Thursday, February 8

"this" isn't "funny"

Inspired by some reading in Theodor Adorno, I hereby forever renounce the use of quotation marks to convey irony. Adorno reminds us that the same effect can be produced by a subtle change of tone, nothing so brutal as the open tweaking of a questionable construct. A statement or an argument should be equally strong with or without resort to this practice, and irony employed purely as humor will be three times stronger without giving the "whole thing" the "lie."

Anybody who catches me doing this in a weak moment is hereby adjured to remind me of this oath, and to castigate me appropriately for making of myself a liar.

Summary: The only appropriate use of quotation marks is in giving an autonomous (capable of free-standing) quotation from another person. In this way, a thought is judged on its own merits and without the sneering judgment implicit in flinging a poor word choice back at somebody in quotes.

Why

are people afraid of Spanish? There is nothing intrinsically English-speaking about the American experiment, so what are we protecting? English has already been pierced in its side by the spear, it has cried out its lama, lama sabachthani, and I bet most of the sponsors of these laws and resolutions don't even speak it that well. So spare me arguments about cultural heritage or purity. Those dainties probably expired about the time widespread hyphenation came along.

No, it's just angst. Let's stop telling myriad lies about things that are actually just our own angst. Name it. Claim it. It's OK to feel insecure in the face of globalization. Everyone else does.

Wednesday, February 7

Remember:

Love conquers all. I really believe this, esp. the more I try to activate this principle in my own life.

I was calcifying into a bad, distorted shape--always reacting, often angrily, to events around me. Carrying untold unnecessary tension in my body. Identifying with and holding on to body fat. It's also true that I've been called "Negative Nancy" as recently as two days ago. But the general trend is in the direction of realizing all is connected, and that people and things yield much, much more easily when we recognize our identity with them. There's also a lot of quite interesting and pleasurable yielding that can be done by each of us. Relax, breathe. One heart, one soul in humanity and in the natural world.

Unicorns and waterfalls.

Monday, December 18

completely fucking outrageous

I would like very much for someone to explain to me how the United States military in Iraq is better than the fucking mafia.

1) Entered Iraq, probably in violation of international law.
2) Apparently disappear whomever they like off the streets, with or without anything approaching a reason, and do whatever their sadistic imaginations can conceive of with them. Eventually let some go, warning them not to talk.
3) Season with some indiscriminate killing.

I'll tell you one way the U.S. military in Iraq isn't like the mafia: the mafia would make damned sure to be cut in on the profits. You're not going to blithely rip off the mafia, or charge them for a bunch of shit you didn't deliver.

The U.S. military might be the most disciplined, professional fighting force ever to have existed. They probably literally saved the world last century. A lot of its people are truly the salt of the earth. What is going on in Iraq is a disgrace to that tradition. If the public has as much information as we do about nefarious, unamerican activities in Iraq, with all the powerful interests arrayed against our having that information (plus they, uh, theoretically control the territory where it's taking place), it is reasonable to assume that what we know is the tip of the iceberg. The picture emerging has gotten worse and worse literally from the day we took Baghdad. I don't see any reason to think that the picture we will have of this intervention in 2008, 2010 or 2020 isn't going to be much worse than what we know now. Because that's been the trajectory for three years now.

What are we fighting for? To say a "democratic Iraq" is self-evidently farcical. Using these methods to inculcate or model what a democracy is and does is the kind of grotesque double-think we expect of communists, frankly.

No need to revisit the sham we were force-fed in early 2003. But everything you hear from this government ought to pass through the filter of awareness of where we've been with them.

All that remains is to try to secure the country. In other words, create enough order for so that we don't retreat under fire. To reiterate: they will kill each other when we leave, whether in 2007, 2008, 2010 or whenever. In view of this, how many more Americans will die to forestall the inevitable? When will we next be believed (or even respected) when we preach western enlightenment values to the East and the South?

Sunday, November 26

Piano music is so serious.

Firstly, let me just say that it is a real pleasure to blog during the Worship Hour(s). A rare pleasure indeed.

Secondly (it has to be said), that when I stay in town for one of my four yearly Sundays off, it's always a bit anticlimactic. Now, I had a very very nice time at Joe's party last night, standing around laughing and drinking with Joe, Philip, Brandon and the oh-my-God-I-never-realized-you're-freakin-hilarious Brian. In the course of the night, the title of The Devil was granted to Philip, Philip was relieved, and it was bestowed on Brian. These guys make me look like a Sunday school picnic of quadriplegic sub-tards.

