Category Archives: Culture

Poetry and 1950s Music

I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets.  Imagine me writing a poem.  As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day.   I am however, still thinking about poetry.  I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.

My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets.  One of the three is Charles Bukowski.  I like some of his poems.

Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher,  is titled Poetry In Action.  It begins with reference to a poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s.  This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.

It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine].  Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.

. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive:  a poet with power.

Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:

Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]

The post say this:

But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”

I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will.  In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments.  Again, I doubt that I ever will.  Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do.  On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one.  I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer).  Being able to write this entry.  Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.)  Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month.  (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s)  This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.

So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing.  Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day.  Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game.  (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals.  I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”.  I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)

How Much Is That Doggie

I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958.  There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website.  I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside.  The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul.  It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.

 

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The frontal lobes of a burnt tuna casserole

Easy to tweet, hard to have an ideology, a political will, an interest in anything but winning, or the frontal lobes of a burnt tuna casserole*!

As stated by a portrait of President Obama in a cartoon conversation with Li’l Trumpy, a recent, new character in the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip by Bill Griffith that’s appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for years.  The strip was never overtly political until Donald Trump somehow became our president.  (Oh, did I say Donald Trump instead of President Trump?  Sorry, I meant to say The Big Cheeto**.)  Now the strip regularly features new characters like L’il Trumpy and Steve Bunion.  Many of these strips end up comparing Li’l Trumpy to a burnt tuna casserole, a perfect simile.

In one strip, Li’l Trumpy is said to have the attention span of a burnt tuna casserole.  This is the strip in which Steve Bunion says

Let’s ban all climatologists!  Let’s lock up David Brooks!  Let’s invade New Jersey!

I think I’m going to have to start checking in regularly on what’s going on with Zippy.

 


* from Zippy the Pinhead “Dropping an O Bomb” by Bill Griffith, 05/02/2017

** from Candorville by Darrin Bell, 05/02/2017

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Help! I Can’t Stop!

I thought this would be just another morning at home.  Then I stumbled upon the song Guantanamera done on YouTube as part of the Playing For Change project.  That led to watching and listening to La Bamba, What’s Going On, Stand Up Sit Up . . .   Lots of great songs.  Watching the videos caused goose bumps – they are that good.  Fun.  Uplifting.  Especially the out-of-this world rendition of Lean On Me.  What a show!  What a show!

Help, I can’t stop.  I’m going to be here all day listening to music. Oh god!  Now it’s What a Wonderful World!

Each video has many different musicians and groups that contribute to the songs.  They play in locations around the world on every continent.  Somehow, all the clips of all the different musicians and all the different locales are combined into wonderful creations.  They musicians are the best.  The videos are the best.  The music is the best.

Playing For Change has a motto:  Connecting the World Through Music.

Mark Johnson, the co-founder, says

The idea is to show people enough different cultures using music to uplift themselves, so that we can see the connections we all have.

Keith Richards

. . . that’s the way music was meant to be.

Grandpa Elliot

. . . man, all my life I’ve been putting out love, but not like that

Far from being just another morning, it’s been an inspiring, fun, music-filled morning.  I feel like it’s a bright, sunshiny day even though it’s wet and cloudy.

Peace Through Music

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Spring Break In the Great North Woods

This is how we celebrate Spring Break up north.  Looks great, doesn’t it?  All that’s needed is an ocean, some beer, some sand, some sun, some music, a woman . . .

Spring Break At the Beach

 

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Turning a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Total Wreck

I stole the title of this post from Kevin Drum who posted today [not today; I forgot to publish this on the day of Drum’s post] about theEssential Health Benefits (EHB) that the Republican health plan (ill-health plan would be a more apt term) would have taken away.  Here is what he says about EHBs:

Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:

  1. Doctor visits
  2. Emergency room visits
  3. Hospital visits
  4. Prescription drugs
  5. Pediatric care
  6. Lab services
  7. Preventive care
  8. Maternity care
  9. Mental health care
  10. Rehabilitation services

The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal.

What it means to me is that conservatives and Republicans do not want you to have any health care at all if you can’t afford it on your own.  You can just die or go into bankruptcy.  Who cares?  You got cancer because you’re a bad person.

Harry Truman

Check out Kevin’s blog.  He is posting a storm about the farce that the Republicans are trying to foist upon us all.  Hopefully, they will fail miserably [they did!!!], thus preserving the status quo that is far, far better than anything the Republicans have been able to come up with even though they’ve had at least eight years.  More like 70 years if you go back to Harry Truman’s attempt to implement health care that was, of course, foiled by the Republicans.

 

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T-Shirts and Shorts

I look out the window and see people running in t-shirts and shorts, sweaters tied around their shoulders, no longer needed.  And it’s only mid-morning.

I stroll downtown and hear the growl and roar of over-large motorcycles, a curse on our small river town and a sign of spring.

I guess it must be spring ’cause my windows are wide open. and will probably remain so until November.  But that’s too far in the future to worry about.

In fact, why worry about anything but today.

In fact, why worry at all?  Alfred E. Neuman* wouldn’t.


*  fictitious mascot and cover boy of Mad, an American humor  and satire magazine

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Trust and Good Faith

Michael Hann at The Guardian recently wrote about what he has learned after 16 years as The Guardian’s music editor.

