Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stupid Asshole

It's a slow news day for me, so just for the hell of it, I googled "stupid asshole". Apparently, stupid assholes are on my subconscious mind lately.

I don't why I chose to surf for that, instead of, say ego-surfing my name. Again. For the hundredth time. (And there is a John Kurman in Kansas City, MO that I may have to kill one of these days, just so that I can be the only John Kurman on the planet. No. I wouldn't do that. Kansas City Johnny is probably pretty safe, for now, and for reasons that will become obvious in the next paragraph).

Well, the very first entry was a "Are you a fucking stupid asshole?" test on OK cupid. My natural inclination is to say "No. No, I am not", but I took the test anyway. I'm happy to report that I'm only 4% fucking stupid asshole, which makes a generally nice guy, and also puts me ahead of the pack, which averages at 10% fucking stupid asshole.

So, I got that going for me.

Next on the google list are two songs entitled "You Stupid Asshole". One by the Angry Samoans, and the other Mudhoney. Mmmm, am I gonna listen to them? Nah. Moving along...

Next, ah, of course, neighbors complain. Stupid Asshole Neighbor abusing Noise Violation on yelp.com. I'd have thought that would be entry number one.

Next, an email complaint addressed to somethingawful.com. Again no big surprises there.

Next, a definition for stupid asshole on urban dictionary. Do we really need that? Perhaps for all the newcomers to our magic land (And welcome to you!), you know, those not so familiar with slang, or English as a Second Language crowd. So, it nice to see public service entries like this.

Next, another song reference to the Angry Samoans. I guess they are angry after all.

Next, and finishing off the first google page of 685,000: 
"Kanye West and Cindy Sheehan Are Stupid Assholes", from...

Um, wouldn't think there would be much topical variety there... but I am curious as to how far you can run with it... but no... a quick perusal makes me recommend that you pass on reading. There you go.

Well, not sure where to go with this now. How about I end this with a list of people that I consider stupid assholes. No that would consume too much space. How about a randomly selected stupid asshole? How's that. Kind of in keeping with the thematic content of this journal. And so, reaching into the drum and pulling out a name we get...

Steve Forbes!

Oh, that's a good one. Classic case of evolution in action, as in use-it-or-lose-it. See, this is the end product of  what happens when generations of people inherit millions of dollars without any effort or struggle or thought or intentions involved. You end up with an upper class twit. 

What a stupid asshole.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jam Session

This past weekend I was down in Indiana. My youngest brother and his friends and acquaintances will, on a roughly quarterly basis, get together to play some music. I happened to be down visiting Saturday night, and was invited to attend.

Now, this isn't just your average pathetically aging garage band, a la the movie Slingblade, but rather some serious talent. Would an emphatic adjective drive home the gravity of just how serious? Okay.

There was some serious fucking talent there.

These guys have been playing in notable local area bands for decades. Some still do. Many, if not all, could easily be studio musicians in Hollywood or Nashville. 

Yeah, that good. 

So Saturday night was a great fucking time to be alive. They'd all play a song and the standard joke would be "Wow, that sounded just like the record!" Well, more often than not, it sounded better. Could that be from the alcohol? Well, maybe, but I don't think so.

Did I participate? Of course!  I mean, I needed a little liquid encouragement at first, but after a while, hearing some of the other bad karaoke singers, I had no problem singing. 

They don't stand on ceremony, and they certainly aren't music snobs. Don't know the lyrics? That's what print-outs are for! Good voice? Bad voice? Out of tune voice? It didn't matter. The one requirement was that you belt it out with as much feeling and soul as you could muster. 

And that's what I did. They started me out with something simple. I did John Lennon's part on the song "Hey Bulldog", while an old friend of mine did the Paul McCartney accompaniment/harmonizing.

Eventually, a few songs later, I did the harmonizing on "Wish you Were Here". Then "Surrender". My brother sang the lead on that, and did very well indeed. 

Then finally, I completely messed up Frank Zappa's "Dirty Love", just slaughtered the lyrics to the point that the band broke down laughing. So I was done for the evening. No, it wasn't what you think. I wasn't drunk. In fact, I drank, but did not get drunk. The experience alone was intoxicating enough.

The highlight of the evening was listening to one musician's wife sing Sara Barielles' "Love Song". She had one of the most remarkable voices I've ever heard. It did more than fill the room, it threatened to bust down the walls. She got a big hand from everyone.

