Wednesday, February 22, 2017

RAMONES - 53rd & 3rd

I actually knew a guy who worked 53rd Street and 3rd Avenue, and if his experience was any indication this song is a pretty good summation of the situation.

He would do this, and that, for money or merely for fun, but those other things, forget it, he was no sissy. And yes, if you ever suggested that he was a sissy, you'd have been cut.

Hey, a guys got to make a living.

Pharrell Williams - Happy (Official Music Video)

I don't know, I don't know much, I'm no critic, no genuine musicologist. But really, I just think that there's a good chance that this is (one of) the best songs, and (one of) the best music videos of the Twenty-First Century.

Disclaimer: Not that I've been paying particular attention!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dreams Are A Waste Of Time

It’s very rare that I have a dream that is coherent enough to even be considered for meaning, and rarer still that the dream comes through powerfully, and memorably, enough to be useful. Usually they just seem like the brain is coasting its way through its normal mechanisms and habitual channels of thought while throwing out images and sounds that can be almost random. 

Some people do seem to get something out of the process of dreaming. A certain kind of artistic temperament can find even the random images useful. Several artists that I admire, like William S. Burroughs, for example, have kept dream diaries and used elements of the dreams in their art. My general feeling, however, is that it’s best not to put too much stock in dreams.

Once in a great while, though, once in a great, great while there comes a dream that really stands up straight and speaks to you clearly. A dream that presents people from your life in recognizable, natural settings, speaking in their own natural voices and styles, and saying things that you can easily imagine them to have actually said. The people in the dream may include dead people, of course, since there is no impediment to their participation.

This one didn’t feature any dead people, but it was memorable.

I wrote the notes from this dream at 9:30 p.m. one night, having had the dream in the middle of the previous night and woken up at 7:00 a.m. that morning.

There was a family gathering of some kind, and the subject of my deceased father came up. “What would he say,” someone said, “if he were here?”
“Maybe,” I said, “he would say how glad he was to have a son who was so kindhearted and considerate, if, that is, he had a team of specialists with him to assist him, or highly sensitive instruments to interpret the data.”

The dream was with me throughout the following day. All through the dream, and in its aftermath, I felt the bitterness caused by my parents’ treatment and neglect, their quick judgments and their everlasting disappointments. But I also felt, both in the dream and after it, a certain diminution in the importance of such resentments. It all made me wonder if there was a real purpose behind dreaming after all. Maybe, maybe not. It’s still true that they are usually a waste of time. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Governing Of Muslims In Singapore

Singapore is a fairly diverse place. Not as diverse as Los Angeles, but more diverse than many. Occasionally we get a look at how they manage this diversity. Bear in mind that the government of Singapore has always been very, very concerned with controlling every aspect of everything in the city-state, so the management of the various ethnic groups is typically hands-on. 

For example, there is something called the Ministry of Muslim Affairs, which appears to work closely with some kind of sweetheart non-governmental association of local Muslims. I was in a hotel recently that had Channel News Asia (based in Singapore) on the cable, and they showed a long article about a recent concern shared by the ministry and the association: the need for a government run program for the certification of teachers of Muslim studies.

This was in response to a large number of foreigners coming to Singapore and working as teachers of Muslim studies. The government’s concern is that these foreigners may not sufficiently understand the nature of Islam in Singapore, which is evidently different from Islam in other places.

Someone from the Ministry of Muslim Affairs was interviewed for the article. He stressed that Singapore was a very inclusive place, and that all that the ministry sought to do was to insure that that inclusivity remained strong. “We just need to know,” he said, “that what is being taught matches the way that Islam is practiced in Singapore.”

The new plan will be for the local Muslim association to oversee the certification process. (Sorry, I neglected to note the name of the association.) Foreigners will also be required to take course-work before even being considered for certification.

