Mar 14

The Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey–and Our Cell Phones

Have you ever noticed that a cell phone is shaped like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey? As in the scene where the apish proto-people dance about it in fascination…Good technology can be and will be misused….What are we modeling for children when we’re too fixated on smartphones, tablets etc ? Recently I was in a convenience store–to my surprise it had a display of cell phones. A small child, perhaps 6, was looking at them, trying to pluck one down. The child spent some time at this–candy was nearby, and toys. But he was into that cell phone. His mom had to call him away from it several times. I often see adults ignoring their children in parks, in their yards, etc, when they think they’re engaging in “quality time” with the kid but the parent is thumbing the phone, thumbing, thumbing. And you can see the kid’s frustration. I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “That is unintentional, passive child abuse. Slow child abuse but genuine.” These are small children hungry for interaction. . .They will turn to the phone, the monolith, for their interaction, their comfort, their replacement “parenting”…

Tech is good–I’m using it to write. But we can be, as Paul Mavrides said, “tech drunk”.

Mar 14

The Skull Was Talking to the Pumpkin

I was listening to the skull talk to the pumpkin, over the last couple months–oh, I should explain that. You see on Halloween I bought one of those bumpy weird looking pumpkins, for display, the kind that looks like a skin disease under a magnifying glass, and like all pumpkins it lasts a remarkably long time without visibly rotting. I kept monitoring it and it didn’t seem to rot, and I was impressed. So the pumpkin became prideful, and I was nearby, heard it boasting of its longevity. Next to the pumpkin is a plaster skull we actually bought at Target, made in China, covered with decorative Chinese characters; it came that way and we have no idea what the Chinese writing says. I figure the writing says good luck or is a conciliation to ancestor spirits, but it could say, “Screw you, American, we hate this sweat shop.” The skull doesn’t know either, I asked it. But it has opinions about the pumpkin–says it’s vain and foolish. The pumpkin said “I shall last longer than you. You are plaster. The rain will wear you away.” The skull said, “No–when anyone sees me they think Death. I am Death! Death outlasts life every time. If I wear away or shatter, I’m even more proof of Death. I’m entropy personified then. So Death remains–I remain forever! But you are already rotting!” “I am not rotting!” But it was–today after all these months I checked it, its bottom was finally rotted, and I had to throw it away.

I was tempted to shatter the skull, to get rid of it and its sneering, but as the skull pointed out–that wouldn’t work.

Mar 14

I Was Looking at a Mud Bank

I was on a walk, looking at a mud bank. What could be more interesting? “Almost anything, John.” Yes. Nevertheless I was looking at the mud, the bits of gravel, the moisture, thinking that what if I looked on this and could see the natural laws governing it outright–that is, what if I could see gravitation itself, like gravitons; what if I could see neutrinos passing through it; what if I could see chemical bonds holding it together, actually see visually the action of those bonds, the entropy very very slowly breaking them down, the action of photons on the mineral molecules, the H20, water molecules and…yes, you’re right. “John–you are seeing those things. This is what it looks like. A mud bank. You’re seeing the effect of gravitation on this substance, of photons on it, of air molecules interacting with it–the sum of that interaction is this mud bank.” Well, yes, that’s one way of looking at it. And you’re right.

Mar 14

Sometimes Even a Good President Makes Mistakes

Barack Obama’s a good man and a good President, but like all Presidents he makes mistakes. Once you prioritize –and you must–you go on a *course*. And that course has momentum… Obama has been making choices. One of his choices (as recently discussed by an expert on Bill Maher’s show) was not fighting long and hard enough to make the FDA as effective as he *tried* to make it in his early administration–and as he pledged to make it. His regulation efforts to reform the meat industry etc just kept getting slammed by big money political advertising, lobbyists controlling congressmen and so on–Obama had to pick what he could get done. He felt he had to choose his battles. So he chose health care and got the best health care reform he could, and accomplished quite a bit more–like ending the Iraq war, ending USA’s involvement in torture and so on…He decided, it seems, that fracking, leading to more natural gas, also leads to cleaner air (natural gas burning so cleanly and all) and so he became convinced that it was the lesser of evils, something to be put up with in controlling carbon pollution and global warming. Anything to accelerate a greater shift to natural gas. And I think he trades things, as all polticians do, behind the scenes. You give me this, I’ll give you that. But I think those are two particular mistakes: the partial regulatory surrender, and fracking–I think he should oppose big food corp policies more actively, and he should oppose fracking. But I think we can see through the translucent curtain, and guess why he’s doing it and it’s not because he’s a sell-out. It’s because he can only do so much and had to choose his battles….

He also made economic recovery a priority, jobs, and that’s part of his decision making….

All in all, he’d have got more done if not for GOP obstructionism. But he says this is a year of action.

