Friday, December 19, 2008

"...a bit of nostalgia for the old folks..."

...which is, oddly, me. The title here is extracted from a side-long experimental composition by Frank Zappa called "Lumpy Gravy", released on LP in 1967. It is spoken with the insouciance of youth, ending with a sneering chuckle before a jump cut to a snippet of surf music, followed by F.Z.'s interpretation of Fibber McGee's closet-opening sound effect. (I know: too obscure, too soon.) The reason for the placement of the surf guitar was a mystery to all us post-'Heads until the release of a CD, several years back, entitled "The Cucamonga Years" which chronicled Frank's days as a line producer for Del-Fi Records, and one cut that jumped out of the tracks with that same refrain.

If a wry, self-mocking tone seems exhibited in this remark, it is also about as genuine an emotion as F.Z. ever betrayed in any of his songs (with the possible exception of "Watermelon In Easter Hay", which is not only an instrumental but, arguably, his most profoundly elegaic guitar solo). In text, it was the oft-quoted paragraph from the liner notes to "Ruben & The Jets"--his 100% retro doo-wop album, the last with the original line-up of the Mothers of Invention--wherein he explains: "This is just a bunch of cretin love songs by a bunch of guys sitting around in rock and roll suits, lamenting the old days. You'll be doing the same thing in a few years, if there's anything left around to sit on." Succinct and pithy, yet aching for a simpler, classic period of innocence and unadulterated passion for...well, music, I guess. But much more is implied in that statement as well.

Which brings me to the subject of this essay. Christmas.

And this is the last thing I am going to say. The text included here was written in 2003. A dear friend, Karen Jahne, was dying of cancer. Her husband Rick had decided to have an old-fashioned party at their home up in Tarrytown, where everyone would tell a story or sing a song and we'd entertain each other just like in "A Christmas Carol" wherein Scrooge drops in on his nephew. However, he didn't anticipate how tired she was and we never got around to making it that merry. This was what I wanted to say. (It was written to be performed aloud, remember.)

It is entitled: "Beats the Dickens Out Of Me"

"Once upon a midnight dreary—no. That’s not right.
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away?... Wait a minute! That’s not it either.
Uh... When in the course of human events...? Ok. I know this is going in the wrong direction. For sure.
Now... let me see... hmmm... uh--T’was the night before... NOPE! Even that’s wide of the mark.
Let’s get down to basics.
Don’t touch that dial!
Ahhh... Now we’re getting somewhere.
And where is that? Well, we could try to trace its origins back to the time when the channel 11 yule log would burn all night long. That it now only appears for two hours (is it still two? or less?) indicates how far we’ve come from the source...
And what source might that be? Well, it must be the Holiday Spirit. (I refer to it under that title as advised by the marketing department as being more friendly to those not of the Christian persuasion. And for those who would follow Dr. Ron Karenga’s Kwanzaa or the thirtythreehundredth or so celebration of the Festival of Lights, or even the stray Bahai looking for the Interkelary Days, we hope you will find a suitable translation available to the text of your own choice or tradition.)
But I digress.
Yes. The Holiday Spirit, to be sure, but also the most universal appeal of such: the television Holiday Spirit.
Right. Way ahead of you. What does the Idiot Box have to do with the virtues of commonality and communion via convivial consumption? Well, there’s no getting around it: just like that flickering fireplace loop aforementioned, it has stood the test of time, and like the Menorah miracle as never goes out! It has been there for us, rain or shine, snow or surf, wherever and whenever, and always offering the options of choosing your level of involvement with the Holiday Spirit, whether you need it or not.
Try to imagine your world without these templates for white liberal guilt, bogus sentimentality, false nostalgia, and an impetus to spend beyond ones means. “Miracle on 34th Street”—a testimonial to New York as the cultural center of the known universe as well as the canniest publicity stunt for any retail merchandiser in the annals of cinema (actually equalled slightly by the Mays Co. copywriter who dreamed up Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer to lure more kiddies to their suggestion-laden Santa...and thereby gave birth to both the Tex Ritter rendition and the Norelco-sponsored, Burl Ives-narrated puppettoon special); “It’s A Wonderful Life”--which, following the studio’s failure to renew its copyright license, became so oversaturated in past season’s schedules that it was quite possible, on any given Saturday or Sunday up to the climax of the period on December the 25th, to deconstruct the entire life of George Bailey--perhaps, by simply zapping around, creating a viewing sequence to see his suicide attempt, the jitterbug dance over the swimming pool, his saving brother Harry from drowning, old man Potter gleefully marking everyone with an immigrant name 1A at the draft board, George attempting to embrace his wife-not-to-be and having the old maid scream, and simultaneously find him singing “Buffalo Gals” with her on the streets of Bedford Falls. (Almost enough to make the Wooster Group weep with jealousy); and--of course--the ultimate in roasted chestnuts, and I refer, without a doubt, to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”--and that this is being fast replaced by the South Park version, I attribute to the foul-mouthed funsters more eccumennical message in including, amongst the other hymns of praise, “A Lonely Jew At Christmas.”
Now, for those of you raised in a faith whose observance bars attendence to such pine bough substitutes, you may excuse yourself at any time to go forth and sing carols, spin draydels, whack piñtas, or don kenté cloth and dance the toi toi with Desmond Tutu--as you will.
But, passing all these other incidents of moderne ephemera, the one prescence that cannot be discounted is that of Charles Dickens immemorial perennial, “A Christmas Carol.” And the simple reason for this is that, as of this point, and discounting the rather unfortunate attempts at updating (including one role reversal with a woman playing the old bastard’s role, the extremely bland weeper as depicted--in a dubious coup of miscasting--by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, and the all-too-much-of-an-in-joke-to-be-believed Bill Murray as the broadcasting network executive manifestion), there are no less than five feature-film and tv special incarnations of Ebeneezer going around the stations and cables. (I now have even seen one, on the overnight PBS programming, that pre-dates the 1936 Reginald Owen, being so ancient as to be little beyond the Muybridge kinescope.) Certainly, the post-war England version, with Alistair Sim in the lead role, is considered as definitive, and with good reason: it keeps most of the Hoggarth miseries and social realism amid the homilies to home and hearth. That no one bothered to do another until the George C. Scott made-for-tv in 1984, shows to go you how long and how strong it was and is. (I except the musical “Scrooge” with Albert Finney--admirable and charming as it is, in adapting the Broadway stage to the technicolor screen--from this sequence only as the novelty of adding song to the reveries imparts, to the major dramatic events, the strong warning gong of production numbers to the degree that the most famously creepy part (next to Marley’s introduction, clanking and screeching like the IRT hitting a bad section of tracks) of the long night’s journey into day--that of the visitation of the ghost of X-mas the Unknown--takes a side trip to become a delerious revel with the jolliest funeral this side that of the Wicked Witch of the East.)
Now, as for the Scott, it was still a tad less than the Sim-u-lation, but restorative to the general intent of scaring the living daylights outta anyone of tender years. (After all, even ol’ Chaaas subtitled the work, “A Ghost Story of Christmas.”) And yet, what with the Shakespearian-trained/Star Trek captain of Patrick Stewart doing the tour-de-force one-man-show on Broadway for a couple years, it seemed natural that Hollywood would want to put this in the stocking before too long.
And that brings us to the subject of our sermon...
Just what the heck happened to all those Ebeneezers?
Well, if we may slip temporarilly into the media-um frame of reference, as it was in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” so it is to these wrinkled uncles: “It was said that his heart grew three sizes that day.”
Ok. Perhaps this is getting a touch oversimplified. This is, after all, the children’s holiday. But we are all adults...more or less.
So...what maturity offers to youth is the assessments of time and a long view in human affairs. Yesss. In our earilest views, we saw him as a miser, an evil debt collector without mercy or charity, a mean relative who spat at the hand of friendship proferred by his last remaining blood kin, and--beyond all that--a sourpuss for the ages. He hated and snarled and cursed and reviled and raged...and? to what end? To go home to a bowl of broth and a spoonful of bitters? This is the good life? If anyone could ever explain Scrooge to a child (who--let’s face it--never understood anything beyond Christmas Present, the kind you unwrap from under the tree), it couldn’t be any more elaborate than “Oh, he’s just...unhappy. Dear.”
And, in that, there’s about as much as the parents could ever explain...even when we knew they were full of mincemeat—Scrooge was a BAD MAN! And that’s what makes television Holiday Spirit so emblematic: the worst villain becomes the bestest benefactor, a veritable demon-into-angel, as we might judge from any one of the movies...and with only one crooked rule to measure by.
AHA! But we have a veritable gaggle of geezers to use for our sample and each overnight conversion only adds to the available database. Take Reginald, the classic sourpuss... if ever there was one. His morning after is mostly done to the tune of twinkling eyes and open-mouthed amazement and open ho-ho-hos, a bit stiff but sprightly. Now Alistair, he is another piece of work entirely. His nature is that of the mischievious schoolboy, not just giddy, but scampering and capering in his nightshirt, dancing with the charwoman, slipping into doubt in one thought and then slapping himself out of it in the next, a whirlwind of activity and a flurry of merriment. (Of course, Finney promptly breaks into the song he’d learned with the Present, yet another reason to disqualify him: a reprise rarely augurs an authentic behavioral alteration. It’s more of a new arrangement.)
So. Onto the contemporary post-contemptables. Scott’s portrayal furthers the process of un-demonizing by finding him caught on the precipice, teetering between the dream and the day, hugging his bed-curtains and crying with relief, tearing down the window drapes and being dazzled by the light. His is a pure awakening, one that opens the future to unlimited possibilities, doubting his ability to meet the challenge, but then, laughing in stenatorian shudders and wild screeches, throwing his hands to the sky in all-encompassing embrace and supplication, then jumping on his mattress to trampoline up and down until he all-but passes out from hyperventilation.
Stewart continues the process of closing the gap between characiture and character by playing Scrooge’s hand close to the chest. More than wickedness, this guy’s a poker face, a cigar store indian, a mask--it is only the eyes that portray the fear of what people will think of him should the old cold fish thaw out. So. When he gets the spirit--it’s like a light goes on in a darkened room, like flooding emotions on the river with the dynamited dam... we’re talkin’ whitewater rafting...salmon leaping all over the place.
Point is, none of these guys were, like, transforming from black hats to white robes: they were remembering how to have take pleasure in every single moment—from public embarrassment to pranks, from walking a morning stroll to dancing a bacarole.
Which leads us to finally getting the goods on Ebeneezer: he wasn’t a bad man becoming good...he was a sad man getting happy. Like—Yahoo!
Hmmm... Didn’t I say that the mature view could add something to the youthful one?
--Oh! Right! It’s just like the series said: Mother knows best (Ok, literary license, alright?) and we just can’t figure it out until much later on...
But that’s Life--and Television--isn’t it? Receiving a signal from afar and uncoding it down the line? They’ll keep unspooling our past every year as much as we’ll keep playing the same songs, stringing up the same lights and hanging the same bulbs on the tree. With remote at hand, the distance between now and then turns into a flip of the channels until you get something to give you back a bit for paying attention to it. And better if you can fast forward thru the commercials.
So... think of the Holiday Spirit here as if it were an old acquaintance come on a regular visit, hmmmm? What makes it better are the presents the Present present!: a few new toys, some fresher woolens, a hot hardback from the bestseller rack... and different relations than we had last year. And an outlook on the future... Like who the heck will join the hoary hosts the next time the ghosts do the roast? Johnny Depp? Leo DiCaprio?? Keanu Reeves??? Brad Pitt??? Matt Damon??? Tom Hanks???
I dunno. Beats the Dickens outta me."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Fattening Frogs for Snakes"

