TV Day   (2016May24)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016                                            2:42 PM

As a retired citizen, I enjoy the luxury of the occasional TV-day. Today was a pip—partly cloudy with showers—and check out Turner Classic Movies’ line-up for today:

6:15 AM  musical      Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

Synopsis: Fictionalized biography of George Gershwin and his fight to bring serious music to Broadway.

Rhapsody in Blue is a story that is as enchanting as the music of it’s central character, the legendary George Gershwin. Robert Alda plays the talented composer in this moving… More

D: Irving Rapper. Robert Alda, Joan Leslie, Alexis Smith, Oscar Levant, Charles Coburn, Julie Bishop, Albert Basserman, Morris Carnovsky, Herbert Rudley, Rosemary DeCamp, Paul Whiteman, Hazel Scott. Hollywood biography of George Gershwin is largely pulp fiction, but comes off better than most other composer biopics, capturing Gershwin’s enthusiasm for his work, and some of his inner conflicts. Highlight is virtually complete performance of title work.


8:45 AM  drama        Song Without End (1960)

Synopsis: Musical genius Franz Liszt betrays his lover to court a married princess.

A music-filled bio drama examining the stormy life and career of renowned Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, whose scandalous love affair… More

Dir: Charles Vidor Cast:  Dirk Bogarde , Capucine , Genevieve Page .


11:00 AM         drama        Song of Love (1947)

Synopsis: True story of Clara Schumann’s battle to save husband Robert’s health and resist the romantic overtures of Johannes Brahms.

The intertwined lives of the three musical legends form a Song of Love a sumptuously produced and skillfully played biopic set to 11 musical pieces that include Schumann’s Arabeske… More

D: Clarence Brown. Katharine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Robert Walker, Henry Daniell, Leo G. Carroll, Gigi Perreau, Tala Birell, Henry Stephenson. Classy production but slow-moving story of Clara Schuman (Hepburn), her composer husband (Henreid) and good friend Brahms (Walker).


1:00 PM  musical      Till The Clouds Roll By (1946)

Synopsis: True story of composer Jerome Kern’s rise to the top on Broadway and in Hollywood.

D: Richard Whorf. Robert Walker, Van Heflin, Lucille Bremer, Dorothy Patrick, many guest stars including Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Tony Martin, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, June Allyson, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, Virginia O’Brien. Soggy biography of songwriter Jerome Kern uplifted by song numbers featuring some high-powered MGM talent. Highlights include Lansbury’s “How D’Ya Like to Spoon With Me,” Lena’s “Why Was I Born?,” Judy’s “Look for the Silver Lining,” and mini-production of Show Boat.


3:30 PM  musical      Song to Remember, A (1945)      (70th Anniversary)

Synopsis: The famed composer Chopin sacrifices everything, even love, for his native Poland.

Cornel Wilde plays Frederic Chopin in this richly detailed bio-pic which highlights the famous composer’s relationship with the unconventional author George Sand (Merle Oberon)…. More

D: Charles Vidor. Cornel Wilde, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Stephen Bekassy, Nina Foch, George Coulouris, Sig Arno. Colorful but superficial biography of Chopin (Wilde) with exaggerated Muni as his mentor, lovely Oberon as George Sand; good music, frail plot.


5:30 PM  musical      Great Waltz, The (1972)

Synopsis: Musical biography of Johann Strauss, the man known as “The Waltz King.

Dir: Andrew L. Stone Cast:  Horst Buchholz , Mary Costa , Rossano Brazzi


Not that I watched all of it—and some of these films are already familiar to me from frequent viewings—it’s just nice to know that I can retire to the TV at any time of the day and watch a nice old classic. TCM has plenty of days when they focus on different themes that I love less—so I enjoy it when they serve up a heaping helping of schmaltz—preferably with lots of music. Katherine Hepburn emoting her way through Clara Schumann’s ‘life’—can you beat that for schmaltz? “Song Of Love” is also notable for perhaps being the film with the most actors spending the most time pretending to play virtuoso piano.

I get diminishing returns from TCM these days—partly from becoming over-familiar with certain classics, and partly from TCM broadening its repertoire to include a lot of movies that have historical, even artistic merit—but are still pale shadows of whichever classic film they are a descendant of. I use to watch any movie TCM put on, if I hadn’t seen it before—but sometimes they get into a theme like ‘noir’, which I can only take so much of. And the ‘silents’, while majestic, some of them, take a certain mood to appreciate—and I’m rarely in that mood at midnight.

