Friday, December 29, 2017

"The God Delusion"

-by richard dawkins
Dawkins, an ethologist and biologist, was Oxford's professor for public understanding of science from 1995-2008. The most succinct measure of his brilliance is that this towering tome isn't even his best work ("The Selfish Gene" or "The Ancestor's Tale" claim that honor, perhaps). The "world's preeminent atheist" lays out the myriad reasons why religious faith is untenable, as it is simultaneously a war against most of humanity, and the very notion of free, unbiased knowledge itself (to say nothing of the human self-loathing at the core). He walks though every defense of faith, from psychological to sociological, and dismantles each one. Nor does he leave the de-pantsed believer nothing to live for, as he demonstrates that human-based morality and universal wonder can match or outdo any godly wonders. He answers every critique of atheism, and delves into the origins and psychology of religion. He offers not condescension, but compassion. His writing flows from logic to science to personal stories both tragic and hysterical.
And the second-most succinct measure of his brilliance?
He has a ship named for him in Star Trek.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

"Monty Python & Philosophy"

(Nudge Nudge, Think Think!)
-edited by gary l. hardcastle & george a. reisch
A collection of essays from philosophers, about the resonances of philosophy in the universe of Monty Python...and not merely philosophical thought, but specific references to (and comments upon) differing schools of philosophy, both ancient and modern. Some writers (ahem) have gone so far as to suggest that a person's reaction to Python is one of the most foolproof, reliable measures of intelligence. Whether or not that's so, genuine philosophers seem to have no immunity to Python magic, as many of these writers credit Python with inspiring their careers. The essays range from fantastic to middling to contractually obligatory (i'm looking at you, 3, 9, and 13). The most brilliant by far are "Against Transcendentalism: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and Buddhism", by stephen t. asma, and "Madness in Monty Python's Flying Circus", by michelle spinelli. Asma's piece is simply one of the most piercing and concise summations of buddhism i've ever come across. What does that have to do with Python? A whole lot, actually. And spinelli's contribution is an historical deconstruction of the evolution of "madness" in western society. Reading it will make you understand yet another aspect of how far our society has strayed from any semblance of health.
A wonderful read. And not just because you'll finally learn every single lyric to the bruce's "Philosopher's Song".

Monday, December 18, 2017


(New Thinking About Children)
-by po bronson & ashley merryman
A windstorm that blows through traditional attitudes on child psychology (and by "traditional", i mean the stuff that is currently being employed by parents and schools everywhere). Bronson and merryman tabulate reams of new research that show us where we've been going astray. Heaping unqualified praise on children early and often may make them insecure under-performers - far better to praise effort ("mind is muscle"). Children get one hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago - which may be making them dumber, unhappier, fatter, plus that ADHD thing! Children in diverse schools are LESS likely to have a cross-racial friendship, traditional strategies to promote honesty only make children better liars, and educational media films for young children make them more aggressive and controlling (AND fail to improve their language growth...but now we know what does). Oh yes, and almost everything we thought about school gifted programs seems to be wrong. The research from chapter 7 shows that rebellion is a necessary function of teen brain growth, and that their argumentativeness with parents is a sign of respect...though that's the only chapter of which i'm not sure the researchers were asking the right questions. They were ignoring the sociological effects of raising children in a fear-based society of alienation. The authors themselves toss out one huge blind spot bias, asserting that natural teen sexuality is "bad", and to be repressed. But by and large, this brilliant book is guaranteed to turn much of what you thought you knew about parenting on its head.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

dear richard

Hello richard,
Stray thoughts that swirl...did you ever see the chris rock documentary "Good Hair"? It's a cutting (ha) investigation of black wimyn and hair. He interviews maya angelou, and she says that she spent her life refusing to straighten - until she turned seventy, that is! And chris avoids the obvious question - "Why did you start?" It made me pull my hair out (ha)! Did he feel too intimidated to ask?
Or maybe he did ask, but the answer ended up on the cutting room (ha) floor.
There is, by the way, a very good reason for why i was so taken with the chapelle method of dealing with the n word. I remember the most painful compliment i ever received - a sweet old lady told me she was so impressed that i never curse.
It wasn't true...i use "profanity" less than many, but i use it. And more to the point, intellectually i rejected the idea that words can be automatically bad. Any word can be good or bad, depending on intent. But to call a word automatically bad, is to give that word power over our emotions. It allows words to control us, rather than the other way around.
Just because i think things through, doesn't make me right. I'm open to being convinced that the chapelle method is wrong. But "blind spot" is a harsh way to describe what feels like a minuscule difference in tactics. Let's say that you and i and chris all decided in our youth that we needed to have a book in our heads, "How to Fight Racism". Over the course of our lives, our individual books have grown and changed. One chapter of these books would be "How to fight the language of racism". There are at least ten subsets of that chapter, and i suspect we agree on nine of them. We even agree on the word in general - in at least 99.9999% of social situations, that word has no place (in that regard, i'm a lot closer to your position than many in the black community).
I'm not saying the piece i wrote should be celebrated by the world. Maybe it just can't do what i intended it to do, in this world at this time. When i swing, i swing big. It's one of my strengths, and one of my weaknesses.
But i'm just saying, the racists of the world would do cartwheels to learn that chris is tearing me down because he and i disagree on a subset of a subset of a subset, when the far more important point is that he and i both hold the same book aloft.
Okay, enough release.
Thank you again for being there,

Friday, December 8, 2017

writer banned from open mic

(Note: since i'm the subject of this news release, i'm forced to interview myself. Don't worry, i won't go easy on me.)

San Francisco, Haight Ashbury
December 8, 2017
-A newly-arrived entertainer in the Bay area has been banned from the weekly open mic at Bound Together, the anarchist bookstore on Haight Avenue. Wrob, a writer/public speaker who hails from New York City and an island in the Gulf of Mexico, gave a performance last night that dealt with racial issues. While the story, a semi-fictional tale ostensibly about the development of wimyn's undergarments in England in the 19th century, was well-received, the bookstore's MC informed wrob (who doesn't use his last name as a protest against patriarchy) afterwards that he was never to come to Bound Together again. We asked wrob what happened.
NAKED MEADOW: Wrob, what happened?
WROB: I'm not quite sure.
NM: Tell us about the piece you read.
WROB: It uses humor to deal with issues of race. It's called "The Knicker Wars", and on the surface, it's about the development of knickers in England. At first, they were two separate leggings tied together at the waist, until the forces of religious conservatism decided that crotchless panties contributed to moral decay. Taking that as a starting point, i made up a culture war pitting libertines against prudes - in other words, the knicker-haters against the knicker-lovers. Obviously, i'm invoking the dreaded "N" word. The story's humor operates on multiple levels. I'm pointing up the ridiculousness of racism, the ridiculousness of letting words control our emotions...and of course the ridiculousness of sexual repression. The piece is about being able to laugh at ourselves in the face of insanities and inhumanities. And freeing ourselves from the tyranny of words and labels.
NM: Had you performed there before?
WROB: Yes, twice. I've been in the city a little over a month, and have performed at many open mics. It's been wonderful, and before last night i'd left only a trail of conspicuously happy responses.
NM: Had you performed this piece?
WROB: Only a couple times in Florida, to fine (if occasionally confused) responses. And let me stress, i have no doubt that the rev responded with the best of intentions. My humor can be complex and challenging. Sometimes that's the point - using the power of words to bump people out of their comfort zones, to force them to look at an issue from a different angle. Or just give them permission to laugh at something awful. If you can laugh at something, you strip away some of its power. This piece dances on a HUGE emotional button, and i have much faith in the rev's intentions.
NM: The rev?
WROB: At this open mic, we perform under alternate names. The rev, the MC, is a fantastic performer and writer. He's far from conservative. I had hopes of becoming friends with him.
NM: What name were you performing under?
WROB: Bonobo X.
NM: And the rev thought "The Knicker Wars" was offensive?
WROB: Apparently.
NM: Racist?
WROB: Apparently.
NM: What had he thought of your other work?
WROB: He'd already booked me as a featured speaker (now cancelled), and spoken with me about co-heading artistic projects with him.
NM: Tell me more about the crowd's response last night.
WROB: A performer knows when they have an audience, and i had 'em. When i finished and walked back to my seat, amid the applause someone in the front row (a person of color) jumped up and hugged me. It was humbling. But again, it's challenging material. I get that it might rub anyone the wrong way, depending on a million circumstances. I don't know what realities brought the rev to that moment in his life. I have complete faith that he was trying to do good. I just never imagined my first lenny bruce moment would be in an anarchist bookstore!
NM: Were you nervous performing the piece in front of a "person of color"?
WROB: That's why i chose it! I saw multiple people of color in attendance, which isn't always the case, and i was excited. It felt like the perfect choice.
NM: When did the rev tell you his feelings?
WROB: Right after my set, he asked me outside. I honestly thought he was going to lay some compliment on me he wasn't comfortable doing in front of everyone. When he started talking, it was like i'd stepped into the twilight zone.
NM: How do you feel now?
WROB: Sad. Stunned...unsure how i got zero benefit of the doubt...his backlash was almost savage. I think he must have felt horribly backed into some corner.
NM: Has this made you doubt your material?
WROB: Just this one piece? Possibly. I mean, i don't doubt its intent, but maybe it doesn't achieve what i want it to. It was the first real audience i'd ever done it for.
NM: If you were black, might the rev have judged you differently?
WROB: That's a brilliant question.
NM: Well, we didn't just fall off the turnip truck.
WROB: Yeah, maybe. It's so hard though...i mean, i myself did that just a few questions ago! I identified that person who jumped up to hug me as a "person of color". I reduced a humyn to their skin. It can be almost impossible to free yourself from the tyranny of labels.
NM: So what now?
WROB: Now...i'll just try to manifest patience and love.
When i asked wrob to describe himself as a writer, he said "the love child of twain, thoreau, lenny, and simone de beauvoir". I asked whether he intends to keep on performing, and he sure as hell hopes so. I asked whether he would do "The Knicker Wars" again, and he asked whether i knew any other anarchist bookstores.

