Good and Bad   (2017Jun26)

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Monday, June 26, 2017                                            9:30 PM

Good and Bad   (2017Jun26)

We had a lot of good stuff before the world became industrialized, polluted, and overpopulated. But we had to give that good stuff up in the name of progress. There’s a lot of good stuff in idealistic youth, fresh from school. But we have to teach them to be cynical, distrusting, and acquisitive before we consider them grown men and women fit for the business world.

For humanity, something isn’t really useful until it’s been broken in—our sweetest gift is a handful of flowers, cut down in their prime, with only days to droop before they are thrown away. Not that I disapprove of flower bouquets—but they are, objectively, murdered plants—and that’s the way people like them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the muddy mess of the old Main Streets. See, before paved roads, every street in town became a muddy, impassable obstruction. Back in those days, there was never a big patch of mud, unless people were there. What strikes me about this is that even before exhaust pipes, factory chimneys, diesel engines, or chemical plants that dumped toxic waste in the rivers—even before all that, people were messing up every place they gathered in groups larger than a tribe.

Which is why the muddy obstacles were found in settlements’ and boom-towns’ streets—and not in the Native American villages. Even the slightest deviation from the hunter-gatherer tribal traditions (like a higher population density) would have changed things—and whether change is good or bad, I tend to admire the fact that there was a terrible balance in their lifestyle.

Think of it—coast-to-coast, groups of people living solely off the land—in comparatively miniscule numbers, sure, but with zero infrastructure that wasn’t already being supplied by Mother Nature. And before their feistier, paler brethren came sailing up, they hadn’t even needed to spend a dime on national defense.

I’m telling you, Europeans didn’t so much discover the New World as find the corner of the world that they hadn’t already ruined, deforested, overhunted, or incubated plagues in—and then proceeded to ruin that New Corner as fast as they could (experience tells, right?) And their specialty—weapons and war—made it easy to wipe out any previous residents, wherever they went.

Ironically, the reason the New World was so full of un-ruined goodness was because Native Americans kept it that way—and the Europeans judged them too inferior to hold claim on their land (or their lives), partly because they weren’t sophisticated enough to have ruined it all, already, themselves. That’s what you call a ‘bitter irony’.

Thus I always feel that when we discuss people, humanity, whatever—that we have to talk about two kinds of people—the kind of people we were evolved to be, by nature, and the kinds of people we learn to become, as part of civilization. These two very different aspects of humanity are nevertheless melded into each personality.

Virtually no one is so civilized that they don’t breathe air—nor so natural as to never use money. Some of us dream of going forward—colonizing the solar system, where there is no air. Some of us dream of going backward—to a naturalism so idyllic that money becomes obsolete. Trekkies dream of both—but there are very optimistic types, don’t you think? Still—beats pessimism.

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Losing The Argument   (2016Dec10)

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Saturday, December 10, 2016                                           9:56 PM

Have you ever argued with someone who is wrong? Have you noticed that they are just as sure of being right as you are, even though they are wrong? And here’s the funniest thing of all—when we realize that we’ve been arguing for the wrong side, when we suddenly see the other side of the argument as correct—oh, what a symphony of confusion, embarrassment, and frustration we go through, how we choke on the gall of it. Some people get so upset that they just stalk off, pissed. I always make a point of swallowing that mistake and facing up to being the idiot that lost the argument.

We all are the idiot, eventually, at one time or another. There’s little use in pretending we are the one person who’s always right—that person doesn’t exist. And I firmly believe the most important part of an argument is not letting the argument itself become the point of conflict. In truth, when I lose an argument to someone, I eventually come to accept that I have learned something I didn’t know. I may never have the grace to be grateful for that, but I concede to myself that I should be.

Don’t get me wrong—I love to win an argument. But my motives are based on my belief that I’m thinking clearly about a problem, avoiding the temptation to ‘bend’ things in favor of my personal preferences—or my desire to be the ‘winner’ of the argument. I force myself to concede the other’s point, when a point is valid—sportsmanship is as important in argument as it is in sports—perhaps more so.

When arguing, it is good to cite reliable sources for one’s information. And that becomes a problem in the modern world—when something like ‘Fox News’ becomes a source for false information, the argument quickly devolves into a sub-argument about the validity of one’s sources. The reverse is also true—when an asshole like Trump tries to invalidate actual sources, such as The New York Times.

Trump is the champion of the dull and the easily-swayed—and he has spawned a whole counter-culture of people who imagine their own truth, outside of the popular, ‘observable’ variety. They believe in argument shorn of either sportsmanship or sources—argument where denying facts need only be shouted louder and longer than the opponent’s words to become ‘fact’, where talking about something else is the answer to uncomfortable, undeniable facts. Kelly Conway has made a career of this kind of argument, if you can call her rantings argument.

I’m sorry, KellyAnne, but if your mind is incapable of conceding anything said by your opponent, you’re not really arguing—you’re cheerleading. That’s all well and good at a ballgame, but it gets rather threadbare and feeble when it comes up against real life. Every time you ‘win’ an argument on TV, you’re making the whole country that much stupider—and for what? Let me tell you—I wasn’t always this way—I had a penchant for willful contrariness myself, once upon a time—but you can only juggle logic for so long before it bites you in the ass. I found that out—and you will too. Time is the great teacher.

Afterword: I nearly forgot my main point—which is this: You can have arguments all day long, but unless someone wins, it’s all a big waste of time. And if you haven’t changed a person’s mind, you haven’t won the argument. Even if you did succeed in making them feel hurt or sad or angry, you’ve still wasted your time. Miracles do happen—a person might change your mind, instead—and even that—even losing the argument (and maybe learning something) is time better spent than simply arguing with no end.

If It Ain’t Broke   (2016Nov23)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016                                              5:06 PM

20161115xd-nancyhd_s_pottery-2Like me, you may have wondered at times how to fix people, how to make society better—that sort of thing. The answer is that you don’t—or rather, you can’t. Imagine a world where everybody is kind and caring and generous. Now forget that—because people are kind and caring and generous, at certain times (if at all—some of them) but that is not our constant state. That’s not how humans work. Being kind and caring and generous is part of what we are, but it is only a part, and it is not permanent—it is an intermittent thing that we do when we are not being something else, something less angelic.

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Think of all the time we spend without eating—most of our time, right? But it would be silly to say, “Why can’t people ‘not eat’ all the time?” We don’t spend most of our time eating, but we still must eat. The same with sleeping—eventually, we need to sleep. There are a bunch of other things we have to fit into our time—less basic things, but still important—pay bills, gas the car, go to the bathroom, even. Many parts of our lives have little or nothing to do with our character—they’re just included in the deal, the ‘parts and maintenance’ of living our lives.

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Whatever list of things you collect as basic parts of living your life, if that list becomes too big and life becomes too precarious, the opportunities to find gaps in that life which allow you to display your character will dwindle. Living in poverty can create a treadmill so exhausting that poor people can find no time at all to look up from their grind and ponder the good and bad of things. Conversely, the wealthy often contrive to make themselves very ‘busy’ to create the pretense that they’re in the same situation. Either way, you end up with a lot of people who either can’t care or won’t care about all the causes and charities and politics and ethics.

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So I say—don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t try to turn people into angels right off—start out by trying to make a world where people don’t go hungry or naked, where their education is easily available—a world that isn’t just crouching there, ready to eat us alive. Then, maybe, start worrying about people being good. You can’t throw someone’s ass into a wood-chipper, and then lecture them on ethics.

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And another thing—stop worrying about how intelligent people are. If everyone around you seems to be acting like an idiot—enjoy it—you’re of above-average intelligence. If you weren’t, someone else would be watching you act like an idiot—and maybe they are. How can you know? Human intelligence is a range of values—that’s just the way it is. Being on the high end may be frustrating, but it beats the alternative.

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I’m grateful for all the education I’ve received in my lifetime—but I don’t assume that those without it are uneducated by choice. Education is something your community and your family provide—without that infrastructure, some people never get a good education—and that isn’t up to them. Also, if a whole area is weak on public education, even the best intentions have a hard time ‘injecting’ education into a neighborhood where it’s never properly existed before.

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Thus, while I am always eager to badger some poor bastard for being willfully blind or proudly ignorant, I accept that people will be quick or slow, learned or not—and shouldn’t be judged on that, either way. It’s no different from judging people by their physique or coordination—we all have our places on the various scales of ability, mental or physical. These are not the measure of a person’s character.

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I take all of the above as contextual—a given. Even so, when I complain that someone is being ‘stupid’, and I’m assuming that you, dear reader, understand all that—I’m really only saying they’re being mentally stubborn or arrogant—but I still worry that someone might think that I despise people who aren’t real smart. And that would go against what I really believe. So I try to avoid it—but I get angry enough to use the word sometimes—I should find a better word.

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The difficulty lies in the difference between political correctness and the hard truth—yes there are people who lack intelligence or education through no failing of their own—but then, there are people who could and should know better than they pretend. These people hide within that ‘range of values’—they dare you to prove that they’re knowingly embracing an ignorance. They glory in their willful blindness, as if having the right to our own opinions gives them the right to ignore truth, and to go on hating something out of pure spitefulness—these people need a good kick in the ass.

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Regardless, there are limits to how broad a range of understanding we can allow for—clever people are busy day and night, trying to think up new stuff to make life better. They invent cars and computers, medicines and space stations—but as they proceed, life becomes more complicated. Now that we have enough industry and energy-use to threaten the atmospheric environment, for instance, we have to be smart enough to see the threat coming before it’s too late. If we create complicated problems, we can’t rely on a handful of clever people to keep a lid on all the trouble.

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The recent election of a simpleton is a perfect example—being the head of the United States puts him at the center of a web of complex interactions. Someone as ignorant as Trump could cause a variety of disasters, just by virtue of what he doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. And he was elected by mostly uneducated people—most of whom chose him out of desperation, without thinking through how dangerous he is.

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So we are living a demonstration of my point—this country’s development by clever people has built up a house of cards—and if the majority of us are careless enough, the whole thing will collapse at the first bump of the table. It doesn’t matter what we invent, achieve, or figure out a plan for—once it is in the hands of people who don’t understand it, they will misuse it, or break it, or let it go to waste.

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American democracy can survive a range of values of intelligence—but there has to be a minimum average of intelligence commensurate with the complexity of our nation’s functioning. You can’t build a nuclear arsenal—and then hand it to a baby. That’s trouble waiting to happen. Maybe it’s time for the clever people to ask themselves, “If I am clever enough to use this, will it be safe to assume that everyone else will use this, and not abuse it?” Maybe it’s time we design society to fit the least-common-denominator of carelessness and obliviousness—I bet those same class-clown types would quickly start to complain that they’re not as stupid as we seem to think they are.

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It’s human nature—expect people to be on-the-ball, and they’ll act like they’ve just been hit on the head—but if we expect people to be dull, they’ll bust a gut to prove how on-the-ball they really are. The electorate just recently so much as insisted that they be allowed to roll in the mud of ignorance—I say, let’em. Once they sampled the leadership of someone who isn’t just pretending he’s a moron, they’ll wise up surprisingly.

