blue hair?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And there stands the dividing line.

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

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

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

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

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Natural History Museum London

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

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Museum of Science and Industry

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

Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History

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

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

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New South Wales Art Gallery – night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Finger On The Button (2014Feb20)

Thursday, February 20, 2014               12:52 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Weather We’re Having…

This Means War (2014Feb19)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014          12:21 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep On Keeping On (2014Feb05)

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014          5:40 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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