Mar 15

Fierce, Fierce Little Creatures

Ah look, what a pretty, compact, little brown and yellow butterfly–*snatched up!* I goggle at the adorable little songbird snatching the butterfly in midair, flying to alight on the branch of a shrub where it gobbles the Umber Skipper down. Oh you think songbirds are cute little budgies, adorable plump songbirds out of Snow White–but they’re FIERCE, I tell you! Fierce! On two occasions I watched as small songbirds behaved like tiny hawks–in one instance a towhee; the other, in a shopping mall, was a sparrow of some kind. They dived like a raptor, snatched the Umber Skipper butterfly, a white moth in the other case, right in midair, scarfed it down. Perhaps the little bird deposited its prey in its crop, to regurgitate for nestlings.

Admirable, really. I usually think of hawks, with their keen predatory eyes, spotting a prey, diving with (in my mind) dive-bomber sound effects: grabbing the squealing mouse up in its needle sharp claws, flying smugly away on its big majestic wings. But day by day these little songbirds cock their keen predatory eyes, spot a moth, or some diaphanous flying insect, and flutter down toward it; adjusting for the prey’s crooked flight path they *nab* it in mid air, in a *small beak*, the bird casually returning to its perch with its still-living meal; all accomplished in one fluttering flight. The little songbird must have capabilities of sight, of calculation, we don’t usually think about in such a creature…

Meanwhile, on our back porch, sit my wife’s hiking boots–rather too long. A spider has woven a web in one of them, covering the opening meant for her foot; a very prosperous spider, its web festooned with gutted, hollow corpses: crickets, flies, earwigs. The web is the sort with a tunnel in its midst and the tunnel dips very neatly, looking like water going down a drain, into the depth of the boot. I shine a light from my cell phone into the hole and see a cluster of bright eyes reflecting redly back at me from deep, deep inside where the spider hunkers.

It’s probably a non-toxic Agelenidae funnel-web spider, I assure my wife, so she can certainly put the boot on without fear, but she declines to. She claims she does not wish to uncharitably deprive it of its home.

Feb 15

KNOW the Difference between a HIPSTER and a HIP PERSON

Everyone is mocking hipsters, now, just as they once mocked mimes and lawyers. By now someone must have contrasted hipsters (as they are known in the 21st century, and as opposed to how they were known in Lord Buckley’s day, aka hipcats back then) with Truly Hip People, whom we can, if we want to get too cute by half, call Thips. Or–PGH. Pretty goddamn hip. That’d be me. Anyway…

Hipsters, I take it, are those people who used to be known by their soul patches and ironic retro clothing or ironic military jackets, now, perhaps in reaction, have switched to GIANT BEARDS and Superlatively Casual Clothing. Of course, superlatively casual is a contradiction in terms but they’re unaware of that. They’re into the new folk rock which is actually just “emo” played by guys wearing those pullover watch caps, bands who’ve added banjo and at least one woman playing fiddle, but who sing about pretty much the same old emotionally lame whiney bullcrap. Hipsters are also into very trendy music from ethnic cultures, almost entirely for political reasons (though they profess to like it), like when the Gypsy Kings and the Meters were cool, but now it’s whatever’s the new Gypsy Kings or the Meters. Or they pretend to like Tuvan throat singing.

Hipsters are super ironic most of the time but get downright maudlin about some political causes, whatever the latest one is. They trend to latch onto things and declaim in what they suppose to be political science terminology but most of them do not actually know what is meant by capitalism (the most misused word of this period of hipsterism) or socialism. There are hipster sub-currents including the one that seems to imagine that really excessive piercing and those giant pendulating lobe plugs will have no longterm negative effects on them; they get pseudo Maori tattoos or just generally overdo tattoos and don’t seem to realize that tattoos should be about what really matters to them not what they’re excited about that afternoon…Hipsters it is who have rebirthed the board game culture (I don’t mean D&D, but cool funny games from their childhood, largely, or new ones), bringing board games into beer gardens and pubs and parties, because it’s uncool to stare into screens…and THIS I agree with them on. Given a choice between people staring into cell phones with glazed eyes, and board gamers, I’ll take the board gamers, though I have no wish to be forced to play Operation to the late hours.

