Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I Guess I'm A Little Stressed

I feel very tired all day long. There's an intermittant pain in my lower right back. It's new to me, it's been coming and going for several days now. I don't know how much of that might be due to psychological stress. I try to come up with ideas for blog posts, but, to be perfectly honest, most of what's going through my head is kitty talk:

"You are a very nice little kitty. I will get you, you little kitty. And when I get you -- I will rub you! Kitties are very nice. That is just my opinion. I love you, you little kitty!"

And so forth, on and on and on. And I don't even have a cat. I'm just talking to myself that way. Does that make me crazier or less crazy than a crazy cat man?

And what about reading 15th-century theological works like De gracia et peccato, by Stanislaus de Zynoma? The small hardcover volume in the series fontes latini bohemorum, published by OIKOYMENH in Prague, feels very well-made, very solid. I know I keep saying how much I dislike theology, but this volume is really very well-made. I like well-made books. Okay, so made I've actually spent more time rocking back and forth with the book in my hands talking to imaginary cats than I have reading it. That's not really so bad, is it? It's not a crime. I've been reading it somewhat. And thinking about what else I might need to read in order to really wrap my head around what Hussitism was and is. Hus was put to death for heresy in 1415, more than a century before Luther put the 95 theses up for discussion. By that time, as many as 90% of all Czechs may have been Hussites. Apparently John Wycliffe (dies 1384) was a huge influence on the Hussites. I don't know. Apart from the theology, the history interests me. I would like to figure out how much of the historical influence of Wycliffe and Hus and Luther and Calvin actually had to do with their theology. It seems to me that a lot of their historical impact has to do with people completely misunderstanding them, people who knew nothing about their theology. But I don't really know.

Been looking at pictures by Fra Filippo Lippi, also 15th-century. He was left at a monastery when he was eight years old, they taught him how to paint. ("Fra" means "Brother.") Apparently his life was somewhat uproarious, although I can't really tell how much was real uproar, and how much is just the romantic legend of a rogue who never was, who went around stealing great sums of money and spending them and seducing many women in between making beautiful paintings. (The paintings really are beautiful, that much is definitely true.)

Wish I had something brilliant to tell you. I like kitties very much.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


"Yes, Sir. Russia. They're all coming from Russia. Well, not all of them -- "

"Yes, I know -- "

" -- but an awful lot of them."

"Why are they coming here?"

"I have no idea."

"How did they hear about this place?"

"I don't know."

"Which posts are they reading?"

"I can't tell. Actually, I can't tell if they're actually reading anything. I can't tell whether or not they're human beings."

"It'd be nice if they were human beings."

"Yes, Sir. I agree."

"That would be awesome... Have they left any messages?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"There have been some anonymous messages. Some of them could've been from Russians."

"It'd be great if there were really human beings, and if some of them would say hello."

"I agree completely, Sir."

"Maybe then we could even figure out why so many of them are here."

"Solving mysterious can be very satisfying, Sir."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Blue and Lonesome by the Rolling Stones: Meh.

You heard me: meh. M - E- H. Meh.

I've just listened to The Rolling Stones' new album, Blue and Lonesome, on Spotify, and I'm disappointed. (I have no idea how long the album will be available for a free listen on Spotify. If you follow the link and the album isn't there, I apologize.)

It's a pretty good record. But the Rolling Stones have made a lot of recording which are miles and miles better than pretty good.

Blue and Lonesome is all cover versions of old blues records like Howlin' Wolf's "Commit a Crime," Little Johnny Taylor's "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing," with Eric Clapton sitting on on slide guitar, and the title track, originally recorded by Memphis Slim. These were the records the Rolling Stones and Clapton listened to when they were kids, the music that made them want to be musicians. And Blue and Lonesome sounds very much like those records from over a half-century ago.

