Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Swimming Towards The Light

Looking over my last four years of writing I note the gathering dyspeptic tone.  If I had to draw a graph of it there would be a steady downward “tone” line with a sharp descending drop at the onset of the pandemic.  Before that point, there was still theatre, music, literature, and travel to think about, enjoy and write about, a distraction from the Anvil Chorus of Trumpian Transgressions.

This is not my first self-assessment.  A few weeks ago I wrote “We are all in survival mode now.  "This has all sorts of practical ramifications and seems to rob us of other activities.  For instance, my reading of fiction, for which there should be more time during this pandemic, is nearly impossible as existential dread has supplanted my patience. “

That “existential dread” was one of the reasons I couldn’t bear to watch the virtual Democratic National Convention these past few days.  I feared the Democrats would do something spectacularly dumb to jeopardize our one and only chance to remove a spectacularly amoral, non-presidential person from office who lost the popular vote by 3 million four years ago, but managed to inveigle his way into office via collusion and the outdated Electoral College.

As Tyler Elliot Bettilyon explains in Are You Suffering From Existential Dread? I obviously have AED (Acute Existential Dread), “an intense feeling of inconsequentiality triggered by external stimuli.” 

There is enough anxiety in our lives now, a deadly cocktail of environmental degradation, racial inequality, pandemic and healthcare hazards, main street economic woes, Internet facilitated conspiracy groups, militant supporters of a mostly unregulated 2nd amendment, and the decline of American participation in world cooperation, to indeed trigger AED.  When you add Trump’s vitriol to the equation, it is exponential.

Joe Biden had my vote a long time ago.  Anyone from the Democratic Party would have had my vote.  AED indeed blocked my watching most of the DNC, fearful that we might unintentionally alienate voters we need to show up in the swing states.  But, the last night of the convention, I felt it I wanted to see Biden’s acceptance speech, watching it as I would the 7th game of the World Series, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded for my team, one run down, and one out.  Any baseball fan now understands the depth of my AED.

First, I saw 13-year-old Brayden Harrington who met Biden on the campaign trail and talked to him about his stuttering.  Brayden, when you bravely took the virtual stage and said "He told me that we were members of the same club: We stutter,” my hopes were raised for Biden’s subsequent speech.

Biden's speech was the pinnacle of his political lifetime, and ours as we are all struggling, swimming in the muck towards the light.  My AED will never be gone until the swampster-in-chief, along with his criminal cronies, are gone, gone, gone.  But after Biden’s speech, particularly its tone of inclusiveness, there is hopefulness.  I really believe, for the first time in four years, that there is a chance to address the fundamental existential threats to our way of life and life itself.  Maybe indeed we can make America great again.

Unfortunately, we see how Trump is setting this up, undermining the Post Office and already questioning the legitimacy of the election, preparing to challenge the results, no matter what they are.  The more he can make this close and the longer the final tally can be delayed, the higher the probability he can throw the results into a chaotic challenge.  This will not be like the disputed Gore –Bush 2000 contest, where the Supreme Court made the decision and it was accepted by Gore (who really did win).  No, Trump might undermine this for weeks afterwards, trying to throw it into the House of Representatives where each state gets one vote (even through there are more Democratic Representatives, there are more states with a majority of Republican Representatives and therefore their one vote counts disproportionately).

I don’t know how they (the Republicans) always seem to have an unfair advantage, but it is even more reason why Democratic turnout MUST be massive and there can be no question of the results, although they will still be challenged by Trump.  We might all have to go to DC with pitchforks to remove him.  Ah, that’s my AED speaking again.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Where are We and Why?

When I began writing this blog I had little idea where it would lead me.  I imagined that it would be some sort of personal journal where I could express my thoughts, opinions, but not exactly detail my everyday life (who would care anyhow?) yet capture a sense of my personal history (more for family and friends and for my own recollection).  As it turns out, a large part of my writing migrated to politics and the economy and to plays and novels.  Those I recently edited, organized, tried to make some sense of, and published in both printed and eBook form. 