I wondered how this matched up with the treatment of teachers of other religions. There are large numbers of Muslims in Singapore, but there are also large numbers of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, and many other religions are represented as well. Was there something about the foreign teachers of Muslim studies? Were there certain countries whose Islam they disapproved of? Perhaps they would not fear an Anglo-Saxon Christian missionary from Kansas, or a Hindu holy man from India, or even a Muslim teacher from Malaysia, while wishing to add an extra level of vetting for Saudi Arabian practitioners of Wahhabism.

Could you single out Muslims for special treatment like that in America? I’m not sure how that would line up with our concept of Equal Protection under the law. It does appear to be a governmental action that classifies.

We’re on the hooks of a similar dilemma right now in America. You know, the “Muslim ban.” I would hate to think that our country could share such a dilemma with Singapore. America considers itself to be a functioning democracy; that is the status that America claims for the entire world to see. Singapore cannot begin to make such a claim. Singapore is more like a wolf of a police state dressed in the democratic clothing of a sheep.

So I hope that we’re not sharing behaviors with Singapore these days. That would not be a good sign. 

Johnny Ace - - Pledging My Love

Not so sad a song, but the saddest story of all time.

Johnny had been plugging away for a few years with no success in  the music business. When this song was released, shortly thereafter, he was drinking with some friends and there was a revolver around. He dumped all of the rounds but one and played a game of Russian Roulette. "If I win, it's a hit," he said, "if I lose, it wasn't meant to be."

Well, he lost, and killed himself, but it was a hit after all. He wasn't around to enjoy it.

Sad, sad story.

Our Crazy World

Welcome to our crazy world! We create artificial problems and ignore real ones. We claim affiliation with various religions while failing to understand their meaning at all. We fail to appreciate real talent while swooning over the likes of (redacted; several names). It’s all quite mad.

The worst part is that we now have all of the tools, money and recourses necessary to fix the entire world and insure a future of peace and prosperity for all of us. The truth is that our world has always been crazy in much the same way that it is crazy now. The only unique, incriminating fact for our times is this bit about the possibility of redemption. We have the ability to lift all of the weakest among us and eliminate the worst of deprivation and violence from our history, but somehow we don’t even acknowledge the possibility. Now that’s crazy.

Recent History

The Twentieth Century was a time of real, existential threats to entire ways of life, backed up by frequent bouts of ultraviolence on a world-wide scale. Now those were troubled times! It was as though someone prayed to God, “please God, don’t bring back anything like the Thirty Years War,” and God was just waking up from a nap and thought the prayer was to actually bring back times like the Thirty Years War.

The politics in the Twentieth Century! Porco Dio! What a mess! Things like dictatorships and oligarchies, etc., were old hat. But the complete lack of common sense, human decency and basic cooperation had a new gloss on it. The resort to violence and warfare came catastrophically on two occasions: once kind of willy-nilly, because one of the players was in a snit and the others just went along, you know, because of treaties or something; and once out of the shear mendacity and malevolent will of two of the big players, dragging the rest of the known world into a maelstrom of death and destruction.

Afterwards there was the mere threat of something even worse! Something that would render all of humanity either: 1) instantly dead; 2) kneeling somewhere blindly puking our insides out; or 3) slowly or quickly starving to death. One of the instigating countries had had a taste of it in the second great unpleasantness, and the world was quite impressed with the results. Thank you Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger!

The nuclear peace, however, left plenty of room for mischief, and plenty of mischief there was. It was in this time, perhaps because of fear, that common sense went out the window. I’m talking now about the late Twentieth Century. And then, suddenly, one of the two remaining major players went tits-up, leaving only the United States standing at the head of nations. You could be forgiven to think that it was a great time to relax a bit, and to back away from the state of emergency that had existed since 1941. That was fifty years of presidential emergency powers in a row, due to one emergency or another, and then, suddenly, all of the emergencies were gone. But no, by that time permanent emergency had been cut-in-stone. The president’s emergency powers only accelerated after that, as new emergencies, real or imagined, were substituted for old. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, we are still in that state of emergency, due now, I believe, to terrorism or something. Exit common sense, stage left.

