Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Monday, January 30, 2023
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Monday, January 23, 2023
I say that a lot, both herein, and in real life, often to myself but also sometimes out loud. I also talk about the ability to separate fantasy from reality, mostly in connection with the now general failure to notice any difference at all. Wilkommen zum Wolkenkuckkucksheim. The legendary home of the cuckoos in the sky!
We have been placed in the awkward position of receiving way too much new information every day. Much of it sounds perfectly reasonable, but may have been fabricated to manipulate our better natures. Much of it sounds fatuous, but may turn out to be true. An uncomfortable amount of it is in a kind of gray area in the middle, where anything is possible and any failure to recognize the importance of some of it may place us at a disadvantage. Now you can add the mischief of deep-fakes and ChatGPT.
We ordinary humans are expected to sort all of this out.
We are exposed to commercial programming that seeks to sell us gold. “Gold,” they say with confidence, “is the ultimate hedge against inflation.” You may wonder if they want us to lug a bunch of the stuff back to our houses and sew it into the mattresses. When I was a boy, this was one of the jokes that adults made about the French. (The other common joke was that the French are too cheap to heat their houses. They prefer to wear sweaters and smell bad.)
Mais non! These companies don't want to give us any gold at all! They want us to buy into their “precious metals exchange.” After that I'm pretty sure it's like a game of Three-Card-Monte. “Where is the Queen?” Oh, sorry Charlie, there is no queen.
Now we are forced to navigate this world. I read in the NYTimes this morning an article about nice young people struggling to save money. They know which way the wind is blowing, and they're not expecting any help from the Land of the Free after they have the gall to stop working. No, they see clearly that they must prepare for the worst when another sixty years have passed and they have become frail and sickly. They know that the long range plan is to turn that entire demographic out into the street. That's freedom! Freedom to take advantage of and exploit the gullible and the old, frail, and sickly. And freedom to discard them when they are no longer useful.
It was so poignant to read about earnest, intelligent young people talking about how they are still living with their parents, post-grad, and making forty or fifty thousand dollars a year, and how they struggle to save any money. Most still had large student loan debt. One admitted that all she could manage to save per month was about twenty dollars. One was saving quite a bit more. He wouldn't say what his income was, but he admitted that, “most of the people in my neighborhood earn between $150,000 and $250,000 per year.” But riddle me this? How much will be enough to save you from financial disaster forty-five years from now? That's almost the year 2070.
May I be blunt? Is anyone reading this even willing to hazard a guess what name the United States of America will be going by in 2070? Will Tom Cotton's face still be on the money? Or will it be the face of the ruling Pope/ Emperor? Will there still be a Florida? How many dollars will it take to buy a can of tuna? Will $500 cover it? Will there still be fish? Who fucking knows?
We are a race that is blessed with a large cadre of very talented scientists. We are also a race that is in danger of losing its entire ecosystem and life support system. This dynamic always leaves me breathless with terror, because our scientists act as though nothing were threatening our existence at all. They stay focused on their work figuring out what happens in the interior of black holes. They are fascinated by the incidence of volcanism on certain moons of the outer planets. They sit, essentially, and twiddle their thumbs. (That was me being very, very polite. Did anyone catch it?)
Our pharmacologists are also hard at work. Working on nonsense while strangely ignoring the existential problems that are staring us in the face. Here the problem is corporate. While warming temperatures and shifting latitudes are moving the “tropics” northward, along with its bacteria and its bugs, those companies remain focused on products that will produce short term profits. There may be a few Jeramiahs among them, warning of the new disease vectors rejoining us after millennia stuck in the permafrost, and the like, but most of the pharmacology business remains dedicated to more profitable products, like boner pills, mood lighteners, and expensive cancer treatments. Antibiotics are expensive to develop, and they don't pay off in a business sense.
None of this is surprising to me, because we are a people of supernatural folly. Rather than make an effort to extend the presence of humans on the earth beyond the next one or two hundred years, our decision-makers prefer to spend our money on really boss hyper-sonic missiles, smaller and lower yield nuclear weapons, submarine yachts, and space-tourism.
It will be interesting to observe, if you live to see it all play out. Look especially for the major crop failures. Those will be fun. It turns out that temperatures rising by less than you'd think interfere with plant pollination. How exciting it will be when one of these “little proxy wars” reaches near-earth space. Three to six months of no Internet? Over the whole world? That should be fun. Is there a plan to deal with that scenario? Why, certainly not! We're busy investigating the Biden family.