Monday, December 4, 2017

hall and oates

Ah, the fickle finger of fortune, the prevaricating pointer of popularity...
Okay, i'm gilding the lilly. Yes, john oates and daryl hall's reputation went from 80s monolith to 90s nobodies. Perhaps never quite as great as their glory...but it's also fair to say that their fall from grace wasn't merit-based. Dedicated musicians who earned their gold records the hard way, with their first ten albums producing just three hits. They went from playing stadiums for a year in the middle of the 70s, back to doing the clubs, until their monster hits started rolling in 1980. They wrote their own songs, found a unique sound (the merging of, well, rock and soul), and gave us one of pop music's all-time pure voices.
The impetus for this best-of was mr. oates' new memoir, which reads like something a teenager would write for his grandmother. But i was inspired to listen to their whole canon, including many albums i'd not heard. Never brilliant, but often dandy - do you have any idea how hard it is to write just ONE tune that leaves people humming it the next day? By my count, they did so thirty times (plus a few more as solo artists). And their best albums, by my not-so-humble measure, may surprise you. Lift that stylus!
"Abandoned Luncheonette" (1973)
Blue-eyed folk? Produced by arif mardin and inspired by the decade of dylan, so smooth and sweet.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "When the Morning Comes", "Las Vegas Turnaround", "She's Gone"
"Livetime" (1978)
Their first live album, recorded at Hershey Park. It tanked. More loose and light-hearted than a stadium show.
"Sacred Songs" (1980, daryl hall solo)
Recorded in 1977 and deemed uncommercial by their label, it was only released after three years of pressure. Produced by robert fripp of King Crimson, it's sonically startling. And daryl has never sounded better.
"Voices" (1980)
In terms of their career, the big bam boom, and the first time they produced themselves.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Kiss On My List", "You Make My Dreams", "Everytime You Go Away", "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "Diddy Doo Wop"
"Rock n' Soul Part 1"
A shimmering constellation, topped by two tracks that still stand as best new songs on a hits album ever.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Say It Isn't So", "Adult Education", "Wait For Me (live)"
"Change of Season" (1990)
With the spotlight firmly off them, they produced a gem.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "So Close", "Starting All Over Again", "Don't Hold Back Your Love"
"Our Kind of Soul" (2004)
Fourteen covers plus three originals, the duo capture their own sound perfectly. The only H&O album without a weak link?
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Let Love Take Control", "Soul Violins", "I Can Dream About You"
"Home for Christmas" (2006)
Greatest Maxmas album ever? So warm, so beautiful, and the greatest first vocal note on an album ever. This, THIS is their only album without a weak link!
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Overture/The First Noel", "Home for Christmas", "Everyday Will be Like a Holiday", "Children, Go Where I Send Thee", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"
"Good Road to Follow" (2014, john oates solo)
Forty years after becoming a vocal superstar, mr. oates finds his voice. Startlingly fresh production over killer melodic precision.
STANDOUT TRACK: "Stone Cold Love"

Thursday, November 30, 2017

naked nurse 14


Dear naked nurse,
Do men only want you, until they have you?? I dated men my own age, and it was CRAP. Then i took my BF's advice and tried older men...which was great for a while, until the SAME OLD BULLSHIT!!! Are all men assholes?
-pissed in poughkeepsie

Dear pissed,
To the second question, not the first! To the first...not necessarily (in any barbaric time, there are individuals who perceive the insanity and try to swim against the current...but most of them drown). Most assuredly though, all men ARE assholes. Don't get smug or superior - so are wimyn. We ALL act as predators in the realm of love. We leverage whatever "attractiveness" society deems we have, to get the "best" mate we can. Despite the mawkish love songs, it's simple negotiation, where economics rule, not heart. The only difference between the sexes is that society gives greater permission for men to break the mated bond in the service of their sex drive (the same drive that wimyn have...but they're socialized and stigmatized more prohibitively).
Loving is giving without thought of obligation, and neither men nor wimyn know how to do that.
If men aren't bringing you happiness (and why would they?), i recommend serious study of the most current science of sexuality. If healthier perspectives don't bring you joy (and they probably won't)...try a womyn! If that doesn't work, try another century or two, we may finally get back to the garden.
heartfelt hugs,
the naked nurse

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

"We Were Feminists Once"

-by andi zeisler
What happened to feminism?
I mean since the 70s - what the hell happened? How did something that reflects the values of most people become a dirty word? And is the current resurgence just a market-friendly, superficial verisimilitude of a resurgence?
Before zeisler answers that question, let's make this personal. How did my lover, a mature womyn who cares about poverty and racism, decide that feminism wasn't for her? How did my housemate, a lifelong progressive, decide that feminism's victory was completed decades ago?
Reality check - estimates say that a womyn is raped every two minutes. Personal observation - that feels like under-reported bullshit, as half the wimyn i've known intimately were raped. How many of the hundred most influential people are wimyn? Time Magazine's list has gobs of 'em...but it confuses fame with influence (rupaul, colin kaepernick, and emma watson may be molding a few minds, but let's not kid ourselves about their actual influence). The annual "100 Most Influential Business Leaders" list perhaps gets closer, and currently shows fifteen humyns with no Y chromosome. Of the 194 world heads of state, we're at a record-high twenty-two non-penised entries (yes, you're probably stunned the number is that high).
And zeisler's take on this? Flat-out brilliant. She wields laser-like incisiveness that cuts through the hoopla of a media-driven celebrity culture. She deconstructs the current wave of hip feminism - while some genuinely pro-womyn initiatives have sprung up, she reminds us that celebrating the notion of feminism in a market-friendly way is a far cry from insisting on real equality. Ever since nixon quashed the Comprehensive Child Care Bill in 1971, no legislation has come anywhere near making life fair for low-income or single parents (read: mothers). In terms of abortion and bodily autonomy, we've been moving backwards. So is our culture celebrating feminism, or just co-opting it? Dove soap may show more natural female bodies...but they're still hawking wrinkle cream, and the notion that only young wimyn have value! The companies that make feminist underpants, feminist T-shirts, or feminist energy drinks pose zero threat to the status quo. There is dangerous hypocrisy in the fashion/beauty industry using feminism to sell products (including ones that damage wimyn - HOW can high heels still exist??), when they're only exploiting a culture in which wimyn spend an hour more than men each day "beautifying" themselves, and thousands of dollars more each year. Marketplace feminism would have you believe that choice is the same as long as your choices fall in line with what's culturally available.
So yes, a "Riot Don't Diet" T-shirt is awesome...but feminism's challenging complexity requires deeper dedication than a slogan, fashion, or concert prop. Celebrity/market nods can be a positive thing, says zeisler, but they can also foster a complacency most pernicious.
Don't take my word for it. Zeisler is a treasure.

P.S. Need a feminist laugh?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

dear pam 3

(This letter was triggered by me pondering aloud how i would feel if pam were in better shape. The wheels fell off the wagon.)
Dear pam,
It all started with your comment about liking how in shape i was, and that you'd only ever been with one other man similarly so. I was surprised that such things registered in your mind in a positive/sexy way. I was also pleased, because i liked pleasing you...and because it opened the door to us talking about shallowness, as something we shared.
I often fall back on "treat each other the way you want to be treated". And i need truth on a different level from most people. I don't want to love some idea of "you", i want to love YOU...every hidden thought, warts and all. That's how i equate love.
I also thought you might be impressed, or comforted, to know that i didn't care about your aging, or any other surface bullshit. I thought that might be the most comforting thing you've ever heard from a lover.
Because that's the most loving, comforting thing i myself could hear.
But you aren't me, and i sometimes disrespect that in dealing with others.
What's getting lost in all this unhappiness is that you're probably the least shallow romance i've ever had. I was proud of that, and wanted you to be proud too!
But in this world, i don't think anyone ever banishes their demons of shallowness. Control them? Maybe. They'll always be there, though. Anyone who tells you differently is probably lying (to you, or themselves).
And so (this is what i do to myself), i constantly ask whether there's anything i've said to you that's less than 100% honest. Or if there's anything unsaid, you would want to know. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. You see that kind of honesty as counter-productive, and fuck yes, it can be. But i see it as the only way out of the press agent bullshit we all accept as a substitute for real friendship, real love.
If you'd been telling me all along the things about me you find unattractive or might have fantasies of changing, i would have felt like we were really breathing.
Was i trying to impose my values? A little. But you were talking about loving me, and i knew that was never going to be real without you knowing my full truth...even when it's clumsy, or hurtful.
Like now.
I'm sorry, sweet songbird. I've been torn, with the knowledge of our time limitations meaning we might never get past the press agent stage...knowing that, should i just relax and be loving in the way you define it, if we're a source of comfort and happiness for each other? Or should i keep pushing for raw honesty? Either path is fraught with pitfalls. Especially for two people who see sex and love differently. If possessiveness weren't central to your vision of love and sex, would you have given a fig about me imagining a more "in shape" you? When it's not something that affects my desire to be with you?
That doesn't mean it wasn't insensitive of me. My chest hurts, knowing that you're hurting.
Our differences don't have to define us...with aligned expectations, they can be almost no issue at all.
A part of me has always been saddened that you've never said you want to end our romance*, because our friendship is too important. In my mind, that means there's some aspect of our friendship i'm probably fucking up.
Another part of me is so humbled that you talk about having the best sex of your life with me, that all i can think of is just holding you and never analyzing anything.
your fool,

*This is a measure she uses to define how important someone is to her.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