But when I go out of town, "Sunday" has a far-off, irrelevant quality, esp. if I am out of the country. It's sort of like when one of your teams is kicking the shit out of a hated rival--you can't enjoy it as much as you ought because it just seems so, I dunno--natural.

You'd think I'd manhandle the opportunity to at least vomit in public, close everything down, shout a lot, make out in public, grab packages, etc. And you'd be wrong. Extreme behavior always seems to take place when there is somewhere to be the next day. When I've got a gaping Sunday looming, I just . . . fold. Get so casual about it. Stand around, halfheartedly sucking at my cocktail, waiting for something to happen. I dunno.

At one point, the subject (more like butt) of our conversation became Luke. Luke plays piano and writes songs. Hmmm. I know someone who does that. He is also a female impersonator. He also has had a turbulent home life that we riffed on for a solid two or three minutes. Are you getting the picture of the kind of casual slack-jawed darkness that I was immersed in last night?

Anywho, I know who Luke is, have spoken to him a few times, but had never heard his music. So when Philip offered to jam it in the car on the way home, I jumped at the opportunity. It's good to know what other people with roughly your skill set are doing in your immediate geographical area. Yeah, and he might be brilliant, and that's definitely good info to have.

The adjective I used as we disembarked was "nice." And it was. Relatively skillfully done, though I think he would have been well-served by letting a different engineer/producer get his hands on the tracks. Piano had a slightly annoying mid-rangy boxed-in sound, drum tracks were pretty anemic. Maybe that was on purpose.

I guess my respect for Elton John and Ben Folds just grows. Piano music ends up being so goddamned serious and (kiss o'death) . . . adult. He was singing about real shit, grown-up (relatively, at least) people with real problems. It would command the same kind of respectful silence given to folkie guitarists in small hippy-dippy venues. Elton and Ben Folds manage to inject the slightest boogie tinge, with a generous helping of humor. I think this accounts for much of their success (though Elton has been in free-fall decline for like twenty years now, with his lugubrious love ballads).

As an aside: that's why I feel like I am in band-nirvana now. As a pianist/organist/keyboardist I have had two options in the past: be the (admittedly better and more proggy than average) serious piano artiste with rock band accompaniment, or be the sideman. And being the sideman is actually more fun. When you get to just sing, a whole lightness comes into the music; it's all stripped to essentials: in-the-pocket drums, guitar and bass. Infinitely better. It frees me to just envision an all-instrumental keyboard dork-out project. No need to try to shoehorn in the singing anymore, cuz I get my vocal rocks off over here. Some of you never knew I had this whole band-dork side, right? Deep in my soul, I'm the biggest dork you've ever seen. Deep in my soul I am wearing white Reeboks and black jeans and soloing soulfully on an OBX for all eternity. But ignore the little man behind the curtain.

Monday, November 20

I especially love

how in the 23rd century, a federation of planets borrows a mensural system from Earth to describe minute distances in deep space. The metric system, used by the vast majority of the Earth's population? Nah. English system. Miles.

Star Trek is amazing.

TVLand has a ST marathon going on this weekend. I haven't seen an original Star Trek episode in years and years. Let me just tell you that you don't fully appreciate these when you are a child or a teenager. You've got to watch this shit. Amazing.

Friday, November 17

crop circles/Wheatsheaf/new dark age?

Television. It's what I was doing last night, after a certain point.

I satisfied myself with my progress on work I have been doing, talked to Steven about his dad for a little bit, then started watching. Watched all kinds of shit.

1) Crop circles. I keep seeing programs about this, and they're not the same one. The rate of their (crop circles') occurence has been increasing. A group of people has admitted to making them, and have even demonstrated it on camera. As the narrator pointed out, though, some (not all) of the circles demonstrate in their structure an understanding of higher-order (better than Euclidean, bitch) geometries. In that case, these appear to be very, very sophisticated people perpetrating a hoax at considerable effort.