So what’ll he accomplish, this year, and next? He’s not done yet.

Mar 14

Who’s that Half Naked Man out Waving a Broom at the Rain?

The other night we were lying in bed, I was reading and my wife was asleep, and suddenly I heard a dramatic YOWWWWW WOWWWWWWW OWWWOWOWOWOOOOW from out front, long drawn out cat yowlings. The kind of thing they do when rival domestic cats face one another outside; they draw in their bodies, hunkering tautly near one another, and lay their ears back and make those long mournful warning sounds, embellished with hisses. One of our cats is very turfy thuggish about his territory. I knew that was him and that he was probably facing off with a notorious orange furred troublemaker. I wanted my wife to sleep peacefully because she’d not had enough sleep the night before and I knew there would be a full blown fight soon so I got up, only half awake really, to try to put a stop to it before the cats fought with squallings and screeches and the dogs heard and started barking at them. So I went out front, in the light rain, with a broom, and yelled, waving the broom, and the orange intruder went streaking away. But then I realized I was standing on the wet sidewalk in my underwear, barefoot, in the rain, with a broom in my hand, waving it at the sky and yelling, “Hey, hey!” I saw lights go on in the neighbor’s windows.

I slunk into the house, grateful no police car had been patrolling past…

Mar 14

Are We Just Pinballs?

If a bullet is fired from a gun, all the factors sending it in a particular direction and affecting its journey add up to its trajectory and eventual impact–is that impact the bullet’s destiny? (Or, if you like, “destiny”).

If I am playing pinball and I fire off a little silvery ball with my spring driven striker, given where it was with respect to the hammer that strikes it, and the plane it’s on, the obstacles placed in its way, is its eventual final impact its destiny? Was the bouncing trip there its destiny playing out? I’ve seen myself in a pinball, before, my face looking back like something from Escher, staring from its polished surface right before I send it banging through the glass box. Do I have a gun, or a spring loaded striker sending me to my destiny, birth to death? Could there be another factor affecting my trajectory, my eventual destiny, that isn’t found in a pinball? If I’m paying enough attention to add some english to the ball, using some indefinable x factor to shift it slightly this way or that, can I change my destiny?…

But I do not suppose I really know where the pinball would go. Good players can guess and do pretty well (that The Who song now dutifully plays in my mind) but they don’t know, we don’t know, for certain…And yet if you were able to add up all the factors like the impact strength and angle, the unseen as well as the seen, the little crease we can’t see in the pinball plane, the truck passing vibration going through it, etc etc, with precision, you would narrow it and come up with a high probability of its “fate”.

Destiny is of course, in real life,probability, not some predetermined path–but a likelihood.

So going with likelihood–can I then put “english”, some conscious spin on my own propelled life, and alter its *probability*?

Some lives seem so *probably* headed in a certain direction it adds up to something that is, for us, reasonably indistinguishable from inevitability; a predestined course…Some will cite quantum theory, and chaos–but it’s only splitting hairs to say it’s not predictable in every respect. Predictable for us, or now, our probable life outcome is generally predetermined…unless, perhaps, we become conscious enough to redirect it, at key moments.

Mar 14

Phantoms of the OSCARS

I only saw part of the Academy Awards and lost interest, but I liked Ellen Degeneres’s comic hosting, especially her line about Liza Minnelli who was in the audience. ‘”I have to say that is one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” she said, pointing out Minnelli sitting in the audience. “Good job, sir.”‘ Good drag queen joke. Not sure Liza got it, judging from her expression. But if you missed the show, it was a kind of combination of self-adulation, and self-loathing –the latter in the comedy, as if to make up for the narcissism. Here’s a translation of what most people besides Ellen Degeneres said, if they were introducing people or accepting: “I gratefully KISS YOUR ASS. I kiss YOUR ass, Warner Brothers, and I kiss YOUR ass, Paramount, and I kiss YOUR ass, producer, and I kiss YOUR ass, director, and I kiss YOUR ass everybody else.” So just imagine that over and over again and you have the show, except for that hideous backdrop during the “Happiness” song where they actually had a giant non-ironic happy face. Speaking of movies, during that bit I kept thinking, “The horror…the horror…”

Kim Novak is probable getting acidic tweets about her appearance on the Oscars. The poor thing–she’s 81, trying to look 18. Girl, that surgery and that botox is not working. You’re a poster child for “the older you get the less cosmetic surgery works” or possibly “the more cosmetic surgery you get, the less it works.” A little neck tuck, that I can see. But apart from that most of these people look worse with the surgery than if they just let themselves age. It’s as if they have no respect for old people, which is ironic. But also it’s about the fact that they can’t really see themselves as they are *even in a mirror*. They get this extreme and grotesque unworkable surgery and then they *see* something else in the mirror. They mentally edit it. So long as there are no wrinkles they can seemingly see what they want. It’s living satire. Poor kid. i felt bad for her. She was so good in Vertigo. Her cosmetic surgery is now nauseatingly vertiginous. One feels, looking at it, one is falling into another and terrible world, to paraphrase PG Wodehouse.