14 weeks in the monastery

The passing of time, the marking of milestones, commemorative coincidences...such things don't normally interest those devoted to living in the moment.
Yet as i sit here in my new home, i'm struck by resonances of the first article that ever appeared on this site. Almost ten years ago, i looked out my second-story city window and said hello to you.
Tonight, i look out another second-story window onto a city street, and it feels like a new birth has begun. Indeed, the main reason i returned to urban life after five years in a bucolic beach bungalow, is to maximize my literary voice in the world. I took some humblingly satisfying public-speaking baby steps on that Gulf of Mexico island...and now, i'm in one of the most famously progressive cities on the planet, ready to make writing and public speaking my primary means of interaction with my species.
Hello San Francisco! How is your spirit?
I've been here less than a week, but i've been in the Bay area almost five months, most of that time in painful purgatory, waiting for a safe haven. I seem to have found it, in the last place expected - the geographic center of the third most-expensive city in the U.S. I don't know anything about Honolulu, but with respect to NYC, i don't know whose ass they kissed to get a higher ranking. I lived in that Apple for ten years, and never had a problem getting a room at the drop of a hat, for $500 or less. Yet from my temporary housing across the Bay in San Pablo, i banged my head for three months against the local financial realities, trying to find a home on my non-materialist budget. Just a little room...a glorified closet would do! The ever-changing title to this article is testament to the never-ending stress of that search, because of the unrelenting hours it absorbed every day (visits that didn't pan out, disturbingly well-written fake ads, extensive phone calls and e-mails, flaky landlords, the feeling of having my life on hold, chained to my computer because if you're not one of the first respondents when an ad comes up, your chance is gone...NO, i don't have one of those pernicious smartphone doohickies).
And then there was the other component of my stress...a live-in, obsessive/compulsive, bipolar landlord. That doesn't sound so painful when spoken in clinical terms - which is the greatest flaw of overly clinical language. This piece's original title? "Six Weeks in the Monastery". That became a gut-lurching "Ten Weeks...", then finally...
So optimism and rebirth are upon me.
But first the strange, sad tale of the most schizophrenic home i've ever known (indeed, i don't know what the minimum time requirement is for a place to psychologically qualify as "home", but i definitely passed that benchmark once i moved beyond the initial title of this piece). "Schizophrenic" isn't a comment on that landlord, refers to the heavenly aspects that existed alongside the hellish. Two of my housemates were an unqualified source of joy and camaraderie. One was a source of camaraderie and misery both.
Why do i say "monastery"? Because silence was urged - except for the occasional shared movie night, no electronic devices without headphones. If you had a phone call, it was recommended you take it to the garage, or outside. Cleanliness was not next to godliness, it was the other way around - nothing out of place, and cooking dishes were to be cleaned before you eat. And NO houseguests.
None of those restrictions are inherently unreasonable...indeed, some are perfectly acceptable, even nice (for example, in silence i discovered that cactus flowers make an extraordinary popping noise when they unfurl). But most of those restrictions are distinctly unpleasant when married to obsessive compulsion.
I originally came to San Pablo as a semi-desperate choice, after two housing opportunities fell through and i faced the prospect of being the "guest who stayed too long". I'd been at my brother's for a month, first housesitting, then going with john and mary on vacations to Monterrey and Mendocino. It was all wonderful, but approaching sour time, so when i had a lovely phone chat about eastern philosophy with a landlord who would take me right away, i was off!
For my $500 a month, i got a shared living room. S, the landlord, knew upfront that i'd be continuing my search for a permanent home. With my customary positivity, i threw myself into my new surroundings...given an air mattress and a suggestion that i place it near the other tenant, i crafted a nook under the stairs. It fit the mattress perfectly, and i hung a sheet for privacy. Charming. I also devoted much more of of my time than any other tenant to cleaning and improving the home. The building itself was in a modest little condo complex, with an enviable ethnic mix.
My roommate G was from Uganda, and we hit it off beautifully. He was gentle and intelligent, a political science student at Berkeley. He wanted to become a U.N. delegate (if he could stand living long-term in such a spiritually-bankrupt country as ours, he said). As a child, he had escaped the rwandan genocide that killed most of the people he knew. Our first night, we talked about ubuntu philosophy. Later, he initiated me into the delights of dragon fruit, and invited me to visit Africa. He said that given my un-american personality, i might never leave (and that given my sexy paucity of pigmentation, ugandan women might not let me go). S, who had grown up in Iran and lived through a war, also talked eagerly with me that first night. He shared his dulcimer - lovely. The next day, he treated me to a walk in Tilden Park, and an amazing tibetan restaurant lunch. My third housemate M turned out to be one of the most gracious, humorous people i've ever known. He'd spent a lifetime in environmental and spiritual pursuits, and was also a poet. I realized i was the only non-believer in the house, but the others were anti-religious, so there was no tension. We eventually shared movie nights, and a few exquisite meals.
And hellish!
The OC/bipolar factor made me feel like a guest in my own home (and an occasionally unwelcome one, at that). The no-houseguest policy hit me hard, as for the first time in five years, i had a lover! One with whom i struggled to find together time, and who could have visited me often. We met during my home search, when she was renting a room...which went to someone else, but i ended up her bed buddy, so i got the best of that deal. She was a single mother with a full-time job, so we saw each other only once a week for a few innumerable garage Skype sessions.
Understand, a part of me has such admiration and hope for S. He's one of the sincerest people you'll ever meet, and perhaps one of the few who is actually making fundamental changes to his personality. I never spoke the word "bipolar" to him, because it's so heavy and permanent-sounding. With what we're learning about the plasticity of the human brain, i truly do think that he's pursuing spiritually-evolved attitudes so diligently, that ten years from now his bipolar issues may be gone. But holy clusterfuck, it is stunningly, soul-crushingly hard to live with a bipolar human being. I am in awe of my aunt, who has spent decades doing it. I truly don't understand how's she's survived. It's not the outbursts that destroy's the omnipresent awareness that one might happen at any time. S's issues meant that everything had to be just right...which is hard enough when you have your own room to retreat to, but brutal without even that. Two or three times, i left an unwashed dish in the sink, and his reaction would either be condescending unpleasantry, or outright insanity as he viciously misremembered reality. I knew, i KNEW, that it wasn't him, it was his demons. I knew not to take it personally. Having the strength of will to not be affected though, was beyond me. I chided him once, saying that the only people who could be happy in his house are monks. He didn't understand how serious i was. In conversation, he also displayed energy vampire qualities - if he got going, he wouldn't even slow down to breathe. I realized that for our talks to be balanced, i would have to continuously and aggressively interrupt him...which was NOT going to happen, given my gentle personality and the diminished emotional walls that have been the by-product of my own spirit quest. I made an occasional attempt to be honest with him, but mostly i focused on keeping the peace. I looked forward to the time when i could give him the full measure of my understanding...which he might eagerly accept. I would share my theory on his conversational style (perhaps in his childhood, words were one of the only places he felt safe?). And i would offer my greatest uncertainty - that having housemates now is either the absolute worst thing he could do, or the best. Or both? It's a perfect formula for spreading misery in the world, but also perhaps a way for him to force himself to keep becoming more human.
This strange existence gave me a window into all those women (and some men) who stay in abusive relationships. There is something comforting in familiarity...indeed, i'm sure it's one of our primary psychological needs. Despite the unending undercurrent of dread, there was also a level on which i bonded with and found solace in that home.
How chillingly perverse.
And our home was a haven for black widows! I was the first to discover one. Their lethal reputation is largely hype, as i've yet to meet any californian with a horror story, and most bites don't require medical attention. I was content to kill them, though...having dealt with the sleep-murdering stress of New York bedbugs and Florida mosquitoes, my veganism has made peace with insecta annihilation. Every week or two, we'd find one...once, even by my elbow as i lay in bed reading.
When opportunities finally presented themselves, G or M would commiserate with me about the stresses of our home. G had been there a year, and when he finally freed himself six weeks after i arrived, it wasn't pretty. His spiritual composure crumbled shockingly. His chief stresses were over S's cruelty, and the feeling he'd been taken advantage of financially (when i analyzed the house budget, i had to agree). Giving no notice, he just left...and soon was on the phone with S, threatening to call the police. I winced at his clumsy attack, but understood.
Yet even in his most stressful hour, S displayed flashes of advanced spirituality. In the midst of G's exodus, S realized that G had bagged up a box of Swiffer wipes S had bought. He reclaimed them...but soon put them back in G's bag. Yet there were also retaliatory, destructive impulses S was giving in to, which i made him acknowledge...but he walked back that Swiffer choice without any counsel but his own.
And would be hard to overstate how much he helped my sanity. Such openness and gentle giving. After i'd been there ten weeks, he sprang free as well. I helped him move, and he stayed on good terms with S, even returning for a couple more Star Trek nights.
My last few weeks brought two new housemates, both coincidentally from Pakistan. The first gave his thirty-day notice three days after he arrived (but i'm not sure why, as he wasn't interacting with S). The second lasted forty-six hours before being evicted for smoking. It was unfortunate, and partly due to cultural differences (smoking-wise, Pakistan is where we were thirty years ago). I was sad, because even though he was a fundamentalist misogynist, he was perhaps quite progressive back home. His first night, he was rather lost and alone, having left his home soil for the first time only two days before. I gave him comfort...when he and S had their eviction argument, they huddled around me, as a safe zone.
Chemistry is a funny thing, though. While G was there, i was fine taking care of my sexual needs behind that hanging sheet...but when a new roommate moved in, i no longer felt that comfort.
A few nights after i left, i had a dream in which S and i were attending a community college class. When i later found him on a city street corner, he had been in an accident. He was sitting up and maintaining his composure, such that it took me a minute to realize he had been maimed. There were bloody wounds, including a widening pool around one eye, and a broken forearm hanging at a sharp angle.
Sometimes dreams are obscure. Other times, not even a little.
And there is always, always a price to pay for the damage we do to each other...and the damage we do to ourselves.
For all the ease with which i found homes in my price range in NYC, i never actually lived in Manhattan itself. And here i am now, smack dab in some of the most coveted real estate in the world...and i'd almost rather be in a "less desirable" borough, as i like Berkeley's energy more. But i tried for three months to find a home within biking distance...
And now, thanks to rent control and a non-greedy new landlord, i'll be coming to you from ground zero of the Summer of Love.
One block from Golden Gate Park.
The zero-emissions buses connected to the cables above, pass by below.
Tomorrow, my lover may be spending her first night here. We have sex. Without condoms. Wheeee!
Perhaps money has destroyed much of the authenticity and unconventionality this city once had, as many Bay locals grumble.
But i'm here. And i'm naked.
I love you all.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

