Before I begin ranting, let me explain about today’s batch of baby videos—I decided to take all the titles from Astronomical Terminology, which I googled—if you want to know what a ‘Jeans Instability’ is, you can google it, too. (It’s the point at which a galactic dust cloud gets massive enough for gravity to start making it collapse into a baby star, though).
Improv – Galactic Tide
As usual, the titles, baby videos, and the piano music have nothing to do with each other—that’s just the way we do things here. Now, on with the lecture:
Improv – Critical Rotation
Greetings, People of Earth. Today’s message is: Things can only get better. I’m sure of it. Honest Abe said you can’t fool everybody all the time—and people are getting a nice, close look at the way things are. Politicians and business leaders can blue-sky all they want about tomorrow—seeing real-time performance on a daily basis, even with all the spin in the world, is harder to dismiss with words. In other words, I think it will be harder for Trump to run on his record than it was to run without one.
Improv – Celestial Sphere
Depending on how the Supreme Court sees ‘gerrymandering’, we might even see some Democrats win an election or two. There’s no limit to how much change for the better may be ahead. Heck, we could win it all—and we’d still have a couple of years of work on legislation and diplomacy before we could undo the damage the GOP has already done (and Donnie helped!), post-Obama.
Improv – Eccentricity
By now, whatever further extremes the Right goes to, those actions will only inflame the backlash of people who didn’t see this reactionary wave coming—and are watching government implode almost daily. Did you hear the departure of the last few people, last week, wiped out the larger White House Office of Science and Technology Policy? You can ignore Science, if it means so much to you—but turning our backs on Science is extremely dangerous—as dangerous as putting its detractors in charge (a pretty ignorant act in itself).
We know how scary technology can be—with serious people making the decisions. It gets a lot scarier when things like quality-control become a matter of alternative facts. Humanity has raised a mighty pyramid of technological connections—it is awesome in its complexity, its interdependence—every cog matching every tooth in in every gear, round and round, humming without a break—like a heartbeat from the world. We are letting childish people tear out pieces, clog up chain-links, and throw big, fat monkey-wrenches into this global clockwork.
Freedom of Speech may allow people to bad-mouth Science—and hard-case Ministers may encourage that—but anyone who wants to turn their back on our technology is threatening your life and everything in it. We take our developed-country lives for granted—they only exist courtesy of a gigantic legacy that started with Fulton and Edison—and continues with Jobs and Musk, etc. Trucks, Trains, Ships, Air Freight—spiderwebs of businesses—blizzards of paperwork—from international trade agreements to the economics of your corner deli—and that’s just for all the food and drink. Denying Science is the most retrograde opinion a person could hold—it’s like intellectual suicide.
Chris Farrell has tuned the piano and spring has officially arrived—the sour flatness of a far-too-long winter is broken into shards of light by the bright eagerness of our perfectly-attuned piano. If you don’t see much of Chris lately, it’s because the Danbury WestConn needs him to tune all their pianos, all hundred-something of them, all year ‘round. Also, he’s working up a new website and writing the occasional song for the UN—yeah, that UN. His daughter is also busy—involved in two recent films “The Fits” and “Salero” (I forget if she directed, produced or both) and you can see them on Netflix if you’re looking for the good stuff.
It’s easy to stay humble when my piano tuner plays my piano far better than I ever could—come to think of it, that was also true of old Steve Anderson, who used to tune our old keyboards—I’m just not very good. But I sure sound better on a tuned piano—they practically play themselves.
Improv – Rainy Spring
Well, the world is a troublesome place—and it seems we add to its power and convenience at our peril—in this present time, with anonymized global comms, shoddy fissile-material security, jet bombers, and alt-news websites recruiting for terror, bad actors have never had it so good.
Every great thing our technology can do is diluted, polluted by the entrenched interests, especially in fuel-energy. Every great thing our Internet can do is smeared by the insecurity of hacking and phishing—the more we welcome it into our lives, the greater the risks. Every great thing our country meant to do for the world has been consumed by our military-industry complex abroad and the NRA at home. The eternal health crisis of modern drug use has been opaqued and diverted by our blind insistence on ‘criminalizing’ drugs—meanwhile Big Pharma bankrupts families (and promotes drug abuse) selling ‘legal’ drugs by prescription.
Improv – Thoughtful
None of the misbehavior is new—but the means, the opportunities, and the exploding variety of white-collar crimes, child armies, and gang activities all combines to demonstrate the kind of explosive change the good guys could be enjoying, if we weren’t being snookered into complacency by vested interests and politicians who see their very existence threatened by the possibilities of digital voting and online government transparency—these things will happen over the cold, dead bodies of the establishment’s entitled. And all the while politicians’ll puff up their chests and orate about democracy—and afterwards, a lobbyist will hand them a check for their reelection campaign.
The English had their mad King George—but unlike us, with Trump, they didn’t suffer the shame of having elected him. Trump is the triumph of ignorance and the death of representative government. And the Republicans who use his populist carnival-barking to advance their partisanship are truly “dogs who have caught a car”—up until now, we had the sense to expect them not to govern—but we foolishly made them our governing body, and they don’t know how—they’d lost for so long, they forgot that ‘winning’ wasn’t the actual job.
Thursday, April 13, 2017 2:04 PM
Dumber than Dirt (2017Apr13)
Trust in Trump—to perfectly simulate what a child would do, as president. He just dropped ‘the biggest non-nuke bomb in our arsenal’ on a suspected ISIS site in Afghanistan. Remember Afghanistan? That’s the country we armed in the eighties, so that they could repel the Soviet invaders—and when they did, we lost their phone-number—leaving the Afghanis with a ruin for a country and no post-war aid or support—like we have traditionally given, even to our enemies.
Twenty years later, in 2003, as we prepared to invade, we even joked that we couldn’t bomb Afghanistan ‘back to the stone age’ because they were already there—and there was truth to that. Fifteen years further along, Trump figures that one big bomb oughta do it—what do you think?
I think he’s dumber than the dirt he kicked up. The arms-makers must be drooling at this guy—it cost millions to send that single flight of Tomahawks to Syria—and I bet it wasn’t cheap to drop the world’s biggest bomb, either. At least he saved us the expense of getting congressional approval.
Poor Afghanistan—we love to fight there, but god forbid we help them keep their peace. That’s the trouble with all these trouble-spots—when the firing stops, everyone turns their backs. Why don’t we try fighting to help some of these people—is that too far beneath us? But then, Americans aren’t big on fixing stuff, even in their own country—I think we’re missing an opportunity here—infrastructure is universal—if we started fixing our own, we could globalize—there are plenty of places in the world that need rebuilding. Of course, they’d have to stop shooting first—and so would we.
This weekend started with a bang—but it sucks that we have to get our jollies from seeing our criminal president and his cynical Congress get their asses kicked. If only we could acquire the knack of electing statespersons instead of lickspittles. Well, there’s supposedly a surge of young women getting into politics as both activists and candidates, so maybe our choices will improve in future—let’s hope so. Not that men can’t produce the occasional Al Franken or Tim Kaine, but such men are rare as hen’s teeth on the beltway, or in state legislatures. Women can hardly hurt things.
Improv – Spring Dance
But enough about worldly matters. Oh, one last thing—the ‘Spring Dance’ video I posted today includes pictures of the grandbaby at her first Women’s March in San Jose—such a cute little protestor! There are also shots of the princess (and family) at her first California vineyard wine-tasting and a St. Paddy’s celebration. Even more exciting are the videos of her first attempts at crawling—that kid’ll be mobile any day now—poor parents.
Cover: “Who Needs to Dream”
These videos have taken me two weeks to get posted—I’m slowing down some, lately. But even without the cheat-factor of using cute baby pictures in the video, I think the music is okay—as always, it’s the best I can manage. I yam wot I yam, as Popeye would say.
Improv – Retro-Chrome
I’ve recorded the Barry Manilow covers before, but I enjoy them so I did them over again. Barry is the king of schmaltz—and I’m a big fan, even if my playing (and singing) doesn’t show it.
Improv – Hymnal
I guess I’ll have to get busy at the piano—these six new videos represent only a part of the pile of pix and video that’s been coming from Jessy lately—and I can’t show you all the baby cuteness until I have music to go with it. Still, I think what I’ve posted today should keep up anyone’s cuteness quota for awhile.
Improv – Haunted House Blues
Okay, I’m done—please enjoy these latest offerings.
I’m finally coming back down to Earth—this last holiday was the nicest time anyone has ever had—I got to meet our new granddaughter and visit with her and her Mom and Dad—a nice long visit, but not long enough by half. And, in the confusion, I have neglected to post any YouTube videos for the longest dry-patch my channel has ever gone through.
It isn’t that I haven’t been playing the piano. In fact, some of my best performances ever went unrecorded—played, for once, for the people in the room instead of to the camera.
The baby enjoyed my piano-playing in three different ways—she was charmed when I sang a song to her, she went to sleep faster when I softly improvised, and she loved to sit on my lap at the keyboard and play the piano with me. Had I been in my right mind there would be a bunch of video documenting all this—but I have nothing to show, since the camera was never on my mind—never turned on—it’s a shame, but nothing new—all my best work inevitably happens when the camera is not on.
I miss the baby. She’s the sweetest thing that ever drew breath. And a baby is a fitness regimen—not even having a baby, but just hanging out with a baby—involves all kinds of rolling about and lifting and holding—it’s a lot of work for someone who lies in bed all day. If they didn’t need caring for, babies would make great fitness-coaches for the infirm.
Anyway, it’s back to normal, here at the Dunn’s. Part of this extended hiatus was due to the hundreds of photos and the handfuls of baby videos I’ve been processing, in preparation for including them in the piano YouTube videos. Today, I’ve finally posted four new videos—part of the harvest from my ongoing processing of the visit’s photographic record. And, as a special bonus, I’ve included a cover of Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me”, which Bear and I sang to the baby.
Okay, I’m getting back on track—we still must wait for Big Sen to come, after New Year’s, before the whole family can be together—and then he will be here only one short week before all three of them fly back home again. I don’t know if I can take it. Having Lil Sen here is like having sunshine being piped into every room of the house. It’ll go hard with me—returning to making-do with mere photo and video feeds, thousands of miles away.
I got a new camcorder for Christmas—yay! It has all the latest low-light tech—and I think even the audio mike is better. You can judge for yourself—I’ve just finished making my first videos with the new equipment. I’m not rocking all that hard at the old eighty-eight—but then again that’s not appropriate when playing for a five-month-old.
Grandchildren are a little like crystal meth—they make you think you are stronger and steadier than you actually are—and when you walk away, you wonder why you feel like you just got hit by a truck. Who needs a gym membership with a baby around? I’ve been rolling around on the floor like I’m training for the Olympic gymnastics team lately—it’s ridiculous. But I like it.
In fact, there’s nothing I don’t like about this kid—but I suppose that’s pretty obvious.
Just because George Winston is the greatest single influence on my piano efforts, there’s no reason to blame him for what I post. I’ve listened incessantly to his recordings—but that is true of at least a hundred other artists—still, I don’t know the man. I don’t know what he’s doing—I’ve always just tried to sound ‘as good’ as he does—knowing full well that a great deal of the appeal to his recordings is the ground-breaking sound-engineering, capturing the lushness of a great concert piano, played by a master.
But I believe we approach these piano-things from opposite ends—he is a talented musician who practically founded the New Age movement, by bringing a geometric, yet non-baroque, technique to lyricism. I was drawn to his music because of my mathematical bent, and tried to lever my lacking abilities through the use of similar stylings—a far more superficial pecking at the borders of musicality. My goal remains to somehow sound ‘as good’ as George Winston, someday.
I don’t expect to achieve it—George Winston is the goods—and he’s as comfortable with classical as with folk, blues, or rock-n-roll—and has his own unique style, into the bargain. But why should I set small goals for myself?
This famous painting occurred to me today as I thought of the difference between Hillary Clinton and her opponent. The writing underneath translates into English as “This is not a pipe.” Magritte was making the point that we are not looking at a pipe, we are looking at his painting of a pipe. It is a fine image of a pipe, but it can’t be filled with tobacco, or put in the mouth, or lit or smoked—it is not a pipe.
In much the same way, Hillary’s opponent in the upcoming is not a politician, he is the image of one. He wears a fine suit and tie. He styles his hair and puts on make-up. He says words behind a podium and does weird gestures with his hands. He looks just like a politician. But he cannot be used as a politician.
He cannot devise sensible policies. He cannot be trusted to obey either the spirit or the letter of the law. He has no dignity, no gravitas, and no respect for the United States of America—his desire to be in charge is unconnected in any way to a desire to be a good president—he just wants to be president. He is a façade—an image of what we are looking for, but not the actual thing we need.
And he has taken up the Republicans’ habit of disguising Hillary Clinton’s actual ability to be president with an overlay of innuendo, aspersion, and suspicion. In her case it is her public reputation that is the illusion, the image—and they have fairly successfully convinced most of us that Hillary is not what she is, but only what they say she is. They substitute their opinions of Hillary for her actual persona. The media repeats their opinions as if they were news and suddenly, Hillary Clinton is not a hard-working public servant, but a female version of Trump. (Ugh, what a nightmare that would be!)
But the truth is that her opponent is a joke in a suit. The truth is that Hillary Clinton is not her husband, she’s not an embezzler, not a congenital liar, and not actually a murderess—she is just an experienced, reliable politician with a lot of people trying to keep her down. Don’t let them. This is not a pipe.
The peace and quiet of the suburbs is a myth. In the spring you have chain-saws and wood-chippers, in the summer it’s weed-whackers and mowers all day long, in winter it’s either snow-blowers, snowmobiles, or the collective grumble of an entire neighborhood full of individual emergency generators keeping their furnaces working during a power outage. That’s all discounting the delivery trucks, garbage trucks, septic trucks, oil trucks, moving vans, road-crew vehicles that clank in a variety of rhythms, and the occasional hot-headed hot-rodder with a muffler problem. The ‘summer special’ is the ice-cream truck that plays a Stephen-King-rendition of a nursery rhyme for hours on end—but never passes in front of your own house.
However, in the fall we get the king of noise-makers—the mighty leaf-blower. The guys that operate these things wear muffler-headphones like they use at an airport—but they fail to hand them out to the rest of the neighborhood. I miss the good old days—when the only loud noises were people playing their stereo too loud—or some drunk beating up his wife with the actual Hollywood soundtrack effects. There really should be laws regulating the manufacture of these unmusical noise-makers. I know that it makes people feel like they’re really working when it’s loud—but a car makes less noise, driving by, than these hand-held lawn-tools do—there’s something wrong with that, and very oppressive.
You may hear the whining of this thing during my videos—if I waited for them to stop, I’d never get anywhere. I played a few song-covers from my Looney-Tunes Songbook today—Warner Bros. published an oldies-songbook comprised exclusively of pieces used in the classic cartoons—it’s great fun. Some of the lyrics are very un-PC, but I just play the piano on those tunes, usually. I also attempted new improvs—it was a struggle, but there might be something there.
I’ve got the latest snaps of princess poopypants—they’re included in the videos. She’s such a charmer. I’m just crazy to finally meet her! If I wasn’t such a wreck I would walk to California, just to see that little baby. But at least I get the movies and the pictures—and they’re coming for the holidays (I hope—young peoples’ lives are so hectic).
Anyhow, here it is one o’clock in the morning and I’m still finishing up these videos—I just want to talk. And this imaginary piece of typing paper is my friend. I type and words come out on the screen—it’s just as if I were communicating with someone. Well, at least it’s quiet now. All the leaf-blowing men are snug in their beds, or drinking at a bar. I wonder how the Cubs did tonight?
O, no! Now, their only chance is a big upset. Go Cubs. (I’m a Mets fan, but a century is long enough to wait.)
Beautiful day. Leaves is fallin. Sun is shinin. Can’t beat that. Sarah McLachlan may be an acquired taste, but her music is fantastic—what a voice. I’m making a video—I just played Bach’s keyboard arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto in D, an early transposition from an early influence of old J. S.’s.
Then I played an improv—I don’t know what I’m doing, but it felt good. Now if it only sounds good. I called it “High-End Stroller” because that’s what baby Seneca rolls in these days. There’s a break about a minute in—the camera does that every twenty minutes, making a new file, but it loses a second or two of recording. I took too long with the Bach, I guess—it’s not usually a problem because I rarely play piano for more than twenty minutes—and I often restart the camera recording when playing for longer. What I really need is a film crew, I guess.
Shall we discuss politics? No! It’s far too nice a day for that—and tomorrow’s the final Shootout at the OK Corral, so let’s wait, shall we?
Autumn preys on my weakness—if anyone ever wrapped themselves up in melancholy, it’s me—and that time of year (thou may’st in me behold, when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang…) sorry, Shakespeare got me—this time of year makes me dive deep into memory, loss, and the unending cycle of change that is living.
I fairly delight in depression while the summer fades, the leaves fall, and the winter looms. We must remember that ‘clinical depression’ is an imbalance, that modest, occasional depression itself is natural—a way of crawling into bed and putting the covers over our heads, while working or relaxing. Chronic Depression, the problem, is much in the news nowadays—but if you get depressed, sometimes, there’s no need to panic—it is only when it takes over your life that it becomes a problem with a capital ‘P’.
I used to prefer the grey, rainy days—but now I settle for leaves falling—the wet weather chills me to the bone, making me stiff and achy. I still enjoy breezes—you’d have to be dead not to enjoy a breezy day. But enough about the weather.
I just read a sci-fi book called “Machinations” by Hayley Stone. I was disappointed that the plot was a straight rip-off of Terminator, but it was well-written, with good characters, so I finished the book. Dear Ms. Stone: It isn’t science fiction if you don’t have a new idea—it’s just writing, however good. I took one star off of my Amazon rating—because it was a good book, but it wasn’t good science fiction. (If I finish a book, I usually give it full stars.)
I saw the “Ghostbusters” re-make—loved it—loved everyone in it. I don’t see how they could have pandered to fans of the old original any more than they did—and it was nice. Anyone who wasn’t satisfied is just too hard to please.
I enjoyed a few episodes of “Lucifer” on TV, but as with all outlandish premises, they try to ‘mealy-mouth’ it down to a drama, instead of juicing it up into a comic-book fantasy. I watched nine episodes of “Luke Cage” on Netflix, but I’m getting too old for the kid stuff. I’m having trouble with stories that contain corruption, violence, and amorality—they just upset me. My options are narrowing tightly—I’m down to mostly biopics.
I’m trying to read the new Bruce Sterling book, “Pirate Utopia”, but it’s hard—I’m sorry, I just can’t stand ‘alternate history’ sci-fi—it’s a bridge too far for me. Woulda, shoulda, coulda—that’s all it means to me. But Bruce Sterling is heavy-sledding—I’ll keep on for now, and see if I get drawn in. It might be one of those books you don’t get until you re-read it. Sometimes, they’re the best.
My good friend Pete came by today and we talked briefly about the presidential race and the disgusting Donald. We had a wild session today—I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but I’ve edited the videos, so you can decide for yourselves.
Right now, however, I have a big back-log of musical offerings. Some were delayed by waiting for fresh baby pictures of the princess—there are several improvs and a Haydn piano sonata. Then there are five song-covers and one improv, from Pete and me collaborating this afternoon. All together, it’s quite a concert—but don’t feel like you have to watch it all at once. A lot of production work, after the actual recording, goes into these videos, so I’d prefer they be savored, wherever possible.
Between the inspiration of becoming a grandpa and the turmoil of the campaign season, I’ve had all my buttons pushed lately—and I flatter myself that it’s coming out in the music. I’ve been doing satisfying stuff lately—not all of it recorded and posted to YouTube—but I like to think that what I do post is representative of my recent work. Pete encourages me—so blame him, if you like.
This is more like it. I don’t feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness anymore. Most people seem to have caught on—electing Donald Trump would be just like electing a hog because it had won the blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair. That’s a good pig—that’s a pig above its peers—but it’s still a pig.
Donald was (and is) a scheming skeeve, first as a real-estate conniver and Manhattan ‘playboy’, then as a reality-TV star who entertained by being pompously cruel. That he had fourteen seasons is a sad commentary on the American TV audience—but enjoying his perfidy, as semi-fictional guilty pleasure, is a far cry from finding him fit to lead the nation.
Cmdr. Spock could have told you right off that a human doesn’t indulge himself at the expense of others for seventy years—and become a model public servant the next day. He’s not a plotline, he’s a person—he doesn’t ‘pivot’, or suddenly transform in any other way—anymore than you or I do. Thus we conclude that his candidacy was nothing more than a quest for self-aggrandizement and power—in other words, an ego-trip.
And I can forgive Trump and Billy B. for their lewdness on the tape—I can even forgive Trump running for President, for the most venal of motivations, and pretending he’s been ‘called’ to public service, out of idealism. I can forgive all that. To forgive is divine. But I ain’t gonna vote for him—no, that’s a fer piece beyond forgiveness.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, began her life with a passion for helping children. As her life brought her to positions of influence, she used that influence to help children—and learned that helping families is a great way to do that—and found that a community (or ‘a village’) is a great model for raising every American to a place of opportunity, security, and freedom. Thus her passion for children and her love of country melded into a single driving motivation.
Comparison between the two candidates is laughably unequal. Those who hate Hillary Clinton have very vague and diffuse rage against the status quo—the hysterical intensity of it marks it as a prejudice, rather than a reasoned judgement. When they try to tell me that Hillary is ‘just as bad’ as Trump, I can’t think of how to answer them—except to call them ‘dumb people’ (which rarely helps).
I truly think that the world is getting too complicated for a certain segment of the populace—they view the election as an unfair test—a test they are afraid to fail, as if life had become one long math class—and Trump is waving at them, saying, ‘Easy answer!—Over here!’ They are voting their frustration, not their judgement. Emotions and Democracy don’t mix, any more than emotions and the judicial system, or emotions and the practice of medicine. Passion has its place in politics, but only as passion for good, for the truth, and justice.
Has thirty years of campaigning, media fire-storms, scandals, political infighting, and partisan attacks blunted Hillary’s idealism? I should hope so. Imagine, if you will, what such a ‘refining fire’ would do to your dewy-eyed, youthful dreams, or what it did to mine (and I’m just a regular guy). A battle-scarred pol may seem an uninspiring option to the young absolutists—but we should keep in mind what fights she fought while earning those scars.
They were not legal tussles with creditors and unpaid workmen and excluded minorities. She fought to end school segregation. She fought to get disabled kids the right to be included in our public education system. She fought for health care for people who weren’t rich enough, or healthy enough, to get their own. She has served the public her whole life.
Trump, at the 2nd debate, said she’s been in power for thirty years and ‘has nothing to show for it’. That’s right, Donald—by your lights, Hillary has nothing to show for a lifetime of public service—she hasn’t become a billionaire, or a celebrity TV bully, or cheated decent people out of payment for the work they gave in good faith—nothing to show for her life. Well, except maybe millions of grateful people whose lives have been improved, even saved, by her work—and the respect of decent people like myself.
I was very excited about seeing Hillary Clinton be elected the first woman president of the United States. I didn’t think the Republicans could field an opponent that had a chance against her. I was pretty shocked to realize that the campaign to impugn Hillary Clinton was not only alive and well, but had become rabid—and that the majority of Americans were starting to believe, through sheer persistence of repetition, everything her opponents were accusing her of—no matter how wild.
This was complicated by the fact that Hillary Clinton—the actual human being—is indeed less than perfect. She has made mistakes—and she has been a politician—and decades of attack have spurred her to a few unfortunate verbal rejoinders. I get the feeling she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Neither do I. But none of that—and certainly none of the hogwash peddled by her haters—changes the fact that she is a whip-smart, doggedly capable person—and we’d be hard-pressed to find a better leader for the next eight years.
But enough—28 days from now, we’ll vote, and then we’ll, finally, know whether we are safe. Vote as if your life depended on it. VOTE.
Breakfast—is there anything sweeter than a hearty breakfast—and a handful of pills? Well, the pills are something I’ve acquired over time—what I really like is the bacon and eggs and hash browns—and then the sour of orange juice washing it all down—and then the hot, steamy, rich coffee (I take mine with lact-aid milk—the half-n’-half of the lactose intolerant).
And the best thing about it is that one isn’t supposed to have a hearty breakfast—all those nitrates, and fats, and the salt—OMG. Heaven forfend! But that just makes it taste better. And no breakfast is truly enjoyed without a newspaper, or at least a crossword puzzle or something—so you feel like you’re preparing your body and your mind for the day ahead. Well, the rest of the day—I don’t usually get around to breakfast until noon-ish—I know, I know—but it takes me a couple of hours just to wake up all the way. I’m kinda punchy for a while, at first.
Now, take a look at this picture of my niece holding my granddaughter—just look at the smiles on these two gals. It’s quite a photo, no? I stared at it for a good few minutes—it’s as good as a TV show.
But before I have my breakfast, I’ve uploaded this morning’s improv—it came out pretty good because I wasn’t entirely there. See, I tend to overthink things—so, when playing the piano, the more asleep I am, the better.
Thursday, September 22, 2016 12:43 PM
Aaah—so satisfying. Now that’s a breakfast. I made the mistake, however, of substituting the TV-news for a newspaper. When really bad stuff starts to go down, I realize I didn’t know how good I had it, when it was all presidential election claptrap—they were just filling time because they had no news—and no news truly is good news.