We are all in survival mode now.  This has all sorts of practical ramifications and seems to rob us of other activities.  For instance, my reading of fiction, for which there should be more time during this pandemic, is actually more difficult as existential dread supplants my patience for fiction.  No, instead, after getting through the New York Times, The New Yorker, and even our local Palm Beach Post, that precious commodity, time, has been consumed.  And although we are unable to go to theatre, or even out to eat, streaming the arts has taken that chunk of time, such as described in a previous entry on Emmet Cohen’s jazz stream, what PBS has to offer, and discovering the treasure chest of BBC PROMS.

A friend of mine once flattered me by comparing my writing to Samuel Pepys’ diary.  I make no such farfetched claim as Pepys wrote daily and at a time where a record of daily life in London (1660-1669) was unique.  Everyone writes today and I would imagine the output from everything written in one day would fill the entire Library of Congress plus.  No, mine is merely the thinking of an “everyman.”  Pepys also did not have to deal with privacy concerns as we now have to in the age of the Internet.  I wonder what he would think of today’s communication and how that would have curtailed the intimacy of his writing.

Pepys was witness to some of the major events of his time, such as the Great Fire of London of 1666 and, ironically, the Great Plague of 1665 (about which he commented “But, Lord!,  how sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people”).  I now stand witness to our own Great Plague, its effects only to be understood when it is a thing of the past, and I have been witness to the “Great Fire” of fundamental changes to our society and politics during the first two decades of the 21st century.

A while ago I had decided that I was mostly finished with writing about politics and economics as they seem to have entered the Twilight Zone of understanding.  I still feel that way, but at a certain point my blood boils and this is my only outlet, besides the endless emailing back and forth to friends, admittedly, ones who mostly agree with me, and thus, I am part of the problem.  Never in my recollection has this country become so blatantly divisive, as if the Civil War was never concluded.

Long ago I quoted the late preeminent science fiction writer Isaac Asimov who said in Newsweek (21 January 1980): “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life; nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

That is the heart of our existential crisis:  anti-intellectualism, anti-science, an acceptance of the transmutability of truth.  The traditional Republican Party, the one I grew up knowing, just no longer exists.  The intellectual conservatives that would be best represented by George Will (and would have included William Buckley if he were alive), have been usurped by Trumpians, born out of the “Tea Party” who have tapped into the vein of nationalism and anti-intellectualism which runs deep in this country. 

That was the knock on Adlai Stevenson in his 1952 and 1956 bid for the Presidency when he ran against Ike: he was TOO smart.  No, this country likes some traits of the common man, or at least the appearance of such.  Hey, Obama plays basketball well.  Our current President can identify an elephant, count backwards from 100 in increments of 7, and remember five words consecutively.  Based on such criteria, most people could be President as well.

He’s challenged Biden to a “Test Slam.”  How about taking a test for Antisocial Personality Disorder instead?  This would establish his sociopathic tendencies.  His blatant manipulative propagandist rhetoric, either on Twitter or delivered during so-called press conferences are manifestations of those.  Gustave Le Bon's classic The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind identified the essence of Trump’s so called “stable genius” way back in 1895: "The power of words is bound up with the images they evoke, and is quite independent of their real significance. Words whose sense is the most ill-defined are sometimes those that possess the most influence. Yet it is certain that a truly magical power is attached to those short syllables as [if] they contained the solution to all problems. They synthesize the most diverse unconscious aspirations and the hope of their realization. Reason and arguments are incapable of combating certain words and formulas. They are uttered with solemnity...and as soon as they have been pronounced an expression of respect is visible on every countenance, and all heads bowed. By many they are considered as natural forces, as supernatural powers. They evoke grandiose and vague images in men's minds, but this very vagueness that wraps them in obscurity augments their mysterious power."

He can turn a rational decision such as cancelling the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville next month into one of his propaganda messages, “only I can save you,” framing it in the context of his going against “expert advice” that it would be safe to hold the convention, this, of course, after exposing untold thousands to deaths due to his turning the wearing of face masks into a political statement.

