Monday, August 14, 2017

free spirit seeks asian marriage for...

(the following is an ad i placed on Craigslist, with the above title)

...humanitarian reasons? Mutual enrichment? Friendship and love?
I've never been married, by choice. It's a barbaric institution, all about possessiveness, sexual jealousy, and hoarding resources in a world of poverty. Marriage was born in a time when men literally bought and sold women. I never want to be a part of that.
But i know that in this bizarre world, marriage can open doors. There might be someone reading this for whom marriage would be the key to a world of dreams that seems otherwise unreachable.
Why asian? Partly because of population demographics here in the San Francisco area, and partly because i've always been an asiophile. But your skin or culture matter not, if the message of this note touches some need in you, and your spirit touches me.
Why would i do this? Aside from lifting someone else's life, i could use a lift too. I'm a non-materialist, choosing to live without the security of excess money. Having someone to lighten life's burdens might be lovely. But as you've perhaps guessed, i don't have a specific idea in mind here. Just opening up a thought to the universe.

(My first foray into an online personal ad in years...well, i have returned to a large metropolitan center. Can a renaissance for my moribund southern bible belt love life be far behind? This ad is more playfully platonic than serious, but since i'll never marry for conventional reasons, the idea of "helping" a woman fulfill her dreams has always been bouncing around some corner of my mind. Especially if she's asian. What - i can dream, can't i?)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Speaking Freely"

(Unlearning the Lies of the Fathers' Tongue)
-by julia penelope
1990
As a student, penelope was expelled from two home-state colleges (FSU and UM) within one year, for suspected lesbianism and lesbianism...though curiously, not in that order (i'd make an accuse/suspect Clue joke, if it all weren't so vomitously shameful). She persevered and got a doctorate, but her teaching career was slow-tracked because of her "too narrow" focus on lesbian studies. "Speaking Freely", one of her twelve books, deconstructs all the grammatical tricks of the english language which demean, marginalize, or render women invisible, plus those structures which serve to conceal the male exploitations and brutalities perpetrated against them. Misdirecting modifiers, vague pronouns, euphemisms, agentless passives...for example, if a newscaster were to cite a rape statistic, he or she might say, "There were seventy-three cases of rape in Berks County today". But that construction completely conceals the rapists and victims. A more honest syntax might give us "Men raped seventy-three women in Berks County today". The first version doesn't hurt or bleed, and it makes the events feel like rain, something that just happened to happen. Or think about the assumptions and roles revealed in the difference between "to mother" and "to father" - always, men are active agents and women passive tools of male initiation. Or take the verb cuckold - there's no female equivalent. Eggs are therefore less important than sperm, no? Or why do we have "emasculate", but not "effeminate"? Because there is no quality or measure of womanhood that has relevance in languages constructed by men.
Julia owns up to the fact that by writing in english, she's committing many of the offenses she's trying to out. She talks about laadan, a woman's language constructed in the 70s, completely free of patriarchal assumptions and biases. She talks about the feministly-correct changes in our language since the 70s, some of which have merit, but none of which get near the core of the problem. Absent a total woman's revolution, she talks about attitudes and tactics that can better this world, for women and men - above all, the need to reshape language so that women are allowed to be active agents, free of the motherhood/sex object boundaries.
I wish i could tell you this amazing book has lost its relevance twenty-five years later. It's a challenging read. And worth it.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

dear pam 2

Dear pamela mammala,
Stop peering into the depths of my spirit.
I look back on a life of conspicuous gentleness and consideration, and know that i might have had forty or fifty lovers by now, had that not been so...in other words, had i been more "normal". The insanity of that sometimes pushes me to the edge. And then i meet a new woman, and i know if i let out the predator in me, i could have her. As the years of loneliness pile up, i feel less and less proud of having been able to conquer my predator so well.
I think about you, and the thought that i might bring you a kind of carnal healing you've never experienced. It wouldn't bother me, if i knew there were other men who could offer you the same. There probably are...but statistically, the odds of you meeting one of them are iffy at best.
In any kind of rational world, we'd already be lovers. And on some level, we are. But of course we'll think all these things through, and easily come up with practical reasons why not being lovers makes sense.
But at a certain point, i feel like the ultimate theme of my life will be "all this useless wisdom" (to appropriate an elvis costello title). We all should be able to just be alive and human in the moment, but it almost never happens.
And sure, we might not even have great sexual chemistry! But when i think about the confluences in our spirits, and striking similarities in our sexual tastes...
You asked whether i were ever tempted to fuck out of hopelessness. Stop being so perceptive! It gets harder and harder for me to keep those demons at bay. With us, it's not just that though. It's easy to imagine being your deep friend for the rest of my time on this planet. It's also easy to imagine spending thousands of hours in beautiful sexual communion.
But don't make too much of my ramblings. I know too well how out of balance i am. If you'd like a metaphor for where i am at this point in my life, imagine a bloody, pulpy body on the road. But one hand is lifting off the ground, and the whispered words emerge, "I will save this world, you hopeless fuckers..."
Are you done making babies, or can you imagine more?
------------------
About back-patting...i spent many years cultivating humility. When i thought i'd reached it, i dug for deeper levels on which i might be full of shit. Trying to never put myself above anyone. Trying to eliminate all thoughts of entitlement. Starting with the concept "Everything i know and believe is probably wrong". It was only after twenty or so years of doing that, that i'm finally acknowledging the notion of "false modesty". It can be a disservice to yourself and the world to pretend to be less than you are, so i'm starting to own the notion that maybe, just maybe, i have wisdom and understanding that stretches beyond the average person. Maybe even beyond the average intelligent person. Maybe even...
I try not to picture my life playing out. Part of my spiritual striving is to be fully present and alive in the moment. I have ideas which i pursue, but i try not to project my ego into the future. Put another way, we all spend our lives creating and maintaining our own personal mythologies...just as we may not really ever "know" another person (only our "idea" of them), you could argue that all we know about ourselves is our idea of who "we" are. And in this world of individualism gone steroidal, we all keep one eye on the "story" of our life, so we can impress others (and ourselves).
Besides, the more i can detach from my own ego, the more likely a candidate i might be for alien abduction (or rescue, hopefully).
Have you an answer to your own lifetime question? And have you ever fucked out of a sense of hopelessness? The way you asked, i suspect the answer is yes.
love,
wrob

Monday, July 31, 2017

her milkshake

AP News Flash
Los Angeles, January 3, 2018
-The national furor continues in day five of the kelis trial. The R&B diva has been caught up in the wave of "outsized celebrity ego" litigation sweeping the country. After numerous civil lawsuit triumphs against more prominent performers, politicians, and professional athletes, public advocacy groups have turned their attention to kelis, whose 2003 hit "Milkshake" catapulted her into the national consciousness. As usual, the charges initially focused on "self-glorification detrimental to minors and the public good", but as in earlier trials those allegations have been nigh-impossible to prove, so prosecutors have again turned to the "false advertising" tactic so damning in the suits against snoop dogg, eminem, and the sinatra estate. The question of whether kelis' milkshake brings "all the boys" to the yard has been the center of dispute thus far. There have been many witnesses eager to testify that they never once even considered going to the yard, including supreme court justice clarence thomas, all but one of the wayans brothers, and matt damon...but the prosecution has been stymied when asked to provide a single witness who could demonstrate "opportunity but clear refusal" to go. Yesterday's shift in tactic focused on questioning the veracity of kelis' claim that she would "teach you, but [she'd] have to charge". Prosecution alleges that her "need to charge" was a blatant, egregious deception. They've subpoenaed copies of the defendant's tax returns from 2000-2003, and a swift ruling against the singer is expected.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

$any?

I have no idea whether this housing ad is real, but i gave it my best pitch (see below). No word back yet...

$1 NO-vices naturist commune $any! (NO str8 guys)
naturist = 100% nudist = ALL ALWAYS NUDE, the obvious [NO] 'hit-on' reason for NO str8 guys. 
NO 'vices' means: no smoke/drug/drunk/NOISE/mess/disharmony/crime. (not 'morality'!)
Safe, comfortable peace&quiet. Communal: NO privacy (1 shared space)! ALL ages/genders.
Tech-positive. NON-sex env. but "open-minded" (not 'up-tight' sexually): a delicate balance!
LGBT-friendly. NON-judgemental, like HAI.org . Money NOT a main issue (alt. contribs cool).
VERY/UNlimited 'touch-positive'! Share ALL, openly. Can you 'grok' this? Explain in your reply.
Thanks & best wishes.

Hello.
If i told you twain, thoreau, lenny bruce, and elizabeth cady stanton had a love child, wouldn't you want it/him/her to write about you?
Your ad blew my mind a bit. I'll get my one contentious point out of the way - i'm not sure about your premise that straight men become mindless predators in the presence of naked women. In some ways, the opposite is probably true. Our cultural neuroses and sexual obsessions are a result of living in a repressed, touch-deprived society. If everybody were naked all the time, we would stop caring about nudity (and beyond that, if everybody had healthy levels of human touch and regular sex, we'd be far less insane...but i suspect i don't have to sell you on that one).
Writing about your community by becoming part of it, would probably be one of the highlights of my literary career. For years, i've intended to do an investigative piece on a nudist colony, and it sounds like yours may be the most spiritually advanced around.
As a writer, i've never made (or sought) a penny. Like picasso said, the meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.
If we were to look up your "no vice" ethos in a dictionary, there would be a picture of my face. No joke.
Ditto for "open-minded". Anything that makes consenting equals happy (and doesn't hurt anyone else), makes me happy.
Ditto for "non-judgmental". I had to look up HAI (well, i did just set foot in CA for the first time). Brilliant.
Double ding-dong ditto for "touch positive". The greatest book that's never been written is the one that deconstructs how important touch is to human health, and how far lost we are in this personal-space nightmare we call home.
I even grok grok. A fantastic book.
Am i interested in living with you, both as a writer and a human being? Yup.
If you want to crucify me because i'm a straight male, you're too late. I crucified myself years ago.
If you've read this far, i'd be happy to send you the investigative journalist piece i wrote about the sex trade in NYC. I tried to experience as much of it as i could firsthand, without actually having sex with a (probably-exploited) stranger.