The really rich, and our wonderful statesmanlike politicians, will be fine. Don't worry about them. They will have plenty of food, total security, and limitless credit. Regular folks can forget it. You may have money in the bank, but no Internet means no access. No ATMs. All Branches closed. The banks will only be keeping track of all of the houses that they can seize after the computers come back online.
Food and water? That will become an unpleasant subject quickly, so let's leave it out.
My guess is that the inside of black holes is solid, and black. It will be fun to find out for sure!
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Saturday, January 14, 2023
There was a time when this blog was full of politics. I went so far as to gather the more readable posts about politics between 2008 and 2018 and self-publish them on Amazon. I received an e-mail the other day from a nice couple living in the Northwest. We've been best friends for about fifty years now. The wife was kind enough to mention that it's been four years since Political Rants went on sale, so she started re-reading it. She enjoys it. She figured, “a lot has happened in the last four years. You should write a Part II!”
That was a very nice thing for her to say, but I just wouldn't have the stomach for it. It's been day after day of whatever crazy shit Trump said yesterday, backed up by a quick update on all current investigations, impeachments, and law suits. “Indictments are sure to follow before spring.” We all read that every day, but I'll believe it when I see it. Even if they did indict the man for something, and even if they did get a conviction, the appeals process would go on forever and a day. If any of the appeals made it to the Supreme Court...well, as an officer of the court, it would be undignified if I were to put into words my true feelings about our current Supreme Court.
This blog started in 2008. It was a time when the degradation of American politics was already well under way, but it was possible to think that we still had a toe-hold on traditional politics. The 2000 election was a wake-up call, and W.'s eight years were a nightmare of lazy-minded warmongering. Crashing the economy of the entire world was a nice cherry on the W. cake, and losing all of that money to greed and foolishness seemed to get people's attention. They decided to vote for something very different than the usual greedy, lying white devils who had come before. They elected Barack Hussein Obama!
I was intrigued.
Was there a chance that things could improve? Was there a slim possibility that our government could return to the days of calm deliberation, cooperation, and compromise? (Such as they were, but better than they are now.) President Obama's honeymoon lasted about twenty minutes. I didn't really think that things would improve, but the prospect was wonderful there for a minute. Instead, the Republicans declared immediately they they would never offer anything but direct opposition to whatever President Obama proposed. They would dedicate the next four years to one thing and one thing only: making Obama a one-term president. That this was in direct violation of the Constitutional oath that they had all taken. As it turned out, the Constitution held no power over them. As for the American people, whom poll after poll show to be a reasonable and relatively progressive people, a substantial number, approaching fifty percent I'd say, reacted with an intense burst of racist hysteria.
Obama won his second term, so we were treated to eight years of political chaos and racist mischief making. The so-called “social media,” Facebook and Twitter, were just getting off the ground then, and they cheerfully got fat cannibalizing American culture and turning people into rabid animals.
For me, Brexit was the canary in the coal mine for judging people's slipping grasp of reality. When the cousins voted to leave the European Union, that was the sign that even formerly reasonable people had lost the ability to separate fantasy from reality. That was the moment when I said to myself, alone in a hotel room watching the news on TV, “Trump will be nominated and elected.”
By now we've had four years of Trump bulling his way through all of the china shops, plus two years of him saying that “the election was stolen.” He has not, in all of that time, said one true thing, or done one thing that helped working families. Trump is the gift that keeps on giving...for comedians.
Trump was like a volcano of negative energy, and, like a volcano, he has marked his passing with a dense plume. That presents as the large and growing pack of idiots that has infected the government in all branches and at every level. Many are actual textbook idiots who have mastered only the shouted, rambling speeches that make no sense and add up to nothing. Others are intelligent, well educated people for whom only money, power, and self-interest matter. The whole crew are as devious as they are ambitious.
The great lesson of Donald John Trump has been that none of our laws, norms, or traditions can stand in the way of a politician who ignores them in favor of shouting lies into microphones. Many dangerous people now have their eyes on the prize that Trump proved can be had by any bully who pushes hard enough. There are four or five men now, and a couple of women as well, who are positioning themselves to seize power beyond merely the presidency. Becoming the Pope/ Emperor of a newly christened theocracy appeals to a few of them. Others would settle for a title like, “The Leader.”
Write about politics? Politics is dead, and roasting in hell as we speak. It's not politics anymore. It's a circus run by the sideshow freaks and the clowns.