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It is far past the time when we can continue to conflate humanity with reason. Reason is unnatural—humanity is far more influenced by feelings than by reason—our judgements are emotional, not rational. Democracy sounds like a good idea—but it tends to give us what we want, not what we need. The biggest failing of democracy, it seems, is that there are no wrong answers in an election, just a consensus. It’s like taking an opinion poll of reality—it tells us what we feel, but it doesn’t tell us if we’re right to feel that way.

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Still, I support the supremacy of feeling over reason—I support the will of the majority—not because I admire these ideas, but because they are the only fair way to go about organizing ourselves. Even within that paradigm, we find ourselves surrounded by unfairness and violence—but without those principles, it just gets worse. Government by fiat and firepower—a proven cancer on any hope of economic development, or personal security.

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So, here I am, at the far side of a long life of reading and learning, having found that people (including myself) are both far more and far less than we believe ourselves to be. Cynicism and nihilism plague me—I’ve gathered enough knowledge to learn that knowledge is itself a relative term, without the rock-sure permanence the word implies. And when I consider the dysfunction in the world around me, and feel that urge to ‘change the world’—or even merely ‘improve my neighborhood’—I must ask myself if I’m really the proper person to do that? Would I want everyone else to end up like me? I don’t think so.

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Changing society is little different from raising kids. When two kids are arguing, my impulse is to break it up and bring peace to the situation—but kids grow up better if they learn to work things out—so my impulse may be the worst thing I could do. Or it may be the correct choice. I’m not the sort of nurturing person who could easily discern which is which. And if I’m unsure of myself while supervising two children at play, I should perhaps think twice before I decide I’m going to change society. Is society perfect? No. Is it useful for me to think in terms of changing the system? Maybe it would be better if I confined myself to helping out a single person, in a single moment, as I go along—of thinking as much about the people around me as I do of myself.

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But then, I might get tired of helping person after person with the same problem—I might decide that they are all being victimized by the same flaw in the system. At that point, I might consider becoming an activist for change, because I would have a specific issue that I knew about and understood. That makes plenty of sense. But for me to just speculate on broad changes to our whole society, based on whatever tweaked my beard that day, would be the height of arrogance—especially if I’m doing so from the remove of my office, basing my opinions on what the TV says, rather than mixing with actual people.

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And this is something that goes for TV and media, in a broader sense. We watch these programs and reports—and we absorb the idea that the universe being presented is the complete reality. The globe is reduced to a chessboard, the players become whatever labels the media puts on certain groups—and it is presented to us as a contest, where enjoying the contest is as much the point as who wins or loses. You don’t see kids in Aleppo watching CNN—and if they did, they’d be horrified by their commodification as info-tainment, their lives and the lives (and deaths) of everyone they know concentrated down to a brief segment-subject.

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You want to know the World? You can’t. Okay? The world is too big. So you can watch the world news, if you enjoy it, but don’t kid yourself—you’re watching a show. You don’t know nothing. (Hey, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded—I mean, I don’t know nothing, either—I’m just making a point.) When I think about it—my neighborhood is never on the news. Does that mean nothing happens here? Does that mean we aren’t important? No, it just means that we don’t bleed enough to make it onto the show.

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Do We Just Wish They Were?   (2016Sep25)

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Saturday, September 24, 2016                                          9:28 PM

I had hoped the Charlotte NC authorities would release the videos of the killing of Keith Lamont Scott—and they have, but not all of it. And, when you think about it, given what we’ve already seen—what could Keith Lamont Scott have done in so short a time as to cause a trained policeman to gun him down?

The reluctance of authorities to be transparent is just a knee-jerk reaction—this was not a ‘good’ shoot. That much seems clear. An innocent man was killed. No one wants to admit that, but maybe they should. What happened was bad enough—I don’t see any profit in playing cute with evidence.

The police claim that he was rolling a joint with a gun by his side—his family says he had TBI, didn’t own a gun, and was reading a book. The police have produced an ankle holster and a pistol, and claim it has Mr. Scott’s DNA on it—I’d be a lot more open to that if an ankle holster wasn’t so popular with the police, and if they had said his fingerprints were on it—after you shoot a man, his DNA is all over the place (with apologies to the Scott family for saying so).

I’ve heard a butt-load of talk—on and on they drone, saying everything as circumspectly as a thing can be said, casting doubts in every direction, hoping to divert focus from this being, in simple terms, a crime committed by a police officer. It makes me tired.

Can’t we just, for once, go straight to the part where North Carolina institutes improved police training and extensive community outreach—and makes this sort of thing a relic of our past? Do we have to pretend that this serious problem doesn’t exist—and go through all the bullshit back-and-forth? Really? It’s 2016, folks. Tic – toc, dammit.

There is something so sickly stubborn about the South’s veneration for the Confederacy—it imparts an element of pride to their ignorant racism and the persecution of their fellow citizens. The North Carolinians have been caught twice this year—once, specifically targeting minorities with new voter-restriction laws that, fortunately, were thrown out by the Supreme Court; and two, this public, almost farcical, obstruction of justice, to shield the police from their own misconduct.

And don’t tell me the officer who fired was black—the police are a culture unto themselves—that’s why we have these situations, where the opacity of the process is guaranteed by the police’s interdependency and necessary loyalty to each other. Retraining is needed to change the police culture—to make these hitherto winked-at shootings a thing of shame, instead of a rallying cry for police solidarity. The good police need to be given the tools that allow them to call out bad actors, without becoming traitors to their team.

Policing is difficult work—part hero, part helper, part target, part social worker, and on and on—its outlines stretch in almost every direction. And the power that comes with it can, apparently, be quite seductive—and easily twisted into something frightening. We have intensive training for doctors and lawyers—it is time to recognize that a proper police officer, man or woman, requires a host of skills and therefore involves training that goes far beyond learning how to hit what they shoot at.

There are police in many countries where the civilians fear their approach, because the police force can be used as a tool of suppression and intimidation. They are not police in the developed world’s sense of the word—and their hallmark is unwarranted, unthinking violence. The police training in many European countries puts America’s to shame—they are serious about civilization in the way that some Americans are serious about ‘law and order’ (a code-word for fascism if ever there was one). We compete in so many arenas—Americans love to compete. Why do we not feel a need to be the best in policing, or in community? Are these things so unimportant? Or do we just wish they were?

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A Good Breakfast Ruined   (2016Sep22)

Thursday, September 22, 2016                                        11:35 AM

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.

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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.

One Step Progress, Two Steps Capitalism   (2016Mar16)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016                                            4:35 PM

As the number of people who need to support themselves becomes more and more disconnected from the needs of employers because of robotics, automation, digital innovations, and smart systems, we approach a point where the economy won’t need humans—with the single discrepancy that they’ll still need customers. Scholastic failings that were once only a limitation to avenues of employment now close off any possibility of an above-board job. The number of jobs falls while the skill-set requirements climb. This is a self-imposed evolutionary winnowing effect—except that, unlike natural selection, the losers are not prevented from multiplying—they are simply excluded from the paradise at the top of the pyramid, consigned to endless deprivation and insecurity, someplace where the rich don’t have to look at them.

I’ve often advocated experimenting in a government minimum allowance policy that would be paid for by business taxes—a way of forcing business to take responsibility for the whole worker pool, instead of cherry-picking the best and leaving the rest to rot. But after consideration, it’s occurred to me that such a program would only shift the problem onto government—that the only way to equally balance the riches of productivity with the needs of all the people is to replace Capitalism and the monetary system itself with something less cold-blooded. And, obviously, this would require global cooperation—something far more complex than a national legislative reform—which makes it even farther from the realm of possibility than socializing the USA—which was pretty far out there to begin with. Still, I figure if you want to fix something, fix it right—even if it’s only in your own head.

We once had neither the sophistication nor the organization to consider a socialized society—although socialized communities have had some notable successes—and failures. We all recognize the togetherness of an extended family—but for some reason, we don’t try to widen the circle—perhaps because families can be stifling sometimes, and we don’t want to have even more people in our business all the time—that’s understandable. But we naturally accept the strength and security of that group unity—unity makes people into super-people—the bigger the group, the more united, the more unstoppable they are. One reason people don’t consider a socialized global village is, maybe, because it blows your mind.

Imagine a world where job creation was focused on offering people satisfying lives—where the arms industry and the military-industrial complex died of starvation—where space exploration wasn’t a race, or a business, but a true frontier—where we made just the slightest effort to extend our social progress to meet our technological strides. We’re talking about another planet—another species—no wonder it seems so far-fetched. That’s not a place where real humans live—sad, but true.

We know that global productivity can handle feeding everybody—if feeding everybody was our goal. And the same is true for all the practical and medical needs of every person—we are able to support them—if supporting them were our goal. But this thought—a ‘better world for everybody’—was at the back of the minds of all the people who researched and experimented and crusaded, fought and died for our modern world of freedom and equality. In a perfect world, yes—but in a Capitalist world, ‘everyone’ becomes ‘everyone with money’—and that’s a problem. Our eyes are on one horizon, but the tracks our train is riding on head the other way.

Super Leap Week   (2016Mar01)

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016                                                  5:18 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay then.

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Lachrymosa Regina   (2016Feb06)

Saturday, February 06, 2016                          9:43 AM

Struggle, Weep, And sacrifice

Snuggle, Sleep, And love a wife

Burgle, Beat, And stab a knife

Gurgle, Bleat, And laugh at strife

Wiggle, Crawl, Behind the lies

Giggle, Beam, As sun will rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Einstein first published his Relativity work, it was famously incomprehensible. When Turing first published his work on automated computing, it too was beyond the understanding of people. Both Einstein and Turing had insights so profound that even the best and brightest of their peers had trouble comprehending them—and the public at large was left with buzz-words and jokes about relativity being gobbledy-gook. And Turing wasn’t helped by having his work kept secret for fifty years—Einstein was fortunate to have achieved his fame before the atom bomb made his work a state secret. And even before the bomb, public opinion was encapsulated in “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, which includes the lyric “Yet we get a trifle weary with Mr. Einstein’s theory. So we must get down to earth at times, relax, relieve the tension…”

And let’s face it—while far simpler, Edison’s electric dynamo, the combustion engine, and even Watt’s primitive steam engine, while familiar to us in concept—are also beyond the ability of most people, myself included, to explain in any detail. We are surrounded by mystery—reassured only by the assumption that if we studied engineering, we could probably understand these things. But that doesn’t change the fact that only one in a million people truly understands how most of our technology really works. It works—is the most we know about most things.

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

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

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

Caregiving   (2016Jan30)

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Saturday, January 30, 2016                                               12:32 PM

Caregivers are the big growth sector in the jobs market—as the population skews toward seniors, which all developed countries’ populations do, the need for people to assist the aged, infirm, or confused mushrooms with places, buildings, groups, and the individual caregivers around which such systems form. For as the need for caregiving expands, the reaction of capitalist free-marketry is to create an ‘industry’. Suppliers of equipment, materials, and medications form one sector while organizers/suppliers of the caregivers themselves form another—and they accrue protocols and regimens that conform to existing gatekeepers, such as the FDA and the AMA—and regiment themselves in such a way as to conform with business expectations. It’s a growth industry.