I see video of a pack of Tulsa police gunning down a stalled motorist in the middle of the highway in broad daylight. I ask myself, ‘what the hell is it like, living in Tulsa?’ I ask myself, ‘what would it be like if our cops just shot people down in cold blood like that?’ I find myself grateful, not to live in Tulsa—what a stain on this country. Then the stain running for president, the Donald, becomes the first Republican to hassle the cops about shooting black people. Why? Because, this one time, the shooter is a woman—Trump’s not castigating the police, he’s saying women don’t have the balls—a very different issue—but Trump’s an ass, and wouldn’t know the difference.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the cops shoot another black man—this time they say he had a gun—his family says he had a book. The cops won’t release the video—they had one excuse yesterday—today they have a different excuse—they’re saying they’re just following the law. But the law about releasing cop videos just got rushed through their state legislature—so it doesn’t take effect until next week—and on the hypocrisy goes. But that doesn’t stop the media from drooling in anticipation of more violence during community protests there—so they can say there’s violence on both sides. Vultures.
I must confess—if the cops made a habit of shooting at me, I’d be tempted to shoot back—but I’m white, so maybe I just don’t understand the situation? Regardless, it sure ruins a good breakfast.
I’m an escapee. My disability sidelines me from the distractions of life, so I get to watch the rest of humanity go about its business. It’s a disturbing show—we’ve got a lot of chaos going on in the world. You who have jobs and other distractions are lucky; you don’t spend the day poring over the problems of the world.
I’m an escapee. I already died once, so my concern over dying is not the big deal it once was. Everyone knows we all die someday—but we don’t usually accept it—and that’s a healthy thing. I’ve accepted it—and while that tones down the fear of dying, it also detracts from the ambitions of living. Plus, I’ve gotten old, so any ambition of mine would just annoy people. My day is past, just like Dr. Evil holding the world hostage for a million-dollar ransom, in a time when a million bucks barely pays for a new house.
I’m an escapee—even from myself. I used to be very intent, very tightly wound—now I have trouble concentrating, so I’ve let go of all that OCD behavior, as much as I could. I enjoy playing the piano when I first wake up, because I’m not all there yet—I don’t get in my own way as much.
We’ll all be escapees in November, when Hillary gets elected—we will have escaped an unholy confluence—NBC Universal, The Republic Party, and the Alt-Right movement have created a monster out of a joke. In truth, Trump remains laughable. It’s the half of the country he’s bamboozled into supporting him that’s scary.
We’re also beginning to escape from our past Conspiracy of Silence shielding police misconduct in the persecution, and murder, of minorities. For generations, certain police in certain communities have indulged their bigotry in a calculated and cold-blooded fashion. For generations, minorities’ claims of unwarranted search, seizure, arrest, beatings, and killings have been waved away with a ‘he said, she said’ and a ‘who you gonna believe?’
But now we have video. The old tradition, the evil conspiracy, is being shot through its own heart—its secrecy—and I confess to a certain glee as I watch these criminals-in-cop-clothes try to explain away the truth as it plays on a screen in slow motion. The thin blue wall of silence doesn’t work against YouTube footage—bigots, your day is come.
Unrest will be part of this process. The unwillingness to absorb this age-old confederation of persecution, even while it plays on our TV sets, faces tremendous inertia among white people. We don’t want to believe that such villainy has been sniggering behind our backs while we trusted our men and women in blue. And we recognize that many police do their jobs with pride, competence, bravery, and integrity.
But our respect for the police as a group cannot be a shield for this pernicious evil that resides within it. Black communities gather in outrage, risking harm themselves, to protest this cancer within law enforcement, and within the hearts of communities. Evidence is plain to see—yet we do nothing but debate talking points.
Changes must be made. Perpetrators must face consequences, even when they wear the uniform. Improved training and community outreach must become the norm—as must criminal prosecution for these brazen killings committed under the guise of ‘keeping the peace’. Ironic, and unacceptable—and most of all shameful. Shame on them. And shame on us if we don’t root out this corruption with the same intensity with which we support our cops.
But I see all this as ultimately good, as progress—an ancient evil has been caught in the light of day and, if we do right, will be hounded into non-existence. Trump points to this unrest and other violence, and tries to say that violence and crime are increasing—statistics, as usual, make a liar of him—but that’s how he wants to frame our reality, so we’ll all get scared and vote for a bully. Crime and violence are at historic lows. The recent unrest is a part of making the police a force for good for everyone, including every shade of skin.
This is important work, not cause for hysteria. But, regarding Trump, that could be said about many of his positions, on just about every issue.
Wow—even I’m tired of me—I can’t imagine how fed up you must be, dear reader. But it’s the weekend now, so I’m going to do my best not to say anything until Monday, maybe even Wednesday—who knows?
Our granddaughter has a wonderful new toy in her crib—a small keyboard that she can play with her tootsies. Punkin sent me a video of it, so I’ve made a new video of the two of us playing together. Enjoy. (I’m the one in the green shirt.)
A long and productive day—Pete came by, we recorded most excellent musical diatribes, but he had to cut our visit short and return to the world from whence he came. Then Joanna came by to see Pete—moments too late, very frustrating—but she and I had a pleasant visit, at least. This time I remembered to take a picture:
Today’s posts bring my total YouTube uploads to 2,005. Of those, 59 are videos of Pete Cianflone and me, collaborating together on improvisations and song covers. The audio-cassette archives of our 20th-century recordings are lost in the mists of time—after many years of pursuing separate paths, we resumed our monthly journey together in January, 2014. It’s all on YouTube: Pete n’Me playlist
I’ll grant you, it’s an uneven catalog (always with the caveat that the problems are all mine—Pete’s a professional who’s nice enough to indulge me) but as we’ve gone along, Pete has figured out an impossible trick—drumming for a pianist with no sense of rhythm. He always makes me sound better than I sound by myself—it’s really something. Today’s videos are a perfect example—no matter how badly I mess up, Pete keeps things going.
Well, it’s been a very busy week. I think I’ll go back to bed for a few days.
La-dee-da…. I don’t care. Let it all swirl around me. I usually feel obligated to pay attention, to try to sort the wheat from the chaff. But it all roils on, with or without me—I could live the rest of my life without a glance at the world and no one would ever notice. I could stop watching TV or going online, wait until November, vote for Hillary—and the result would be the same as if I had obsessed over all the political reporting, day and night, leading up to election day.
Those of you with the health and strength can rush down to campaign headquarters and volunteer to get out the vote—you may even decide that you’ve found in Politics a lifetime career—you can make a difference. I am unable to do so—but that’s okay—like I said, my lack of involvement frees me from worrying about my level of engagement.
We live in a media-centric culture. It is a mirror that we hold up to ourselves—and so our lives are judged not just on what’s happening, but whether we find ourselves entertained. It’s a lot to ask of ourselves—as if the whole family-of-man was driving its car down the interstate, admiring itself in the rearview mirror, trying to keep one eye on the traffic and the road signs. We must pay attention—but there are some things that don’t require our attention—they get in the way of the stuff we must keep watching for—dangers, opportunities, and responsibilities.
Not that we don’t need entertainment—I’m not saying that. Ever since fireside storytellers lit the imaginations of their tribe to mark the end of the day, people have hungered for entertainment. It is a part of who we are—just as much as eating or sleeping. In modern America, we’ve found that an overabundance of tempting foods can transform nutrition into a health threat. By the same token, it seems that we have the ability to over-indulge in entertainment to the detriment of our mental health. Sensationalism leads us on, to shorter attention-spans, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.
As a bookworm, I was an early-adopter of today’s media overload. Long before it was popular to spend the entire day staring at a rectangle in your hand, I was reading a book during every free second of my time. Even back then, I found that reading books (a supposedly relaxing activity) could become a binge activity. I’d reach a point where the eye strain, stiff neck muscles, and headaches made it necessary to stop awhile—even at three in the morning, with only one chapter left to find out the ending.
I got a lot out of those books—I learned a lot and I was exposed to new concepts and perspectives that broadened my understanding. But I also missed out on a lot of other things—the kinds of things other people did—which narrowed my understanding. It’s that whole ‘balance’ thing—it always bites us in the tush. And when it comes to the popularity and ubiquity of the I-phone, balance goes completely out the window.
People in olden times often resisted having a phone put into their home—if they wanted to talk to someone, they would go and see them. Nowadays, landline home-phones are only remarkable in that younger people have begun to feel landlines are superfluous. And, as in those days, we have many people today who don’t wish to ‘be online’—if they want to talk to somebody, they’ll call them on the phone. But like the people before, their children are using texts and Twitter and Skype, et. al., to keep in touch—so they are forced to adopt the new tech, if only to talk to their kids.
But what if you’re among the millions of people without the money for gadgets, without access to the internet, perhaps without even literacy? We are creating a divide between the digitally-enabled and the dark-zoners—and these two groups live in worlds that the other cannot comprehend, much less share.
We are approaching a point where digital illiteracy and lack of access will become more disabling than a lack of money. It is a new form of what film-director Godfrey Reggio called ‘Koyaanisqatsi‘ or ‘life out of balance’. Only, in this case, it is specifically Humanity that is putting itself out of balance.
Prototypical ‘wild’ humans evolved to live a life of constant struggle and frequent deprivation. We have built civilizations that free us from such rigors—but being free of the necessity of fleeing from predators, free of hunting, gathering, and finding water and shelter—that doesn’t change the way we evolved.
We still need to exert ourselves. We still need to balance food with activity. We still need to bond, to form social groups, and to share stories. We still need to keep these animal bodies of ours balanced on the tightrope of biological function. Any extreme unbalance of exertion, food, leisure, entertainment, or self-regard causes problems—as lack of balance always will.
So, in the end, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with eating McDonalds or playing Black Ops or Tweeting—the danger lies in imbalance, in overdoing any one thing to the exclusion of a diversity of activities. Just as a conversation must include both talking and listening, our lives must balance our pleasures with our requirements. We take our bodies for granted—but we ought to stop using them occasionally, just long enough to listen to them and give them what they need. But I should talk—I collect unhealthy habits like they were baseball cards.
Okay, videos for today—one new one, and one from a week ago that I’ve put off posting.
What a day—what a beautiful day. Lorraine Gengo and Joanna Binkley came by today, bought me lunch, and we sat and talked about cabbages and kings, just like the old days. All the high school years I spent chasing them around like deer—and just as hard to keep up with. And now they invite themselves over. Wonders never cease.
Of course, it’s a sad occasion—we were all good friends with Cris, and Cary still. He was a very striking personality and we all feel his passing. Still we talked of other things, too—catching up on forty years is both plenty to talk about, and nothing to talk about, but we made do.
I usually spend the day trying not to wear myself out but today I don’t mind being exhausted—I don’t get out much. Seeing people from the olden times really lifts my spirits. I’m kicking myself now, that I hadn’t the presence of mind to take a picture! And me making a movie every damn day…
Seneca’s latest video came out adorable, just like they all do. She’s got two outfits in the new pictures—one says, “Dad and I Agree—Mom is the Boss” (a nice fantasy—everyone knows the baby is the boss) and the other has a whale on it. The teddy-bear looks like a permanent fixture—it’s so cute the way little’uns have ‘sidekick’ dolls or toys or blankets that cannot leave their sides.
I’m happy also to note that my granddaughter continues the family tradition (well, my tradition—Bear is a normal person) of wearing mis-matched socks. I think it adds a certain panache, don’t you?
Pete’s coming! New videos from the Buds-Up Consort coming soon—watch this space….
Two months is a lot of time—I should be experiencing it; I should be savoring it; I should be reveling in it—especially at my age. An old friend of mine died yesterday—and he was the latest in an ever-growing list of people who are gone from my life forever. Until the day I join those old acquaintances, I owe it to them and myself to wring the juice out of life to the best of my ability. I resent the media making me wish for the next two months to go by as quickly as possible—I resent the media making the simple act of turning on the TV a painful experience.
My resentment glowers at their false equivalency between the con man, Trump, and the target of cynical, misogynist con-men, Hillary Clinton. I smolder at the easy passes they’ve given the Ignoramus, and the sensation-biased scrutiny they’ve given a woman who could fairly be described as our most prominent statesman—statesperson, that is. For instance, if I were running for president, I would hope that I, like Hillary, would have policies backed by decades of experience and consideration—not policies that I’m still struggling with at the eleventh hour. Presidential candidates don’t get a learning curve—that’s why we’ve never seen a tyro run for president before—it’s not a trainee-level position.
But there’s a bigger, longer story behind the present scuffling. Bush and the GOP got us into a war we should never have started—or, having started it, should have ended. They let the financiers play their games until the economy crashed and burned, leaving millions unemployed, evicted from homes, and robbed of their savings or retirement nest-eggs. Then they let their racist colors fly proudly while our first black president tried to fix their mess, obstructing every remedy he proposed, every move he tried to make—even when they wanted the same things—out of pure venal spite.
The GOP is not called the party of the rich for nothing—their lip service to the true values of this country has become ever more cursory; their demeaning of science and sense in favor of the cold comfort of profits have left them with no honor—and due to their incompetence, no profits, either. This country is in a mess—and anyone who blames the Democrats for this simply hasn’t been paying attention. Now a demagogue, with no thought for public service, hopes to ride the rage and despair nurtured by his own party into the White House. The few decent people left in that party have felt compelled to accept their party’s utter failure, and stand with Hillary Clinton.
This not only belies the false equivalence shored up by the media—it also proves that the GOP’s attacks on her are only for show. Sensible people of either party see Trump as the death of the American Dream—and rightly so. Hillary Clinton (who, being human, has faults) is as vulnerable to criticism as anyone with a fifty-year resume—but fair-minded people can only marvel at all she has gotten right and all she has accomplished. Trump is having a grand time criticizing others for how they do a job he’s never done—and no one calls him on it. His record is spotless—because it is a blank sheet of paper.
But let’s suppose that Hillary Clinton were just an ordinary politician—nothing special, no life-long history of experience especially suited to the job she hopes to win. Let’s say we criticized the former Secretary of State for her mediocrity, rather than her brilliance. Her opponent is still a horrible man. Far from voting for Trump, I wouldn’t even let that man in my home. Trump has no values, no ethics, no decency—he is a greedy, self-serving cretin. I’d sooner vote for anyone else—not that the Stein or Johnson votes won’t help Trump more than Hillary—that’s just another way the GOP is trying to worm their way into office. So, make that ‘anyone else with a chance of beating him’.
And even if he weren’t a monster, he’d still be ignorant and inexperienced—not just for the office, but in general. He has no experience of life as people live it—he is a yapping lap-dog without an owner. He’s mean-spirited, pompous, and selfish. He’s a billionaire who claims to be the salt of the earth. He’s a racist who claims Hillary is a bigot. He’s a crook who claims she’s crooked. He’s great at firing people. He’s great at putting people down. He’s the insult-comic dog candidate—a joke that wears quickly but won’t go away.
Watch Trump’s old interviews, when he’s asked if he’ll go into politics—he spent his life avoiding the hard work of public service—he’s not interested in being a mayor or a governor or a senator—he just wants to win the reality show that is the presidential contest. He doesn’t want to do the work. He doesn’t even want to study the issues. He just wants to pursue his celebrity to new heights. What will he do as president? He’ll do whatever the hell he feels like. He won’t know or care about the ripple effects of his actions. Oh that’s bold, alright—but it’s pretty stupid, too.
(Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Americans, if you vote for Trump, you will get exactly what you deserve—and it won’t be pretty. Naturally, I’m with Her. But you don’t have to share my admiration of our potential first woman president—you can vote for her just to save the nation from a con man. This country has so much history, so much greatness, so much potential—why would you hand it over to a conceited, spoiled, sorry excuse for a man, like Trump? Do you really want to vote for a GOP presidential candidate that promises to make Bush-43 look like Solomon? Help me and all right-thinking Americans keep George W. Bush as our stupidest and most inept president—vote for Hillary.
I finally got in a file-folder from Bear, containing over 100 Photos of Seneca showing off his daughter, Seneca, at his Restaurant—he appears to dance about the place, introducing the Princess to all his co-workers. It’s beautiful—so I made a video of it. I can’t speak for the piano music—my fingers were a bit tired from photo-shopping all those pics—but I think it will do.
The photo sequence repeats once, because I only show each picture for 0.75 secs. That left me with a-minute-and-a-half for the whole sequence, but the music is three minutes. It’s driving me crazy to be in New York while my baby granddaughter is growing up in California—it’s just so wrong. They’re going to visit at Christmas time, so I’m very impatient for the holidays. Meanwhile, I have to settle for photos. Arggh!
Well, anyway, that was a full day’s work—and I think it came out okay—but I think I’ll use these pictures again, more slowly, on my next video. I like the way this one suggests movement, but it’s a little frenetic. I’d like to see the pictures come more slowly. Next time.
For some reason, 36 years ago, I married a Bear. She married a Clown. We did the things that other families do—house, kids, pets, Christmas, birthdays—but we did something you don’t see too much of—we were silly. I find silliness to be precious—it’s something a lot of people don’t have time for. Some people even have an aversion to silliness—though that makes them the perfect people to be silly in front of.
Bear is not always relaxed enough to get silly—she spends most of her time being quite serious and busy. She’s lucky she has me—I know the value of silly. I’ll check—but I’m pretty sure she feels the same way—yeah, pretty sure…
I told her last night that I had forgotten to get her a gift. Bear doesn’t care—Bear doesn’t like a lot of gift-giving. She likes Christmas presents and birthday presents and she doesn’t mind a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day—but that’s it. No Mother’s Day, no Easter, no wedding anniversary, nothing where she feels a gift would cheapen the day. I try to get gifts anyway—silly ones, of course—but when I forget, it’s not the end of the world.
She said, “When I go shopping tomorrow, I’ll get myself some flowers.” That’s what we do—I tell Bear I didn’t get her a present, and she gets it for me (for her). I think she prefers to do her own shopping and decide what she wants—silly gifts are all well and good, but….
To the outside observer it might look like I get most of the benefit of being married and Bear gets most of the work—but only because it’s true—and I have an excuse—and a note from my doctor. But I do bring something to the table—old world queens had their court jesters—and Bear has her Clown. Plus, I kill spiders and fix toilets.
I don’t even want to think what my life would have been like without her. So that worked out pretty good. I am the lucky one.
Sunday, August 28, 2016 12:33 PM
It’s Addictive (2061Aug28)
I’m having trouble getting any work done on the computer. My wife is having trouble leaving the house. Friends come over and when they try to leave they just can’t walk out the door. It’s a real problem. We’re all addicted.
I’m a nerd by trade. My usual PC-monitor backgrounds and screen-saver slide-shows have always been NASA images—false-color galactic spectaculars, grandiose launch-fireworks, awesome celestial bodies—you know the drill. But I have recently received an influx of my granddaughter’s baby-pictures, which reminded me of younger times, when my computer graphics included our own infants—before they grew old enough to be self-conscious about being on daddy’s screen-saver. So, now, only occasional close-ups of solar storms or galactic star-cradles interrupt the steady stream of baby worship.
If you’ve had kids, or grandkids, then you know that your baby pictures are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen—and it’s hard to look away. This is especially true when the actual enfant is on the opposite coast, unavailable for grandparental doting. Well, it turns out that having a slide-show screen-saver of such images is pretty close to graphics heroin.
I finish my typing or Facebooking or whatever, I go to leave the room, and I find myself caught, in glancing backward, by the full-screen splendor of our little Seneca. I walk into the same room later on, and I can’t bring myself to hit a key, stopping the screen-saver—I just sit and watch. When Claire (or anyone, really) tries to walk past the computer on their way out the door, they find themselves stopped in their tracks. She’s a cutie, what can I say?
I have piano recordings I’ve put off for days now, because I won’t edit the video without some fresh Seneca graphics to replace the image of me sitting and playing (with over 1,900 YouTube videos, I’ve seen more than enough of myself). Claire is holding out on me—but that’s between us, we’ll work it out. In the meantime, I have one recording that I really like—I may have to post them as is—or at least this latest one.
The universe is a big place (he said, apropos of nothing) and if we are honest with ourselves, our individual selves are such a minute part of the planet—itself a minute part of the whole—and we must accept that ego is entirely a biological-evolution thing—it is as misleading as our perception of the Earth as a flat surface—ego is a special case, only valid to one person in a specific point of time and space—certainly not any part of the larger reality around us.
We accept ego as a driving force, giving us the confidence to move forward, the sense of self-worth that allows us to believe in our goals and dreams—just as we move across the earth as if it were a table-top—it’s practical. But an overabundance of ego in one person is usually recognized in those around him or her—as delusional. So we conclude that ego, like glandular balance, is a healthy thing, and egotism, like any metabolic imbalance, is unhealthy.
Our egos are like our faces—other people see them clearly, while we cannot. And there is no mirror for an ego—except perhaps the brick wall of harsh reality, though sometimes even that has no effect. I’m not sure how big my ego is—I can’t be certain if my ego is in balance or not. It troubles me. But then, I’m out of shape too—no question, yet I can live with that—more easily than I can get myself to exercise every day. Sometimes I have to accept that I am what I am.
My point? I don’t know—my point is that it’s hot—too hot for this heavy, long-sleeved shirt I wore in the air-conditioned part of the house. My point is that I’ve gone down the rabbit-hole of presidential politics and it’s virtually impossible for me to write about anything else. But it’s Sunday, so I’m trying to take a day off from all that. Still, I catch myself nibbling around the edges of it.
For me this political ‘rumpus’ is about human nature, about character, about strength of purpose and clarity of vision—it’s not a party to me, it’s not a hootenanny where I get off on the sheer emotional energy of it. I’ve always been too damned serious—and this election is an exaggeration of that side of me. Don’t think that, because I’m taking a day off, that I don’t have a lot more scolding and griping to do—but that’ll wait.
In the meantime, I only have eight measly photographs with which to make four videos—I guess if I can’t squeeze any new shots out of Jessy or Claire, I’ll have to fall back on photos I’ve already used—we’ll see.
Now that the ‘ill wind’ of the GOP has bloviated sufficient extremism to fill a Gag Reel of non-presidential character, or lacking character of any sort, really, we might be deluded into sitting back and breathing a sigh of relief—but that would be a mistake. Trump sprang from the mulch he grew out of—the GOP itself is the same cold-blooded, empty-spirited anti-Americanism that Trump is—he only ‘let it all hang out’, rather than the GOP’s normal tactic of ‘teaching the controversy’, or as I like to call it, hyper-bullshitting.
Vainly trying to find rationales for the worst side of people—exclusion, xenophobia, isolationism, and heedless greed—the GOP has played Devil’s Advocate long enough for us to drop the ‘Advocate’ and call them by their true name. Paying taxes for the good of the common welfare is no sin. Welcoming those who thirst for a better way of life is no crime. Insisting that the least of us get the same rights and respect as the rest of us is not faintness of heart—neither is being unable to succeed, through no fault of one’s own.
They reach into our darkest desires and fears—they tell us to blame and to suspect—they take advantage of our desperation, dangling false promises in our view. The GOP are the orcs to the Democrat’s elvish. How anyone can fall for their nonsensical prating eludes me—it is an abandonment of reason and judgment that I would not think most people capable of—yet it deludes a good half of all Americans.
I would have thought the ‘whoops’ war, and the cratered economy, would have woken up voters to the glaring truth. Failing that, one would hope people noticed the Congress they elected has devoted the last eight years to neglecting the people –with an iron resolve usually reserved for doing something productive. And if all that wasn’t enough, you have the specter of Trump—the high prince of unreason—leading them into a tomorrow full of open, blatant hate and fury.
If you vote for any GOP candidate this election, Trump or otherwise, I wash my hands of you as an American—I don’t know where the hell you came from, but you can go on back now. Just kidding. That’s what the ignorant tend to shout—‘Go back where you came from’—even though they shout it at their neighbors, hence their ignorance. I get it, though—if I blame someone else for my problems, then it feels good to shout at them to go away.
I’m sick and tired of this election—I’ve always seen Hillary as the obvious choice; I’ve always viewed Trump as a nothing with an ego; and the longer this circus drags on, the more ludicrous the coverage becomes. But I’m angry at the glacial time-frame of political change—our lives change overnight, and have done for a long time.
Our politics have got to become more pragmatic—we have to talk about grown-up stuff and shunt aside the childish whinings of those who want to turn back the clock (but only in their favor). We have to demand transparency from government, we have to start expecting results, and we have to start voting for people who hold themselves accountable—because we sure can’t do it, after we elect them. With all the work that needs to be done, I really don’t want to hear any more bon mots from the Donald. I don’t want to hear people give Hillary any more crap—you try running the effing State Department—or help run a global charitable foundation.
I don’t suppose it occurred to any journalistic geniuses to research what, if anything, the Clinton Foundation has done—that story doesn’t grab clicks, I guess. But as a viewer, I wouldn’t mind hearing about it—even if it was just boring stuff about trying to make poor people’s lives better. But no, better we stick with vague suppositions about financial hanky-panky—that makes a better news chyron. But at all costs, please don’t inject anything other than the presidential race—that would imply that it isn’t the only thing that matters to everyone. Where would that leave your ratings?
The entire state of Louisiana got flooded and sixteen people died—that’s a tragedy—not to mention tens of thousands of homes destroyed, or at least their contents and first floors—nearly the same thing. But 1,245 victims died in Katrina, 233 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Sandy—much smaller disaster areas—that makes 16 a pretty small number, President Obama—go on with your golf game until your scheduled Tuesday visit. It isn’t the presidential presence that makes the difference—it’s the preparedness and the organization of the relief effort—and Louisiana gets a gold star. The Katrina disaster was an education as well as a tragedy.
I found it amusing these last two weeks that many news shows, especially the NBC network family, were able to suspend their laser-focus on the presidential race to watch the Rio Olympics in awesome detail. But then it was right back to all politics all the time. Would that all the news shows would have the integrity to continue to report on the rest of the country, and the world, and still find time for Trump and the stupid things he says. Perhaps Hillary will be caught on tape, hiccupping during a speech—think of the infinite attacks springing to mind among the Trump campaign staff. But you journalists have minds too—maybe you can find other things to report besides Trump’s latest hiccup-gate comment.