The worst part is that these dangerous lunatics seem to be beyond the law. There have been so many laws broken in plain sight, but ignored; so many indictments that go nowhere; two obviously meritorious impeachments voted down by party hacks in the then Republican Senate; so many convictions that stall on “released pending appeal.” Does anyone believe that any of the victims of our mania for mass-incarceration think that any of that “beyond the law” stuff is funny? I'll help you: they do not.
Did George Santos get sworn in yet? It appears that he has. Is he getting in trouble yet? He's already got the resume item, so maybe he doesn't care. He'll be a reliable vote, so they'll probably keep him. After all, the Republicans run the joint now. The laws, the rules, the norms, and the traditions, these things mean nothing to them. Have they abolished the Ethics Committee yet? If not yet, soon.
There is currently no calculus available that can reach all eight corners of our reality cube. Which is unfortunate, because the world's corruption has extended itself into all eight corners of that space. And it's killing us.
Comedians are having a field day. The jokes write themselves. I guess that it only makes sense to laugh about the doom, because no one in authority seems to care. Under the circumstances, the doom is all we've got to look forward to.
Many of you do, anyway! Not me. But my granddaughters will be among those unfortunate generations sacrificed to the doom. When 2050 rolls around, they'll be in their thirties. I don't like to think about it.
Let the record show, by the way, that when all of the birds have come home to roost, and all that's left is a full-house of catastrophes, you will not be able to blame it on the Baby-Boomers. Although I'm sure that you will. Maybe we are responsible, who knows?
We all had a meeting, you know, when we were six years old. We were already running the world. All of us white six year olds had a meeting. We decided to stick with the old standbys. The things that worked! Fossil fuels; war; asbestos; racism; big lawns; lots of beef. Plus a lot more of that new stuff, plastic. We probably looked silly, smoking big cigars and drinking scotch, bunch of six year olds, but remember, we were not ordinary six year olds. We were Baby-Boomers, damn it! You think it was easy planning the total destruction of the world? That was some meeting. There were strippers and hookers there, but none of us knew why.
Friday, January 13, 2023
Friday, January 6, 2023
It was only a month after my seventeenth birthday when I arrived at what is called “college” in America. I had been raised in one of the remotest towns right in the heart of New York City, completely unlike most of the more populated areas that close to the action. It was like a border town, even though it was far from any border. It was home to about thirty thousand people, but it was surrounded on three sides by water (the East River, which is an estuary), with the other side mostly blocked by a huge swamp.
My experience of grammar school was bucolic, if nightmarish. My high school was mostly annoying, also way out in the boroughs, and I spent four years there ignoring them, copying all of the homework moments before it was due to be handed in, and passing the tests by “this much.” (Holds two fingers very close together.) I had given up on school around the seventh grade and taken charge of my own education. I had no business going to college at the time, and I proved that to anyone's satisfaction over the following two years, in which I scored a 1.7 GPA.
I had not, however, wasted my high school years. I became a pretty good chess player. In the beginning, I was still reading my way through all of the Fu Manchu books, and Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Poe. At some point I discovered Evergreen magazine. I will be the first to admit that its initial attraction was two fantastic, sexy comic-art stories: Barbarella and Phoebe Zeitgeist. I got around to reading the other content, which was avant garde stories and poetry, along with some criticism along those lines. I joined the Grove Press Book Club, and it was off to the races. I Am Curious, Yellow. That one was a novel before it was a movie. I read several of William S. Burroughs' books, and those, particularly Naked Lunch, were a real “you can write like that?” moment. I also picked things up almost accidentally. I loved the movie version of The Loved One so much that I bought the book, where I learned to love Evelyn Waugh in general.
Manhattan was all new to me, so I always signed up for classes early in the day. That left a lot of time to just wander around. Manhattan was an endlessly fascinating place. Every corner that you turned into contained some wonderful new surprise. Most of the old architecture is probably gone now; it was mostly gone by the time I left New York in the 1970s. There were still buildings in the old days whose fronts were entirely covered by those old tin squares that had designs stamped into them. That was the old middle class New York, full of regular people doing regular jobs in regular buildings, walk-ups, not too tall, approaching decrepitude. Rents were affordable. Not like now, when everyone in Manhattan is either a billionaire or homeless.
I was sitting in the hall one morning, waiting for my eight o'clock class, ignoring everyone and reading A Handful Of Dust, when I was approached by a nice looking, elegantly dressed black fellow about my age (turned out to be one year older). He smiled, introduced himself, and sat down next to me. “Hello. My name is David! We are going to be friends,” he announced. “I approve of anyone who appreciates Evelyn Waugh.”