But you know, everyone did a great job. And had fun. It was a joyful experience,to be immersed in very loud, very good music and to sing yourself hoarse, and help others do the same thing.

I wish to do it again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Fun Outing

I won't be around tomorrow, so today's entry will have to suffice for Friday Fun. I know that I'm leaning towards a musical theme on Fridays, so perhaps it helps to know that I am listening to rock bands out of Bergen, NO on streaming radio as I write this. Bergen, apparently, has become quite the hip music scene in Norway, which of course would please my mother no end, as some of the family is from here, and thus we are talented by association...

I'm going to talk about my day trip to downtown Chicago yesterday. The outing was very much fun indeed! I went with my dear friend Kristyn. 

Kris used to be my girlfriend, but we aren't anymore. Boyfriend and girlfriend, that is. It's not an unusual thing to stay friends with someone you've been in a more intimate relationship with, but it is for me. And having said that, you might think things were  just a tad, maybe just a tiny bit strained and uncomfortable, but it was just the opposite.

I hadn't seen Kris in person for perhaps two months, and it was great to see her. And I think she felt the same way. I think we still have a great amount of affection for each other, and so there was a considerable and mutual delight in seeing each other after such a long time.

And Kris is a lot of fun. Smart, gorgeous, and funny. With skin that most movie starlets would kill for. (What, you think I'd go out with women who were dumb, unattractive and humorless? I got high standards). Like I said, she's funny, but she possesses two varieties of funny. One is clever, witty, a fast immediacy funny. And the other is time-bomb funny. And so today, and now I can't think of the specifics, but I remembered something she said yesterday that made me laugh out loud today. And no, I'm not on satellite delay. It was a time-bomb remark.

We took the EL down to the Museum of Contemporary Art. We had a long talk on the train down, partly catch-up, and partly just banter. We've always found been good at easy banter, although I think I do more than my share of chatter. (I'd spent the entire week alone at the college, with Spring Break going on, so perhaps I was a bit desperate for someone to talk to).

It was one of those days that people would call "brisk". Spring has got her learner's permit, but Old Man Winter is not quite ready to give up the wheel. Perhaps Winter was back seat driving that day. Kris and I walked arm in arm towards the lake and the museum with a steady breeze in our faces, and no doubt she was stealing body heat from me as much as anything else. Like I said, it was brisk.

Kris, as usual, was smartly dressed and looked good.  I, as usual, was dressed like a slob. I had my summer hat on, sweatshirt, jeans. If you didn't know better, we could have been a Lithuanian couple, because, as I understand it, Lithuanian women always dress sharp when they go out, and Lithuania men do the opposite. Or so I've been told.

At any rate, I think you should be given a background to explain our viewing styles at the museum. 

Kris pretty much likes everything. I like nothing. 

As a result, I would give perhaps three microseconds of attention to the painting or photograph or sculpture before wanting to move on. Kris prefers to linger. It was a compromise, and one that I was occasionally impatient with.

Hopefully, she didn't mind too much.

Nevertheless, we did tarry at some works. There was an installation by William Kentridge, seven videos made in a rather grainy cinematic turn of the 19th century style, which, for lack of a better phrase, I found quite charming. I commented to Kris how the videos reminded me of "A Voyage From the Earth to the Moon", and perhaps Kentridge was trying to capture the atmosphere of that film. Only later did I realize the installation was titled "Seven Fragments for Georges Melies". Oh, duh!

So, despite my TV-addled brain, and its two-second attention span, we spent some time watching that, and examining other exhibits. I could relate how I was less than satisfied with a lot of the work, how I considered some of the artists "hacks", but I think I'll save my critique of contemporary art for another journal entry.

I think we spent about three hours there, going through four programs, one per floor, until finally one of the guards told us the museum was closing. Honestly, and I don't know how Kris felt, but I was about done anyway. 

We had a nice leisurely stroll on the way back to the EL, looking the classic tourists from suburbia. Fast walkers broke like waves around us, occasionally cast annoyed glances our way.

It was rush hour, and the train was packed, so we had to stand. That was a fun adventure being tossed and lurched about in the crowd. I only hit my head twice. 

Finally, as the train moved further out the crowd thinned, we got to sit down. My lower back was very happy that I got off my feet. 

I drove us back to her house, where we talked a bit more and I got to play with her dog for a little bit. I like all dogs, but I love her dog. She figured that out from day one. 

Then I went home. So that was it.