yours humbly,
wrob

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"RICH PEOPLE THINGS"

(REAL LIFE SECRETS OF THE PREDATOR CLASS)
Updated Edition
-by chris lehmann
2011
If you'd like to understand on an intellectual basis just how broken this country is, how cripplingly unbalanced we are in terms of "fair play", and how embroiled we are in undeclared class war, this is the place to start. Lehmann makes no emotional appeals, no revolutionary clarion calls. He simply deconstructs the current brand of american capitalism, and exposes a class war coming not from the underprivileged, but from the rich who have taken an already criminally-stacked deck and pocketed three of the five cards the non-rich thought they had.
Lehmann has an 800-verbal SAT mind, and if you're not on at least a 600-level yourself, the richness of his prose will boggle and batter you into submission. In deference to that, i think it only fair to offer you some of his unfiltered words, rather than the reflections of a relative plodder like myself. Here's a lift from his chapter on reality TV:
"By staging competitions for scarce resources, as in the breakout network franchise SURVIVOR, we're testing the core postulates about human behavior in the state of nature. By pitting aspiring singers against each other in AMERICAN IDOL - and putting them to a public vote - we're plumbing the wellsprings of the longing for success and recognition, while also (for good measure) shoring up the hoary talent-will-out shibboleths of the national gospel of success. By marching contestants through the Trump boardroom in THE APPRENTICE, we're sizing up the proper quotients of ruthlessness, ego inflation, and sycophancy that form the forever-unstable compound of corporate achievement.
But it's never the case that reality TV is "real" in any meaningful sense. This isn't just because the producers insist that at least one camera crew is on the scene to record the raw drama of interpersonal confrontation, replete with off-camera lighting and audio set-ups. No, more fundamentally, the sagas of the upward-striving reality format are unreal because they envision perhaps our culture's purest form of class contempt. Lavishly appointed depictions of overclass leisure, such as those in Bravo TV's REAL HOUSEWIVES franchise...provide a study in disaccumulative wealth and entitlement every bit as stark and provoking as the taxpayer-funded executive bonuses at AIG and Goldman Sachs. The surpassingly odd thing about these shows, though, is that they do profess to be natural reflections of our unquestioned social hierarchies; their pecuniary displays are evaluated on the spectrum of taste, not on any moral calculus."
He also exposes the failings and hypocrisies in the U.S. constitution, the New York Times, meritocracy, populism, the Democratic party, the prosperity gospel, ayn rand, lobbyists, libertarians, and the social media. Not all of the twenty-nine essays are equally salient, but they're all pretty stunningly clear-thinking.
I'll end by making the only realistic conclusion that a reading of this book can offer. The only two cards the non-rich have left? Suffer and die, or fight back.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

gay trump star wars banana beatles

Last night was my first in a new home, in a new state, farther from any support system i've ever lived. The past week was very stressful, with a relative attacking my character for reasons she either didn't understand or wouldn't talk about, and several home possibilities going phlooey, leaving me needing to take almost any home that became available so as to avoid being a houseguest who stayed too long. And this...was my dream last night.
I dreamt that my sweet youngest brother jeff (who in real life has fallen for drug addiction and christianity, and is quite straight) became so enamored of donald trump that he gave him a blow job and followed him around like a puppy. Trump was visiting a fictional home where my brothers and i live. He was a little less abrasive in person, but just as narcissistic and pathologically deceptive. At one point i overheard he and jeff talking, and donald said, in a playful babyish voice as he lifted his shirt, "Do you know the biggest surprise about donald? My soffffffffft skin." I kept my dismay internalized, as jeff was clearly smitten. My other brother dave was somewhere about, and more houseguests as well. It was my job to clean the bathroom, and i noticed the toilet was too dirty to ignore. I started cleaning the crap, and ended up standing in the toilet. I overheard donald on the phone advising the Beatles (apparently it was 1966) to put out an album about bananas and coconuts before the Rolling Stones released an album making fun of the Beatles' love for bananas and coconuts. Meanwhile, jeff and donald were watching a remake of Star Wars, with the same characters but a different storyline.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

dear pam

Ohhh pamela mammala,
Fabulous vocabulary? It didn't feel so great when i looked at that "pseudo-lover" phrase for many minutes, trying and failing to get the wording right. I was going for playful and disarming. "Alternate universe pseudo-lover"? Still not right.
I'm actually not good at confrontation, either. I used to be, but when i set about trying to take down my walls a few years back, so i could feel emotions (good or bad) more directly, i succeeded too well. Negativity goes through me now like stones through wet tissue. It can leave me feeling sickened.
What a beautiful photo of your son.
I love that you sent a photo of yourself when you did. Not that i needed to see one to know how to respond, but there was an imbalance because you'd "seen" me. I was impressed with how quickly you righted that, consciously or not. In previous on-line correspondences, i've found that women (people?) can be content to ignore that imbalance entirely, if it's in their favor.
I came to CA without a home because i hadn't found one yet, but my brother had bought me a roger waters Sacramento concert ticket. I came, i'm here, i'm glad. I've got about $8000, and i may need to make that last for a year, as it may take me that long to make any money from my writing. I'm still not entirely comfortable with even trying to do so. The intersection of art and commerce is a perilous one...deadlines, editors and publications trying to "water you down", and then if you DO achieve success, how do you resist the temptation to "give them what they want"? I've been writing for ten years, and have been taking my baby steps in public speaking the past four (the amazing thing about that is not that i've been successful, but that i've been able to please a cranky, conservative crowd just as much as the young and idealistic). Up til' now, i posted all my stuff on a free website, which is how all art should come. It's a little troubling that i've started holding back my really good (publishable?) pieces. But i've made my peace with that. I don't mind living as a relative pauper, i actually prefer it in a world of horrible poverty...but this world will chew anyone up in a heartbeat. Money's security is an illusion, but a powerful one. Also, just as most men don't "see" ugly women, most women don't "see" a poor man. I was in the southern bible belt the past four years, and not coincidentally, that's how long it's been since i've had any real physical intimacy (except for just now, when i was love-assaulted by a cat...i've never been around a cat so aggressively intimate that i feel almost CPRd with fish breath).
I wrote an article recently about being attractive/unattractive...yes, there can be character benefits. But in this looks-obsessed world, it's also an invitation to schizophrenia. Sometimes i'd rather just be "ugly" or "attractive" all the time. You?
The tragedy of the Bay, eh? I did kind of wonder whether i was coming to SF twenty years too late. But it's hard to imagine that Santa Cruz or Austin have the same literary infrastructure. As reticent as i am about art&commerce, i'm ready for as large a stage as my words will take me.
And to think, you still have no idea whether i have talent!
You aspire to way-out levels of realness? Amazing. So rare. And even maybe a little self-destructive, in this world. I'll back you up in any way, and try to offer you just the same. As in, i loved your first photo (and i'm sorry it got swallowed by our thread), but the second one threw me because of the makeup! Yet it almost seemed like you anticipated that response! Oh lawsy, i've railed against makeup in my writing...trying to do so in a light-hearted and fun way, but not always succeeding.
I'm on Facebook...but i ignore it strenuously. I guess i only keep it so that long-lost acquaintances might find me.
And more realness...even though the possibility of a romantic connection between us is fanciful, non-essential, incidental, there's a part of me that's so damaged by how dysfunctional romance is in this society, somewhere inside i cringe at the mere thought. The possessiveness, the jealousy, the beautiful feelings turned to betrayal and disappointment and recrimination...all these thoughts in me have started a new romance poem, with the central metaphor being a blinding searchlight shined on every new love interest, like the bat-signal but with THE ONE??? written across the beam instead of a bat. How we turn such a beautiful, natural thing as romantic attraction into a horror show is quite stunning.
I'm not saying i can never imagine being in a romance again...but that would be a very sane response. For anyone.
Yes, i think humor is underrated too. I mean okay, partly it's just a coping device and not particularly noble in that regard...but i still think that humor is one of the primary indicators of intelligence. Even as a child i was partial to practical jokes and gallows humor. If someone hasn't figured out that we need to laugh to keep our sanity, especially in this world, they're missing something. Some of my more snooty friends have even looked down on my comedy tastes, like the AIRPLANE!/NAKED GUN movies.
So what makes you laugh?
I think romance was ruined even before the internet. I think 70s feminism killed romance...in a good way. When women demand equality, ALL THE OLD RULES have to be thrown out. You can't just tweak the system, it's too broken. So it might take another generation or two before romance even starts to become healthy again.
What some people miss about me, is that i'm generally quite the optimist. Even unjustifiably so. I need to believe that we can get past this post-agricultural, post-industrial nightmare.
I also read a lot about the science of human sexuality, and i like the things you say. You seem pretty knowing.
But what do i know?
happy hugs,
wrob

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Life and Death on Mt. Everest"

(Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering)
-by sherry b. ortner
1999
In the wake of the 1996 Everest disaster, the western fascination with climbing the world's highest mountains peaked (forgive me)...and not least of all in the literary world. Our obsession with the world's only weapon-free "death zones" is considerable, either for those who risk (or lose) their lives in the pursuit of defining their lives, or the rest of us who are content to visit vicariously. Many gripping, inspiring books have emerged in this literary sub-genre.
The only absolutely essential one among the lot belongs to ortner, who focuses on the single almost-universal feature of Everest history -  the sherpa. This nepalese culture has provided almost all of the high-altitude porters in the century-long history of himalayan high-peak climbing. In essence, the sherpa are the folks who have done all the hard work so that rich westerners could pursue their dreams of achievement, anti-modernity, or glory. If not for the sherpa, the first ascent of Everest wouldn't have been in 1953, but rather twenty-five years later when messner became the first to ascend without porters (or supplemental oxygen). On the surface, the tale of the sherpa is one of vulgar exploitation - in addition to doing all the heavy lifting, the sherpa death rate is more than six times higher than any other country. Nor were the sherpa just doing something that came naturally to them - contrary to stereotype, they have no biological superiority as climbers, and had never before ventured into the himalayan death zones (indeed, they had strong cultural prohibitions against doing so - it would be seventy years of playing "coolie" before an all-nepalese expedition went to Everest).
Ortner tackles the question of exploitation, and finds the answer complex. As an anthropologist, she views human interaction in terms of layers of interactive "games"
(economic/gender/class/religious/etc.) that occur simultaneously, sometimes reinforcing each other, but often working at odds. Many of the traditional views of the sherpa (childlike, devoted, happy-go-lucky) are revealed as racial constructs that barely scratch the surface.
As literature, the book is a bit unfocused. A work strictly for the layperson could communicate just as much at half the length. Indeed, as one reviewer commented, "Life and Death..." has the feel of an academic monograph that some publisher decided might sell, so had ortner make cosmetic changes for the mass market. But if you're of a studious bent, the deeper cultural analyses are a fine read, and ortner writes very clearly. She thinks clearly too, especially when navigating the nigh-impossibility of complete understanding in matters of cultural relativity.
The mindset of the "sahib" is also given deconstruction, as an understanding of western attitudes is essential to perceiving how the sherpa have been shaped by (and shaped in return) western presence.
If you're a part of the climbing culture, this book is essential. If you have apathy or even disdain for said culture, but would love to understand the curious symbiosis (mutual, profoundly-unbalanced parasitism?) between sherpa and "sahib", this is the place to start.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

doreen

WOMEN 86
We met through a mutual friend. As doreen walked away after our first meeting, i tried to not watch her go, but failed. Her energy was beautiful, and her ass hypnotizing. When we met again, i found out that our friend had instructed her to not flirt with me...at first i thought because this friend wanted me for herself, but perhaps it was because she wanted to "protect" doreen, who drank a good deal and was in an unstable marriage. Because our mutual friend was ultra-conservative, perhaps she wanted to make sure that doreen wouldn't be "unfaithful". Maybe it was both of those things? Whatever the case, doreen soon did flirt with me, freely and fully. We started spending time together, and very quickly that involved holding and hugging. It was exciting...on the surface we had much in common spiritually. She had a hard time relating to this uptight world, and joked about being planted here by aliens. She loved my spirit, and my stories and songs. It was all so much easygoing fun, and i was so lonely and touch-deprived that i wasn't inclined to overthink things - we were soon cuddling naked. Her drinking gave me pause, though. Being together with a new love is such an escapist rush, and the fact that she wanted to have a drink or two on top of that (while i wasn't drinking at all) seemed...curious. The second time we cuddled, it became sexual. Her intentions were clear, she had even brought lube. After a few minutes, she reached for my cock, but i wasn't erect. Had i been, would i have given her what she wanted? Even though i have no respect for marriage, i knew there was so much we hadn't talked about. Why was she still married, if they were no longer sexual and the relationship was presumably a source of misery for both? I didn't care about "adultery", but wanted nothing to do with secrets. Was my lack of fast erection just about sexual chemistry? Or my subconscious misgivings? Or just a commonstance of middle age? She asked whether she could give me oral sex. I knew there were emotional pitfalls we hadn't even begun to broach, but i was so tired of everyone in this world (me included) relentlessly denying their own humanity. I said yes, and she dove in. It was lovely. After that, it became clear that she could only be with me on the sly, and i began pulling back, saying we needed to talk about all these issues. She showed no interest in that, and when she encouraged me to stop by her place, i begged off, not wanting to face her husband until she and i had talked all this through. That conversation never came, and a couple months later i moved across country. I stopped by her home on my way out of town, and had a lovely visit with her and her husband, whom i liked too.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

"Planet of the Apes"

Take your hands off me, you damn dirty...
The classic APES franchise. One moment of brilliance followed by a parade of putrescence?
Substantially, but not quite.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968) ****
Solidly based on the fantastic novel by pierre boulle, the original is a classic, and rightfully so. A trio of astronauts experience an accident that brings them back after 2000 years. They crash on a planet they are unaware is Earth, and find a society of talking chimps, gorillas, and orangutans who have enslaved a population of pre-vocal (or post, rather) humans. An intelligent, seamless script married to a lightning strike of acting/directing/production chemistry. So absorbing, you forget any thoughts of overt artistic message, until it all comes hammering home in the vision of the half-buried remains of the Statue of Liberty. A career-defining performance by charlton heston (BEN-HUR, TOMBSTONE). The ape makeup is exquisite. The only major flaw is the marginalization of females - the lone human woman is essentially a mute supermodel (insert obvious joke here). But otherwise...a film deserving of consideration on any "greatest movies ever" list.
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) ***
A sequel that attempts to further the original artistic vision, not just copy it. On future Earth, an underground human society worships a derelict nuclear doomsday weapon. More astronauts arrive in search of the first crew, and the apes pursue them. Heston plays a small but crucial part. It ends realistically, with planetary annihilation. Not nearly as great as the original...but a million times more worthy than JAWS 2 or TEMPLE OF DOOM.
ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971) **
The chimps cornelius (franchise cornerstone roddy macdowall - TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY, FUNNY LADY) and zira flee the doomed Earth in a salvaged spaceship, and time travel to our present day. They hide their intelligence and knowledge of the future as long as they can, but eventually end up in government torture/interrogation. They escape, and are given sanctuary in a carnival run by ricardo montalban (FANTASY ISLAND, STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN). Before being killed with cornelius, zira gives birth to a child who is spirited away. A fine try, but the writing and balance falter...
CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972) ***
Montalban raises the orphaned chimp in a time when all dogs and cats go extinct, and are replaced as human slaves by non-human apes. The child (also beautifully played by macdowall) has all the intelligence and abilities of his parents, and ends up leading an ape revolution. A bit plodding, but worthy - the wild card that keeps the franchise from being a perfect jaws spiral. The original brutally murderous ending has been restored in blu-ray.
BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973) *
In a post-nuclear world, the ape leader caesar has built up ape society, and tries to foster amicable relations with the surviving humans...an effort which is subverted by a pocket of humans still highly armed. Cue the title. The whole affair feels like a pretense for the mindless, interminable battle scene.
Beyond all that, the only conspicuous, consistent failing of the franchise is in reinforcing the misconception that humans aren't apes. We are one of six ape species on the planet, and the fantasy that we're not is one of the chief reasons why our own extinction will probably mean the end of all other animal life too. Is it too much to hope that the current re-boot of the franchise includes a population of speaking bonobo apes? Now THAT would sell some popcorn! Perhaps the most perfect classic APES experience however, would be watching the first movie followed by the short-lived TV series. Those episodes lack any particular intellectual ambition, but they do have the tightness and charm that the big-screen sequels failed to recapture.

Monday, June 26, 2017

SF gay pride!

I attended the San Francisco gay pride parade yesterday...
And i can't tell you about it!
I wrote a charming little article about it, thinking it would be a toss-off with no public speaking potential...but reading it now, i may be wrong.
This whole "withholding the best pieces" from this website is so strange, on so may levels. The notion of me intending to marry my writings with some kind of commerce, is just so bizarre and counter-intuitive. It may turn out that i'm not nearly the writer i think i am, or that any taint of money may subvert the integrity of my work, and then one day sooner or later i may post everything you've missed.
Anyway, the parade was amazing. I already have my attire planned for next year - the same "I'M NOT GAY (but $20 is $20)" T-shirt i wore yesterday, plus "FREE HUGS" written on my cheeks.
No, not those cheeks.
Or who knows?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

an open letter to believers

Dear faithful,
I'm curious...you're comfortable with the thought that a god would send one of its children to Earth just once in the thousands of years of recorded history? Just once, and no more? Isn't it more consistent to propose that god might ALWAYS have one of its children on Earth, to perform miracles of goodness and explain life to everyone? I mean okay, god is mysterious, but intentionally so? God wants to make it HARD for us to believe, rather than easy? What would god possibly get out of that? What's the holy upside? Why set up a system that screens out people inclined toward logic and fairness? To appear once, preaching and miracling up a storm, then disappear completely...that doesn't strike you as random, even sadistic?
I'm curious, just curious.
I'm trying not to pick on christians specifically, but taoists and jews aren't claiming the U.S.A. as their very own.
And do you ever wonder whether god sent any of its children BEFORE recorded history? Maybe jesus was the 144th Earth child of god. A neanderthal child of god, perhaps? Do your minds not work that way?
I'm also trying to wrap my head around what christians mean, when they claim that this is a christian nation. Are they claiming that we as a nation act in a "christian" manner? At a glance, that's beyond preposterous. Jesus preached non-violence, radical sharing, and inclusiveness. As a country, we have always used violence to further our wealth and power, and also as a primary means of conflict resolution. And sharing? Jesus said "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise". It doesn't get more unequivocal...yet here we are, long the richest country on the planet, yet we have always chosen to allow the most abject poverty among our brothers, sisters, and babies. And inclusiveness? There was a time when we manifested that..."give me your tired, your poor"...but our selfishness has long since kicked that sentiment to the curb. So what exactly is it that christians are talking about? It's clearly not our behavior, so is it nothing more than the fact that a majority of americans believe in some kind of god, and a majority of those believers are christian (at least in name)? Our founding fathers, almost none of whom were christian, created rules of governance that couldn't have been more clear about not wanting religion within 20,000 miles of national decision-making.
So are christians just making a power grab? I can't find any other reasonable interpretation...yet to seek earthly power rather than spiritual rectitude only underscores the notion that these people are anything but "christian". Unless you want to chuck the New Testament - then, by the barbarically savage and punitive standards of the Old Testament, we are indeed "christian".
Or i suppose rather, we're jewish.
Hava nagila,
wrob