funniest sketches of all time

The funniest comedy sketches in the history of television. I wish i could link you to them all, but oh that proprietary bullshit...
(NLA = no link available)
"The Sanity Clause"
-A Night at the Opera
Okay, this isn't television...but this is what every comedy writer of the 20th century was chasing. It only took half a century or so to catch up.
"Who's on First?"
-The Abbott & Costello Show
This one first came to fame in radio and movies, and has inspired more imitations than any sketch ever.
"This Is Your Story"
-Your Show of Shows
TV's breakthrough into the realm of real funny.
"The Dentist"
-The Carol Burnett Show
There's been sketch comedy more brilliant, but i'm not sure there's ever been anything more funny than conway cracking up korman.
"Philosophy Football"
-Monty Python's Flying Circus
Too smart? Sorry.
"The Parrot Sketch"
-Monty Python's Flying Circus
There. They can dumb it down, too.
"NPR's Delicious Dish: Schweddy Balls"
Ladies love my balls.
"Racial Draft"
-Chapelle's Show
Scattershot satire that misses no mark. NLA, but if you enjoyed "Who's on First?"...
"The Niggar Family"
-Chapelle's Show
Preposterous (ly funny). NLA, but if you happened to like "Who's on First?"...
"Jackie Rodgers' Jr.'s $100,000 Jackpot Wad"
From the funniest SNL season ever. NLA - so, what did you think of "Who's on First?"?
"I Know Black People"
-Chapelle's Show
NLA. Never saw the show, but somehow knew the black guy was cleaning up. Just like YOU know there's probably another "Who's on First?" coming...
"Haunted Elevator"
Can anyone explain why this is hysterical?
"Election Night Special"
-Monty Python's Flying Circus
Sllllightly silly...
"Chocolate Factory"
-I Love Lucy
No, not technically sketch comedy...
"Substitute Teacher"
-key & peele
Son of a BITCH!!
"Chippendale's Audition"
Shameless? Lowbrow? Hysterical? NLA? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Like the band Yes, who were in that other tribute to "Who's on First?"...
"The Cheese Shop"
-Monty Python's Flying Circus
I think it's funnier than you like it.
"Buckwheat Has Been Shot"
An amazing high wire act. Even now, some wouldn't be comfortable finding humor in john lennon's murder. And even though this one's NLA, i promise i'll never again inflict another "Who's on First?" on you.
"Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult"
NLA. I gotta have more cowbell...and i gotta break my vow about "Who's on First?"
"Argument Clinic"
How delightful the lengths they went to never end on a punch line...
Too much python, chapelle, and SNL? Make your case! Fill up that comment box!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"God, No!"

(Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales)
-by penn jillette
Don't get overexcited. The title is misleading.
Not in the specific sense...penn's lead-off essay is exactly what the title and subtitle promise. His premise is this - if "god" told you to kill your child, would you do so? Penn dares suggest that the overwhelming majority of believers would NOT, thereby outing themselves as atheists-in-hiding. It's a sharp argument.
But don't expect a book devoted to theistic matters. Penn shoots off into more traditional memoir fare...his experiences in zero G, firsthand knowledge of what burning cock smells like, devout admiration for siegfried & roy, devout loathing for kreskin, sober partying with ron jeremy and a naked elvis impersonator...penn's voice is well-honed, and his writing smooooth.
He also takes a stab at re-writing the Ten Commandments. He calls agnosticism insincere, intellectual sleight-of-hand, and that the sins of faith are too life-threatening to be appeased (my own approach is sometimes still conciliatory, but not long ago i wrote an "atheisto" essay in which i declared i could no longer be agnostic in good conscience).
Penn also dives into his libertarianism, and his frustrations with conservatives and liberals. He makes good points, yet it also seems that libertarianism's devotees are so widely divergent as to be almost incoherent. Penn acknowledges this...indeed he's sometimes modest to a fault (while at the same time being somehow unapologetically arrogant). Libertarian's individualism, freedom, and the notion that we don't need big government social programs, combined with penn's atheism, misses an important point - religion as an institution isn't about god at all. It's about social glue. And in a property-based culture of competition, people need artificial, POWERFUL social glue to keep us from acting despicably. Is penn right about people basically being good? I think so...but capitalism without something to replace religion is just a confederacy of amoral predators.
But the book taken as a whole is rather fantastic, and entertaining as hell. Penn's forthrightness is admirable, and even if you disagree with him, you get the sense that he'd be delighted to talk about it, and might possibly change his mind if you made sense.
Would that we were all like that. We might even maybe save this insane world.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

funniest songs of all time

The biggest challenge for this list in the video age, is whether a song can stand apart from its visual element (or even whether it should). In reverse-alphabetical order, because we're hip like that:
"Who's Next?"
-tom lehrer
Wait, nuclear annihilation can be...funny?
"White & Nerdy"
-"weird al" yankovic
It's hard to crack this list with a parody...but if it were twice as long, half the additional entries might be al's. It was tempting to finish this list with "Amish Paradise", but there's really only one alphabetically-aligned perfect happy ending.
"Start Me Up"
-the Folksmen
This parody is dryly commonplace silliness, until the transcendent tag explodes into heavenly hilarity.
"Short People"
-randy newman
We don't use the word "genius" lightly.
-randy newman
If this list were half as long, both of randy's entries would still be here. '77, '99...shouldn't he have had a burst of genius in '88? And '00 and '11, for that matter?
"Particle Man"
-They Might Be Giants
Pure absurdity? Social commentary? We just don't know.
"Medical Love Song"
-Monty Python
Another source that might have easily had more entries, especially for fans of traffic lights.
"John Mayer for Dummies"
-Key of Awesome
Is it possible to love this parody in a 100% affectionate way?
"I'm Fucking Ben Affleck"
-jimmy kimmel
The inspiration? Very funny. The response? (Almost) genius.
"Here Comes Another One"
-Monty Python
Sit on my lumberjack face? Deserving, but too obvious.
"Hannukah Song"
-adam sandler
Covered by both ozzy osborne and neil diamond? No, not really...but i had you going, didn't i?
"Fuck Her Gently"
-Tenacious D
And then, they're going to comedy you hard.
"Dick in a Box"
-The Lonely Island
Even without the genius visuals, the audio alone would make the list.
"Chocolate Salty Balls"
-isaac hayes
Well, they can't all be oscar wilde.
-The Smothers Brothers
"Business Time"
-Flight of the Conchords
A rare example of the live version being funnier than the funny video.
"Big Bottom"
-Spinal Tap
Please give close attention to derek's instrument. He'd like that.
So...have i missed any? Fill up that comment box!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"The Drunkard's Walk"

(How Randomness Rules Our Lives)
-by leonard mlodinow
My aunts and mother believe that every time they find a penny, it's a message from their dead mother.
My brother insists that whenever we play cards, the trump card must always be "predicted". He gets mystically orgasmic when someone is right (or even vaguely close).
Am i the ONLY person in my family not a superstitious simpleton, ignorant of any understanding of statistics and probabilities?
Mind you, i have my own statistic bugaboo - the fact that i don't buy it. The whole concept, i mean. For the most part i do, but there's one element i can't reconcile, the notion that if you deal with large enough numbers, say dice rolls in the thousands, the distribution will become more and more predictable the higher you'll eventually get the same percentage of sixes as ones...and I DON'T QUITE BUY IT. It seems just another form of mystical-wistical mumbo jumbo...for all that to work out, it seems that dice would have to possess memory. But DICE CAN'T REMEMBER, i say! Which mlodinow would agree with, to a point. He would say that you shouldn't be amazed by six sixes in a row (or even sixteen or twenty-six), but he would also say that when you get to high enough numbers, the probabilities even out.
It feels like statisticians want to have their cake, and eat it too.
But one thing i do accept, as this book shows, is that human probabilistic intuition is grievously flawed, and the sooner we understand that, the better our lives will get. And this book offers a wonderful, accessible understanding of how these things work. Mlodinow (who co-wrote "A Briefer History of Time" with stephen hawking) talks about regression toward the mean, which shows that great or awful results are aberrations, and subsequent events always trend back toward the average. This trips us up, because humans are easily swayed by extreme events (for example, flight instructors fallaciously believe that yelling at a student after a bad flight is a successful teaching tactic). And perhaps the greatest human statistical misconception is the belief that success and failure are based on merit. Statistics show that both results are largely random. For example, john grisham had his first book rejected by publishers twenty-six times. Dr. seuss, twenty-seven. Or take pulitzer-prize winning novelist john kennedy toole, whose first book was published eleven years after he committed suicide after repeated rejections by publishers. Success and failure (at least by the myopic, zero-sum standards of this society) are at least as much about persistence as ability.
I can imagine a more sharply-focused book, strictly dealing with exposing human misconceptions. The title refers to the randomness (like bouncing molecules) within order. Leonard perhaps neglects the topic of coincidence, and how "miraculous" events are actually commonplace...something we fail to appreciate, because we're not always looking where we would have to, to see them all. So we get boggle-eyed by seemingly-astounding coincidence. Mlodinow does, however, take the time to delve deeply into the history of probabilities. And he offers many rich how we know that a significant percentage of college sports games are fixed, or how we can be certain that wine-tasting guides are bullshit. Or how financial advisers and movie studio executives are rewarded or punished on the basis of nearly 100% bullshit.
As for my brother, if ESP existed, every casino in the world would go out of business.
As for my mother and aunts, if they started finding spanish doubloons everywhere...there STILL would be a rational explanation.
As for me, i may have to go roll a die one thousand times, just to accept the magical powers of statistical probabilities once and for all.
A wonderful book.