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Meanwhile, for the less well-to-do, caregiving is more of a homegrown thing—people like me end up being cared for by our spouses, our parents, or (as with most seniors) our own offspring. In my case, my wife went back to school for her bachelor’s degree in computer science, went to work for Scholastic’s online encyclopedia, left to get her master’s degree in occupational therapy, and became an accredited occupational therapist—all while shepherding me through a decade of HepC, liver failure, three cycles of treatment with Interferon and Ribavirin, liver cancer, a liver transplant—and another decade of recuperation and infirmity while the HepC attacked my new liver—only to be stopped last year by the new cure for HepC.

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I was one of the lucky ones—many people I knew with HepC are long gone—but I can’t help thinking that my wife may be one of the unlucky ones—having to subsume her own drives and ambitions to account for an ailing dependent. She is looking forward to a new career in occupational therapy, one which I presume will remit commensurate with the need for a master’s degree and passing an accreditation exam—but for over twenty years she has already worked as an unpaid caregiver. The millions like her will see only a handful reach the same success—most unpaid family caregivers find themselves hobbled by the constant needs of a dependent, finding it difficult to make ends meet, much less get ahead.

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Caregiving can be, all familial sentiment aside, a form of involuntary servitude—and in this country, where we question even a mother’s need to care for her children over the demands of capitalism, we give little thought to the efforts imposed on those who care for the aged and infirm. Neither do we consider, as we are still embroiled in the debate over giving equal health care insurance to rich and poor, how caregiving takes on its double aspect—paid servants caring for the rich while indentured family members care for the poor.

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Medical-related care and technology is unnatural—the Christian Scientists recognize this—whenever we delay the natural course of a life, we enter a somewhat science-fiction-y world. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say—I’m no Christian Scientist, but it is fitting that the religion with ‘science’ in its name has some logical basis for its eccentricities. But caregiving really reaches into the outer limits of this question. In the case of seniors, for example, how long is it a good thing to prolong the life of someone with ever-decreasing mobility and awareness? When do we ever reach the point where life is too much a readout on a medical monitor—and too little actual living?

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I find myself questioning whether my own quality of life justifies the ongoing expense and effort—and that’s without even beginning to consider whether my needs justify my wife’s sacrifices. But of one thing there is no question—respect must be paid. When people give of themselves, whether it’s the raising of children or the caring for the old or the sick—they transcend the earthly plain of profit and survival and make of their lives an expression of humanity. We glorify those who express their creative passion, but we fail to marvel at those who express an even more transcendent quality—mercy.

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Caregiving gives us a window into capitalism—for the rich, caregiving becomes something they pay money for, in lieu of gratitude—while they overlook the importance (and expense) of the same service among the less fortunate. For the rest of us, caregiving remains a sacrifice worthy of our respect and gratitude—and sometimes, a job for which no payment is sufficient.

I had much more to say, but the gas-tank in my brain is empty for now. Here are two piano doodlings from yesterday:

 

 

 

Breaking News: The Day After Christmas   (2015Dec26)

Saturday, December 26, 2015                                           12:33 PM

The affectionate whip has snapped and lies still—all its uncoiled energy came to a head with the crack of Christmas—and it is now hung coiled and still on a hook on the wall. We wake to the absence of holiday and the unnatural warmth of winter in a world out of balance—as if petrol prices weren’t low enough, the eastern seaboard is sporting shorts to New Year’s Eve parties.

The Stock Exchange reminds me of the Republican party—good news for humankind (the unexpectedly speedy, easy progress of conversion to alternative energy) is bad news for Wall Street—which is the same as saying it’s bad news for the fat cats. The petroleum industry, combined with the military-industrial arms-makers, make humanity’s doom the largest global profit center—what’s good for us is bad for business. You can’t pull down that kind of profit selling food or clothes or books.

The whole idea of making civilization a competition is stupid. Cooperation is the only smart thing to do—but there’s no profit in that; there’s no excitement in that; and there are no sinecures in true cooperation—nobody gets ahead. Yet if we insist on a society that allows us to get ahead, we are insisting that someone be left behind. Individual freedom is sacred to Americans—but a person without civic responsibility or a willingness to cooperate with the community is not exercising freedom—just willfulness.

We tend to include amongst our freedoms the right to be impatient—if argument goes too long or reason becomes too complex, we feel justified in cutting the Gordian Knot, throwing up our hands and saying, ‘Nuke the bastards’ or ‘Build a wall’. Being willfully stupid has become Americans’ favorite way of exercising our freedoms. I watched a beautiful program yesterday—it was a movie of new citizens being sworn in—a ceremony in each of the fifty states of the union—with interviews of newly-minted Americans extolling what they most loved about their new country. A common thread was voiced by one of them—‘Americans take their freedoms for granted—they don’t appreciate the miracle that is the United States’.

But that is only true of the loudest and sloppiest Americans—many of us are deeply appreciative, every day, to live here—and to keep vigil over our history and our ideals—and feel real pain at the words of demagogues—especially the ones who become media darlings through their outrageous subversion of our American way. Does CNN really think that the constituency that elected Obama to two terms is going to vote for John Wilkes Trump or Benedict Cruz? No, they just want ratings—and the hell with public service. We lost an important sinew of American cooperation when the news media went ‘for profit’.

We used to have champions of the public good acting as journalists and editors—now we have paparazzi and businessmen in their place—people who give a megaphone to any nitwit with a sensational way of spouting their ignorance. People like Trump and Cruz have always been with us—but the media used to keep its lenses trained on the sober, rational leaders who focused on the public good—and trusted that their honest efforts would gain them votes, without millionaires backing expensive hucksters to pump out propaganda. Sensation now substitutes for substance in the media—but the substantial challenges abide, and the sensations only distract us from the work of real change. The fourth estate used to help—now it just gets in the way, another tool of those in power.

People ask how America became so sharply divided—simple—the media made politics into a sporting event, encouraging people to pick a side and root for their team, rather than think about issues or answers. ‘Playing the devil’s advocate’ can be a useful exercise, in moderation—but when it’s the only thing you do, you’re just a rabble-rouser—a trouble-maker who profits from a fight and doesn’t care what the fight’s about.

From Ritual to Romance   (2015Nov08)

Sunday, November 08, 2015                                            6:21 PM

“From Ritual to Romance” was written by Jessie L. Weston in 1920. It is mentioned by T. S. Eliot in the notes to his poem, ‘The Waste Land’: “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book.”  Weston’s book, along with Sir James George Frazer ‘s “The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion”, first published in 1890, were hot topics in Eliot’s day. Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ did for anthropology what Darwin’s “On The Origin Of Species” did for biology in 1869—it presented academic research indicating that the Christianity of the day was evolved, in many ways, from more-ancient rituals and earlier gods. Further, it showed that religion changes with the times, while it re-tasks older beliefs and traditions. Simple examples include the importance of mistletoe in Christmas tradition—a holdover from Druidic beliefs and rituals—and Christmas itself, a pre-Christian mid-winter festival re-assigned as the day of Christ’s birth, whereas the historical Jesus was most likely born in the spring.

Just as Darwin’s work slowly percolated for decades after its initial publication (the Scopes trial wasn’t until 1925) so too Frazer’s research would not bear the fruit of Weston’s and other writers’ works until well into the beginning of the twentieth century—and this affected T. S. Eliot, scion of a famous Unitarian family and a student of Ancient Greek, Latin, and even Sanskrit (he familiarized himself somewhat with Eastern philosophy—the final ‘shanti’ in The Waste Land is Sanskrit for ‘peace’)—but an intellectual who considered himself an atheist early in his writing career. That he would join the Church of England in his later years, he admitted, was in large part due to his desire for ritual and the focused meditation of prayer.

In his essays on Christianity, culture, and society, Eliot worried that the ending of borders in Europe would lead to an overly homogenous culture, losing the variety of differences between the many nations. His concerns were misplaced, as the United States would handily blanket the globe with Pepsi and Quarter-Pounders soon after the next World War. But the foundation of his concern for cultural diversity, as well as his eventual decision to rejoin a religious community—was at heart a concern for meaning in one’s life and indeed in the lives of everyone.

His masterpiece, “The Waste Land”, was to some extent a gigantic howl at a universe that was losing its old meanings—and having trouble replacing them with modern equivalents. Industrialization, science, and technology were erasing many of the givens—people of different countries were no longer separated by mere physical distance—the secrets of life, of matter, of the universe—all of which had been the province of faith—were now being revealed by scientific inquiry—‘God’ himself had been dethroned.

And Eliot raises a valid point—I spent many years being agnostic, being unsure if my rejection of all religion was based on valid reasoning—but once I decided absolutely on atheism, I’ve spent every moment since in trying to find a way to give life meaning without reverting to any magical improvisations that would simply be religion in another guise. And it’s not easy.

As I watched a PBS documentary on Johnny Carson today, this issue of rituals again raised itself in my mind. In my youth, TVs were made from tubes. This required a TV to be big and boxy—the bigger the screen, the bigger the whole box had to be. So—a very substantial piece of furniture sat in the center of virtually every home—and, at dinner-time, virtually every American turned it on, like a national campfire, and watched either Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley tell them the news of the day. Later, at bed-time, Johnny Carson would come on and clue us all in on what was going on, what to care about, what was ‘cool’, and what to laugh off.

The real importance of this was in the following day—our conversations with each other would always have a common context—we all referenced the same ‘source material’. Equally important was our unanimous acceptance of whatever information was received—we talked about how we felt about current events—we never discussed whether we believed what Cronkite or Carson had told us. That’s where the cliché of ‘water-cooler conversation’ comes from—although presently even water-coolers are a thing of the past—now most office workers show up to work with their own individual caffeine drinks from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.

Older times saw technology enabling us to be tribal on a larger scale—first radio, then television, gave us a sense that the entire nation, from coast to coast, was all ‘on the same page’. Automobiles allowed us to congregate in public places in larger numbers—and from a larger overall area. The limitations of corded, rotary landlines—mostly always just one to a household—retained the sense that real communication could only be accomplished face-to-face.

And while we are tempted to blame laptops and i-phones for the insularity of modern communication, we should remember that earlier electronics began the change—the advent of touch-tone dialing, call-waiting, multi-party calls, caller-ID, etc.—all made telephony simpler and more akin to an actual conversation. It was around this time that phone cords of exaggerated length became popular—phoning had become easier, and we began to feel a restlessness from still being pinned to one spot in the home.

The differences today are many: we all have our own phones now; we can take them wherever we go now; we don’t have to worry about missing a call—not only do we know who tried to call us, but they can leave a recorded message for us to hear later. Point-of-contact used to be the family kitchen—now each wandering individual is a point-of-contact. Telephone contact is so universal today that we are confronted by situations, as when driving a car, where talking on the phone can actually kill us.