Hipsters as I have known them from their soul patch days are guys who said glib shit about this or that public figure as if it was gospel. “Well you know The Sex Pistols were created like the Monkees” –which is ENTIRELY FALSE. They were NOT the punk rock Monkees. Hipsters think they know what punk rock was/is…and they don’t. They also disgorge generalizing baloney like, “The Stones stole everything from black bluesmen”. Which is ENTIRELY FALSE. (Hipsters of that sort use the term ‘steal’ or ‘stole’ in a facile, improper way.) They hang around in low-rent gallery openings and loft parties spouting this stuff. “Frank Zappa never paid his band.” ENTIRELY FALSE. “Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day is about heroin.” No it’s not. It just fucking isn’t, you idiot. “All surrealists were actually communists.” Not at all though it’s an understandable mistake, given a certain manifesto.

Now as to Thips or Pretty Damn Hip Guys like me, they KNOW that shit is false, because they ACTUALLY KNOW a lot about those people, they know fake folk usic from real folk music, they have a sense of authenticity, they do not try to evade authenticity by being ironic all the time. The Truly Hip actually know what the Surrealist artists (for one example) looked like, and which is which, and who painted what; they appreciate more ethnic music than is trendy at that moment; they do not dress to trend: if, out of disgust with pop culture, they dress very casually it’s because it’s second nature to them and it’s more like Fuck You than Let’s All Be Casual and Loose Bruh. . .If they wear black they are not being ironic about goth. They wear it because Johnny Cash was fucking right (and they know their Johnny Cash!) Their appreciation for rock music is very qualitative and goes back to its origins. They are not snobs however. And they *really* know what punk rock was and is.

The Truly Hip are usually people with extensive drug experience and they speak with expertise about street drugs and psychedelics, even though many gave them up years ago: they know that drugs are serious business, not toys for fools. As a corollary, the Truly Hip are not found at raves, nor Doing X, except experimentally, for about a minute, to see what the fuck that was about.

The truly hip are not childish enough to think believing in peace makes things peaceful. They do not imagine that attempts at making jewelry at home in ethnic patterns is art. The authentically hip can become artistically savage, when they’re really engaged creatively, walking the line between chaos and control. They are not about fronting. They have, in their time, actually confronted authority rather than just talking about it. They don’t mind some categorizing, as you can tell here, but they do not take categories too seriously; they are capable of thinking objectively, scientifically, and they almost invariably have a deep respect for science.

They *really* appreciate Bettie Page. They justly sneer at the mere hipster’s appreciation of Bettie Page.

The Truly Hip tend to speak of certainty only where there is certainty; they are more comfortable with nuances, complexity, depth. They also know something about history–with nuances, complexity, depth.

Know your hip person from your hipster!

(Then there are other categories, like the hippie intellectual, I have a lot of respect for–eg, Stewart Brand or Thomas Pynchon, but that’s another rant.)

Feb 15

Is Satire the Hope of Mankind?

Stanley Kubrick, commenting on Dr Strangelove: “A satirist is someone who has a very skeptical view of human nature, but who still has the optimism to make some sort of a joke out of it. However brutal that joke might be.”

— Somehow, it never occurred to me, before coming across that remark, that satire is implicitly optimistic. But it is. It includes, inherently, the suggestion that we can see ourselves through the lens of satire, we can recognize our foibles and absurdities, and, perhaps, thanks to this insightful mirroring, we might have some hope of liberation from them.

Another obvious example is the heavy-handed scene in The Magic Christian when a group of upscale people are swimming through sewage to get at money tossed in with floating feces…money they don’t need. The satire is grotesquely unsubtle but we recognize truth in it. There’s hope in the most brutal satire.

We don’t see ourselves as we are. That blind spot is paralyzing. Satire optimistically offers the mirror, the insight, of mockery…

Feb 15

Va-GIE-nah, oo-kay?