He was my best friend for the next thirty years. We had a lot in common, including the habit of talking over whomever we happened to be speaking to at the time. Most of our conversations were conducted with both of us speaking continuously, without seeming to stop to take breaths. David asked me what else I was reading, and he was pleased with the list that I provided. I think that I had also just discovered Kerouac. He immediately recommended, commanded me to read, actually, A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, which had been published the year before and would not become a movie for many years. He seemed very professorial.
The subject of movies, oh, excuse me, the cinema, came up very quickly. That was, and continues to be, his primary passion. He had always been a solitary child, and he had fallen in love with the movies very young. Very, very young. David had been a precocious child, and I'd say that he was as close to being a genius as anyone that I've known. He is certainly the most intelligent person that I've ever known. He not only habitually watched the end credits, but could remember a lot of what they contained. Like who had done what on every movie that he had seen. He is also the only person that I've ever met who sees the tiny triangles in the upper right corner of the movie when they change the reels. Each reel, in the duplicated section, has that triangle, and the projectionists use them to line up the two reels. They must put both triangles directly over each other. David saw that naturally, and was always a bit surprised that no one else knew they were there. They caught his eye every time.
My own experience of the movies was limited. I went to the movies often, but my main interest was in the solitude. The theater was a place where you could sit in the dark for a few hours and no one would bother you. If a high quality movie was featured on PBS, I would try to catch it. I had seen Wild Strawberries, by Ingmar Bergman, and I was favorably impressed. I had also seen a Fellini movie, but I don't even remember which one. Probably La Dolce Vita. David had seen them all, and read books about them in English and French, and subscribed to Cahier du Cinema, and he thought that he was exactly the person to provide me with a decent education in “the cinema.”
The 1960s were the Golden Age of cheap, high quality re-run houses in New York. There was the New Yorker Cinema; the Bleeker Street Cinema; another one that I forget. The Museum of Modern Art was a great place for movies. You could buy a student yearly pass for about eight dollars. That would get you into the museum free for the year. You could just show them your card and ask for a ticket for the seven o'clock movie. They showed two films every evening. There was at least one YMCA that also showed old films, for one dollar I believe.
Over the next few years I became well versed in the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, the modern films from those places, the films of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Fassbinder, the pre-war German Expressionism. All of Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni. After each movie, David would provide me with a comprehensive lecture on the subway ride home. (He didn't live too far from me. We both took the same subway to the same terminus.)
I discovered Japanese cinema on my own. David, for some reason, ignored that corner of the film universe. Too heterosexual, perhaps, or somehow unknowable, like the Renaissance paintings of Jerome Bosch. I tripped over a tiny movie house on one of my marathon walks and it was all Japanese, all the time, two new movies every Thursday, plus a couple of shorts. I just let those films wash over me, stunned by the color, and the scene blocking. The editing of Japanese movies is very different from American or European movies. That theater showed a bit of everything. It was definitely not all high-brow “cinema.” Some weeks it was one cheap Yakuza vs. detectives thriller plus one torture-porn sword movie with very little of the class to be found in the best movies of that genre. I didn't care. I loved it all.
And I loved my professor. David was a shining light in my life. I moved with my little family to LA, and a year later David and his partner followed us. We talked frequently on the phone, still both talking non-stop. That was really the only way to talk to either of us for most of our lives. We continued to see films in LA, which had the Nuart and the Fox Venice theaters showing re-runs. The Nuart may still be open. LA was Japanese movie heaven for me, do to the large Japanese population and the general interest in the better Japanese films.
Something happened twenty-five years ago, and David and his partner broke it off with me. They said that I had changed, and they were probably right. I had become a lawyer after fifteen years in California, and it was not a good fit for me. Too stressful.
My life has never been a stranger to abandonment, in fact abandonment is the repeating leitmotif in my life. I take it in stride now, simply smiling and saying, “thanks for everything.” Losing David was hard, though. For twenty years in LA, he and his partner, and a few of his friends, were fixtures at all of my family's holiday parties. We were all friends. We had a lot of holiday parties, too. Sit down dinners for more than ten people, big barbecues. I miss the whole crowd.
There are many things that I miss, but I don't dream about them. I do still dream about David. He shows up frequently in my dreams, and we are happy, loving friends again, briefly, before I wake up.