Once upon a time I supervised thirty employees and ran the computer systems all by myself—I made and spent money like a lord, because times were fat—People thought I was a computer genius, and in that context, I kinda was. Along the way, I had married, we’d had two kids, a dog, three cats, a house, and two cars. We live in a lovely, woodsy neighborhood with a beach on the lake, just north of New York City.
I worked hard, long hours on the hardware, the software, the supplies, training the people (people didn’t know what to do with a computer back then—and, to be fair, all the computers were different, with different, custom-made programs). I talked to clients and suppliers on the phone. I talked in meetings. I talked to individuals if they had a question or problem. I kept everything going and, on the side, de-bugged programs or wrote new applications. I was often brought in on a big closing as the resident nerd—back then, if you had your own nerd, you could get ahead of the competition using those new ‘computer’ gadgets. I was big stuff—in a small way, for a short time.
But I had my own corner office, with a beautiful view. I had a nice chair. I was happiest when I was just sitting at my terminal, writing code. That was the easiest part of the job. Dealing with customers and co-workers was never my strong suit. I was younger than a lot of employees, and that could be awkward for both of us.
On my birthdays, a group of friends and family would join me at a fancy restaurant. We’d eat fancy food and drink pricey wine—it was very sumptuous, not hard to take at all. Eventually, we’d toast to my birthday and everybody would say, “You are the lucky one!” It was said half-joking, ironically, because there wasn’t anything too special about me, but I was undeniably enjoying a lucky life—and it was a night to celebrate.
But I believe it. I said it to someone just recently. They looked surprised. They said, “You? You’re the lucky one?”, incredulously.
I said, “Yeah. I should have died ten different ways by now but I’m still breathing. I should be a grouchy misanthrope hiding in a solitary cave somewhere but (and here I looked at my wife) I live in this wonderful place with wonderful people. I have everything I want and nothing I don’t.” Now, that may be a slight exaggeration, but not much of one, not in any way that really matters.
I do believe it. There are so many ways in which the twists and turns of fate could have put me up against it, but that has never happened. Fears arise, troubles come, but with time they all fade, and a better day dawns—every time. If that’s not lucky, I don’t know what is.
And yet it isn’t much different from your life, is it, dear reader? We are all tremendously lucky to be waking up to this day, eating food, being with others, cruising around, reading books, whatever you like doing. It’s good, right? I mean, it could get worse. That would suck. That would be bad luck. But meanwhile we swim in a stream of good luck, barely noticing the miraculous moments go by. I am the lucky one. Say it with me.
Two months ago, when our daughter’s pregnancy (and on the west coast, yet) lurked in the back of my mind—and it still looked like we might get taken in by Trump’s big con—and I was smoking too much and doing too little—back then, I resumed my anti-depressant prescription. That’s how bad I got.
But a half-a-pill a day of that stuff really pole-axed me. Yes, I smoked a lot less, because a lot less of me was there—I was zombified. But the cutting back on smoking was good for me—I felt much better. The only trouble was that I wasn’t doing anything else, either—and I wasn’t upset about that. I was very far from upset about anything at all.
Now, if I had wanted to spend my life on drugs, I could do that all by myself—and with much fun-ner drugs. So I compromised—now I take a quarter of a pill every day—and only until October, when I will stop altogether, and see how it goes. There’s a reason I stopped taking them, after all, and if I can do without, I’d really prefer that.
So, back then, it wasn’t just raining anxiety—it was pouring. But now, with our brand-new, cute-as-a-button granddaughter, I’ve been inspired to play new piano improvs. Claire’s trip has inspired me to get out and do more—like doing my own shopping. The influx of baby pictures has given me lots of busy-work in photoshop, making them fit into my YouTube videos. I enjoy my playing more when I’m looking at photos of that beautiful baby instead of myself—I think it makes me sound better.
Then Pete came by today—Hooray! I was pretty disappointed with last month’s recording, because of the anti-depressants making me punchy and basically out-of-it. But we made up for it today.
We started with a request: “Jesu—Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J. S. Bach. (That’s two requests in August—for me it’s been a banner month for music.) I played it slow, so I would make less mistakes—but Bach is good that way—it’s still pretty, even slow.
Then we did a couple of jams back-to-back. That video is called “On A Wednesday Afternoon”. I enjoyed it much more than the title might suggest—I guess I was going for the ‘soft-sell’, there. No Pete Cianflone session would be complete without a bunch of weirdness in the video—blame it on Jessy—if she had sent me a bunch of baby-pictures, you wouldn’t even see us on the video.
Then Pete suggested we cover a Golden Oldie from the 60s, so we played “Let’s Live For Today”. Now, about “Let’s Live For Today”:
Songbook from “Great songs…” series, titled “of the Sixties – Volume 2″ gives the following credits:
But Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia gives the following credits:
“Let’s Live for Today”
Writer(s): Michael Julien, Ivan Mogull, and David Shapiro. “’Let’s Live for Today’ is a song initially recorded by the English band The Rokes in 1966. The song was later popularized by the American rock band The Grass Roots, who released it as a single on May 13, 1967.”
I leave that mystery to someone else to solve, but we had fun playing it—it’s not really a piano piece, but we made do.
The last bit of improv was bang-ish, so the video is called “Monstrous”. Pete said he might be able to come back next week, so we may get two sessions for August—who knows? We toasted the baby—well, I did, Pete doesn’t drink. A good time was had by all. I hope it’s as good to listen to. Enjoy.
As I was saying—new baby granddaughter, clearer mind, more piano music—and having more fun at the piano, baby-picture photoshopping, regular shopping… and it looks like there’s no need to worry about Hillary being elected—(but Vote anyway!) Suddenly, it’s not just raining good things, it’s pouring. Ah, life. That’s what I say. Ah, life.
Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.
I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.
I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 12:48 PM
“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.
And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.
But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?
We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.
These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 6:48 PM
I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.
Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.
So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.
Oh my. Did someone order a steam bath? What kind of ungodly weather is this? Wait, I remember now—every year about this time of the summer, it gets obnoxious enough that we almost feel grateful when the cold comes back. I hate the cold weather, but even I get fooled this time of year. Whew! I can’t stop sweating through all my clothes—it’s yucky.
Bear remains on the West Coast with her daughter (and her daughter) so I’ve been running around like a healthy person. I get so wound up I can’t sleep at night. Then I don’t wake up until noon. It’s getting me confused. I try to read books as much as I can—but that only lasts the length of the book. Then I have to wait until I’m ready to start a new one. You can’t just close one book and open another—it’s a rule, I guess. But I don’t like it.
The only bright point in this long wait is that my granddaughter’s pictures come in a fairly steady stream. I could stare at her all day—she makes me smile like an idiot, just sitting here by myself. Just knowing she exists makes my life a pleasure. After the first bunch, I requested some pictures of Sen with her eyes open. Oh man—I don’t know—it took me two days to process them all for a video—and I had to play eight minutes of piano improv to last the length of the final movie. I hope you enjoy it.
The summer night is soft and cooling, but noisy—what with all the crickets calling through the screen door. It’s peak summer—quiet as a tomb. If you had somewhere to go, you’re already there. Me, I like to stay home usually. Spencer’s kind of the same way. It’s a Sunday night—it doesn’t come any quieter, if you don’t count the crickets.
I don’t watch the Olympics—not alone, anyway. I’ll linger on an event in the midst of channel-surfing, but that’s about it. And no programmer in their right mind would air anything good while the whole world’s on vacation and the Olympics are on. So the usual tired offerings on Sunday night are exhausted on a Sunday night like this.
I made some videos—one of them uses the pictures Bear took, out the window of her airplane as she flew to California. The other is the first request I’ve had in a dog’s age—someone asked me for a melancholy tune—so I’ve done my best to be absolutely drippy in that one.
I’m trying to make chicken noodle soup and blog at the same time—I’m likely to burn up a pot and go hungry. Wait a second—I’ll go check on it…. Still a minute on the timer. Oh no, another thing I forgot—Roadies is on—I’ll be back.
Sunday, August 07, 2016 11:36 PM
Here I was complaining about nothing being on TV, and I remembered that I like to watch Roadies, and then John Oliver, on Sunday nights. Man, TV goes by fast when you’re watching good stuff without commercials! It’s so rare on regular TV—I can see why people switch to binge-watching whole series seasons online. It’s much more satisfying—and if you don’t like it that much, you can just move on. I have a few Netflix series that I started and got tired of—I told myself for a while that I’d get back to them but as time passed I realized that wasn’t going to happen. But I’ve watched some really good stuff on Netflix, every season, all the way through—like Stranger Things, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt —bingeing is great!
So now I’ve got one last improv to post before I call it a day.
Monday, August 08, 2016 12:27 AM
I got my bowl of Liptons, in case you wondered—there’s a timer app on Windows 10—good thing, too, because I never heard the kitchen timer go off. Imagine—I can cook and PC at the same time now—hmm… This opens up all kinds of possibilities.
See, I used to multi-task—like a normal person. But I have no short-term memory—or I have advanced absent-minded-ness (I was always absent-minded). Anyhow, I go for a long time without looking up from the keyboard—but with a timer?—oh, man.
I think our trip to the store yesterday helped ‘wake me up’ a little. I can do things—but then I get tired or I muck it up. So I get to a point where I stop doing stuff. But I should really make more of an effort to go outside and move around a little, every other day at least. I’m only mostly useless—I have to remind myself I’m not entirely useless. Not entirely. Not yet.
Okay, enough, the video is uploaded and it’s late—more later. Good night all.
Okay, enough politics—what do I know, anyway—other people are already saying anything I have to say—people who get paid for it. I’ve been so swept up by the spirit of the Democratic National Convention—it was thrilling. But patriotism is something only idle people have a lot of time for—most people have stuff to do. So—time to stop obsessing over the TV and C-SPAN, and go back to reading books and watching movies and talking about myself. I know I’m not interesting, but I am interesting to me—and I like to write—or I should say type—I actually hate to write. If I had to do this with a pen and paper—I wouldn’t bother. But in an age of digital records, there is no saving of effort or of paper—there’s just ‘original content’.
Original Content means something you wrote yourself—without reference to Star Wars or Orange Is The New Black—something no other reasonable person would want to sue you for stealing. Be warned—if you do write something profitable, unreasonable people will come out of the ‘word-work’ to lay claim to it. But most writing has little value—so as long as you know you wrote it, you shouldn’t worry. If you’re serious about money—apply for a copyright. It’s easy—it doesn’t cost much (if you really expect to make money)—and it’s the first thing any serious professional writer does.
Original Content also applies to photos, artwork, music, and especially video. If you generate original content, which then generates a lot of clicks—you’re supposed to get paid for that. But mostly that stuff is generated in-house, so it’s not like you can just shop stuff around—although that might be a possibility, I suppose—but you’d have to go meet people. You can’t do business online—not all business, and especially closing a deal. When the Internet was young, sharing stuff was a big deal—now everyone wants to make a buck online—it’s no easier than most office jobs, unless you get a lucky break.
But I’m retired. I generate writing, artwork, and music and I just post it online. I don’t want someone else to use it without my permission—but I have no plans for a cyber-empire. I just want to be a part of it. I can’t do what young people do—posting photos of my junk, making dates on the dating app (damn, what is it? I wanna say ‘Rascal’ or ‘Heartify’…), or multi-player gaming—which I assume is tough on ‘grandpas’ like myself, especially if your hands shake. Most of the new online stuff is ‘young people only’—they don’t say that, but old people who try to fit in ‘with the kids’ are just as creepy online as they are in person. So I do ‘grandpa’ stuff and I post it. I post my piano-playing on YouTube. I post my essays on WordPress. I keep in touch with friends and relations on Facebook. I posted my old drawings on Pinterest, but I rarely have cause to add anything new.
I don’t expect a lot of people to listen to or read my stuff—some nice people do, who know me and don’t mind sleep-inducing stuff. I’m basically just putting my work out there for my own satisfaction—I like to do it. I used to have a spark of ambition—not much of one—I used to think maybe I’d become a great artist. Then I thought maybe I’d become a teacher. Eventually, I decided I just wanted to live a life without a specific goal—that’s a bad approach, but I was lucky. I ended up with a loving family, surviving a fatal disease, and cancer, and becoming an actual grandpa—oh, and I eat regular. I can’t complain.
Sometimes, after I had done a good drawing, I’d Xerox it—and the Xerox copy would look more professional than the original. There’s something of that in my postings—they just seem more substantial for being online for the world to see. I’ve actually had people tell me not to post stuff—you can’t post online without encountering trolls—but I pay them no attention. It’s like they used to say, “If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.” That’s even more true of YouTube posts—if you don’t like my piano-playing, don’t watch it. I usually listen to classical music, myself—I usually only watch my own stuff once through, to check that it uploaded okay. Or I listen to it on CD, when the radio isn’t playing anything I like. It’s my fallback music.
So, Claire is flying to CA soon to meet our new granddaughter—Spencer and I will have to rough it on our own for two weeks—I hope we survive. Jessy and Seneca and Seneca are doing great. My mom had her 85th birthday today, down in Hilton Head, SC. I saw party pics on Facebook and wished I could have been there, instead of just calling to wish her a happy one.
I’ve gotten calls from Kevin Bouricius lately—he’s up in Massachusetts, trying to quit smoking. There’s a book of his oil paintings for sale online—it’s expensive, but the paintings are incredible. (http://www.blurb.com/b/4506248-paintings) He also has actual paintings, if anyone wants to go up there and buy one.
I’ll have to call Pete to set up our August jam—we usually try to post once a month, and I feel like I didn’t do too well this month, what with starting on anti-depressants at too high a dosage—I’ve halved it and I feel like I’m fully conscious again—although it was a great relief to be brain dead for a few weeks.
I was thinking, since Claire and I have our 36th anniversary coming at the end of August, about how our tradition used to be that Claire took the kids to Cape Cod or somewhere, and I’d stay home and work—we spent our anniversary in different states for years. I know it’s a weird tradition—but we’re slightly weird people. Well, the kids are grown, I don’t work, and Claire does—so that tradition has lapsed in more recent years—but if Claire stays with Jessy long enough, maybe the old tradition will come back one more time. I love the weird traditions, the ones that our just our own, the best.
I’ve been letting my muttonchops grow out lately—I look like I guy who shouldn’t have muttonchops but grew them anyway. Hey, you get bored when there’s so little to do. I shaved all the hair around my ears yesterday—I look like an idiot—and the muttonchops only make it stupider. But I stay indoors all day, so nobody sees it—just like my weird clothes. It’s kind of funny when I do go somewhere in public—people look at me sideways, but what’s the use of being sixty if I’m going to care how I look?
I have no new videos. Here’s a reprise of some recent ones:
Don Pietro del Cianflone has returned from summer hiatus—sing laude and strike the tambor! Here, we have the Buds-Up Semi-Ensemble wreaking havoc with the laws of both rhythm and harmony in a spectacular display of bongo-osity and piano-tivity. If you spot this duo—notify the musical authorities at once. If you hear something—you’ve heard too much!
The rest of this is just me—nothing to see here, just move it along…
That’s that, for now. A big thanks to Peter Cianflone for the jam session!
We had it easy—our biggest worry, back in the day, was the commies shooting off their ICBMs and making a crater of the globe (with the help of our retaliatory strikes, of course). But it was called MAD for two reasons—the obvious acronym, Mutually-Assured Destruction—but also because it was literally madness even to contemplate—and everyone knew it. We could worry about a madman getting hold of a bomb and starting something that would quickly get out of hand—but that was a long shot, mentioned mostly in novels of the ‘thriller’ variety. And no one seriously expected our governments to find any rational use for their nuclear arsenals—MAD, remember? Purely defensive, or so we would have it—don’t start none, won’t be none.
We didn’t worry about the environment—most of the pollution, and all of the data, would come later. Rachel Carson had made an iron-clad research project out of proving that the American Bald Eagle and other birds were endangered by the use of DDT as a pesticide, which caused egg-shell thinning and premature hatching. But we all took “Silent Spring” as a special case, a one-off complication. We were still fine with lead paint and asbestos insulation. Even the ecologically-minded were unaware of the build-up of consequences our civilization was beginning to have on our environment, and on ourselves.
We didn’t worry about energy—gas was pennies to the gallon—‘cruising’, the act of driving one’s car around just for fun, was a popular tradition among American teens—we wouldn’t have our first gas shortage until 1976. And even as we worried over OPECs surprising stranglehold on oil production, our concern was mainly over reliable supply-lines and the economic implications of foreign-oil dependence. Catalytic converters were invented only to reduce smog in crowded, car-choked cities—we were still decades away from any concerns over carbon-footprints and greenhouse gasses.
We didn’t worry about recycling—the first recycling drives were reliant on the need to do something with all the garbage—we were busy picking up trash along the highways or vacant lots and it all had to go somewhere. Lots of it was bottles and cans—and so a push began to make them all deposit-return containers—to compensate the collectors. Recycling as a concept, as a way to mitigate against runaway consumption, came later.
We were focused on trying to “Make America Beautiful”. At the time, it was considered more important to raise the fines and enforce the laws against littering—doing something with all that trash that used to line the highways came much later. I can still remember a time when, on family trips, the end of a fast-food meal was the act of jettisoning all the trash out the car window, at speed. Nor did we have to undo our seatbelts to do it—nobody wore those things. Of course, without them, or a speed limit, Americans on the highways were dropping like flies. Today’s highway fatalities, while still the number four killer, are nothing compared to our old stats—today’s roads are baby-proofed in comparison.
We had worries—sure. But we trusted our leaders. We thought the world too big to be vulnerable to our industry. We thought that faraway people who hated the USA only affected our travel plans, not our national security. Everyone watched the same TV shows—everyone listened to the same radio stations—we were connected as a culture. And we still felt that oppressing women and minorities and the disabled was just the way of the world—and being gay was still the ‘love that dare not speak its name’. It wasn’t right—but boy, was it simpler. The fine judgments of the politically correct were still decades away—on the other hand, we didn’t laugh at its complexity yet, either. We were still busy trying to laugh it off, deride it back into invisibility.
Part of our difficulty with the present is that our many problems, and our social progress, contribute equally to the growing complexity of life. Complexity is a big problem. You give everyone a computer network that they can carry in their pocket and what do they do with it? Well, some of us plan trips to Mars, sure—but most of us use it to meet for drinks or play games. You offer greater complexity to the human race and only a few will dive in—the rest will look for the ‘easy’ exit, like Twitter, Snapchat, or Angry Birds.
Complexity is a deceptive indicator—we don’t want our problems to become more complex, but we are okay with the needs of social justice making our interaction more complex. Well, perhaps we’re not ‘okay’ with it, not all of us, certainly—but we accept its inevitability. It stands to reason that making sure we override our assumptions, forcing the equality of persons who may have never enjoyed equal status—is a complex process. The political correctness of our speech is nothing compared to the complexities of legislating equal rights, not to mention enforcing that legislation. And all of this is working against the inertia of generations of handed-down bias and hate.
Certainly it would be easier to get rid of all that hate—then we wouldn’t need to legislate social justice. But some things need to be brought out in the open—people can be childishly secretive, especially when their hearts tell them there’s something not quite right about their behavior. Domestic abuse, child abuse, corporal punishment—these things are still problems that trouble us—but the numbers are way down. Not so long ago, beating your spouse or your children—that was a personal decision you made behind the privacy of your own front door. And if things got bad enough that the authorities became involved, they turned a blind eye to whatever madness the head-of-the-household was indulging in. Now it is recognized as the felony it always should have been—and for the most part is treated that way (though pockets of ignorance persist).
My point is that if such obvious evil has traditionally been hugged to the patriarchs’ bosoms throughout most of history—if denying them that outrageousness is so relatively new—then we can see how much more difficult it is to try to limit prejudice and bias (merely mental violence) in our daily lives. The fact that some people ridicule political correctness just demonstrates how small they see that evil as being. They target the most progressive view possible, which admittedly can often have paradoxes and growing pains from being so new a concept—and deride the least thought-out aspects of it, as if that negated the value of social justice itself. Niggling whiners—they cherry-pick the weakest faults of the new, yet have beams in their eyes when it comes to the monstrous faults of the familiar, old ways.
Evil has time on its side—and tradition. Human civilization grows like a goat-path, retaining every kink and twist of its caveman days—the push for social justice is an attempt to straighten some of those pathways. And not only because it is right—though it is justice we seek—but also because society is more efficient when it affords choice and opportunity to every individual, when the weak are not oppressed by the powerful.
Human nature is on the side of evil—we are naturally greedy, selfish, and demanding creatures. The history of legislation is the history of people trying to outmaneuver the rules—so of course it becomes very complicated. Everyone has got an excuse why they should be exempt from the sacrifices implicit in fairness. Even those who benefit from new legislation will sometimes seek ways to get more than their fair share of opportunity. We are none of us saints—even the downtrodden have urges. Make a rule, any rule—and you’ll find you need to make five more, to modify the first—then ten more, to modify the other five.
In truth, legislation only enables the bare bones of justice—it is only when our culture has absorbed the spirit of the law and begun to live in that spirit, that the rules work properly—and, ironically, that’s when the rules become extraneous, their job completed. Take seat belts—people began using them to avoid getting a ticket—now they do it for safety, and teach their children to use them, too.
Even seat belts have their complexity. At the advent of seat-belt legislation, many complained that wearing the original lap-belt was as likely to cause harm as prevent it. The head rest and the shoulder strap were added, which made seat belts effective safety measures under virtually any conditions. It wasn’t until after these improvements that seat belt legislation could be enforced (because the cops could see the shoulder strap)—but it also made wearing seat belts the sensible thing to do.
Yes, everything was easier in the old days—but not better. We often yearn for simpler times—but they were simpler because they were dumber—we were dumber. Nobody used to use a keyboard—except stenos, secretaries, bookkeepers, and keyboard players—we wrote things down with a pencil—and if we needed two copies, we wrote it down twice. Nobody knew how to connect up wires on appliances—if appliances needed wires, they came with—or an expert installed them. Now toddlers hook up their own video game consoles. People used to disappear from our lives forever—just by moving far away. If you really wanted to, you could write them a letter (with your pencil), glue a stamp on it—and a bunch of people would pass it back and forth until it ended up in a mailbox. Imagine. You can still do that, you know—I wonder if anyone does?
We didn’t worry about climate change—oh, it was happening—we just didn’t have a bunch of satellites collecting sensor readings on the atmosphere over years of time—or recording time-lapse proof of the shrinking of the polar ice and the glaciers. All of that information is very new—which is why backward-looking folks can pretend it isn’t real. Old folks call it new-fangled—but new-fangled information is still data—it won’t go away—we can never go back. Yet it’s hard to blame them for trying—I’d like to go cruising again, myself.
Friday’s here—and just as I often don’t get fully awake before noon, I feel like I’m just getting warmed up whenever the end of the week rolls around. Old and in poor health is no way to suck the marrow from life. But I find I have company, or rather, competition.
That is to say that I’ve just finished reading Julian Barnes’ excellent historical novel, “The Noise of Time: A Novel”, touching on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich—a Russian composer of the Soviet era, and a favorite of mine since my early teens. I clearly remember mentioning the name to my mother one day, mispronouncing it, and being surprised that she corrected my pronunciation of his name—firstly because I realized he was famous enough for my mother to know his name, and secondly because I had been enamored of his music for months, while saying his name wrong (I had been thinking of him as Shos-TOCK-ovich!)
The Russians take pride in their deep sadness—as an American, I’ll never get that, but I get it, kind of. Masochism, irony, and melancholy are tools I have used myself in defense against a dysfunctional reality. But my life, and my troubles, are of an American smallness, in comparison to Barnes’ description of the living hell Shostakovich found himself in. He was a sensitive composer trapped in Stalin’s Russia, forced to publicly denounce his own works, and the works of his hero, Stravinsky—and other close friends and respected musicians; in danger for years from ideologues and politicians trying to ferret out disloyalty, even in thoughts and feelings, especially among artists—and even more especially in composers who had achieved global fame.
The book reminded me of the stories I heard about Soviet Russians living in terror of anonymous squads who came and took them in the night, often never to be seen again—and about the ideological tyranny that deposed aesthetics as the yardstick against which their art was ‘measured’—and sometimes condemned, along with the artist’s life.
Stalin’s rule, up to 1953, was so bloody that upon his death and the ascension of Khrushchev, it was said that ‘the Soviet had become vegetarian’. Although it may be more proper to say that the Soviet ceased to be cannibalistic, since Stalin’s machine had been devouring his own people. And Shostakovich was apparently a pretty nervous fellow—at the height of the pseudo-ideological criticisms of his music, he spent every night, for weeks, waiting at the elevator to be taken away by the KGB so that they wouldn’t have to burst into his apartment and drag him away in front of his wife and child. Barnes writes that Dmitri was just one of many people who observed this nighttime ritual during the terror known as Stalin’s Cult of Personality. Shostakovich’s life was one horror show after another—and it didn’t help that he was fairly well-off, compared to the average Soviet Russian—that just gave him more to lose.
As a boy, my favorite of his works was the last movement of his fifth symphony—but as I matured, I learned to prefer the rest of the symphony. According to Barnes’ story, Shostakovich was forced to add the final ‘triumphal’ movement to the symphony because the foregoing movements were so unremittingly ‘pessimistic’—and so he composed the final movement ironically. To my callow ears, and to the politburo, it sounded glorious (which saved Shostakovich’s life, and career)—but as my tastes matured I came to find the last movement somehow brash and ugly, and prefer the music that comes before—and now I know why, I suppose. Much is made in the book of the fact that when confronted with brainless tyranny, the only safe rebellion is in irony—but that irony over time gets lost in itself.