TCM is the ultimate example of how one movie can be watched repeatedly, like eating comfort food—it doesn’t entertain so much as soothe the soul. Examples (for me) include: “I Remember Mama”, “Dark Victory”, “Casablanca”, and “Random Harvest”. I could list others all day. Other movies I like to catch at ‘the good part’, but I rarely sit through all of.

As I watch the new movies that appear on my On Demand menu, I’m struck by how a new movie, by and large, doesn’t call for a second viewing. In fact, I often have trouble remembering if I’ve watched some new movies—the experience was that unremarkable, even after paying for the privilege. But a really good movie—that’s something else again—it’s a mystery. A mystery that I’m sure Hollywood would love to solve. I bet it’s something that the crew and lesser players could tell them—it’s probably something to do with the interaction of the players. But then again, a good story is essential—like I say—it’s a mystery.

Series Finale   (2016Mar06)

Sunday, March 06, 2016                                          10:43 PM

I’ve just watched the final episode of “Downton Abbey”. I didn’t watch the first two seasons because it didn’t hit me right, but something clicked about the third season and I enjoyed it regularly from that point. The hub-bub about its ending is eyebrow-lifting, but only by being so unprecedented—not because it doesn’t deserve the fanfare. The show was exceptional in being dramatic without violence, and intimate without exploitation—and, of course, in the intelligence of the writing.

But as I come to terms with the termination of one of my regular pleasures, it brought sharply to mind the fact that too many of my life’s signposts have been fictional ones. I can remember how lost I felt when “The West Wing” went off the air—it had comforted me, not only by idealizing the presidency, but by suggesting that the Clinton administration was a sort of subtle second-coming of Camelot—an idealistic president with the guts to stand by his ethical guns. I was naïve, yes—but I was far more optimistic—happier in my lack of cynicism. In the end, it was good “The West Wing” ended before Bush W. and 9/11—so everything happens for a reason, I guess.

Then there was Jon Stewart’s exit from the Daily Show—I’m still getting over that one. I like Trevor Noah alright, but Jon Stewart’s absence is akin, in my mind, to Johnny Carson’s retirement—but worse, because Stewart was a champion of social justice, behind all the jokes—and in these times of brawling presidential candidates, he’s sorely missed. A long-time, late-night companion has left forever—and I don’t like change in even the little things.

Not all of the TV I’ve spent a lifetime staring at has been fiction. The news coverage of the Viet Nam war and the brutality against Civil Rights protesters was all too factual. My third grade class was marched to a sudden assembly one day to watch coverage of JFK’s assassination. I was thirteen the summer I saw Armstrong step onto the Moon in real time. And I watched heartbroken while the twin towers disintegrated fifteen years ago.

But most of it has been fiction—though, to be fair, we should acknowledge that the effort of making a great TV series, comedy or drama, is very real—as was my satisfaction in having a regular time each week when I could expect to be taken out of myself. The novelty of “The Flintstones”, the then-daring subject matter of “Hill Street Blues”, the sophistication of “Law & Order”, the easy hilarity of “Seinfeld”—there were so many shows—and while some, like “Law & Order”, metastasized into over-familiarity, and others ended with perfect timing, they all had their time, when their regular weekly appearance on my TV screen was looked forward to with relish.

I’ve never watched a reality TV show—what the producers save on screen-writers, the audience pays for in brain cells, it seems to me—but maybe I’m just old-fashioned. And I’ve never gone in for the talent shows, either—to make a naked competition out of artistic expression is to deny the respect normally granted a performer on stage—even a high school drama group doesn’t have to put up with that kind of judgmental nonsense. Cruelty may create drama—but what kind of drama? The entertainment business has enough rejection and judgment, without putting it on stage.

Therefore, what I consider traditional TV is only to be found in bits and pieces. But I’ve made the situation worse—I feel like I’ve outgrown sitcoms—I’d rather watch a half-hour of straight stand-up than the contortions of contrived circumstance and strained gags forced on the sitcom format. I’ll grudgingly watch “Big Bang Theory” or “Two Broke Girls”—exceptionally well-done comedies, but only out of lack of options and a desperate need to watch something, anything—I’m too jaded by the format not to see the gags from a mile off.