The Blues contains a fair amount of folk wisdom, but the genesis of this song I could never fathom. Unless it refers to cultivating amphibians as a food source for reptiles. (I will gladly entertain, and would be most grateful for, any other theories.) No matter that, at first hearing, I found Howlin' Wolf so howlingly funny, I ran this groove through the bottom of my pitiful portable picnic player; it's purpose here is solely as an illustration (because--honestly--I can't think of any PICTURES to go with this post!) of something (i.e., every song from Charley Patton to Muddy Waters that may or may not refer to life in the Mississippi River delta) that was once understood by persons of particular geographical region, but is now a subject only fit for anthropologists. In general, this kind of disconnect between objects and subjects, forms and usages, occurs when the tradition from which it emerged has become something of an atrophied limb on the Tree of Man; one no longer a-budding and bearing fruit on the vine. Interpretation then requires an interpolation of facts with respect to its place of origin and historical era, socio-religious background, etc. Beyond that, you end up in the area of enlightened (or un-) guesswork, such as the above, if you want to reproduce the juice.

And why? What is it about folk wisdom (a/k/a: tribal lore) that makes it worth our time? Because what we were can teach us much about who we are today and what we are likely to become. Thing is, most people get a little irked when you start mucking about in their ancient burial grounds, and even testier when, say, you finally crack some scroll codes you find these precious relics were clay tablet 1040s. (See? Always be prepared for an audit!) Start to suggest their ancestors weren't all noble kings, priestesses, and great warlords and--lookout! Nobody wants to be descended from hack politicians, snake-oil salesmen, manure schleppers and charalatans. So, if you're going to get guff from digging up the past (not to mention the cost) there are still vast repositories of such ethnological lore to be found in among a variety religious practices, especially those with diligent scribes and roots going back well before what we refer to today as Western Civilization.

To find contempo corollaries of clan, kith and kin, one need only take a survey of headlines to uncover the subject of coverings. In my city, in my neighborhood even, the obvious is everywhere. On the street, Islamic headscarves and robes (even chadors!) for women are signs of chastity and modesty, but also reflect a practical concern: to guard against theft of breeding stock. Too callous? Not enough respect for the Almighty? Nope! The key word is "practical", as in "habit and practice" (a term of art in the legal world). This is not completely dissimilar to the rebbe parade and schmatta regatta of Williamsburg and King's Highway. When you look at those guys in the beaver hats, morning coats and white puttees, ever wonder why they don't have black hats like the Lubavitch? To payess or not to payess? It all comes back to what a particular theological theorist wore way back in the sheytl/ghetto when his sect split off from another. What you are seeing are fashion victims--albeit from previous centuries. It's just like mama said: you get judged by the company you keep. And it ain't just 7th Avenue, baby. Examine that in light of the cliques of today (hip hop, neo-Rasta, Neo-Cons, retro, etc.) and it gets even more obvious: You Are What You Wear.

Which, conversely and perversely, also must include the olde maxim of "De Gustibus Non Disputandem"--which has been given as a close reading of "There is no arguing with a customer" as much as "There's no accounting for taste"--in the discussion, along with "one man's meat is another man's poison". As much as the meal above-captioned might as well refer to a human appetite for the delicacy of the jumpers' legs en brochette, or a dish similar to smoked eel made from the primal tubesteak, we may enjoy these recipes in retrospect or re-creation, but is a rare thing indeed when one's own peculiar humors translate into the broader weal of the commons.

Like, why I find such things so revelatory...not to mention god-damned, funny/weird.

The funny-weird part is when, amid praise-songs for deity-of-choice, a fair amount of diet-of-choice will also be interjected. Of course, we realize, today, that such prohibitions were to avoid such things as salmonella, trichinosis, dysentery, rickets, and other odd-named ailments, as much "Rx" as recipe. The other provisos were a bit trickier, as in tryck-ier, as in Wikka-ier, as in white magyck and medicine man/shaman-type rituals disguised as advice from on high and prescriptions that read like performance art stage directions.

This is why I maintain that any religion which maintains these traditions in their 'gospel' (or whatever they keep as scripture/sacred text, worthy of counsel and advice) has got to be a bit verklempt. This is not a sudden revelation on my part, but, having recently stumbled on (nah, you don't want to know how) just such a Talmud (rabbinical commentaries on the Torah) section (specifically the Mishna and the Gemara, specifically the Babylonian treatises, and specifically within that the Gittin, 68b and 69a), I have found a further belief that true believers know no editors. You want to say "you can't make this stuff up", but what really mean is: "who'd write this stuff down?"...and why.

Mind you, this is NOT the "word" from YHWH as much as the aforementioned lore placed among the regular scroll studies as a viable subject for kabbalah-level scrutiny. Which should tell you a lot. What follows is verbatum, given the fact that I cannot reproduce Hebrew fonts. The only addition from this end are the upper-case notations at the end of the paragraphs with first reactions.