You know, I pretty much hermitized myself this winter. Hardly did anything outside of work. And so I experienced no small amount of melancholia after the visit, as I often do when returning from a visit with friends and family down in Indiana.

I've always known the difference between being lonely and lonesome. Lonesome is just being alone. Lonely is feeling alone. I've always occupied myself with distractions both trivial and important, and so am often the former, but rarely experience the latter. 

To be honest, and introspection requires honesty, I guess I'm a lot more lonely than I pretend to be. 

Well, at least the melancholy was honestly acquired, and I'm consoled by the fact that I'll soon distract myself into a cheerful activity and my mood will improve. 

And... the somber feelings are tempered with the thought that we do share the warmth of friendship and mutual affection, and that gets you through a lot as well.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Flesh is willing, but the Spirit is weak

Yeah, yeah, I know. That's not the way the parable goes. Jesus is freaking out, and asks Peter and the two sons of Zebedee to stand watch with him in the garden of Gethsemane. And when he comes back, he finds that Peter is asleep, and gets pissed and says "What you couldn't stay awake for one freaking hour?"

Matthew 26:41 "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

How does a heathen like me know this? Well, duh, I was raised a Lutheran.

The parable has nothing to do with what I'm going to talk about. But it has embedded itself, like so many passages, in the public imagination. I think it is now thought to mean that the body is unable to resist the temptations of the flesh. Which, of course, is silly. The mind is the weak part of the equation. 

Which brings me to the actual point, at least in terms of exercise. Now that Spring has arrived, I've taken up my serious and consistent efforts to counteract the body softness that winter inactivity brings. Which is to say, I was still active during the cold weather, but not nearly so as I am in the warm weather. I really need to do something about that...

Yeah, I know I said as  Northern European type I really love Winter and getting out in the cold, but that's only so long as you got someplace warm to go back to and lay about in cozy comfort. I'm a stupid barbarian, but not a masochist.

Anyway, I found out pretty quickly that, despite my cold weather efforts, I am once again in terrible shape. I tried a good brisk 3 mile run and, oh man, it was torture. It's going to take at least a month to get back to where I was in November.  

But it's not really my body that is out of shape. It's my mind. 

I've let my brain go soft. I know this because, when I stop, barely able to think about anything except drawing the next breath, within minutes, I'm fine. So, it's my perception of exhaustion that has changed, not any form of physical exhaustion. I've known this for years, which is why I chastise myself all the time for whimping out when I quit.

Well, now sports physiologists are backing up my pet theory. Aren't I smart?

As you can see here, Dr Sam Marcora of Bangor University has disproved the theory of muscle fatigue, and shown that is your perception of effort that limits your performance.

Obviously, there's good reason for this, same reason we have pain. It's a little cushion provided by evolution to keep the body from injuring itself, or rather injuring itself further. Nothing wrong with that, but it does limit us.

So, I've got to work on hardening myself mentally. Working on my stick-to-it-iveness, work on my tenacity, pump up my resolve, get my gumption up to snuff.

Here's to you doing the same this season, nugget.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Name Calling

I have found - rather to my astonishment - that I was severely pissed off to no end at the Teabaggers who harassed the congressmen this past Friday - calling them "n*gger" and "f*ggot".

Had I been a member of the crowd, I have no doubt, standing next to the people hurling these insults, that I would have said something like "Shut the fuck up, you stupid assholes".

But very slowly so that they could understand me.

I would have done so only because the hurling of such insults would hurt the cause and make the crowd look like a bunch of ignorant unwashed hilljack dipshits.

Not that I haven't used these words myself. I have, quite freely, quite frequently, sometimes under my breath, usually in traffic, and invariably under severe provocation. The provocation doesn't excuse the usage, but it was, you know, reflexive. I'm not proud of the usage, but I admit to it.

But at least I admit to it, and don't act like some cowardly skulking little fag- er, uh, weasel-dick rat-fuck who won't admit to... oh wait a minute, he admitted to it.

Ladies and gentleman of the 19th district of the great state of Texas, how does it feel to be represented by a dumbass?

Randy Neugebauer - dumbass.

And a bad liar who seems capable of only coming up with lame excuses.

Move over Joe Wilson. There's a new dumbass in town. And his name is Randy.

You know, I've felt that Randy is never a good name. It sounds kind of evil. Like that evil little wooden puppet boy on the Peewee Herman Show was named Randy.

That's the way I'll think of Neugebauer from now on.