Plus, I’ve sworn off any dramatic show that centers on a murder investigation or a hospital ER, for mental health reasons—I’ve seen so many through the decades, and one day it occurred to me that these should not be my regular subject matter—even fictionally. That disqualifies a surprising number of shows—“Rizzoli and Isles”, for instance, is the kind of show I would normally watch, but now I object to the underlying theme being ‘someone always kills someone’—that doesn’t happen every day—not in my life, surely—so why would I invite it into my entertainment? Shows like “Rizzoli and Isles” or “Bones” have plenty of light-hearted comradery, comic relief, and beautiful women—but at some point, to me, this seemed like it trivialized actual murder.

Yes, drama requires conflict and there is nothing so basic as a murder mystery for conflict—but today’s TV is very real—and shown in Hi-Def. In fact, the slow-mo re-enactments on “CSI”—hyper-real details of bullet impacts and such—when the show first debuted, were a large factor in my swearing off murder-based programs. The hyper-reality of the set-dressings on “ER”, likewise, took a part in forming my desire to avoid being grossed out by my favorite TV shows. We are what we watch—and we want to watch that, if I may attempt a witticism.

I think the main trouble comes from being older than everyone else—well not everyone, but certainly all the young, starry-eyed writers, actors and directors in the entertainment business—and they’re certainly not targeting my demographic. Neither do I want to only watch shows with people my age in them—my grandmother used to do that, and it made me sad—Peter Falk’s and Dick Van Dyke’s murder mysteries were her favorite series—it was like programming for a rest home.

When I was young I gobbled up every book I could find, I watched every movie and TV show, I listened to every piece of new music—and I did perhaps too good a job of it. I’m quite familiar with things creative—I can look at a painting and name the artist, hear a few bars and name the composer, see a few seconds of film and name the title, principal actors, and how far into the movie or program it is. My younger self might have been proud of all this accrued erudition, but it leaves me starved for novelty.

I don’t get out much, but I get ‘in’ more than most everybody—I watch and read (and write) and listen and play all day, every day—and I’m thinking as hard as I can the whole time—if it were physical effort, I’d be an Adonis—if it made money, I’d be a Croesus. As it is, life is far less glorious, though I don’t personally find it so. My lack of outward success is partly due to unalterable events, and partly a willful rejection of what others may see as ambition. Had my life gone easier I might have achieved more, but I might have understood less. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m proud of what I’ve done with my life, but I believe I’ve made the best of it, and I’m satisfied with that, by and large—though I really wish I could still draw. I guess being unable to change means I’m doing what I was meant to do—and if not, I’m going to see it that way, anyhow. I lack choices in that department.

Year-to-Date   (2015Dec31)

Thursday, December 31, 2015                                         1:14 PM

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! I feel a lot better than I did yesterday—yesterday, I was just gnawing away at my own insides for some reason—I get like that sometimes—temporary insanity—I’d be more comfortable with full-time work, as far as that goes—but we don’t get to pick and choose our personal brain chemistries, so what can you do, right? I’ll append my unposted rant from yesterday below—but don’t take it too seriously—it represents a mood more than a state of mind.

But before I get to all the screaming and shouting, let me talk about today which, as I say, finds me in a far more temperate state of mind. I was just watching “A Night At The Opera”, starring the Marx Brothers and Kitty Carlisle—the shipboard music number, to be precise, when first Chico plays piano, then Harpo goes from piano to harp, with the male lead (I forget his name) singing “Cosi Cosa”. The Marx Brothers make music seem so simple and easy, like they’re not even paying attention to what they’re doing. It inspired me to the point of muting the TV and going to play some piano myself.

Today’s improv is me trying to emulate the breezy, simple music they always played as a feature in each of their films. Can I play the piano as if I’m shooting the keys with my forefinger, like Chico? No, sadly, I can’t. Can I add that soupcon of old-world classical style, with a hint of angelic despair, like Harpo? I wish. But I can play in the same spirit—and that is what I’ve tried to do with today’s offering.

As much as I admire the Marx Brothers, I must admit I’m glad it’s New Year’s Eve—weeks of movie marathons, Hallmark movies, holiday specials, and Top-10-retrospectives of the year—with commercials promising to resume first-run programming, airing fantastic new stuff—has me wishing that at least the late-night hosts would come back from holiday re-run hiatus. Why interrupt a re-run to tell people that good TV will be shown next week—are TV execs just frustrated torturers that missed out on the Inquisition?

