December, 2013

Dec 13

Creating John Shirley

For some sixty years I’ve been trying to create John Shirley.

My parents helped me–at least some of it was helpful–by giving me attributes, teaching, a reasonably stable environment to work in. A few teachers were patient enough to help me with it. But mostly I taught myself the art of creating John Shirley– till I was about thirtyfive and got help from people with knowledge on how such things are done. Looking back, I think of trying to build things, as a boy, out of wood or metal; off kilter birdhouses, a rather unbalanced and scarred wooden candleholder, a “pin box” of sheet metal with an ill fitting lid, made for my mom. I see myself, as I got to be an adult, as being off kilter, unbalanced, scarred by my own errors with the shaping tool…I didn’t have the skills or the focused attention I needed to create myself without creating a crooked, half-broken artifact. Gradually I’ve patched it, melted and remolded, soldered parts here and there, and the “John Shirley artifact” is at least fairly upright and recognizable. It’s got an image crafted into it that’s close to what I’d been working toward. It’s still prone to proneness; prone to tilting off kilter too easily.

But I think it’s improved, in the last couple decades. I suppose the signs of repair, the seams in it, might be viewed as character.

Dec 13

Lies can be Weapons of Mass Destruction

Some polls seem to indicate that, at the moment, voters are planning to “vote against anyone who supported Obama policies” in the midterms. If this is true, it’s the consequence of sheer propaganda. The real failure of Democrats isn’t a bumpy healthcare reform rollout. Their failure is to counter the staggering, steaming heap of lies told in political ads, in emails, on youtube, on CNN, at “astroturfed” websites, on right wing talk radio, on Fox news, about “Obamacare”; about the President’s policies; about Iran; about Benghazi. The notion that “liberals control the mainstream media” is hugely ironic and is itself a result of the right’s control of a great deal of media. Democrats and other progressives need to use donated money in a more pointed way. They need to buy ads to counter the lies; they need to work harder to get the truth out to the grassroots. Progressive organizations and the DNC need to spend less on “administrative costs” and more on media outreach.

Because the we’re losing the war of words–lies are the right-wing’s “WMDs”. We need to counter with truths.

Dec 13

Their Contempt for Us

“John, why do you watch so little television?” Because every time I get used to some SUCKY thing they do, they find another sucky thing to do. Especially on network and non-premium channels. The latest? They’ve started removing the moment or two of segue between the episode and the commercial, the logo, the “we’ll be right back after this message” moment. Watching Almost Human–it goes seamlessly from the show into a commercial. The commercials seem designed to be like drama…so you’ll continue to watch a little longer, without muting or fast forwarding…this seamless meld into commercials may be a tactic to get past the DVR effect of skipping commercials. It’s heavy handed, it’s manipulative, it’s a pain in the ass, it’s a kind of media bullying. What else do they do I hate? Those ads they put on the bottom of the screen, DURING the episodes, for other shows. Often with little moving animations. Because the American public is so BRAIN DAMAGED we don’t MIND having an ad shoved into the middle of the episode. We’re USED to looking at two or three things at once…because we’re vapid, drooling empty headed media robots. So they think. That kind of thing expresses their contempt for us. And then there’s the shortening of scripts to get more commercial time in, making the scripts less nuanced…And then there’s the OTHER things that… never mind…never mind…it…it doesn’t matter…I wonder if I have any beer left…what a sweet looking girl that is in the beer commercial…beer…

Dec 13

Ageism in All its Multifaceted Glory

Ageism in the arts. It comes in layers. Sometimes it’s hard to see because there are older artists on the scene–in writing, visual arts, scripting, music. But they’re always already-established artists. And it’s complex because some older people *are* rather dulled or “outdated”…

And the idea of being outdated can be outdated–90% of modern rock is highly derivative of 60s, 70s, early 80s sounds. Some writers did / do their best material after they turned 50, 60. Didn’t really hit big until then. Philip K Dick, Patrick O’Brian come to mind…but, say the marketing wizards, “those are exceptions”. . .The bottom line (so to speak) is that older writers who’re starting out at a high quality or are known and lauded but not an industry in themselves, are winnowed out. The WGA, in the scripting biz, successfully sued to prove it, but the suit hasn’t changed much.

Authors, songwriters, artists, are generally turned away, discounted, if they’re over 50, filtered out with one excuse or another…and if one is established but not a household name, it’s hard to fly under the ageism radar…

Dec 13

Those Who Poison the Fourth Way Well

I think it was Ouspensky who said that everyone will get their “fair share of slander” and Gurdjieff, he said, has certainly gotten his share. Some of it was Gurdjieff’s fault. He was no saint.