The last time I remember seeing cosmetic surgery that hideous was on the Academy Awards was when Liberace accepted a special Oscar…That surgery was hideous, looked very new…and he looked terrified. I felt for him too.

I am saying that women in Hollywood should NOT HAVE TO have that kind of surgery–they shouldn’t be bullied into that kind of delusional extreme self modification. I’m saying it does not work and it only opens the poor thing up to ridicule. I feel my post was entirely sympathetic. This is not an ordinary situation. This is not “her dress is awful” or “she’s overweight.” I don’t care about that. this is not about minor cosmetic surgery. This is about self disfiguring due to delusion.

Basically I felt the 2014 Academy Awards lived up to its standard dismalness.

Feb 14

The Inner Enemies at the Inner Walls

A young friend of mine just committed suicide. I felt I hadn’t done enough to help him. Made me depressed. I’m still depressed. But that’s what killed my young friend–that and, I suspect, the vicious circle of heavy self medication. I do suffer from intermittent bouts of depression. Sometimes it’s quite grim. Depression is like the barbarian hordes attacking the more civilized empire, Rome if you like. One drives the attackers back. The dark hordes recede for a time. But they never give up completely. They chew away at the outer walls, siege after siege, before retreating into their hills. One can reduce their force through an offense, but it’s like entropy, it’s like “rust never sleeps”, it never completely gives up. And as one gets older, and seems more vulnerable–”Rome’s walls are crumbling!”–the hordes get more allies. Aging and ageism, the deaths of friends, physical limitations, all ally with the dark army of depression. But I will never surrender. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

Feb 14

Trapped! Caught in the Web of the Golden Haired Imps!

I was accosted yesterday, trapped. Small creatures they were, with bright eyes and golden hair. They bore a strange device, a kind of vest with cryptic badges upon it. They gazed upon me and asked if I would like to buy some of their “Girl Scout Cookies”. I patted my stomach and said, “Do I look like I need cookies?” The smallest one nodded gravely and said yes. I sighed, and feeling myself completely under the spell of these imps, these creatures of faery, my will crumbled and I said, “Which ones do you recommend I get?” The small golden haired imp excitedly pointed to the row of cookie boxes and said, “THis one! And this one! And this one over here! And this one! Four times five is twenty!” Helpless, I gave her a twenty dollar bill and took the four kinds of cookies recommended. I was able to leave, then, and walked away, in a trance.

My wife ate several of the cookies last night. Me, I ate only ONE COOKIE. I will not eat more. I will not. I’ve already been supernaturally dominated by these creatures. Why should I submit to their “Thin Mints” and their “Samoas”? And yet I seem to hear a soft singing, from the kitchen…

Feb 14

The Value and Danger of Self Editing

It’s both useful to not be able to think about particular things, and dangerous…It’s important to be able to NOT think about things. Not only are there times when what we suppose to be active thinking (it’s actually just making associations, mostly in a kneejerk reactive way) be placed on hold so we can have purer perceptions of the moment…but we do need the *skill* of being able to NOT think about a disturbing thing, at times. If I agonize about some nightmarish news story about the abuse of children as much as I might be emotionally inclined to, I’m going to become fairly paralytic, unable to move on with what I really need to do in life. I’ll become irresponsible toward my family and my work…Last night I was thinking about two instances when I was able to confirm that someone stole ideas and material from me which ended up on television–I know this from meetings at studios I had with these or related people, scripts I wrote which they had, other clues–and how it was stuff I couldn’t sue over for various reasons…and it tortured me to think about it. Just made me miserable. I had to go to bed. Today I’ve engaged the mental device that allows me to *mostly* NOT think about something I can’t do anything about…you can see that it still comes up a little…and this is important. Still, I learned from that theft of my intellectual property. And in the case of nightmarish news stories, I file it away as part of my desire to help children in the world (I’m going to be taking up a certain mentoring volunteer program soon), yet I still need to be able to put such things out of my mind. But the PROBLEM is…the DANGER is…that this same useful ability to edit what one is thinking about, to change mental “directions”, to distract oneself or simply turn away, within the mind…can be really harmful, too. We can ignore harm we’re doing to our own family; industrialists, say, can turn away from truly looking at damage that their herbicide, their fracking, their exploitation is doing to people. They can rationalize it–or, more often, simply ignore it. They use the very same skill that I use to edit my stream of thought. They can sometimes use that skill in legitimate ways–but they also use it in destructive ways. The skills that help us survive can be destructive, and ultimately can harm us. Because when we blot out responsibility, we damage ourselves, too…