Friday, June 16, 2017

unstill waters

I arrived in California for the first time this week, and attended a roger waters concert almost immediately. Both events were steeped in surreality - roger's music has permeated my life, but i never imagined i'd hear him live. In terms of impactful lyrics, there's lennon and waters...and nobody else, really.
His time in Pink Floyd is the heart of his legacy - his solo work has been brilliant, but not nearly so transformative or transcendent. In a hopefully pardonable oversimplification on both sides, he was the spirit of Floyd, but his bandmates were the sound. When he left he struggled to recapture the balance between word and melody. Yet for all the genius of DARK SIDE, THE WALL, WISH YOU WERE HERE, ANIMALS, and MEDDLE, if i could have only one roger album, it would be his solo masterpiece AMUSED TO DEATH. The lyrics are more cutting and immediate than anything Floyd offered. It's searing, eviscerating, and melodically fantastic. Beyond that, were i about to be dumped on a desert island and could grab only Floyd or roger's solo work...i might take the solo box.
I spent the thirty-six hours leading up to the concert immersing myself in his new album, IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? A twenty-five year buildup of delayed gratification might swamp anything, and perhaps this one will wear better with time, but it feels...average. Better than HITCHHIKING, and on par with KAOS and FINAL CUT (though lacking the one or two standout tracks that grace those works), it delivers a dark edge but breaks no new ground.
Roger has hinted that this tour, "Us & Them", is probably his last. The concert promised to focus on Floyd songs, and as i took my seat in the arena, i realized this meant that i might not hear any of my favorites...but told myself that if i heard just one of four tracks ("Three Wishes", "It's a Miracle", "Towers of Faith", or "...Crazy Diamond"), i'd be happy. As the encore arrived, i still held out a slim hope for "Miracle"...but the double-bang of "Dark Side" and "Comfortably Numb" was no consolation prize. Nor was the show itself. Roger and the band were exquisite. "The Great Gig in the Sky" offered entrancing variations on clare torry's vocals, and after intermission, the show ascended to another level. As a suite of songs from ANIMALS began and a replica of the Battersea power station descended over the arena, cinematic images of global devastation, poverty, and trump flowed over the crowd...it culminated in "Money", and was breathtaking in its anger and outrage. I myself might have chosen to avoid the donald angle (giving a narcissist any attention, positive or negative, is generally the wrong choice), but roger left nothing unsaid, and i love him for it. The political theme of the show was RESIST...a message not lost on the crowd (though i should add, that anyone rich enough to afford this show isn't likely to be on the front lines of the revolution...a sad paradox almost certainly not lost on roger). If this is his swan song, he can walk away with no regrets, knowing he gave us a much-needed voice of protest, unrest, and hope. His songs touched the masses, and his lyrics fed the brilliant.
DREAM SET LIST
-One of These Days
-Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
-Us and Them
-Three Wishes
-Picture That
-Have a Cigar
-What God Wants
-To Kill the Child
-Echoes
(intermission)
-Time
-Towers of Faith
-Comfortably Numb
-Hey You
-Shine On You Crazy Diamond
-Knockin' on Heaven's Door
-Each Small Candle
-The Tide is Turning
*encore*
-It's a Miracle
-The Final Cut

Monday, June 12, 2017

titles 2

Writings only available in performance, the last batch of scribblings from those floridaze...
-Four Girlfriends
-Hobo Song
-Smone Soup
-The Three Nanny Goats Gruff
-Life Among the Death-deniers
-The Turtle and the Bunny
-The Ugly Cygnet
-Rubber Cuddle
-Resensitization
-Lost Planet

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

farewell FMB

(or, bye-bye Booze Beach)

And another chapter comes to a close.
Or not...i've been trying to dis-indoctrinate myself from seeing this life in terms of some kind of personal mythology, whereby the maintenance and creation (or even self-destruction) of that narrative inhibits us from actually being alive in the moment.
But yes, another home is about to become part of my past, as i head for San Francisco (a city, and for that matter state, where i've never been). This will be the first time i've moved to a new home with no support system waiting. I'll have a brother ninety minutes away, but otherwise i'll be a stranger in a strange land. I don't have my residence lined up yet (know anyone in the city by the bay who has a room for a non-materialist, semi-flatulent free spirit??), but i'll have a week or two housesittting in Davis to get that arranged.
I've been told all my life that i was made for CA...progressive and so laid back i won't be perturbed by mudslides, fires, or San Andreas hi-jinks. Of course, the Yellowstone supervolcano may also be due for an eruption that would wipe out the western U.S., which would merit one hell of a "gnarly". But with coastal wind conditions, San Fran might get only a half-inch of ash, unlike the 1-3 feet that would fall inland...so i've got that goin' for me.
Have i enjoyed my time here? I came to find peace, warmth, and healing after a decade in the cold, hard city, plus a spiritual journey that had disabled my emotional walls...and healing i found. Falling coconuts to open, beautiful storms and sunsets, more nudity than city life provides, and lush plants to tend (i bemoan the coming drop in upkeep for the greenery at my home - it's taken me all this time to get the whole thing beautified: candle-wood, frangipani, poinciana, passion vine, devil's trumpets, bridal tree, corn tree, and others i can't even name).
I came to take my baby steps in the public speaking of my own writings, and that's been a resounding success. Even more surprisingly, i've been able to delight any audience, from the young and hip to the old and cranky (or even fundamentalist!). My repertoire is honed, and it's time for a metropolitan, progressive pond in which to play.
Personally however, it's been more disaster than delight. The friend i came for above all, the one i thought of first whenever i wanted to share something i'd written, someone i'd cultivated for fifteen years and had hoped was ready for a friendship that would show the world how to do it, flickered out in a sociopathic, hurtful haze (Did i live here twice as long as planned partly to give her time to sort through her demons, and know i would still be here? Sure.). Number two on my friend list didn't bloom either. And my mother hasn't dealt well with her fear and control issues - she pretty much kicked me in the stomach every time i saw her these first few years. The one play i acted in was a horror show, with unexplained loathing for me emanating from my co-star. My romantic life was almost non-existent, and might have been better had nothing happened at all...one almost-lover came laden with post-traumatic issues, and focused so much unbalanced hatred at me that i feared for my life. I had one work client descend into bipolar depression - i should have left her, but was perhaps her only regular human contact, so in return for my amazing work and friendship i let myself be kicked in the face with paranoia, obsessiveness, and cruelty for many months. Another client transferred all her stress onto me...i tried to disentangle myself but she wouldn't let go, and i stayed with her because i thought i might be able to help her confront her control issues, or at least give her a little of the physical caring she had lived without for so long.
In many ways, i need to recover from my recovery.
On the plus side, my two aunts were a source of joy, and i had many clients who were a delight. The personal connections i made through my public speaking were breathtakingly humbling. My housemate chris was a rock, always there with support and the type of joyful irreverence that feeds my spirit. My other housemate irene has been descending into dementia these four years, but can still be a delight. I tried to get her out of the house once a day while she was still living at home, and i considered remaining here until she died. But her death has dragged on for over a year, and she doesn't want me to put my life on hold. So the other day, i had to say goodbye to her forever. So hard. My two closest physical companions, sarah and hank the rescue pit bulls, are away on a trip that has taken far longer than expected, and i won't even get to say goodbye. So sad.
Yet even in this broken, unfeeling world, and with my own flirtations with clinical depression, my creativity has persevered. I've written continually...essays, poems, and new versions of every classic fairy tale. Last month i recorded ten of my songs with a dear, dear friend. My little thoreau's cabin on this canal has been an unfailing sanctuary.
I love you all.
See you in San Fran.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"Stumbling on Happiness"

-by daniel gilbert
2005
A charming book, that proposes a definitive completion to the endlessly iterated (and eternally debunked) proposition that "humans are the only animals that BLANK". Every time we've tried to finish that sentence (make tools, have culture, use drugs...), our puffed-up arrogance has eventually gone pfffffffffft. But now, NOW, gilbert finally has the correct sentence (or not...perhaps our compulsive need to finish that sentence merely reveals a pathological need to justify our behavior or expunge our murderer's guilt). For what it's worth, gilbert tells us that humans are the only animal that projects its own existence into the future, and thus we're the only creature constantly making decisions based on what we THINK will make us happy years or decades from now. He explores our biology, and our singularly enormous frontal brain lobe. He then illuminates the aspects of human psychology that make us so horribly bad at our aforementioned happiness-projections...namely, that our capacity for self-delusion in the service of ego seems almost limitless, and that we also never stop making the mistake of basing our future state of mind on the limits of our current state of mind. We're also profoundly geared toward needing a good self-image...and to that end, we subconsciously let the truth be damned! We always report a high level of happiness with conditions we're STUCK with (a marriage, a bought car, a circumcision), but are more truthful with ourselves about conditions we can jettison easily (a girlfriend/boyfriend, a leased/rented car, a piercing). For example, we always pay lip service to the notion that parenthood is a source of profoundest joy, when in-depth studies reveal that parental happiness takes a universal dive after children are born, never to return to original levels until the kids have left the nest. Gilbert's main thrust, advice-wise, is to urge us to trust the advice of others who have greater experience. Time and again, studies show that method to be more reliable than our own guesses...yet (surprise?), we seem profoundly resistant to such advice.
A fascinating book, and a wonderful read. In this day and age, it always seems that the psychological profession is farthest behind the curve, relative to the speed with which the other sciences teach us new things about human nature. Thank you for restoring my faith a bit, daniel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Freethinkers"