Of course, there are spivs and money grubbers, as there are in any industry that has historically promised large and fast returns. But pretty much everyone I’ve met who works in music does so because they love it, and they don’t make fortunes from it. Music is a remarkably uncorrupt world: there’s an awful lot of trust and good faith involved. And it ignites the passions, still. The surest way to get an interview with one of the old lags of rock off to a good start is to ask them about the music they loved when they were 17. You can see their eyes light up as they recall how they fell in love with music.

His point that music still ignites the passions started me thinking about what I loved when I was 17, and 27, and 37, and, God forbid, 67.  I remembered many highlights.  Here are some in a tediously long list.

Church music, always, from my earliest memories onward.  Listening to my Dad in the Senior Choir at church.

Going with Mom to hear the Minnesota Symphony at the junior high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Early 1960s.

A band from the Twin Cities playing at the Telemark Ski Resort near Hayward, Wisconsin, circa 1965.  The band featured an organ – definitely cool.  Great music mixed with skiing and my fellow teenage skiing buddies.

Rural beer bars in north-west Wisconsin, 1960s.  In those days, there were rural areas where those under 21 years of age could drink in taverns that served only beer.  Some of them had live music.  We had some fine times at the beer bars (they always had dirt parking lots) and are lucky we never crashed our cars on the country roads after a night out.

The Beatles, Bloomington, Minnesota, August 21, 1965, at Met Stadium, the old ballpark where the Minnesota Twins played in the 60s and 70s.  The stage was set up on second base.  I don’t remember much about the concert except that we almost left the tickets at home.  I, my girlfriend, and two other couples.

A country tavern on Long Lake in Chippewa County, Wisconsin owned by an old German with a heavy accent.  I think his name was Maxie and the tavern was Maxie’s; I don’t remember.  On request, he would get out his accordion (or was it a violin) and play for us.  Late 1960s.

Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, late 1960s, Madison, Wisconsin.  This was straight out of the movie Animal House although we didn’t realise it at the time.  We just thought we were cool.  On two or three Saturdays a month we would have beer parties with bands from Milwaukee or Chicago – black soul bands; the frat was all white.  We drank and danced up a storm; my frat brothers and my girlfriend.

Music festivals in the Woodstock era.  I went with a girlfriend to Sound Storm, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival in 1970 outside Poynette in Columbia County a bit north of Madison.  Here’s what a Wisconsin Historical Society essay says about Sound Storm:

About 30,000 people attended Sound Storm, the majority sneaking in through the woods without paying. [I think we paid, but I remember climbing over a barbed-wired fence.  Perhaps my memory is shaky.]  The Columbia County sheriff, seeing his officers exponentially outnumbered by hippies and bikers, wisely decided to ignore misdemeanors such as nudity and drug use. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were everywhere, along with marijuana and cheap, screw-top wine. Medical students staffed first aid and “bad trips” tents [that I had to visit after ripping my thigh open on the barbed-wire fence], volunteers from the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico helped as stage announcers, and Madison’s Mifflin Street Co-op provided free food. Throughout the weekend, ecstatic dancers whirled before the stage. When undercover officers infiltrated the crowd, Pete [the event organizer] dropped 10,000 fliers from a helicopter urging the audience not to harm them. Fans frolicked in nearby Rowan Creek, even crowning their own “Mud King.” Two members of the band Northern Comfort got married on stage. At night, the York farm sparkled with hundreds of campfires. Only a handful of injuries or arrests were reported.

A block party in Madison, WI, early 1970s.  A band called Virginia Rose (or was that the name of the female lead singer?).  This was when I was discovering country music under the influence of early country-rock bands like Poco.  Virginia Rose was great.

Johnny Cash, Champagne -Urbana, IL, early 70s.  I and my girlfriend drove down from Madison to visit friends from high school and see the man in black.  Johnny only got better and better in the succeeding years.

Nights at the Birchmere in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. , mid-to-late 1970s, The Red Clay Ramblers, great stage show; the original Seldom Scene with Ben Eldridge, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, and John Duffey.  More beer drinking with my latest girlfriend, my best buddy Bruce, and a few other cronies from work.  The best bluegrass ever!

The Annual Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering in Battle Ground just outside of Lafayette, IN, summer of ’79.  At the time, a small bluegrass festival, today in its 45th year.  The first time I saw people bring pieces of flat, thin, smooth wood to a festival that they would put on the ground as a surface for flat dancing or clog dancing (not sure what is the correct name for this style of dancing.)

Stumbled on a free, outdoor show by The Whites (Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl) in Georgetown, Washington, DC.  I think they were then called Buck White and the Downhome Folks.  Sharon later married Ricky Skaggs.  They are now in the country hall of fame.

A Holiday Inn in Lafayette, Indiana, 1978.  A bluegrass band.  I’ve tried to find the name of the band only to come up with a number of possibilities.  I think the band included Rickie Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J.D. Crowe, but would such hotshots of bluegrass and country be playing in a Holiday Inn in Indiana?  Can I trust my memory?  They were wonderful musicians and well-known in bluegrass.  Keith would die too soon.  Rickie would be swamped in the Nashville scene but later escaped to return to something closer to his roots.

National Folk Festival, at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, an outdoor music venue near Washington, DC.  Many stages set up throughout the rolling countryside of is Vienna, Virginia.  Great music, non-commercial music.

Springfield, IL, 1998, driving home from Atlanta, my wife and I stumbled on an old, brick, two-story Italian restaurant in the university neighbourhood.  We ate upstairs where there was a wandering fiddler.  We listened for a long time and, because we were almost the only ones there, we had the fiddler to ourselves for a long time.  He played everything we requested.  A similar experience with my wife at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (circa 2000) in Stillwater, Minnesota where we were entertained by the house accordionist.

Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN: late 80’s, early to mid 90’s.  It’s still there and going strong, but I, unfortunately, haven’t been back in too long a time:

  • A group of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists and singers.  They didn’t know quite what to make of the winter.
  • Robin and Linda Williamson, tremendous in person.
  • Pat Donohue, the long-time Prairie Home Companion’s guitarist
  • John Hammond, blues man

I shouldn’t have started this list.  I now realise how little live music I’ve heard in the last two decades.  I have partially made up for this by spending lots of time and money on building a home library of music.  It’s now all digital, but in the past, for financial reasons, I’ve sold a large collection of LPs and two large collections of CDs.  How I wish I still had them, some of which were a bit obscure and might be hard to find these days.  For example, in the late 70’s in a record store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, I bought an LP – a very fine LP – by Country Ham, a group I had never heard of when I bought the record.  I can find no records on iTunes by a band called Country Ham.

A German beer and dance hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC with my Czechoslovak girlfriend Vera, 1978.  My first experience waltzing.

Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington, DC, near the zoo in what was then a block or two of small retail, bars, and restaurants, circa 1976 – 77.  I think one of the first metro stations was built in this block

  • Donovan’s.  One night a week a band called Sheepshead Bay played.  I sat at the bar (once again drinking beer) thoroughly enjoying their mix of folk and political and cultural satire (Reston Isn’t Resting Anymore).
  • Right across the street, Ireland’s Four Provinces where I first tasted the pleasures of Harp Lager and listened to the best Irish music I’ve ever heard.
  • Also across the street was the movie theater where I saw the very first Star Wars in 1977.

Madrid 1973 in a tapas bar.  I and an acquaintance I met on the overnight train from Paris.  A three or four man combo strolls in off the street and blow our socks off with Spanish songs.

Mykonos, Greece, 1973:  listening to Greek music and watching the locals do their Greek circle dances.  Seemingly impromptu, but probably staged for the tourists, maybe a bit of both.

Blues Saloon in Frog Town in St. Paul.  The stage was on the second floor of an old, wood frame building.  One got upstairs using a seedy-looking staircase.  No frills in the concert room.  Just loud, raucous blues.  It reminded me of the movie Devil In a Blue Dress based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books.  The movie was my introduction to West Coast Blues, Jump Jazz, and other music of the black neighbourhoods in southern California in the years after World War II.  The movie didn’t get much attention and still doesn’t but is one of my favorites in part because of the music and a good performance by Denzel Washington.

Small Italian Restaurant on the far outskirts of N. VA suburbs of DC.  Bluegrass on weekends.  An old time, family group, I think a wife and husband singing.  As usual, I am at the bar drinking beer, eating pasta,  and soaking in the music and vibes.  On the rural fringe of the urban area.  An out of the way spot that I stumbled on by accident.

And still, above all, listening to music, dancing to music, working out to music, being brought to tears by music, fighting the blues (bad, bad blues) with music, smiling with music.

Let’s play on!

 

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Color and Graffiti Downtown

Downtown Stillwater, Minnesota on a sunny Spring Day.

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Take Care

Simon Legree

America has never seen a party less caring than 21st-century Republicans

– Lindy West, The Guardian, 03/29/2017

This is the headline of an opinion piece in The Guardian.  Ms West’s article contains many spot-on quotes describing today’s debased version of the Republican party.  I will provide a few but suggest that you read the article in full.

I don’t know that America has ever seen a political party so divested of care. Since Trump took office, Republicans have proposed legislation to destroy unions, the healthcare system, the education system and the Environmental Protection Agency; to defund the reproductive health charity Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion; to stifle public protest and decimate arts funding; to increase the risk of violence against trans people and roll back anti-discrimination laws; and to funnel more and more wealth from the poorest to the richest. Every executive order and piece of GOP legislation is destructive [emphasis added], aimed at dismantling something else, never creating anything new, never in the service of improving the care of the nation . . .

[There is a] void at the heart of the [Republican] party, that loss of any tether to humanity . . .

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Don’t Lose That Idea

Brain Pickings

I copied the following from Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s fine website:

The current of the river of life moves us. Awareness of life, beauty and happiness is the current of the river.

Agnes Martin in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances as quoted by Maria Popova in the Brain Pickings weekly newsletter, 03/26/17

I had been fiddling with the idea of putting together a talk on creativity.  My thoughts weren’t very serious, more like daydreaming or fantasizing – who would want to listen to me talk about creativity?.  I’ve been thinking differently since reading the above.  I am 68, soon to be 69, years old.  I have a lot of experience in and knowledge about creativity that I am beginning to realize might be more than for most people.  I’ve studied creativity and am deeply engaged in creative activities.  Why not try to share?  I and I suspect a lot of others, tend to denigrate my own skills and creativity.  I have no credentials in photography other than a ribbon or two from one year at the county fair.  No art or photography degrees, no professional experience, no fame, fortune or celebrity.  I also come from Scandinavian stock and a Lake Wobegon upbringing, so I’m supposed to practice modesty and be self-effacing.

Enough of that!  I think a key to creativity is being able to recognize, accept, and do something with one’s ideas.  Don’t forget them or neglect them.  Some will be not worth pursuing, but some will be and may turn into something wonderful.  Carry a notebook or use a note-taking app on your smart phone.  I use a Samsung Galaxy Note that is great for note taking.