The Gemara now returns to its presentation, begun at the beginning of it is chapter (6th), of the remedies to various conditions. The discussion is arranged according to parts of the body, from the head downward:

For blood of the head: Bring boxwood, willow, fresh myrtle, olive, poplar, cloves and yivla and boil them together, then pour three hundred cups of the mixture on this side of the head, and three hundred cups of it on that side of head. THIS IS THE STANDARD PRESCRIPTION

An alternative remedy:
If not, bring a white rose [whose leaves] all stand in one row ¬and boil it. Then pour sixty cups of the resulting liquid on this side of the head and sixty cups on that side of the head. THIS IS ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

Another head ailment:
For a migraine headache: Bring a wild cock and slaughter it with a sharpened zuz coin of pure silver over that side of the head which aches, so that the blood trickles down the side of the head. However, one must beware that the blood not blind one' eyes. Then, hang [the slaughtered cock] on the doorpost of the patient’s house, so that when he enters he brushes against it and when he exits he brushes against it. NOT EXACTLY WAVING A DEAD CHICKEN OVER IT, BUT CLOSE ENOUGH

The Gemara turns to afflictions of the eye:
For cataracts: Bring a scorpion that is spotted with seven colors. Dry it out in the shade, grind it and make a powder consisting of two parts antimony and one art ground scorpion] Then, apply three doses of the powder to this eye and three doses to that eye. One must beware not to apply more than three doses to the eye, because if one does not beware of this, his eye may burst. THIS IS A PRODUCT LABEL WARNING

[below, an explanation of method]
Literally: fill three applicators in this eye. Applicators for eye-powder were generally made of a bird's feather, or a thin wooden receptacle ONLY USE AS DIRECTED BY MANUFACTURER

For night blindness, one should bring a rope of animal hair and tie one of his own legs to the end of the rope and one leg of a dog to the other end of the rope. Then, children should rattle pottery shards behind him, and they should say to him the following Incantation: “Old dog mad hen” He should then collect seven pieces of raw meat from seven houses [each homeowner] should give him [the meat] in the doorway of his home. And he should eat [the meat] by the city dumps. Afterward, he should remove the animal-hair rope from his leg and they should say the following incantation: “Blindness of so-and-so, son of the woman so-and-so. Leave so-and-so, son of the woman so-and-so.” Finally, they should blow into the pupil of the dog's eye.THIS PRODUCT WAS TESTED IN CONTROLLED CONDITIONS ON LABORATORY ANIMALS.

For daytime blindness: Bring seven spleens from the insides of freshly slaughtered animals and roast them on a bloodletter's shard [repugnant earthenware vessel that a bloodletter uses to collect the blood that he draws]. Then, [the blind man] should sit inside a house and another person, whose vision is good, should sit outside, and the blind man should say to him: “Give me the spleens to eat” and the other one, who sees, should say to him: “Take, eat.” After he eats, he should break the bloodletter's shard, because if he does not, [the blindness] may return to him. THE "EAT, EAT, YOU'RE SO SKINNY"-VALLEY-OF-THE-ULTRA-YENTAS VERSION(PROBABLY INTERCHANGEABLE WITH CHICKEN SOUP).

The Gemara moves on to ailments associated with the nasal and oral cavities:

For nosebleed: One should bring a man who is a Kohen and whose name is Levi and he should write the name Levi backwards for him. If not, he should bring any man and he should write for him the incantation: “I Papi Shila bar Sumki” backwards. If not, let him write for him the following incantation: "The taste of a bucket in silver water, the taste of a bucket in tainted water." WOULD GEORGE M. COHAN WORK AS LONG AS HE CHANGED HIS NAME? AND IS THAT 'BACKWARDS' OR 'IN REVERSE'?

Another type of remedy for a nosebleed:
If not, one should bring the root of a stalk of aspasta [Aspasta is a type of plant which was usually used for animal fodder], the rope of an old bed, rag-paper, saffron and the red part of a palm branch, and burn them together until they turn to ash. Then, he should bring a ball of wool, and twist the fiber to form two strands, immerse the strands in vinegar and roll them in these ashes so that the ash adheres to them, and insert one strand in each of his nostrils.SEE BELOW

Yet another remedy for nosebleed:
If not, one should find a canal that flows from east toward west, step over it and stand with one foot on this side of the stream and one foot on that side of it. Then, he should take mud with his right hand from beneath his left foot and with his left hand from beneath his right foot, twist two strands of wool, immerse them in the mud and insert one of them in each of his nostrils.SHOVING THINGS UP YOUR NOSE SEEMS LIKE A GOOD IDEA, IN THIS CASE

A final remedy:
If not, one should sit beneath a water spout and [others] should bring water, pour it on him through the spout and say the following: “Just as these waters stop, so too should the blood of so-and-so son of the woman so-and-so stop.” SYMPATHETIC MAGIC

[Although the incantation has no medical explanation, the shower of cold water is recommended in various sources as a remedy for nose-bleed (Biblical and Talmudic Medicine 9:3). [Apparently, the water is poured through a spout simply to make it shower down on the patient.]] NOTE: COMMENTARY ON THE COMMENTARY ON THE COMMENTARY. SOMEONE SHOULD MAKE A PRESCRIPTION INVOLVING SPLITTING HAIRS.

An ailment of the oral cavity:
For bleeding from the mouth, [the patient] is to be tested with a straw of wheat. If [the blood] sticks to the straw, it is coming from the lungs and thus, there is a remedy for it. But if the blood does not stick to the straw, it is coming from the liver and there is no remedy for it. ALSO BE A TEST FOR PASTA AL DENTE.

The Gemara digresses and focuses on the premise that blood from the liver is more serious than blood from the lungs:

Rav Ami said to Rav Ashi: But we learned the opposite in a Mishnah, for a—“

Here's where it goes on, but why bother? Ok. So what's the big deal? It's not like its Scientology or anything? (Well, actually, yeah--it kind of is.) You have to ask yourself that question, and the reply would go something like: Hey! Nobody's getting hurt here. And the Christian Scientists don't even bother with proscribed rituals as much as faith in the healing powers of prayer... Which brings up the following; a short note on the text by the official historian (I guess) who assembled the English-language version. Apparently, Hezekiah, a king of Judah, removed this from circulation as he sensed that ill people tended to rely exclusively on these remedies rather than prayer! And this deed was considered VIRTUOUS by the sages of his time! Also citing a further reason not to pay that much attention to them is that "since Talmudic times, these therapies, which were efficacious in those time are not necessarily so nowadays..."

And just what part of "The taste of a bucket in silver water, the taste of a bucket in tainted water" was "efficacious in those time(s)" and "[is] not necessarily so nowadays"?

I don't know, but something about the withdrawal of these potions and witchcraft seems even more sinister than keeping them under the tab for hot topics in the 21st century. Maybe it's just me. However, it does go a long way to explaining the kind of "magical thinking" prevalent among true believers, on the same plane with the fact that all the 9/11 hijackers were purported to have spent their last night before at a discotheque...and were of the firm opinion that 89 virgins (or so) awaited them in Paradise. Also, examine the social lives of the class of disaffected Moroccan youth in Holland, from whose ranks came kid who killed Theo Van Gogh for making an anti-Islamic movie, and you'll find that when similar aspirations of getting a date on Saturday night are thwarted, its an easy path straight to the extremist mosque. Ever wonder what makes fanatic commandos out of Bollywood-bes? (You may note the last locution tending towards a reference of the Mumbai incident. See, this is not faith-specific, only offered--like the aforesaid excerpt from the Wolf--as an object lesson. The thinking here is more along the lines of Jonathan Swift's Yahoos as opposed to just the Yehudin.) They see the same banquet of life that Auntie Mame talked about, and they really ARE starving to death. Which is how we get martyrs out of horny, easily-deluded teenagers: if you learn to swallow enough half-truths, a fantasy will taste no different.

Which brings us back about to the subject of cuisine as well. While I consider myself more health-conscious than my friend Ed, over at, he lives on junk food that would shame a long-haul trucker, but is constantly chiding me every time I mention a homeopathic solution to a sniffle or a fever. "You should take more Pills! Pills are something you can place a LOT of faith in!"

A BeatGen/Hippie saying was "You are what you eat," and I guess there's still some circulation on that axiom, mostly with reference to calorie counts dictated by pamphlets picked up in the checkout line. As for Ed? I can only put his lack of toxic effects from this consumption of chemical representations of edibles down to a metabolism so high hummingbirds would appear as sluggish butterflies. One would then suppose it isn't so much as what you take in as how you process it...out. Overall, then, organic is fine, just so long as it doesn't lead to the kind of ascetic self-absorption where holistic roots doctors and "chi" energy-flow specialists start charting yer chakras.