I went back on my word. I felt like looking at what the hive-mind over on Wikipedia said about this would be instructive. The Wikipedia article appeared to want to shut down debate: people have admitted making some of them, so let's just get on with life. Occam's Razor is employed to make the case that hoaxers (not all of them yet revealed, not by a long shot) are the simplest, and therefore most likely, explanation. I'm not so sure.

For one thing, hoaxers won't reveal which crop circles they made. As you can easily find out, some crop circles are pretty simple, some have a fractal organization. If there are "mistake" or botched crop circles, they are never shown. To me, human agency would raise a very, very good chance that there would be fucked-up ugly crop circles. After all, these are amateurs working illegally at night. The focus and self-control needed to avoid making the occasional lopsided crop circle would approach being a form of yoga. But where are they?

I do not mean to argue for one paranormal theory or another. Only to say that I find Wikipedia's fundamentalist certainty on this matter a little disconcerting. I would say this is the same fundamentalist materialism that people like R.A. Wilson talk about. Nothing is really proven; a number of factors make the simple materialist explanation a little hard to believe; there is recourse to authority, talk about "consensus."

Bottom line: thousands of crop circles appear every year, at an increasing rate. Dozens or hundreds within some small areas. I don't doubt for a minute that hoaxers are responsible for many, maybe all, of these. But let's face what we have to believe: hundreds of very sophisticated mathematicians all over the globe have a nighttime hobby wherein they perpetrate hoaxes which encourage softie spiritual types to bloviate about this or that, and that in doing so, they are never, ever, ever caught in the act, and they never make mistakes. (Pathetically, Wikipedia alludes to one instance in which some teenagers in Hungary were caught. Not confidence-in-your-explanation-inspiring. It's like listening to Sean Hannity talk about WMDs, frankly. One just shakes his head slowly, whistles low.)

Hey, let's get loaded one night and go make crop circles. Or maybe it'd be more fun to return to college, do postgraduate work in mathematics, taking gingko biloba and cultivating an intense yoga practice all the while, so that in five years or so we can start going out and making crop circles.

2) Wheatsheaf. For some unknown reason, I ponged back and forth between the crop circle show and a thing on the Discovery Channel about something called the Wheatsheaf horror. This was not the documentary effort you expect from Discovery, but a dramatization of a sequence of events taking place in a pub in northeastern England, upon the Tyne. It involved a medium communicating with an evil spirit, a possession, an exorcism, and the finding of hidden bones in a wall based on a prediction by the psychic.

The show ostentatiously set out to scare you, to give you nightmares. By the end, I wanted to throttle everyone involved. Yes, atrocious acting; yes, a total lack of interesting factual material or evidence of paranormal activity at the pub; yes, use of Exorcist-like special effects to make the whole thing more sca-weee.

At the end, I wondered if there was any factual basis for what I had seen. Did it come down to the testimony of these two or three (allegedly) real people who weren't actors? Is Discovery telling ghost stories? If so, I consider that a transgression of their brand. Maybe I'm naive. To me, Discovery ought to be a documentary channel. If a channel regularly features reputable-seeming documentaries on serious subjects, is it unreasonable for me as a viewer to accord a measure of credibility to the things I see on that channel? I mean, it's like knowing a sober no-nonsense person. If they tell you pink elephants are dancing around in their bedroom, you don't laugh right away, you scratch your chin, think, "Hmmmm."

At a minimum, Discovery is guilty of blurring a line. Someone a tetch less jaded, critical and unbelieving than myself (though I have my mystical side; it's what makes my eyes pretty) might watch that program and swallow it whole-hog. They might repeat the story later at a cocktail party. A tourist might try to find the Wheatsheaf one day. Bullshit is like nuclear waste--it doesn't really go away, but persists far past one lifetime. Why is Discovery peddling bullshit? If the story isn't bullshit, why'd they make it look like bullshit?

Why do people want a mix of hardheaded, basically materialist programming and ghost stories? Is it because they put equal credence in both?

3) New Dark Age? A friend of mine, medievalist by trade, once raised the interesting idea that there are similarities between the Dark Ages and the present moment. He can give this much better than I can, but one notable similarity is a low level of faith in rationality and materialism. In the Dark Ages, the truth was to be found in literature; science was a sideshow. Thus the truth was generally allegorical, shadowy, imprecise, and ultimately unknowable.