I depend too heavily on TV as pastime to be comfortable with half-a-month without oxygen. I’ve started checking the year-of-release of all the cable movies—I say to myself, “1992—let’s see, that came out twenty-three years ago.” I wonder how many times I’ve wasted two hours re-watching this movie on cable over the decades. It’s a sad exercise—one I would gladly give up to watch a new release—but even the VOD-movie-releases dry up during the holidays—as if the whole world had ‘things to do’ during the holidays.

Some genius should start a new cable channel for TV addicts—no commercials and nothing is ever shown twice. I’d watch that, no matter what they put on. No, I take that back—the so-called Science Fiction Channel (or Syfy) taught me that TV can ruin anything. There’s very little sci-fi on Syfy—it’s mostly horror and paranormal garbage. There’s little science on Science—and scant history on History (unless you’re obsessed with Hitler—what’s with that?) TV can be so disappointing.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year, with lots of good TV to watch. Now as promised, I append yesterday’s horrible writing, by turns deathly boring and insanely spiteful—enjoy:


Wednesday, December 30, 2015                                               8:52 AM

Those NASA photos get to me after awhile—they’re pictures of things so immense that if the entire planet Earth was in the picture, it wouldn’t be big enough to make out against the backdrop of nebular clouds and lenticular galaxies. Then there’s the ‘pretty picture’ issue—when astronomers take pictures using radio-waves or x-rays, the pictures are the color of radio and x-ray, i.e. invisible—and so are displayed using false colors—which is fine. I mean, a picture that can’t be seen by the human eye is of limited use—using false-color hues to indicate depth and shadow is mandatory—but when you give someone a box of Crayolas, you have to expect a little creativity in the result. And while the resulting NASA photos are spectacular, they bear little resemblance to what I see when I go outside at night.

Not that I want NASA to be boring—I find the whole subject fascinating—humans spent centuries puzzling over the nature of light—which can exhibit the characteristics of both particle and wave—before we realized that light is simply that range of electromagnetic radiation which our optic nerves respond to. That is just wild, to me—imagine—radio waves with wavelengths longer than a grown man, and microwaves of (naturally) microscopic wavelength, are also electromagnetic radiation, but too big or too small to be sensed by human eyes.

There is nothing special about visible light—except to humans, which have evolved eyeballs to see green—that’s why green is smack in the middle of the visible spectrum—because human eyes evolved to better find food (green vegetation). The other colors are just extra, a way for our brains to separate out the green. Electromagnetic radiation in the infra-red range—now that’s special—infra-red is what we call heat—small enough to be invisible, but big enough to excite molecules (which is where the heat comes in). Infra-red’s wavelength is so close to that of visible light that we can make goggles that display infra-red imaging as visible—though I couldn’t say how they do it.

I get confused by the idea of imaging non-visible electromagnetic radiation—I know that the original discovery of x-ray photography was based on the reaction of photographic plates to x-rays—but how in the world do they do that digitally? Mysteries abound. How does a magnet know which end is positive? How does a circular magnet know where the ends are? What is the difference between electric current in a wire and electromagnetic radiation moving through space? I love physics, but it’s very confusing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015                                               1:08 PM

I don’t know why I’m so full of frustrated rage today—maybe I’m coming down with a cold or something—I have no patience, no mercy, and no interest in being polite. It’s probably best if I stay off of social media today—I was just cursing at the News on TV—just sitting by myself, watching the news, and cursing a blue streak at high volume, directed towards the subjects of the news, the interviewees, and the talking heads themselves, each in their turn. No one meets my apparently-too-demanding standards of common sense and objectivity—but I usually just turn the channel—not stay there, screaming at my TV. I need a change of scenery or something—I’m really starting to lose it altogether.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015                                               9:26 PM

Trumpelstiltskin   (2015Dec30)

Donald Trump is a pompous dick. He says he’s a successful businessman but he’s really just a successful greedy person—there are lots of ways to get rich off of strategic bankruptcy filings, which let principle officers walk away with all the cash and leave the creditors, suppliers, and employees with nothing—but that’s not ‘good business’—that’s just being good at unethical, yet still technically legal, dealings. Trump, in his Mussolini-esque way, would insist that that’s still business—which says a lot about his take on ethics.