Income Tax

I'm trying to avoid a topical political statement today, despite the recent news. Rest assured, the Greatest Show On Earth will be ongoing in DC, and everyone (on both sides of the aisle and beyond) will be piling out of their little clown cars, and lo a vast amount of stupidity such as can be seen in few other places in the world shall be committed before and for the amusement, bemusment and vast distraction and befuddlement of the American viewing public. And We The People shall be sent the bill for it. Which reminds me...

I did income taxes this past weekend. I wait until the last minute because I never get a refund. There's really no point in sending them monies that are mine until the very last second. However, I do do my taxes before hand so there are no surprises.

This year there was a surprise! I came across some through the letters and notes that my grandfather had compiled. What do you know? Stashed in there was a income tax form 1040 Grandpa filled out for the year 1920. Are you ready for this?

The form and instruction sheet was FOUR FUCKING PAGES LONG!

Let me get back to that, but first...

In 1920, Grandpa earned $1,023.32 (that is $11,692.32 in 2010 dollars). He got a $1,000 personal exemption, which means his taxable income was $23.32. At a tax rate of 4%, he owed a whopping 93 cents to the government.

Now, keep in mind, he's a young man, barely 19, living at home, paying no rent.


The actual form, for the return was a mere one page in length. It contains 18 line items. Two pages for instructions. One page for Schedule A. The two pages of instructions are a miracle in brevity and clarity. I daresay a six-year-old could read them (not suprising as we would consider the average citizen of 1920 barely literate and feeble-minded today).

Hang on, it gets better. Fast forward to another 1040 Grandpa filled out, this one from the year 1942. (For those of you who are not history buffs, the year 1942 counts as one of the darkest periods in our nation's history - outside the Civil War. I'm sorry, but if you think the past two years were tough... you really need to get a grip). The 1040 form is now four pages long. The instruction book is separate. There is one page for tax calculation, containing 33 line items. The other three pages are devoted to Schedules A - J, at basically about a paragraph's size each, and perhaps at most 6 line items per schedule.

In 1942, Grandpa earned $10,158.96 (that's $141,536.50 in 2010 dollars, way to go Gramps! or maybe not, he is listed as a Division Chief in a large corporation, so the equivalent VP position today would include a seven figure income with stock options and a really swell health and pension package).

His taxable income, after 5 line items of deductions, including personal exemptions, is $6,198.59 ($86,359.96 in 2010 dollars). The normal tax, at 6% comes to $371.92. There is also a surtax of $1,234.29, bringing his total tax to $1,606.21 ($22,378.03 in 2010 dollars). A quick comparison using the 2010 tax tables shows Grandpa would have paid $16,446.00 as head of household.

Oh, but with all of the current tax preferences, all the credits, exemptions, exclusions, accelerations, carryovers, and other provisions that are listed in an instruction book the size of a fucking fashion magazine, Grandpa would have paid considerably less. If his accountant was good at hiding things, he'd pay nothing at all!

So, what the fuck? Why are things so goddamn convoluted and complicated, and why are some of us taxpayers - *cough*rich assholes*cough* - paying SO LITTLE in taxes?

Well, obviously the tax code has all this shit because Congress, or the executive branch, or somebody who lobbied for it, wants to promote certain types of behavior. They wish to influence the American public to do things, such as own homes, have families, invest in savings, provide employer health care, promote corporate investment in R&D and other well-meaning stuff.

(And guess what about this well-meaning shit? It Ain't Working).

There were, are, obviously, lots of breaks for special interest groups that we should take out, subsidies for rich people, or at least anyone who had enough money and influence to hire an imaginative lawyer and effective lobbyist - which is, yeah, I'd say they're probably rich.

So, we lose, how much? The IRS estimates all the fancy tax breaks amount to about a trillion dollars in lost revenue. That's a million million dollars. That's one million stacks of bills with one million dollars in each stack.

Is that fair? I don't think so. What would I call that?

I'd call that rich people fucking We The People up the ass with a chain mail gauntlet that's embellished with barbed-wire knuckles.

Health care reform? Fuck! I'd say it's time for a little tax reform!

Bastards should pay!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Fever

The temperatures here have warmed up enough that I have switched from my winter hat to my summer hat. My summer hat is a baseball cap which says "Rothman University" on it.

There is no such place. 

I wear it when I go running so that people will say "Gee, those Rothman U alumni sure are fit!" 