Consider a voice recorder.  Last week while in the midst of a two-hour drive, I was awash in ideas for blog posts.  Perhaps some were good ideas.  I had a blog post mapped out in my head, a post that would have had a lot of personal meaning for me.  The heart of the post was to have been a song lyric.  By the time I got home, I only vaguely remembered the lyrics.  I think the song was by Emmylou Harris.  I read the lyrics of dozens of her songs and could not find what I remember.  I eventually drafted the blog post, but it remains unposted because I CANT FIND THE SONG.  Drat!  If I had had a voice recorder I could have recorded the relevant information in 30 seconds.  I could have pulled over to the side of the road, but I was tired after a long day and didn’t.

Don’t lose Your Idea. It May Be a Good One.

The moral of this short story?  I lost an idea that could have been polished into something good because I did not record the idea.

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Myths and More Myths

I got an e-mail today from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Below is the meat of the e-mail.  Note that every statement of fact is well documented.

The fear of foreigners, the belief that refugees and immigrants are dangerous, the desire to keep them out — none of these things are new. But as our Teaching Tolerance project wrote this week in an updated post, these fears are often based on misinformation and lies.

It’s a myth, for example, that immigrants don’t want to learn English. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 56% of first-generation immigrants speak English “well” or “very well,” and the demand for English instruction actually far outstrips supply.

It’s a myth that immigrants are violent or criminal. According to a new report by The Sentencing Project, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. Higher levels of immigration may even have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates, researchers say.

In the run-up to both Muslim bans, perhaps the most widely circulated myth has been that refugees are not screened before entering the country, that banning them will keep the U.S. safe from terror.

But we know that refugees undergo more rigorous screenings than any other individuals the government allows in the U.S., and we know that no deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to people from the countries covered by either executive order in the last 30 years.

All of these myths, however far-fetched, are based on the same dangerous falsehood: that immigrants and refugees are somehow not like us. That they’re not students in search of an education. That they’re not families trying to make ends meet. That as “somebody else’s babies,” they don’t belong here.

Some of my own thoughts:  We Homo sapiens have been moving, migrating, traveling, wandering, fleeing since we became Homo sapiens.  Migration and movement are among the most fundamental currents in human history.  Migration has never been stopped in spite of numerous attempts to do so.  Migration will never be stopped.  The Romans tried.  The Chinese tried.  We Americans have tried in the past.  These attempts have never been successful.  It looks like we’re about to embark on an expensive, foolish, futile attempt to do so.  An attempt doomed from the start to failure.

Why not tear down the walls? (Didn’t a Republican president say something like this?)  ACCEPT immigrants and allow them to become a productive part of our society instead of condemning them to be outcasts on the peripheries.

 

Well, I’m not an immigrant, but all of my grandparents were.  All Americans can make a similar statement.  Even Native American ancestors came from Siberia.

 

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Kingsolver: Another Country

kingsolver-quoteThe great Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Tree books, published an article today in The Guardian – a call on everyone to marshal their talents and decency to fight the onslaught of hate, fear, all sorts of phobias, lies, and bad government.  I quote at length, but please read the entire article.

. . . we can’t hole up for four years waiting for something that’s gone. We just woke up in another country.

. . . Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; [any] restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; [any] limits on corporate influence over our laws.

. . . We’re in new historical territory. A majority of American voters just cast our vote for a candidate who won’t take office. A supreme court seat meant to be filled by our elected president was denied us. Congressional districts are now gerrymandered so most of us are represented by the party we voted against. The FBI and Russia meddled with our election. Our president-elect has no tolerance for disagreement, and a stunningly effective propaganda apparatus. Now we get to send this outfit every dime of our taxes and watch it cement its power. It’s not going to slink away peacefully in the next election.

What is to be done?

. . .wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts.

I’ll go first. If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. We ask ourselves why so many people just couldn’t see a 69-year-old woman in our nation’s leading role, and why they might choose instead a hero who dispatches opponents with glib cruelty. We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.

Kingsolver continues with what to do for journalists; consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news; teachers; scientists; women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders; Facebook users; workers.

As she says we must all

refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble.

Trump’s election is not the continuation of normal American politics.  We all need to step up.  I can do my part, even if it is a small part, by writing more regularly in my blog about politics and current affairs.  Today, for example, I can write about and link to Kingsolver’s article.

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Going To the Movies

popcorn-boxMy earliest memories of going to the movies are of total chaos.  Imagine a large, old-fashioned movie theater on the main drag of my hometown during a Saturday matinee for grade schoolers.  The theater is packed.  There is a cartoon, an episode of a cliffhanger serial like Buck Rogers (to be continued the next week), then the main feature, often a black-and-white western.  The kids are not quiet.  When they finish their popcorn, they fold the box flat and sail it out over the crowded theater.  Soon the air is filled with gliding popcorn boxes.  The noise and chaos didn’t bother me at all.  Oh, but it was fun!

Yesterday I started watching the Stars Wars movie that is first in the series in chronological order.  I star-wars-textwas surprised how poor it was, dependent heavily on special effects and quirky characters.  The plot was as weak as day-old coffee and so lame that even the good actors couldn’t overcome the hackneyed dialogue.  I could only manage thirty minutes of the movie before turning it off.  There are a million better ways to be bored.

I often start a movie without finishing it.  A waste of money for sure, but also for me an indication that there are not many decent movies being made these days.  I’m not interested in movies based on comic book characters, so that excludes seemingly half the movies made these days.  Include the re-makes and there doesn’t seem much room left for original movies.