I was waiting in a pharmacy line, saw a thin blond young woman pharmacist talking to a Filipino gent by microphone–he was in his car, in the drive up. “*Who* are you picking up for, sir? Lugpa? Are…are you Lugpa? Your wife? Ohhhh..oh-KAY.” She had a heavy California accent so she said everything like a question. “Ooh-KAY I have to give you these instructions? She has to wash the outer lips of the va-GIE-nah..?.” She had to say this louder, to be heard… “Yes–va-GIE-nah? And she has to insert the applicator to at least thray inn-chez into her va-GIE-nah? Ooh-kay? And she should try to get ALL the gel INTO her va-GIE-nah, ooh-kay? She should wipe any medicine from the OUTSIDE of her va-GIE-nah, ooh-kay?” The Filipino gent at the wheel of his car ogled her attentively, nodded, said nothing, paid as quickly as he could and gunned out of there.

After I left I saw, outside, a young beanpole gangly pimply Asian American guy with his arms full of a just-bought huge white teddy bear and some flowers, clearly for Valentine’s day. He was calling out to a girl who was pulling out of a parking space in a large car, with her frowning in the passenger seat mom beside her. Young guy waved and yelled “I LOVE YOU!” … I went to a shop to get my wife a smoothie. It was a long wait. White teddy bear kid sat outside at a table, looking at his phone, licking his lips, hugging the teddy bear and flowers to him…Looking at his phone…gazing hopefully into the parking lot…He had some notion she was going to meet him there. I left with my purchases, found my car, saw him as I drove past. Looking at his phone, gazing hopefully into the parking lot…

Feb 15


We saw SELMA tonight. We both found the film very moving, and effective. I thought it was reasonable toward LBJ–maybe not entirely fair to him but this was about MLK, not LBJ. It dramatized some of the extremes, not all of them, of southern racism at the time; it dramatized the *struggle for voting rights*. Actual real voting rights. That’s what’s at the core of this and what could be more significant for a time when voting rights are being inched back, nudged back, finally to be rolled back–in Texas, in many places across the USA, Republicans aware that blacks and other minorities tend to support Democrats are putting up new roadblocks to voting.

In this movie we see people beaten to a pulp, even killed, over the right to vote. And yet glib armchair activists declare that it’s meaningless to vote, they “boycott” the vote, they’d rather stay home and share lulz with the other lulcatz, because they do not understand how powerful voting is. If voting is not powerful–why are the Republicans trying to stop it?



Jan 15

The Boy with The Dark Magician Inside

When I was about, what, 11, we were assigned to pick something from a short story to read out loud to class–any short story. I picked this Edgar Allan Poe prose poem, and I read it dramatically…and, being well familiar with the piece, I sank into the state of mind, the mood, the atmosphere it evokes, and lowered the pitch of my voice, deliberately made it resonate–I was always a showman–and read the story out. The class got very quiet. Girls near me got big eyed and their faces were marked with ill disguised revulsion. I was delighted with that, of course.

When I got to the final lines I read them louder, and more resonantly, even rolling Rs, very melodramatic. I felt as if I was channeling something powerful. To me, I had physically grown to about seven feet high, and was a dark man with large black eyes and the power over life and death.

I was, in my mind, for about two seconds, a true sorcerer, as I intoned: “…For the tones in the voice of the shadow were not the tones of any one being, but of a multitude of beings, and, varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable fell duskly upon our ears in the well-remembered and familiar accents of many thousand departed friends…. ”

Of course, a video of the event would have shown a weedy little kid reading aloud in his weedy little voice, maybe shifting his weight from foot to foot as he stood awkwardly at his desk–a somewhat ridiculous figure…But not to ME. In my mind I was that magician invoking the return of the dead–a necromancer at work.

And indeed, when I finished the kids were impressed–with what a weirdo I was–and the teacher seemed a little stunned. “Ah…great, very good job. Have a seat now.”