And that's exactly the problem. Those old blues records were great because Howlin' Wolf and Memphis Slim & Co weren't copying anybody. On the contrary, they were making music unlike anything anybody had ever heard. That's what makes great popular music and jazz electrifying: you never heard anything like it. Bob Dylan expresses the critical principle very well when he sings, "I try my best to be just like I am." If you're not trying to do that, you're leaving out the most important part of the music. That doesn't mean you can't do cover versions. Not at all. It means that if you want your cover version to be better than just something by a cover band, you've got to completely forget about doing a cover band's job, which is to sound like the original record. You've got to completely give up sounding like anybody on Earth except your own sweet unique self. That kid Dylan is smart, he just got a Nobel Prize, people should listen to what he says. The Stones and Clapton owe a great debt to the makers of old blues records like the ones they cover on Blue and Lonesome, and Clapton has been especially good at making people understand that debt. He's a good man, and that's a good thing he's done. Still, when Clapton and Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker covered Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" on Cream's album Goodbye, released in 1969, it sounded unlike anything anyone had ever heard. And that's what makes Cream's version of "Crossroads" 1) a great recording, and 2) completely unlike anything on Blue and Lonesome: they were playing Johnson's song, but they sounded exactly like Cream. They succeeded in being just like they were.

On their album Let it Bleed, also 1969, the Stones covered another song by Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain." And they made the same mistake they make on the entire Blue and Lonesome album: they tried way too damn hard to sound like Robert Johnson, instead of sounding like the Rolling Stones. On the rest of Let it Bleed, they sound exactly like the Rolling Stones, and they sound really great.

Another example: in 1967 Smoky Robinson & the Miracles released "Tears of a Clown," and it's a tremendous record, unlike anything anyone had ever heard. And in 1979, The English Beat released their cover version of "Tears of a Clown," and it's a tremendous record, completely unlike anything anyone had ever heard. 1 song, 2 unique records. The two recording sound utterly unlike each other, but they're two of my very favorite recordings.

Blue and Lonesome is not bad. But it's an album made by a cover band, by skilled musicians doing an excellent job at the utterly pointless task of copying records somebody else already made. It's like putting ona raincoat before you take a shower. It's like listening to the original cast recording of Jersey Boys instead of listening to a record by Frankie Valli. And the Rolling Stones can do so much better than that. If you want that thrill that Keith and Mick and Eric got when they were kids listening to blues records -- those recordings are still around. And they kick Blue and Lonesome's ass.

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Since A Long While [...]"

No. Not "Since a long while" -- "FOR a long while."

But I suppose it doesn't matter. That is to say, it matters to me. "Since a long while" bothers me -- but it shouldn't, according to whose principles? Mine. I'm the one who's always opposing those who insist upon one standard English spelling which, they claim, is "correct."

I'm the wun hoo spelz thingz "rong" on purpose just to annoy those people who insist on "correct" spelling. I'm the one who's constantly insisting that they're missing the whole point of language, which is to communicate, and that we all know exactly what was meant however it was spelled. Do we all know exactly what the non-native speaker of English meant when he said, "Since a long while"? Yes.

It has never bothered me that, when Latin became an international language, a second language spoken by people with many different first languages, it changed quite a lot, so that the international version often sounded quite strange to someone born and raised in Rome whose native language was Latin, or to someone today who insists that the Latin written by Caesar and Cicero and Vergil and Livy is "correct" Latin, the only "correct" Latin. Medieval, international Latin bothers some of those people quite a lot.

I suppose it must be very much the same sort of deal when adherents of Classic Attic Greek become appalled by the international Koine version. Or when Castilian purists from Spain insist that Latin American Spanish is wrong.

And exactly the same thing is happening to English today: more and more people are speaking it and writing it as a second language and forming an international version of English which may often sound somewhat strange to a native English speaker.

It's not all that different from the way that we Americans and the British and the Australians have all sounded odd to each other for centuries now. Not to mention various Canadians, Scots, Irish, Welsh and New Zealanders.