Going out to see a movie used to be one of my favorite things.  When I lived alone in Washington, DC and had yet to make any friends, I went to the movies at least once a week and enjoyed myself even if the movie wasn’t very good.  Now I never see a movie in a theater.  It’s not because there are no movies I’d like to see (not many but there are some),  it’s because the sound is often overwhelmingly loud, an assault on a person’s senses.   So I no longer subject myself to movie theaters.  I wait until I can get the DVD from the library or from the one-and-only, surviving DVD rental shop left in town.  I may never again set foot in a movie theater.

There is a lot of junk available on the internet.  Truly awful movies that exploit all possible human weaknesses.  I’ve gotten sucked in by too many such movies.  In my defense, I can say that I’ve rarely if ever finished any of the trashy movies, but I have to guard against temptation.

tempted-mouse

 

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Punk in 1970s New York

city-on-fireI’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene?  I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s:  The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.

City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages.  The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977.  The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman.  It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters.  Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s.  I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk.  During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music.  So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass.  Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.

City On Fire also covers the massive and  complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977.  Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.

summer-of-samThe movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree.  It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods.  City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom.  Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.

I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book.  I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much.  I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed.   Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol.  They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day.  I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.

Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.

eye-and-tear

 

 

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I Still Can’t Sing!

I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music.  Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners.  What I quote today shares that theme.

. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.

But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species.  And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history.  Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature:  Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it.  We have to train them to behave “civilized.”

In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗

And as Levitin describes,

Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams.  Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall.  The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . .  Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.

dance_and_sing_poster-r4298727ac34f4914894ac5b0ffc3ee93_0uf_8byvr_324So , what to do?  I suggest we dance and sing!

 

∗ Wikipedia entry on “Bebop”.

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About Boomers

Micheal Kinsley, in Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide, says that

in a boomer culture that celebrates youth, you no longer qualify.  Ouch

I’m posting this as a heads-up to all those who no longer qualify as youthful.  I don’t include myself because I’m only 68.  Surely I’m not old?

Here are another few words from this morning’s reading:

As big soft buffettings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

from Postscript by Seamus Heaney

 

 

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Essays and Poems

Yesterday while at Brueggers, I read 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West.  The first of the four is daily Morning Pages.  The Morning Pages technique was described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way:  “[Morning Pages] are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.”  I have found that for me, using an online journaling website (Penzu) is better for stream-of-consciousness writing.  My longhand writing is so bad and tedious that it gets in the way of my stream-of-consciousness.

Another of the four is from Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art Of Writing.  It is to

Buy a book of poetry and a selection of essays (perhaps some from a previous decade). Read a few every day to help your mind foster a state of creativity.

I will never turn down an excuse to visit my local, indie bookstore and buy a book or two.  So I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and a small book of essays by Michael Kinsley, Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide.  This morning I added reading an essay and some poetry to my morning routine.

Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide is targeted at Baby Boomers of which I am one.  I read the foreword by Michael Lewis and the introduction by Kinsley; no essay yet.  The introduction ends with

If you want to be remembered as a good person, then be a good person.  Who knows?  It just might work.  But start now, because if you’re a boomer, time is running out.

If you want to know about the other two 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create, follow the link to the article.

 

 

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Antiques

Clown and Daisy

Clown and Daisy

I’m too angry to write about the Senate’s betrayal of democracy yesterday when they passed the fast track authority bill.  Instead, I’ll write about visiting antique stores in Stillwater, which I did today and Monday in search of close-up photographs of metal.  That is the current weekly challenge on Photo Challenge.  I was able to take photos inside the stores in spite of the low light by using an ISO of 12,800.  Using extremely high ISO settings causes noise in photographs, but I was able to remove much of the noise in Adobe Lightroom.  In addition to the photos I took in the stores, I bought two things to use in still lives at home:  a small, porcelain clown and an egg beater.  Below are my antique photos plus a couple of others from this week.

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Chávez Ravine

You may know about Chávez Ravine if you are a baseball fan, or if you are old enough to have been following baseball in the early 1960’s, or if you were a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, or if you or your family once lived in Chávez Ravine, or if you’re a hardcore Ry Cooder fan.  My family never came close to Chávez Ravine.  We’re blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians who rarely strayed from the Mid-West much less into big cities like Los Angeles.  I do fit all the other criteria for knowing about Chávez Ravine.

Years ago I borrowed Ry Cooder’s album Chávez Ravine from the library.  I was recently reminded of the album when I stumbled upon one of its songs while browsing in iTunes.  The album is a concept album that tells about the city of Los Angeles and the Dodgers destroying a Mexican-American community in order to build a baseball stadium.

The first song on Cooder’s album is Poor Man’s Shangri-la.  I don’t know if it was a Shangri-la but in the 1940’s

the area was a poor, though cohesive, Mexican-American community. Many families lived there because of housing discrimination in other parts of Los Angeles.

The city designated the area as blighted and moved forward with plans to redevelop the area.  The plans included a public-housing project, and the city began buying land from individual home owners.  The buy-out efforts were not completely successful.  Holdouts who did not wish to sell were part of the

Battle of Chavez Ravine, an unsuccessful ten-year struggle by a small number of remaining residents of Chavez Ravine to maintain control of their property, after the substantial majority of the property had been transferred to public ownership, during the period in which the city intended to use the land for the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.

The housing project died, and L.A. transferred the land to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a land swap.