My winter hat is a black watch-cap like what longshoremen and people in the Navy on North Atlantic patrol wear.

My cute little student aide, Caitlyn, thinks I look like a mass murderer when I wear my winter hat.

What she doesn't know is that I look like a mass-murderer in pretty much anything. I just got that mean look.  I'd look like a mass murderer in a cowboy hat, or a straw boater.

Actually, I look pretty damn good in a cowboy hat. Just to prove it, here's a picture of me with some of my bitches back in 1982: 

Actually, no. that's the actor JK Simmons, back in 1982. You might know him better as Juno's dad in the movie Juno.  A lot of people tell me I look like him. He kind of looks like mass-murderer as well.

I kind of do look like him, except I'm younger and better looking, and in better shape. Maybe I should go out to Hollywood and take a job as his stunt double? I figure I've got a decade of rough housing left in me.

Anyway, I'm glad the warm weather is here in Chicago. Only a few more snow storms left, and then it will be Spring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Madoff Beaten

It's being reported that Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff was beaten in prison this past December. 

I say, since white collar criminals are the lowest scum on Earth, I've no problem with that.

I suspect that a few of his victims have made it known to his fellow inmates that some cash would be made available should Madoff suffer some type of indignity.

Hell, I'd contribute a buck if they'd Youtube it. It might even be a whole new series on TV. 

Time to learn Mandarin?

Maybe not quite yet, but from the looks of things, it may be soon - very soon - to learn the tongue of your new boss.

It has often been said that the 21st century would be China's century. I'd suspected as much, but always hoped it would be the latter half of the 21st century. You know, after I'm dead, or too senile to care.

Then comes this disconcerting news as reported in the New York Times (and again, why isn't this an in-depth series of articles in the Wall Street Journal as it would have been in pre-Douchebag* days?): China Drawing High-Tech Research from the US.

Mr. Mark Pinto, chief technology officer of Applied Materials is moving himself and his family to Beijing. Applied Materials, one of Silicon Valley's oldest and most prestigious firms, makers of equipment that in turn makes semiconductor chips, solar panels, and flat panel displays, is building its newest and largest research labs in, where? California? Kentucky? Florida? Texas? nope, nope, nope, and nope, try China.

They are not alone. "Companies — and their engineers — are being drawn here more and more as China develops a high-tech economy that increasingly competes directly with the United States".

Says Mr. Pinto We’re obviously not giving up on the U.S. China needs more electricity. It’s as simple as that.” Ah, simple. OK. More electricity. So we need to move all knowledge and innovation overseas, since we've already moved most of our jobs there. It's simply more convenient for private enterprise to keep costs down. And the savings are passed on to YOU! Better for them. Better for you. See? Simple.

I really can't fault Mr. Pinto or call him traitor or anything like that. He's making a smart move. It's the free enterprise way, right? Private enterprise, free market, and all that.

Keep in mind, despite all the huge efforts on the part of our obviously socialist and individual-freedom-crushing Big Government to desperately fund high tech research through such communist programs such as DARPA, the Energy Departments ARPA-E program, the Department of Educations efforts to encourage young students to go into engineering and science disciplines, the push to improve our power and data infrastructure, alternative energy solutions, that's just not the right thing to do.

We should bow to the inevitable. And the private sector is pointing the way. When it comes to high tech industries, to clean green energy solutions, to anything that smells of progress, all those trillions of dollars in profit that could be made, why American companies are just not interested in it.

*Move over Rush Limbaugh, since you're obviously just a muppet with someone's hand up your ass. Rupert Murdoch is the new Douchebag with a capital D.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

RIP, WSJ. Murdoch, you suck.

This past weekend, working for the figurative sculptor, I needed some packing materials to wrap up a piece of his for an upcoming show. I grabbed a 2006 copy of the Wall Street Journal. I spent a good ten minutes browsing the section. Reading the news was like a traveling in a time machine, and throughout the browsing, I'd make exclamations like "Oh! Wachovia! Don't do it! Watch out Lehman Bros!, Oh shit! Bad move!"

The articles, by the way, were consistently lucid, cogent, perceptive, clear, insightful, and truly objective. 

And if I look at today's paper? What's the big headline? "Tiger Woods to return to Masters". Anything about the Senate version of the finance reform bill? You know, some type of legislation to prevent a half quadrillion (!) shit-storm of bad derivatives from inundating our economy? Well, there's a poorly written, almost-Fox-News dumbed down smarmy little blurb about how Dodd's proposal (paraphrased) "will be bad for business".