This book is no happy story, but it is something perhaps better—a fascinating story about strange and awful truths, and the horrendous lies that hide them, for a time at least. I have long since given up hope of finding in great artists’ lives any kind of reflection or explanation of the exaltation of their creations—but this book actually matches up the bleakness heard in most of his music with the day-to-day life of its composer. I read it in one sitting—something I’m only pushed into nowadays by irresistibly good writing and an enthralling story.
Barnes quotes Shakespeare at one point, mentioning that his Sonnet LXVI resonated with the artists of Soviet Russia, particularly the line, “And art made tongue-tied by authority”. I had to go look at the whole poem and I am struck, not for the first time, by how apropos Shakespeare always is, no matter how modern we think we have become:
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
(Shakespeare, William (2011-03-24). Shakespeare’s Sonnets (p. 132). . Kindle Edition.)
I love that line about “And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,”—geniuses so often appear to fools as people who need to be ‘cured’, or at the very least, ‘corrected’. The poem as a whole is fitting for a Shostakovich biographical novel—he too was often tempted by thoughts of suicide, harried by the ubiquitous surplus of malevolent injustice crowding every aspect of his life.
That’s my take on the book—-lacking a segue, here’s two improvs from earlier today–hope you like them:
Pete’s late—looks like no jam today. And I just got my microphone working! Oh, well. Oh, wait—maybe he comes at one, instead of noon? I can’t remember—maybe he does. Damn this swiss-cheese brain of mine.
Well, Jessy is expecting—which is great. Spencer is working on historical fiction for gamers (I’m not really sure—something like that) and he asked me for some medieval music examples recently, for research—he’s started up gardening and mowing, now that spring has sprung—which is also great. And Claire—well, as usual, Claire is unbelievable—life-drawing classes almost every day, a watercolor painting-tutorial day at the Botanical Gardens recently, and a drawing class in Katonah once a week. (She’s really becoming a phenomenally able graphic-artist). And that’s all beside the daily (at least) trips to the gym—and her ongoing work on her resume for her dream-job. Plus, she takes care of me, Spencer, and the house (with her other hand—ha ha).
So, let’s see—Claire was a prize pianist and music student in her youth, raised two toddlers as a young adult, got her Bachelor’s in computers and worked for an online-encyclopedia company during her programmer phase, then took care of her dying husband so well that the bastard never died, then went for her Master’s in occupational therapy, got in shape with pilates, yoga, and the gym, started drawing lessons—and is about to get a new job in her new OT career, at the same time as becoming a new grandmother. Lazy—that’s Claire—she’ll be sixty in a couple of years—and what will she have to show for it? Some people.
I used to have a life—boy, those were the days—but that was so long ago I can hardly remember what it was like. Okay, it’s one-twenty now—even if Pete was coming at one, he’s late now—looks like no jam today. Guess it’s time to go watch TV. Damn. Well, there were new movies on the menu yesterday—I hope one of them is worth watching.
Son of a bitch—Pete’s here!
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 6:20 PM
Okay, Pete came—we had a great session—then he had to go home—and I had a cheeseburger—now I’m just editing the video—and writing a blog about the political news of today.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 8:41 PM
Okay, the best thing in the new movie listings is Zoolander II—hardly inspiring, although I’ll probably watch it. Ben Stiller really makes me laugh—when he isn’t making me puke—I think his masterpiece, “There’s Something About Mary”, redefined the boundaries of good taste in a comedy film—and it’s something of a genre these days. I can take that stuff, up to a point, but my gross-out limit is a very low bar.
I’ve gotten my rough cuts of the jam session edited—three improvs and a medley of eight Burton Lane tunes. The first improv sounded to Pete like calypso music, but I thought it sounded more like I was having a fit, so I call it ‘Calypsis’.
The other two improvs came out real nice—me in my best voice, I felt. You decide. One, “Either Way”, is three minutes, the other, “Twilight of the Gourds”, is a minute and a half—but still, all told we got about 32 minutes of video for the day—not too shabby.
Let’s talk about our Burton Lane songbook-covers video—first and foremost, none of this is Pete’s fault—he just puts up with my eccentricities. And, yes, this is some pretty sloppy piano-playing. But there are some moments of interest—and we did have fun joking around. If it were just me, I’d probably have second thoughts about posting this—but with Pete there, it’s still pretty entertaining, most of it. So, listen, don’t listen—either way, you’re right.
Thursday, May 26, 2016 11:38 AM
Last night I had my choice—sleepless, or sleep with nightmares. I finally got a few hours of shut-eye, but now that I’m up, my back is killing me. Which all goes to show that I had more excitement and fun yesterday than this old carcass is prepared to deal with. That’s a bad thing, kinda—but it’s also a pretty good thing, if you think about it. It’s not like I don’t get occasional nightmares and backaches—without having any excuse at all—and a good day is a good day, regardless of tomorrow.
Yes, I know—it’s cheap and silly and stupid—but sometimes I just get desperate for a new sound. I thought, ‘maybe I could turn on the dishwasher or some other appliance—maybe a car engine idling—I don’t know—Oh wait—I know, I’ll play that ocean waves CD at a really high volume, so I sound like I’m playing piano on the beach.’ Yeah, right—no way it’ll sound like a cheap stereo playing ocean waves in another room. Hey, we do what we can—we work with the tools we have. And speaking of which—yes, I’m singing show tunes with a voice that sounds more like a torture victim’s than a vocalist’s—but I like the song, so deal with it.
I know what would fix our economy—raises. Nobody’s been given a raise since the 1980s. You could double the salary of any working person today, and they’d still be underpaid if calculated by the same increases the wealthy have enjoyed these last few decades. But no—the wealthy fret about how the world would end if we had a $15/hour minimum wage. Are you kidding me? Who could live on $15/hour? And if you can’t run your business without paying a living wage—then you can’t run your business—you’re incompetent. Since when does a business plan include victimizing your employees? Well, I take that back—literally all business plans do that, and always have.
It seems strange to me that employers make half their money short-changing their customers—and the other half from short-changing their employees. Shouldn’t we just shoo these people away? We haven’t converted to an ‘office-free’ economy—we’ve converted to a ‘security-free’ economy—at least to employees.
And a business is not a person. Until a business can feel pain, it will never be a person—and it will never deserve the rights and considerations of a person. That’s just legal mumbo-jumbo being promulgated by the rich. Let’s shoo all them off too.
I’m serious—terrorists at least have the decency to chop your head off and make a clean end to it—American employers want to enslave us and abuse us until the end of time—who’s really worse? Capitalism has gotten out of hand—and the only way to restore the balance is to make the streets our workplace, dismissing all CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and HR personnel. Shoo’em off, that’s what I say. Their mismanagement is going to let our infrastructure rot away and be buried beneath the waves of global warming, anyway—dismissing these entitled fops wouldn’t cause any less disruption than their continued oversight will produce. We’ll just feed them the same line they feed everyone else—‘Hey, it’s not personal—it’s just business’. It is unfortunate that wealth confers power, without conferring one whit of good judgement. It that sense, it greatly resembles violence.
Harumph! Anyway—let’s talk about something important—how’s Hillary doing? It is Super Tuesday, and the sun’s getting low in the sky—though, if you ask me, Leap Day is pretty special—making ‘super’ Tuesday something of an anticlimax. It’s just a bunch of primaries. Still, if I imagine myself in Hillary’s shoes (and yes that does feel uncomfortable) it must be a thrilling day.
I’ve gone from sight-reading through Chopin’s book of mazurkas to his book of nocturnes—I have hours of recordings I’ve spared my listeners—I enjoy sight-reading through good music like that—but I don’t keep to tempo—and I go back and correct myself when I flub a passage—it’s a lot more like actual reading than it is performance—it’s quite unlistenable. I just do it for myself—it’s really fun. And after I find favorites, and do them over and over, I eventually get to play them better. I used to post some of the work—nowadays I only post the finished product—when I’ve gotten it as far as I’m going to get it. But that’s a tough call—take today’s nocturnes—they’re not great, but they’re a lot better than the other four that I’m not posting.
The improvs are a poser as well. I try to make them all different and, technically speaking, they are all different. But inasmuch as they’re all ‘me’, they’re pretty much all the same, too. So I post them all, even knowing that some judicious editing would make my YouTube channel far more attractive. But when you post nearly every day, it gets to be like writing a journal—you’re too busy writing it to ever read it back to yourself. Same with this blog—sometimes I go look at a post from a year or two ago, and I think to myself, ‘Huh! Did I write that?’
In a reasonable world, Hillary Clinton would win the presidential race in a walk—and if I’m living in an unreasonable world, I’d just as soon not have my face rubbed in it. If, god forbid, a Republican did win, that would be a tragic-enough disaster, without making me listen to these people—as I have already for more than a year—for the rest of this year. I’ve listened to them ad nauseam—and in their case, that’s about three minutes in—do I really have to bear the sound of Trump’s voice until November? Hasn’t he said enough idiotic things?
I remember our last Republican president—do you? He was an idiot—he got us in a war by mistake—he destroyed our economy—he didn’t speak in complete sentences—and what sentences he managed to get out had made-up words in them. Cruz or Rubio would be just as bad—maybe worse—and the nightmare scenario of a Trump presidency conjures up the movie-title-to-be: “The Return Of Fascism” or maybe “The Rise Of American Fascism”.
We are all aware that there is a contest between these three Republicans—it’s all the news, all the time—but to me it resembles a bunch of drunks tussling on the sidewalk just outside a bar-room—my concern for who wins is nothing compared to my concern that a cop will come along and get them off the street before a passer-by gets hurt. But there are no cops on CNN, or in journalism generally. News shows can keep airing this stuff—but I’ve got better ways to spend my time than watching a stupidest-man contest.
Likewise, while I appreciate Bernie forcing Hillary to add a focus on income inequality to her platform—I don’t want to hear any more about how he’s going to make college, health-care, and whatever else, free for everyone—yes that’s the way it should be—there are a lot of things that aren’t the way they should be in this country—but nothing happens on inauguration day—and Hillary is better prepared for the day after inauguration—both domestically and internationally. I don’t think Bernie supporters understand what a president actually does—I think they think he or she’s a wizard who makes a decree, and changes things all by himself or herself.
So that’s it between me and the news—I’ll wait to hear from other people about anything important. Hillary should win—and even if she doesn’t—that’s just more reason not to spend until November listening to all of this back-and-forth BS. Seeing as how our government is already broken, I think it’s a pretty sweet gig—getting a free pass on all the work our government should be doing while we all have a two-year long conversation about the Donald. I’m sure the folks in Flint, MI or Hoosick Falls, NY are glued to their sets. If I ran CNN, I’m pretty sure I could find more interesting stuff to report on—but fans of ‘The Apprentice’ might tune out the news—and that’s a huge demographic. I can hear it now: “Mr. Dunn, you’re fired.”
I watched two movies – “Trumbo” and “Steve Jobs” –both bio-pics, obviously, but truth is stranger than fiction and Hollywood has done as much with non-fiction drama as it has with plain old movies—and I use the phrase ‘plain old movies’ advisedly, since the most impressive movies of recent days have either been historical (“Selma”, “Straight Outta Compton”) or biographical (“The Imitation Game”, “Unbroken”) or both (“Jersey Boys”, “Race”) and, since the first blush of CGI’s thrill has long since worn off, block-bluster fictional movies like “Spectre” or “The Force Awakens” (or any Marvel or DC movie) just seem that much more formulaic. Movie-making embraced childhood with its abject surrender to science fiction, sword and sorcery fantasy, and especially comic books—all the things that leant themselves to the new SFX tech’s possibilities. Now that such whiz-bang-ery is a given, these themes are poised to return to the children’s entertainment from which they came.
Don’t get me wrong—good science fiction (and yes, I’ll admit it, for Tolkien’s sake—fantasy) can still be great entertainment, suitable for grown-ups—but science fiction encompasses both sweeping visions and ‘space opera’ (i.e., soap operas with spaceships in them, like the Star Wars franchise) and for every Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” there are a thousand “Transformers”. So I’m glad that science fiction has been taken out of the kiddy-corner—now all we need is a little judicious bifurcation between age-levels, and everything will be fine.
Maybe it’s my age—or maybe it’s my lifelong interest in history—that makes me lean towards the ‘based on actual events’ movies. Or maybe I just like the challenge—everyone knows that a movie is a movie first, and a historical archive last—and my favorite thing to do is watch a historically-based movie, especially one based on a serious non-fiction book, like “Unbroken” or “The Imitation Game”, and compare in my mind what I read with what I see. I have discussions with myself about why they cut this interesting fact or added that spurious made-up scene. It’s like a review quiz for those of us who read the book first. And it’s a reminder that all history, written included, has to be taken with a grain of salt—we can never know the whole story, because even the people who lived it never know the whole story—the whole idea of ‘knowing’ history is a misunderstanding of what history’s limits are.
We see it on the news—especially now, during campaign season—the call and response ritual of two people trading ‘That’s not what I said’s back and forth—illustrating that even in a single conversation, the ‘truth’ is a combination of context, syntax, attitude, and intent—all whipped together with the vagaries of language and the pitfalls of hasty assumptions. To imagine that a student of history from a century or two back would reach any more than a vague abstraction of what really happened is, well, silly.
Those abstractions, however, are dead serious—they are the paradigms of our present. Our ideals, our ideas of what our country is, of what we are—are all bound up in the history that led to this present. Thus the desire for history to be something we can nail down and dissect—but all we can ever really do is postulate—to suggest that this is the way it might have gone. To me, this is one of the great reasons for the need for pluralism—disagreement is a given, within groups as often as between groups—and so we should see groups of any kind as a superficial distinction that is always overridden by our commonalities.
But I was talking about movies. Okay, first off, I read “Johnny Get Your Gun”, Dalton Trumbo’s historic novel, when I was a teenager. Being a bookworm, I just came across it—no one warned me what it was about, or suggested it—I just opened to the first page and started reading. Oh my fucking God!—this book was meant to be an ‘anti-war’ novel—it starts with a disembodied person talking to himself, wondering why he’s blind, and deaf, and can’t move. It turns out, as you read along, that you are reading the thoughts of a wounded veteran who is lying in a hospital bed, covered in bandages and missing an appendage or two. I can’t remember specifics—just the horror of Trumbo’s description of what it’s like to be blind, deaf, helpless, and alone. The book turned my stomach—I recommend it to anyone who’s considering enlisting, just for a second opinion.
But I didn’t hate it—I was enthralled by what I was reading—disagreeable as it was, it pulled me in. And I think that is what made Dalton Trumbo both a martyr of the Blacklist, and its vanquisher—he not only wouldn’t look away from the unpleasant or the inconvenient, he was bound and determined to get you to look at it too—but in a way that made it impossible to look away.
As for the movie—it was great. I’m a big fan of Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane and Louis CK and John Goodman and Helen Mirren—jeez, if they’d made a bad movie, hell would’ve froze over. I watched the movie, then I hit the replay button on my remote and watched it again.
As for “Steve Jobs”, I vaguely remember writing a blog not too long ago where I defended Aaron Sorkin from reviewers who shrugged at his latest effort—even though I hadn’t yet seen the movie. Well, I’ve seen the movie now—and I was right. It’s fantastic—it tells so many stories in the interstices between the obvious stories—to call it multi-layered is to damn it with faint praise.
Again, big fan of Fassbender, Winslet, and Rogen—and Sorkin, of course—so I expected great things. But the ‘frame’ everyone made so much of—the movie being set in the minutes before three major product launches, separated in reality over many years of actual time, is very fitting for a historical precis—each launch was a nexus of time, pulling together all that went before and all that would follow, and the combination of personal, business, and technical conflicts in the moments before—well, it gives a lot of depth and texture without trying to nail down exactly who said what when, and that sort of thing.
I said something in yesterday’s post about my favorite artists’ biographies invariably disappointing me by revealing that they had feet of clay—Jobs is certainly in that category—but every movie needs a bad guy—even if he’s the hero.
Billie Holiday’s discography includes some beautiful old standards—one of my favorites is “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” written by Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill in 1926. I find the sheet music demanding and if I can’t play the thing properly, I certainly can’t give you the slightest idea of how exquisitely simply beautiful it is on the Billie Holiday recording. Those early recordings of Billy Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra are, in many ways, the apotheosis of musicality—so weirdly perfect and so perfectly weird. (Apotheosis means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”—I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t being stupid.) Here’s another favorite Holiday recording:
And that’s the context in which I first heard performed “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me)” written by Jack Palmer & Spencer Williams in 1924. Again, I struggle too much with getting this sheet music played to give it the easy bounce that it should have.
The middle piece from today’s video is by Vincent Youmans—a real class act—influenced in later years by Jerome Kern—but this early song is more of a jazz take on a revival-tent choir—“Hallelujah” written by Vincent Youmans, with words by Clifford Grey & Leo Robin in 1927. Here’s another from 1927, “I Know That You Know”:
We rely on the Brownian motion of personal relationships—we don’t acknowledge it outright, though—instead, we tend, when things are going well, to say ‘uh-oh, I just know something bad’s gonna happen’—or when things are going badly, to say ‘oh well, things will get better’. We don’t assume our lives will always get better—but we like to assume they’ll always change. And I suppose one of my biggest fears is that I would someday find myself in a situation that never changed—I can take the bad with the good, but I can’t take the nothing. That wouldn’t work for me.
I think that’s the horror of poverty—looking at the situation and seeing no possibility that it will ever change. Even the American Dream has something of that—the pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it implies change of some kind—the possibility of it, at least—and that is why President Obama’s call for hope and change resonated so deeply for Americans—change is the American Dream. The financial inequality and the shrinking of the middle class frighten us—because they signal an end to mobility. America is becoming set in its ways—and that’s exactly what people yearn to escape when they dream of coming here. It’s the curse of ancient roots—to lose even the dream of change—and America, at a mere two centuries, is already getting as stagnant as the rest of the world.
Americans used to travel more—we used to relocate more—we were restless—‘cruisin’ was the national pastime. Growing job markets used to attract relocated workers looking for new opportunities—now growing industries hide inside our computers—we don’t even go outside anymore—except to go to the gym. When did fresh air and new sights become the enemy? The person who figures out how to reinvigorate the millennials is going to make a revolution—and a butt-load of money. But what kind of app gets people outdoors?
I recorded a lot today—a whole bunch of Chopin mazurkas (only three made it onto YouTube) and a bunch of scraps of improvising that I threw together into one video—it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be—it’s really kind of a nice change for me.
If I don’t post before then–have a good Valentines Day!
Suicides are up; random violence is rising; Europe is turning away from its march towards unity—back towards nationalism; borders are being walled off; and worst of all, stupidity is on the ascendant. I don’t think even Hillary can handle all of America’s problems—and I don’t think even America can handle all the world’s problems. Yet population continues to grow—meaning there’s less of everything for everyone. And our planet is hurting, which means we can’t use as much of it as we used to.
We’ve been told that racism is over—but it isn’t. We’ve been told that population growth is no longer a problem—but it is. We’ve been told that capitalism is good for us—but it isn’t good for all of us. People will be what people have always been—talking a good game, but walking the walk of self-centered-ness. Problems that can be solved are not—and problems that make money for somebody are lied about—their existence denied outright.
It looks pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? How do we solve one problem when that one problem is enmeshed with a hundred others? How do we discuss our problems when the kibitzers get all the air-time—and the words of wise men and wise women get bumped for Bieber updates? As I look over this post I see nothing but bummed-out despair in my words—but am I lying? No. Am I focusing on the bad and ignoring the good? No—the good’s ‘all good’ but it doesn’t solve the problems of the bad. Sunshine and laughter would make far better material for a post—I know that. But our problems abide.
What do we do? I don’t know. All I know is what we shouldn’t do—we shouldn’t turn to demagogues like Trump—he’s just a 21st century Hitler waiting to happen. And we shouldn’t throw up our hands, just because there are too many problems. We should care about each other—that’s the only answer. Pass all the laws you like—if we don’t care about each other, it’s all just wasted paper.
Trump’s recent call to register Muslims reminds me of a story I heard—about Sweden during the Nazis—when they were told to have all their Jews wear Stars of David on their clothes, the entire population put stars of David on their clothes. They found an answer to Hitler—through the simple expedient of caring about each other. And they did something else—they put their fear aside. Americans used to think of themselves as that kind of people—people that put their fear aside.
Today America is the world’s largest producer of fear—we have become a nation of cowards. We cower before black teens, we cower before people who wear headdresses, we run to the gun store to stock up on firearms, as if our neighborhoods are different than they were last year, or the year before—fear is in fashion.
We have to stop being afraid of our neighbors and start caring about them. And we have to act on that caring—and stop acting on our fears. People will never be sensible—it’s not in our nature. We cannot ‘formulate solutions’ to all the threats our imaginations can conjure—we have to care about each other and embrace the courage that made this country great.
Personally, I’d prefer to take all the super-wealthy out back and shoot’em—but Iraq taught us that evil is a snake without a head—destruction without caring about what comes after just makes things worse. We are quick to listen to the shouters, the bullies, the hecklers—as if there was no wisdom in silence, no good in quiet reason, and no point in patience. We can’t help it—people are like that. But if we care about each other—and if we act on that care—we might start voting for people who care about people, too. We might start voting for people who aren’t rich or pretty—like Berny. But he’s just one guy—electing him wouldn’t do nearly as much good as emulating him. Better we should all become him than expect him to change the world all by himself.
A phrase from T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” has always stuck in my head:
“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.”
I think it means that we need to learn what to care about—and we have to have the courage to sit still—to not flinch at every worry that flies past our heads—and to have the patience to work things out the hard way—instead of going with ‘Hulk smash!’
So, anyway, my two improvs for today are titled “Teach Us To Care” and “To Sit Still”.
The camera didn’t work today, so I’ve substituted video of photos randomly selected from my hard drive–if you are a relative or friend of mine, you’re probably in the video–then I ran out of material and used illustrations from my book of Bear Poems to fill up the rest of the video. For the classical recital’s video, I used some of the great art from my library of images.
I also played from my “Classics To Moderns” piano book today—the stuff towards the end of the book. Run down to Stanton’s Sheet Music to get your own copy—there’s a whole series of easy-to-middling piano works for the amateur (like me) that are nonetheless very beautiful and satisfying to play—I’m sure with a little practice, you could play them much better yourselves in a surprisingly short time.
Xper Dunn plays Piano, January 6th, 2016
12 Works from ‘Classics To Moderns’:
Romance –Reinhold Gliere (1876-1958)
Brisk Game, Novelette, & The Horseman –Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)
Chanson Sans Paroles (Op. 40, No. 2) –Jan Sibelius (1865-1957)
It’s a long way from sheet music to video—I started this holiday season with the idea that I could video myself performing an entire book of Christmas songs and carols. I play them cover-to-cover every December, and most of the songs in the different songbooks are the same—there’s only so many traditional holiday songs that remain popular over the years. Carols and such have to be good songs, but they also have to be accessible to the untrained voice, and catchy, without being too challenging for the average kid to sing.
It’s its own genre of music—but don’t be fooled—some of these babies are just as demanding to play on the piano as your average piece of classical music—it may be for the kids, but it’s not kid-stuff to play. There are pared-down versions, of course—but it took me some years to be able to play the intermediate versions—and I don’t like to backslide.
Also, I pretty much have to sing along. It’s more difficult to sing while I play, but I know most of the words—and what’s a Christmas song without the words, after all? Anyway, the thing is—I start to record the songs—and I find that the recordings are not as good as they felt like, while I played them. So then I try again—and by playing the songs more than once, I hope to get a useable recording of each—but then the camera’s battery died just as I was getting warmed up—and an hour of playing goes unrecorded. The next day, I try again, but now my back hurts and my fingers are stumble-y.
I consider backing off, taking a day or two off from playing piano—but then I realize that if I don’t keep going, I’ll forget what I was doing (this is a common problem for me). So I keep pushing when I should be resting—suffice to say I won’t be publishing ‘recordings of entire songbooks’ on YouTube anytime soon. But I got a few done.
Sunday, November 29, 2015 9:55 AM
Okay, Christmas carols—Now, I’ve made no secret of my atheism so someone might reasonably ask why I’m so crazy about the holiday music. Well, firstly, I love music—and the holidays provide the only real opportunity to suggest a sing-along, outside of a boy-scout campfire, without hearing a chorus of moans in reply. Besides that, there’s also the matter of childhood memories—when I was a kid, we not only sang Christmas carols around the piano, we still went to midnight mass.
The carols are fun to sing and play, but they lose a bit of luster when you no longer ‘feel’ the lyrics the way a young, Catholic-indoctrinated boy does. Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my atheism to allow some nostalgia for faith—to allow myself to pretend to still believe while I’m singing—and the thrill is back, to a certain small degree. For me, there’s no smidgen of cognitive dislocation involved at Christmastime—what with the irony of Santa Claus being a belief we grow out of, and Christ being a belief we’re supposed to maintain. But it is just that irony that now allows me to pretend that Christmas is what it once was—at least while I’m singing.
I would, if I could figure out how, prefer to make videos of a crowd of carolers—a video of just me, singing and playing carols, lacks something in the holiday-cheer department—but I have to work with what I have available.
Saturday, November 28, 2015 11:25 AM
Treacly Ever After (2015Nov28)
Have a holly-jolly…. Oh, hello there! And welcome to the dreamy snowflake happy kids express—yes, it’s that time of year again—and if you share my sickness, you’re once again binge-watching the Hallmark Channel’s offerings of Christmas-themed TV movies—partly because it’s crack for the romantics and partly because it’s a fascinating infinite loop of wishes coming true and impossible dreams coming true and fantasy—and while that may not be, as Hallmark claims, ‘the heart of Christmas’, it is certainly the heart of good TV.