Among his more serious mass manipulative propaganda are his recent “I approve this message” media, one showing an elderly woman watching a TV “news report” about defunding  the police, in stark black and white photography, when suddenly she hears her front door being rattled by a shadowy figure, forcing himself into her home with a crowbar.  She dials 911 and it rings and rings with no answer.  Suddenly the phone is shown lying on floor with a message along the lines that this is Joe Biden’s future for America.  Manipulative Advertising 101, you don’t sell the product, you sell the emotion.  He and his team are masters at scare tactics which are deplorable. 

So is his culpability in fomenting unrest with the use or threatened use of Federal troops in States, and exposing more people to this pandemic than is and was necessary, his ignorance of history and distain for scientific knowledge, his instability, his racist tendencies, his totalitarian use of the Judicial branch, commuting Roger Stone’s sentence but sending Michael Cohen back to prison because he is writing a book.  These remain unchecked, mired in obfuscation.  It is tragic that he and his enablers can claim that flying the Confederate flag is a form of “free speech” while attempting to suppress Cohen’s book, indeed an issue of free speech.  Does he know the difference, or does he not care?

His attempting to reopen schools while the pandemic rages in southern and western states is yet more tinder to be thrown into the flames of this pandemic.  Congress has adjourned without a package to protect the unemployed from being evicted from their apartments and or homes.  

He would like to blame China.  Maybe they are culpable for the virus’ origins, but that is one issue while dealing with its consequences both by China and then the rest of the world is another.  Why does such a large number of his followers fail to recognize the differences between how other countries have at least learned to live with this virus with lesser risk and our out of control lack of response? 

It is because we have a full-blown culture war, not a new one, but intensified by his rhetoric and failures.  To what extent should individual rights transcend the need to follow measures to protect the greater good of society?  This is the essence of why other countries have had relative success after the initial battle.

I can always dip into my blog for examples and one that comes to mind was when we were “fighting” with ourselves over the use of scanning equipment at airports that reveal outlines of one’s body.  The analogy to the “constitutional right” to not wear a mask is not far-fetched, although the mask issue is more deadly, and science so clearly has demonstrated the benefits of wearing one during this pandemic.  The irony is those most opposed to wearing a mask most favor a fast reopening of businesses, not recognizing that mask wearing will facilitate the latter.  From ten years ago I quote my entry “Get Over Your Junk.”  Some things never change.

Monday, November 22, 2010
Get Over Your Junk
Get over it already! Having an implanted medical device for almost twenty years and having flown frequently both domestically and internationally during that period, I've had more pat downs than Tiger Woods has had lap dances. Furthermore, having endured the indignity of backless hospital gowns and medical procedures on a number of occasions, my being naked on a faceless image of a body scan sure beats being blown to smithereens at 30,000 feet.

Amazing, this "outcry" against thorough airport screenings is exactly the kind of disruption terrorists want and the American public is buying right into it. Instead of just going through this in an orderly way to expedite the process, we conjure up images of our constitutional rights being violated. It will take only one tragic incident in the air to silence these critics, something they are inviting by their protests.

Do I think these rigid guidelines are the answer to combating terrorism in the skies? No, but they are part of a solution, and an easy one if everyone simply cooperates. Ten seconds in a body scanner is not too much to ask. Your "junk" is not so sacred. Stay home and never go to a hospital if you think it is.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Alternative Use of Time

To those who read my blog regularly, an explanation of why I am no longer averaging at least an entry per week.  I’ll call it the alternative use of time, not to mention the summer is filled with travel and other distractions and upon returning to our home, an increasing number of health issues which must be addressed.  I used to see one doctor.  Now my primary care physician is the quarterback for a number of specialists.  Aging, it’s not for the faint of heart.

But most of my writing time is currently focused on a follow up to my book, Waiting for Someone to Explain It.  This second volume is also very challenging, not to mention time consuming as I try to work on it almost every day.  Still, it will take months, maybe up to a year, to complete.

When I approach such a project, my first instinct is to write a draft of an introduction.  This helps me focus on content, organization, and what I actually hope to accomplish.  I even have a working title, Explaining it to Someone.  Of course as I get deeper into it, everything I now envision might totally change, title included.  But I think by writing this explanation about the diminished blog output, makes me more committed to trying to get this done. 