I've always laughed at those British folks who took their own arbitrary habits so seriously that they actually became angry at how Americans speak English. And here I've caught myself do the same thing I've laughed at. It IS "since a long while" now in addition to "for a long while," you know why? Because language is much too big and powerful and moves and changes much too fast to have any reason to stop and ask for my opinion about how it's doing.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How To Keep New Atheists From Annoying You

A few years ago I wrote on this blog that I had become so annoyed by New Atheists that I was considering converting to a religion, converting insincerely, just to spite them. And I meant it, I was considering it. But some time after that I found a very effective way to deal with the annoyance New Atheists caused me: I stopped hanging out with them. It is much easier than I had imagined to almost completely avoid them. Nowadays, every now and then a New Atheist will cross my path, but I don't engage with him -- almost always a him -- and pretty soon he's gone again.

Turns out they're not everywhere. Not even close. What a relief!

I have a lot less admiration for Bill Maher and Ricky Gervaise and Stephen Fry than I used to, because of their New Atheist tendencies. The last time I saw Fry on screen was in an Internet video of him debating with some churchman or theologian, who asked him to imagine that Heaven was real and that he had died and found himself at the Pearly Gates: what was the first thing he'd do? Fry immediately said that he'd ask God why He allowed suffering, launching into a very bitter and detailed description of some of the more horrible examples of suffering. And I thought to myself: Really! You find out, against your belief of what is possible, that Paradise is real and exists forever and ever, and the first thing you will do is complain. At that instant, I was completely done. The last ember of my patience for this kind of thing was ground out. I saw no reason at all to prefer Fry over the British churchman or theologian glowering angrily at him as he went on angrily about suffering and Why didn't God stop it. I just saw two angry, unreasonable old men, bitterly arguing about non-existent things, wasting their time and the viewer's time. It was as if I come all the way down to the bottom of the slide which started at the top when I first heard there was this group called New Atheists, and was so excited, assuming that they were like me.

I have better things to do.

At least Fry and Gervaise still act, and Bill still often talks about things other than religion on his show.

And I still know of no atheist movement to which I can belong. But maybe that's not so bad. I'm not so annoyed at religion any more. I'm still an atheist, but now I have had extensive, exhaustive, thorough proof that atheism does not prove, at all, that a person is Bright. If you believe in God, that means that you and I disagree about one thing. We might agree about thousands of other things. Experiencing New Atheists up close day-in and day-out for years has left me much less bothered by religion, and much less inclined to make moderate believers responsible for the atrocities of the extremists. The moderates and I are both against the atrocities. I don't have to be a dick about less substantial things. Any more.

Before I met the New Atheists, I thought that there was a lot to say about against, religion. I'm not completely sure about that anymore. Seems like they say five minutes' worth of stuff over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

There might be much more to say against religion. It's just that none of the New Atheists seems at all likely ever to stumble over any of it.

There is definitely quite a lot to say about religion, simply because it encompasses great portions of the lives of billions of people over thousands of years all over the world. I can have all sorts of rewarding discussions with people about religion. I can discuss religion for a long time with someone without having a clue whether they believe in anything supernatural or not. But if it's been a long and rewarding discussion, I know that the person I've been talking to is neither a fanatical fundamentalist nor a New Atheist.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Reckoning by David Halberstam.

#1 Choice of Fortune 500 CEO's -- Wall Street Journal Survey

That's one of the things written on the front cover of this Avon paperback copy of The Reckoning by David Halberstam, copyright 1986, first Avon printing, September 1987.

On the first page of the book there's a reference to "eggheads who subscribe to Consumer Reports" on the second page, to the "rare combination of practical experience and theoretical expertise." I can find no indication that either of these things was written with an ironic wink or chuckle. Indeed, it seems to me that Halberstam's familiarity with irony extended possibly as far as his having been able to spell it.

The Reckoning is a book about the Ford Motor company and the Nissan corporation. Looking for "climate change" in its index. It's not there. Well, it was published in 1986, "global warming" may have have been a catch-phrase for longer -- but it's not in the index. How about"pollution"? No. "air pollution"? No. "Water pollution"? No. "Environment" or "environmentalists"? Huh... No.