Last night was an especially rich vein of fantasy—two movies which both combined Christmas miracles with becoming a princess: “A Crown For Christmas” and “A Princess For Christmas”. It got me thinking about how royalty is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in anymore—and how Santa Claus is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in after grade school—and how Christianity is an old-fashioned type of myth that many people still believe in. I think it’s odd how these Hallmark Channel movies focus so much on fantasies and miracles and dreams coming true—it’s as if theism has a market value, and this holiday-centric company is willing to intermingle Christianity with other, admittedly-pretend ideas—just for the entertainment value—in spite of how it lumps Faith in with childhood imagination and wishful thinking.
It’s like they’re admitting that Christianity is more of a ‘feel-good’ idea than a fact—something we keep as a tradition more for the sake of innocents and children rather than as a core belief—it’s quite undermining, if you think about it. There are so many of their Santa-based plot-lines that end with the kids being right all along—there is a Santa Claus—and that seems a dangerous concept to mix in with Christianity, which expects followers to keep believing into adulthood. Are they trying to say that real Christians believe in Santa Claus, too—even though the grown-ups are buying their kids the presents, and know full well that if they don’t, there’ll be nothing under the tree?
Or are they saying that Christianity is just an idea—and you have to do all the work yourself? Because, I’m sorry, but that’s Humanism—atheism with a smiley face. Now, if Christianity is just a thing for the kids, like Santa Claus, and all us grown-ups are supposed to play along, both for the kids’ sake and because it’s just a nice thing—that’s cool—I can get on board with that. It’s just when some very serious grown-up, like a politician, starts talking about how we should sprinkle magic-dust on public policy—that’s what I can’t deal with. If we could keep religion at the Santa Claus level, where we only talk seriously about it when we talk to kids, but laugh about it amongst ourselves, that would be fine with me. Maybe that’s why I like the Hallmark Channel.
We got new chairs—they’re classy, made out of unpainted wood—not folding chairs, which have been our go-to chairs, mostly. It’s good to have chairs—that way you can have company—uh-oh! Company? Wait a minute….
I started to write a post today, then about three pages in, I realized I was mistaken in my facts. I had to walk away—I hate when I realize I’m wrong about something—it’s not like it happens every day (more like every other, but never mind).
But I walked away with a cigarette burning in the ashtray. I came back just now, hours later, and the smoke-eater ashtray is still on, wasting its batteries, and there’s a butt that’s gone out on the newspaper that I use for a mouse-pad, with a little burned-out circle in the paper. I almost burned my house down because I got upset about being wrong.
It’s partly the chairs’ fault—you don’t usually get a parade of new chairs coming through the front door, which I’m sitting next to. So, stunned by being wrong and confused by a shower of furniture, I walked away from a lit cigarette—but I was lucky. The house abides.
Then I misspelled “Haydn” on my video graphics, and had to go back and correct all that—it’s just my day for screwing up, I guess. Day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving—there’s a pressure (for me at least) building from the approaching holidays—opening ourselves to feelings, in the tradition of the season, makes the thought of trouble more intimidating. When things go wrong during the holidays, they don’t just go wrong—they ruin the holiday. Not that I expect things to go wrong—but bustling shoppers and stressed-out parents and heavy store traffic, all together, just need a little complication, like bad weather for example, and the whole thing becomes a nail-biter. I kinda feel like ducking, until January 2nd makes it all go away—I love January 2nd—it’s like that day you come home from vacation—the good times are over, but it’s nice to just settle in again.
Well, next blogpost, I hope to know what I’m talking about—if that was ever the case.
I noticed that today’s YouTube-posted improv was exactly one week after the last one—I used to post almost once a day—am I now going to post only once a week? Am I slowing down because my sixtieth birthday is only three months away? I think it’s more likely that I’ve finally accepted that I’m my own biggest fan and other listeners are not eagerly awaiting my next post.
It’s true that I like my own music—it’d be a pretty sad state of affairs if I didn’t, I guess. And I am one of those few people that enjoyed classical music right from childhood, without being told it was important or impressive—or without having to be taught to ‘appreciate music’ in school—though I did enjoy those classes. So I’m used to liking music that doesn’t interest a lot of other people—music that is more (and less) than just something to dance to. So, for a long time I figured that I might just be ‘inaccessible’, like classical music—but now I think I have to give that up—I am not going to draw a crowd—ever.
My big ‘idols’ are Glenn Gould, George Winston, and Keith Jarrett—and since I’ve never surpassed any of them in any way, I can’t really call them ‘influences’. I think I’d have to go past them in some way before I could relegate them to ‘influence’ status—they remain my idols, people far more talented than I. So, if recorded musicians of forty or fifty years ago are still unreached targets—if I still think of myself in terms of someone who’s trying to get started in music—then I take it as given that my dreams of being notable in music will never be more than dreams.
Not that they were ever very promising dreams—I never received the slightest encouragement from parents, teachers, friends or loved ones—more like discouragement, in many cases. I stuck with music through plain stubbornness—I wasn’t about to let myself be excluded from something that great. And if I had to be a lousy musician, then so be it—I was not about to spend my entire life just listening to other people have all the fun.
Anyway, I stuck to it for a long, long time and now I’m liking my own recordings—some more than others, but that’s how that goes—a few I’m quite pleased with. I have the luxury of having my own music—other people aren’t interested in listening to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that very few people have their own personal music soundtrack they can switch on whenever they get tired of pop music. Just another luxury—did I tell you I have my own library? I am so rich—and on so little money—I must be pretty clever.
I used to make a decent wage—we had very big bills back then, but we didn’t have half so comfortable a lifestyle. Sometimes mo’ money is mo’ problems. Sometimes being able to indulge your whims isn’t healthy. I’ll never be wealthy but I’ll always be rich. I’m lucky that way.
Missouri State University has had some controversy lately, with widely publicized student protests resulting in the resignation of the University’s president. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gave his thoughts to Megyn Kelly in a FoxNews interview on Nov. 11, 2015:
“We need to recognize that this is a very dangerous trend. When we get to a point where a majority can say, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing—that’s offensive and therefore I have a right to be violent towards you or to deprive you of rights because I don’t like what you’re doing’, you know, that really goes against the grain of our constitutional rights—and if we don’t see that, we’re in really big trouble right now.”
I’d like to spend a moment unpacking this strange pronouncement because it hurt my ears just to hear someone say it—and I think it deserves to be taken out of the assembly-line of stupid quotes that pass us by each day—and really looked at for the thinking it represents.
Firstly, I want to back-track a bit—when I refer to Carson’s ‘thoughts’ or his ‘thinking’—I’m not entirely sure those are the correct terms—I suspect that Dr. Ben is somewhat delusional. But, beyond that, let’s begin with “We need to recognize that this is a very dangerous trend. When we get to a point where a majority can say, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing’“ –well, that’s called Democracy—and, as our constitutional rights are predicated on an elected body of leaders and representatives, I’d say democracy is kinda constitutional.
When a political party represents the minority, especially as in the case of the GOP, which represents the power elite, they are often put to great pains in finding ways to tell the masses how we should behave—without denying our democratic principles—which they know will upset our feelings. We rarely hear them tell us so baldly how they really feel about majority rule—even when they advocate the new reversals on voting-rights down south.
Carson attempting to dull the pain of his paean against democracy by saying that their decision amounts to “a right to be violent towards you or to deprive you of rights” is a bit of hyperbole, it seems, since asking a college president to resign after he’s offended the entire community is hardly ‘violence’ against him. The whole statement is a masterful example of Republican mirroring-strategy, where the oppressor is called the victim, and the victims are a majority being led astray by shadowy ‘agents of subversion’ that exist only in the conspiracy-nut minds of right-wingers.
Carson concludes with “you know, that really goes against the grain of our constitutional rights—and if we don’t see that, we’re in really big trouble right now.” Now, the decision of the majority sometimes gives us the right to be violent towards someone—as in the case of our many states that still practice executions. Outside of our penal system, it is wrong to be violent—but it is ‘against the law’, not ‘unconstitutional’—as Ben would have it. And that final sentence is pure GOP—i.e., ‘but if you don’t see it my way, you should be very afraid.’
Brain surgeon or not, whenever this man opens his mouth it makes my head hurt—he’s such a dolt. I won’t go into the crowds of mouth-breathers who reverently look up to him as their choice to lead this country—thankfully, I don’t think we’ve gotten ‘to a point where a majority can say’ that—and as long as we remain a democracy, that should keep them from realizing their nightmarish dream.
I played my electric piano for a little while today:
I took some pictures of Fall outside my window today:
And I wrote a bit of poetry the other day:
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 1:43 PM
The Don Quixote Fan Club Theme Song
Lovers and heroes and shiny things
Whatever the treasure adventure brings
Lions with faces and ladies with wings
All tales are told when the fall wind sings
You take a sword—I’ve got my bow and arrow
Though the passes be high and the straits be narrow
We’ll battle and tussle and fight our way through—
When I listen to other music, I am open-minded and forgiving—if something doesn’t catch my ear at once, I’m willing to give it a chance. When I am feeling very hard-headed and down-to-earth, I can’t enjoy music as much as I otherwise do—engaging one’s critical faculties too completely puts one in the position of ‘finding fault’—and no creative impulse can survive such a negative onslaught.
It only now occurs to me that I always turn my criticism on ‘high’ whenever I judge my own efforts—and in doing so I’m being less fair to myself than I would be to a long-dead stranger—so today I’m having a moratorium on self-doubt and self-criticism. I enjoyed playing this improv on my piano and that’s all there is to that.
Speaking of being open-minded and forgiving—I just watched Chris Columbus’s “Pixels” on VOD. Liberals doses of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ are required (and a little THC doesn’t hurt either) but if, like me, you are a fan of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, and video arcade games—then “Pixels” is funny, and a lot of fun.
First of all—I love movies where the characters start as children and then, through the magic of “30 Years Later…”, we begin the real story of the characters in the present day. It’s a great way to give a story depth, especially something as goofy as “Pixels”. Secondly, I love a movie where no one is inherently evil—childishly stupid, yes—misguided, greedy, not thinking things through, … whatever—yes—and I think this is closer to real life. Reality never seems to have a positive villain—for every issue there are just a lot of sides, a lot of needs, and a lot of pigheadedness—but rarely pure evil.
The good guys win and the guy gets the girl—other features I’m always in favor of. No lengthy wrong-turns into gloom and despair—another plus. Factoid hunters on IMDb point out that many game characters used were derived from post-1982 video games, which belies the film’s premise—but if that was the most unbelievable part of this movie, the world would be a very strange place.
What I enjoyed noticing was all the kid actors’ credits—many of the smaller roles were played by children with last names like Sandler, James, and Covert (one of the producers of the film) and I can only assume that the film’s set was very much a family affair. And if you look closely, you’ll catch a glimpse of the actual Professor Toru Iwatani, inventor of Pac-Man, doing a cameo as a game repairman in an early scene, at the Electric Dream Factory arcade. Good times.
In my walk earlier, I felt a strong regret that I hadn’t brought my camera, so I shot a few snaps out the window to use for today’s video:
Void unimaginable, an ocean without a floor or shore
Floating there I wait and see only distance and space
No company to joke with—no more after or before
Floating where eternity dances yet hides its face
With feet that never find a place
And I am small amid the vastness
And I am lost among the stars
And I am never going to see again the green
And I am stuck forever in between
And if I died no one would know it
And if there’s hope no one will show it
In this vastness
The power of nothingness overwhelming my mind
No chink in the every of everywhere always
No feature or landmark remaining to find
Come speak to me love—(I don’t care what she says)—
Say what you will but please say Yes.
Face and Bubbles – Collage
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:10 AM
Well, I may have gone a little too dark on this poem—I tried to pull the nose up, at the end—but maybe too little too late. Anyway, the point is that too much solitude is as mentally unhealthy as too little sunlight is physically unhealthy. Love is necessary, or friendship—even simple companionship which, while not as profound, may be easier to come by—I’ll take anything to break that recursive loneliness loop that eventually drives one insane.
The new pictures are made with my new oil pastels—I haven’t quite got the hang of them yet. I’ve always had a problem with color—I tend to use them all. I like prisms and rainbows—I’m very democratic, even inclusive, when it comes to color.
The piano cover of “Autumn In New York” goes well with all the gold and orange leaves outside my window—my voice—maybe not so much. I threw in the other three covers just because. I’m struggling with my improvs lately—I have been trying to make them better for decades, but I feel like I can’t find anything new anymore—we’ll see—maybe I’ll have an epiphany or something. In the meantime, I’m just trying to sound entertaining.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 10:38 AM
Real Progress (2015Oct27)
In just a few days, we will have reached the one-year mark on our presidential campaign—I can’t help wondering what the previous twelve months of back and forth were supposed to accomplish, other than to fill air time on cable-news shows and politics-based social media threads. It’s hard to stomach all the focus on ‘who it will be’ without any concern about ‘what will they do’. Yet, with the right-wing, those are the same question—a tea-party candidate will do nothing—except try to keep others from doing anything—that’s their whole agenda.
Likewise, a moderate Republican will do nothing—not for lack of trying, but because of their tea-party brethren. And even a Democrat will get done only as much as the executive office allows—because the House and Senate are still firmly in the hands of the GOP. The only real hope for governmental or legislative action is if the Democrats can find a way to win back those Congressional seats, as well as win the White House. So this presidential campaign obsession is just the usual media focus on the inconsequential. Ben Carson (not to mention Trump) is a scary possibility—but the odds of anyone but white males voting for either one is so low as to make their chances in a general election ‘slim to none’.
The same can be said of Bernie Sanders—he’s got the far-left tied up, but he could never get the majority of the nation’s voters either. That leaves Hillary, whom everyone has assumed will win all along—only she’ll be hobbled by the same GOP congress that bedeviled Obama. Again, the real story—the story that’s being ignored—is whether the Democrats can elect local support, outside of the presidency.
Of course, I could be wrong—we may get a Republican president, if voters are stupid enough—what a hell on earth that would be. Despite Obama’s heroic efforts, we still haven’t dug ourselves out of the hole the last GOP president buried us in. The only good that came out of Bush’s two terms was getting Democrats out to vote—Obama began his terms with a friendly Congress and I’m still confused as to how we managed to screw that up.
Well, not really—the answer is horribly simple. The Democrats, while they have an edge on common sense and American values, are just as dumb, lazy, spineless, and corrupt as the Republicans—both our candidates and we voters. Intellect and transparency can find a place in the Democratic party—which, as I say, gives them something of an edge—but we’re still people, just like the GOP folks. And people are human—with all the failings that implies.
When I look back on all the changes in society, I’m dumbstruck by the incredible progress we’ve made. While we still struggle with racism, at least it has lost its legitimacy in the laws of our land. While we still lack gender equality, we have seen women get access to birth-control, jobs, and inclusion far beyond the Suzy Homemaker mindset of my childhood. While we still have issues with LGBT equality, we have at least progressed beyond the point of considering homosexuality as a crime, or a mental disease. To me, this is the real progress of our country—I could care less about laptops, cellphones, smart-cars, and DNA sequencing, if it doesn’t have the open-minded humanity that an enlightened, modern culture deserves.
I don’t know. I have a lot going on inside me—it makes me feel like I have something to write—but there’s just chaos in there, virtually screaming a million things at once, none of it coherent. So, no, not really anything to write.
My body seems to be slowly bouncing back from its long decline—enough so that I begin to feel restless about spending all day every day inside this tiny house. Not that we don’t love our cozy little cabin—but hell, sometimes you have to go out. Now, that wasn’t true—hasn’t been true for many years—I’d focus more on having the energy to get out of bed or make myself a sandwich or take a shower. But before I got sick, it was pretty common—I get bored and frustrated very quickly when I’m in touch with my full capacity.
And I’m sick and tired of retracing my words just to explicate that ‘full capacity’ now does not mean back to my original 35-year-old, healthy, rambunctious self. Take it as given that if I’m talking about a resurgence of my vitality or a sharpening of my senses, I’m only talking relative to my near-death experience and decades-long infirmity. I’ll never be young again. I’ll never have twenty-twenty vision again. My hands will never be steady again. And most of all I’ll never have the ability to get lost in my own thoughts again.
I used to think of that zoned-out state I’d get into while programming code or drawing a picture as a kind of wandering—but it wasn’t. I was taking for granted something that came easily to me—but now I can see it for the very strenuous hacking through the mental jungle that it was. I can feel the effort of thought now—if I heard about effort of thinking in those young days, I refused to believe it. I couldn’t perceive any effort—even though my mind was functioning like gang-busters. I miss that a lot—in the way you can only miss something that you lost without ever having known how valuable it was.
Of course, I also miss it because it was my meal ticket. I used to think that I was lucky to find a job in programming and systems—now it is clear to me that I was never good at anything else, not professionally. My mind started to weaken from illness at about the same time I was considering looking for more challenging coding work. It was very frustrating to lose my super-power, slowly, mysteriously, just as I was trying to move on to even more difficult puzzles. Now I can’t program my way out of a paper bag—which leaves me with a large past life that was headed towards something I can never go back to. So, yeah, I miss that a lot.
My old self is dead. I am alive. It’s a quandary.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015 10:29 AM
Fall proceeds apace—others have posted some striking photos of the leaves changing, so I’m gonna pass on taking my own photos of the yard and environs. The urge to photograph things is always there, but I’d rather conserve my energy on the off-chance that I’ll get antsy enough to draw a picture instead.
The endless drone of leaf-blowers gives the Fall a sour strangeness—these people want their mess cleaned up and their lawns bare, and they don’t care how much racket they make getting it done. Who could have imagined that getting an artificial wind to blow would be best accomplished with tiny engines that make a deafening whine and emit grey clouds of diesel soot?
But enough of my seasonal peeves—no more. What matters is the doing—and what am I doing?
Monday, October 19, 2015 6:04 PM
Joseph Henry was an American physicist who discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction nearly simultaneously with Michael Faraday, the Englishman who, through the vagaries of history, is known as its sole discoverer. But such quibbles about ‘first-places’ abound in the history of science—Morse was not the first man to send a signal by electrified wire, Edison was not the first man to create a moving picture (or a light-bulb, for that matter)—there are often two stories. One is the closely researched story of who did which step and when, and how it all ‘worked out’ to what we’re familiar with today—and the other story is what we call ‘popular history’, where Ford ‘invented’ the car and Italians ‘invented’ pasta.
It is a little odd that in trying to tell some of the detailed, accurate story, an historian has to set up and knock down several widely-held misapprehensions common in the popular understanding of history. Serious historians must tell the true story while ‘untelling’ the false ones. This can lead to great interest amongst the populace—and some will argue with any history based on the archived records simply because they love the popular version so much better. And some details are just too bothersome to retain—Columbus’s voyage west to the Indies involved five ships—this is well-documented, and even taught in school—but the image of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria endures.
The only book offered on Amazon.com has a blurb which extols the great achievements and the seminal place that Joseph Henry held in the formation of the United States as a scientific world leader, but such importance is belied by the fact that there is only the one book—a biography. I placed an order for a used copy—I want to see if I can find out why we care so little about a man who was Edison’s Edison.
I’ve also downloaded Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” from the Gutenburg Project’s digital library—I’m thinking of doing a video that combines my readings of passages, my illustrations of the story as images, and my music as soundtrack. The book is enormous—the idea of illustrating every passage, even in rough sketches, would take a younger man than myself—and completing such an audio/video chapter-book is that much more unlikely. But it will give me a project that never ends—and in my mind, they are the only ones worth starting.
I don’t know—I mean, I know a little, but not enough. I have no confidence—I mean, I have a little, but not enough. I don’t have the strength—well, maybe I could manage one effort, but not over and over. Most importantly, I lack enthusiasm—I can forget the past and enthuse for a moment, but inevitably I remember the past—entropy, illness, betrayal, and indifference—and I feel the enthusiasm melt away, a mist in sunlight.
Was it a wrong turn I took—and if it was, was there any life I could have lived that didn’t come to cynicism, eventually? (Maybe it’s Maybelline—right?) If I could have lived a life that avoided the lessons I’ve learned, would that ignorance have been better? No—I struggled equally hard with a lack of information. People are animals—once I learned not to judge that statement, once I learned just to accept it, I had to stop believing in the ‘but’. “People are animals, but…” But there is no ‘but’. Take away convention and pretense and all that’s left are animals, social animals—but animals just the same.
One divergence we like to point to is the ‘path of least resistance’—a dog will bark and dig from behind a fence, trapped because it cannot move forward; a person will look around and walk away from the fence to take a route around the obstacle. We cite this as a sign of human intelligence. Yet our powerful skills in finding obtuse escape routes seem to fail when we try to deal with society—we bark behind self-imposed fences at things we could easily work around, had we the imagination to walk away from conventions and acceptance.
Such open-mindedness might bring people further away from their animality—but whenever an open-minded person suggests getting away from conventions and acceptance, a close-minded person will jump on the idea and say, “Yes! Let’s start by ejecting morality and inclusion.” The desire to act out among others without consequences is really more animal, not less. A good liberal wants to avoid the strictures of conventions and acceptance, but retain the cooperation and inclusion that are society’s best features—it’s never easy and it’s never simple.
So we see that being a ‘rebel’ is an ambiguous role—breaking the rules encompasses both forward progress and devolution. To be conservative is to consider the whole thing as being too dangerous, too unpredictable—better to just keep things as they are, warts and all. A liberal considers change a necessary risk that it is better to engage with purpose than to strive to avoid. I’ve always considered conservatism as cowardice—but to believe that, I’m implicitly agreeing with conservatives that change is dangerous. It’s really quite a pickle.
Huzzah! I am once again a licensed driver of automobiles. My faithful compendium, Spencer, went out early this morning to top off his gas tank in anticipation of my noon Road Test in Carmel—and he reminded me to bring all my paperwork, which was a good thing. I’m not used to his car, but I’m actually an old hand at driving, so different cars don’t really throw me that badly—and he has a really nice car, too—a Chevy Impala. I forgot to look over my shoulder before pulling out; and I didn’t signal before beginning my parallel parking; but I passed, and that’s the important thing.
More important, to me, was the fact that I was able to use the bathroom this morning for the first time in several days—it’s quite a relief. I’m on my second day of heavy antibiotics for diverticulitis—things are finally becoming bearable. I’m able to think again, relatively speaking—and for what my usual thinking is worth—so I’m going to share some of the hell I’ve gone through recently.
I’m tempted to comment on the Republicans in Congress and the Russians in Syria—but this is a journal entry, so no politics today.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015 7:16 AM
Pain, And More Pain (2015Oct07)
For days I felt pain in my abdomen—then yesterday I couldn’t stand it any longer and Claire drove me to the ER in Mt. Kisco. Turns out I have diverticulitis. That may sound bad, but they were talking about ‘blockages’ and ‘surgery’, so it’s actually good news—plus, they didn’t have to admit me—bonus!
So they put me on a massive antibiotics regimen and liquid diet. It still hurts this morning but at least I’m not wondering if I’m about to die—it’s really quite painful. It reminded me of the ‘good old days’ when I had six months of forty surgical-staples in my abdomen, after my transplant operation.
People who’ve been sick or in pain can be very dull—for instance, I have no plans today other than to lay around and be glad I’m not having surgery (knock wood). Whenever the antibiotics get my inflammation to die down, I plan to spend that day just enjoying the absence of pain (I should be so lucky). With any luck, I may move my bowels someday soon—it’s a friggin carnival, here at the Dunn house.
In the meantime, I’m wondering if having something new to write about is all that great—seeing as how it’s all about dysfunction in my ass—not your traditional crowd-pleaser as literary subjects go. Still, being a shut-in makes you crazy for anything to happen, anything to break the stultifying circularity—and if I only counted the positive incidents, I’d have a long wait for that break.
There was positivity, however—my lovely Bear drove me to the hospital and stayed with me the whole time and drove me home again around midnight, when she had to get up early today, to serve jury-duty in lower Manhattan. It’s times like these that I marvel at how lucky I am to have a wonderful Bear. She’s the greatest. But anyone who has met her knows that.
BTW, All these drawings are my illustrations for my Bear Poems
So much pain over the last week or so—it made it hard for me to think—I have trouble thinking under pressure. I’m posting the improvs, but only as examples of how messed up in the head I was when I played them. I have enough trouble with the piano when I’m feeling myself.
Before I knew about the diverticulitis, I had a bad week—I wrote several posts that I never posted—they were very dark. But since I now know what was going on, I’ll share one of them with you—this was from five days ago:
Friday, October 02, 2015 11:32 AM
After a certain point, you realize that aches and pains have just become a part of your daily life—that each twinge is not a signal that you’re dying, or that you ate poison, or that you need to go to the ER. You reach the conclusion that if you’re not actually sweating in pain, then it doesn’t hurt that bad. And even when it’s sweating-bad, you give it a few minutes—just to make sure it isn’t gas—or a cramp. Pain signals help the body respond to threats and intrusions—but as we age, tiny threats and intrusions become the norm—and the aches and pains stay turned-on pretty much from the time you get out of bed.
Analgesics are wonderful things—by reducing inflammation of tissue, it reduces pain—and it also reduces the amount of damage, since the longer tissue is inflamed, the worse the damage. I occasionally use ice packs, or heating pads, for my back aches or neck aches. The only pain I have trouble dealing with is headaches—to me, it’s like static on the radio—it makes it hard to think, to read—even watching TV is difficult with a headache. So I use aspirin.
As a teenager, I was addicted to aspirin for a while—now, if I use aspirin too much, it just makes the headache worse. For years, I used Tylenol and Advil instead—but then my liver doctor told me that was suicidal, so now I’m back to aspirin—and only one at a time—and not every day. Still, I sometimes get unbearable headaches—and I break down and take two aspirin and two Advil. That works most of the time—but it also guarantees that the headache will come back the next day, a kind of boomerang effect. So I do my best to avoid that vicious cycle.