Similar conveniences have stripped away the trials of scholarship—fifty years ago one would inevitably find oneself in need of a public library—specifically the reference section. ‘Mini-reference-sections’, called encyclopedias, were sold door-to-door—mostly to minimize the number of trips to the library. We got to know our librarians; we got to know each other—if we were the kind of people who spent a lot of time reading or studying or researching. Today, I have no need for the reference section of my local library—I don’t even have to cross the room to use my own encyclopedia (yes, I still have a set)—I can just do a Google-search, or check Wikipedia, or find the e-text of a classic tome on the Gutenberg Project website.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s tremendous power there. Not only do I have access to the equivalent of a library reference section—I have access, from right here where I’m sitting, to every university, laboratory, professional association, research society—hell, with the right access codes, I could rifle through the files of DARPA, NASA, or CERN. But my point today is not concerned with the wonders of the Internet—I’m focusing on the fact that I don’t need to break my solitude—I don’t need to open my front door—and I still have access to virtually every bit of information known to mankind.

Convenience in communication, and in scholarship, was welcome progress—but we still needed to get together to have ‘something to do’. Increasing the number of TV channels from three to 300 made it possible to watch a lot more TV—and cable TV made it possible to watch movies without attending a movie theater—but still, there is a limit to how much TV a person can watch. Likewise, there is only so much time that can be spent talking on the phone or studying. In my day, a person always reached a point where he or she simply had to go outside, to mingle with the throng—or simply hang with one’s friends.

Eventually, one way of ‘hanging with friends’ became playing video games—a group of kids would congregate around a TV hooked up to a video game system and take turns using the controllers. And this is where everything came off the rails, in a sense. The advent of multiplayer online gaming, combined with the use of laptops and cellphones, made it possible to both play with friends and socialize with friends—all without leaving the privacy of one’s room. Additionally, one could leave one’s room—could in fact go anywhere—and still remain essentially within that gaming social gathering. This leads, of course, to the phenomenon whereby your kids could be in the room with you, but not really ‘be’ there at all—they’re texting, or IM-ing, or gaming with unseen other kids while their bodies, devoid of conscious awareness, sit in the same room you’re in.

We call this new generation ‘digital natives’—people who grow up with digital, online technology as a given. To digital natives, being physically present is of less importance than online connection—they pay attention to their screens, not to the people in their environment—hence all the car-crashes caused by cellphones. There was once a time when a rainy day was bad news for kids—it meant we couldn’t go outside to play—and that was a major tragedy in our young lives. Nowadays, when parents force their kids to go outside, it is more likely to cut them off from their friends and their playtime.

In a culture that shops online, plays online, watches online entertainment, communicates online, and learns online, we find that something is lost. In Eliot’s time, they felt the loss of religion as an absolute—but they also lost the comfortable patterns of a life where God was central to everyday activities. In our time, we are experiencing the loss an even more elemental aspect of our daily lives—shared physical presence. And the list of rituals being lost in this new ‘normal’ is even greater.

Consider laundry—there are still parts of the world where we could witness the weekly washing of clothes by a riverbank—those people gather and mingle and chat as they do their laundry ‘community-style’—and for centuries, all mankind did their laundry in this way. When washing machines came along, people hung up their wash on clotheslines—often socializing with their neighbors over the back fence—a smaller social group, but still partially a community activity. Then came electric dryers—and homemakers found themselves, at least as far as laundry was concerned, acting in solitude, shut up each in their own homes.

Why are rituals important? Look at it this way—we can strive for success, for achievement, for goals of many types—we can chase after lovers, mates, and romance—we can eat, sleep, and work—but all of it is empty without a context, a continuum, that is the cycle of our daily lives. Humans are a social species—we need the comforting presence of others, we need interaction with our peers. But we are raising children in an environment of solitude—where are they supposed to find meaning and fulfillment in their lives? How can they build a comforting pattern of social rhythms to give their lives continuity?

And make no mistake—we have need of these things. Take the Sabbath day as an example—with the decline of religion, one might ask why bother with a day of interruption? But we need rest as much as we need sleep—however we came up with the idea of a ‘day of rest and prayer’, it fits our biological rhythms—even without feeling obligated to pray to God once a week, we still benefit from the rhythm of taking every seventh day off. Or take another example—the taboos on certain foods, like pork or shellfish, were once considered religious observances—but they were useful in that such foods are health risks if not carefully cooked. Further, in modern America, where a person can eat anything—and as much of it as they please—we find that eating without limits presents greater health risks than any one type of food could ever pose.

Boundaries, rituals, democracy, all the inconveniences of being part of a group, rather than a free, solitary agent—these things have a value to our mental and physical health, to our sense of having a rich, fulfilling life. We may be able to get along without our imaginary friend, God, but we are finding out that life can be even more empty and angst-ridden if we try to live without each other, without community and society. There may come a day when we no longer have prisons—we may come to recognize that everyone is already in a prison, that criminals can be punished and isolated from society by the simple expedient of taking away their online connection.

This may seem rambling and generalizing, but I’m trying to make the point that the rhythms and patterns of community provide a substrate for the discrete pursuits of life—earning a living, raising a family, the arts, the sciences, politics, etc. We focus on these ‘goals’ of life and overlook the fact that life has a context within which all this goal-seeking behavior occurs—that there are moments between these activities—that our consciousness goes in and out of these discrete pursuits, but our awareness is confronted by an unbroken continuum of existence—and that overall ‘existence’, without substance, becomes a void that we fall into whenever we are not consciously busy with a particular aspect of our interest. No matter what our individual interests may be, we still need our overall lives to have texture and substance. Without experience outside of our online connections, life becomes disjointed, disconnected, and begins to lose value or meaning.

The human animal can adapt to many changes—but not to emptiness. It has been noted that a person left in a sensory-deprivation chamber will quickly be driven mad by a nervous system bereft of input. We are in danger of finding our global village trapped in an electronic isolation that will drive the whole world mad—we may find that civilization will ultimately be destroyed, not by fire or ice, but by our lust for convenience.

Hardly Halloween   (2015Oct31)

Saturday, October 31, 2015                                              12:09 PM

Oh, the dreaded day is upon me! While I comfortably hide in my house every day, crippled by social anxiety, poor social skills, a compulsive suspicion of others’ motives, and simple shyness—I am secure in the knowledge that there are boundaries to a person’s property—If someone knocks on my door, I don’t have to let them in—I can say, “Go away.” –and no matter how rude of me that is, they legally have to go away.

20130710XD-TeachersUpdate_005 (13)_Halloween_OrigArt

But today, the normal rules don’t apply. Today I must put on a full set of clothes—I must accomplish my full ‘toilette’ and present myself, smiling wide, to whatever crowd of monstrous children inhabit my doorstep. I must have a bowl full of bribes for my own protection. And worst of all, I must engage with all their parents as if they were common sights upon my doorstep with a frightening attention to my health and mood—I must say I’m fine and ask them if they are also. It makes me shudder.

20130710XD-TeachersUpdate_005 (11)_Halloween_OrigArt

I miss the old ways of childhood. When I was of school age, I knew every kid in a thirty mile radius—I wandered near and far, and so did they—we mingled in the way only those unfamiliar with their surroundings have a need to mingle. But now I don’t know my next door neighbor—with a handful of exceptions, I don’t know a soul in my neighborhood—and while I’m exceptionally anti-social, they too are anti-social by virtue of being grown adults with ‘things to do’. We are all more likely to form our social-circles based on old school ties and our present place of work. Indeed the modern mode is to accept ignorance of our neighbors as part of the ‘hominess’ of being at home, where no one will ‘bother’ you. I am acutely aware of this because I’ve been unemployed for so long—I have no workplace mingling, no new employees to meet, no old employees to say goodbye to.

20130710XD-TeachersUpdate_005 (12)_Halloween_OrigArt

So when I have to look across the ‘connecting costumed kids’ at the complete strangers that are my neighboring parents, I feel both disappointed and extremely uncomfortable. People freak me out. They sometimes believe the strangest things. They sometimes staunchly oppose scientifically-accepted realities. Some of them even carry firearms—I guess—or so I’m led to believe. There are lots of people who are a little crazy, but not so crazy that they’re locked up for it—they just wander around, having lives just like the rest of us—but they scare the bejeezus out of me.

20130710XD-TeachersUpdate_005 (10)_Halloween_OrigArt

Halloween is spooky alright.

20130710XD-TeachersUpdate_005 (19)_Halloween_Sktchs

I Don’t Flyin’ Give A   (2015Oct17)

Saturday, October 17, 2015                                              1:14 PM

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.

Mistakes   (2015Oct03)

Alchemical symbols for Antimony

Alchemical symbols for Antimony

Saturday, October 03, 2015                                              3:18 PM

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life. When you reach the end of your rope, when you fail (and trust me none of us gets out alive) just remember that time moves inexorably forward, that memory is selective, and that no one is perfect. Forgive yourself and move on.

Alchemical symbols for Arsenic

Alchemical symbols for Arsenic

However, if you find you have to forgive yourself rather frequently, that’s a bad sign—you should look into that. See—the trouble is I have one set of advice for people like me, compulsively goody-two-shoes whose lives are an unending search for the ineffable—and quite another set of advice for those who feel that getting by, having a good time, is sufficient. In one sense, some of my pearls of wisdom are always a recipe for disaster—since I can only talk to one set of people at a time.

Alchemical symbols for Copper

Alchemical symbols for Copper

Because of this, and because I just naturally write as if I’m talking to people like myself, it would behoove me not to give advice—and everyone knows what free advice is worth, anyhow. But when I think of young people, when I think of all the advice I might have had a good use for when I was young and inexperienced and uneducated, it’s hard not to try to pass on some of the more valuable tricks and devices I’ve uncovered in the passing of years.

Alchemical symbols for Gold

Alchemical symbols for Gold

If the wrong person reads my blog, he or she could end up doing horrible things—and saying, “It’s okay—I’m literally doing what Xper Dunn said to do—and he’s a real smart guy.” So, I’m reluctant to be very definite about anything on a public space like this. That’s part of the reason I get annoyed at the media—those professional voices have such conviction—the same conviction whether they’re announcing another school shooting or trying to sell you a questionable Volkswagen. They use the same smooth sure vocal drippings when reporting on our best leaders and minds—and when they’re re-stating the clap-trap from the indescribably misguided voices on the ‘other side’. They often put even more emphasis on the clap-trap—because that nonsense tends to have a theatrical ring to it—listen to any Trump speech (or any of Hitler’s, for that matter) and you’ll see what I mean.

Alchemical symbols for Iron

Alchemical symbols for Iron

I would be definite if words could be trusted to mean one simple thing instead of lending themselves so well to differing interpretations. There is so much I would say if words would suffice—but they are worse than worthless, pretending to have meaning when they actually have far too many meanings. This typing is just a game I play to distract myself from the pain of being idle. I try to be positive but it’s hard not to let that lead me into thinking I can actually say what I need to say. Then I watch CSPAN and see those expert word-wranglers mangle common sense with a load of bushwah—and I realize that they (or anyone, really) can take any sequence of words and twist them beyond recognition. It’s completely futile.

Alchemical symbols for Lead

Alchemical symbols for Lead

The only thing that ever made words work properly, or at least a little, was when two like-minded people tried in earnest to understand each other. That is why education is such a dicey business—it requires an earnest, capable teacher in every classroom and it requires every single student to be earnestly engaged in the act of learning. Good luck with that—poor teachers. Just like society, where all the laws and police you can imagine wouldn’t have a chance of enforcing order and peace without the earnest good will of the citizens—the police and the courts are problematic enough dealing with the results of human nature in an unfair social system—imagine if the vast majority of us weren’t trying to get along and go along. That would get ugly.