There's a lot to be said for preservatives, BHA, BHT, ascorbic acid, and Red No. 2 least by Ed. And yes, avoid old wives tales, feudal belief systems and regimens, and be as skeptical as you like about other people telling you what's good for you. So here's to another, now-rather-ironical slogan of a previous generation:

"Better Living Through Chemistry"!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

heavy traffic on purgatory road

"...snarlers, growlers, coughers, rumblers, roarers, rushers, whooshers, garglers..." This is the involuntary mutter of in the mind of a naturalist living in a contemporary urban environment. Not as much "Welcome To The Jungle" as "Yo! Grindcore!" The scientist within then, perforce, will have an impulse to classify automobiles, buses and trucks as distinct species (rather than a family or genera) and ordering their auditory according to engines/transmissions and/or exhaust systems. Morning calls are the most noticeable, greeting one with their full-throated throttlesong, tapitts a-rattle, gears-jamming--not all that different from their avian brethren,but more of a rookery chorus than individual songs or calls.

Audubon does the Autobahn.

Someone might wonder at the stretch required to connect the organic world to post-industrial production line models, but that person probably never gets out of the apartment. Especially not mine. Especially not that tenuous, first foray out the front door and down to the streets of concrete, the canyons of brick and glass. Hard, clean surfaces not only reflect sound waves, they amplify them; you might as well try hiding from a clapper inside the bell.

Most residents just let it slide, this tide, but a cacophony tsunami, for a select few, is just that physical, to the degree of interfering with one's ability to hold onto a patch of sidewalk, in order not to be swept away. Back in the 1960s, when the first supersonic aircraft were put into the air, as we lived not far from a USAF base, every now and then you'd hear the "BOOM!" and the realization would hit you that a jet had passed over you a few seconds before and this was the impact of its wake. That was my awakening to the fact that invisible forces are spilling over into our lives constantly.

Pretty melodramatic, isn't it?

Now as for the rush hour grind of gears? Why would anyone write about such a petty subject? That's the first question. The second is more complex, such as: If it bothers you that much, why not just tune into the iPod like everyone else?

That complaint comes WITH the iPod on. (And don't get me started on the Lexington line at Union Square.)

But, suddenly, and again as the result of indiscrimate browsing, I recalled another fascinating list, also discovered from that very same post quote in my post from October (?), appended here without attribution:

"My order of delusional goes like this (it is also the order of ‘emotionals’ by sheer coincidence):

Manic Depressives
Religiously Devout
Normal People in Love
Happy People
Depressed People

One has to wonder if the blogger who put this up was, in point of fact, getting his source from someplace authoritative. For one thing: Manic Depressives? The theraputic designation these days is "Bipolar." Also the "order of emotionals" doesn't exactly make sense to me, going from Happy to Depressed in the middle with Schizophrenics and Psychopaths at either end. If you are not going to include garden variety Neurotics and Sociopaths, then where are you drawing the line, and how do you classify? Speaking technically, Sociopaths might be deleted due to the fact that they are so dissociative and removed from "emotional" mechanisms that they might not be open for consideration. However, your Woody Allen-type Neurotic is an industry standard that they should at the very least be placed between the Happy and the Depressed, if only to add a gradation.

One then must conclude that it was manufactured merely to be able to place "Neocons" among traits of personality disorders...which I don't necessarily disagree with, per se; so, nevertheless, this list is very attractive. But why would I want to try to match the two together? What purpose could there be? What profit in it?

It is obviously, the Naturalist impulse. We observe things in our environment and then try to order them. The question then must be: Why? You don't have to be some kind of university-trained scientist to do this, or to even WANT to do this. The term "naturalist" says it all: you simply watch things and take notes, and patterns emerge. Then, publish. And anyone who has seen the two buttons on this service will know how easy that is. The sole reason one does this sort of thing might even be put down to that primal impulse. Kinda puts you on the same level as Steven Jay Gould. Kinda. Ok, not really. But no worse off than some of the dreck that shows up in the papers disguised as "journalism" or "critical review".

Then, consider this map as a "sort of" list. Admittedly, it is copped from the Times, so if this is copyright infringement, so be it--but I have an agenda greater than appropriation of intellectual property for profit. First and foremost, it must be noted that they have chosen a pastel motif. This cannot be too strongly emphasized. It only occurred to me after having as my desktop background for days. As I had long ago discarded the article, I cannot say with certainty that the author does indeed make mention of this, nor that it could be attributed to a choice by the editor or even the artist. However, seeing as it was the Week In Review section, I doubt that demographic data as aesthetics is given much weight.

What you see is county-by-county voting in the most recent election, colored-coded along the lines of the hyped-up war between Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans. And I know this even without the accompanying article since I saw John King on CNN playing with his 'magic wall' like he was Tom Cruise in "Minority Report." And even though he'd randomly switch colors on 'reporting precincts' in order to make his devil's advocate positions, he'd switch them right back so nobody got the wrong idea that he was promoting one side or the other. But all this did was create a dazzling number of opportunities for people to see their districts flip-flopping worse than the chosen footgear of boardwalkers at Coney Island.

With that in mind, I have taken my trusty photoshop in hand and, with the same liberties (well, similar) as Mr. King, have found the following image within the data.

Ok. So not the DATA, itself, but more the aesthetic. Simply, I increased the contrast a lot and then increased the brightness. Easy as pie. The reason? I wanted to see the world the way the hysterical journos do: EXTREME! And here it is! Take away the obvious Arizona vote for their "Favorite Son candidate" (which is what he would have been if the election process were more about substance and less about hype) and what yet see is the Bible Belt vs. the Progressives. Couldn't be clearer, right?--that little Nike swoosh of red, outlined in a thin nimbus, before smashing into the overwhelm of blue-gray.

Television commentators will go straight for the jugular: BLUE BEATS RED! Their whole justification for such conclusions being little more than finding something to put between commercial breaks. They HAVE TO make HEADLINES THAT SHOUT! This is a lot of what is wrong with America: we shout too much. If that seems to echo something else said here, that was because it was supposed to. (Motif, leitmotif, theme & variation, sequential argument--same tricks, nuttin' fancy.) In the competition for our attention, there can be no second place. But life is not, I'm sorry to say, all that dramatic.

There is no mention of the Victory of White.

(Dramatic pause for the hushed intake of breath for possible expression of articulate bigotry.)

White is, above all, in this picture, in all paintings, lighting for movies--whatever--neutral. It is NOT "The Silent Majority". It is NOT Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads. It is NOT "Fear of a Black Planet." (You knew there was hip-hop before gangsta, didn't you?)

It is, in point of fact, a toner. Some may not realize this since the only 'toners' they are in regular contact with are printer ink cartridges. CMYK, right? Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K stands for Black (for some obscure reason to do with professional lithography, I vaguely recall). So where's the white? It's the paper, of course. When you start at neutral, it is easy to forget what the colors are on (except Cezanne, who liked a lot of blank canvass at the end, and was either so nuanced that he figured he didn't need to put in what was already there...or was so cheap he didn't want to buy more titanium). It may be more startling to paint on black (velvet, at least, when doing portraiture of Elvis or Jesus or Keane Kids), but it takes a LOT more paint too. (cf. Cezanne above)

(You are invited to click on any of the images for a larger picture. I believe that will open the jpg in another window of your browser. It is not so much for the detail work as to get a better gestalt, ja?)

Back to that first foray out the front door. This is about as close as one can come to a "naturalist" perspective on demographics. The whole idea of the naturalist is nothing more than a person who sees things and renders them down to results and interprets repeated patterns as some kind of law of nature. (Gad. I hate using the same terms over and over, but it can't be helped. Nothing else for it.) And one technique is to take lists of traits, habits, etc., and compare them across species (or disciplines) until some sort of general statement can be made.

The one victory that is not spoken about is neutrality. (I would like to add a sidebar here from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan" about negative evidence and its manifestation as "invisible forces", then move on to Dark Matter, but...)

So let's go for another cliche, eh? Using terms like "dawn of a new day" may seem more apt to entitle some mid-70's fusion jazz-rock album than a description of the 21st century socio-political sphere, yet there are few that would argue an augury is not among us...and that is the prime conclusion from this version of the map. For this, I bumped up the brightness and brought down the contrast, so the picture (colors) is exactly what the previous sentence is saying (words). It is also something of an acknowledgment that, for the first time in a long time, the old strophe of "we're all in the same boat" reaalllly seem apropos, no?