It’s so different for children—as a child, I didn’t understand what a headache actually was—I almost never got sick, and when I did I’d be so delirious from fever that I hallucinated. Pain is virtually unknown to the young—their bodies work like well-oiled machines, their bones are elastic, and they hardly weigh anything when they fall down. When pain does arrive in a young person’s life, it’s momentous—it can overpower their reason. That’s very different from someone like me, who thinks of pain as a normal part of breathing. It’s another aspect of life that makes it hard for young and old to understand each other.
If you ask a young person if they want to live forever, they’ll say ‘of course’—but if you ask an old person, they’ll have to think it over. Living forever is nothing unless it includes eternal youth—otherwise, you’re just extending your retirement—and what’s the point of that? I don’t want to live a long time—I want to live healthy for as long as I can. In my case, that’s already a moot point. I’ve been living on the edges of health for years now—and it’s nothing but hard work, fighting off the spells of frustration, rage, and despair that inevitably follow when life has no object beyond breathing.
In normal life, the bottom line is always a goal—you’re trying to accomplish something—hopefully, maybe even achieve greatness at something. Without access to a job, a career, a car, or a social group—as in my case—without the ability to work or create or achieve, life becomes a battle against oneself. Even staying alive isn’t my job—it’s my doctors’. My only real job is not to kill myself and waste all their hard work. In the meantime, I suffer from an incurable case of ‘idle hands’.
At the same time, the emptiness of normal lives is revealed to me—nine to five, working for some office manager, getting paid a salary—these thing may allow me to support my family, but what do I get out of it, besides a life of modern slavery? What right do the wealthy owners have to enslave the other 99% in pursuit of manufacturing plastics, selling magazine subscriptions, organizing vacation itineraries, or selling burial insurance? How is it different from Medieval times, when the wealthy owners enslaved everyone to grow food that wasn’t even their own?
Statistics show that democracy doesn’t respond to the majority of people in the country—it responds to the majority of rich people. Statistically, there’s as much chance of the most-wanted legislation being voted on as the least-wanted legislation—among the whole population. Among the wealthy, democracy does what it’s supposed to do—it enacts what they want most and avoids what they most don’t want—but if it only works for the 1%, then it’s not really democracy, is it?
Likewise with ‘progress’. The new I-Phone 6s is a wonder—if you have a thousand bucks up front, and hundreds a month to spare. The new Tesla model S is a wonder—if you have $100,000 to spare. Meanwhile, the rest of us get to work nine to five for the privilege of worrying about bills and driving a junker. And that’s if we’re not starving, or homeless, or sending our kids to schools that don’t teach them to read. The United States, in its origin, began a fight with the rich and powerful—I think, here in 2015, we can all agree that we’ve lost that fight. The poor are always with us—and so are the rich. Anyone see a connection there?
In our war against the rich, we are constantly being diverted with little nothings—molehills built up into mountains for the media to get excited about. They spend all day talking about whether Trump should be president, when it’s so obvious that that asshole belongs in jail, at best. The Koch brothers hold seminars to decide which candidate to pay for, when they should be huddled in their mansions with a torch-lit angry mob outside their windows.
It’s the old problem—you can’t fix a car while you’re driving it down the highway. We can protest Occupy Wall Street all weekend, but we have to leave and go work for those pigs on Monday morning. We can vote for any candidate we like, but the candidates get pre-selected by those pigs. And the most able among us are not working to beat those pigs, but to join them. And people wonder why I’m so depressed all the time. What a crock.
[Afterword: So, that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Nothing was easy or comfortable. But I’m on the mend now—and I have a drivers license again (motorists beware!) so I’m a happy man. Have a good day, everybody.]
Finally, I’ve reached the point where I’m willing to share my progress on the Brahms Opus 117. Here are some details about this special trio of piano intermezzi I’ve pieced together (mostly from Wikipedia.org):
(first published in 1892)
The book is originally Claire’s (she’ll still play a bit now and then—still better than me—oh, well) so you can see I had the benefit of practice notes left in her margins by the great piano teacher and performer, Muriel Brooks, who taught Claire for years—and even gave me the only ten lessons I ever had. Old Ms. Brooks is notable for the host of young Westchester piano students she helped shepherd towards musical enlightenment—most of us not so cooperative, as you may imagine. Some of Claire’s fingering is also marked in pencil which made things much easier for me.
in Eb major – Andante moderato
“Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!
Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.”
—(Schottisch. Aus Herders Volksliedern)
[Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!
Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.]
[(Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well!
It breaks my heart to see you weep.)]
This first intermezzo, so like a lullaby, has such sonorous harmonies, such profound base lines, and so soaring and angelic a recapitulation in the finale that I find it almost too exciting to play. While this is considered a fairly simple piece to perform, as you can hear—even a single wrong note can mar the entire work.
in Bb minor – Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
This second piece, my favorite, demands the most of what I lack—an alacrity with the keyboard—though I’ve tried many times, I can never give it the lilting simplicity it requires. This is as close as I can get, so far.
in C# minor – Andante con moto
This last, longest, and most difficult of the three is something of a voyage—there are changes of mood, of key, and of texture—it begins with a troll-like dirge but the middle section is the most gymnastic and fragile keyboard sheet-music I’ve ever seen.
I first heard this work on an LP included in a Time-Life boxed set entitled “The Romantic Era” back in the early 1970s. Something about these three intermezzi has led me to listen to this piece again and again—I am haunted by its beauty. In some sense, each of the three is a variation on an old Scotch lullaby. In some papers there is also a tantalizing utterance of Brahms about “cradle songs of my sorrows”, which has often been associated with the set. I always found these pieces too dramatic to be lullabies, with the exception of the first, which does share tones of the famous Brahms’ Lullaby—but who am I to argue with music historians?
And now, a note in defense of my posting these to the public:
Music belongs to us all. Sure, there are those who excel at performance or composition—and I’m the last person who’d ever disrespect their tremendous talent and skill—but again, music is for everybody. As Judy Garland once sang, “If you feel like singing, sing. (If you can’t sing good, sing soft).” And my version of ‘singing soft’ is to post my piano-playing recordings on YouTube, where other people can listen to them, ignore them, or even complain about them—and I don’t disagree with the complainers. I’m not a gifted musician—I never will be—but I’m in love with music, with the piano, with the music of the great composers.
And aren’t we all on different levels of ability or skill in just about every endeavor? Isn’t there always someone better, or smarter, or quicker? Even if that isn’t always true, it is true for all of us except one—and that one only in one area of expertise. But we don’t sit about, waiting for only the best to do the things we are not ‘best’ at—we all do what we can, as best we can, at whatever moves us.
Classical music seems exotic to us—so we think of virtuosi as almost sacred (which in some ways they are) and exempt ourselves from attempting what they have already done, better than we ever could. I say no—I say music is for everyone. Listen to the greats—but let yourself sing as well—or play an instrument, or write a song—you have every right—in some ways, you even have a responsibility to have creativity and self-expression be a part of your life.
When we absent ourselves from the arts we atrophy the most aspirational aspects of our personalities—we are less than we can be, when we eschew the arts—just as we are ignorant when we eschew the sciences, for lack of being ‘geniuses’. In practicing piano, I have always heeded an early piece of advice: Always work on the parts that are the most difficult for you. And I’ve broadened this to include my whole life—for those of us with slender talents, it is just as important, perhaps more so, to make an effort towards creativity; for those of us with trouble learning, it is just as important to read something new, to learn, however slowly, new things. I don’t see adulthood as an end-point, but as a higher level of development towards a better self, an advanced stage of the learning and growing that we sometimes assume is the role of schoolchildren—and ends with childhood.
Plus, I like to share my stuff with my friends and relations who love me and support my meager efforts—just because I made them. And YouTube is free. So there it is—the great Brahms Project—but understand that I hope to post a much better performance next year, or the year after that.
Years ago, I often named my improvs ‘post-Bach’, ‘post-Haydn’, etc.—because I felt that the composers whom I had just sight-read had inspired me somewhat in the improv immediately afterward. But that naming convention led to too many duplicate titles, so I began making up names instead, for mnemonic purposes. Today, however, I return to this convention, in honor of Brahms.
Last night started out good—I’ve become a fan of The Big Bang Theory and it had a season premiere last night—they’re pretty funny. I enjoy the comfort of an established sitcom with a toolkit of running gags and themes—all expositions, settings, and character intros have long since been made and the thing just chugs along—funny, funny, funny.
Had a big meal (Bear makes a mean chicken) maybe too big—I felt like I had to have some coffee. But then I watched TV until 2:30 and my eyes still refused to droop. I didn’t sleep at all last night—I was reading a couple of great sci-fi books—“Appleseed” by John Clute is a book I bought about ten years ago but forgot to read; and “Nexus” by Ramez Naam, which I finished at about 6:30 am—fortunately it’s only the first book of a trilogy, so there’s more. But no more coffee at night for me!
Now here’s a bit of lyric for all you strong babies out there:
Hard muscle—lean cut—on a stri-king frail.
A hard look—a straight shot—makes my ego bail.
When she looks like a tank made o’doves
I could almost cry.
Talks like the drill sarge o’love—
I could nearly die.
Strong women—make me crazy.
Wo-o-ork it out—don’t be lazy.
Watch those ‘ceps pop—makes me dizzy.
Dat can’t be a woman—is she?
My god—that’s a lot of power.
Think it’s time for my cold shower.
Awe me with that rock of muscle
Tell me I can lose that tussle—please!
Baby—please—it’s too much—
Thoughts so hot they make me blush.
I’m a man with a plan but
A strong, fit woman there’s no man that is better than.
When you tell me I got-to-be nice
Then it’s understood—
No need to-tell-me the same thing twice
You know I’ll be good.
Strong women—make me crazy.
Work all day—make men look lazy.
Legs like trunks of trees of satin,
Eyes the light from stars get fat in,
Smell so sweet it makes me twitchy
And that voice so low and witchy.
Stand there like a tower of power.
Going strong from hour to hour.
Beauty—brains—and all that muscle
Tell me I can lose that tussle—please!
We poor men—fit and strong is supposed to be our thing. When we find strong women attractive, it’s confusing and a little embarrassing—but there’s no better make-up than muscle tone, nothing more youthful than a proud bearing. It’s funny—we talk about over-idealizing one standard of beauty—but that’s just the suits that make corporate decisions about magazine covers and such. For all our fixation on women, we men find attractive a myriad of flavors—tall women, short women, small women, big women, full-figured or skinny, any color hair, any color skin, librarians, firewomen, GI Janes, and nurses.
I find the spirit of a woman shows in her face and bearing—no matter what her outer appearance. You can see a person’s personality, male or female, and I find myself attracted to the spirit rather than the package—I think we all do.
Dy’ever have one of those days where you feel like instead of reaching a peak, you feel off the cliff? With health issues like mine, I often watch myself become more and more energized from day to day—recovering from whatever circumstance blew out my reserves of strength, like bad news or car trouble or just a crazy day. Each day I feel more like myself, more capable, containing more potential to get something done—and today was going to be one of those peak days where I really made a splash in a video, or in writing, or something. Or so it seemed, leading up to it. But today, phht!—nada, nothing, goose-eggs, zippo, kaput. I might as well go back to bed.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 10:31 PM
I saw “Pitch Perfect 2” on VOD yesterday—it was okay, but “Pitch Perfect” was one of those movies that caught lightning in a bottle—beyond the premise, the characters, the songs—there was pacing, introspection, coming-of-age notes were hit—it was a perfect movie, in some ways. “Pitch Perfect 2”, I’m sad to report, was more like an extended episode of Glee guest-starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. It was so busy hitting all the old themes and adding new material, that it never gelled into a movie. It wasn’t terrible—the songs were nice, Rebel is funny, and I’ve got an age-inappropriate ‘thing’ for Anna Kendrick, so it was watchable, but a let-down, still.
I’m too old for Glee—they sing contemporary songs and mash-ups—which I enjoy, but for me a sing-along uses songs my parents, and even my grandparents, used to sing. If I was a little more dexterous I’d get a job playing karaoke back-up piano—when you’re no virtuoso, it’s great to have voices drowning out the piano-playing. In today’s video of 1940s Song Covers, I even try to sing along myself—but that doesn’t help so much, since it distracts me from the playing—and I’m no Andreas Bocelli, either. I left in a brief interruption, where I’m begging my son to sing along with me—and he, being kinda shy, pretends to have a sore throat—someday I’ll catch him in the right mood.
This second video is more song covers—I would have called it Part II, but these songs aren’t from the 1940s—more like the 1930s thru the 1960s. I guess I just felt like singing today.
And here we have another ‘stitched-together’ improv that is really three different segments from among my cover recordings, when I stopped to take improv-breaks.
I’m running into some confusion lately—my improved piano-playing ability makes me very happy, and I enjoy posting new recordings of pieces that I’ve posted before, but much more listen-able. But even today’s posts, which came out pretty fair—I was tempted to not post them and wait for a better take. I also consider playing pieces many times over before posting a recording—something I am doing now with the Brahms Opus 117. Trouble is, even in my new condition, even when I’ve rehearsed a piece, I’ll still spaz out or stumble over a chord; I’ll still have pages to turn; I’ll still get folks wandering through my recording studio (our living room, that is). So perfection ain’t gonna happen—I post what I get and I hope for better in the future. But it is confusing sometimes. I would like to become a real boy (said Pinocchio the wooden pianist).
I played the piano for forty-five minutes today—I’m getting so active that I’m letting a bunch of recordings go—I can’t make a video out of everything I play these days—life is too short.
But I did stitch together all the improvising I did between the Brahms and the MacDowell—it came to just over eleven minutes, but it’s actually three different improvs ‘smushed’ together. The final segment has a break where the camera ends one file and starts another—my camera does that every twenty minutes. If I want to be sure of no interruptions, I have to jump up and restart the recording every time I play a separate piece of music.
The MacDowell is very fragile stuff—I tried to keep the phrasing intact while I let the tempo lag, trying to get my shaky hands to settle in to the proper configuration of each chord to be played. He’s such a romantic, he even added little phrases and poems to the titles of his works:
Xper Dunn plays Piano
September 20th, 2015
Three (3) Pieces by Edward MacDowell
from “New England Idyls”, Op. 62
An Old Garden
Moss grown stair,
Rows of Roses,
All old posies,
Of love undying
from “Sea Pieces”, Op. 55
“A fairy sail and a fairy boat”
from “New England Idyls”, Op. 62
With Sweet Lavender
“From days of yore,
Of lover’s lore,
A faded bow
Of one no more.
A treasured store
Of lover’s lore,
For one no more.”
I also played the Brahms Opus 117 again, all three intermezzos, like I do every day—I almost posted today’s, but it still isn’t quite ‘there’ yet.
My last few posts are not of the type I admire or enjoy—I don’t know why I post them. They feel right at the time—but in the rearview, they always seem kinda mean-spirited—as if I catch the meanness from the meanies I rail against. But time will take care of them—time makes everything seem less urgent, less dire—and it doesn’t need me to do that.
I’ve been too distracted lately to interweave my posts with anything other than my anger. Today I present a recital, warts and all—fairly representative of my usual morning’s doings. There are works by Mendelssohn, Bach, and Brahms—unedited, with all my slip-ups, and a nice little two-minute improv at the end. I would have preferred to edit the page-turns and the garbled notes—for the sake of you, dear listener—but today you get the real deal, just by way of full disclosure. I have also appended some videos which I left out of recent postings. No pressure—watch’em when you want the musical equivalent of ‘peace and quiet’ and you won’t go far wrong.
William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) is an interesting guy. Considered one of the pillars of twentieth-century poetry, he was born in 1865—much like our twenty-first-century pop stars who were all born in the 1980s—centuries can be a weirdly illogical dividing line. Yeats’ life was a full one—he excelled early on, and it is said that he is one of the few writers who wrote their best work after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. His poetry is like walking through a dream—he really had a knack.
It always surprises me that a great artist and creator can have such subtleties of expression and nuance of feeling—yet their relations with women are always as confused and complicated as any moron’s. It’s as if women are men’s blind spot—and if you look at the present-day struggle simply to recognize women as equal, you may consider the theory proved. What is our problem?
His poem, “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is a strikingly beautiful bit of writing—it has been quoted in books, movies, and songs galore. One of the most famous musical-setting versions is “Yeats Songs”, for baritone & piano, by Richard Bunger Evans—I’m not crazy about ‘modern’ atonal stuff, but you may enjoy it:
Yeats Songs, for baritone & piano:
The poem also inspires its share of artwork, as well—for example:
Gorgeous imagery, isn’t it? But isn’t Aedh being a little passive-aggressive? Aedh is one of Yeats’ three mythic characters—the others are the Artistic one and the Rational one, but Aedh is a pale, lovelorn victim of La belle dame sans merci—a passive-aggressive take on love if there ever was one. It’s not too far off from a rapist blaming his behavior on the woman’s attractive attire—as if, when men find women attractive, it’s their fault that we suffer when they fail to reciprocate our feelings. It’s as romantic as misogyny gets.
Still, it is romantic, much like when Elton John can’t remember what color eyes a girl has but still ‘loves’ her enough to write her “Your Song” (I won’t get into the details of Bernie Taupin being the lyricist—or of John being gay, for that matter). Much of our romantic-themed media is layered with latent misogyny—perhaps indicative of the confusion men feel when women want to be equals in public but still prefer a more brutish, or brutish-seeming, mate—that this is just the flip side of men’s feelings about the same things never seems to occur to us.
And speaking of gay—I think it’s possible that our emotional problems with the LGBT community are largely based on our tendencies to separate the female from the male—and when we’re struggling to meet public standards of political correctness concerning the ‘weaker sex’, gays make it all just too confusing—like an added complication that breaks our mental backs. It’s just a theory.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve wandered too far from any one topic to ever make a coherent post out of this mess, so why don’t I just offer today’s musical ‘sermon’:
You Tread On My Dreams:
O—and here’s something even weirder from yesterday:
I always knew I was special—and now I have proof. This morning I listened to a great YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral) in F, Opus 68.
So maybe I had nature on the brain—but then I went to lie down and listen to myself. It’s not as self-centered as it sounds—I play CDs I’ve burned of my improvs, so that I have something to listen to while I roll cigarettes or watch close-captioned TV on mute or read a book.
I usually play it pretty low volume—just enough to hear it well without it actually striking my eardrums (I’m a sensitive flower) especially if I’m trying to read. By doing this I can hear when a particular improv has a sour note or an ugly passage—any awkwardness of execution, beyond the endemic. It interrupts my thinking—because, like everyone else, I’m used to perfect music coming out of loudspeakers—it’s almost impossible to imagine an album with a sour note on it. Not surprising, since a recording studio is basically a perfection filter that catches any trace of clumsiness and rules it right out—not that there’s anything wrong with that…..
I’m occasionally, pleasantly surprised by a bit of musical soaring that catches my ear in a rare piece—something that makes me proud. These are important for several reasons—one, obviously, it encourages me to continue playing Don Quixote on the keyboard. But I also play them back repeatedly, trying to take note of what I did and why it works and how I might use it in future.
There are, among those rare moments, even rarer instances where the key to what makes a passage striking is the emotional energy—not something I’m famous for, but it shows its head every decade or so. These passages stymy me—how can I transport myself into inspiration once I’ve sat down to play? You might as well ask me to fly.
Anyway, sometimes I listen to myself turned up real loud so I can hear every sound and nuance on the recording, just to make sure I heard everything I did—and whether any background sounds that might ruin the recording show up at high volume. That’s what I was doing today—I had the Bose cranked to 50—and I get to the third track, which is called “Blue Lake”. Now Claire and I have often joked that the birds outside our windows like to sing along with me at the piano—and it did seem kinda eerie sometimes, but I was too busy to pay attention.
26 seconds in you hear a cricket or cicada or something, then after a minute in, you hear a bird chirping along for two minutes or more, with occasional chiming in throughout. But it’s right on the beat—you can even hear it get a little huffy about my messing up the beat (which I do).
So, I jumped up and went to tell Claire about it in the living room—and while we were talking about how strange it was, I felt inspired and began to record today’s improv, while Claire studied on the couch—and after a minute and a half of playing, the darn bird sang along again—but Claire says it was a different bird. There’s some other birds in there, too—although I can’t say whether the crow was doing his own thing or what. Once I heard them chiming in, I started to play to them, looking around the upper register for stuff they might react to—ultimately, this is less a musical piece and more a dialogue with my avian house-hangers. So I guess I have a fan club—boy, do I feel special.
Claire and I have been married thirty-five years today. And as the world has changed quite a bit since August, 1980, so have we—but some things stay the same—I still feel incredibly lucky, Claire still puts up with me, and we are still both happy as clams when we know that our two kids are both fine and dandy. I feel a little guilty, however, since there is only one Bear—and the rest of male-kind has to make do with less-perfect mates—sorry, fellas.
Today’s first video is “Xper Dunn plays Harpsichord on August 29th, 2015 – J. S. Bach’s keyboard transcription of Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto in D Major’”. As you will hear, it takes me a minute to get me sea legs underneath me in the first movement. The second movement (the slow one, of course) is where I make the least mistakes. And in the third movement, you can hear the computer suddenly make a weird tone, apropos of nothing, which distracts me—while you can also see that I am tiring by this point—just as I’m supposed to be making the last movement all jig-gy and jocular. So, a pretty terrible rendition of one of my favorite pieces of music.
Why, you quite sensibly ask, would I post such a horrible excuse for a performance of a piece I love so much? Well, it’s not about me, really. I learned to love this piece by listening to it over and over again, incessantly, on an LP re-recording of a wax-cylinder master-recording of Wanda Landowska. Wanda Landowska was a legendary harpsichordist and a great proponent of Bach’s enduring legacy to musicians and to music lovers. Even on a scratchy, antique recording, she makes this Bach/Vivaldi piece sound like heaven itself—pure, sweet, perfect, simple. I highly recommend giving it a listen, either before, or in place of, my own awkward attempt:
Back to me—I first came across the sheet music in a library book which I Xeroxed and created my own copy of—years later I would buy a printed copy, which is much easier to sight-read. It tickled me, over the years, to simulate small moments of the beautiful sounds I heard Wanda make—even though I would practice it for years on a piano until I acquired the Yamaha Digital Piano P-95, with the harpsichord setting, that allowed me to make today’s recording. And, as bad as it is, this is by far the best performance I’ve ever made of the Concerto in D—or ever will make, most likely. And when I play this piece, I don’t hear myself making a hash of it—I hear Wanda making it sound like heaven. That’s the trouble with most of my music—I hear what I want to hear, and you poor suckers are stuck with what I actually sound like:
Then again, you’re not going to hear anything like today’s improv anywhere else on the web—at least, I haven’t found it. This leads me to a couple of alternatives—one, the most likely, that I’m a wanna-be New Age musician trying (and failing) to sound like Keith Jarrett or George Winston—while completely overlooking the fact that New Age is no longer new. Or two, that I have succeeded, against all odds, in finding a style that is all my own—which incorporates my failings and what few strengths I may have into a form of music like no other. That would be nice—though it still avoids the question of whether I’m worth listening to.
The Yamaha P-95 once again comes into play today, in that I find touching a ‘piano key’ and hearing weird electronic noises is very refreshing and inspiring to someone who has spent forty years playing an acoustic piano, where a key gives a tone, the same tone, timbre, and texture, always and forever. So, today we hear my usual guff, but rendered into something new by the simple use of a few ‘effects’ buttons—I almost like myself in this:
My mother-in-law dropped off some great blondie brownies—and later I’ve been promised Chinese take-out for dinner (my favorite). I hope you all are having as nice a day as I am.
It’s one of those days—I play the piano and sing along with myself—I sing along with the playlist on my PC (somewhere in there I marvel at the inordinate amount of lyrics I’ve somehow memorized over the years—yet still have some point in every song where I have to go ‘uh-la-la-yeah-oh-uh’). So—am I happy as a lark, or am I full of frustration and this is my passive-aggressive way of venting? It’s hard to say.
One thing I’ve noticed about music—if you do it properly, it’s pretty hard work—not that I see it that way—it’s a joy, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy—it takes focus, effort and seven kinds of coordination. They say playing the piano is the equivalent of rowing a boat; playing the violin is the equivalent of lifting weights; and conducting an orchestra is like being in a boxing match—in terms of calories burned, at least. For all I know, music has kept me from wasting away during my sick period—it was the only thing that got me out of bed.
Then again, I don’t exactly look like I frequent the gym. I’ve got a permanent paunch from having a liver transplant—there are certain abs of mine that will never flex again—but that just gives me a good excuse to look like most guys my age, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
A few nights ago, I wrote:
O, Joy and Rapture! I noticed that some drawings I was sure I had were no longer showing up on my PC—then I remembered I had some back-up files.
Trouble was backup files don’t restore themselves—and I had used Norton 360 software to make them. I figured I was in for a long, hard slog before I ever managed to restore these files but I went on live-chat with Norton Tech Support (didn’t hurt that it was one in the morning) and they set me up with a quick Restore-app download and I’m sitting here typing now because I’m waiting for my 50,000 files to finish restoring—how easy is that?! Sometimes a person gets lucky.
One thing I’ve finally learned from computers—if something is important enough to get on there in the first place, I’ll probably want it again sometime in the future—no files are truly deletable.
That may seem like file-hoarding, but with the proper directory-tree organization–and considering how big today’s hard drives are–you never get into the kinds of problems that plague real hoarders of actual stuff.
Of course, now that I have that stuff restored, I have to go through my backups and de-dupe the files, and move them to the correct sub-directories—there’s a lot of confusion in my mind after a few minutes of that sort of thing, so I’m still not done. But it’s all there—that’s the important thing.
I could listen to the Beach Boys sing “I Can Hear Music” all day long, I swear…. Hey—tomorrow’s Claire and I’s 35th wedding anniversary—cool, right? No wonder I can’t think straight.