With Chavez Ravine slated to become the site of the new Dodger Stadium, the tiny number of remaining members of the Chavez Ravine community were physically forced to relocate, although they were compensated for their properties at fair market valuations. While some had initially left the neighborhood, voluntarily or involuntarily through either the use of eminent domain or condemnation, a number (quite a small number after about 1954) stayed until the end. Eventually the sheriff’s department went in with bulldozers and armed men. A few property holders in the area had actually managed to avoid eminent domain proceedings and they were finally bought out by O’Malley [the owner of the Dodgers]. The final holdout eventually accepted the city’s offer of $10,500 for his former home. The homes and streets were razed, the larger community having been destroyed years before in the public housing effort.

Ry Cooder’s album tells the story of Chávez Ravine through songs in English and Spanish.

Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, the late legendary Lalo Guerrero, Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. Chávez Ravine was nominated for “Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album” in 2006.

Check out the album if you like Mexican music and Ry Cooder and want to get a taste of what the  Mexican-American music of that era sounded like.  The above quotes are all from the Wikipedia entry on Chávez Ravine.  It has a lot more information, citations, and links.

chavez wall

Something similar happened in St. Paul when the African-American, Rondo Street community was gutted to make way for the I-94 freeway.  Here’s is a page from a newsletter published by my former employee taken during the construction of the freeway.

rondo

 

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Green Diet. Not

Nutri System Cooler

Nutri System Cooler

I just started Nutri System.  Before I ordered I did some research to make sure it was a decent program.  It is, but what nobody mentioned (certainly not Marie Osmond) was what I experienced when I met the Fed Ex man.  He had two large packages, one a styrofoam cooler.  The cooler is big, about 26 x 17.5 x 16 inches.  The other package, a cardboard box, is just as big.  I was embarrassed.  Not because I was going on the diet, but because I had gotten so much stuff that is going to sit in a landfill somewhere for the next millennium.  When I opened the two big packages, it got worse.  Lots more plastic, not just the packaging for the food, but also plastic padding to keep the food from shifting.  It feels like an overwhelming mass of stuff that I feel guilty about having.

Both packages had a large amount of these plastic air pillows.

Air Pillows

Air Pillows

Even if the diet works wonderfully, I will not reorder.

Four-Week Shipment

Four-Week Shipment

I’ll use up what I have (a four-week supply) then go back to a focus on non-processed foods, a focus that I should have stuck to.

 

 

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Seven Million and Counting

I have been using a Fitbit pedometer for a few years.  It’s startling how the steps mount up over the years.  I now have recorded over seven million steps.  That seems like an enormous number of steps, but there have been times during these few years when I’ve been more of a couch potato than a serious walker.  Here are my stats from Fitbit as of a few minutes ago.  I recommend using a Fitbit if for no other reason than that it’s fun.

But I have a question.  How could I have burned over five million calories and still be so much overweight?

stats

 

 

Keep on walking.  Keep on truckin!

 

keep on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flying Kites

The Kite Flyer

The Kite Flyer

Yesterday was beautiful.  A great day for kite flying with a warm breeze from the south.  This gentleman was in Lowell Park on the St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minnesota flying some impressive kites.

Colors In FlightKite Of Many Colors

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An Illegal Alien Crisis?

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle ClassI am once again going to be quoting extensively from Dog-Whistle Politics.  This is a book to read if you want information to counter the cant and hypocrisy spewed forth by today’s conservatives and Tea Partiers.

Something that came as a surprise to me is “that ‘illegal’ is a misnomer: crossing into or remaining in the United States without proper authorization is not a crime, but rather a civil matter.”  A Supreme Court ruling stated that “as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”

Lopez goes on to write:

On the more fundamental question of assimilation, scholars recognize that today’s immigrants from Latin America (and also Asia), no different from the generations of European immigrants before them, are “being successfully incorporated into American society”; indeed, studies find “great continuities between the experiences of earlier European immigrants and current, predominantly non-European immigrants.”  Moreover, the notion that crossing the border without authorization generates a pervasive disdain for the  law is demonstrably false.  Research shows that undocumented immigrants from Latin America commit far fewer [emphasis mine] depredations, not far more, than citizens.  Evidence shows too that undocumented immigrants are far less likely than others to use expensive social services, including hospital emergency rooms.  Indeed, unauthorized immigrants pay considerable more in taxes – typically through payroll withholding – than they receive in social services.

If illegal immigration is actually not a big problem (or not a problem at all), why all the furor stirred up by the right?

. . . the “illegal alien” rhetoric is highly popular with racial demagogues.  Stressing illegality provides a way to seed racial fears without directly referencing race. . . . By constantly drumming on the crises posed by “illegals”, the right fuels a racial frenzy but can deny its intention to do any such thing.

This illegal-alien demagoguery started back as least as early as the time of (guess who?) the god-king Ronald Reagan.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had warned that migrant workers from Mexico, as well as war refugees from Central America, constituted a potentially traitorous group in the nation’s midst [did Reagan actually believe this?]  To many this suggestions seemed farcical.

Get the book and read it.  We progressives and liberals need to fight back.

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An Awesome Post

Image result for awesome clipartLike, this is going to be an awesome post.  Really!  Maybe even totally awesome

One of my pet peeves is the over-use of “awesome”.  I will be tempted to punch the next waiter or waitress who tells me that my order for an everyday salad and a mundane diet cola is awesome.  It is nothing of the sort.

If everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.