This is what happens when you 'tone-down' the rhetoric and 'tone-up' the picture. (See? That's just what SJG would have said. Told you it wasn't hard.) And, yes, I could have made it more extreme, but that would defeat the point. All I did was nudge the values a bit. So even if that's all that happens to the nation in the next few years, it will be a whole lot better for it. Maybe not as profitable for the top 10% of gross incomes, but a lot less miserable for the bottom 50%. An economic boom wouldn't be bad, so long as it doesn't mean more sonic boom shocks of US vs. Them.

As a previous post made mention of Purple, I feel that this is the juncture at which we should give equal time to pastels as well. Lavender is nice. Not a big fan of Pink, I must say.

And that's about as Red State/Blue State as I'm going to get for a while, I hope.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

DATELINE: Doylestown, PA - 1681: the origin of the "Two Americas" legend...

The Bluestockings of Wm Penn and the Lenape, a tribe of Rednecks led by Chief Joe the Plumber, were in dispute over who grew the corn and who got to trade it on the Futures Exchange. After getting the short end of the stalk for decades, the locals joined the E.U.and began stealing lawn signs, trash talking and suppressing voter turnout. This led to the French & Indian War, in 1754, which raged throughout the rule of Mad King George, causing pundit skirmishes on all major networks, as well as basic cable. In the end, the Redneck's apoplexy turned them cyanotic and the Blue Sox scandals opened up enough old wounds that they bled to death. The "peaceable kingdom" was finally established when the Black Prince ascended the throne and began his Purple Reign.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Trick Or Treat

Halloween, coming as it does, just before Election Day, makes for a strange contrast between the political process and a belief in legends and myths, a love of history and gothic horror stories, and the fetishistic attraction of (or personal desire to become) a superhero-in-uniform or a classically-costumed, Sacher-Masoch/de Sade-type, Neo-Pavolvian pervert. (The latter seem to be seen only at private parties, with the exception of a few renowned public displays in urban celebrations, especially the televised ones.)

All the masks with their attendant attire (fangs come with the cape; flag lapel-pins are optional), all the formulaic speeches (“I vant to sssuck your bluhd!”, “I’m gonna shake up Washington!”, etc.), all the public posturing (any group in KISS makeup will be certain to have Gene Simmons with his tongue out further than a dog on a hot August day at every stop; and the other?—eh, kissing a baby is pretty standard for the genre…)—in the end, you have to realize, if you are not out actively seeking to fill a shopping bag full of candy, you’ve gone over the line into fantasy.

So, is play-acting for adults a bad thing? No, not unless you hold the same expectations of thrill and exotic adventure for the morning after as you did the night before. Some would call it Sorcery, others delusional—and both would be right, in at least one sense of these terms.

Having canvassed the length and breadth of Bucks County, Pennsylvania every weekend since Labor Day (+/-), I can admit I have been under such a spell. My only visable identity is a t-shirt and a button but it is nonetheless my alter ego (as the old comics used to call it). The magic comes from Faith, the drug of Confidence, followed shortly by a chaser of confirmations by your immediate charmed circle. The “delusional” aspect is what replaces the “high” of participation: the loss of intoxicating support and creeping self-doubt.

Last weekend being the last weekend, it is a good time to look back without too much reflection on the whole (that will be later, when editing the video diary), and just summarizing the summit of this foray into madness. With mi espousa in tow for the final bow, we lit out for the territories: that being anywhere not one of the Five Boroughs. It was not that I wouldn’t have liked to do something closer to home, but home—while it may be where the heart is—ain’t where the votes are.

Dolyestown, however, is. The HQ from which I was first dispatched, and could actually walk to from the motel, was in a small, white-painted, two-story, wood-frame building opposite the courthouse, right at the crossroads of local arteries. (And, yeah, its address tells a lot: 72 Main Street. Why not “Elm” or “Front” or “State”? Because those were other streets, yup.) At one time, this was the nexus, the nerve center, but still folksy and casual. I could remember one Sunday, sitting on the front stoop with a couple of other regulars and Davy, the staff member who looked like the ultimate surfer dude, who lamented the fact that there was only one busload of volunteers that day. Since then, the operation had to open up one satellite office in the back of a Buckingham strip mall.

By the time we got in on Saturday, however, there was even one at the Hampton Inn, wherein I had to find accommodations after my regular motel was booked. The volunteers were such that, upon arrival, we were told that all the Walker Packets (Google maps and voter rolls) had already been given out and were summarily dispatched to Quakertown, up at the Northern boundary of the county, a half-hour’s drive away. In a two-car caravan (us with the locals, a VW Jetta filled with five sorority sisters from upstate NY following close behind), we snaked up the narrow 2-way blacktop through traffic that our driver described as something close to mind-boggling. By arrival, we counted ourselves fortunate that there were any packets undistributed. My only familiar contact was that my buddy Gene was also stationed there, and I at least got to say hello one last time before we shipped out.

Overlooking the last paragraph, I note how the Ghost-&-Ghoul holiday theme has overlapped into the military. This was inevitable; from the ground level, this is exactly how it looks. Never having been in the army, but knowing enough of the whole philosophy behind training and tactics, I understand this is what is meant by “doing Service”. This is what is also meant by a “campaign”. I am a footsoldier and we are, in contempo terms, the boots-on-the-ground.

The particular ground we’d drawn were three subdivisions, not all that different in character from those on my youth back in suburban Cleveland and Detroit. It’s usually easy to determine whether this was recently-sold farm acreage or not by whether the land across the road still has corn on it or not. This one was new enough, though, one where the model homes have names like Concord, Belvedere, Bay View, Newport and Bella Vista. (Do these actually mean anything?) It was the way the middle one began petering out that belied the waving banners and few balloons and the whole showroom atmosphere. Out at the fringes, it was little more than gravel pits and mounds as cement road curves around leveled lots overgrown with weeds before a line of trees; you could also note landscapers’ earth-moving equipment betraying signs of rust and a couple of empty contractor’s trailers. (Slight aside here, for a comment from my pal Gene, a lifelong construction guy with a small outfit of his own up in the Bronx. When we came across a similar situation, earlier in our travels, he’d noted how this was the first effect of the credit crunch. “These guys have already gone bust. As soon as they couldn’t get loans, that’s right when the hammer’s stopped, right there. Reminds me of some pals of mine back in the ‘70s. Same thing happened to them—they hocked everything to get the seed capital and lost it all in bankruptcy.” Whether or not Gene was right about that one, his words sure looked prophetic here; one empty shell was in progress—perhaps as a demonstrations of materials used, as if someone could be reassured by pine 2x4s and particle board—over by the models but looked as if it had been rained on more than once.)

Even under gray skies, it was about as merry a trot as could be got. At this late stage, everything is narrowed down to just supporters, seeing if they knew where their local voting place was (even though the office wasn’t yet equipped to tell us where that was) and hanging door tags (with a number to call) if they weren’t at home. And being as it was also the day after all the little spooks and princesses and parental units (probably on cellphones while doing separate escort duty), when you DID find someone at home, they were like as not to offer you some of their leftovers: Butterfingers, Reeses, Nestles’ Crrunch and even Quaker Oats Chewy Granola Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip bars. (Talk about a sweet deal!)

As if that weren’t enough to make any Baby Boomer nostalgic, seeing these freshly-laid-out tracts—some with sod having taken root after a second year, in swards flowing from one section’s backyard into the other’s without any of the wire fences which will most assuredly later blight the area as it always does when people feel the need to stake out their territory—was a Wayback Machine in itself. (For that cultural reference, please Google “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” and go from there.) You want to talk childhood touchstones? Nothing quite matches the freedom of seeing you have an adjacent subdivision on your map and, instead of doing the proper thing of walking down to the end of gate drive and up into the next one, you simply and gleefully TRESPASS ON THE GRASS, walking IN BETWEEN THE HOUSES without a care in the world! (It is difficult to describe this sensation to those who have never really seen a world without fences. I will only refer one to the song “This Land Is your Land” by Woody Guthrie and ask that you pay particular attention to the last stanza, the one later excised from all school renditions of it.) Later in the march, I had even given up walking only on the paths up to people’s front doors and began CROSSING LAWNS! Strangely liberating, that.