Friday, October 20, 2017


-directed and written by elaine may
Oft-acerbic cartoonist gary larson penned some 4000 THE FAR SIDEs...and there was only ever one for which he publicly apologized. A "hell's video store" featuring shelves full of nothing but ISHTAR.
The zeitgeist's attitude toward this movie has softened from its initial roaring condemnation, when ISHTAR became the infamous poster child for bloated Hollywood wretchedness. Perhaps money was a factor in the public scorn that cascaded down, but not in the obvious way...perhaps it was a subconscious twinge of shame from an obscenely rich country that allows millions of its citizens to live in poverty. What's that? $40,000,000 for a MOVIE?? A comedy, no less? I HATE IT!!! Or perhaps, in this sycophantic culture of self-loathing, sometimes we have a cathartic need to immolate - for every Beatles or AVATAR, we need a nixon or ISHTAR. And if you read the trivia section from this movie's IMDB page, you might be dumbfounded at how seemingly doomed-to-failure it was, with toxic disagreements between director and stars and studio chief david puttnam (whose lack of enthusiasm for this inherited project may have blossomed into outright self-sabotage). It's certainly puzzling how the wheels fell off so swiftly, especially after the pre-release screenings were all successes.
But in the intervening decades, more and more cries of "unfairly maligned" have popped up. Or some version of "not bad, and the songs are wonderful". So perhaps someday ISHTAR will be hailed as one of the great comic gems of all time. I don't dabble in hyperbole (well, much), but i promise you, this film is on par with the quote-reference status of marx, mel, Python, or ZAZ.
One fascinating by-product of the discord was that may, hoffman, and beatty each had their own team of editors, making three different versions of the film. Which was released?? How many years are we going to have to wait for a deluxe edition, with all three?
So here's what you'll fall in love with, if you dare. Hoffman (TOOTSIE, THE EARTH DAY SPECIAL) and beatty (BULWORTH, THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS) play two hack lounge singers who get a booking in Morocco, then get swept up into intrigue between a despot, rebels, and the CIA. In acting, drama gets the glory...but comedy is harder, and dustin and warren nail this one. Throughout the mayhem, lyle and chuck keep writing songs and focusing on their act...and indeed the music (by may and songwriting legend paul williams - THE MUPPET MOVIE, THE LOVE BOAT) is so off-the-charts, intentionally-awful hysterical, one can only hope it was as much fun to create as it is to hear. It's so infectious, you might end up rejecting the "awful" premise altogether. It's certainly my holy grail, as a soundtrack was recorded but never released. Are you reading this, paul?? Tell us you didn't burn the masters! Our bumbling leads both fall in love with the same revolutionary (the impeccable isabelle adjani - NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE, QUEEN MARGOT). The oscar goes to charles grodin (MIDNIGHT RUN, DAVE), who manages to make an amoral CIA antagonist both hysterical and sympathetic. Jack weston (THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET, THE FOUR SEASONS) plays the duo's jaded agent, to hangdog perfection. Carol kane (TAXI, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) is priceless as a put-upon girlfriend. Matt frewer (MAX HEADROOM, THE CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE) is spiffy as a CIA operative.
The chemistry and comedy are seamless...and sometimes the accidents worked in their favor. There was supposed to be a big military climax, which warren almost insisted upon, but it wasn't elaine's forte. Warren gave in, and as a result, that scene centers around a lone jeep in the desert...which is a perfect metaphor for chuck and lyle themselves. It keeps the lightness and pathos close at hand.
There. I've told the truth. That's dangerous business.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"The Princess Diarist"

-by carrie fisher
What happened? I told myself (and the world) that i was out! Yet here i am, touching (however tangentially) upon a piece of the Star Wars universe. I made the break a few years back...i, who for much of my childhood plus my teen years PLUS most of my adulthood, had held my devotion aloft (admittedly never so, shall we say, "colorfully" as some fans, but in my heart and the scope of my knowledge, i took a back seat to no one). Finally though, i could no longer ignore the fact that the SW universe is one of glamorized, unrelenting violence, wherein the "good" people are just as blood-spattered as the "bad" (okay, light sabers self-cauterize, but you get the point). And beyond that, to see life as "good vs. evil" is a child's philosophy, one that has humynity stuck in apocalyptic barbarism.
And when i say "enough", that's what i mean. So when Episode VII (with original cast!) was released, i took no notice. Not one stray glance or thought. It would be almost impossible to overstate the enormity of that, given my previous life.
Why then, am i here today?
Because of carrie. That plus extenuating circumstances. I'd been aware of this book, and wasn't tempted, even though i hold ms. fisher the writer in high regard. But last week, i was in a rush at the library, needing a semi-mindless bedtime book. So i grabbed this - a collection of diary entries from the time she was filming the first SW movie, before her world (and ours) changed forever.
Knowing carrie, i expected literary merit and blunt honesty. What the hell, i would be the one little indulgent SW reminiscence i would ever give myself. So what happened on the way to this being a trifle that i would never consider worthy of sharing with you?
An eye-openingly wonderful book, that's what.
The way she set up the diaries, with self-deprecation about what an unformed, uneducated teenager she'd been, led me to have minuscule expectations. I assumed that i would enjoy her present-day commentaries more.
Which turned out to be true...
But the power of the diaries snuck up on me, until i was gobsmacked by her nuanced, crystalline expressions of longing and self-loathing, all centered around the "secret" affair she had during those three months, with harrison ford. These diaries are a searing portrayal of alienation...and not just the kind we feel from other people, but the more disturbing alienation we feel from ourselves. Carrie captures what it means to live in this dysfunctional culture, where even our most intimate relationships are often a source of never-ending torment, as we struggle and bargain for the simple love we need. Which leads us (for those who try to remain emotionally open) to never-ending cycles of self-destruction...or never-ending cycles of self-deception for everybody else.
Carrie was, of course, more in the destruction than deception camp.
And her teenage poetry is astonishing. My expectations were comically low, so i had to read four or five of them before it sank in just how good they are.
And now, i realize that if i live a long life, i may actually one day watch her two late-life SW films...if only to search for a glimpse of the deeper soul hidden behind her eyes.
Brilliantly done, carrie. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