Yes, there are advantages to that way of looking at the world. But let's just say there are disadvantages, also. The verifiable certainties that lead to technological and social progress are of low status. People prefer "truthiness," a narrative that accords with their prejudices, their guts.

Yup, we see it in politics. We see it in the newfound popularity of astrology, the paranormal. (Say whatever you want about the stodgy whitebread 1950s, but one thing mainline Christianity did insure was that it wasn't respectable to have texts on astrology prominently displayed in your home. Maybe I'm off base, but I think that accounts for the cockeyed way people of my parents' and grandparents' generation look at you if you talk about such things.) OK, irony of ironies: yes, I dabble in astrology, but on the whole, I think it is a regrettable phenomenon, esp. as it crops up again in the twenty-first century. It says to me that the popular mind is now going, "Hey, maybe there somehow is something to this. I know there's no possible physical explanation, I know whatever synchronicities I may perceive can be quickly explained away by the vague and platitudinous language of astrology texts, but . . . (duhhhh, mooo, baaahh) . . . maybe there's something to it . . . ." (vacant stare)

Thus millions of texts are sold a year; the American mind isn't closing (as Allan Bloom would have it), it's becoming a crash pad for every neopagan drifter of an idea ever lighted on. To wax crotchety for just a second.

The political, social, spiritual implications of which are obvious, and which I won't belabor.

New Dark Age?

Wednesday, November 15

PTA

Last night, my partner and I made a presentation at a PTA meeting at Toomer Elementary School, in Kirkwood. We are considering offering piano and violin lessons there as part of their after-school program maybe one or two days a week.

This would be my first involvement with a public school in this kind of capacity. Much of my work has been in similar programs at private schools. Toomer would be the first public school.

I had not been to a public elementary school in many years. I was a little worried going in.

I can report that the Toomer facility is better maintained than most private schools in Atlanta. I was especially worried that the restrooms would be horrifying. Not so.

Anywho, the PTA meeting starts. The first order of business had to do with a proposed name-change for the school. The idea was that the "Toomer" (say it out loud) name was bad for marketing purposes. Well, Fred A. Toomer was a prominent black Atlanta businessman in the first half of the twentieth century who did not have children. He left most of his estate to the Atlanta Public Schools. So this elementary school was named for him in 1967.

Well, the renaming issue is apparently contentious. Toomer's enrollment is 98% black, and several people of color rose to speak passionately against the name change. Sadly, some framed it as a racial issue. The formidable lady principal rose and insisted that the issue couldn't be framed that way, but I think everyone in the room knew how it went down: new white folks in the neighborhood thought the name of the elementary school wasn't exactly doing anything for their property values, so why don't we see if we can't change it? Well, people who had been in the neighborhood for years took offense, and I can see why.

This was my closest brush with the actual ground-level politics of gentrification. It's an interesting subject to me, but here I was seeing it a closest range. Poignant. Very human. I couldn't help but feel for both sides. Ultimately, though, the people who wanted to erase Mr. Toomer's name from the school were putting the unfortunate homonym above the very real contributions of this long-deceased human being. Style over substance is what it comes down to in my mind. I thought the speakers' quick resort to racialization of the issue was very unfortunate, but I basically agreed with the thrust of what they were saying.

Then the formidable lady principal (who reminded me of my friend Minka--passionate, fully present, always fully invested, and who I couldn't help but immediately like for this reason) took the opportunity to admonish the speakers and their loud supporters (a number of community activists, and not necessarily PTA members, among them, apparently) that she needed their help in volunteer capacities at the school. She asked them if they could show similar passion for the benefit of the children in her care, contributing to shore up the underfunded (a budget of $165,000 for the school year, she said) school, volunteering in afterschool literacy programs, etc. This address pegged the poignant-meter. I now had a clear picture.

Later (after our presentation), there was an open house for their incipient pre-K program (they have to get sufficient enrollment to get funding). Those that came to this were 100% white, very young, with very young children. At this point, the principal touted her school's awards from the state for improvement, talked about how more children are reading above grade level than below it, about their pilot program for teaching Mandarin, and spoke of her goal of receiving national recognition (under NCLB, I imagine) within the next two years. She said to these affluent urban pioneers that she hoped this would not be their last visit to her school. This was a face of the Atlanta Public Schools fighting for the hearts and minds of new people in her community--that they would invest their energy and resources in helping her raise up this school in a neighborhood that had certainly seen better days, and to which better days were coming again, though not without growing pains. Their other option obviously being private school for their tykes. There was something almost pugilistic in her manner while she did this. She welcomed them, but frankly recognized the history and preconceptions they brought to the Atlanta Public Schools. She asked them to look past preconceptions and prejudices and see her and her school for what they are. I was moved, but then I don't have a kid I'm considering entrusting to the APS.