He’s never held office or won an election—how do we size him up? Maybe we should ask the people he has done business with—or maybe ask the people who work for him. He does a lot of talking—but we don’t hear a peep out of the people that know him. He’s pretty good at publicity—how is it he’s never been able to introduce us to his friends and colleagues? What is he afraid they might say?

Does he need ethics for a career in politics? Sadly, no. Politics is a cesspool and always has been—but the Republican solution—to elect incompetents and delusional morons to the legislature—is actually making things worse. This last hurrah of the Tea Party—a bid to elect the most incompetent moron to the highest office in the land—has been side-tracked. There are so many candidates with equally empty skulls—Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Christie—that they should by all rights be spoiled for choice. But that has all been swept aside by a reality-TV personality who has years of experience playing to the mouth-breathers. The Tea Party constituency has forgotten this is an election—they think it’s a game show—and they want their hero to win.

The GOP has only itself to blame—they’ve trained these knee-jerk reactionaries to run counter to common sense—and the party faithful have learned their lesson all too well. The Republicans wanted stupid voters and they’ve got’em—and they’re all gonna vote for the bully who’s ‘on their side’—how little they suspect what an elected Trump would truly mean for them and their families, and their day-to-day reality.

President Obama has been notably focused on positive results—so much so that, even with all the push-back, he has almost undone all the damage Bush did—but that still leaves us sixteen years behind where we should be. Imagine what would happen with Trump in that office, knowing nothing except how to bitch and blame and criticize other people. As an atheist, I can only say, ‘God help us’ if that happens. On the other hand, Trump actually making policy, making decisions about America—is an even more terrifying prospect. Bush showed us how dangerous a simple idiot president can be (the fucking ‘decider’—what a tool)—and we don’t want to find out what a reckless idiot president entails.

Doesn’t this smarmy, entitled prick have enough? Does his ego truly require the destruction of the greatest nation in the world? Why doesn’t he go back to ripping off anyone stupid enough to trust him, and building surprisingly ugly buildings with his name plastered over the door? Fucking asshole.

I call this election the last hurrah of the Tea Party because it can only end one of two ways. Either they’ll lose, proving that the electorate is too smart to fall for another Bush, or worse, a Trumpelstiltskin—or they’ll win, which will mean the doom of America—either way, the Tea Party will die. Republicans will have to go back to pretending they believe in science and pluralism and all those things they hate—they will have to accept that voters are people, with all the horrible variety that implies. Sorry, right-wingers—the world is just too serious for your childish tantrums; too complex for your simplistic pretenses.

In a world where change is so frighteningly fast that nobody can keep up, the conservatives are bound to take a beating—and ever since the digital revolution, they have had to rely on misdirection and dirty tricks to maintain any kind of influence. In fact, for people who want to live in the past, they are surprisingly adept at absorbing new technology to enhance all the misdirection and dirty tricks. The fat cats love the right because nothing panics a fat cat like the prospect of change—or fairness—and Americans, historically, have a bad habit of changing things for the better, making things fairer—so conservatism is the only safety afforded the wealthy and powerful—it’s been that way since we kicked out the British.

We let ourselves be fooled by leaders like FDR and Kennedy—men raised in wealth who still had more concern for the people than for the ruling class they came from—and boy, did their peers hate them for it. But they were special men—great men. Outside of such rare exceptions, we should never be voting for rich people—rich people suck. I submit that Trumpelstiltskin sucks big red hairy ones—he’s special, alright—just not in a good way. If he wasn’t so afraid of political correctness, he’d probably ask for a wheel-chair ramp for his brain. Then again, he’s very sly and nasty—that’s almost like being intelligent, if you don’t look too close.

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!

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.

GOT—Grown-Olds’ Tolkien (2015Jun15)

Monday, June 15, 2015                                            5:04 PM


When Game of Thrones started on HBO I avoided it, assuming that it would be the soft-core-porn/period-costume-soap-opera/bloodlust-gross-out that most semi-serious Premium-Channel Series-es are. It wasn’t until the genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone presented me with the three-episode trilogy-spoof of GOT on South Park (with that unforgettable theme: ‘Floppy wieners, floppy wieners…’) that I became interested in just how outside the norm this show was.