Alchemical symbols for Magnesium

Alchemical symbols for Magnesium

You hear people belittle ‘good intentions’—nothing would work without them—not society, not schools, not even speech. So value your good intentions—even if they don’t work out they have a value of their own. It’s possible to try too hard—I’m not saying good intentions always bring good results—but good intentions are only the beginning—putting them down is just short-sighted. I think everyone already knows that. Still, ‘being earnest’ is still targeted for ridicule by most people—but I never much cared for the people who’ve adjudged me ‘too serious’. I’d laugh at them for not being serious enough but there’s nothing funny about that—it’s just sad.

Alchemical symbols for Mercury

Alchemical symbols for Mercury

I have a sense of humor—but I don’t care for pranks, or the Three Stooges (I like them better now—but when I was a kid I was mystified that anyone saw humor in a guy hitting his brother on the head with a hammer). I never laugh when I see someone fall down—that doesn’t seem funny to me. This difference was one of the first clues I had that people could be very different from me. I used to skip blithely along assuming that everyone was like me. I’m still not used to the idea that some people are different—and that I’m supposed to be okay with that. If the whole world seems careless and stupid to me, I have to question whether they’re the problem—but I take things too seriously, so I’m sticking with everyone else being careless and stupid. Present company excepted, of course.

Alchemical symbols for Sulfur

Alchemical symbols for Sulfur

TV, Then and Now   (2015Aug16)

Saturday, August 15, 2015                                       2:38 PM

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!

Trumpical Correctness   (2015Aug12)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015                                           7:33 PM

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.

Here’s a video I forgot to post a few days ago:

Negligence   (2015Aug06)

Thursday, August 06, 2015                                               12:34 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fundamental Truth   (2015Jul30)

Thursday, July 30, 2015                                           12:00 PM

I wasn’t always an atheist. I used to have the fervor of a potential priest—I’ve always taken life far more seriously than is good for me. I’m not very different—I get mad when I see bullying, I feel bad when someone else is hurting, I try not to be selfish—basic stuff.

Fundamentalists made me just as irritable then as they do now. Even as a child I could see the willfulness of it—trying to insist on certain magical things being literal without the need for any questions—or even the right to ask a question at all. That is so obviously the behavior of someone trying to be a bully—to strengthen their autocratic hand.

True religion is little different from true humanism—simplicity of purpose and purity of intention. If I were a religious leader today, I’d be declaring war on the fundamentalists, the creationists, the science-deniers, and the anti-evolutionists—these people seek to make a circus sideshow of a community’s core. Why does fundamentalism grow in a time of hyper-capitalism? Because they both work on the same properties—lust for personal power, increasing the client-base, and destroying the competition.

And fundamentalism suits the capitalist mind-set because they both pose a threat to humanism and true religion. The values of humans—security, safety, self-determination, and self-expression—have no place in either capitalism or fundamentalism. In fact, all those things (with the exception of self-determination) become marketable commodities under capitalism. Fundamentalism adds spice to self-expression by making parts of it ‘forbidden’ or immoral—making it more marketable—while offering imaginary safety and security that have nothing to do with the real thing.

Fundamentalism comes on strong right when capitalism needed it—until we began questioning simple statements of fact, business leaders were helpless in the face of scientific testimony. In the space age, only an idiot would question an accepted tenet of the scientific community—now, we do it all the time. And it’s no coincidence that petroleum magnates, like the Koch brothers, so willingly embrace the madness of fundamentalism—it is of a piece with their willingness to befoul the planet for profit. And they can only do this if they maintain that all the scientists are wrong.

Capitalism has jumped into the ‘fact’ fight with both feet. They regularly invest in laboratory studies that are intended to produce foregone conclusions to counter the real science being done elsewhere. How sick is that? And, of course, they have their legal cat-and-mouse game of hiding information under the guise of ‘intellectual property’—a very fancy way of saying ‘I ain’t tellin’. But the link to fundamentalism is the most cold-blooded aspect of modern capitalism—they are not satisfied with despoiling the planet and enslaving the 99%—they have to mess with our heads, too. Bastards.

Pro-Iranians in Congress   (2015Jul25)

Saturday, July 25, 2015                                            9:34 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Geeks We Trust   (2015Jul19)

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Sunday, July 19, 2015                                              6:06 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Put the Good Back in News   (2015Jul14)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015                                             10:04 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Where’d Everybody Go?   (2015Jul11)

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Saturday, July 11, 2015                                                      10:16 AM

There are tides in the ceaseless shifting of society. Thus while one form of solitude is to be without companions, another form is to be disconnected from those tides. There are those on the autism spectrum who cannot gauge the tone of a roomful of people or the mood of a crowd. There are non-Christians who feel somewhat excluded by the ‘Christmas season’. There are little old ladies in Pasadena who don’t think to wait for the morning rush-hour to end before they slowly wend their cars to the Piggly-Wiggly.

Then there’s summer. How isolated we feel when we spend an entire week working in a near-empty office—the herd went on vacation and we missed the signals. It’s worse when our neighbors have all vanished—leaving only lawn-maintenance crews and renovation contractors, to insure that our solitude won’t be a peaceful one. Even the inter-web goes quiet in the depths of summer—leaving the few shut-ins like me to chatter amongst ourselves until society gets back in gear.

I’ve always had a horror of being left out—which is sad, seeing as I’ve never been ‘in’, as it were. And I have proved through experience that chasing the wave is a loser’s pastime—if the tide of events doesn’t carry you with it, you’ll find it’s always one step ahead of you. And for the innately excluded, history becomes an attractive pastime—after all, history is all about the crests of the waves of society—and they stand still, waiting to be closely scrutinized. We’re still not a part of it—but we can become expert in what we missed—something the present stubbornly refuses to allow us to perceive.

History is a sad consolation, however—we don’t know what’s going on, but after it’s happened, we can offer all kinds of theories on why it happened. The studious may have a deeper understanding than the intuitive, but that understanding only comes from being an outside observer of events. And explanations, after the fact, have a limited value—certainly nowhere near the power of those who have the alacrity to dance in time with the music.

Here we find a dichotomy that transcends the debate between the educated and the ignorant, the serious versus the superficial. Even among the ‘enlightened’ there will always be disagreement between those who have an inkling of our motivations and those who simply motivate. Entrepreneurs, for instance, are too busy succeeding at Capitalism to question or examine the system itself. Meanwhile scholars may have insights into Capitalism that go unrecognized by the players, simply because such scholars have no dog in the fight.

Beyond these philosophical differences, we have the daily confusion of stray people who go up the down staircase, who drive the wrong way down a one-way street, or who simply stand still in the middle of a busy Midtown sidewalk. Society could use an orchestra conductor—someone to keep us all in rhythm with each other. But leadership of such totality inspires visions of egomania, tyranny, and corruption. Still, there are chamber groups that perform without a conductor—how do they reach consensus? Such groups should be closely studied—they succeed at something we all need to learn.

Yet if society could learn to intuit its movements, shifting with the precision of an exultation of larks—that would just leave us, the out-of-step children, even more isolated. It seems that society is always begging for improvement—but any change always raises the specter of excluding some group, or restricting some impulse, or just taking the fun out of life. So we go on, an imperfect society, dreaming of a perfection we don’t really want. By wanting to exceed our humanity we court the inhuman.

War-Torn Porn  (2015Jun11)

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Thursday, June 11, 2015                                          1:52 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But my front yard is wonderful.

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Memorial Day – Observed   (2015May25)

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Monday, May 25, 2015                                            12:14 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opening Shot—Pending   (2015May21)

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Summer Day, Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch, c. 1870 – c. 1903 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

 

Thursday, May 21, 2015                                          6:44 PM

A tragic death in the west coast family and medical issues on the east coast cast a pall of sorts over what should have been the joyous celebration of my love’s graduation. But here, we have grown used to taking the good with the bad—it seems to have become a constant—I can almost hear Karma’s footsteps dancing about every moment of life nowadays. The greatest drawback to my perspective is that I suspect Celebration, anyway—I’m much more comfortable with a day that passes without incident or remark. Good news seems to beg for bad news, so I’m a big fan of ‘no news’.

With such mixed feelings I face the impending Memorial Day Weekend—a festival marking the beginning of summer, with the paradoxical theme of remembering the fallen of past and present wars. Memorial Day has a heightened frenzy to it since it marks the beginning of summer and the end of school which, for kids at least, signals the start of months of fun in the sun.

This iconic weekend mixes that glee with the grind of throngs of hostesses and hosts trying to light charcoal, avoid burning the barbecue, and keep an eye on the kids in the pool or in the shallows of the beach. And the glee and the grind are mixed with the ghoulish reputation Memorial Day holds for being an annual high-water-mark for traffic fatalities, DWIs, and reckless driving in general. It’s as if we honor the fallen by slaughtering each other on the highways.

It’s like Christmas, almost. Holidays mean good times. Good times get people excited—and excited people are dangerous. The bigger the holiday, the more tragedy looms at its elbow. Not that I don’t enjoy a grilled sausage or a dip in the water—I’m just leery of Celebration. Celebration is the teetotalers’ inebriant—and leads to just as much mischief, in my experience. Add a few beers and you’ve got the worst of both worlds—I guess I’m just too old to appreciate that mixture of risk and uncertainty like I did as a young fellow. Oh, yes—I used to celebrate like a madman—but I seem to have lost the knack of it.

As young people we tend to get bored and impatient with peace and quiet—as we age, we learn to cherish it for its lack of problems and trouble. We also acquire a sense of responsibility—the kryptonite of fun—so we’re doomed to lose our taste for loud parties and wild times. Plus, we get winded almost immediately. What can I say? Don’t grow up—if you can help it. It’s a trap!

And enjoy the weekend, everyone—but not too much.

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A Summer Afternoon, Lake George N.Y., Seneca Ray Stoddard, 1855 – 1880 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

 

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015                                              12:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 24, 2015                                              5:59 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheez-it! More Cops…   (2015Apr23)

Thursday, April 23, 2015                                        9:12 AM

CA152CAI saw a video of cops confusing a spinal injury with reluctance, manhandling a disabled suspect into a van—the suspect later died of a severed spinal cord. I saw a video of a US Marshal taking some lady’s camera-phone and smashing it on the ground in an excess of self-consciousness that may have had something to do with his not wanting to be filmed breaking the law. Too bad there was more than one camera-phone on the scene. I saw a video of a cop shooting a man in the back eight times and then running around, rearranging the evidence.

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I see these videos and I try to tell myself, “There are good cops. There are good cops.” Maybe we don’t see videos of them because the news won’t show them—too boring. Whatever. All the good cops in the world don’t undo what these video-stars are doing to their reputations. But just like Neo-Cons and their homophobic fringe, or like Muslims and their violent-extremist fringe—good cops may not be responsible for bad cops, but they are very close by, and their actions don’t display any great disfavor of such unprofessionalism.