I watched Hillary Clinton at the DNC meeting on CSPAN this morning—she gave a great speech. She defined the Democratic Party as the party that is concerned with the people—and she castigated the Republicans as out-of-touch. The former Secretary of State said the Republican presidential candidates were “all Trump, but without the pizzaz”—which I found especially apt.
How do the right-wingers rationalize their religiosity in a nation whose watchword has always been ‘separation of church and state’? How do they demonize immigration in a nation that is built upon an alloyed strength forged in a revered melting-pot? How do they maintain their dog-whistles of division in a nation where our progress is measured in the advancement of freedom and equality? It is only by preying on the weakness of will, the ignorance, and the self-love of their followers that the GOP inveigles us away from the true path of America’s future. End of speech.
So, I’ve been experiencing creative doldrums recently—I seem to have nothing musical to say in my recent improvs—it’s all just a bunch of seeking and not a lot of finding. This post, as well—I began it this morning but now it’s quarter to five in the afternoon—and it’s just a patchwork of disconnected ramblings. Anyhow, here’s my latest foray into the depths of the dog days:
Well, we’ve been confusing two different things for a long time—for so long that it’s become a part of our national character—a lot of us think that good business practice is the same as good governance. So we must not blame Mr. Trump, who simply surfs the wave of public approbation.
I’m reminded of how the ‘modern’ age of machines brought so many sudden changes that some changes in our thinking went a little too mechanistic—into fascism. Fascism seemed reasonable at the time—it had logic and (pretend) science, and modern folk were all about the logic and science and mechanization back in those days.
Inflating of Nadars air balloon on a field outside the Barrier Utrecht, Amsterdam, September 14, 1865, John D. Brewer, 1865 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Likewise today we have great changes that influence changes in our thinking—we don’t even need wires today to make a connection, never mind something as arcane as eye-contact. We’re de-centralizing—we’re going Uber. And Americans maintain a firm belief that business will ‘regulate’ itself—although that is only true in terms of fair competition between companies, and has no relevance to the way in which business treats people. Unfair business practices do somehow persist—proving that business regulates itself on the same model as evolution—a bloody, kill-or-be-killed status quo that ends up with the winners becoming alpha predators—and everyone else is the food. The endgame is simply a new monarchy based on ownership rather than bloodlines—if those two things are truly separate.
Hemelvaart, Jan Punt, 1748 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Because of technology, we have lost the connection between ourselves and our world—our survival is more dependent upon the economic infrastructure—the stores, banks, office buildings, mines, factories, ports, the housing, highways and airliners—than it ever was on the source material for those sophistries: the crops, water, air, lumber, cattle, and cotton—the stuff that hitherto more visibly either grew from or fed off the Earth.
Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
We used to husband our resources, tend our fields, plant and harvest our crops—now we buy stuff. Some guy with a huge machine is doing all the agricultural stuff, somewhere out in that blank breadbasket between the coasts. Except for that one Mr. Greenjeans out in Iowa, the rest of us are working on maintaining our infrastructure—though it should more rightly be considered a superstructure, as it is built upon a natural world that once had a structure of its own—we couldn’t control nature like we do our modern environment, but we didn’t have to maintain it, either.
Dolls-house Ceiling-Painting of a Cloudy Sky with Birds, attributed to Nicolaes Piemont, c. 1690 – c. 1709 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Progress isn’t addition, it’s a trade-off—you get the new, but you lose the old. And while we are marveling at the brave new cyberworld of our present—where paper is disappearing and robots are working faster and better than the humans they replace—we should give a thought to the tremendous loss that implies. It’s not a question—it’s a given. Worse yet, history tells us that we never appreciate the true value of something until it is gone beyond recall. So, while we know that our loss is enormous, we are still waiting to feel the pain. Some days, it feels lucky to be old.
Paradise, Herri met de Bles, c. 1541 – c. 1550 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
As I see it, ‘isms’ will always trip you up. Take any Ism to its logical conclusion and you get mayhem—capitalism turns to thievery, democracy turns to mob rule, Christianity becomes a platform for hate and violence. None of our societal systems and structures stand on their own, alone—they all must be leavened with humanity. One sign of our modern progress is that some people are finally trying to turn humanity into ‘humanism’—they may mess it up—people usually do—but at least we recognize that there is something there, something elemental—that outshines any system of government or faith or justice. It is humanity that allows compromise, forgiveness, and tolerance.
Loss of Faith, Jan Toorop, 1894 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
These are the foundation of freedom and justice—without them, we have only an eye for an eye and the whole world blind—or at least lacking depth-perception. The most singular aspect of humanity is that it isn’t a system of checks and balances—it’s just giving. It’s what we do for infants, for the sick or hungry, for our grandparents and great-grandparents, for anyone we truly feel love for—or even for a stranger—we give, and we don’t look for compensation.
The Shipyard of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Ludolf Bakhuysen, 1655 – 1660 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
When I see these crowds at campaign rallies shouting for justice, I want them to stop shouting long enough for someone to tell them that you don’t get justice—you give mercy, and you hope for justice. Laws help keep the injustice to a dull roar, but nothing will ever end injustice but mercy, compassion, and generosity. If you’re fighting for someone else’s rights, you have a shot at being a force for justice, but if you just looking to get your own, Jack—you’re being selfish. Your therapists will tell you that’s a good thing—but your therapist is an idiot. Still, what can your therapist tell you? How do you tell anyone exactly how to be a human being?
Val van Icarus, Hans Bol, Anonymous, c. 1550 – c. 1650 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Thus endeth the lesson, as Sean Connery intones in “The Untouchables”. I’m wearing a T-Shirt today that I’ve had since one summer of the 80s, when our onetime family business, Mal Dunn Associates, threw a pool party, back in the day–pretty good shirts–still looks good:
I used the above photo, along with my usual pilfering of the Rijksmuseums website’s collection of masterpieces, for the three videos below:
Instead of Donald Trump or Hillary’s E-Mails, I’d like to obsess about the overpowering of the young Moroccan bullet-train gunman outside of Paris yesterday—let’s spend the rest of the summer talking about that. The main heroes seem to be two US Marines—though without minimizing their heroism, it should be noted that the entire car—British, French, US, whatever—rose as one to beat the crap out of this would-be terrorist.
It reminds me of the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93, who fought the hijackers and died in the crash, sparing whatever Washington, DC target the terrorists had in mind. It is unhappy that people are prepared for this, but it makes me strangely happy to know that they now are. Terrorists be advised—people aren’t just going to sit there anymore.
It is daunting what a lone sicko can accomplish—but it is thrilling to know what a group of right-thinking strangers can do in response. And it’s well past time that terrorists got a little of their own back.
Neither can I contain my pride in our mighty Green Machine—those guys you don’t mess with. And it isn’t every day that we get to see them in their purest form—jumping to the defense of innocent people, without orders or prompting—hell, without a second thought. That’s just too cool. I don’t come from a traditionally military family, but my father was a Marine—he served in Korea—and I have a nephew who’s currently serving (Go James!) so I always feel a touch of pride whenever the United States Marines make the world a better place.
I noticed that all the pictures from the Hubble telescope look a lot like clouds. In a sense the whole universe is a bunch of clouds—some have condensed into blobs of stars or planets or whatever, but most of it is just a bunch of stuff floating around—the solid objects are about as rarified as they are in the traditional image of the atom. Still, the Perseid meteor shower we watched last week was from a section of the ‘cloud’ of rubble shed by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, entering our atmosphere as the comet passes by every year. Despite their similar appearance to the clouds in our skies, the clouds in space can be made of up gasses, dust, pebbles, or boulders—and their temperatures can vary from near absolute zero to metal-melting plasma.
Our own clouds aren’t the homogenous water-vapor tufts we like to imagine, either, come to think of it—they can swirl into twisters, freeze the water into large hailstones, carry the dust from volcanoes and the smoke from fires, spark lightning-bolts whose heat equals the sun’s surface—not always little puffs of white, clouds.
So what can we learn from the cloud-like appearance of deep space? Should we have been studying cloud formations with the same intensity we study ocean currents and river flows? Should there be a ‘fluid dynamics’ branch for cloud formation? We study gasses and aerodynamics, sure, but a cloud is a discrete entity suspended either in the gasses of our atmosphere or in the vacuum of space—shouldn’t we be looking at this phenomenon as an important branch of physics? Or should we just look for horsies and duckies as they float in the summer sky?
Today is not the day for it—sky’s as blue as blue today, with a fresh breeze pushing the leaves on the trees—here’s video to prove it:
Pete came by yesterday—we killed our imaginary audience and made some recordings which I hope no one will mistake for Pete’s fault—if you look closely, you’ll see a very capable drummer trying to be nice to a totally awful piano-player. This mess is completely my responsibility. I almost never play with musicians because musicians, understandably, don’t go looking for half-assed collaborators—but Pete is an exceptionally kind soul and an old friend who is the exception that proves the rule.
This is a picture of Pete and Spencer back in the day–If you watch Spencer’s walk-through on the video, you’ll see he’s grown some since this picture was taken.
I’ve been thinking about collaboration lately. As I’ve mentioned often in these posts, I think that people may have excellent self-control when the situation demands it but that humanity as a group, as a mob, has no brain and does whatever it does, crazy (or even suicidal) or not. We try to mitigate this with governments and other frameworks for group action—but even these foundations can only influence people en masse to a certain degree.
Take the Drug War as an example—with Prohibition as a historical precedent, we can’t be very surprised that the Drug War has been a complete failure—drug abuse is a part of the human condition. People will seek out recreational drugs just as they seek out alcoholic beverages. After all, life is a struggle and there aren’t that many features that offer unalloyed enjoyment—we can gain peace from our relationships and achievement from our endeavors, but not always—and it’s a struggle, win or lose. But a weekend spree is an easy and affordable escape from the rigors of the work-week and the number of people who choose to do without it will never be unanimous—criminalization simply complicates things.
Collaboration, cooperation,—even democracy—all also run up against the matter of people all being different in many ways. I heard the debate yesterday during the news reports of the first two women who passed the Rangers Training School requirements. As the closet-misogynist debated the moderate-feminist, they both had some confusion about the fact that average men have expected differences from average women, but the best of the best soldiers are exceptional people with above-average abilities, gender notwithstanding. Generalizations about gender roles do not apply when speaking of virtual Supergirls—although, rightly, we ought to take the hint that generalizations about gender all have that flaw to some degree—because we are all different.
Thus individuality and human nature are both obstacles to traditional governments and other organizing frameworks—yet they are both strengths as well. Perhaps our paradigms of organization are at fault. Churchill once opined that ‘Democracy isn’t a perfect form of government—it’s just better than all the others’. And I feel that we have become sophisticated enough to look at democracy (and capitalism, for that matter) and start to face that fact—having found systems that outdo more ancients customs is great—but is it the best we can do?
For that matter, can Democracy and Capitalism coexist without one cancelling the other? We see many examples where capitalism has infringed on the democratic process recently—but there are also times when the force of majority rule outdoes the primacy of property. We aren’t really being honest about this whole subject—we’ve been too busy defending democracy from fascism and capitalism from communism to allow ourselves to question their basic values.
While Democracy and Capitalism fight it out (and while we pretend that they work together) we have a third player—religion, or Christianity, since I’m speaking primarily of the USA. Many conservatives will insist that religion is a bedrock value—in spite of the fact that we are famous for sidelining religion from our governing principles. They’ll put on their blinders and assure us that ‘religious freedom’ was only meant to apply to the different Protestant sects of Christianity—as if that made sense, and full ‘religious freedom’ didn’t.
This is partly a failure to understand history—in much the same way that conservatives insist that our constitutional guarantee of ownership of flintlock rifles translates into prowling the Wal-Mart with semi-automatic weapons. But it is also a failure to understand religion, as a concept. Most people of faith make the mistake of counting their religion as the truth, while all other religions are, at best, to be tolerated. But Truth and Faith are not interchangeable—particularly in the situation where we have allowed for the existence of more than one form of faith.
What the original colonists did was recognize that even a single individual’s unique faith, with or without an established church, may be questioned as to its validity—but it can’t be made illegal. The opposite truth to that premise is that no one religion can be made the legal faith under our government. Basically, we accept that citizens will have whatever faith they may or may not have, but the law will operate separately from any one faith. Anyone who seriously proposes that America become a Christian nation is as much a threat to our way of life as the Communists were in the 1950s—even more so, since the Commies have had their day and faded away. ISIS would be a better example, come to think of it—both parties wish to transform us into a theocracy.
But let me return to collaboration. In science fiction novels, one gets the impression that the human race will expand outward, mimicking our behavior of the exploration era and the pioneering era. One gets used to the idea of the human race having a ‘destiny’—a place or a state that our future selves will eventually reach out to and evolve into. We envision a solar system busy with mining, colonization, exploration, and discovery—our little blue marble, Earth, just a single part of a civilization that calls the Sun its home. We even dream of FTL starships that allow colonization of other stars—a future civilization so vast and varied that imagination can barely envisage its size, never mind its nature.
Our gravity well, however, is no small barrier. If humanity is ever going to go beyond Earth, it will have to involve tremendous collaboration. At this point in modern technology, we will need tremendous collaboration just to survive at all. Where does the motive come from? How do we mobilize our efforts towards the survival of humankind when we have never had to worry about it before? Up until now, we’ve been so sure that the Earth is invulnerable to our attentions that we have never considered it a factor in our decision-making. The whole debate over climate change is really just humanity trying to convince itself that we’ve outgrown that simplicity.
Our systems of government, of commerce, and our cultures have all developed under the mistaken mindset that humanity can do whatever it will—we are slowly coming to grips with the fact that this is no longer true.
Part of our problem is that heretofore we have assumed that the point of life was the afterlife—that we should concentrate on living our own individual lives under the tenets of our faiths because the important part, the afterlife, will be affected by how well we follow the rules while living. No part of human culture actually emphasizes the importance of species survival—‘God’ made us, so naturally we can’t be unmade unless ‘He’ decides to unmake us. Climate change, drought, chemical and oil spills, and nuclear waste make it clear that we can certainly unmake ourselves—there’s nothing religious about it, it’s just a fact.
So now we have to turn from our focus on our individual afterlives to the maintenance of the survival of the human genome, and to Gaea—or whatever you choose to call the overall biome of the Earth. For we have two ‘afterlifes’—one is a spiritual belief, the other is our offspring. To reach the first one, we have to be mindful of ethics. To protect the second we will have to begin having ethics as a group—something we’ve never had, and something I have no idea how we’ll ever attain. The alternative is to remain the simple, global mob we’ve always been—and just wait for the lights to go out.
Technology makes some things ridiculous. Where television programming once seemed an ever-shifting gem flashing first this rainbow facet then that, prisms and beams, swells and clarions of relentlessly changing light and sound, it is now listed on a menu. As of three years ago, iMDB listed over a quarter of a million films—268,000 since 1888. There have been 364 TV programs of 150-300 episodes each, 167 of 300-550 episodes each, 87 of 550-1,000 episodes each, 124 of 1,000-2,500 episodes each, 51 of 2,500-5,000 episodes each, 35 of 5,000-10,000 episodes each and 8 TV programs of over 10,000 episodes each (that’s roughly 101,426 episodes just from the top eight programs). Granted, only the majority of these programs are from the USA and Great Britain—(TV is alive and well the world over and they’re not just streaming the feed from the Great Satan). But that’s still more than a lifetime’s worth of original programming available to the English-speaking audience.
So, proved: there are more TV shows and movies than a single individual could ever watch in a hundred years—why then, in the summer, on the weekend, in the middle of the day, is there absolutely nothing on TV that I haven’t seen a billion times? I would make a federal case out of this—but then I stop and realize that for the younger folks (like our kids) TV is no longer something you let schedule your life—you schedule it. Between On-Demand and Hulu and HBO-Go and who knows what-all else, everything is watchable when you want to watch it—worrying about when something is ‘on the air’ is something only old fogeys like myself are still doing.
Even PBS, which hasn’t the need or the capacity to follow all the latest forms of commercialization, like On Demand, has to make all of its content available on its website—just to make sure it gets seen by anyone under the age of fifty. But then, why shouldn’t they? I myself post whatever my videocamera records, to YouTube, almost daily—doesn’t cost a dime.
In addition to TV programming’s detachment from real-time, there’s the addition of all the ‘unfiltered’ content to be found on YouTube, podcasts, Netflix, Amazon, etc. Commercial interruption is no longer a given. Networks no longer work to give us an overview of our choices—they still push their own stuff during commercial breaks, but now that’s only a fraction of what’s out there. TV Guide, once a weekly magazine found in every household, is online—and even online, TV Guide still harks back to the 90s paradigm of broadcast-plus-cable—it’s impossible to list everything that’s available on every platform. It is easy today to miss out on a great new program, just because there’s no central entity that has an interest in guiding our viewing choices—no one central corporation, or group of corporations, gets a monetary return from driving our preferences or piquing our interest in new shows.
And even if there were such an entity, who would watch their commercials? Between muting them in real time, fast-forwarding past them on ‘On Demand’, and their relative non-existence on digital delivery platforms, commercials have also ceased to be the staple of entertainment they once were. Marshall McLuhan’s ‘global village’ has been decentralized and demonetized. It’s a free-for-all out there.
I do miss the old ‘water-cooler’ atmosphere of the twentieth century—everybody had something to say about last night’s Carson monologue, or SNL skit, or Seinfeld episode. Everybody saw (and more importantly, discussed amongst themselves) Roots, Ken Burn’s Civil War, and other legendary programs that became cultural events simply by existing in the tiny, communal feed that once was shared by every living room screen, like a village bonfire we all virtually sat around. Stranger still, new offerings with the same potential impact are now being produced rather frequently—but their influence is diluted by the fact that they appear in little corners of our modern media landscape—seen by only a sliver of a demographic—rather than being spotlighted by a major network’s primetime.
Complexity, too, dilutes the impact of today’s ‘exposés’—where once we had an annual Jerry Lewis telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, we now have a panoply of documentaries about MS, ALS, AIDS, HPV, HCV, etc. In recent months I have seen a dozen different programs regarding new cures for cancer—genetically tailored, site-specific, cannabis-based, modified viruses—apparently, there will be no ‘cure’ for cancer, but a whole new industry, a whole new category of science, of cancer cures.
And diseases are only one aspect of public interest—racism has come from pure bigotry to the specifics of police brutality, job openings, educational barriers, the culture of ingrained poverty, drug criminalization, and on and on—and that’s just racism as it pertains to one minority. Sexism ranges from equal pay to electing our first female president. Education issues turn from funding to tenure to technique to classroom size, just to name a few of the countless issues. The Middle East has gone from basically the survival of Israel to a pack of different problems being faced by thirty different countries, several religious sects, and the international implications of each Middle East nation’s ties to developed countries either allied with or opposed to the USA. If that’s not complex enough, just add in the global thirst for Middle East petroleum resources.
TV becomes complex at the same time that the world explodes in complexity. None of the people my age or older would have predicted that the average person would be helpless in their daily activities without typing skills—but a keyboard is a far more consistent part of our daily lives than pen and paper ever were. Even space, which used to be a matter of getting to the Moon and safely back again (and maybe Mars) is now a matter of all nine planets and their many moons, the Kuiper belt, geosynchronous surveillance satellites, radio astronomy, space telescopes, space stations, commercial space flight, the search for habitable worlds in far-off solar systems, and more.
Science Fiction has been hit the hardest—what was once good science fiction is now a matter of everyday life—writing that goes beyond the sci-fi-ness of our present reality can result in ‘hard’ sci-fi novels that are so ‘hard’, many readers will complain that they read like physics textbooks. Today’s emphasis is on near-future sci-fi, since it has long become impossible to imagine what our civilization will look like in fifty or a hundred years—just looking at the changes of our last fifty years of reality is enough to send us reeling. Some of William Gibson’s novels don’t necessarily require any future at all, except for a detail here and there—mostly it’s just extrapolations of our present tech, with just a soupçon of accrued infrastructure.
Now, given that, it is especially upsetting to see a group like the Tea Party, or their present incarnation, Trump supporters, being taken seriously. ‘Childish’ is the only word that comes to my mind. These folks want all the advantages of new media, new science, and new technology—but they want all of that to leave their older memes untouched. By rights, they should be called the ‘cognitive dissonance’ party—they want to uphold the myths, morals, and mores of the mid-twentieth century while living in the twenty-first. It’s like an Amish person wanting to drive a Lamborghini—it’s understandable—everyone wants to drive a Lamborghini —but you can’t have it both ways.
The strangest thing about these overgrown children is that they have enough awareness of their basic wrongness that they speak in euphemisms. They know that their beliefs, plainly expressed, would be roundly condemned by the vast majority—but they don’t see that as any indication of wrong thinking. They continue to search for new ways to ‘teach the controversy’ (doubletalk-speak for ‘supporting the ludicrous’) by reacting against seemingly unassailable progressivism.
Take for instance the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Any idiot will understand that this phrase is shorthand for “Black lives should matter as much as anyone else’s”. Their pretense of being blockheaded enough to misunderstand the phrase as ‘black lives matter more’ is so transparent that it becomes one of those things that make it hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. And that is their most popular weapon nowadays—to leave us so breathless at the profound stupidity of their words that we don’t know where to begin with our rebuttals!
I hate the way you can’t cut your own hair without just buzz-cutting the whole thing. I mean, I could take a stab at styling in the front and sides–but what’s the difference when I can’t see what I’m doing in the back?
Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. Okay, okay, fine, alright—you want to talk about this clown—let’s talk about him. He’s a wonderful businessman. In a boardroom he can’t be beat—he’ll shaft you right between the eyes without hesitation; he’ll burn your house down with your family inside and he won’t even blink. And his famous, off-the-cuff, no-filter patter—that’s a powerful business tool. It lets whoever he’s talking to know that he’s up on all the political-correctness memes—he knows how far he can go without crossing a legal line—but he also lets us all know that he doesn’t give a damn about right or wrong—he’s all business. Or, in his own words: “I don’t have time to be politically correct—I’m too busy.”
He may be a misogynist—he may not be—in his heart of hearts, who knows? But Business is a misogynist culture where condescending to women is as acceptable as calling a man a pussy for not ‘going for the throat’—and he’s a Business Man.
This comes to the fore in what passes for his foreign policy also—trash-talking one’s rivals is common business practice and no American businessperson ever lost points for smiling at their Chinese or Mexican counterparts while at the negotiating table and then trash-talking them to his American cronies afterwards. Trash-talking is a part of sports and Business is a blood sport.
Would brash bullying be an advantage to an American President? Reagan had some success with it—but he was canny conservative, not a lord of the boardroom who had been lauded his whole life primarily for his cold-blooded willingness to attack all comers. If Business is like Football, then Politics is a Chess game—can Trump’s aggression, flexibility and maneuverability win the day against a longer, deeper game-player who looks many moves ahead? This question has two answers—because we are in the uncomfortable position of considering (a) whether Trump can win the election and (b) what kind of country will result from a Trump presidency.
I say ‘uncomfortable position’ because this will be the first time that our country’s choice of its leader may have no connection to our expectations as to what that leader will lead us into. But as Trump says when asked about policy, “We’ll get to that later.”
As a businessman, Trump is strongest in his domestic agenda (what there is of a Trump political agenda, that is). He’s made noises about fixing our infrastructure and improving the jobs market—and a real businessman may be what we need in that regard. It may come at the price of a sweeping away of most of the social progress of the last fifty years, but you don’t get nothing for nothing. It is conceivable that a single Trump term might get this country out of its domestic doldrums—and that the reactionary Democrat who follows him will have a fairly easy time putting our social justice agenda back on track.
But it is the breadth of the presidency’s powers and responsibilities that scares me—what consequences may result from four years of Trump leadership—and will those consequences be too heavy a payment for a surge in our domestic economy?
I don’t believe Trump himself expects America to be dumb enough to actually elect him—he may have underestimated the power of modern media. Jon Stewart when interviewing President Obama asked the president if he felt the public was fair in mistrusting politicians for speaking so ‘carefully’—and Obama replied to the effect that a citizen was freer to express himself or herself, while members of government had to consider the potential influence of their words on things like the stock market, international relations, and other factors—outside of whatever they might wish to say to their constituents in plainer language.
You can take that with a whole bag of salt but there is a kernel of reality there. A businessman/reality-show-host may find that distinction a bit too fine—Trump has never allowed himself to feel vulnerable. The great American empire, however strong, is far more vulnerable—not existentially, of course, but the point of America is not whether it will continue to exist.
The point of America has always been about what it will become. Will it offer social justice? Will it maintain human rights? Will it look after the old, the weak, and the sick? Will it reward honest effort and restrain the mighty from creating a de facto upper class? Will we retain our primacy in the arts and innovation because of the love of free expression we instill in every kindergarten child? Will we remain the first and most successfully unreligious government in history? And will America continue to be among the leaders of the United Nations that try to maintain peace and international humanity?
Some tall corn, I grant you—but whether that is what we are, or if it’s only what I wish we are becoming, it’s still my American Dream and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I’ve always felt that America isn’t great because it is rich and powerful, but rather the other way around. Successful businesspersons like Trump are playing the game of Capitalism. Like I said before, it’s blood sport—a serious game—but it is still a game, based on the conventions of property, currency and bookkeeping—it’s all somewhat fictional, in a sense. Governing America, on the other hand is no game.
Trump wants to stop all the blathering nonsense that is today’s Republican party—and I applaud that sentiment—but the answer is not to double down on the anger that seethes among the disaffected. I have never cared for the rich, elder citizens in Somers County who fight against real estate taxes for personal gain. That money goes to our public schools—something only a moron would underfund. I’m still happy to pay any kind of school budget, even though my own kids are long gone from our local schools—it’s common sense. You don’t want to be known as the county with the dumbest kids.