Congratulations, Rupert Murdoch. You have officially (officially because I am proclaiming it) turned the Wall Street Journal into a Shit Rag, and your ass marks are all over it.

And the subscriber comment's? Wow. If I ever need to know what the dumbasses of the world think about a topic, that's the first place I'll check. 

I've given up on it. I'm switching permanently to Financial Times.

Inner Taste

This is one of those smack-the-forehead-'cause-its-so-frickin'-obvious kind of science articles. 

Scientists have discovered that you have taste bud cells distributed all over your body. Not just in your tongue and cheeks, but in your esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, lungs, colon, and probably lots of other places.

"Taste, scientists are discovering, is a whole-body sensation. There are taste cells in the stomach, intestine and, evidence suggests, the pancreas, colon and esophagus. These sensory cells are part of an ancient battalion tasked with guiding food choices since long before nutrition labels, Rachael Ray or even agriculture existed. While taste cells in the mouth make snap judgments about what should be let inside, new work suggests that gut taste cells serve as specialized ground forces, charged with preparing the digestive system for the aftermath of the tongue’s decisions."

I suppose this explains why fresh air tastes sweet. It's not just the tongue, its the lungs as well. I'm not sure if the lungs have the other taste receptors. Let's see, what are they again? Oh right. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. 

What? Umami. Translates as "savory", like the smell that comes from a greasy spoon diner. Mmmm, vaporized beef lard.  

It generally is not a conversation item for polite society. One does not discuss what goes on with the gut.  After all, that's where poop lives.

Speaking of poop, if there are taste cells down there, why exactly would my colon need to know what my poop tastes like? 

Does that question gross you out? It really shouldn't, and I suspect it doesn't.

Poop is part of life, after all. Having grown up in a semi-rural environment, where a great deal of my friends lived on farms, you get used to poop. That's pretty much what animals do, when they are not eating. And when they eat, that's pretty much the consequence. 

Why, I've even stepped barefoot in poop. Not my own. Uh, not lately at least.

And I'd be willing to bet most people check out their poop after they poop. I know I do. Especially after a really satisfying or extremely big poop. Just what exactly is going on down there? It's a mystery that needs resolution. You can't fault me for being curious.

And since we are down there already... why does my anus have a red hot chili pepper pain receptor?  The mouth, okay, I understand, but why remind me of what I et yestiday? And actually, those pain receptors are sensitive to a class of chemicals called vanilloids (yeah, like vanilla), that are aromatics included in spices like bay leaves, cloves, ginger root, and chili peppers. Maybe I ought to experiment with food to see if I can detect anything.

Uh, no. Some things are best left to themselves.  

Monday, March 15, 2010

This I Believe

Sunday mornings, working in the studio, we will listen to Bob Edwards on NPR. Bob has a segment where he will talk with Dan Gediman of This I Believe, Inc., which provides essays on, well, what people believe in. Not surprisingly, the essays tend to be inspirational in nature.

The reason I bring this up is this past Sunday, they presented an essay by Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein is considered one of the Big Three science fiction authors (himself, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, all of whom I cut my teeth on when first exposed to speculative fiction).

Heinlein was kind of a strange and persuasive old bird. The one thing I am slightly proud of  was that I managed to survive reading his prose and coming out the other end still able to make up my own mind about things. I remember reading his novel "Starship Troopers" ( the film, BTW, I consider a great satire) at the tender age of fourteen - when most children are most easily recruited to use guns without remorse upon practically anyone - and I unhesitatingly and unquestionably bought into his whole weird quasi-fascist shamelessly libertarian-political-screed contained within it. I read it again at the age of eighteen, and realized the political philosophy was completely right-wing batshit crazy whacko. And yet there were elements I could still buy into merely because of the fact that there was an underlying compassion and decency in the author that shown through. 

And my dealings in life, and my choice of books by then had given me the observation that Utopian Social Engineering by people with good intentions allows all sorts of terrible things to happen.

I often think that the early injection of Heinlein made me immune to Ayn Rand when I finally read - and dismissed - her. Heinlein's faith in humanity shed light on the frighteningly and poisonously psychotic personality that was Rand, and is, by extension, her fans: people who aren't particularly with it, aren't particularly smart, but consider themselves better than others, feel under-appreciated, and who will definitely, under the right circumstances, climb a clock tower with a loaded rifle. 