Some other linguistic pet peeves:

  • “Like”
  • “You know”
  • “Just saying”       (What exactly is this supposed to mean?  That the spiteful, malicious thing you just said is excused if you say “just sayin’?”  I don’t understand.)
  • “I/he/she was like . . .”     (This one is really inane.  Have people forgotten how to say “then she said”?)
  • Exaggeration in general.  If not awesome, we can always use unbelievable, amazing, astounding, . . .

Wait, I’ve thought of another language pet peeve:  “flawed” or “fundamentally flawed”.  If you want to criticize a study or report or article, you simply call it fundamentally flawed.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve read it.  An all-purpose critique that fits all situations.  Cool!

A good word:  “Cool”  It is concise.  It can be used without hyperbole or exaggeration.  Although used frequently, it doesn’t suffer from overuse.  Slang doesn’t have to be awful.

 

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Mass Incarceration In America

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle ClassI am in the midst of reading Dog Whistle Politics.  I usually don’t write about a book until I’ve finished it.  I’m making an exception because the statistics I’m going to state are so disturbing.  If you want to know more I suggest The New Jim Crow, a must read, in addition to Dog Whistle Politics.  What I quote is from pages 50 – 53 of Dog Whistle Politics.

  • In 1970, about 200,000 people were serving at least one year behind bars, or one out of every 1,000 Americans.
  • In 2014. about 2,319,258 people were being bars.  This is more than one out of every 100 Americans.
  • America’s incarceration rate in the highest in the world and exceeds the highest rate in the European democracies by 500 percent.
  • The United States has 5 percent of the world’s populations but holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
  • This system of excessive incarceration is closely tied to race.  In 2008, among white men aged 18 years or older, 1 in 106 were behind bars.  The comparable number for Latino men was 1 in 36; for black men, it was 1 in 15.  For black men between the ages of 20 and 34, a sickening 1 in 9 were locked up in 2008.
  • As of 2008, more African-American men were imprisoned, on parole or probation than were enslaved in 1850.
  • Poor youth of color . . . are less likely to commit crimes than poor white youth
  • Young men of color are far, far more likely to be swept into the maw of the American crime control system, even when taking into account youth and poverty.

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Sam Sings the Blues

I thought that today, it being Martin Luther King’s day, I would write a bit about Sam Cooke.  I hadn’t planned on it, but then I decided to listen to Sam’s album of the blues while cleaning the kitchen (mundane chores go much better with good music).  My first brainstorm was to write about the album because it’s so fine and I think it has been somewhat forgotten.  Next step:  I realized it was Martin Luther King day and Sam composed and recorded what has become one of the anthems of the Civil Rights Movement.

The song is A Change Is Gonna Come and was actually the B side of a 45-rpm recording.  Sam wrote the song after being refused lodging at  a whites only motel in Louisiana.  Sam and his band mates protested vigorously and were subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace.  Sam also had heard Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind and was chagrined  that a white boy – and not himself – had written such a song.

Sam Cooke was without a doubt one of the finest singers and composers in the fifties and sixties.  He remains an inspiration and an influence.  His music remains fresh. Even on the more frivolous of his songs, the quality of his voice is unmistakable.  If you want to explore his music I would start with one of the many greatest-hits albums and the one I’m listening to as I write – Night Beat from 1963.  Peter Guralnick devotes a chapter to Sam in Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom.  A great book for learning more about a great style of music, music with soul.

Finally, here a link to a fun, good-feeling video using one of Sam’s great hits:  Chain Gang.

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The Dish

I’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish since it was part of The Atlantic magazine – it is now independent and supported by subscribers so there is no advertising on the site.  Two noted guest writers are contributing this week.  One, the environmental activist and writer BVill McKibben, writes

Climate change is no longer a future threat—it’s the single most distinctive fact about our time on earth

The other, Ann Helpern from The New York Review Of Books and McKibben’s wife, writes

Over those same years, though, I’ve found that my “belief” in politics, has diminished. If, before, I thought that electoral politics mattered—and I did; I was the one going door-to-door in swing states—now I have a hard time holding on to that belief. If I thought that government, our government, because it is of and by and for the people—that is, because it is us—existed to make our lives together more tenable, well, let’s just say that with my tax dollars going to support Gitmo, the militarization of the police, subsidies to oil companies, and on and on, I’ve become much more cynical. Wouldn’t it be nice if, when we paid our taxes we could tell the government where we wanted our money to go—to the National Parks, say, and not to those oil companies—but of course that’s not the nature of democracy.

Andrew Sullivan is a conservative, but not of the type that has driven the Republican Party so far to the right.  If he is a conservative then I must be, in part, a conservative, although I like to think of myself as a progressive libertarian.  I agree with libertarian views on individual rights, but their believe in free market economics is wrong.  The freest markets exist when government  at least attempts to ensure a fair and safe market.  Regulated capitalism is the route to the greatest freedom as long as the regulations aren’t devised or implemented to benefit big business at the expense of individuals and the country at large.

Whatever your political persuasion, check out The Dish.  It is information and fun.

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The Most Important Skill For Book Reviewers

Gone GirlI’ve come to believe that the most important skill for a book reviewer is to have a vast vocabulary of over-the-top adjectives and adverbs.  (See, I just used one, er, two.)  I just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and what I say about book reviewers is not a knock on her book.  Her book was engrossing.  I’m using her book as an example of reviewer speak.  Here is a partial list of the adjectives and adverbs used by various reviewers that appear on the covers and first few pages of the book.

ingenious, irresistible, terrifying [can a book be terrifying and irresistible at the same time?], mercilessly entertaining, superb, razor-sharp, sinister, wickedly clever, menacing,  ice-pick sharp, spectacularly sneaky, impressively cagey, hilariously terrifying, sharp, deliciously devious, wicked clever, complex and driven, simply fantastic, darkly funny, at times moving, intricately twisted and deliciously sinister, wildly unexpected, devilishly good,thoroughbred, insidiously realistic, brilliantly constructed and consistently absorbing . . .