The Real World

The period beginning in 1991 would have been the perfect time to start organizing a great march forward, with almost all of the countries in the world joining in the great task. China and America were cooperating economically, and almost all of the world’s major players were in a relatively peaceful posture with no real enemies to speak of. Russia was not in a position to do anything but receive help, but they had great ability to pay for that help with resources, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Just start moving the ball forward; as Mao said, a journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step. If you stay on the path and keep taking steps, you get there.

Nothing like that was even considered. Triumphalism and economic advantage won that day.

The skill-set that could enable us to build a wonderful new world includes wild, science-fiction-like improvements in communications, manufacturing and information technologies. But here, the degradation of human decency and general cooperation has ruined everything. The scientific breakthroughs are all used for the wrong reasons. Fabulous new possibilities for income generation have rendered a large percentage of our most talented minds greedy beyond anything previously imaginable. Fabulous new possibilities for crowd manipulation have enabled some of the worst among us to rise to the greatest heights of political power around the world.

There’s a huge swath of the globe that is dark these days, with so many countries having descended into violence and tribalism with no laws and virtually no economies at all. These are the “failed states.” Many countries, short of that condition, are surrendering to corruption, or weakening their own democracies, or resorting to extrajudicial killings, or abandoning reality in favor of fantasy. It’s like something in the water; I often wonder if the John Birch Society was right about fluoridation.

In my own benighted country, people are too afraid of income insecurity, health insecurity, personal safety insecurity, food insecurity and retirement insecurity to give a thought to the perfectibility of the world. Americans are hoping for the best and desperate to hold on to the little advantage that they still have. As is the case in most of the world, our political leaders like it that way. (We’re also guilty of several of the excesses listed in the paragraph above this one.)

Has it always been this crazy? The answer is, “probably.” It’s easier to see the craziness all around you than to see it through the dark lens of history. Versailles, the Renaissance, Camelot, ancient Rome and Greece, it all looks so nice in paintings and prints. It’s harder to see, from here, the foul smelling, shit-stained, disease ridden reality of it, much less the craziness of their politics and their societies. But those rulers of the past had an excuse that no longer works for us. With their technology, and their science, and their communications networks, and with the state of their general knowledge, they were condemned to stumbling forward in darkness, just trying to keep enough people alive to do the work and fight the inevitable wars. It’s hard to condemn them all. The Romans, for example, made great (relative) progress with their limited advances in communication and technology. We could do so much better now, if there would appear some kind of political will to do so.

Where to Start

At least, as the doctors are instructed, “do no harm.” Or, for many countries, “stop doing harm,” or even “begin, for goodness sake, to start unwinding the harm you’ve been doing.”

And maybe countries could find a way to begin to cooperate more. Starting in very small ways, anything would help. This constant struggle for national and racial and religious advantage, by nations great and small, really must end. It’s ridiculous and counterproductive, and well, it’s just damn embarrassing is what it is.

And if there are programs that could be agreed upon, and strategies that could be embarked upon, and if those things should require a great deal of money, I have an idea of how to proceed on that as well. Why not take some of the money back from the small percentage of the earth’s people who have stolen it? Surely we have not signed a suicide pact with those pirates! There’s no need to let them keep all of the money even if it kills all of us and all of them and destroys the earth itself.

I’m afraid that the hardest part will be the political will.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Christopher Walken - Come and Get Your Love

Christopher Walken is five years older than I am, but we're both kids from Queens. He was raised in Astoria, and my grandmother had a funeral parlor in Astoria, so we spent a certain about of time within a mile or two of one another in the 1950s, let's say. (I lived on the other side of La Guardia Airport, in College Point.)

Man, I took a lot of flak from my hipster friends for loving this song when it was released, and thereafter, too. Somehow, my high-brow friends thought that it was too pop, or too gimmicky. I still love it. And I'm very gratified, and I feel somewhat validated, to discover that Mr. Walken also finds it a worthwhile musical expression.