-by susan jacoby
2004
I'm hard-pressed to offer a more perfect and concise critique of this book, than that provided by philip roth - a freshman course on the history of american secularism should be required at every college, and "Freethinkers" should be the text. There's simply no level on which jacoby's work isn't everything you could want: depth of research, clarity of vision, and smoothness of prose. Her main thrust is twofold - honoring the rich history of american freethought, and making it clear how vital the separation of church and state is to democracy...a message that may be more needed now than ever, with fundamentalist revisionists trying to jam religion back into government, and convince everyone that we're a "christian" nation. It takes a staggering level of truth-avoidance to suggest that the founding fathers wouldn't have been appalled by those efforts, but many believers are willing to take that leap. Jacoby helps you understand how easily minorities are disenfranchised by allowing religion into government, even a tiny bit. A world without diversity, or freedom of thought...is that the America to which we should aspire?
"Freethinker" is a word that has long since fallen out of vogue, but it was a noble honorific during the 19th century, when the notion of not being beholden to dogma or superstition was so strong, it was a national movement. Before radio or cinema, the primary social entertainment was lectures, and there was no more prominent 19th-century draw than robert ingersoll, the "Great Agnostic" who almost single-handedly restored the fame and honor of thomas paine, the godfather of american freethought. Would the Revolution have happened without paine? Would the slaves have been freed without william lloyd garrison? Would the feminist movement have happened without elizabeth cady stanton? Would the labor movement have happened without eugene debs? Would the civil rights movement have happened without bob moses? In all cases, the answer is almost certainly yes...but these were the freethinking people who stood up and dedicated their lives to making our murderous, greedy, hypocritical country actually live up to the ideals on which it was based.
The stories jacoby illuminates are fascinating, like how susan b. anthony and margaret sanger furthered the feminist movement by compromising it, making undesirable alliances or backing away from the depth of their beliefs, the way stanton steadfastly refused to do.
Or francis bellamy, who wrote the pledge of allegiance...but most people don't know that he was a minister who was defrocked for railing against the evils of capitalism, and that he would have been appalled by the insertion of the two words "one nation UNDER GOD" sixty years later.
Nor, jacoby admonishes, should we take any humanist victories for granted, for they could disappear in the blink of an eye. An hysterical but frightening example came after the Espionage Act of 1917-18, which criminalized any disloyal language. On that basis, a filmmaker was imprisoned for making a short film about the American Revolution, which cast our then-ally England in a negative light.
I've gone back and forth with labeling myself. Is agnostic too abstract or conciliatory? Is atheist too immodest or confrontational? Is secular humanist too wordy or toothless? In many ways, freethinker is better than any of them. Let's keep the dream alive. Thank you, susan.

Friday, May 26, 2017

"Unbought Songs"

I spent two days in Sarasota last week, sharing laughs and great food, and recording ten songs i wrote. I went in with little more than words and melodies, and the most brilliant musician i've ever known turned that into ten beautiful recordings. Glorified demos, but the fact that he was able to construct fully realized songs (modulate that fucker!) within minutes of hearing my raw material, is impressive...and the fact that i can't hear one thing i'd now change, is astounding. We did story songs, blues ballad, punk rock, folk music, trance music...his name is jim (prosser, if you'd care to know), and he's one of two friends i still have from my teenage years. He's worked as a composer/accompanist all his adult life, mostly at FST (Florida Studio Theater). The professional actors he works with tell him they've never met anyone better. I told him that once i get settled in San Francisco, to be ready for me to book us as a duo in a nightclub. I'll give him top billing in the jim & wrob revue (if you heard him play and sing, you'd do the same). Half the music will be my bizarro creations, and for the other half i'll pick up some bongos and get out of his way.
I've tentatively named the album "Unbought Songs". I'm also considering "Meadow Music" and "Naked Notes", but since most of these songs were written when their home was called Unboughtsoul, the former title may be most appropriate. Here's the track list:
1) Giving Love
2) Penniless Writers
3) Woody & Soon Me
4) Every Child
5) Hippie Man
6) Too Late
7) Cuddly Cunt
8) Bend You Over
9) Whose Ass?
10) The Hurtin'
11) Too Late (alt. take)
I've already learned how to accompany myself on two of them. If you see me with a ukulele case that looks like a guatemalan wallet, make a request - don't worry, you'll regret it. I love you all.

Monday, May 22, 2017

T.R.U.M.P.

Temporary regressive uber-narcissist misogynist president?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

-by douglas adams
2002 (ultimate edition)
You know how once in a long while, some things of fantastic repute are just as good as advertised?
I feel like a traitorous cad to say this, but douglas adams isn't one of them.
People whose opinions i respect often love adams. Monty pythons, or neil gaiman (who wrote the foreword for this collection), and many others offer devoted testimony. I want to love him, i do. If you're stuck in a cabin in the woods with barely tolerable relatives, and an adams novel is the only book sitting in a basket of Redbook magazines, it sure as hell beats mushroom-hunting with uncle lou...but not by a lot. The best thing about this collection is the aforementioned foreword, actually. Rich, beguiling prose, but gaiman's talk about the transformational power of adams' work mystifies me. And maybe that's okay. Maybe it doesn't mean the devotees are defective, or I'M defective...i should have loved adams, though! It seemed like i was so temperamentally well-suited as a teenager. I was an avid reader, intelligent and already inclined toward sci fi and british humor. The unseen emanations of cultural inclinations pointed me to adams, so i read the first novel, and...nothing special. Maybe i was in a strange mood that week? I meant to read another, but never got around to it. Thirty years later, this collection fell into my lap, and i decided to rectify my probably-faulty initial impression. I read all five novels, and...nothing. Good, but an "heir to twain"? Great googily, not even close. Adams was intelligent and offbeat and imaginative, but with all the buildup that gaiman and others provide, the reality just feels like somebody's slipped you a watered-down substitute, hoping you'll be cowed enough to not mention the naked head of state. And the thought that's most pernicious, is wondering whether adams himself would have been the first to say that his books really are adams-lite.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Mythology"

-by the Bee Gees
2010
Let me play devil's advocate - what's the only difference between the Bee Gees and the Beatles? Disco! Had the fab four stayed together through the seventies, it's very possible they would have had their disco period, and then been caught in the same blowback that turned the gibbs into a punchline. Preposterous? Listen to paul's "Goodnight Tonight". Ergo, the only reason the Beatles loom larger is because they had the good sense to break up. It's an interesting thought, and not without merit...but probably nonsense. Even if the gibbs had george martin's classical touch, even if they had lyrics that meant anything (and the fact that Bee Gee lyrics are relentlessly about nothing, cannot be denied - even during their folk phase, they were barely socially relevant), even if all that were true, the melodic lyricism of the Beatles probably stands alone. That being said, it also cannot be denied that the Bee Gees have been treated to an historically unjust trashing, one that obscures their relentless brilliance. If you played the Bee Gee and Beatle catalogs for some passing aliens, it might not be clear to them that one is superior.
I'm just saying.
This four-disc box set comes at you from an interesting angle - separating each brother (including andy) into a single disc, to focus on the songs that featured them (or their personal favorites). It's curious to treat a collective unit like solo artists (sort of the artistic flip side of cobbling together a hypothetical Eagles album from don, glenn, joe, and timothy solo songs), but the result is pretty damned enjoyable. What jumps out is the rather sweeping awesomeness of the barry disc. The others are delightful, even surprisingly so in maurice's case, but the barry disc flows over you like a juggernaut. And if you're like me, more than a casual fan but far from an aficionado, you might not have even realized that maurice sang any lead vocals. That was him on "Closer than Close"? Really?? Bang-on, brother mo.
But this approach begs the question (and an online search has failed to provide a single clue), is it credible to separate Bee Gee songs the way one can with the Beatles? "That's a john song, that's a paul song" stands up to a fair amount of scrutiny, but the Bee Gee creative process seems to have been more integrated - they apparently did their writing in the studio, as a team. Is there any extent in which it's fair to say that "Night Fever" is a barry song, and "I Started a Joke" a robin song? I dunno. Regardless, this collection is dandy from start to finish. Some purists claim to dismiss anything they did after the 60s...but that feels like elitist nonsense. Are you really going to argue that they were less talented as writers and musicians in their thirties than they were in their twenties? Because that's a growth curve with which i'm not familiar. And be absolutely truthful...does anyone think that 60s Bee Gee music has aged better? Is there anybody who finds those songs to have conspicuous replay value today? I've got tremendous folk affinities, and i find their 60s work respectable but bland.
To a semi-casual fan like myself, these discs (at least the final three) are loaded with songs you've never heard. Which is great. The standouts? Barry's "Spirits Having Flown", which at first listen may feel like a flaccid choice to lead off a box set, but after a few hearings i rank it as one of their best ever (did you know that after george martin, barry is the most successful pop producer ever?). Robin's "Islands in the Stream", done as a solo, is exquisite. Maurice's "Lay It on Me" is almost inexpressibly delightful, because it's more raunchy and rebellious than anything you've heard them do (but stay away from the last cut on his disc - you've been warned). Andy's disc doesn't have any unheralded standouts, but fares surprisingly well aside the larger outputs his brothers are able to access.
The only flaw in this collection...eighty-one tracks and no "This Is Where I Came In"??
But i quibble.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Pete Rose"

(My Prison Without Bars)
-pete rose, with rick hill
2004
If you've never read a book about sports (and perhaps never wanted to), this might be the exception you should make. And not for any reason that will be obvious to 99% of readers...to most, this will be just another mindless jock book. But if you have a keen eye for the human condition, this book occasionally (and perhaps even unintentionally) touches upon a kind of honesty that not one writer in a hundred comes near. There are moments of self-revelation that are viscerally frightening, perhaps all the more so because it never strays far from the macho attitude.
If i tell you that pete rose is a sociopath, can you understand that i'm not singling him out? That we are all of us in some degree sociopaths, and it is only up close that his breathtaking inhumanity stands out?
Words are manipulations, and pete never strays too far from his primary motivation - to convince you that he's remorseful, that he's served his time (in prison literally), and as his crimes were so much less toxic to baseball than steroids, would we PLEASE allow him into the Hall of Fame already? He's angry about the hypocrisy with which he's been treated, and it's a fair point. He maintains that he never for one second compromised the integrity of the game, and you're inclined to believe him.
To that i say...well, whatever. Awards and honorifics don't mean much to me.
But the visceral part of this book is in how pete genuinely tries to come to terms with his sociopathic side. He never uses that word, but he talks openly of his inability to perceive the feelings of others (or himself). It's obvious he's been in therapy, and the term "oppositional/defiant" is invoked often. You do get the sense that beneath his bravado, a part of him is genuinely ashamed, mostly because his dead father never would have approved of lies. He speaks of his father in heroic terms...and while you want to admire that, you also realize that something in pete's childhood was cripplingly dysfunctional. And again, pete is not unique in that regard. In this culture of fear and alienation, we are all of us irrevocably damaged by the time we're adults.
The final chapters fall back into the self-mythologizing, ain't-it-great-to-be-me nonsense that every other sports memoir offers up. But on the way to that place, there are some detours that are disturbing and...admirable.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Barney Miller"