So, with our jobs all done by late afternoon, our driver took us back to the hotel, his wife Claire pointing to a deserted gas station, remarking how she didn’t know why it popped into her head, but was sure that it was remembered from her girlhood as a place where Jack Kennedy stopped on his 1960 run for the White House. (And seeing as how it had an old Irish diner next door re-enforced that conclusion. Someday I would like to post that picture here, if I can find it because, heaven help me, I think I might remember it too, in one of those mind’s-eye, Hollywood/TV overlaps with grainy B&W newsreel footage) There then came the sudden realization that this was part of a story that had begun long before I’d entered it, as candidate after candidate, election after election crisscrosses Pennsylvania, searching for supporters. And more, was, in actuality, just another bit of dialogue exchange in the conversation that is the American political process.

By Sunday, I’d figured the score and just gone down to the office in the hotel after complimentary breakfast, picked up a new driver and packets, and we were on the road with Allan by 10:30. Another ex-New Yorker, now retired to the rolling hills, he takes his orders from the GPS and regales us with more tales of the trail to here, and such exurban shenanigans as the rash of lawn-sign thefts (later confirmed by the above, as who would fork over a fiver to one side just to make such a negative statement?) and the way the opposition will place theirs in front of ours at key intersections of the main routes. He was glad as any to have a job to do for the big effort, offering to squire us to any location and pick-up for lunch or dinner; whatever it took. This is yet another example of unstinting generosity, the character of everyone met on the Long March; courteous and giving and frequently as solicitous of one’s feelings as long-standing intimates, if not moreso (familiarity breeding contempt, or casual incivility).

As luck would have it, for the first time I was actually in a neighborhood I had come to know. Instead of being driven to remote locations to either jog along county roads, with neither shoulder nor verge beyond a drainage ditch, or up and down the aforesaid planned communities, I was in the heart of Doylestown proper. Starting off just off Font Hill Road and the forest adjacent to the cemetery ridge and the estate of the local 19th Century magnate named Mercer--so paranoid about fire that he had every place he owned encased in concrete--you were immediately put on notice that this was Olde Schuyool. The first wooden porch, with the plaque stating the house was built in 1903, makes you stop for a second. The next one was from 1912. Then you look across the long approach to the manor and all of a sudden the weight of place, the density of history--as if from a Charles Ives composition, or Currier and Ives print, or Thornton Wilder or Booth Tarkington--you get this rush like a breeze from Time's vast and eternal ocean. Not a great wind, no, but a chill nonetheless, the feeling that, again, this is part of a process you see at only a few occasions in your lifetime.

So, as I've just cast my ballot, it seems like as good a time to end this post as any.

It was, of course, Obama that got to me. Charismatic leaders don’t come along very often, and rarely ever make it as far as this guy. Does that mean I'm still high on my drug of choice? Perhaps. But it is just as likely that I might have learned the trick of the treat.

See, Superstition is a funny thing; it makes you susceptible to omens, portents, signs and a belief in divination from such ephemeral things as polls. Standing in the shadow of a gothic mansion that could have been the inspiration for Collinswood Manor, you can see the theater of the real as well. The media is window dressing, stage settings, props: I am, you are, we are, all in the play, the grand pageant, the passing parade. Shakespeare said "There are no small roles; only small actors," and he was right. Even if you only trod the boards for one night every year, as who you truly want to be, that's not a bad thing. And if you only get who you want to play the lead every generation or so, that's not bad either. Just get out there, speak your lines clearly and in a loud voice, don't bump into the furniture and exit quickly.

And Vote.

Now I want some Thanksgiving. And a Christmas present. After the polls close.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oh, what a tangled web we surf...

This post has undergone such transformative upheavals since inception (over a week ago) that I scarcely recognize its origins. It was to be a simple observation on the way a phrase or a scrap of sequential words can lodge in the brain as securely as any Manilow-penned, Mad Ave jingle of the ‘60s and cling there like sockburrs gotten from a brisk woods-walk: little organic passengers that you aren’t even aware of until you move to remove your shoes.

What happened, along the way, was that misconceptions, disinformation, ignorance and faulty reasoning were challenged, and then illuminated, by the most innocuous of research tools: Wikipedia and Google. This has happened before, but as I had never had a blog before, it would remain as an unspoken component of a diarist’s scribbles or a penitent’s confession, rather than an open admission. But, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Publish your underwear!” So here are the long-johns and the shorts of it.

At the beginning, the story would run like this: a serendipitous alignments of the celestial powers with astral navigation achieved by triangulation: a recollection of a snippet in the interior of a performance art happening/play handout this summer, then a 2005 book review wherein the author’s curious erudition caught my fancy, and an article from a strewn Times section which fell open to just the right page at exactly the right moment. And then onto a glib summary.

It didn’t get there.

The genesis of this came from attendance at the show of an ensemble called Radiohole. As usual, it was something of a mash-up: this time between the myths of Carrie Nation and Kenneth Anger. (Interesting enough, but not germaine to the subject.) That aside, as these rather radical ensembles are wont to do, they included, in their playbill, some head-twister quotes to set the mind awhirl (as much as the free draft beer they distributed), one of which was attributed to Karl Rove.

"You live in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality. That's not the way the world works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

It was so odd (well, under the circumstances…) that I couldn’t even recognize, immediately, what it was that I was reading. But I did keep it around.

The book review was only half-recalled from a dashed-off note and the assumptions therein missed quite a bit of the necessary data for its proper interpretation. The author is Eliot Weinberger and his book was What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles. My first reaction was that this was another of those "tell-all" confessions of who-knows-what-goes-on-behind-closed-doors-type thangs in which a White House insider, in false modesty, offer the sort of diary an average man might make “who just read the newspapers.” However, something just didn’t ring on that line. Anyone who makes comparisons of Radical Islam to youth culture, correctly interpreting suicide bombers as anti-heroes, and observes that the 9/11 hijackers pulled off a piece of political theater beyond the wildest wet dreams of the Situationists, displays a depth and sophistication no less than William F. Buckley, Jr., and an erudition no knee-jerk pundit has ever approached. So, having no previous knowledge of him, Wikipedia gave me a whole new perspective: a translator of Octavio Paz and Borges, Eliot was actually a poet in his own right and no wonk-turned-turncoat, West-Winger or even Right-winger but, possibly, much more a philosophical southpaw than I. This made me more curious as to exactly why he would use this particular term--"reality-based community"--this particular way.

So, before going any further, it is best to clear something up. A portion of the quote, applied to my (and yours, I assume) favorite search engine, yielded a vast number of URLs, one of which I append here. It is actually from a New York Times Magazine article from October 17, 2004, “Without a Doubt,” By Ron Suskind, who attributes it to “a senior White House adviser.” (Now WHY would the art-gang attribute it to Rove? Perhaps it was later revealed? A fair assumption, but that I do not know. But I present this as a further caution as to why one must never give authority to secondary sources without the merest, absolute-least fact-checking. Replication of misinformation on the web has turned a comedy of errors into a farce, and hence, a tragedy. In point of fact, with this admission, you can see that I have had to change my opinions on my proofs/evidence no less than three times in the course of writing this piece. That alone should say even more than I am. Will I still hold the same position as at the beginning? Will I ever get to the point—period? Does this matter less than a fart in a flaw…and do I even know what that means? Stay tuned!!!)

So when Weinberger went on to refer to those (erroneously presumed to be in the White House) who still believed "that solutions emerge from the judicious study of discernable reality," but that increasing unreality of the events (say, the Iraq War and its attendant justifications) threaten to overwhelm this "judicious study of discernable reality", I was with him as far as I could go down the path where cherry-picking information leads to delusion and, hence, a form of madness. It is just that oh-so-formal language which had me puzzled. It appears that, in his reading, this is a term referring to a school of poets called Objectivists, which, by my reading, has nothing to do with Ayn Rand's Objectivism. (However, I would be most happy to hear comments to the contrary as, for all its worth again, Wiki can be a tad short on abetting such distinctions.) Weinberger mentions another poet named Charles Reznikoff, who had late fame in his life for a collection called Testimony--some sort of prose/poems culled from his day-job of writing abstracts of legal verdicts for the published reports of law decisions (used for precedence in cases before the bar). I've actually read this stuff for classes, and it might be said to be the ultimate economy in enconmiums on style and substance.

If he is correct, then, or even in a ballpark less amorphous than Ebbets’ Field, one has to wonder how the hell “Rove” (or whoever) came up with it! From what matrix of learning of “the Canon” of Western Lit. 101, plus a philosophical bent plus rhetorical skill, emerged a mind which could put these concepts of such innocuous and seemingly abstract reasoning into the framework of such a stone-solid, stolid pragmatist?