What's all the fuss about, sugar??
Refined sugar, that is. Been getting some awful press. Words like "toxic" thrown around.
Sigh. All lil' old sugah did was try to make people happy. Not just people, either...picture a bear going for honey. A chimp going for grapes. A dead dog next to a pile of chocolate wrappers.
Okay, not that last one. But we mammals love our sweets! And why the hell not? Sweets (and fats and salts) affect the same pleasure centers of the brain as opioids. Damn right. Pass those chocolate-covered potato chips!
And now sugar is being linked to depression? Cancer?? Obesity??? Okay, we'll give you that last one. Apparently what happens is that natural sugars, like those found in fruit, come with all sorts of fruity things bonded to them, which the body needs time to break down. But refined sugar hits our innards on an express track to the liver, and abnormally-saturated livers seem to be the primary cause of obesity. As for those grimmer possibilities, more long-term studies are needed.
Hm. Well, sugar is a drug. Of course. I think even people without kids would agree. And in this world, most of us need every single escape from reality we can get. Particularly ones that we can afford with pocket change, and won't land us in, y'know, jail. So americans consume twenty teaspoons of sugar a day. Hm. Yeah, that's a lot. If the thought of just eating twenty naked teaspoons of sugar at one sitting doesn't turn your stomach, you might want to consider a program. Y'know, the kind with steps.
But i can't hate ya, sugar! In fact, the reason i came here today is to write...a love note. A sweet love note. I have adored sugar, and seem to have avoided the more perilous pitfalls. And i grew up in middle America, where we had dessert every damned dinner! Well, everyone else in my family anyway...i was the only child who couldn't be bribed - no dessert was going to make my brussel sprouts disappear. Nor did i continue the daily dessert pattern as an adult - currently, i eat sweets maybe once a week. In fact, i just had my first refined sugar in over two months...i hadn't intended to do so, but once it was happening i went with it, out of curiosity. I didn't notice any change in my desires or emotions or energy.
Not that i'm immune to sugar's drugging affects. These past few years have been brutal. There have been nights when i ate sugar just because it might make me feel better. And it probably did. In fact, i even occasionally found myself eating sugar two nights in a row. One time, i did five straight.
I was studying humanity, y'know? Pass the damn chocolate-covered garlic!
My first step away from the refined norm came at the age of sixteen, when i transformed my personality profoundly, including a moratorium on all added sugars. And i mean ALL. I never blinked, never cheated. Five years later, i realized it had all been part of a teen identity crisis, so i opened myself up to resuming the things i'd excised. Alcohol never came back, but meats (for a while) and sweets did. And now, years later...well, i wouldn't mind dropping refined sugar altogether. I might be headed that way. More and more, i seek out natural sweeteners. Perhaps my favorite sweet treat now is a little squirt of maple syrup.
But wait, what's that? Dark chocolate-covered blueberries? My my my.
So now, let's switch over to an "a la" mode which may only be of interest to rat anthropologists centuries from now. Come with me, kiddies, let's go for a wonka ride on my sugary journey. What i've hated, what i've loved, and what i've REALLY loved.
I remember a childhood beach trip with my grandparents. They had something called Mary Janes. Sort of a peanut butter nougat. I wouldn't want one now, but for those few days i loved them. My other grandfather always had greenleaves around, a minty gelatin. Again, i wouldn't eat one now, but his personal magic made his candy magic too. I remember visiting the general store where my father had grown up, and tasting the old-fashioned candies...swedish fish, and those little LSD-like tabs you peeled from a long sheet of paper...
Later, gummy bears had my attention for a while, but that may have been mostly because of the tongue-tactile delight. Jolly Ranchers were good, too. And one childhood sweet i've never seen since, the only one which i would pay money to have just one more time, was little wax creations shaped like soda bottles. You chewed them, and they had some kind of fruity liquid inside. You eventually had nothing left in your mouth but wax, which you spit out. It sounds kind of dumb now, but i loved them.
And speaking of soda, which seems to be the number one sugar devil in the world...yup, loved it. I preferred Coke over Pepsi. Dr. Pepper was dandy. Root beer and cream soda even more. Dad would bring home wooden cases of huge A-Treat bottles from an outlet store. The flavor we boys loved and hated was golden dry ginger ale, because it was double strength. I don't remember anyone ever drinking more than a sip, but it was huge fun to watch friends have a first taste, and see their faces contort. I also worked in a mexican restaurant, and would make hybrid cola creations in the bus station, mostly a mix of cola and orange (and tea?). By my mid-twenties though, i had heard about the studies (suburban legends?) in which a tooth left in soda will decay after few days, and that was enough. After that, the only soda i had was a root beer float once every few years.
But by far the most tantalizing sweet was, of cream! Is there any treat more sweet/fat maxed? I was picky though...chocolate was loathsome, and strawberry not much better. Vanilla was where it was at. And when chocolate magic shell came along, heaven had found its silver lining. There were a few fancier flavors i loved throughout the years, the greatest being chocolate chip cookie dough. From which mustache-twirling genius did that one arise? And Dairy Queen also made bad sooooooo good - their dipped cones were pure crack (surprisingly, i favored the butterscotch over chocolate). And ohhhhhh my, what were those things with the peanuts and chocolate coating/pudding? Buster Bars! Holy mcfucktree, Buster Bars. Once my vegan days arrived, i discovered that the soy/rice/coconut ice cream substitutes are so fantastic, that many vegan-disparagers might prefer "the fake thing" in blind taste tests. My only other ice cream memory is how stunning it was to watch my youngest brother. As a thin teenager, he consumed bowls so enormous, it looked like nearly a quarter-gallon at one sitting. No, he didn't get fat...but he did become a hardcore drug addict years later. Hm.
The second-greatest sweet ever? Look no further than that favorite ice cream. Chocolate chip cookies! Dry or dunked, crunchy or chewy (or both), homemade or store-bought, it's almost impossible to go wrong. My devotion translated into learning to make them, and spending years refining my recipe (which required a new drawing board when i stopped eating dairy). But even a failed batch is never a failure. And of course, eating the dough is sometimes more heavenly than the final product. There are other cookies out there, but none worth mentioning.
Okay, shortbread is worth mentioning.
And Girl Scout thin mints, and samoas! And Keebler fudge sticks! And oreos! (one of the few non-dairy mass market cookies) Being a precocious child, i invented double stuff oreos years before they arrived on the market. Twist one wafer off two cookies, and press the white centers together. Yes, i ate the rejected wafers too - there were apparently starving children in China, and i was a child of conscience. It didn't occur to me to mail those wafers overseas (or to my own american backyard as it turned out, but that's another story).
Pudding i liked, but not enough to go back to it once i started eating sweets again. The only ones i really liked were rice pudding and tapioca.
Pies have always been a mixed bounty. There's the great (french silk, pecan...which can be awful with a bad recipe), the middling (key lime, apple...which can be fantastic with a sublime recipe), and the noxious (pumpkin, coconut cream, banana cream...which has never been good with any recipe ever). Ooh, and my mother made pennsylvania dutch milk pies. Mmmmm.
And what is pie without the amazement of whipped cream (which has a coconut version that's almost orgasmic)? One of my most resonant sweet memories involves theater rehearsals in a church basement...after which, we explored the kitchen and discovered tubs of whipped cream in the freezer. I took a few bites every night. If you've never eaten frozen cool-whip, you've missed one of life's sweet shangri las. To this day, one of my most sublime treats is chocolate chips swirled into whipped cream.
And what of that american staple, cake? More miss than hit. Yellow cake and chocolate cake have always been yuck, even when i was a less discerning child. The one cake i adored was the red velvet mom always made on my birthday. Carrot cakes can be great. Wedding cake? Pretty damned good for store-bought, though the sugar ratio can cause a quick shut-down in desirability. Ice cream cake? Brilliant! Cupcakes? Mostly pheh, but a few of the storebought varieties (ho hos, ding-dongs) are fantastic. I liked twinkies as a kid, but the processed thought of them is wretched to my adult palate. And the second-most repulsive sweet ever (after, of course, peeps) is something called the snowball. The one cake memory i have which was almost miraculous (and never to be repeated) was an italian rum cake. The only other time i tried one, it was pheh...but that first one is burned into my drugged-out brain forever.
Ambrosia? Great. Monkey bread, cinnamon buns? Ecstatic when fresh. Sugar bread, cinnamon sugar toast, and much later cinnamon sugar pretzels? Wonderful. Real s'mores were great too, the only marshmallow memory which still, except for Count Chocula and Boo Berry...yummm.
Licorice? Nasty. Jelly beans? Pointless. Except for, um, buttered popcorn Jelly Bellies...maybe swirled with a blueberry or two.
Of course, to an american child, candy bars are the sweet by which all others are measured. The high holy sweet holiday, Halloween (Or wait, is it Easter?? Of course - America has TWO high holy candy holidays!), is an unending candy bar orgy. Apples?? Raisins??? GET THAT SHIT OUT OF MY PLASTIC PUMPKIN! Hmm...i get why sweets got all mixed up in holidays go, it's tragically unhip, and only by making kids drugged-out happy zombies could positive associations be reinforced...but why did we decide Halloween needed candy? Dressing up, scaring people - that's already hip, the candy part seems gratuitous! I guess it just goes to show how much we love sugar. Maybe the question should be, why aren't St. Swithin's Day or Arbor Day high holy candy holidays?? Let's make them trees sexy, maybe some kid might grow up to save a forest! So with candy bars, which have i loved most? The first was the Heath bar...mmmmmmm. It is one of the minor tragedies of my life that i've never found a non-dairy version. There was something called a Marathon bar, a carmel chocolate creation which was stunning for its architecture alone. Twix bars were pretty damned good...though the best Twix was one which didn't last, the cookies n' cream version - curse you, oh capricious corporate America! Reese's cups were pretty good, especially when dark versions (like Newman's) became available. York peppermint patties? Fine. M&Ms were respectable, especially when the peanut and dark versions came around. Milky Way Dark? Not bad. Toblerone was damn good, and Toblerone dark double damn good. If you're sensing a trend, yes, as i discovered dark in my teens, it pretty swiftly rendered milk chocolate pukelike in comparison. My favorite bar became Hershey's special dark. Years later, when they "lightened" the recipe, that was the darkest (ha- unintentional pun!) chapter in my sweet tooth life. The new version was disgusting. When they made the change, i found a store that had the old ones, and bought out their stock, making those bars last for a year or two.
The only peeps of the candy bar world? Something called a...mallo-cup (shudder). And those Halloween tri-color traffic cones...WHO EATS THEM??
The only thing i ever loved about Easter was the white chocolate rabbits, though i can't imagine eating one now.
One bizarre candy bar memory, an accidental aberration, happened when i was on a camping trip. I was poking around a cooler with a cousin, and we discovered Hershey bars. For several days, the melting ice had left an inch or two of water in the bottom, and these bars were soaked. Their brown color had paled, and some adult suggested throwing them out. But i took a nibble...and it was freaking amazing! Far less sweet, but soooo cool. The fact that nobody else would go near them was my own little chocolate miracle.
As an adult, pretty much the only sweet i've bought for myself is some form of dark chocolate. A bag of non-dairy chocolate chips is all i need. Dark chocolate espresso beans or pretzels can be dandy. The only brand i know worth mentioning is
I suppose the lesson here is...look at how much i've just gushed. If i met a woman who moved me this much, i'd marry her...and i approve of marriage less than i approve of peeps! Bear in mind, in terms of being an american child sweethound, i was average at best. As an adult, far less. Yet, oh the power of these refined brain drugs. I've avoided obesity, and have only ever had one or two cavities. I'm not condemning sweets, but it sure seems that the overlords of capitalism have led us down the primrose path with the 100 POUNDS of sugar they pour into our eager gullets each year...especially those of us who won't (or can't) choose more powerful (and mind-altering) forms of escapism. I'm just saying, if 100 pounds is the average, someone out there is consuming 190 pounds, just to balance me out. Sugar is everywhere. Sugar is cheap. Sugar makes you feeeeeeeel good. And we live in a sedentary culture of alienation and escapism so relentlessly dehumanizing, that we gobble and gobble and gobble...and, yes, we are the fattest country in the world. Probably ever. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
And since the only exports we have left are guns and Hollywood, the rest of the world seems to be following in our tubby sweetprints.
Yes indeed, awareness of my stress is, well, pretty stressful. Congratulations, U.S.! You're the global pioneer in metastress!
Sigh. Barkeep, gimme a sip of that maple syrup.
Ah, screw it. Leave the damn bottle.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"The Sixth Extinction"