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I’m also reminded of the dismaying frequency of rape in our armed services. Isn’t there some training where recruits hear it explained how bad an idea it is to rape someone, when you might need them to watch your back in a fight? Aren’t there officers who disapprove of rapists? Aren’t there some men in the service who have it together enough to reprimand their buddies for mistreating soldiers who happen to be female? Or is it all just accepted as part of making a killing-machine out of a human being?

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There is something sick about the military culture—and there is sickness in police culture, in political culture, and in our business culture. All of them try to combine a ‘dog-eat-dog’ approach with humanism—and they all fail miserably. Police can’t handle the complexity of a job where they have authority, but that authority only extends to maintaining everyone’s rights equally. Instead, they invariably choose a ‘side’, and operate as if the other ‘side’ deserves only the appearance of civil rights.

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We aren’t comfortable unless we can simplify our difficulties, distilling them down to a fight between us-and-them. We all agree loudly that the real answer is not to create divisions of us-and-them—but in practice, we always ignore that and go for the conflict—it’s just easier. And, according to tradition, you can’t ask a person to go in harm’s way and to think about what they’re doing—that’s just too much to ask.

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Bullies run the world—and whenever someone rises up to change things, they find that they must become bullies themselves to conquer the existing bullies. It’s a paradox. We all want good people to be our leaders—but cruelty is so much more powerful that any who refute cruelty make themselves too weak to win. Thus we have the myth of the leader who is both cruel and kind. Our presidents are an example—drone-strikes and jailing privacy-advocates are both forgotten while our president reads a story to kids on the White House lawn. He’s not really a killer—he’s just the Commander-in-Chief—his hands are clean.

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So we are left with a conundrum. Are all these videos of police criminality indicative of a broken police system, or are they simply examples of human nature? How many of us could be trusted to wander the neighborhood with a gun and a beat-stick—and how long could we do it without deciding that we need to use those ‘tools’? And is it even possible to become familiar with a neighborhood’s people and not let the job become personal rather than professional? Of course, racism doesn’t help—I don’t think it’s the cause of police violence, but with an ‘us-and-them’ mindset, it certainly makes the decision of who ‘them’ is a lot easier.

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Top Security   (2015Apr20)

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Monday, April 20, 2015                                          11:06 AM

Yesterday couldn’t have been nicer—warm and sunny and green exploding as far as the eye can see. Now this chilly, damp mess—it’s April, alright. Everyone is getting restless and kind of wound-up. We’re all starting to look for places to go, instead of places to hole up and stay warm. The phrase ‘youth is wasted on the young’ comes to mind, but I think it’s more a matter of ‘my youth was wasted on my past—I could use a little right now’. There’s really no need to bring young people into it.

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Recent media reports often tell us of risks to our privacy. We are told that the government is forcing companies with large consumer databases to share them with the NSA—particularly phone and messaging services, but retail purchases and travel records are also included. We are told that hackers can get into our Facebook profiles and get our personal history down to the smallest detail. We are told that our credit cards and bank accounts can be appropriated online at the drop of a hat.

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My first response is like what the mayonnaise said to the refrigerator—“Close the door—I’m dressing!” We are encouraged to feel as if we’re changing our clothes, unaware that we’re standing in Macy’s window. We often want to say something to one person that we don’t want another person to hear—not that we’re all in the cast of “Mean Girls”, it’s just that there’s often a greater latitude for honesty when speaking about someone than when speaking to someone.

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But there is another side to all this and that’s what I want to address. Security is nothing new. People had big mouths long before they could thumb-type whatever it is they’re saying. If one is indulging in criminal behavior or conspiracy, odds are one shouldn’t talk about it, online or otherwise. If the way one talks about others is revealing of oneself, i.e. if one is naturally bitchy and mean-spirited, that too is best left out of online communications. Government shadows and mentally-unbalanced stalkers have been tracking us, too, long before the digital age arrived—and discretion was a valuable watchword then as now.

An Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1839 by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield 1793-1867

There are two schools of thought about computer information. The ignorant assume that something so complicated as a computer is safe as houses. The informed are well-aware that putting anything on a computer is not too different from putting it on a billboard. The confusion comes from the fact that, yes, if you type something into your computer, it will lie there, still, silent, and unseen—but, if someone comes specifically looking for your information, it’s not very hard for them to find. Putting things on your computer is like hiding things under your pillow—it’s fine for keeping things out of plain sight, but it won’t do any good if someone is actually searching for your stuff.

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Outside of such basic considerations, there can still be danger online. But I, like many people, have a very effective defense—we are not interesting, or rich. I suppose my bank account could be hacked as easily as anyone’s—but the amount of money to be gained wouldn’t pay for the equipment a hacker would need. Hackers could, likewise, embarrass me by publicizing my personal life and quirks—but first they’d need to find someone who gave a damn.

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This is especially odd due to the equally popular debate over how to ‘build an audience’. One the one hand, we receive warnings about giving away too much online, and on the other hand, we are given advice as to how we can increase interest in ourselves within the online community. I tried to forestall this paradox by having two online identities—I use the ID ‘Xper Dunn’ for public consumption-type online activity, and ‘Chris Dunn’ for my personal, private activity. In my case this proved unnecessary, since interest in Xper Dunn hasn’t risen above the visibility of my private Chris Dunn persona, anyway.

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So we see that disinterest is the greatest of all security measures—if I have no money, and I don’t interest people’s prurient curiosity, there’s little reason for anyone to hack me. And with proper backups, I can always recover from a cyber-attack—at worst, I have to buy new hardware. In other words, “Don’t start none, won’t be none”. If, like me, you have had difficulty attracting attention online, remember, that’s not altogether a bad thing.

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Now, here are two videos from yesterday:

 

 

Cheez-it—The Cops!   (2015Apr16)

Thursday, April 16, 2015            2:19 PM

I saw “Kill The Messenger” last night—Jeremy Renner plays Gary Webb, a reporter who uncovers the link between CIA support of the Contras and the epidemic of crack cocaine that flooded America’s cities in the 1980s. It was no surprise to learn that the CIA denied the truth and destroyed Gregg’s credibility (and career, and home life, and peace of mind) through a campaign of misdirection and personal attacks. Hell, they’re the CIA—that’s what they do—well, that, and kill people. Seven years after Webb resigned from his paper, he was found shot twice in the head and his death ruled a suicide—which sounds like some pretty fancy shooting to me.

Some high-minded CIA chief admitted the truth of the accusations a few years later (and then was fired). It would seem that Gary Webb wasn’t so much guilty of reporting dangerous secrets as he was guilty of rushing the CIA to admit guilt. It’s more likely, though, that they never would have admitted guilt had it not been for Webb’s reportage. Either way, Webb was destroyed and the CIA was left untouched—even by shame.

Attracting the wrong kind of attention from the CIA will get a person killed. But then, so would attracting the wrong kind of attention from corporate execs, police, military, mobsters, gang leaders, or drug dealers. There’s even the odd nut-job out there that will kill people that attract their attention just ‘because’. Yet murder in developed countries has become relatively rare, if we use history for comparison. Murder doesn’t happen that often, really, because it’s such a big deal. It gets in your head, so I’m told—and I can well imagine. Most people will do anything else to avoid becoming a murderer.

Yet our society, our educational system, our family units somehow produce the occasional killer—usually through military training, if not forced into it sooner by dire domestic or community circumstances. But military training, or even service, can’t be blamed—many veterans return home and never kill again. They may suffer a lifetime of PTSD, but they keep it together enough not to go back to killing people. Still, violence is part of human nature. Murder is nothing new. What gets me is the lying and the secrecy.

Both the British Secret Service and America’s CIA were sometimes found to have Soviet agents in the highest positions, not only passing information to the enemy but able to misdirect the activities of those services as leaders. This was a historic case of the snake of secrets eating its own tail—a system completely self-contained, and completely useless—unless we count the damage done by these self-important members of the Bull-Moose Lodge.

Alan Turing’s heroism was occluded for a half-century in the name of secrecy, while Jerry Sandusky enjoyed decades of fame and admiration until he was revealed as a secret monster. He was only following the ancient, secret, traditions of the Catholic priesthood, maybe. Bush, Jr. used lies and secrets to start a war. Wall Street used lies and secrets to bankrupt the country and steal half our homes. The Koch boys went to court to make it legal to use money to spread lies and attack ads. The big shots aren’t satisfied to have it all, to run it all—they have to lie to us, too.

Maybe that’s because you can’t really do anything you want without doing some wrong. Or maybe they find controlling our perception of the world even more satisfying than controlling our lives—who knows what weird brain-farts they get after money has rotted their minds away.

I wanted to include a list of major lies we’ve been told over time. The bankers and industrialists who made hay from both sides during World War II come to mind. Then there was the Blacklist—the complexity of that scare campaign was confusing enough to make everyone in America look over their shoulder before they spoke—afraid that their unedited thoughts might get them jailed for treason. Eisenhower warned us that there existed a military-industrial complex that fed on war and conflict—and taxpayer funding—but that didn’t even slow down the growth of this still healthy and enthusiastic fear-factory of death-cheerleaders. The tobacco companies fought for decades to keep us from the truth about cigarettes—and now they still fight health legislation in any of the third-world countries that try to follow our example in protecting their citizens from toxic smoke-a-treats.

I’m a smoker myself. I love cigarettes—and I don’t blame the tobacco industry for my personal life-style choice. I’ve decided my pleasure in smoking is sufficient to outweigh the certain risk to my health. I understand that most people would disagree—but I’m not an entirely sensible person, especially when it comes to risk assessment. I’d only mention that I use coal and automobiles and electricity and plastic, too—even though they all present a risk to my health and to everyone else’s. I don’t want to include health and medicine in an essay about lies—but let’s just all agree that our chances of eternal life are pretty slim, okay? Let’s leave health and medicine in the white-lie category, next to religion.

I depend on the police and the military, as well, to keep the peace and to defend our borders and interests. Okay, I depend on the idea of the police and the military to do those things. The actual institutions are all hopelessly staffed with human beings—which makes them ineffective, practically worthless—even counter-productive at times. But you can’t have the protection of the idea unless you deal with the nightmare of having the actual thing.

Among their lies, the most remarkable is the casual race-persecution found in police forces across the country. I would start by pointing out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. That black men are regularly gunned down in the streets without any subsequent justice for them, or punishment for their murderers, is only the most visual, violent instance of the racial persecution that lurks in our communities, our schools, our businesses and, most especially, our justice system. Much as slavery was replaced with Emancipation, followed by Jim Crow, followed by the Civil Rights Act, every effort to make Race a matter of difference in humanity rather than a degree of humanity is seen by some to be a mere loosening of the leash which they believe they’re still entitled to hold.

Black people learn of the threat of police violence through family lore or hard experience. White people have trouble believing in the truth of police violence because they can’t imagine such disgusting behavior could possibly go unchecked. That is what is so remarkable about cop-on-black violence—the police lie about it so habitually, and cooperate so well in covering up evidence, that there is zero official documentation of this ‘hallowed tradition’ among our keepers of the peace.