So, yet another search for any chain of logical possession led to this thread. And that as the article at the heart of the matter was the source of a discussion that had gone on long before my intersection of sets. Here I saw, for the first time, the full range of opinion crystallize into an articulation. What makes it even more amazing is that the Wiki sidebar on the subject also includes a further reference suggestion for “truthiness”—a Steven Colbert neologism!

Clearly, instead of stopping at a storefront of shopworn clichés, I had stumbled into some opiate-of-the-people den of ubiquity!

Now that I understood it was all dependent upon what part of the quote one chooses. So then, another phrase got to faze the face and the number of hits ran the gamut from the reddest radical (and I use it in the classic sense of commie-symp, not the “red state/blue state” reference) to the most gleefully vehement reactionary (a site called Little Green Footballs, for which I have no explanation). The logic of the search engine then becomes a mirror of my consciousness, detailing a precise reasoning this resonated in my cranium, where the faint elementary education memory dredges up Set Theory, and more, back to the ‘80s, when a bunch of drop-outs could hang out all night and talk trash, and once in a while touch on something substantive, like Mandelbrot’s fractals or Dark Matter Theory…or Venn Diagrams, where two disparate geometric spheres intersect a third to create an area of common properties.

And this brings up the Sunday NYTimes, October 19, 2008 article “Even ‘Survivor’ Is Looking Mortal.” Yes, it will come as no surprise that “reality-based community” was the jackpot of URLs, but, strangely, not a one of them about television.

What struck on first read was that, indeed, the first reality game show hit the airwaves just as George Bush was starting his job. Phrases from the article sprang out: “…diverse cast of strangers, pit them against each other, and expel a contestant at the end of each episode (1)…a proven way to keep costs down (2)…most ad time is sold in advance (3)…the task isn’t to expand the brand, it’s to manage the decline (4)…every three days a contestant would be sent home (5)…the winner, after 39 days, would receive $1 million (6)…when the first season ended, more than 20 million were watching, second only to the Super Bowl (7)…then came Big Brother, the Apprentice, the Amazing Race, American Idol, The Osbournes, Joe Millionaire, Temptation Island, Dancing with the Stars…” This does not boggle the mind as much as sadden the heart, with so much utter mundanity being fobbed off on a willing and eager audience. What is worse, though, is to consider how much the course of these things actually replicates (adapted for scale) the progression (or descent) of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary braches of government for the past eight years. Just look at it: (3) was the campaign that got this outfit into office, secure in the knowledge that what they paid for it would reap huge dividends in the end, (1) is the whole rancid bunch of sleazeballs and toadies, basically protecting their turf (2) while the world crumbles about them and, at the end of their tenure, by public shame and humiliation or scandal or pre-set exit strategy, escaping to the private sector (5) where their contacts and lobbying skill would be most appreciated (6), (7) was what got them in the second time, and (4) is about the exact state of the Republican Party at this moment.

But the self-delusional part where the overlap is the greatest comes when the journalist says: “Survivor is a show about characters, about heroes and villains, about loyalty and duplicity.” He discusses this with the show’s creator, Mark Burnett, who cites his source as “Hero With A Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, and adopting “classic storytelling styles and devices that ‘just work’.” One of these is the tribal councils, “alluding to sacrificial ceremonies…illuminated by torchlight…excommunication…rebirth and hope…” When Mr. Burnett says, self-consciously, “You may think I’m nutty,” the writer re-enforces his authority by saying: “It’s not. It is evidence that the show’s storytelling style is layered and novelistic, complete with historical analogies, perhaps demonstrating why it has prospered.”

Ah. It is also possible that small simians might be expelled from my nether regions, however, I am prone to lack conviction of that eventuality transpiring.

You could describe the same thing as a beach party set designed by Tiki Gods LLC and catered by Luau-se-Yer-Lunch Services that devolves into a clash of personality disorders over petty slights, actively encouraged by adult supervision, as one bitter scene after another with nasty guttersnipes forces members to hightail it to the far dunes. This isn’t storytelling. It is, in point of fact, no different than a series of scavenger hunts held by some crazy psychiatrist for his encounter group therapy regulars.

Well, if I am to be typed a “playa-hatah” (if that is the standard ebonic rendering), then let it be for the real game I oppose. It was said, at the time, the failure to detect the 9/11 plot was caused, chiefly, by “a lack of imagination.” This particular paucity appears to be a plague upon the populus at present. And no, I cannot lay the blame at the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, nor at whatever waterway ferry deposits the next sacrilegeial dumbs at the altar of commerce, F.O.B.

No, it would have to be no less than the whole junk culture represented by this faction of factoid-factotums which passes on fiction for fatuousness. It has manufactured consent the same way any totalitarian regime would: tell people what they want and give it to them in large doses, shove it down their throats until they can’t live without it. It doesn’t matter if they thought it was good or bad or were indifferent to their presentation: it is going to be part of your life so you’d better enjoy it! Does that sound too bitter? Maybe attributing too much power to an entertainment? It’s only that you can’t miss the point that it is all cost/benefit analysis; no matter what they claim about “creativity,” what they are thinking is “quantity”. This is the same reasoning you feed slop to hogs. And I’m not no high-falutin’ aesthete neither! (Just got our 46” flat-screen Bravia LCD today and I can’t wait to gel-&-chill a weekend with LOTR DVDs on that baby!) My love of Pop Culture is, however, pretty much stuck in the past, wherein quality was, if not elevated, at least eccentric, slightly twisted even. And always more fun to discover fetishes on your own (preferably in the privacy of your bedroom, with the door locked). Unfortunately, with mass marketing on one side and niche marketing on the other, the possibility of developing any independence of thought or taste not already figured into the 24hr e-mailing style becomes moot, at best. If you weren’t typecast today, we’ll copy your psychic DNA by interpreting your browser cookies with our nominal, under-the-radar spyware and the tracks of your clicks.

Wait a sec. What did I just say? That I couldn’t hold ad sales as the villain? Isn’t that what I just said?

Not quite. It is more about the VERY FIRST IDEA HERE: “reality-based communities,” or something close to it. There are a lot of young folks today have yet to have an un-mediated experience, and by that I mean: Without Media. It is as pervasive as drugs once were, in days of yore. That was a time when you wouldn’t even begin a project or painting/poem/song, or a journey without getting high. Nowadays, who would go ANYWHERE without a cell phone…phone-camera—uh—phone/camera/gamecard, oh, and the iPod. Laptop. PSPII, for the road…etc. As to whether or not that one is superior to the other, let’s leave that for subsequent generations to assess. The point is, the former were about as individual as experiences could get, a lot of which depended upon which senses you could employ and how long you could focus them on what you thought was why when where was… (You get the idea.) You got a perspective that would be, if you were capable of sharing it in any way, shape or form other than hysterical laughter, weeping in abject despair or utterly agape with agape, you were certainly going to have as good a time telling it as you did experiencing it and maybe come up with something so ‘out there’ as to be unique unto itself, one-of-a-kind, sine-qua-non motherfucker. Or total crap. The dosages, however, were finite, unless the self-destructive impulse took over and turned them into addicts. But when you’ve got a Blackberry/Sidekick/PDA-fill-in-the-blank, you’re not addicted, you’re just “plugged-in” and “hot-wired” and “up-linked” and—uh—well, other stuff, aren’t you?

And that reminds me of something that was, according to the opinions of many sage reviewers, both a symptom of the former AND the latter from that era. It was from the Firesign Theater’s album entitled “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers.” Without context (take too long…too many drugs, too…) it was the strangled cry of a disturbed teenager at a More Science High pep rally: “What is Reality?”

So, ok, they didn’t last very long though, did they? All that “free love” and peace signs and attire not even seen at most Gay Pride parades these days? (And those Mary’s have style.) Outside of the music (which, in the land of I needn’t underscore), the only “countercultural” references you see are when Woodstock anniversaries roll around. (Last time I heard a Castenada quote was…nada.) By the reasoning of the seasons of Survivor standard, one might assume that popularity and endurance equals quality.

And it is this that brings up the final, ultimate point of all this. The critique of the “reality-based community” by the “Rove”-like aide included as part of a, say, social commentary by post-Brechtian-4th-Wall-smashers, the erudite wordsmith parsing this subject to reflect an altered state-of-the-nation speech, and the TV Producer’s estimation of his mutant baby—all are born of an appreciation of Life (capital L) as a manifestation of the iron rule of “Social Darwinism.” The puppet master sees the same world as the watcher of the glass-walled ant farm as does Mr. Survivor-of-the-fittest: a brutal competition based in humankind’s lowest primal urges, fears, lusts, the dominance of power over all and a complete loathing and contempt for anything which does not crush all before it in its naked ambition to succeed.