Here’s a link to Poe’s excellent prose poem: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/POE/shadow.html

Jan 15

Abortion? The Progressive in Me Squirms…and Kicks

Read All About It: John Shirley Treads on Line of Political Correctness And perhaps Blunders Across It…

I, the usually lock-step progressive, hereby risk offending my progressive peers: I assert that I do not necessarily support all abortions. I *strongly* support the right to *first* trimester abortions. But after that, it seems to me, a case by case examination of the issues may be necessary.

Yes, even my wife may be annoyed at me for this: I’m not comfortable with every last abortion which takes place after the first trimester. I am not certain some should be permitted. (This has been my view for at least 20 years.) The ideal abortion would happen when there is naught but a mere fertilized egg, a zygote. But even after that, a less than ideal abortion could reasonably take place, in my view, as it appears, from what I’ve read, that while there is some brain development in the first trimester there is as yet an incomplete nervous system, and pain transmission would seem non-existent or minimal.

However, if the brain and nervous system necessary for transmitting pain is significantly developed in the fetus, as in the second trimester, an abortion seems cruel to the fetal organism; the fetus at that point is capable of suffering during the abortion. Even then, if the child is badly deformed in a way that makes its life unfeasible, then that’s a reason, perhaps, to abort–if it’s late term it should be anesthetized first, within the womb, before abortion…After the first trimester, we can also ask, does the birth in some way risk the mother’s life? Then, if caesarian is not an option, let the fetus be aborted. Was the pregnancy the product of a rape? Then if she wishes, let it be aborted if she feels really strongly about it, though I’d prefer it were carried to term and adopted out.

In sum, I always felt medically safe abortions were quite acceptable in the first trimester, without interference from anyone; after that, in my view, it becomes a more complex issue–is the fetal brain developed, can the fetus suffer during the abortion? Neither a micro fetus nor a fertilized egg is a being equipped to suffer.

Putative souls are not part of my reasoning on this issue. If pressed, I assert that *if* souls exist and if the fetus or zygote *has* a soul, then, being a spiritual entity, said soul will go safely back whence it came and presumably God will reassign it. Souls, to me, are not the issue as souls are not proven to exist; brains, with their concomitant capability of extreme suffering, are known to exist–even if not everyone puts theirs to much use. One thing we can all do, once we’ve been born, is suffer…and we suffer quite enough.

Jan 15

Listening to World War 2 In a Very Large and Beautiful Room

While I have heard orchestras at ballets and at operas a number of times, with great pleasure, I had never been to the symphony per se till Friday. I saw that there was a double bill of Gershwin “opening” with a delightful concerto of 1930 era urban music, and SHOSTAKOVICH whom I’ve always been drawn to, as the “headline” composer, with his Symphony No. 8 Op. 65–so we had to go. This was the Oakland symphony (a town thirty percent African American but the only black person I could see on stage was the conductor– to be fair, trained and talented orchestral musicians aren’t a dime a dozen, they’re relatively hard to find) and they did a sublime job in a sublime venue: the Paramount Theater, a beautiful art deco theater from 1930.

The Gershwin piece we heard, “opening”, was his Concerto in F. Listening to it I felt wasn’t just a musical poet of the teeming, clamorous city, he was witty about it, somehow, even teasing at times: you can see the people strutting about in your mind’s eye; or standing late at night under a streetlamp, deciding if they want to go home; energized and melancholic and rueful by turns, perhaps even flirtatiously tipsy.

The conductor explained that the Gershwin was partly chosen to soften the blow, so to speak, of the Shostakovich number, the symphony being a bit grim for some people. It was composed in 1943 and is largely about battles (and civilian suffering) in WW2 as the Nazis attempt to overrun Russia and the Soviet people pay a terrible price to defeat them. The conductor said that it tacitly reflected the terrible choice–let the Nazis conquer them and be stuck with Hitler or defeat them and be stuck with Stalin! The politboro didn’t approve of the symphony because it was not “triumphal” enough–it is, purely in music, about the horror of war, about human struggle, and then about life going on, not about the Triumph of the USSR.

