Friday, February 24, 2017

The Self-Importance Furnace

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts, lately. Most of them are about music and music production.

If I were the scientific type, I would calculate seconds and figure out exactly how much time is wasted in "deference." But maybe you will take my word that it is "a whole lot."

At first, I was vaguely aware of it, but, now, it has become the proverbial sore thumb. I started listening to other podcasts, just to see if it was something particular to music people, but, alas, no. Let me explain before I get even more annoying:

Does anyone have the backbone just to actually assert his or her opinion about something? I swear that every single time a person on the podcasts I listen to explains how he or she prefers to do something, they make sure to mention -- as if it is a boilerplate requirment --  that it is "perfectly fine" to do it another way; that other ways work; that the person is not saying not to do it another way...

In the meantime, valuable seconds of a half-hour podcast are wasted. Again, maybe someday I will calculate.

At the same time that this shows a lack of backbone -- a kind of empty stab at sensitivity -- it also shows deep egotism. Do they think that because they like to write music on the computer and not at the piano or on the guitar, that I am going get all nervous and change my way of working? -- that I am going to be ashamed that I am not doing it the way do and change my work methods? Do they think I need to be coddled and comforted? Well, I do not...nor does anyone else.

To use the popular phrase, we need to "get over ourselves." How important we all think we are? But what did we expect to happen when we handed the general populace 24-hour cameras and social media accounts and the ability to share themselves with the world before they even brush their teeth in the morning? -- before we created photo-filters that make a family trip to the beach (which really entailed six back-seat fist-fights, numerous greenhead fly bites, endless child whinings, numerous parent meltdowns and wet sand in the balogna sandwich...) look like a gauzy, film-scored quest into Faerie? When we are able to represent ourselves as perfect in bytes of sound and image, we start to believe in our own sleight of hand; we actually start to think we are special.

We really are not. And we are allowed to have opinions because those opinions don't have the weight our egos assign them.

Once, after a Phillies game I went to with my uncle (when I was a kid), I said, "Man. Every time I go to a game the Phillies lose." He responded: "What makes you think you are that important?" A wonderful lesson.

Yeah, I know it is a modern cliche, but...we really need to get over ourselves.

So, please, podcast celebrities, stop wasting my time and stop feeding your self-importance furnace by reassuring me that I don't have to do what you say. That's a given, trust me.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Biting Your Children and Offering them Cigarettes Can Be a Good Idea

Dan: I can't kill him! [Lord Lambourne] brought me up! Just like a father.
Yellowbeard: Oh, you mean he's beat ya and kicked ya and smashed ya in the teeth?
Lord Lambourn: Yes...
Dan: No!
Lord Lambourn: No.
Dan: He's been kind and gentle.
Yellowbeard: What kind of a father is that? Kill him!
 -- Yellowbeard, 1983
Being an effective parent is a matter of perspective, really. I am reminded of the absurdly comical scene above by memories of my mother, who both bit me and offered me a cigarette before I was ten. It was, in both cases, "good parenting."

The first scenario was simple. I bit her. She bit me back. I never bit her again. Years later, my son slapped me. I slapped him back. He never did it again. Was it wrong for us to do these things to our kids? Isn't hitting wrong? (For the record, I never, not once, hit my kids as discipline, outside of that scenario.)

As did many people of her generation, my mom smoked. She knew it was not good for her, but at the time she started, as a teenager in the fifties, word was not that strong, regarding smoking. She started and she was addicted... When I was little, I asked her what it was like to smoke. She said, "Wanna find out?" and offered me her cigarette, instructing me to "breathe  in deeply."

I nearly coughed myself into a seizure. I never touched a cigarette again. (She quit, a few years later -- "cold turkey" [what the hell does that really mean, anyway?] -- when I came home from school after a lesson on the dangers of smoking and begged her to stop.)

In the age of judgmentalism and public shaming, we set inflexible rules. We watch each other. What if a neighbor walked past my house today and looked in the window and saw me offering a cigarette to my eight year old son? -- or if I were walking home after picking my eight-year-old son at school and I employed my mom's perfect technique? Someone would call the division of family services and I would be in danger of losing my kids.

Dangerous times... Big Brother is not watching... We all are watching each other, fingers hovering over various buttons...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Flies on the Steering Wheel

Like the fly on the wheel who says
"What a lot of dust we’re raising"
Are you under the illusion
That you’re part of this scheme?

- Neil Peart, "The Stars Look Down."

We have been duped by the doors that modern technology has opened into thinking we have way more power than we do. The new "opiate of the masses" is the impression that because we can, say, write a blog or post about social issues on social media, that we can "make a difference." We are all scuttling around -- all of us writers and socially conscious tweeters and Facebookers -- dumping our energy into the garbage bin. We click "post" and we feel as if we have contributed to the well-being of humankind, for the day. 

We have not. It is a drug. It lulls us into not acting in the way we should to help our fellow humans. It is a distraction; it is what we are doing while real opportunites for doing some thing meaningful are slipping away.

I recently wasted a large portion of intellectual and emotional energy on a Facebook discussion about a political issue. As I was wrapped up in it, I stopped and asked myself: Why am I doing this? Why am I investing time and emotional energy into this discussion? What's the payoff? The truth is, I was participating because I am Peart's fly arguing with some other flies. In point of fact, the only measurable results I have seen come out of conversations like this have been ruined relationships. I know tey say you shouldn't say this, but, "Never again."