-created by danny arnold, theodore j. flicker
1975-1982
Pretty middle-of-the-road: sometimes intelligent, occasionally a touch hip, but largely guaranteed to offend no one. Its one glowing contribution to cultural progress was its diversity - a squad room with jew, black, wasp, hispanic, and asian all working together, and nobody seeming to notice or care. The pacing (most laid-back cop show ever?) would never make the cut today (would SOMEBODY pick up their cues please??), but that was an acceptable style back then. Like all cop shows pre-HILL STREET BLUES, the characters suffer from two-dimensional distress, but there's enough chemistry to keep things afloat. Hal linden (JACK'S PLACE, OUT TO SEA) was as steady a series lead as you could want. Abe vigoda (FISH, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO) left pauses so big you could drive sanitation vehicles through them, but was irresistible nonetheless. Max gail (D.C. CAB, 42) was steadfast as wojciehowicz (there, i spelled it...and the evolution of his hair-replacement was fascinating too). Ron glass (THE NEW ODD COUPLE, FIREFLY) mastered the acting style known as "indicating", but still had charm. Steve landesberg (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, HEAD CASE) never got credit for being actually funnier than the vigoda he replaced, and also being the best character on the show. Jack soo (THE GREEN BERETS, RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN) missed many cues too, but still became adorably iconic. The one-note kvetching of ron carey (SILENT MOVIE, HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART 1) wore a bit thin, but he acceptably endured. The producers backed off appropriately when someone (detective luger, barney's wife) wasn't firing on all cylinders. The gold standard for age-inappropriate casting will always be GOLDEN GIRLS, but BM merits mention. Vigoda (mid-50s) plays a cop facing mandatory retirement. Soo (60s) was playing 40s. Carey plays a youngish cop, but was past 40. Landesberg (40s) played a 29 year-old. My grandfather loved BARNEY MILLER, and i loved my grandfather. If morty were here, this is what we'd watch.
MILLERTHON (season)
-The Life and Times of Barney Miller (unaired pilot)
What a wild little alternate universe. The plot is a pre-hash of the second pilot, with some of the same actors, but the only leads who matriculated are linden and vigoda. Charles haid (HILL STREET BLUES, ALTERED STATES) and val bisoglio (M*A*S*H, QUINCY M.E.) play detectives, and barney's wife is delightfully played by abby dalton (THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW, FALCON CREST).
-Hash (3)
When the precinct is unknowingly gifted with hash brownies, half the squad get varying degrees of looped. The series' funniest episode, and winkingly subversive.
-Power Failure (3)
During a blackout, barney has a serious flirtation with a psychiatrist. He ultimately retreats back into self-loathing monogamy, but it's nice to see some genuine humanity.
-Jack Soo: A Retrospective (5)
A clip show narrated by the cast after the death of the beloved jack.
-Contempt (7)
For refusing to give up the identity of a snitch, barney goes to jail. This two-parter is as grim as any middle-of-the-road sitcom gets, as the darker moments come close to exposing the inexcusable inhumanity of locking any living being inside a cage.
-Bones (8)
Not quite brilliant, but very touching. A native indian is arrested for stealing back a museum's stolen bones, and he elicits great sympathy while making his undeniable points. The capper on this one is the image of various brown-skinned people inside a cage surrounded by whites (plus harris, but he was one of the whitest black men in TV history).
-Landmark pt. 3 (8)
Parts 1&2 of this series finale are so unambitious that they barely have a pulse, but this one plucks the heartstrings, with appearances by most every recurring character. The worn-out 12th becomes a historical landmark, and everyone is transferred. Barney and levitt are promoted, wojo becomes a Staten Island K-9 cop, dietrich goes to upper Manhattan, and harris retires in protest at being sent to Queens.
FISHATHON (caveat - i've yet to see FISH season 2)
-Experience (1)
Fish finds himself alone in the station with a time bomb about to explode. His physical comedy touches are priceless.
-The Kid (2)
Fish finds himself amazed and uncomfortable to be attracted to the mother of a juvenile delinquent. She's quite smitten as well...
-Fish and Roots (FISH, season 1)
When one of fish's charges (todd bridges - ROOTS, DIFF'RENT STROKES) feels disaffected and alienated over his heritage, an african exchange student (herbert jefferson, jr. - BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN) pays a visit. The writing avoids condescension...barely.
-Lady and the Bomb (7)
Fish visits the precinct for the first time in three years. Twenty years before viagra, he uses his sexual impotence to talk a woman out of setting off a bomb (if only he could have worked similar magic with FISH).
HOOKERTHON (no, not t.j.!)
-The Courtesans (1)
Wojo, the most intolerant officer in the station when it comes to prostitutes, has his world turned upside down when he develops feelings for one (nancy dussault - TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT, THE IN-LAWS). The show's attitude toward prostitution leans toward sympathy, and shame over our society's hypocrisy. The first episode to make it clear that the writers aspired to be smart, not just funny.
-Stormy Weather (7)
In the middle of a storm that locks down the city, dietrich has an irresistible flirtation with a deaf mute prostitute (phyllis frelich - SANTA FE, SANTA BARBARA). Levitt steps up with sign language translation. Wojo jumps into the Hudson after a fleeing looter, and nearly drowns.
-Wojo's Girl (5)
In this two-parter intended to launch a spin-off, wojo's lover (and a former prostitute) moves in with him...or tries. The discomfort is poignant and palpable, a compelling commentary on trying to extend carnal intimacy into the domestic arena in a culture of alienation.
WENTWORTHON
Linda lavin (ALICE, ROOM FOR TWO) pops off the screen as novice detective janice wentworth. As a walking advertisement for being a woman in a man's world, she's frustrated, sassy, and sometimes startlingly sexy. Whenever she's onscreen, she makes the other actors look like cardboard cutouts. Had they managed to hold on to her, the show might have been great instead of near-great.
-Ms. Cop (1)
-Heatwave (1)
-Grand Hotel (1)
-Block Party (2)
-Massage Parlor (2)
DIETRICHATHON
-Accusation (5)
After dietrich spurns the sexual advance of a lonely woman he treats kindly and escorts home, he is accused of improper sexual conduct. Not quite brilliant, but not nearly as regressive as you might fear, and fascinating in the light of evolving attitudes about harassment.
-Fire (FISH, season 1)
Dietrich visits fish at his new home, as one of phil's wards is suspected of setting fire to an abandoned home.
-Dietrich's Arrest (6)
This two-parter has arthur arrested for attending an anti-nuke protest, violating the department's behavioral policy. Not quite brilliant, but fascinating.
-Resignation (7)
After shooting a suspect in self-defense, arthur's non-violent conscience compels him to resign. The squad convince him that abandoning yet another career may not be the answer.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"The Brain that Changes Itself"

(Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science)
-by norman doidge, m.d.
2007
For centuries, it has been assumed that the brain is a static construct, never changing (and only diminishing) once adulthood is reached. This book turns that assumption on its head, and my initial skepticism was gradually swept away by the depth of research doidge has given his subject. He details all the pioneers in the field of brain "plasticity" - the brain's ability to reorganize itself, as in the case of debilitating injury to body or head, or to learn new things and grow new neural pathways well into old age. "Localization", the idea that each brain function has a specific biological location which can ONLY happen at that place, is also de-pantsed, as we learn how adjacent brain areas can "take over" functions which have been denied or debilitated. Doidge writes of the role that habit and culture play in brain growth, and how repeated behaviors create "pathways" that become easier the more one uses them. Our unguessed-at flexibility can be both a blessing and a curse, as established pathways can be profoundly hard to undo, should those behaviors or attitudes become undesirable. There is a wealth of information in this book for those dealing with addictive behaviors (and who among us isn't, in one form or another?).
Our plastic brains are capable of far more self-creation than traditionally assumed. The "power of positive thinking" isn't just hyperbole, after all. For instance, i knew that the brain didn't know the difference between fantasy and reality (as in studies that show an athlete's brain has an identical reaction to winning a race, or just imagining winning). But the ability goes much deeper - a study revealed that doing an exercise over a certain period of time results in a 30% muscle increase, but also showed that people who spent just as much time imagining themselves doing that exercise, achieved a 22% muscle increase.
There are now brain exercises that can sharpen perception and memory...the biggest thing to remember with memory loss being the salutary effect new learning has on old memory retention.
Another example of the brain's stunning adaptability is the child who was born with only one brain hemisphere, unbeknownst to the parents for several years. The child's development was abnormal to be sure, but her remaining hemisphere "took over" the missing functions so well that the child is now an adult who holds a job.
The implications for stroke victims is immense - as it turns out, there is a 3-6 month cerebral shock period after a stroke in which rehab has long proven ineffective, but we now know that the same rehab done later can have positive, even dramatic, affects.
The implications for psychiatric therapy are also hard to overstate.
And pain, as it turns out, is not at all as simple as we once thought. A significant part of any pain response is a product of the brain's almost instantaneous anticipation of that pain. Mind control is no joke.
And the differences between brains in different cultures is not just...cultural. Asian people literally have significantly different brains than westerners. Holism vs. analytical object-focus...
The notion of human nature as it relates to evolution is also an area which we can no longer view in the same way. In many ways, the structure of human brains is changing rapidly in the electronic age - shorter attention spans are probably with us to stay. Yet too, doidge admonishes that the danger of becoming too alienated from our biological nature is still very real, and could result in a culture of depressed, neurotic individuals. Sound familiar?
The only chapter which seems at all shaky is the one on sex, where perhaps the author lets his cultural biases flavor some of his conclusions.
But overwhelmingly, a delightful and amazing piece of work.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

name that band!