The attempted stonewalling of officials and line officers during the recent spate of videotaped police crimes has been an orgy of cognitive dissonance—the cops expect their lies to work like they always have and the victims and families can’t believe that no one takes the videos for what they are—hard evidence. And the whole stereotype of black criminality can be seen through a new lens—African-Americans are not more likely to be criminals—they’re more likely to be scapegoats. When you add in the CIA’s fund-raising, making billions for foreign wars by flooding cities with crack, then throwing their drug-dealing workforce into prison as reward for addicting and robbing their neighbors—it’s a wonder there isn’t a New Black Panther party busily burning this country to the ground.

That’s social inertia for you—lucky for white people. The same inertia that let a whole country watch Rodney King get beat up by a crowd of cops in the middle of the street, and for way too long—right there on film—and still not convict those cops of any wrongdoing. I think we just couldn’t believe our fucking eyes. Now that we’ve had a chance to see a parade of these videos, our response is not as disbelieving as during that not-so-long-ago Rodney King scandal—but the babble of double-talk persists with every new documentation of police criminality.

Authoritative liars are strangely insensate to overwhelming discredit—they’ll pop right back onto CNN and just start lying twice as loud, as if they’d never been proved liars at all. Right-wing pols have made an art-form of it in recent years. I shouldn’t cherry-pick my liars, though—the liar’s club is never exclusive—most of the men in the world will tell you that women are inferior. We can all see what a fine job they’re doing, running the world while judging people based on upper-body strength and aggression. Meanwhile, their mothers and wives keep them from being even bigger asses than they are when under female supervision.

Well, there’s plenty more big lies in the world—history has been made many-layered by the effects of lies and secrecy—there’s the original, false history, then the partially-more-true version that slips out over the next ten years, then the more-baldly-stated truth of fifty-years of hindsight—all the way up to the fullness of ‘history’ (which is still fifty percent fiction and fifty percent misunderstanding).  Then there are the everyday lies we tell ourselves out of animal ignorance, such as ‘ugly people are not nice people’ or ‘making money is a good thing’. Our instincts make liars and fools of us all. I just don’t like to see people embrace dishonesty like some fucking virtue, is all.

Keep Rolling, Stone   (2015Apr06)

Monday, April 06, 2015                                            1:18 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Hawks   (2015Apr03)

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Friday, April 03, 2015                                                7:38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Prayer   (2015Apr01)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015                                                12:04 PM

April Fools! The “National Day of Prayer” isn’t until Thursday, May 7th. Americans United has a nifty little site: What’s Wrong With The National Day of Prayer, if anyone isn’t clear on there being a problem with it. To quote Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, President of AU’s National Board of Trustees: “The National Day of Prayer is problematic because it presumes that Americans should take direction on their religious lives from the government. It suggests that they will engage in certain religious activities because the government recommends they do. People do not need government directives to pray or take part in any other form of worship.”

I can’t argue with that. But a case could be made that National Days are not so much directives as they are responses to popular opinion. Americans United is in danger of making the same mistake as the Tea Party’s anti-government nonsense. The government doesn’t create National Days out of thin air—they are proposed by citizens, often due to an existing, less-official celebration tradition—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Fourth of July—these were all popular observances that came from the collective heart of Americans. Their canonization into ‘bank holidays’ came later. And atheist or otherwise, I don’t think anyone can claim that there aren’t a lot of prayer-friendly citizens in this country.

If we were talking about a Mandatory Day of Prayer, then okay, that would be a problem. But a day that celebrates prayer can only be wrong if there’s something wrong with prayer. The fact that I don’t pray may leave me out of the celebration, but that doesn’t make it wrong to celebrate. I don’t have a womb, either—but I have no problem with baby showers.

We’re living in the future, folks. And space-age living requires that we pay attention. There is a distinct difference between what we don’t like and what is wrong. There are lots of things I don’t like—that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those things. There are lots of things that are wrong—the fact that they may appeal greatly to me doesn’t make them less wrong.

People with seniority, people with power, people with money—such people often get to have things their way—their preferences have importance. This is confusing. Their preferences shouldn’t have importance, but reality says otherwise. We have to reconcile this ongoing condition with its temporary equivalent—a hostage stand-off. Yes, a person holding us at gunpoint has the power to inforce their preferences—but we must decide whether to give in to their threats or to try to rush in and disarm the hostage-taker.  It’s called ethics—and the reason most people avoid thinking about ethics is that having them is often similar to rushing an armed attacker—it can be suicidal. Hence the expression, ‘Live Free Or Die’.

It’s ironic that the non-religious would waste time, effort and attention on something that isn’t intrinsically wrong, like a National Day of Prayer, when they should be focusing on actual wrongs, like the recent states’ legislation legitimizing religion-based bigotry—the anti-gay laws and the anti-abortion laws. Gays make up ten percent of our population. Women make up fifty percent of our population. Between the two groups we can figure that a solid majority of American citizens are being persecuted by religion-based laws. This condition may have spurred the anti-prayer sentiment, but opposing a National Day of Prayer is rather missing the point. Better we should all pray they repeal that nonsense—and maybe start voting for politicians instead of fundamentalist zealots.

Atheism Is Dead   (2015Mar27)

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Friday, March 27, 2015                                    8:52 PM

To speak against the local religion was a good way to get yourself dead, back in the day. That still holds true for some parts of the world—even some parts of America. But if we exclude the slimy backwaters of the world and of our country, one could reasonably state that atheism is a much safer subject for public expression. Sure, ISIS might behead you in some areas. Down in Texas, some good ol’ boys might decide to drag you behind their pickup. Even here in New York, there’s always the possibility that a rifle-toting extremist will come a-hunting for any outspoken advocate of atheism.

But by and large, it’s no big deal these days. There are so many ‘practicing atheists’ (people who don’t pray or keep the Sabbath) among the supposed Christians that the few who go to the trouble of being positively-professed atheists appear as more or less just extremely-lapsed Christians . And the rise of Humanism adds to that impression by collecting most atheists into a group that still searches for things like good, evil, meaning, and purpose.

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I have a Humanist tendency, myself—but I find it takes a little care to go searching for a replacement for religion without transforming that search into a new cult of its own. I see morality and community, the two greatest benefits of established religions, as important to society. But I would beware of trying to justify goodness, badness, etc. on any more ideal, less practical grounds than their providing a friction-reducing framework for society.

Charity, for instance, has in many cases been analyzed by economists and found to be more cost-effective than austerity. It’s just good business—counterintuitive, yes—but still the right way to go. The benefits of that modern rarity, Honesty, aren’t even counterintuitive, they’re just very unpopular—even considered by many to be a sign of immaturity. But those who have fallen to temptation are always eager for company—it justifies their choice. How many of us felt pressured to lose our virginity by being made to feel childish while it remained intact?

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My point is that God is completely unnecessary when choosing between good and bad. We are all familiar with con-artists, we are all warned that if someone offers us what seems too good to be true, it will surely be untrue. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you—there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, the universe works the same way. Humanity, as a species, as a civilization, requires socially healthy attitudes. Fat cats may not feel the universe’s kick-in-the-ass for being selfish and greedy—but we, as a group, are punished for allowing wealth to concentrate so greatly in individuals, merely for the remote chance we could become one of them.

And rich people, like lap dogs, are specially bred to their bizarre environment. Just look at lottery winners if you want to see the effect of great wealth on the average citizen—most of them have their lives destroyed, their families broken—some even go bankrupt. Some go mad and a few of them actually kill themselves. Sound like a dream come true? Only rich people, born and raised to take their wealth for granted in a world full of poverty, can handle sitting on a huge pile of cash—not that most of them are the picture of mental health, either.

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But that’s a special case—the separation of the wealthy from the rest of us obscures the cause-and-effect of their follies. In general, we can see that taking advantage of others, whether by crime, betrayal, lies, or violence, will come back to haunt us eventually. Karma may not be a spiritual force, but there is symmetry in nature, and it applies to society as much as to physics. In cases of a ‘perfect crime’, so to speak, where the payback is difficult to trace, we still find that society as a whole is damaged by anti-social behavior. And since we live in society, we are in some way affected as individuals, too.

As individuals, we can make the case that society is not our problem. My theory that morality is socially healthy could be described as idealistic, in that sense. But again, as members of society, we can abrogate our responsibility if we wish, but we can’t deny our inclusion in whatever future we help to bring about. If evil predominates, society will self-destruct—an end that seems all too likely, and in the not-very-far-off future, to boot. If so, the good will perish along with them. If however, we somehow manage to save ourselves, I think I’ll enjoy having been on the winning team.

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Okay, presentation over. I hope I got my point across. My ideals, if you want to call them that, are based on practical evaluations of the conditions of my reality—I don’t feel obliged to bring them all the way round to axioms of faith. They work well enough, and any further progress would involve greater knowledge than humanity has at present, or may ever have, or may be capable of having.

Someone recently made a point of humanity displaying an innate ‘sense of purpose’ and hung on that the premise that purpose must exist. He was arguing that atheists seem fixed on defining themselves by what they are not. He was arguing that today’s atheist is fixated on the big bang theory and other such mechanical aspects of existence, and ignoring the great mystery that still infuses all of observed reality. And he has a point.

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But my point is that today’s atheists are new-comers to the party. Many of them are refugees from extreme fundamentalist families, often within extreme fundamentalist communities, where the madness of unquestioned faith and spurious, oddball dogmas made their childhoods into living hells of unreason and the suppression of feelings and ideas. They have my sympathies, and I welcome them to their new-found freedom to think for themselves.

However, with popularity comes dilution. When Christianity was new, you had to be pretty serious about your convictions—being fed to the lions is not a healthy habit. Then, in the intervening centuries, Christianity became popular enough to foster power, carnage, and corruption. Atheism has enjoyed the same refinement for centuries—it was not for the faint of heart or the only-partially committed. Neither was it a likely end for the uneducated—you have to be pretty comfortable with your brain to have the confidence to question God.

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So we atheists were quite a cozy group up until this new century. The idea of activism was laughable—we represented such a small group that we were lucky not to be hunted down by the majority. This is no longer the case. The idea of atheism has become more commonplace and the number of those who self-identify as atheist has exploded. And we old-style atheists, due to the nature of atheism, are not hierarchical—we are not indoctrinating our ‘new converts’. For my part, I’m a little taken aback by the partisan populism such broadening of the field has incurred.

Part of the reason for my misgivings is that atheism doesn’t really lend itself to politics—it is a negative more than a positive position. It is an acceptance of the fact that, while the universe is an infinite mystery, humanity’s just wanting to understand it doesn’t mean we do—or even that we can. And the fellow trying to make the case for Purpose is doing something that it is all too easy for atheists to do—to try an end-run around the limits of human understanding by claiming that ‘human understanding’ has a priori value.

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Sure, we have an innate sense of purpose. But we also have an innate sense of self-preservation and an innate sense of continuing the species. These are evolutionary traits necessary to the survival of the species. And what more important evolutionary step can a species that has developed consciousness take than an innate sense of purpose? Once our brains began to analyze and to question, would we not require a sense of purpose to bolster our self-preservation instincts? I see no reason to assume that a sense of purpose is any less a product of evolution than our other instincts.