Even this blog -- I love to write it. (I sounded like Donald Trump just there...ha!)  I have some excellent, consistent, intelligent followers. I have made some very cool "friends" through blogging; friends from many parts of the world. I appreciate that very much. But I have, long ago, dropped the illusion that what I say here has any impact beyond earning head-nods from those who would probably agree with me, anyway -- which is why they come back, really.

This is not to say that a conversation and a kicking around of the finer points of a topic are not useful. It is a worthwhile activity. But it is arrogant to think most of this is anything more than just a water-pistol squirt into the ocean. 

I recently saw a quote attributed to Mother Theresa:
"If you want to change the world, go home and love your family."
I have been saying things similar to this for around six years now, on this very site. We need to stop being sucked into meaningless "dialogue-ing" on social media and look to our neighborhoods, our children and our friends. That is where we can make a difference. We can make a difference by volunteering locally, by becoming teachers and couselors, but not by sharing memes and getting into scraps with people over Trump's administration.

We are, indeed (and I have been there, too), all that fly on Peart's steering wheel in the opening quotation. This sets the perfect stage; we think we are contributing to change, so that those who would take advantage of us can use the time to plot. At the risk of overdoing metaphors, the dogs have been thrown a steak (the Internet) and we canine fools hunch down and blissfully devour as life goes on outside.

Sure, I will keep writing what I think, but not because I believe I am in control of the wheel -- because I am the sort who has to express his ideas and because I hope to raise interesting questions that might -- just might -- contribute to something positive.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump's Mouth-Breathing Lumpen and Frederick Douglass

Just so that you are aware, there are people who actively discourage the pursuit of truth and clarity -- who openly argue that the truth should not be presented if that truth works contrary to what they believe is the appropriate cause. I am not talking about ruffians standing in back alleys, menacingly patting their open left palm with the barrel of a Louisville Slugger. I mean smart, well-meaning people.

A young man who I respect very much for his intelligence and for his kind heart told me I was wrong to have pointed out an illogical sign being carried by a woman in the Women's March. His reason was that the cause was just, so I shouldn't have done that. "There is a time and a place for this kind of criticism." My response was that the time and the place to pointing out bad argument is always.

The motive for his point of view is not evil. In a way, it is a soft version of the ends justifying the means philosophy.

Trump and Spicer, for instance, with the statements about Frederick Douglass... Confirmation bias makes it easy for a guy like me -- who really, really, dislikes and holds no respect for Trump -- to take these statements and add them up to the fact that both of these guys (Trump and Spicer) think Frederick Douglass is a living, working statesman or activist or something... I would love to have that ammunition against him... Really. But the truth is the most important thing. In a time of misleading information; with an Internet that is crawling with both intentional misdirections and lots of mistakes in reporting and analysis, we need to fight for clarity and truth.

The Atlantic (a pretty reputable rag) quotes Trump thusly:

“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.”

I have said it before: Trump's biggest problem is that he is moronic in his expression. He sounds even more idiotic than he really is. He buys himself thinking-time with canned phrases, like "done an amazing job" and "big impact." But there is nothing conclusive about his phraseology here. "who's done an amazing job" is weird, for sure. When talking about a historical figure, I would say, at the very least, "did an amazing job." But he's Donald Trump. He tries to riff with words when he doesn't have the ability. He's like a middle school sax player trying to sit in and improvise with Miles Davis's band. (Like Ferris Beueller: "Never had one lesson...") And the Atlantic rightly points out that Douglass's recognition actually is growing... Saying it is doesn't necessarily mean Trump thinks Dougass is out there kissing babies. (But, hang in there -- this is not an article written in vindication the Donster...)

Spicer, next. When asked about it, he said... 

"I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made," Spicer responded. "And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he's going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more."

Again, a bumbling, awkward, inarticulate response from our administration. The unbelievably awkward last sentence makes it sound like Douglass will do more...but I still think it is only idiocy in the speaker. The "he" in the previous sentence could easily be Trump. I think what Spicer would have said, if he had three or four brains cells exchanging any kind of electrical charge, would have been, "I think the contributions...will become more and more apparent" -- because of the statements Trump will make. 

Is this defense of the administration? Is this helping them out -- saving them from  the stigma of not knowing who Frederick Douglass was? (Note the past tense.) No. It's worse than that.

If I look as a job posting, it probably includes the stipulation that applicants have "good communication skills." So...shouldn't the presidency have the same, like, a baseline skill? 

We are being led by an administration who speak like sixth graders who get D's in Language Arts. They are the guys who get put into remedial English when they get to college. They have leaned to finagle and push and evade their way into success by either not talking and just acting or by fast-talking enough to make listeners thing, in common conversation, that they just missed the point... 

This crass lumpen of oafish mouth-breathing mumblers leads our country. That's the horror of it. Knowing or not knowing who Frederick Douglass is is the least of their (or our) problems. They cannot communicate their ideas with any semblance of clarity. 

This is what should keep you up at night: Donald Trump is going to hold phone conversations with world leaders who have their own armies. That's the horror of it.  

And this is why I pursue clarity and why I attack bad reasoning and communication. Thinking otherwise keeps us on the surface level and can keep us  from uncovering the deeper issues...