And I feel that this principle applies in a larger sense. People are always fighting against taxes. I don’t want to fight against taxes—I want to fight over what we spend them on (and who’s lining their pockets along the way). I don’t want to pay less for gasoline for two years—I want to drive on well-maintained roads (and breathe the air). I don’t want to be tax wise and infrastructure foolish. I don’t want to mine any more of the fool’s gold this country has been busily digging up for so long—interference in women’s health (to protect the poor things, I guess), interference in gay relations and lifestyles (to stop Satan, I guess), and caving to the personal whims of our nation’s wealthiest and most influential (because it’s “by business, of business, and for business”, isn’t it?)
Trump would say that’s all a bunch of ‘political correctness’. But it is interesting to note that we have come to think of that as a term for those who go too far in their socially-conscious vocabulary. People aren’t into subtlety these days, but there is a difference between rectitude and correctness. Political rectitude is farcical—but political correctness, in its literal sense, is what America is all about. Outside of their casting doubt on scientific verification, the invention of the term ‘political correctness’ is one of the right’s strongest moves in their eternal march towards the past. It allows them to poo-poo that which we hold most dear—the acknowledgement as equals of those who are different from ourselves.
The English language evolved in a society of god-fearing, bigoted, male chauvinists—trying to modify it to sound like free-thinking egalitarians makes for the occasionally ridiculous. Using that laughter to dismiss such efforts, however, is an urge from the pit of the evil one—and is only stressed by those who yearn to maintain that old-timey slime.
Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]
Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.
In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.
We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.
But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.
Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.
Saturday, August 08, 2015 11:53 AM
Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)
Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.
That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.
Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.
Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.
Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.
We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.
What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.
“That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
—from T. S. Eliot’s “East Coker” (The second of his “Four Quartets”)
Whenever I write poems, I always reach a point where I want to put in that quote from T.S. Eliot, just the first part: “That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory: / A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, / Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings.” I don’t know why—it’s just the perfect segue from being poetical to being self-referential.
It’s sad, really. I admire Eliot’s poetry so much that usually I’d just as soon stop thinking up my own stuff and just quote him. And even when I write my own stuff I often throw in a phrase or an expression that Eliot-lovers will readily recognize—but that is partly because I have ‘absorbed’ his poetry into my speech, quoting him frequently enough that I sometimes forget it’s not ‘original’, or ‘common speech’. I’m a walking pile of plagiarism—but, never having been published, it’s not that big a problem.
Another Eliot quote I can never get out of my head is:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
—from T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” (The first of his “Four Quartets”)
I guess I love it because Eliot does what few people do—he stares directly into the weakness, the fault, the nothingness. He recognizes that we fool ourselves when we assume that speaking is a precise communication—a fact that most poets are loath to even think upon, never mind address as a part of their poetry.
I’ve experienced many kinds of misunderstanding. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from incomprehension—then there’s the willful sort of obliqueness that comes from those who don’t want to be convinced. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from inexperience—as when the old try to speak to the young. Differing preferences, different cultures and backgrounds, and especially different beliefs can all cause misunderstandings.
But as often as not, it’s the words themselves—sounding the same but meaning different things, sounding different but meaning the same thing, meaning too many things, or used as similes in ways that mean a potential infinity of things, such as ‘life is an onion’, etc.
This morning I had the pleasure of reading “They Saw A Game: A Case Study” -by Albert H. Hastorf & Hadley Cantril (originally published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1954). It concerns itself with a 1951 football game where Dartmouth played Princeton. On this particular day, the rivalry between the two schools engendered a violent, penalty-laden game with multiple injuries to players on both sides. For the study, spectators were given questionnaires asking their reactions to various points of play. The main upshot of the study was that Dartmouth boosters saw a different game than Princeton boosters—more than their interpretation of events, even their perception of the events was controlled by their preconceptions, their prior knowledge, and their preference for their own team’s welfare.
Princeton fans not only didn’t judge their players for hits against Dartmouth players—they didn’t even see them—and the same, in reverse, was true for the Dartmouth fans. And if we only see what we want to see during a simple football game, how can we expect to agree on what is happening during a complex conversation?
In my mind, it all boils down to entertainment—we talk to each other as much to pass the time as through any belief that we are actually sharing knowledge. Points of agreement are as often as not points on which two people already share a common thought—the words exchanged, rather than creating that bond, only reveal what is already there. Points of disagreement are reliably irreconcilable through anything as sloppy as verbal discussion or argument. (When was the last time you won one?)
We often see in dramas the ‘courtroom scene’ where a canny attorney uses the ‘yes or no answer’ limitation on a witness to force one into saying what the attorney wants to hear, rather than what the witness truly wishes to impart. We can look at language itself as a larger example of this kind of hobbling—words will often say only part of what we wish to impart to others. The clumsiness of language is most apparent when a speaker uses a chart or some other visual aid to add precision to their speech—the chart represents that which can be better communicated in ways other than words.
Words, rather than being the scientifically precise instruments we wish them to be, are merely sounds by which we reassure each other that we agree on our shared context—arguments are only the recognition of the void where shared context does not exist. We’d like to fill all those voids—‘the brotherhood of man’—but, like dark matter or dark energy (those necessary compliments to the substance of our observable universe) —these empty places surround and support the points on which we all agree, giving substance and character to society. We fear a tyrant who would force us all to think and speak the same—but how much more horrible that would be if it happened by itself!
Here’s a new video–and it’s pronounced ‘Swirly-Cue’ BTW–in which I’ve put pictures of myself. I don’t care for egotism, but who’s else’s pictures am I gonna put in there, huh? I was so busy putting in the pictures I forgot to add any weird visual effects. Next time….
After my exciting trip to play a fancy concert grand at WestConn, I’ve had some more-intimate experiences with the freshly-tuned piano in my living room, which I’d like to share with you here:
[The following two book reviews were posted to Amazon on July 27th, 2015]:
Book Review: “Armada” by Ernest Cline
I’ve just finished reading “Armada” by Ernest Cline. There’s a new-ish school of fiction that suits science-fiction specifically, which I think of as the jump-the-shark approach. Scalzi’s “Redshirts” is a good example—the premise is based on the old insider-joke about Star Trek (the original TV series): the away-team member who wears a red shirt is the character that will be sacrificed to add suspense to the episode. In the Scalzi book, the hero finds himself thrust into what he considered a fictional setting—eventually discovering that his fate is being controlled by some outside ‘programming director’ who has misunderstood the exact role that Star Trek plays in our entertainment, and in our reality.
The hilarious “Galaxy Quest” (1999), again, posits a Star-Trek-like classic TV series which an alien race have mistaken for historical non-fiction and subsequently built themselves a real starship, complete with transporter and a parroting computer-voice. They come to Earth to ask the aging star of the series to be a real captain on their starship—mayhem and comedy ensues. It’s great fun—I’m a fan of jump-the-shark, when it is done with wit and competence.
Ernest Cline’s “Armada” takes a page from “The Last Starfighter” (1984) in which an ordinary teenager obsessively plays a video game that simulates space battle, only to discover that the machine is a testing device to locate talented recruits for real ‘starfighters’ struggling to defend the galaxy from evil. But Cline goes beyond jump-the-shark to ‘multiply-referential jump-the-shark’, including a backstory that involves most sci-fi movies and video games of the past forty years being both training devices for potential warriors and orientation for the whole planet’s population—preparing them to find out that much of popular science-fiction is, in fact, non-fiction.
In doing this, Cline gives the reader a survey of popular science fiction and gaming culture from the premiere of the first Star Wars through to the near-future setting of the story. He pre-empts criticism of recycled plot-lines by cataloging the many ways in which his character’s story reflects the plot premises of the many films, games and stories from which he borrows.
Such ingenuousness gives the story great humor and zip—the protagonist’s interior monologue is not unlike our own interior critique of the story we’re reading. And in the age of remakes, one can hardly criticize Cline for re-doing the concept of Last Starfighter—that movie is thirty years old, familiar only to old farts like myself—and the pixel-screened arcade game of that old classic is as a stone spear-head in comparison to today’s MMO-game-players and the globally interactive worlds they now inhabit.
My disappointment stems from my inability to become absorbed in the story. While much ingenuity is displayed in the references to pop culture and other attempts to add a sense of realism to a highly coincidence-crammed story, the story itself never lingers long enough to give any one scene or character as much depth as is needed to balance out the fantastical aspects of the book. Worse, not a single turn of plot manages to rise above the cliché. While I hesitate to spoil the story, I can assure you that you will not be surprised. Amused, perhaps, but hardly surprised—or engaged.
This style of storytelling comes close to reproducing the suspense and excitement of an action movie—and as with action movies, death can be a stumbling block. Deaths, whether of individuals or of whole populations, are seen through the lens of ‘the mission’, rather than engaged with as dramatic events, as in a ‘chick flick’—and such insularity against this most deeply human aspect of any story has caused many an action thriller to fall flat. The audience is unable to ‘will its suspension of disbelief’ in the face of too much superficiality.
Conversely, young readers and sci-fi newcomers will no doubt find this a much fresher experience than I did—over the decades I’ve become a really tough audience. When the cultural references become central to the story, there is an unavoidable difference in the reaction of older readers, like me, who may find it all too familiar, and younger readers who experience a sort of ‘revelation’ from the massive download of new ideas and connections. Forty years of sci-fi cultural remixing may blow the minds of today’s teens, but it’s just old, familiar memories to someone with gray hair.
Cline’s previous novel, “Ready Player One”, was likewise criticized for a lack of dimension in a NY Times book review, while USA Today wrote, “[it] undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now”. So there you have it—“Armada” is another Cline book that may act as a dividing line between we sci-fi ‘grandpa’s and the younger audience coming on. I still give it five stars, just because it is head and shoulders above a lot of what’s out there.
Book Review: “Idempotency” by Joshua Wright
“Idempotency” takes a difficult computer term as its title because the ‘tech’ in this techno-thriller is an imagined method for allowing a person’s mind to be led through a simulation of an alternate life and to return from the virtual experience without losing one’s sense of their original self. It is a concept almost as thorny as the actual definition of the word.
Fortunately, the plot manages to simplify all of that into a cyberpunk-like tale of suspense, cyber-hacking, secrecy, and madness. There is still some imbalance, as in the fact that the supposed protagonist turns out to be more of a victim, while several other extraneous characters fight over his fate. There is also a great deal of vagueness as to who’s hacking who—or who’s spoofing who. The near-future society-building is sprawling but diffuse—dystopian vistas are suggested but never fully drawn, leaving the background of events somewhat muddied.
I found the writing slightly opaque—but I can’t honestly say whether that is a failing of the author’s or my own. Sometimes, stuff just goes over my head. In my experience, science fiction writers and readers have to find their intellectual level—and there are some writers who are simply beyond my ken. Then again, I found the ‘villain’, an unstable, bitter fundamentalist, to be almost over-the-top simplistic—and unbearably grating—insanity-level religious extremism makes me crazy in real life, so much so that I find it hard to take even in a fictional character.
There’s originality here, though not a lot of it. Bottom line—I finished the book. These days, that’s a winner, just for that—but it didn’t inspire me to sing its praises. Still, the young Mr. Wright is just getting started—I look forward to his next effort.
Time sucks. We’re always waiting for something to end—when we’re not waiting for something to begin. And then, when it’s happening, we either wonder how long we can hope it will last or when it will finally be over. If time isn’t stretching out interminably into the distance, it’s contracting to a sliver in which we haven’t time to take a breath.
The only time we are truly happy is when we find ourselves outside of time—so focused on someone or something that we don’t even think about the passage of time. We always come out of such experiences wondering how much time has passed, or surprised at how much or how little time has gone by. Time is very strict and a person would be a fool to ignore it—which makes it very hard to get outside of that pressure, and why we love to escape from time’s grasp.
Our obsession with time is paradoxical. We call games ‘pastimes’ because they ‘help us’ pass the time. ‘Diversions’, too, while helping us escape the cold bareness of reality, also help speed the passage of empty moments. While we often wish we had more time for one thing or another (and we are certainly in no hurry to reach the end of our time) we spend a lot of our lives trying to lose our awareness of our sequential voyage from one moment to the next.
Time is elastic—but, seemingly, never in our favor. Hard times seem to drag on—good times are always over too soon. Whenever we are truly uncomfortable time will seem to literally stand still. Whenever we are in the throes of pure bliss, it seems to end before it’s even fully begun.
I love T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” because it explores the mystery of time:
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
Memory, as well, is explored—another elastic paradox having to do with time. Yet memory is nearly instantaneous—we don’t need the same amount of time for a memory that we need for the original event. How does our brain remember something that happened for hours, or days, without spending more than a moment to do it?
Still, even in physics, time can be measured to the micro-second—but it retains its elasticity through the mechanism of relativity. Einstein says, ‘the faster we move, the slower time goes’. But relativity only pertains in relation to something else—in our solitude, time has no relativity, it simply goes on.
In life, we get two breaks—we don’t have to deal with any of the time before we are born, and we needn’t concern ourselves with time after we die. It’s odd that something so central to our lives is almost non-existent outside of our lifelines. That’s why the subject of history is a choice—we can, if we’re interested, study the times that preceded our existence—but we don’t have to. History can’t be changed—but it is easily ignored.
My interest in time was purely academic in my youth—but now I can’t help obsessing over the differences made by my long illness. Most people have a childhood, a school period, an adult career, and retirement. But for me the period most of my peers spent having a career was spent being severely ill, at times flirting with death. Had my life been a few years earlier, I would have died when I was half the age I am now—but due to progress in medicine, my illness was cured and I returned to a ‘normal’ life in my late fifties. But there’s nothing normal about a life that has such a strong similarity to the tale of Rip Van Winkle. He had a little trouble with time, too.
I was oddly happier when on death’s doorway than I am now—back then I saw things through a hazy half-awareness, lost between my lack of short-term memory and the blur of anti-depressants—and other drugs too numerous to catalog. Now that I’m somewhat straight, somewhat aware, and somewhat active, I find myself going from TV to piano to computer to front yard. To cycle through those four lonely choices, sometimes several times a day, becomes a threadbare existence so repetitive that it threatens to lose all meaning.
There are many examples in history of great people whose childhood was sickly, solitary, or otherwise troubled and lonely—and that translated into strengths in later life. There are even more examples of people whose later years became shrunken and cut-off, with nothing but memories of past excitement. But these are relatively natural occurrences.
There’s nothing so unnatural and disorienting as having the ‘hole in one’s life’ be smack in the middle of it. It cancels out any of the inertia from one’s beginning—and it leaves no running room to get up to speed for what’s to come. Just as an example—try job-hunting with a resume that’s blank from 1991 on—it’s hard enough to get hired at the age of fifty-nine, going on retired.
The only silver lining is that I’m able to read again. I get tired quickly and I have to use an index card/bookmark to keep track of the characters’ names when I read the really big books, more than 800 pages, that I love the most. But it’s summer—which means that my TV is showing over 300 channels of garbage and re-runs until September—so having my favorite diversion available again is a real godsend.
Still, I was at such loose ends today that I played three separate improvs on the piano—morning, afternoon, and evening. I hope you find that they help pass the time.
Having heard the news about the Confederate flag being removed from public display—and having just watched the movie “Woman In Gold”, I am struck by just how slow and incomplete justice can be. The movie tells of a story I remember seeing in the news when it happened—and it struck me then how many years the “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” had been separated from its rightful owners. The Nazis looted the painting from the childhood home of the late Austrian-American, Maria Altmann, in 1938—and it was not returned to her (the last surviving family member) until 2004, 66 years later.
The movie ends with an afterward: over 100,000 pieces of art looted by the Nazis during the war have not yet been returned to their rightful owners. If the movie’s story is anything to go by, that number may remain correct for decades—it’s not easier to right an old wrong, it’s harder.
America still struggles with pockets of institutionalized racism, such as the reports from Ferguson, MO where, for the two years studied, African-Americans accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests, where whites were one-third of the population—and that the fines from those traffic tickets provided the bulk of the town’s revenue. Taking down the Confederate flag is an important gesture—but it is sad that the south has taken this long to separate their history from their heritage. Slavery may be the history of the south, but I hope it is not considered their heritage—at least not the average southerner’s.
There’s a naiveté to the evil of the Nazis and the Confederacy—the evil that remains today is less visible. Police persecution, payday loans, and fine collection services are just a few of the more intricate and therefore invisible ways in which we commit modern American bigotry. The convoluted restitution protocols for European victims of Nazi looting are likewise Byzantine to the point of opacity. But our modern world is full to bursting with intricate evils that maintain the status quo, deferring justice wherever the pile of gold is high enough to cast a shadow in which rot can thrive.
This is a downer post, I know, but it’s been a downer day and I can only work with the materials provided. Gustav Klimt’s portrait, ‘Woman In Gold’, is used for my video’s title card, but the other works by Klimt used in the video are just whatever I could steal off the internet—they are not part of the movie’s story—or at least not that I know of. They’re just beautiful, so I stole them.
The first time I got a true sense of history was when I asked my parents about World War II. My parents were children of the thirties, so WWII was their childhood, for the most part. But WWII as history—as it was presented to me in school, on TV, and in books and movies, was a historical event. When I asked them about it, it seemed to be something they heard on the radio news—no more a part of their everyday lives than I found the reports of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which was a big part of my youth but which I found to be nothing but an annoying part of every day’s newscast and paper headline.
Most grown-ups of the early seventies were relieved when Nixon’s administration went to jail and he finally resigned—I was simply relieved that everyone could stop talking about it. My parents felt much the same about the last World War—it was something horrible that the grown-ups got upset about. There were things I learned about the Second World War that my parents didn’t know about—and didn’t have any interest in knowing about. I consider myself lucky that none of my kids ever took an interest in the Nixon era—I’d be just like my folks.
Similarly, we here at home knew far more about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the soldiers who were doing the fighting. They probably don’t get CNN in action zones—and they’re probably too busy to watch it, even if they did. It’s always about perspective—if you can climb a tall tree in the middle of Kansas, you can see more than everyone else—but the people on the ground are the only ones who matter, the ones who get things done. On the news we see what’s happening everywhere—a soldier under fire has strictly local interests.
History, despite its importance, has already happened. We can talk about it, we can learn from it, but we can’t change it. Our interests in history tend to focus on whatever means something to us on its face. Everyone likes the Revolutionary War because it was a war for freedom—and freedom is a popular thing. The history of science has fewer fans—science is a forbidding enough topic without the addition of dry old history. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has remarkable success at it—yet he has to leaven it with plenty of the new, the latest things, the wildest new theories, the bleeding-est-edged tech. My point is that you don’t have to stray far from the beaten path of military events and inventions to find areas of history that have no writers, never mind no readers.
It makes sense. History, in a sense, is a playback of the past—put too much detail into it and you end up without enough of a present to do anything but study the past. Plus, history is the history of all—we have enough trouble keeping track of all the details in our own solitary lives. To tell the story of everyone mandates that we speak in mostly general terms—else we reduce history to a series of actuarial tables.
I was equally nonplussed by my parents lack of interest in the classic movies that I watched incessantly on old late-night TV, and later, at the dawn of cable, on American Movie Classics, followed, finally, by Turner Classic Movies. But those movies were seen by my parents as they were meant to be seen—in a big old movie palace with close-up faces ten feet high. Those stars weren’t legendary to my parents in the same way—they were contemporaries, even if my parents had never left Bayside Heights to mingle with the Hollywood elite.
More importantly, I have contemporaries of my own, many of whom have no interest in old movies. A taste for cinema isn’t all that common, no matter what generation you’re a part of. There are lots of people who go to the movies—that’s not quite the same thing—in the same way that lots of people listen to and dance to popular music, but have no interest in music in its broader sense.
One piece of music history that has relatively few fans is swing music. It gets by—no genre is completely ignored in this age of media. But being so distinctively antique while lacking the gravitas of classical music—plus being confined to such a tiny slice of the historical timeline—it has a specificity that limits its mass appeal to the occasional cameo in popular culture. I count myself among its adherents, though I don’t pretend to any great learning on the subject—I just like to play it. Don’t get me wrong—I listen to early Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw, and lots of others. There’s a sense of power to the percussion in swing music that isn’t exceeded (perhaps couldn’t be exceeded) until the advent of electric instruments and amplifiers.
I admire that—I’m always trying to get the maximum effect from my baby grand’s acoustic sound alone. I feel like whatever extra fanciness I could get from a synthesizer or a beat box would be frosting rather than cake—not that I don’t like frosting. And I recognize that there’s a power to amplification and synth that nothing I can do will match—maybe a great pianist could take that challenge, but I’m still shooting for ‘good’.
The jingoism of the post-war forties and fifties was out of favor by the time I ran across “They Call It America (But I Call It Home)” by Freddy Grant (1953). Singing such unabashed patriotic mush was frowned upon by my Flower Power generation (see this wonderful essay on Patriotism in Music).
Nevertheless I can’t deny the thrill of such crowing. It feels good to celebrate the greatness of America, even if we are far from the perfect picture being painted in the verse.
The “Our Love Affair” cover is not the famous “An Affair To Remember (Our Love Affair)”—a romantic song composed by Harry Warren for the 1957 film “An Affair to Remember”, but the lesser-known song from “Strike Up the Band” (MGM, 1940) in which it was sung by Judy Garland.
I used a bunch of my classical art graphics to create the video backgrounds today—they give a sense of history, though I didn’t put them into any chronological order or anything. I’m kinda pushing the copyright envelope today—song covers with screen-grabbed art-works. Hey, I can’t do everything myself—and my amateur status makes it all fair use, since nobody really watches my videos anyway.
The following songs are performed in “Six (6) Swing Songs That Start With ‘S’ “:
I used to resent the loss of clarity that age brings. But lately I’ve just been letting it happen, kind of enjoying the montage of unprompted feelings and memories that swirl around inside me, changing from one moment to the next while I simply sit here.
Fifty-nine years of experiences, of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, actions, feelings—it’s a lot, even with our brains designed to drop several stitches as we go along, retaining only details and prompts instead of the entirety of events. And I’ve reached a tipping point, where the exciting memories of my youth are more vivid than my actual perceptions, here and now.
I couldn’t understand these things when I was younger—I doubt I was supposed to, either. Now that I’m old enough to stop making long-term plans, starting a career or a business would be folly, going back to school would have me wondering just what I’d do with a degree at the ripe old age of three years from now. Even learning for learning’s sake is a bust at this point—having forgotten most of what I’ve learned over the years, I see little point in cramming new stuff in there. Plus I spent two decades learning every new piece of software and hardware that came along—and even if I could still remember any of it, it’s all worthless knowledge about obsolete tech, here in 2015.
No, the coming thing for old folks is to indulge in the philosophical musings that come naturally to someone whose spent fifty, sixty years watching the comic-tragic rushings-about of modern society. The random memories that poke their heads in—the random influx of old passions re-ignited—these moments come and go like flittering birds, chirping of immortality. We can unreel in our minds the conditions that prevent the conditions that prevent the conditions that would ‘fix’ waste and want and anger—we’ve lost the ability to exclaim, “Well, why don’t they just fix it?!” Unfortunately, we know why—human nature creates and enforces the madness of society—we cannot be better than what we are. And—the world is a big place.
Wow, I guess I’m a creature of habit—the time-stamp is just one minute off of last night’s time-stamp. But that figures—lately, all work stops for me at 11 PM. I don’t want to miss any of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show hostings. He’s off in august and that’s like five minutes from now in old-guy time. I’ve enjoyed the political satire of the Daily Show since Craig Kilbourn, i.e. since day one—‘fake news’ was an idea whose time had come, and Claire and I loved to watch it.
But Jon Stewart made it more than just a joke–he turned it into a public service. For seventeen years he’s made us laugh while informing—and while castigating those who deserved it. I’m going to feel a little lost without Jon Stewart saying all the things we all wish we could say to power and to pretense. The foibles and evasions of today’s corporate and political powerbrokers are bad enough—why should they escape without even having to pay the minimal price of public exposure to well-deserved ridicule? I hope Stewart’s replacement is up to filling those shoes.
Yet I have been wondering of late whether Jon Stewart isn’t too much of a good thing. His prey has adapted to the constant lampooning—and worse, we the audience have perhaps taken a Daily Show ‘public flogging’ as sufficient response to politicians who we’d be better off voting against than laughing at.
But that’s the Catch-22 of the Daily Show. It’s the only news program that doesn’t cater to the egos and the agendas of its subjects—making it the straightest-talking infotainment in the whole news line-up. You really can’t not watch it. Fortunately, one of Stewart’s old ‘correspondents’, John Oliver, with Last Week Tonight on HBO, has refined the format’s technique to the point of activism—many of John Oliver’s hashtag-coaxing broadcasts have been followed by headlines the next day—displaying the power of combining Oliver’s immense influence and the might of the Internet.
I’m not really too worried about what comes after the Jon Stewart era. Ever since Will Rogers, Americans have had an appetite for an acidic but humorous observer of the human condition as it manifests itself in current events and personalities. That’s now a vacuum that will always be filled by someone somehow. But Jon Stewart has set the bar pretty darn high.
Now, as for today’s improv video—today was one of those lazy days where I left in some sight-reading without identifying the pieces properly. Some days I just can’t be bothered. But I’ll tell you now, so you’ll know: in the middle of the improv, I play a piano transcription of the aria “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from ‘Messiah’ by G. F. Handel. After the improv ends, I play two more pieces: the “Evening Prayer” theme from Englebert Humperdinck’s opera ‘Hansel and Gretel’ –and- the “Largo” from G. F. Handel’s opera ‘Xerxes’. I won’t win any prizes for the sight-reading, but it’s not completely terrible. And the improv came out real nice, I thought. Tell me what you think.