-by elizabeth kolbert
Science has identified five mass extinctions in the history of life, when conditions on Earth shifted suddenly and drastically, the most famous being the cretaceous asteroid impact which killed the dinosaurs. And it's only now, thousands of years after starting the process, that humanity has realized we are the authors of an unfolding extinction event which should dwarf every previous one. Perhaps rats will survive. Perhaps only microbes. Or not even that. It started when we began hunting the megafauna (mastodons, cave bears, giant turtles...), animals so large they had no natural predators, so their slow birth rates couldn't replace even minor losses. As time passed, our cleverness allowed us to travel everywhere, bringing predation and invasive species to indigenous populations which had no defense. We've clear cut as much as half the world's trees, savaging millions of ecological systems. Overgrazing and improper farming (which kolbert doesn't even get into) have made deserts the world's fastest-growing ecosystem. We pollute the atmosphere, which calcifies the oceans. We breed at constantly doubling rates which dwarf that of any creature ever...and the grand irony is, we understand these things only when we're past the point where our impact is already far greater than an asteroid strike equal to six million nuclear bombs. Amphibians are the most imperiled; it's hard to imagine they'll survive. Ditto for coral, the rain forests of the sea. A third of all sharks, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are also past the point of no return.
Each of kolbert's chapters focuses on one emblematic species, and she also dives into our understanding of life's history, with fascinating looks at the scientists (cuvier, lyell, darwin) who paved the way. She shines a light on the oft-astonishing efforts humans are making to counter the unfolding apocalypse...but at this point, those are candles in a typhoon. To do justice to this book's subject would take an encyclopedia set...yet strangely, kolbert's 269 pages almost feel TOO long...too well-researched and written, with prose so enchanting that one nearly loses sight of the hair-on-fire urgency which the subject demands.
That's a critique most writers could live with, of course. At least for another century or so. Beyond that, no one may have to worry about "living with" anything.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Al Franken, Giant of the Senate"

-by al franken
Let's get to the heart of the matter - does al have any more business writing books?? Having made his bones as a satirist outsider, can he have anything to say now that he's become an actual U.S. senator? Now that he's establishment extraordinaire, enmeshed in the political game, in which image is everything and incumbents can ill-afford to alienate any voter, can he be anything but a mockery of his former muckraking self?
I'm frankly not quite sure...but he's still funny as hell.
Does he pull his punches, holding back a horde of insider information? No doubt...but he's such a good writer you might not care. Has he become an apologist for a system that crossed the dysfunctionally corrupt line long before he was born? Yeah. Should he be ashamed of lending his credibility to a nation of staggering wealth, which tolerates abject poverty? Yes.
But still...funny as hell.
He takes you on the long ride through his campaign and unprecedentedly-contested victory, and offers hysterical views of his position and peers. He walks you through his re-election, and tries to come to grips with the culture of cynicism and incivility that led to the current presidency. You'll hope that he doesn't die in office, so that one day he'll write about his political career once he no longer cares about offending anyone.
So here's to that book...
...and heartfelt thanks for this one, too.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Terra Nova"

-created by kelly marcel, craig silverstein
A lovely little slice of sci fi delight. In 2149, Earth's atmosphere is no longer breathable. Science discovers a way to transport small numbers of humans 85 million years into the past, where a colony has been set up. Dinosaurs (and big, unfriendly insects) abound. A fugitive cop comes through the portal with his family. The colony leader (steven lang - AVATAR, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS) embraces him as the colony's first lawperson. A group of renegades may be agents from the future, intent on plundering natural resources. The CGI visuals are sweeping and seamless, the dialogue and acting dandy. STAR TREK veterans brannon braga and rene echevarria contribute to the writing and producing. There are one or two clunkers, but overall the series is so well-done that the show's demise after one season is yet another short-sighted network shame.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?"

-by franz de waal
I'll get my one critique out of the way first...because it arrives even before you reach out your thumb to lift back the book's cover. I so, so wish this wonderful author would stop referring to other animals as "animals", because that reinforces every antiquated, arrogant, avaricious notion of insufferable humyn exceptionalism. Let's please start calling other animals just that - "other animals".
At the same time, i suspect i know why he doesn't, and i almost support that likely reason. It's hard to imagine that he hasn't considered this linguistic nuance himself, but probably refrains because it would make him appear more of an extremist than he is. It might be a confrontational and intractable challenge toward the mass of humynity which still clings to the notion that humyn consciousness is somehow, some way, absolutely unique in Earth history. Even if debunking that claim is the sole point of a book you've just written, even if you have careful, conservative evidence to make your case (which de waal does), you're almost certainly never going to convince someone they're wrong by first announcing "YOU'RE WRONG". So franz brings the argument to people on their own terms, continuing to refer to "animals" as though that's not us...and then, once people are calmed by his restraint, they'll read the book, and if they're open-minded, they'll probably end up spreading his message more forcefully than he does himself.
So you might call this author a clever franz! (to get that joke, read the book)
Speaking of which...
Brilliant! Brilliant and measured and waal expands his previous focus (the lifetime he has spent studying apes) to include the entire animal kingdom, collecting all the evidence available to substantiate the notion that the difference between our brains and those of other animals is one of degree, not kind...
...and the difference is actually even less impressive than that, as we're starting to discover ways in which other animals can outthink us. Chimps, for example, seem to have better instantaneous memory. He goes over all the old chestnuts which have fallen...other animals do indeed use tools, have culture, an artistic aesthetic, long-term memory, self-awareness, perhaps even death-awareness...and the newer chestnuts, those last-grasp straws to which exceptionalists cling with death-like, bony fingers, are also falling. Other animals (dolphins and some birds) have natural language - they call each other by name. Chimps have local dialects. And the perhaps final chestnut, so new that it not's old enough to yet be a chestnut, the notion of future (even distant future) self-projection, is falling too. Nor is it just the apes and dolphins who are turning out to be mental marvels. Elephants, whales, monkeys, birds, octopuses, even amphibians...and even some insects have been proven to possess individual facial recognition, one of the benchmarks of "high" intelligence. We're discovering that "intelligence" is all over the place, and on multiple levels - not just in unexpected ways, but in unpredictable and uneven degrees for very similar species. Evolution gives each creature exactly the smarts it needs, no more or less...and we'll probably keep on discovering no end of creatures who are simultaneously smarter and dumber than we. We're also learning that many of the intelligence tests we've applied to other animals have been ill-conceived, reflecting only biased, "humyn" ways of thinking.
A delightful, crucial book in the quest for knowledge (and self-knowledge).

Monday, September 18, 2017


-directed and written by (and starring) ricky gervais
A soft-mockumentary of a nursing home and its denizens: an overworked matron with a heart of gold, a hangdog handyman, a homeless and lecherous boozer, and a mildly-autistic staff worker with a heart of...platinum, i guess? The foibles of our world are seen through derek's simple, eager eyes. I'm going to say something that will sound like a negative, and i suppose it is, but not to the extent you might think. DEREK feels like the very best product of a graduate film school exercise in which the students are given three hours to make a film, from idea to fruition. The show is long on heart and smiles and tears...and how could you ask for anything more? I suppose the "more" would be writing that never feels contrived, but the forced moments are rare, and generally so cathartic you won't mind. The Duran Duran talent show, the zoo visit, the most tactless wedding toast ever...all gems you shouldn't miss.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


-created by adrian cruz, philip levens
A mini-series created for the SyFy channel, ASCENSION pulls off one of the greatest cinematic fakeouts i've ever seen. The action bounces between Earth and a spaceship launched by NASA in the 60s, halfway through its 100-year mission to populate another solar system. Will the existence of the generational ship be exposed on Earth? The visuals are enormous and awesome, and the kennedy-era culture aboard-ship is fascinating. Finally, it's revealed that the ship never actually left Earth - its inhabitants unaware that they're rats in a government sociological experiment. The acting and dialogue are top-notch, and the show simmers with sexiness. The subplot involving an attempt to genetically engineer psionically-gifted humans is a bit unnecessary and unfulfilling, but by the time the series ends, you'll wish very much it hadn't. With delightful turns by tricia helfer (GALACTICA, TWO AND A HALF MEN) and gil bellows (ALLY MCBEAL, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"The Crazy Ones"

-created by david. e. kelley
Robin williams' return to series TV, after thirty-one years...and it's a bit of a letdown, if you're looking for the kind of smart material he'd graduated to on the big screen. He plays a big city manic peter pan ad exec, with a button-down daughter (sarah michelle gellar - BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, SCOOBY-DOO 1-2) as a business partner. Once you adjust your expectations, it's not so bad, thanks to some lovely cameos (most notably pam dawber - MORK & MINDY, STAY TUNED), a delightful recurring role by brad garrett (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, 'TIL DEATH), and the most successful regular, the quirky amanda setton (THE MINDY PROJECT, HAWAII FIVE-O), who looks like a runway model but talks like the coolest, scariest tomboy ever. The writing is never quite good enough to lift the specter of robin's death, but you'll find a few laughs along the way.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

the mighty wregor!