Parker and Stone seemed to think that HBO’s dramatization of George R. R. Martin’s decade-long book series, “Fire and Ice”, was representative of homoeroticism, women-hating, and a thirst for bloodshed that didn’t speak well for Martin’s interior life. (–And that he talked a good dragon game but when it came down to it there wasn’t much actual dragon in the story.)

Having watched seasons four and five now, I have to agree with Trey and Matt. But as I considered that, I was also struck by the differences between George R. R. Martin’s GOThrones and J.R.R. Tolkien’s TLOTRings (via Peter Jackson). While the double-R middle initials are indicative of just how derivative GOT is of everything Middle Earth, the differences between the kids’ fantasies and the adults’ fantasies are somewhat surprising.

Martin is only one of a long line of ‘followers’ of Tolkien’s original vision of a realistic fantasy world, but Martin’s creative plagiarism is far exceeded by his creative originality in transforming Tolkien-ish memes for an adult audience. That is something even Tolkien never did (and we won’t go into the question of whether or not he just had too much class to go there). It may not have been possible to do so, had Martin not lucked into a generation of grown-ups who grew up on Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf—but that’s part and parcel of our modern media-hungry culture. It’s no worse than going from Star Wars to Terminator, if you think about it.

Most interesting, to me, is the difference in variety. In a child’s fantasy there are kings, princesses, dragons, wizards, ghosts, monsters, elves, dwarves, and woodland creatures that speak in English accents. In adult fantasies there is sex, violence, power, and corruption—oh, and dragons. Is this representative of the Uncertainty Principle—like Schrödinger’s Cat? Does a child’s fantasy need to match the breadth of a child’s potential future, while an adult’s fantasy needs only indulge the lusts of adulthood? I’m afraid so.

And we see this phenomenon elsewhere—puberty as a singularity, wherein all childish dreams are resolved into the comparatively dreary day-to-day urges of adults who have shed their dreams. I blame it on Capitalism—on our modern beliefs: that money is power—that money is everything—and that dreams are only for children. Something some Tea-Partier said to me online the other day during an exchange over illegal immigration seems to sum it up—he said, “It’s good to be nice, but…” And that, to me, says it all—today, we believe that the things people have always believed in should always bow before the power of money—ethics, scruples, charity, mercy—all bullshit when the bill comes due. I’m sorry, but that’s fucked up.

Like freedom, ethics and principles only exist when we are prepared to lose something for them. I’m not just talking about the grandiose idea of being willing to die for what you believe in. Today, the question is: Are we prepared to be inconvenienced for what we believe in? Are we prepared to make less money, even to make no money until we find another job? When we try to minimize the importance of our urges to ‘cheat’ on our principles in the smallest of ways, we are really minimizing the importance of the principles themselves.

Yes, that does sound like some goody-two-shoes bullshit right there—fresh off the farm. But when you consider the insidiousness of today’s commercialism; when you consider the constancy of the thousand cuts that lobbyists inflict on our government; when you see or hear the thousand new ways to lie spawned by global media—perhaps you can see where some determination in those of us on the side of the angels is in order.

I feel for the fundamentalists—I do. They want to strike back at the filth. But the true filth is invisible to them—just as their ignorance makes their own hatred invisible to them. As I’ve heard many times—‘if you want to kill someone in the name of your God please start with yourself’. Plus, I feel that any attitude that includes murder, or even mild violence, is lacking in the rationality department. (And, yes, trying to legislate women’s reproductive organs and ostracizing gays are both forms of violence).

Some people look at Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. as people who had the courage to face violence without offering violence in return. But many people look at them as people who were murdered. They don’t acknowledge that a person’s principles are not a suit of clothes—they are a part of ourselves. If we give them up, we die in a far more final way than when we meet the inevitable, whenever that may come.

I have some experience in this so I can tell you—it’s nearly impossible to talk about being good without sounding like a goody-two-shoes or worse, sounding grandiose and all Christ-complex-ey. But fuck all you assholes—I’m gonna be good—and if that doesn’t work out to me being rich and famous, I don’t give a fuck. I’m doing it anyway. Fuck all y’all. Oh-and fuck George R.R. Martin’s GOT—twenty minutes of shame-walking a naked woman through city streets for the season five finale—what the fuck is that? Misogyny much, George?

War-Torn Porn  (2015Jun11)


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.


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.