How interesting is your favorite band? I don't mean musically or lyrically, i mean compositionally (oops, another music term), in terms of its members' diversity? Racially, or by age/class/gender/philosophy? How many of your favorites are just a bunch of dusty, old (or young) white guys? Here are the bands that challenge that paradigm. Quiz your friends! Answers below.
1) A band that initially couldn't have been more soporifically homogeneous. Four youngsters of the same pigmentation, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic background. It was only after the band broke up and began solo careers that they became interesting: one became an atheistic revolutionary, another an apolitical crooner, another a holy roller, and the fourth a happy-time dickie.
2) An all-white band almost singularly unique for its gender balance and equity, with two men and two women. The lead singer was a she, and the primary songwriter a he.
3) The first major american band to have an integrated, multi-gender lineup, with three black men, two black women, and a couple o' white guys. The women weren't just backup singers either - they played instruments and sang an occasional lead vocal.
4) Not a grand symbol of equality in diversity, as this quartet's singer/songwriter was just as white and male (and pretty nerdy) as two of his bandmates...but they're worthy of mention for that white chick on bass.
5) Founded at a time when black bands and white bands couldn't have been more segregated, this unit was universally embraced for the brilliance of its black singer/songwriter/guitarist...yet many people never realized that the other members of the trio were white.
6) An oh-so-rare rock duo - one he, and one she. She played drums and sang an occasional vocal, he did most everything else.
7) Another XX/XY duo, and this one more balanced - he did most of the songwriting and she did most of the vocals, but they both did both.
8) This quintet's most fascinating feature is that two of their three lead singer/songwriters were women...yet they never became identified as a "girl band" in the public consciousness. Why? Because they took their name from their all-male rhythm section? They're also the only major band in pop history comprised of brits and yanks.

1) The Beatles
2) The Mamas and the Papas
3) Sly and the Family Stone
4) Talking Heads
5) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
6) The White Stripes
7) Ike & Tina Turner
8) Fleetwood Mac

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"China Beach"

-created by john sacret young, william broyles jr.
1988-1991
What are we to do with you, CHINA BEACH? I so wanted to love you, because (with apologies to TRAPPER JOHN M.D. and AFTERM*A*S*H) you were the heir to M*A*S*H, which was about the Vietnam war in everything but name. You took Vietnam head on, with the setting a military field hospital (again). You were a drama, so i dreamed of you being hard-hitting and searing. The best i can say is that you steadfastly refused to suck...yet just as determinedly refused to be great. You tried, though - fine acting, impressive visuals, competent dialogue, and (as much as possible in mercenary Hollywood) the feeling of a labor of love.
What was the fatal flaw? You didn't have a voice, a clear point of view. All you offered was a general "isn't war bad" message. Is it possible for a show to be great without a distinct voice? Yes, actually - THE WEST WING, one of the three greatest shows ever, had no particular voice, just a hazy, diffuse, nebulous humanism (i know, i just used three words that mean the same thing). But there were two things WEST WING also had - scintillating dialogue and a lightning strike of chemistry. The comparison deepens when you discover that sacret young would become one of the late-era producers of WW. Or perhaps chemistry is CB's fatal flaw...and that's a damn shame, as it's nobody's fault. But the relationships never popped with depth or believeability, so we never fell in love with the characters (which made the final season semi-interminable, because it's devoted to the soap opera aspects of the show). The soldiers never felt quite as coarse as they ought have been, and the uglier realities of war were sometimes rose-tinted.
Were there great elements? Yes! It was quietly one of the greatest feminist shows ever, with female directors and writers, and a central character (dana delaney - TOMBSTONE, EXIT TO EDEN) a woman who enjoyed serial sexual relationships just as much as her male TV peers (and most real people). The commanding officer (concetta tomei - PROVIDENCE, DON'T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER'S DEAD) is female, and the cast skewed in the estrogenly direction. There was a fully humanized prostitute (marg helgenberger - SPECIES, ERIN BROCKOVICH), who is a fantastic testament to the notion that war doesn't just create fucked-up people - it attracts them. And more than half the women were a far cry from the barbie dolls that network television usually trots out. Ricki lake (HAIRSPRAY, CRY-BABY) in particular, was a brilliant challenge to audiences unaccustomed (or even uncomfortable) with seeing a fat woman as a real person, in lust and love (and abortion). One wonders whether the first season chemistry had the most potential, with a criminally innocent donut dolly (nan woods - IN THE MOOD, ONE MORE SATURDAY NIGHT), and a man-crazy USO performer (chloe webb - SID AND NANCY, SHAMELESS) who has such a jarringly different quality from typical TV characters that i was never sure whether i loved or hated her, or whether she was a brilliant actress or terrible...
After the satiric buffoonery of all command officers in M*A*S*H, CHINA BEACH humanized the brass. It was a nice touch, and actually worked.
The show's only character that one ultimately cares about, is the emotionally-void super-soldier dodger (jeff kober - ALIEN NATION, TANK GIRL). He finishes his tour and takes a vietnamese baby home, but can't survive without the war, and finds himself back "in country" trying to build a hospital. He meets a paraplegic vietnamese woman, and you long for them to find something beautiful. All this makes his ultimate fate as just another mindless born-again all the more heart-rending.
Robert picardo (STAR TREK: VOYAGER, STARGATE: ATLANTIS), michael boatman (HAMBURGER HILL, SPIN CITY), nancy giles (DELTA, I'M NOT RAPPAPORT), troy evans (ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, ER), meghan gallagher (HILL STREET BLUES, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), and ned vaughn (APOLLO 13, THE BEACH BOYS: AN AMERICAN FAMILY) all do fine work, too.
What else? Your theme song "Reflections" was the only great recording diana ross ever did. You were a touch of healing for the national wound that was Vietnam - the war finally got its own show, one the veterans could take pride in. And perhaps best of all, you didn't underplay how war fucks up its participants permanently (including your central character). The audience waits for Hollywood endings, and it generally doesn't happen.
But i actually bent the truth when i said the show never sucked or reached greatness. It was awful twice - the mawkish, clod-footed "Warriors", and "Skylark", which i believe the future producers of TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL must have recorded on Beta max, to watch over and over and over...
But "One Small Step", in which the haunted but irrepressibly upbeat boonie (brian wimmer - TANK GIRL, FLIPPER) gets his leg blown off and finds himself stateside in one recovery hospital after another, is damn-near unqualifiedly brilliant. For a marathon of the show's best, watch this plus the first three episodes of the third season. Just try to resist any temptation to watch the rest of the series, unless "good not great" is good enough.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Cass County"

-by don henley
2015
If you had told me that one day don would release an album which i would have zero interest in hearing more than once, i wouldn't have believed you. It's a sign of how eagerly i anticipated this one, that i waited an extra year for the "deluxe" edition to drop in price, before hearing the album at all. And let me be clear, it's not awful - if you like mindless country music, give it a spin. But it's the first jarringly un-henley thing don has ever done. All the edge and social relevance are gone. Don't misunderstand...even though the current crop of Nashville's finest are paperweights unfit to hold george or lyle's hat, i find some country tunes and sounds pleasing. No, what sticks in my craw is the way don almost celebrates his newfound apathy. Not that i don't understand the impulse - you could argue that his lifetime of socially relevant lyrics haven't changed one damn thing, so who could begrudge an old fart no longer giving a shit? But if you've got nothing to say, why not just make an album of instrumentals? Or why couldn't you have just recorded your friend timothy b.'s "I'm Not Angry Anymore", which has a similar sentiment but is more musically satisfying (don could even add some of his own lyrics to personalize it)? Most of the CASS COUNTY lyrics are inoffensive, but some are worse. He takes a british stiff upper-lip attitude - no complaining, no bleeding heart humanity, just accept things and shut up. I first noticed this trend on "Get Over It". Yes, many people whine a lot, and some of it is gratuitous, litigious bullshit which shows no appreciation for real suffering. Fair point...to a point. But to extend that to an ethos of indifference, in a world where selfish greed is causing incalculable misery and destruction? Say it ain't so, don. By the time a good song finally appears ("A Younger Man", a kiss-off from an old man to a young woman), i had given up on the album entirely. "Where I am Now" has its merits, too. The trio tune with mick jagger however, feels lifeless, as though the participants just recorded their bits on different continents, never once meeting. Still in all, you've got to respect any artist who refuses to kowtow to their fan base. And kudos for writing a love note to your Texas roots, don. If there's another album in your future, i'll be there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

benny 1938

Benny goodman's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall is widely acclaimed as the event that brought jazz into the cultural mainstream. In case you think it was just a white performer lending legitimacy and reaching mass audiences by simply copying his dark-skinned superiors, have a taste. Benny is unearthly, and harry james offers a trumpet solo as good as any i've ever heard...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayNEiQvKqac

Friday, April 14, 2017

21st century

The great american question of the 17th century - who ARE these pink-skinned assholes?
The great american question of the 18th century - what loyalty is owed a government that keeps rich men from their profits?
The great american question of the 19th century - what loyalty is owed a government that tolerates racial slavery?
The great american question of the 20th century - what loyalty is owed a government that tolerates gender slavery?
The great american question of the 21st century - what loyalty is owed a government that tolerates POVERTY?