(and the semi-mighty wrob)
Yesterday, i traveled more miles by bike in one day than i've ever done before. At least 36. Not that that's so damn impressive, as cross-country bikers do 100 miles a day. But it was my personal best. I'd be willing to wager i was the top biker in Contra Costa County. The whole Bay area? Doubtful.
Oh, wait. I forgot the x factor. This was one day after record Bay temperatures. When i left the house it was around 100 degrees. Now that i think about it, i didn't see one other biker the whole trip.
Okay, maybe i was the top Bay area biker yesterday.
And i did it all to drop off a borrowed highlighter.
My chariot was the mighty wregor (that's a silent "w", and a soft "g"). A Maruishi RX-105. I've had it for less than three months, and as it's a much fancier bike than i usually ride, and maybe one size too small, and i live in one of the bike-theft capitals of the world, i've considered trading it in for a less-auspicious target (and using the leftover money for rent and such). But i bought it from a relative who'd cherished it, and selling it would feel shabby. So i've been marking time, thinking that if i can keep it from being stolen for another few months, it will have been a worthwhile investment. It's an older model, but a bike clerk told me i could get as much as $400...i paid $50, which equals the most i've ever spent on a bike.
Anthropomorphizing vehicles has never been my style, but when mary sold it to me, she asked what i was going to name it. In deference to her, i inverted the bike's previous name (adding a silent "w", of course).
I should also mention that this wasn't just 36 miles in three-digit heat. The route from San Pablo to Vallejo is mildly mountainous. There were numerous up and downs a quarter mile or more, at a 15-degree angle.
I didn't time the journey, but i estimate it took over four hours, with thirty minutes devoted to breaks.
Why would i make this olympian trek, just to drop off a highlighter?
For love, of course.
Not in a cliched way, though! I've a new friend. We've known each other a couple months, and a part of me hopes that we'll fall in love, but that wasn't the point. It was a psychological gesture of balance. As she has a car and i don't, and there's a fifteen-minute drive between us, she's done all the facilitating so far. We're at a tenuous point between lovers and friends, and when you dance that dance, there's always the danger of the latter being eaten alive (that doesn't sit well with me, as nothing is more sacred than friendship). For instance, if she met the man of her dreams today (rich/great sex/on bended knee), and he asked her to get rid of me, i think i know how that would go. She has many hippy affinities, but as a single mom who once dreamed of being a Disney princess, ideals only go so far (if that seems mercenary, she also has more integrity than most, so i imagine that after a year or two she'd send a note my way, just to find out how the asian coeds are treating me).
Anyway, i took this loony trek to Vallejo unannounced. I even half-hoped she wouldn't be home. I had an envelope for the marker, to put on her porch and leave her flabbergasted by not knowing how it got there. Again, this was about balance. Have i written her poems? Sure, but that's not necessarily impressive, as i'd probably be writing poems regardless. I just wanted to ensure that the thought would never pop into some corner of her brain, "Y'know, this bum has never gone two minutes out of his way for me."
As for the trek itself...
It started out brimming with happiness and excitement. With whoops, even. I love higher temperatures. The local weenies had been complaining about this "heat wave", but i was happy to be comfy again. I'd never been on the northern stretch of San Pablo Avenue, and it turned out to be charming. The towns seemed quaint, with nice-looking shops and eateries. I knew this was no lark, though...the biking was hard, even when i was fresh. I knew the heat posed dangers, but i had two bottles of water. All went smoothly, until...
I got to where San Pablo breaks off near Route 80 and the Carquinez Bridge. I headed in that direction...only to discover that bikes aren't allowed access there. I considered breaking that law, but as i'd just spent a week studying for my CA driver's license, i didn't think such audacious scofflawry prudent (or even likely to succeed). I had to backpedal, and the detour added four miles to my trip (plus the 2 it took to fix my mistake). To wind back around to where i'd already been, i had to ascend the highest terrain yet, past a refinery and a spot named "Vista Point". The sense of loneliness was acute, and it occurred to me that it would be a bad (or good) place to die. Eventually a few cars passed me, and i even flagged one down, just to be sure i wasn't going the wrong way. I began taking water breaks...and even breaks just to gather myself. At 70 degrees, it would have been a 100, even i was feeling the heat. But i got to the Point, and felt fit enough to take a look.
Then i coasted down to the bridge. A genial group of walkers pointed me to the bike path. I only passed one person the entire span. With the uphills behind me, the final four miles were breezy.
I rang her bell, and even though her car was there, i suspected she might have company, so i prepared the envelope. Just as i was getting ready to go, she opened the door. The looks of semi-amazement she gave me, money can't buy. She refilled my water bottles, and i pedaled away. It was probably imprudent of me to not take a longer break and get more fluids, but i'm contentedly dumb that way.
The shadows had begun to lengthen, so that i was more shaded by trees and buildings. Once i got to the other side of the bridge, i met the same group of walkers, at the same exact spot! We marveled at the coincidence. Then the uphills were upon me, and it was instantly obvious that it would be slower going. I began to downshift three gears as opposed to two...and eventually even four. I generally avoid taking breaks on an uphill, but now...i felt weary, and had an ache from the back of my head down to my butt. By the time i got to the north-south San Pablo straightaway, i could feel the preliminary stages of vision distortion that come with overheating.
Go. Break. Water. Go.
Slowly. At one point i passed a pharmacy, and considered stopping for a sports drink. But i felt like i was in the last few miles, and could gut it out.
I had two breaks of 5-10 minutes. For some of that time, my head was drooped over my handlebars. The water didn't taste refreshing anymore, but i kept drinking.
The toes of my right foot curled around themselves, and the whole foot cramped.
Wait. Go.
I fantasized about the meal i would have. Ever thrifty, i haven't eaten out once in the six weeks i've been here. I would stop for some yummy asian bean curd.
The last hill was almost the killer, because the previous hill had looked like the final one.
Finally, i was coasting down to home.
I didn't stop at the restaurant. A good thing too, as i might have ended up lying on their floor for twenty-five minutes, which is exactly what happened when i got home. As i took my shoes off inside the door, my left foot seized. Then the right again. After fifteen minutes i tried to stand up, and was down again.
Brilliant. What a day. Huge and beautiful.
And i learned something. I learned that no writer who bikes ten miles a day, will ever experience writer's block. During the trek, my mind cranked out at least three worthy ideas, the last of which was a poem dedicated to an amazing womyn in Vallejo. I hoped it might even make her cry.
A day in the life of a lonely fool, being naked for her (and you) as a rule.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"The Bonobo and the Atheist"

(In Search of Humanism Among the Primates)
-by franz de waal
Primatologist de waal has given us a beautiful, thoughtful, measured book...with a canny title. Bonobos are very much in vogue in the scientific and progressive communities, with polyamorous hippies embracing them as proof that humans are naturally happy, peace-loving fuckmonkeys (this author has been guilty of that himself). But franz points out that bonobos are not compulsively peaceful with no sexual boundaries - indeed, their copious sexuality is largely about softening social conflicts. And at the end (or beginning or middle) of the day, a female bonobo still has to be willing to mate, which isn't an automatic given. De waal isn't swayed by the hype, saying that the most compelling comparison is still between humyn and chimp males, with collective hunting and defending, coalitions against rivals, all while competing for status and females.
But none of that is what the book is about! De waal has bigger begonias to fry - he's in search of the roots of morality itself, and more specifically a refutation of veneer theory, which holds that humans are by nature selfish and nasty. Without an artificially constructed morality to keep us in check, so the theory goes, we'd kill and steal and fuck whenever and whatever we please.
Poppycock, says franz! He shows us the social origins of morality in all mammals, and the advanced levels found in elephants, apes, dolphins, and others. Monkeys have a clear sense of fairness, as shown when they refuse to eat a treat if they see another monkey given a better one. Infant human studies show this sense of inborn fairness, too. Apes go further, refusing to partake when they see another ape treated unfairly. They also show more advanced group morality, spending often considerable effort to maintain the peace when there's no personal reward for themselves. The only difference between us and other apes is degree - because human society has grown far beyond the intimacy of tribal life, we've needed to invent larger and more abstract forms of control - hence, "god".
But de waal has no interest in religious debate, and indeed does much to dissuade agitated atheists from militant stances. This book is for two groups - those who think humans naturally "evil", and those who blame religion for all the world's problems. Both groups are deftly redirected.
My only criticism? I wish he would say "other apes" instead of "apes". But, just like a spirited game of badminton between humans and bonobos, that's a relative quibble.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Pacifism as Pathology"

(Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America)
-by ward churchill with mike ryan
1998, 2007
Is pacifism the worst thing that could have happened to civil disobedience in the 20th century? Has non-violence played right into the hands of the global corporations who have steered humanity into endless cycles of poverty, exploitation, and genocide? Is the seemingly irreversible destruction of our ecosphere at the hands of capitalism (which seems patently incapable of self-correction) made doubly inevitable by devotion to pacifistic ideals in those who would save us from ourselves?
Ward churchill makes a starkly convincing case, by deconstructing the supposed triumphs of non-violence. Were gandhi's gains made possible only by a century's worth of violent revolt plus the bankruptcy of the british empire after WWII? Was indian freedom an illusion, as western capitalism never lost control of India's economic fate? Would martin luther king's victories have happened without the threat of the Black Panthers? And whether or not you accept the contention that jewish religious leaders steered jews into not resisting the stars, ghettos, or concentration camps, it's hard to disagree with the contention that if those nazi door knocks had been met with bullets instead of bleats, millions might not have died. Certainly the present israeli posture on militarization reveals a (chilling?) determination to never be caught unarmed again.
Churchill's point is that pacifism is of limited use once violence has begun...and the violence committed against "people of color" all over this world (and in America's backyard) shows no sign of abating (to say nothing of poverty's violence perpetrated against "people of no color?"). In response, western protesters offer only parades by permit and temporary arrests that become peacenik status symbols...while the displacement, death, and devastation goes unchecked. A war against humanity and our very planet is being waged, and these feeble protests have amounted to nothing.
This book can be unsettling...especially for someone (like myself) who has spent a lifetime making non-violence a sacred covenant. "Pacifism as Pathology" can make a pacifist want to grab a firearm and head for the barricades. Of course, there is a great difference between passive and active resistance, and ward isn't suggesting that armed revolt is the only solution. In active resistance, direct action is taken against the machinery of oppression - with real (even dire) risks involved. It is the absence of active resistance in America, that ward sees as the disastrous by-product of the deification of non-violence. He speaks of the necessity to incorporate different resistance strategies, to achieve real victories.
A challenging, necessary book.