I was almost physically draining to be there, because the issues of wealth and poverty and race and parenthood and learning were so openly dealt with. I had no idea I was letting myself in for this when I went. To be very honest, I guessed ahead of time that gentrification in Kirkwood was further along, and that this school was probably not too different from Mary Lin in affluent Candler Park. (N.B. For those who haven't visited these precincts in some years, you would not recognize them, or just barely. New $$$.)

Anyway, we are offering a limited number of partial scholarships at this school based on need, though I didn't talk to anyone who would be in need. That is to say, those who might benefit most could not be troubled. We'll see how the program at the school pans out--the facilities are fine, I believe relations with staff will be fine, but at the end of the day, there may not be sufficient interest to make it worth our while. We will see.

new heaven and a new earth

just a flesh wound, I'll be alright

Backlash.

I should say first of all (though it really shouldn't need to be said), that I fully recognize and support the rights of these groups to espouse and publicly advocate for just about any position on gay people and gayness that they want. I would draw the line, as I believe the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court draws the line, at incitement to physical violence. (N.M. Speaking of which, I had a horrible nightmare about the gay-bashing torture and murder of a gay person in my presence the other night. I was silent and complicit. Horrible.)

I also think it is deeply illiberal in spirit and application to decry any anti-gay rhetoric as an incitement to violence. (I do believe in making violence against minorities a special class of crimes, for the reason that those crimes have a double function and purpose: both the terrorizing of the individual, and as an intimidating message for minorities in general. A simple way to think of this is to ask yourself whether the crimes against persons and property of brownshirts in the '30s were just crimes against individuals, or whether they had a broader political significance. The answer is obvious, and it is because of this dual significance and purpose [the chilling of political and social expression], that these crimes ought to be punished more severely than say, crimes of passion within the family. I don't think opponents of hate-crimes laws have a leg to stand on, and I welcome anyone who wants to debate the point.) But, reasonably, anti-gay rhetoric that stop short of incitement has to be allowed. Anything else would open a horrible Pandora's Box, where every manner of legitimate non-violent expression would be subject basically to referendum on its popularity. Totally illiberal, totally unamerican.

Phew. Now, notice the way Catholic bishops ask gay people not to make "general public announcements" about their orientation. Think about what a weak rhetorical stance this is. What do they believe about homosexuality? Is it a sickness, merely a vice, a biologically predetermined handicap? This is a question with not-insignificant theological implications. Rather than apparently taking the stronger, but more delusional, stance of evangelicals (i.e., "homosexuality" doesn't exist, just people who commit certain sins), they apparently recognize something called "orientation," and then just beg gay folks to hush up about it. This is the kind of slackening and weakening of rhetoric that precedes a fall. I am reminded of perestroika, frankly.

Of course, the rise of conservative evangelical religious fervor in this country is much-ballyhooed. But the North Carolina Baptists' insistence on rigid ideological purity on this one matter is more redolent of Stalinism than the Great Awakening, to tell the truth. Those with total faith in the efficacy of their arguments and, well, of their faith do not need to make a great show of banishing those who disagree. This paranoid style and permanently embattled mindset and posture make these ideologies self-limiting viruses, methinks. Certain types of persons find comfort in the fortress of authoritarian faith; others find themselves stifled. Let us just say that those in the "stifled" category are not potential Baptists at this point. While thirty years ago they may have been.

Like Eckhart Tolle and others, I see the intensification and rigidification of ideology as the last stages before collapse. As external conditions no longer accord with the tenets, there is necessarily a withdrawing, a closing of the gates, a firming-up of the battlements, as if for the final, fatal siege. But in this case, destruction comes not from the outside, but from the simple doubt in the hearts of the faithful, testified to in these defensive maneuvers. Thanks be to God.

"I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first earth and the first heaven were passed away." -Revelation 21:1