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Weird Things" leftovers


So what about me? This paragon of skeptical rationalism? This guiding light for the unwashed mass of muckbrains? Any "weird things" lurking in my own cerebral closet?
Well...yes.
God or ghost? Nay.
Karma or reincarnation? Non.
Tarot or tea leaf? Nyet.
Fate or Friday the 13th? Nein!
Afterlife or astrology? Nahi!!
New Age or numerology? NO NO NO!!!
But...
I have entertained musings about telepathy, telekinesis, and the law of attraction. Unseen connective forces, our brains affecting the universe beyond our bodies, and other such jedi bullshit...for the record, there is NO scientific evidence to back up any of it. And not for lack of serious looking. So i don't drink the kool-aid.
But i sniff the cup probably more than i should.
And i am a bit of a sucker for certain conspiracy theories - JFK, government plots to pull us into wars, the barons of capitalism maneuvering to keep the masses poor and ignorant (capitalism does that by itself just fine, thank you).
That's it, i'm sure there's nothing else...ohhhhhhhhhhh wait. I, um, seriously dabble in the health (and life-extending!) benefits of non-ejaculatory sex. In my last long-term relationship i never came once, and alone i ejaculate one time out of seven. I confess, i even just googled "health benefits non-ejaculatory sex" to see whether science has caught up (that would be a no, not as such). Ah well, taoist non-wet dreams don't die easily...
So that's it, right? Wrong. There's one more skeleton in my credulous closet, far deeper than all the rest.
Are you ready?
When listening to the radio, i generally hit the "scan" button as soon as i hear a song i don't like, or a commercial is played. And when i find a song i like (or at least find acceptable), i sometimes imagine that were i to keep going, there's always one more song coming which i would have loved even more. Even if there's been nothing on continuous scan for five minutes, the moment i stop the search, i imagine that a far superior song starts playing on another station. Not that i'm continually chasing greener sonic pastures. Mostly, i'm relieved to find "acceptable" and stay right there. And i don't actually believe that this "superior song snydrome" has ANY basis in reality. It's more private joke than actual belief. I suppose it's a little echo of murphy's law, plus a parallel to well-earned romantic cynicism. Choose one, and you give up the better one lurking beyond the next bend! How degraded, how sad.
How about you? What weird things do you nurture in the bosom of your private thoughts?
On second thought, maybe keep it to yourself.
Use your judgment.
I'm not saying trust it...but use it as best you can.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"Skipping Towards Gomorrah"

(the Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America)
-by dan savage
2002
Down with the virtuecrats and scolds! UP WITH PEOPLE!
Or some such.
Columnist and radio host savage goes undercover, investigating each of the "deadly sins", to find out whether the hell-in-a-handbasket alarms raised by the buchanans, bennetts, borks, and o'reillys are so much hot air. They are...and what's worse (for them), astute constitutional and biblical scholarship actually supports the "sinners" over the hypocritical humanity haters.
For greed, he takes a hard-knocks crash course in gambling, and discovers that it's not about money, it's about the need to feel ALIVE in this couch potato culture.
For gluttony, he attends a NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) convention, where he discovers a good idea gone wayyyyyy overboard, then cleans his supersized plate (including a piece of cake the size of his head) at an infamous Claim Jumper restaurant.
For envy, he rubs elbows with the super-rich at a $500 a day fat camp that treats you harder than an army recruit...and up close finds almost nothing to envy.
For pride, he attends a gay pride parade, and discovers that the moralizing has become just an excuse for a humdinger of a party. He warns idealistic, trusting gay youth (of which he was once one) to take the "gay people are nicer" propaganda with a big grain of salt.
For anger, he goes to gun school in Texas...and while he still decries the idiocy of our hyper-armed society, he also discovers a talent and passion for shooting that outlives his journalistic mandate.
For lust, he digs deep into the thriving swinger subculture, discovering normal people at every turn...plus the interesting insight that it's the men who persuade the women to try, but the women who keep couples swinging back for more.
For sloth, he indulges in his own once-a-year pot habit, extending time and leaving his worries behind...and unleashes a scathing indictment of our unrelenting, stressed-out culture which creates an unending need for escape mechanisms of every stripe.
Dan's writing style is familiar and friendly, and his insights are far more sane than any of the virtuecrats he takes on (someone's got to point out that falwell and bin laden are philosophically almost indistinguishable, and dan's the man). If the seven deadly sins were rewritten to reflect a higher morality, the only one that dan would fall prey to himself is tribalism (and violent tribalism at that), as he offers unapologetic support for the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. And when he asserts that no one under eighteen should have sex, i can't help wonder whether he's entirely sincere...surely he must have some glimmer of the irreparable damage we do to our youth by denying them any outlet for their natural sexuality? Is he just protecting himself from virtuecrat backlash on the sexual front, forcing them to deal with him on their own turf (where, it turns out, he's better at their game than they are)? But these are the only quibbles i can muster for this brilliant book. You'll feel like he's your friend...
And you'll probably be right.

Friday, March 31, 2017

"Why People Believe Weird Things"

(Pseudoscience, Superstition, and other Confusions of our Time)
-by michael shermer
1997, 2002
Is it falsifiable?
If not, then it ain't science (or even scientific). It's speculation at best, and wishful thinking at worst. Between friends, such fare can be benign or even productive. Unfortunately, in troubled times our overactive imaginations too often take a turn into anti-scientific, anti-humanistic rubbish. Does religion foster attitudes of helplessness or self-loathing? Does belief in psychics prevent people from taking responsibility for themselves?  Do these and other unsubstantiated beliefs come between humanity and the one endeavor (science) that leads to true liberation? Michael tries to wrap his mind around the whys and wherefores of all our contemporary bogeymen and dead-end spiritual/intellectual streets.
He calls the ability to dream up wild ideas an evolutionary adaptation, at the heart of our talent for stunning technological and artistic wonders. If we weren't able to invest in off-beat notions more deeply than other animals, we would never have made bicycles or bassoons. But in an imbalanced world, this adaptation can be the noose around our neck. A greedy, violent, self-serving culture currently dominates our species, and studies reveal that the more unstable and fearful a society becomes, the greater the belief in magic (god is a concept by which we measure our pain, indeed).
But the greater question shermer tries to tackle is not why gus and norma normal believe in ghosts and numerology, but why genuinely smart people dine at the untestable trough too. There are long-term studies which show that non-believers are smarter than believers, and this writer himself has taken those results and (rather unapologetically) run with them. Not so fast, says shermer! Brilliant people can embrace hooey as well as, or better than, their dimmer compatriots. Some studies reveal that the relationship between intelligence and belief is orthogonal - in other words, no relationship at all (and with certain beliefs such as the new age movement, smarter people can be MORE susceptible). And smart people can be the devoutest of the devout because of the confirmation bias, our tendency to embrace evidence that substantiates previously existing attitudes (like my reaction to the "believers are dumber" studies), and screen out anything that fails to support us. Thus, a lifetime of small, successive seemingly rational assessments can lead to one grand whopper of irrational belief. And smarter people are better at rationalizing and defending their ideas, once they're invested.
But take heart! There's also evidence that even overly-credulous ninnies know they're being hoodwinked, at least subconsciously. When religious folk were asked to compare why they believe with why they thought others believed, they gave intellectual justifications for themselves, but emotional motivations for others. In other words, "I'm smart, but my idiot friends just need comfort and community".
Shermer, a well-traveled lecturer, debater, and founder of the Skeptics Society, also tackles creationism, near-death experiences, and Holocaust-denial (indeed, you might be advised to skip the chapters on that last one - to 2017 eyes, it's overkill). He delves into the 25 intellectual fallacies that lead people down blind alleys. With easygoing prose, he takes us on an occasionally infuriating but lovely ride.

Monday, March 27, 2017

sir paul's mop

Sigh.
Oh, paul.
What in holy hell happened to your hair??
I say this, mind you, in a world of comb-overs, weaves, implants, straightening, bottle blondes, reddish-brown asians, and whatever life form has taken residence on the donald's head.
A few years back, your hair suddenly appeared a deeper shade of brown than even when you were a twentysomething moptop.
Please, paul, we beg you...tell us it ain't so.
I know, i know, it's nobody's business but your own. Even if you wore seaweed tresses, it's YOUR head and anybody who don't like it can sod off.
Freedom of expression! Respect for one's elders!
Except...
If ever the personal were political, this is it. Have you truly thought about the message you're sending? I know you understand how horribly ageist this society is. Old people are marginalized, demeaned, or made invisible. It's there in most any magazine or movie...OLD IS UGLY. Some kind of "sickness" to be resisted and fought, tooth and nail, until that pathetic day when we finally croak and rid the world of something nobody was comfortable seeing anyway.
Not only that, but you're catering to the fear of death, and fear is something this world very much needs LESS.
And i know...you've been "hitting the bottle" for a long time. Decades, one should think. But it's just so bald-facedly obvious now. It's gone on far too long to be just something some dim-witted female had you do, which you went along with because you wanted to get in her pants and who among us hasn't been there? I wore combat boots and plaid shirts for a few months when i was fourteen. It happens. Maybe you got in the habit, and had no idea how to stop once it occurred to you to do so.
But i know you believe in the notion that age is not to be avoided, but revered. And what about embracing yourself for who you are? Or the idea that older people might have a little wisdom to share...and even if they don't, they should still be venerated, because they've SURVIVED, and most young people have no idea how hard that actually is?
Understand, i'm not one of the haters. I've never once slagged you for what you're not. You're not lennon? No, and he's not YOU. I'm the only macca fan i know who has never even dumped on PRESS TO PLAY. It's one of your better works, and anyone who says otherwise can sit on it. "However Absurd", "Only Love Remains"...are you kidding? Achingly, brilliantly beautiful. "Angry", though a great tune, may be the most myopic, self-righteous thing you ever wrote..but i digress.
The point is, do you remember the album cover? The black and white of you and linda? Do you remember your hair? It was black and whitening, a metaphoric parallel of the photo itself. You looked beautiful, and seemed proud of it. THIS IS WHO WE ARE, the photo gently shouted, and it's fucking gorgeous. If you'll forgive just one more comparison to that lad from Menlove, am i the first person on the planet to realize that the PRESS cover was your TWO VIRGINS? More subtle, but just as politically powerful.
And now, it's hard to look at you. You've become some pathetic pitchman for every plastic "surgeon" or $100 wrinkle cream. You've become something to be explained and pitied. But unlike kenny rogers, it's not too late. Shave it off. Today. Now.
Go back to being a person the world needs.
I love you paul.