She really was a full-on psychopath with zero understanding of not only human behavior, but of the underlying tenets of the United States, and the basic premise of capitalism. I have a deep and abiding suspicion of anyone that has bought into her horseshit. 

As a result, to paraphrase, of all people, Martin Goerring, when I hear the word "Libertarian", I reach for my revolver. Talk about totalitarians masquerading as, well, in the original sense of the word, libertarians, that's the Libertarians. 

Give them a chance at governing this country, and I guarantee Death Camps in Wyoming and Presidents-For-Life before their term is up.

Anyways, Heinlein's essay dealt with what he saw as the essential decency of human beings, and can be read here

I'd like to provide a short excerpt to comment upon:

"I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth --but that we will always make it....survive....endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure --will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage --and his noble essential decency".

I appreciate the sentiment I really do. I even, foolish optimist that I am, buy into the notion that we will make it to the stars someday, but I am slightly puzzled as to WHY I believe this. I recognize the arrogance, the conceit embedded in these remarks, and yet, I think he is right. People are basically decent, and it is only the circumstance that creates evil.

I also recognize that there is no guarantee that progress in human society is inevitably toward a more decent future, that our "angels of our better nature" will always prevail. We (meaning Americans) certainly don't have the track record, either as a nation or as a world.  And yet, I feel, big picture wise, that perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 years from now, when things are perhaps better for everyone, and we as a people, in some strange Bill and Ted society are "being excellent to each other", will look at the history of the American nation and will say "Well, at least they tried to live up to their principles. We give 'em a D in performance, a C for effort, but an A for the attempt". 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Kittens, Puppies, Rainbows, Sunshine

Oh don't make me fucking puke.

Well, since I've been dealing with music, and its fun friday, how about some up-beat or fun music?

Sorry, no Up With People, that would be a mistake. I'd have to apologize for all of this.

Maybe something a little darker? Get the feeling I'm a fan of diminished fifths?

How about something a little lighter? Lighter still?

This one's a little overproduced, too much studio polish. But I do like Jango Reinhardt.

Hey, you know, what the hell. One more for the youngsters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pound for pound...

...of all the art forms, music is the best. 

Obviously, I've become completely distracted with music as of late. 

One thing I've noticed, after listening and selecting tunes to learn on the guitar, is that, despite what they say about music doing good things for your brain, I've noticed quite the opposite. I can't seem to formulate a decent sentence, let alone compose a decent paragraph, without a huge amount of effort. Something that didn't seem to happen a week or so ago.

Now, maybe it is because I normally do not pay too much attention to music. It's just background noise, or occasionally a pleasant enough sound track for an activity, but rarely does it make me pause from what I'm doing and take notice. Except, of course, when I find it incredibly annoying.

Since I've been undergoing the pandora experiment, where I have to give a thumbs up or down to a piece of rock music that it plays, I've noticed I'm increasingly distracted by it. It's easy enough to do a thumbs down. If I hate a song, and it is interesting how often I really do hate a song, it takes no effort to identify it.

Ah, but to decide if I like a song, that takes a great deal of concentration. I'm not quite sure how to quantify it either. And it is strange, as I've mentioned, I do have some musical training. I even took a music theory class at one time. So I do have some small ability at analysis. But to express why you like something, well, I guess it is like what St. Augustine said about time: "I know what it is, until you ask me to define it".
Well, let's what pandora (consistently) says what I like about the songs it selects that I like:

1) a vocal-centric aesthetic 
2) a subtle use of harmony
3) punk influence
4) rock influence
5) mild rhythmic syncopation

Well, I'd agree with 1) and 2). Say what you like or don't like about civilization, the social and technological advances of the past 10,000 years have allowed us to create more and varied music than ever we had with, say, deer sinew, hide, and bone. But the constant attractor throughout all that time has been the human voice. Instrumental tunes are fine adn all that, but nothing grabs my attention like a beautiful voice. And two or more voices, in harmony, is even better.

As to 3), I've never considered myself much of a punk rocker fan, but I do like some raw high energy in my music. So, throw 4) and 5) in was well.

But that's not all there is. I know there is something more. There's an orbit, an ellipse, a locus, a strange attractor, that I'm not identifying and pandora is not doing a good job of targeting.

I guess what they say about porn is true of everything. "I know it when I see it".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A short interlude between everyday annoyances

It's a rare thing to enjoy.  But I've little time and must keep it short, as I have an irritatingly large amount of work to do lately.