Hey! Ever seen Leni Reifenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will”? (Well, maybe you’ve heard Devo’s title cover…) Ever read about “Mein Kampf”? (The movie was better, true…) And in “Brave New World,” there’s no question that being an Alpha means never having to say you’re sorry.

(Couldn’t resist the previous. Call it an aside, a stage whisper, if you want…)

When you read a lot of Steven Jay Gould, you aren’t guaranteed to get smarter, but you could do a lot worse. That being said, his discourses cover more subjects than I ever touched upon in my most hedonistic, headlong plunge into impulsive, frenzied link-clicking, convincing me (at least) that he is the kind of polymath best typified by the tagline of the be-knighted supermarket checkout counter tab that proclaims: “Enquiring Minds Want To Know.” So if you find the following a bit biased, it is because there is more study behind it than anything else heretofore inscribed.

What Paleontology relies on is fossil record, or, if you will, a Reality that once was. A variation on that is Evolutionary Biology, which is, depending on where you start and end, Reality which is going on right now. Ok. So then, make this the context for “reality-based communities” to “judiciously study” for “solutions to emerge from (the) discernable,” and everything else becomes window dressing. That’s how Darwin came up with his three-part “theory” (which is closer to a Law than anything else, and also open to revision like any good statute would a sane society—laws that evolve with the culture) of natural selection, adaptation and inherited traits. That SJG could come along and revamp it with a tack-on of punctuated equilibrium (which means that, more or less, evolution might move in fits and starts, like have a long period where nothing goes on, then a brief period where catastrophic changes take place) only means that it works as good as Einstein’s General Relativity “theory”.

(That was the last digression, I swear…)

When SJG, then, writes that the whole “Social Darwinism” idea had nothing to do with Origin of the Species, coined by a Victorian philosopher named Herbert Spencer and used to justify the most inhumane aspects of Industrial Revolution Capitalism. Which could be one way that it came into the sphere if the aforementioned “top White House aide.”

But enough of me. I’d rather end this with a cop from the previously cited website (or bulletin board—do they still call them that? Chat group? What is the word?) which sums up my views pretty well.

“Artists and writers have the luxury of creating their own reality. Scientists and statesmen do not. Reality -- empirical reality, a reality independent of the observer -- is the terrain in which even history's greatest actors move. They don't make it up -- they judiciously study it every bit as much as do intellectuals, a less ambitious group.

”The neoconservatives are attempting to make up reality to suit their fantasies, not study a reality that is in fact independent of them. That is the epitome of arrogance. It is the hubris for which the Greeks believed that the gods punished mortals. That is why in the end, like the gods punished mortals who overreached, reality will defeat the neoconservative.”

Yeah. Hubris. And Hamartia, the fatal flaw. The play’s still the thing in which to catch the conscience of the king; not in moronic challenges and…

Say, I’ve got a better tag to bag it, another I found under the last cited…which makes me wonder if I’ve stumbled into an alternate universe where The Church of The Subgenius has become gospel and Bob Dobbs is the pipe-smoking-hydra-headed avatar son of Kali and Brahma the Destroyer. (Ok. So maybe Colbert IS Bob Dobbs. Ever thought of that? Huh??)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dinosaur Walk, Elephant Talk, Talking Head Squwak...

The advent of the "funny weatherman" gig has placed a number of journalism majors in the unenviable position of playing second banana to a senior-coiffure/reader who likes to mock their choices of 'banter, forcing them to eat segment-crow as if they were responsible for filling their slot with their worthlessness or Wordsworth, whether or not weather is worth the words.

Take today's CNN blip-to-bumper where Rob Marciano gets to zoom in on the GoogleEarth terrain map of the New Mexico/Arizona border crossing that found the illegal alien tracks from 190 million years ago. I insert here the first reference found from my search:, as I have yet to figure out how to put in those clever little blue links. The text appears to be the same one that Rob read before his segment as he quoted directly from it: "It was a place that attracted a crowd, kind of like a dance floor." It was this snippet that must have fired either his, or his producer's imagination enough so that they connected back to the halcyon days of MTV when they actually DID show music videos: Was Not Was, "Walk The Dinosaur."

I herewith interject another inept attempt at page building and supply the link, as if you needed me to find it for you:

As it took a few seconds to come on, Rob was forced to vamp a bit, which I found charming, almost sweating while the producer probably punched buttons to load just the right portion to show the girl back-ups in Racquel Welch B.C.-type animal skins, with only a flash of Harry and Sweet Pea. Took me back to the Mudd Club, when "Out Come The Freaks" first broke. One does forget that one used to go out at night and go to places to jump around rhythmically, which, one supposes, was the thrust of Rob's little electric boogie down memory lane, and, perhaps, the source of the remark from the eminent paleontologist that it was "like a dance floor." This also reminds me of the 'last' 'official' incarnation of King Crimson, about that same era when they had a brief hit with the Afro-Balinese big beat thrump of "Elephant Talk," replicating the pachyderm trumpet with some early Fairlight synth effect that could actually stand in for the noise made by one or more of these creatures tromping across those millenial mud-flats.

However, child of the '80s that he probably was, Rob missed a reference that was even funnier. The opening line, "More than 1,000 dinosaur footprints along with tail-drag marks," left the golden opportunity to include the utterly hilarious song, "I'm a Tail Dragger" by Howlin' Wolf. And no, I cannot include a musical sample here, yet, as I lack the skill now, but, at some time in the future I may.

Is there a conclusion to this, you ask? Only this: we so often use the terms "ancient history" and "oldie-moldie" or variations, that we need to be reminded: MTV is NOT ancient--it is less than 30 years of age (I think) which would, according to some standards, make the video a "classic." However, Howlin' Wolf's song comes from 1962, which may well be called "vintage." So then, what does that make the actual discovery of Dino-DDR patterns in the dust? Let us consider the use of hyper-superlatives and their dimunition and dilution of language.

Pause for an instant, then, to reflect on the following as one word sentences. Time. History. Change. Transformation. Records.

The mind boggles.

Monday, October 20, 2008 way of introduction...

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I have, nevertheless, prepared a few brief remarks which I trust will explain my position on the matter before us today.

That being said, I herewith throw my hat into the ring.

The blogring, to be specific.

The only reason for anyone to visit sites is, as it has been my experience, to download music albums or to exchange views on one subject or another. The former is beyond me at this point, having found, as well, that the web contains more goodies and surprises than I ever owned in my entire life. I have also read enough to know that it is bad etiquette to post another person's collection (which I believe is the same thing as pirating links, if I understand that correctly). So it would be the latter purpose, more than any other, which I may offer as justification.

I used to be a professional writer. It is something of a habit, this "self-expression," and difficult to break. Worse, after years of riding on the subways of New York, witnessing the behavior of those less acclimatized to our era's demands, given over to such things as muttering and scratching while constantly scribbling over & over in blue Bic pen certain sections of the Learning Annex giveaway course catalogs in a manic fashion usually referred to as "graphology" in Psychology indices, I have begun to wonder if that particular mental malady might be manifesting itself in some of mine own activities. This, then, comes under the heading of therapy for a slightly disordered mind. I stress "slightly" as it is only the need to communicate something which infects me--not that I cannot make a logical sequence of sentences to form arguments.

So? What? One thing I have found out about this--ah--keystroking (?--probably need a better verb, but that will do for now) is that it does get compulsive and any entry should be much shorter than this one is. And it should also have a picture (preferably not one under copyright). As I have gained some felicity for taking random pasteboards presented to me in my travels, at home and abroad, and creating somewhat amusing texts to accompany those reverse-side images, to offer a mild relief for my friends from the tedium of bills and credit card offers that make up the bulk of the US Postal System's dleiveries, I wanted to call this "Postcards from the Id" but that was already taken. However, the above caption is even less of a limitiation so it may stay for now. As for what will come next here, I honestly do not know. The shape of the future is cloudy to me, outside of a landslide victory for Obama.

But enough of me, and now you.

You are as yet an open question, a speculation. Possibly even a phantom of my imagination.

We shall see. For the moment, we will just have to mix metaphors of the sensory variety and "see" how it "feels".

...this is a test...