The setting, the orchestra, the music–it was splendor. Micky Shirley and i enjoyed it enormously. It was a reminder of the better part of civilization, the way the event was carried out, and I was chagrined to see that 75% of people in the audience (the concert was nearly sold out) were quite elderly. It made me wonder, “Dying art form?” But then did I go to the symphony when I was young? No. Sometimes the ballet, but never a symphony, though I did listen to Stravinski and some others… By the way the last concert of any kind I went to before the symphony was Le Butcherettes and the Melvins. Quite a contrast–and so it should be. Every art form has its own appropriate (or appropriately inappropriate) response.

The Shostakovich symphony (another orchestra) on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDuB8gRbDI0

Jan 15

The Internet Left…as opposed to The Actual Left

There’s such a thing as “the Internet Left”. This isn’t the real left’s use of the internet, which is a good thing–eg, Mother Jones online, The Nation online, MoveOn.org programs–no, it isn’t that.

The Internet Left (and yes there’s an Internet Right too, even larger), is all about making decisions about America via memes; it’s about getting stoned and watching youtube videos suggesting that “Fascism Has Already Come and You Are Its Slave, Fool!” It’s about assuming that you’re so important to the world that the NSA is breathlessly reading your email. It’s about 9/11 Truthers and loopy notions that the USA is about to invade China. It’s kneejerk reactions, judgements made without real research. It’s assuming that everything said about the Obama administration’s prosecution of people who were doing illegal things with state secrets is true; it’s assuming that because a few smug internet pundits say that the President is against a free and open internet that he really *is* against it (whereas he keeps saying over and over again he supports net neutrality, and free and open internet); that the President took us into “a war” when we had a minor supporting role in the overthrow of Khadaffi in Libya…

They twitch and decide that every last politician anywhere is a puppet of Wall Street; that voting is giving into the corporatocracy and not voting is somehow a meaningful protest. That there was a nationwide conspiracy to undermine Occupy Wall Street (it did a fine job of undermining itself). That terrorism isn’t real, that al Qaeda doesn’t exist because someone in a video somewhere quoted one line from one CIA report saying that there’s no one center to al Qaeda…

The Internet Left is about deciding, without really deciding, that if an idea is repeated enough online with clever pictorial imagery then it’s true. And this superficiality makes these people the tools of the right; it often puts them in flaky enough territory that they flake off into supporting Rand Paul and other libertarians, without acknowledging that libertarians are fine with deregulating industry and consequently destroying the environment.

The only solution is –read deeply, and make up your mind only when you get all the facts, not cherrypicked facts. And do not assume that one guy having a PhD means that when he says 9/11 was an inside demolition job, why, It Must Be True. Do not assume that terrorism is a boogeyman made up by the establishment to keep us in war–because if you’re wrong, we’re going to lose an entire city. And for God’s Sake, or Goddess’s Sake, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Sake, don’t decline to vote because someone told you it doesn’t make a difference.

For a good many people, the Internet Left is about laziness. It’s much easier to let your opinion be formed by snarky internet-comment sophistry than to do the footwork and get out there and vote. It’s easier to stay at home and yawn and and practice sneering.

Jan 15

His Final Reward

As his soul descended toward the shining plane where he was to receive his 72 virgins and the other rewards of heaven in service to Jihad, Amedy had to admit to himself that he’d had some doubts. But the imam had assured him that such doubts were normal and what mattered was his actions. He had killed for the holy cause and had been killed by the French special forces, and now he had no doubts at all–for here was the shining place, and beautiful young women, row upon row, coming toward him. They were appareled in gauze, and their lips were parted and desire shown in their eyes. “Thank God you are here!” one of them cried. “We have waited what seems an eternity to feed!” And so saying she opened her mouth wide, and her filed teeth gleamed in the growing firelight and she was the first to tear into his flesh; the pain and blood seemed quite organic and real and the others were soon upon him. It seemed to go on for an eternity…and the flames laughed at him…