A dear friend of mine who reads this journal commented  - with a careful preface that I'm obviously highly intelligent and interestingly complex - that my observations are quite frequently...

"-stupid?" I supplied.

"Yes. And cynical and judgmental" (that's me paraphrasing, as she's far too tactful to say it).

Well, what can I say? There's not much to say about the stupidity charge. I think I've always said, or at least am saying now, that I don't think intelligence actually exists. Intelligence is like cold. It doesn't really exist except as a word. There is something, like lack of heat, which does exist. There is no such thing as intelligence. There is such a thing as a lack of stupidity. To say that I am rarely lacking is not entirely honest. So I got no problem with that.

I will say that the phrase "judgmental", in the current negative context that it enjoys is a descriptive term, I have no problem with either. 

As the ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu once said "A man can no more not judge than a fish can not swim". 

The cynicism charge I don't have a problem with either, in that I do indeed proceed from a starting position of taking things at their worst, and then modifying it from there.

It's a good practical stance, as I am rarely disappointed. 

But I do get irritated with the implied suggestion that I just reject things out of hand. These qualities, in our modern environment, infer such a cavalier behavior.

Thats' simply not true. I've usually given the matter considerable thought, ruminated on the subjects quite a bit, before finally deciding that such and such a thing (often contrary to popular opinion and conventional wisdom) is utter horseshit.

And I can back it up with a good argument as well (again not the current disparaging coloration, but rather a fairly sound and logical set of reasons).

Yeah, well, back to work.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Enormous Waste of Time

I haven't been able to add to this online journal since last week. And since I'm trying to remain consistent with my self-imposed rules, I can't write about anything serious today. Although the subject of today's entry - music - is deathly serious, my treatment of it this past week has not been so.

Aside from the usual inconveniences of a real job, I've been sucked into the musical world, on at least two simultaneous fronts, and perhaps more.

The first facet of this particular excursion crystallized out of a trip back to Indiana. While helping a friend of my brother's move shit, we discovered an acoustic guitar. My brother, who is an excellent base player, noodled with it for a bit. As he was doing so, I expressed my regret at never having learned guitar. My brother's friend, upon hearing this, suggested that I borrow the guitar for a month. If, at the end of that time, I could play the guitar, I could keep it.

We've not yet completely determined what "play" means in playing a guitar, but I've got to assume it has to be more than mere monkey strumming. In other words, I can't just learn three chords and find an appropriate cadre of songs to ape. And so, I'm learning all the chords right now, putting in at least an hour an evening. My left hands hurts quite a bit once I'm done.

It should be known that I do come from a musical family. All of us, at one point or another, were trained on some kind of instrument, and, when the stars and planets are properly aligned, we four brothers can produce some pretty spectacular and dense harmonies with our not entirely terrible voices.

The weird thing about learning the guitar for me is, having a very brief and futile set of lessons on the piano, I visualize notes and chords on a keyboard, rather than a guitar tab. Thus, learning a new chord is not unlike translating a phrase from English into Spanish, and then into French and back again.

The second facet of this excursion involves looking for songs on the internet - and fooling around with the websites lastfm and pandora. Both are interesting and frustrating in their own way. I think, in a little experiment I'm doing, that I'm slowly forcing pandora into a narrow little world of indecision, trying to figure out what my personal tastes are, as I refuse to identify what songs I like, but am quite liberal in choosing songs I don't like. That's really not that different from the real world actually. When people ask my what kind of music I like, I'll often tell them it's easier to list what I don't like.

As to lastfm, I'm just using it more to explore genres than anything else. For some strange reason, I seem temporarilly drawn to psychobilly. If I do (rarely) find a song I like, I head over to youtube to see what else the group has to offer. This search strategy is actually only slightly better than the random search for CDs I use at my local library, which, as you might guess, has pretty dismal success results. Nevertheless, it is all an enormous waste of time.

In closing, here are two little ditties that I can comedy dance to in a dorky robot fashion. You might want to loosen up a bit and, when you are alone at least, with no one watching, try them out.
(The first link, by the way, is Yellow Magic Orchestra's electric-chunky synthopop version of Martin Denny's Firecracker. Denny, godfather of exotica music, based his version on the traditional japanese song "Sayonara". Denny also performed a song called "Quiet Village", portions of which were used as an intro to the theme song of Peewee Herman's Tv show "Peewee's Playhouse". Funny how things are connected).