It is even possible that such an instinct, necessary in an animal with consciousness, may have been the spark for all religions, from the prehistoric to the present. And even if I’m wrong about it being instinctual, I have never been willing to attach absolute value to any natural-seeming notions of the human brain. Who would? So many concepts throughout history, that once seemed like bedrock reasoning, have proved in time to be convenient fictions—the divine right of kings, the flatness of the Earth, the inferiority of women, the evil of homosexuality. There are even ‘intellectuals’ who have rationalized the justness of slavery, the demonization of left-handedness, or the perpetuation of the death penalty. So-called scientists ‘prove’ things like racial inferiority, ‘cures’ for gayness, or creationism.

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People are stupid. Not just some people—all people. We have limited senses. We have only the vaguest understanding of physics and chemistry. We have a tendency to infuse reason with wishful thinking. We react emotionally to scientific facts and we use ‘faith’ to give the legitimacy of fact to our anthropomorphic dreams of cosmology and creation. So, when someone claims that a shared trait of humanity, like a sense of purpose, must have some meaning, I can only feel pity for their ingenuous loyalty to the idea of human reason—an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Former VP Al Gore wasted a good title on his climate-change documentary—if there was ever an ‘inconvenient truth’, it is atheism. And that is my concern over this influx of new, anti-religious converts—they have not so much accepted the ignorance of man as they have rejected the ‘revealed truth’ of religion. That is, unfortunately, only half the journey. The atheism that they will produce in years to come will bear striking resemblances to the religions these people have rejected—and the partisanship they bring to the party will facilitate the transformation of atheism into a religion-like structure, with its attendant assumption of the wisdom of humanity. Dogmas will arise that will make fundamentalism seem tame.

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In time, atheism will deform itself so greatly that it will rival the enormous gulf between the teachings of Christ and the workings of the Catholic Church. It will go from a backwater for those of us who absent ourselves from intellectual pride, to a fulcrum of power for its political leaders. And if humanity’s past is anything to go by, atheism will eventually create dogmas of its own, easily the equal of any snake-dancing, tongues-speaking cult. When the day comes that the atheist majority begins to persecute people of faith, they will call it Progress. Yeah, right.

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Happy Birthday, Emmy Noether!   (2015Mar23)

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Monday, March 23, 2015                                          11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence This Essay   (2015Mar22)

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Sunday, March 22, 2015                                            12:13 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why We Fight   (2015Mar19)

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Thursday, March 19, 2015                               2:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s Your Opinion   (2015Mar17)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015                                 12:20 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Piggies   (2015Mar14)

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Saturday, March 14, 2015                                1:05 PM

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Happy Pi Day, everybody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 13, 2015                                    9:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Madhouse   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:32 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confederacy of Dunces   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:36 AM

The GOP’s cavalcade of stupidity marches on—and this time they’ve managed to embarrass us in front of the whole world. By airing their domestic dirty laundry in public with that open letter to Iran, they’ve demonstrated how incredibly provincial their thinking is. It never occurred to them that their obtuseness, without any coverage from their private propaganda outlet, FOXNews, is plain as day to the rest of the world. Foreigners were already nonplussed by their climate-change denials (sheer idiocy outside of our borders) but now they can see that the GOP is anti-American.

It must be heart-warming for America’s enemies to see our wealthiest and most powerful become so averse to the ideals which real Americans cherish. The Chinese must love their downplaying of human rights and their adoration of authority. The Iranians must love their dreams of theocratic rule. The Europeans must love it that the mantle of Enlightenment has returned to its birthplace. And Caribbeans must be overjoyed that our fat-cats are now pampered and waited upon by equally impoverished peons, right here at home!

A lot of us have jobs that we would quit, if it weren’t for our families or our preference for food and shelter—the biggest problem with America’s present failings is that many of them are supplying us with a steady wage. And let’s face it—the popular wisdom is ‘if your job is supporting your family but destroying the country—then fuck the country’. Once we accepted that money trumps ethics, our nation began its shockingly swift descent into the ‘bad joke’ version of America we live in today.

In the sixties, more Republicans than Democrats voted for the Voting Rights Act—but today, the GOP is trying to undo that legislative jewel in our crown—and not one of them showed up to commemorate Bloody Sunday on the bridge. They rant about reverse-racism or claim that racism doesn’t exist—they haven’t decided which is the stupider position yet—and stupidity appears to be their highest criterion for party loyalty.

But I don’t blame the GOP. They may not have the smarts required to tie their own shoes—but what does that make the people who elected them to run the country? And what does that make someone named Koch who spends billions to support them?

Melt-Downer   (2015Mar08)

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Sunday, March 08, 2015                                  5:14 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe I’m just tired.

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As Stupid Does   (2015Mar02)

Monday, March 02, 2015                                 4:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hat Trick   (2015Mar01)

Sunday, March 01, 2015                                  3:50 PM

I almost had it on the twenty-seventh, last week—blogging and/or posting an original poem, an original drawing, and an original piano music video—but I had trouble trying to scan my drawing with the three-way printer/scan/faxer, which led to me destroying the internet connection to the router, which led to me crawling back into bed and watching TV for hours. By the time I’d created an illustrated-poem graphic, I just didn’t have the juice to sit down at the piano. So, just a poem and a drawing—though I shouldn’t complain—they were both well-received.

Today, I made sure I sat down for a quick keyboard recital, before I started working on all the technical stuff. Typing up a poem; sketching out a picture; tickling the ivories a bit—not that big a deal. But then try scanning, photo-shopping, text formatting, file-transferring, audio-editing, video-editing, and uploading it all—there’s where the hard work comes in.

Anyway, to content—to call today’s offering a mixed-bag is an understatement. Firstly—I was lying in bed last night and looked over at the t-shirt that I’d used to block the power-LED on the TV (otherwise the bright blue light is right in my eyes as I try to go to sleep). It looked just like the head of a cow or a moose—some sort of beast’s head. So I grabbed my trusty sketch-pad and drew what I saw. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of a photo of the t-shirt and my drawing, the t-shirt still looks more like an animal’s head than my drawing does. (Hey, I never said I was Rembrandt).

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Secondly, I was hand-rolling my cigarettes this morning when the phrase ‘there’s nothing to it but to do it’ came into my head and started re-arranging itself. Pretty soon I had a whole stanza in my head and I had to rush through my tobacco-rolling to get to the keyboard—by which time my head had come up with a second stanza but was in danger of dumping the whole thing out of short-term memory. When I think of a poem, I literally have to run to the keyboard to type it in before it fades away—that’s how leaky my short-term memory is. Most of my essays, half-written in my head before I get to the computer, and my better improvs, singing in my head while I rush to set up the camera by the piano, are all the same story.

Interesting ideas come and go out of memory like flitting shadows—the trick is to get to a working medium in time for the good ones, while not exhausting myself by trying to capture every stray idea that blows through town. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of those planner-type artists—I don’t write voluminous novels, room-filling frescoes, or complete musical compositions. I just try to chase after the scraps of ideas that stumble into my broken brain, and catch them with my shaky fingers. The large-scale mind-palace that allows long-term project-planning (and once made me a sick programmer) is now just a memory. And, like all my memories, a vague one.

Back to content—so the poem happened to end with “I think I hit a fairy with my car.” Dramatic? Yes, but unsatisfying. So I wrote some more verse in front of the first-draft, some more verse after, and ended up with a politically themed poem, which was not my intention. Still, when writing, especially poetry, sometimes you tell it, sometimes it tells you. It’s hard enough to write a poem without trying to make it walk a straight line, too.

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And, thirdly, I have a brief musical interlude for today—a cover of the old classic, “That’s My Desire”, in which I do my best Vic Damone impression, and a squirrelly, little improv, for your delectation, dear reader/listener/viewer. I hope at least one of these hot messes provides someone with a moment’s pleasure today.

 

 

Finally, I’m adding my recent drawings to look at, which I finally got scans of, thanks to sneaker-net (my son repaired the internet connection, but the printer still isn’t ‘sharing’ like it’s supposed to). Here they are (click on the images to see them full-sized):

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20150227XD-HumltyIsFatal(SCAN)

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

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

 

Friday, February 27, 2015                                10:30 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-Thinking   (2015Feb18)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015                                11:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Somebody Else’s Blog (2015Feb15)

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Sunday, February 15, 2015                              4:53 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Russian Folk Songs (2015Feb09)

XperDunn plays Piano
February 9th, 2015

16 Russian Folk Songs
(Covers from the Russian Songbook)

01) All Throughout The Great Wide World I Wandered
02) Do Not Scold Me And Do Not Reproach Me
03) The Boundless Expanse Of The Sea
04) My Sweetheart
05) No Sounds From The City Are Heard
06) Do Not Awaken My Memories
07) Stenka Razin (From Beyond The Island)
08) Snow Flurries
09) The Cliff of the Volga
10) The Story of the Coachman
11) The Little Bell
12) Farewell To Happiness
13) The Slender Mountain Ash
14) Dubinushka
15) Oh, You Dear Little Night
16) Down The Volga River

 

 

 

and improv…

 

 

Have a Koch and Be Beguiled (2015Feb08)

Sunday, February 08, 2015                              6:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So I’m An Idiot (2015Feb06)

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Friday, February 06, 2015                      9:08 AM

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

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

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

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

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And, of course, someone replied:

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

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

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

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The Great Man (2015Feb05)

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Thursday, February 05, 2015                          9:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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O–and, while I’m posting stuff:

Terrorists? No, Animals. (2015Feb03)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015                            1:19 PM

Beheading people on video and burning people alive—this ends forever any claim these fuck-tards have to a religious connection. There’s nothing in the Quran about being a savage—there’s nothing at all religious about acting like animals. Nor am I afraid of these assholes. They are too stupid to live—and the countries that surround these wastes-of-life will surely rise up and end them.

America would do well to focus on containing them outside of our borders—to do anything more would be an insult to the Middle East nations, all of whom should know what ought to happen to mongrels like these. I say keep them from gaining a foothold in the developed world and just let this region come to terms with itself. If marauding bands of murderers sprang up in the USA, others countries wouldn’t send in troops—neither would they need to—we know what to do with people like that. It’s about time we let others learn the same lesson.

As with Cuba, if we remove the big, bad United States from the equation, lots of these tin-pot bloodsuckers lose their chief excuse for maintaining the grisly status quo—I say let’em be. Let’s give them a chance to face their own problems. Maybe when the true instability of the Middle East becomes more apparent to these entitled, oil-fattened shiekdoms, they’ll start to see how very un-useful it is to sponsor militaristic sociopaths. If you don’t like the 21st-century, fine—stew in your sixteenth-century conservatism until your paid slaughter-boys decide to take more than just your money. In the meantime, the USA will go back to its day job, inventing the future.

Strangling Big Government   (2015Jan30)

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Friday, January 30, 2015                                            11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank Goodness They’re That Bad (2015Jan26)

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Monday, January 26, 2015 10:07 AM

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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I See What You Did There (2015Jan24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Still A Student (2015Jan24)

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Saturday, January 24, 2015                    11:07 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State Of What Union? (2015Jan21)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015                        5:25 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, January 16, 2015                        12:50 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Statesmen and Business Leaders (2015Jan15)

Thursday, January 15, 2015                             8:49 PM

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

 

 

 

 

On Statesmen and Business Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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