Enough.  There are many more that I could list, but I’ve made my point.

Apparently, a single adjective is not enough; two are better.   “Wickedly clever” is better than just “clever”.

Reviewers use these adjectives like sound bites.  Word bites if you will; one way to get your name on the cover of a best-seller.

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A Life Of Leisure

Garfield (2)I retired in January so this Garfield comic hit home for me.  I now have plenty of time to do absolutely nothing if that is what I want to do.  It’s wonderful after decades of working to have very few things that I have to do.  I call them “have-to-dos”.  My retirement goal is to minimize my “have-to-dos”.

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From Tom Joad To Lenin

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher CreativityI write daily Morning Pages, usually, but not always, actually in the morning, late morning.  I learned about Morning Pages in Julia Cameron’s book.  I sometimes find them a chore when I am at a loss words or energy.  Eventually I manage to finish and find that writing the pages helps me make decisions and plans, although that is not necessarily the goal.  Like meditation, writing Morning Pages is best approached without any concrete goals. One simple writes what enters one’s head and comes out at one’s fingertips.  Julia Cameron says that you should write three pages a day.  I’ve translated that in Penzu.com to 600 words.  I remember from my high school typing class that one typewritten page is 200 words.  Am I right about that?

This morning I had a mini-writer’s block.  Below is what I wrote.

And now what do I write about?  Yada Yada Yada.  The beat goes on.  Keep on the sunny side.  Don’t stop believing.  Carry on.  Full speed ahead.  Damn the torpedoes.  All men on deck. Hurrah.  Man your battle stations.  Do your best.  Nuts!  Put your best foot forward.  Never say die.  Red sky at night, sailors delight.  A stitch in time . . .  Let’s all pull together.  We shall overcome.

What did Tom Joad say in The Grapes of Wrath when he finally left his family?  (I just Googled it.  Sometimes the internet and search engines come in handy).

Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

This is what Henry Fonda says in the movie.  I don’t know if it is a direct quote from Steinbeck.

Interesting; I start with not knowing what to write and end with quoting Steinbeck.  The quote is one of my favorites.  Stirring.  Makes me think about getting involved; more than just signing online petitions and writing a small check now and then.  I suppose I could join the Democratic Party and become active.  I certainly would never even consider the Republicans – the party of ostrich-like denial, but I also am not enamored with today’s Democratic Party.  My qualms with the Dems are more tactical than ideological.  The Dems don’t know how to fight the right-wing.  They don’t know how to get their message out.  They don’t know how to talk to people and drum home a few basic points.  They don’t know how to answer the no-new-taxes mantra.  They are even in too cozy with big business.  Both parties have been captured.  Big business, with the aiding and abetting  of the government, has become too strong.  What’s an individual, a very introverted individual, to do?  What is to be done?  (Now I’m quoting Lenin, or at least the title of a piece he wrote around 1902.)

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Threats

The Coming of the Third ReichDemocracies that are under the threat of destruction face the impossible dilemma of either yielding to that threat by preserving the democratic niceties, or violating their own principles by curtailing democratic rights.

The Atlantic Monthly posed this question to its readers and posted some of the answers in  the March issue:  “What was the worst year in history.” One of the answers – ” 2001, the worst year in U.S. History; we lost our Constitution.”

The destruction of the two towers in New York in 2001 was certainly a catastrophe.  Our nation was not “under threat of destruction” from terrorism and is not today, but our Constitution was and is.  We have violated our constitutional principles, and since it appears that we are in an unending and undeclared war against terrorism we may never get them back.  Take, for example, Amendment IV:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons,houses, papers, and effects , against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be Violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Can anyone read the Fourth Amendment and not come to the firm conclusion, regardless of what the courts and the executive branch say, that NSA surveillance is unconstitutional?   Does NSA surveillance particularly describe the persons, places, or things to be searched?  No.

The quote at the beginning of this post is by Richard J. Evans in The Coming Of the Third Reich, the first in a three-volume history of Nazi Germany.  At the end of the book, he sums up the factors that paved the way for the coming of the Nazis.  (Interestingly, Evans describes the twelve-year Nazi reign as a “permanent state of emergency that was more fictive than real”; not much different from our seemingly permanent war on terror.)

The death of democracy in Germany was part of a much broader European pattern in the interwar years; but it also had very specific roots in German history and drew on ideas that were part of a very specific German tradition.  German nationalism, the Pan-German vision of the completion through conquest in war of Bismarck’s unfinished work of bringing all Germans together in a single state, the conviction of the superiority of the Aryan race and the threat posed to it by the Jews, the belief in eugenic planning and racial hygiene, the military ideal of a society clad in uniform, regimented, obedient, and ready for battle – all this and much more that came to fruition in 1933 drew on ideas that had  been circulating in Germany since the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  Some of these ideas, in turn, had their roots in other countries or were shared by significant thinkers within them . . .  they came together in Germany in a uniquely poisonous mixture, rendered all the more potent by Germany’s preeminent position as the most advanced and most powerful state on the European Continent.

 

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