But a lot of what purports to be the Fourth Way, aka the Gurdjieff Work–nearly all of it, in fact–is just weird little offshoots, cults, scams. Robert Burton’s Fellowship of Friends is all three: an offshoot, a cult and a scam. People use poor old Gurdjieff’s name and slap it on their personal fantasies and cons. The John Bennett people (don’t blame Bennett) created a money making scheme with a blurred notion of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Ichazo made up a lot of nonsense. Helen Palmer fabricated her enneagram personality foolishness. William Patrick Patterson took a little knowledge and made it into a lot of cultish tomfoolery. “Osho”, aka Rajneesh, had a muddied idea of Gurdjieff’s teachings which he folded into his own cult. On and on it goes.

There’s a reasonably coherent Fourth Way school, in which the original current flows, the one Gurdjieff’s student Jeanne de Salzmann created at his behest: the Gurdjieff Foundation. Also called by other names in other countries. It’s all volunteer, no one makes money off it, no one gets paid. It’s neither big nor small. Few are admitted to it; no one’s life is interfered with; no one is kept from leaving, or even urged not to leave it. It’s an esoteric school. Really, its methods are more or less similar to Vipassana Buddhism, with an admixture of hermeticism. It’s not far from Zen, either, really. It’s not terribly easy to find that school. . .

Gurdjieff shouldn’t be taken too literally on everything he ever said. But I think he was right that we’re prone to be asleep when we suppose we’re awake; that we’re mechanical, reactive, lacking “real I”; that there is a way to freedom from those conditions. He had his methods–NOT taught by people like Robert Burton–and the best Zen people, for example, have theirs, which overlap with the Fourth Way…

Don’t blame poor old George Gurdjieff for all the people who use his name…

Dec 13

They Wrote Their Final Words; They Rocked Away…They’re Still With Me

Quite a number of men died this year who were important to me, to my aesthetic, in some way. JACK VANCE. One of the greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy. RICHARD MATHESON, another great, as a scriptwriter, novelist, inspirer of films, master of the short story. COLIN WILSON. Innovative writer of nonfiction and science fiction. Influenced my thinking about life and consciousness. ALLEN LANIER, the great keyboard player and co-songwriter of the Blue Oyster Cult.

And I was quite stunned by the death of LOU REED, one of the greatest and most influential, most original rock artists.

Rest in Peace–or Rock in Paradise.

Dec 13

…Just not an OBSCENE profit

The problem with talking about unequal distribution of wealth is the terminology we progressives use confuses the average person and certainly pushes buttons on conservatives–they inevitably misunderstand. Conservatives hear “distribution” and think “so they want to redistribute wealth”; they think it means nationalizing industry, creating a dictatorship of the proletariat, forcibly redistributing wealth. But what people like Bernie Sanders and the President are saying is that we need a fair, level playing field, which includes fair remuneration for labor in all industries. (The wealthy, also, shouldn’t have unequal influence on government.) There’s a simple concept that is not being conveyed: the idea of *reasonable profit*. Obscene profits are just not ethical.

We don’t have to assume that the only way to adjust to doubling wages at fast food restaurants is by laying people off and radically raising prices. There’s another way: the owners take…*a reasonable profit*. It’s a good profit–it’s just not an obscene profit. They simply make a little less money. That doesn’t keep them from being rich. And it’s better for the society–for the economy in the larger sense. It’s the kind of “redistribution” that comes from a fair wage–and a *fair* profit.

Dec 13

When the male is female, the female male–or both, if you prefer

The young person at the heart of this –see, the linked article at the San Francisco Chronicle — represents a fascinating social phenomenon. An agender person– Eighteen-year-old Sasha Fleischman was named Luke at birth but now does not identify as male or female, goes by Sasha and prefers to be called “they” rather than “he” or “she.” Sorry, it’s too much a mental hassle for me to go to “they” (or ze as some people prefer, I’m not kidding). Sasha anyway was attacked on a bus for wearing a skirt, but generally looking male otherwise. Someone set him on fire. He’s recovering pretty well now (or ze is, if you like).

Being “agender” seems to be a philosophical choice for some, who think gender identity of any sort is societally unhelpful, or something, and others have a kind of psychological state where they just don’t identify with either. Bigender is another name for it. There’s also “non binomial”. I have no objection to the “agender lifestyle choice”. I saw someone like this in Berkeley and assumed they were making a “transcending gender” identity statement. It does seem to me to potentially sort of drain some of the fun out of life–for women who enjoy being feminine, for men who like to look at reasonably feminine women…For drag queens too. I’ve always adored a good drag queen. What’s a drag queen to do with all this going on? And are these people copping an attitude toward transsexuals? “You chose to be a female but you should’ve chosen no choice”?

Is it political correctness gone mad? Or is it a way to defuse the patriarchy or something? The latter–at best. At worst, it might be a kind of passive aggressive social engineering.

Then again I think of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas: Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom].”