There's an entire chapter about Ralph Nader, but it's about how different he is than a Detroit auto executive, and crash safety. Nothing in there about pollution or the environment.

Wait a minute -- "emissions"! Surely "emissions" is in the index! But no.

Almost a full page of the index is devoted to Lee Iacocca. There are 5 references to OPEC, 1 to India and 0 to Islam, Buddhism or Christianity. 14 to Wall Street and 5 to The Wall Street Journal.

5 to the New Your Times, 3 to the New Yorker, 1 to Newsweek, 3 to Time. Okay, Halberstam's starting to make sense now. His book entitled The Powers That Be is about, not heads of states or CEO's of automotive or oil companies, but the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Time Inc and CBS.

When I say that Halberstam's starting to make sense now, I don't mean that he makes a lot of sense. I mean that I think that I've figured out something about him, which is: if it didn't appear on the front page of the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post or on the cover of Time or on the "CBS Evening News," then for Halberstam, and maybe also for a lot of Fortune 500 CEO's in the mid-1980's, it pretty much didn't exist.

Okay then.

This has also big a big help for me in understanding that other cultural monstrosity -- or should I say, that other monstrosity which so severely clogged the flow and breadth and depth of our culture -- John Kenneth Galbraith.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump Will Be Defeated, The Only Question Is How Soon

I've mentioned before that I'm not a pessimist because optimism feels better, and because (I believe) I have free choice, (Some believe that they have made airtight logical cases that there is no free choice. I think this is merely an example of how logic is not yet perfect.) and I choose not be more miserable than I have to be. But I also believe that optimism is more logical than pessimism.

Let's take the case of Donald Trump. Pessimists are saying that humanity is doomed, that we're done, because Trump is the President-elect. I think that's an irrational outlook. Trump and his cheap hucksterism, and the stupidity which supports him, will be overcome, and thoroughly rejected. The only question is, how quickly. There are many perfectly sound reasons to believe that politics is Trump's last refuge, his last place to try to hide, and that he has not much further to go before he's out of politics for good.

The only age demographic in which Trump has more support than Hillary is 65 and older. In the 18-29 age group, Hillary leads by 60% to 30%. Trump's support is literally dying out while the Left wing grows.

More and more people are learning that Trump is a liar and a sociopath. Next up: the millions of people who believed in one or the other of his campaign promises. Some of those promises, like forcing Mexico to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, are obviously impossible to keep. Many more of his promises directly contradict other promises. Trump will burn millions of his voters with broken campaign promises at the least. It's quite conceivable that almost all of them will feel betrayed on one issue or another which is very important to them.

Democrats gained seats in both the House and Senate. Republicans still hold majorities in both houses -- but does Trump? Republican weasels who denounced Trump during the election campaign and suddenly started to support him after he won have been getting a lot of press coverage. Getting less space in the headlines are some Republicans who opposed Trump before the election and still oppose him. Senators McCain and Graham sound like they will be consistent, and continue to oppose Trump's policies, putting human decency and common sense above party loyalty when the party has gone insane. Republican opposition could grow as Trump's popularity erodes. Not every one of Trump's appointments is a shoe-in.

And Trump's appointments are only an issue if he actually takes office. He hasn't taken office yet. The recount still seems like a long shot to actually overturn the election and give the Presidency to Hillary, but who knows. The hope that a majority in the Electoral College will not actually vote for Trump seems very far-fetched -- at this point. But who knows how much less popular Trump will become before the electors vote? Who knows how many more bad deeds, including criminal deeds, and how much more disgusting behavior of his will come to light? [SOMEBODY LEAK THE #$%#&*$#&%$#$ "APPRENTICE" VIDEOS!] How many more utterly buffoonish tweets will he produce, how many more idiotic public statements?

People are not basically suckers for the truth, as Mr X asserted in Oliver Stone's JFK -- but if it's presented to them thoroughly and persistently enough, eventually some of them notice it. Keep digging, keep posting, keep leaking. Don't just give up.