This does not mean the blog will go quiet as I’ll still be writing theatre reviews and articles and maybe an occasional review of a book, but certainly less on personal and political subjects.  I’ve come to feel that sharing too much personal information has indeed become a dangerous habit.  I don’t regret writing what I have on that topic in the past, but in the future I intend to tread carefully. 

Likewise, I’m fairly disgusted by politics, the omnipresence of Trump, our “leaders” lack of action on gun control, healthcare, just to name two major ones.  Probably when the Presidential primaries heat up, I’ll have something to say.

We have also misused technology for amusement, convenience, and weaponry and elected leaders who thoughtlessly borrow against the future to preserve their power in the present.  Culture wars and racial and ethnic conflicts abound, just as they have since the beginning of time, but now are in hyper mode thanks to the immediacy of information and disinformation.

As I age, I’m either seeing things more clearly or more negatively, or maybe they are one and the same.  The misanthropic needle scale seems to be tipping more and more to the red zone.  

At a dinner the other night, I jealously listened to a friend describe her reading life, blowing through one book after another, and when asked what I am currently reading it dawned on me that I am no longer capable of reading for pleasure as I am always looking for answers, trying to figure life out while I have that brief privilege in time being one of the more than 100 billion human beings who have had their flickering moments before me.

Waiting for Someone to Explain It is a collection of writings culled from my blog, which attempts to fathom the economic and political morass happening at the beginning of the 21st century.  While I was writing about those increasingly threatening issues, the blog also became a repository for family history, something I imagined I was leaving for posterity, and also a place where I could report on and analyze my cultural life, particularly the literature, music, and theatre I experienced during the same period.

In a sense, while asking political and economic questions, those entries focused on my reading and theatre experiences were providing some of the answers.  Why?  In “fiction” artists deal with human conflict and nescience on a granular and abstract level.  What I hope emerges from this new volume is just one person’s reporting on contemporary theatre and literature, works chosen as they seem to point the way to understanding the world we live in.

This will not merely be a collection of blog entries.  They are going to be edited and organized in such a way to serve as a reference work to more than a hundred plays and literary works.

I hope this is a sufficient explanation of my “alternative use of time,” the most precious commodity we have, not realizing it when we are younger.

Meanwhile, enjoy William O Ewing III’s “Lunchtime At The Car Shop” a painting we saw at a local exhibit months ago which seems appropriate for this moment….

Thursday, April 25, 2019

‘Waiting for Someone to Explain It’ Now Published

Having written this blog for some dozen years, by the end of last year I felt it was time to make it less of “a job” and more focused on things I enjoy rather than those I obsess over.  That meant less political and current affairs commenting (although I’ll never say never to those subjects in the future).  The present political and economic landscape invites day to day commentary, but I’ve decided to resist it to preserve my sanity.  It is truly a case of existential dread and exhaustion.

Nonetheless, I also decided to mostly exit those subjects by making a declarative statement in the form of a book based on the extensive entries from the past.  Therefore, Waiting for Someone to Explain It; The Rise of Contempt and Decline of Sense (North Palm Beach, Lacunae Musing, 2019),348 Pages, $13.95 is now available in paperback from Amazon and their extensive distribution network. 

The irony of selecting Amazon KDP as my publishing platform hasn’t been lost on me as when I was a publisher I dealt with Amazon in its infancy and now it deals with me in my dotage. 

It is also ironic that it should be published the same week as the Mueller Report which to some extent provides some of the answers I’ve been “waiting for.”  Yet Trump is as much a symptom as a cause. The book reveals the deep roots of our cultural civil war and the intransigence of political polarization, and one person’s quest to come to terms with them. 

It argues that we’ve become inured to the outrageous and accommodative of the absurd.  It points to a deep vein of anti-intellectualism in this country, questioning the veracity of climate change, championing the “right” to open carry weapons, and leading to the worship of false idols: 24 x 7 streaming entertainment.  We’ve become a nation needing immediate gratification, no matter what the societal consequences of borrowing against the future or becoming somnambulists in front of liquid crystal display screens.

Who could have imagined the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States?  As his candidacy ramped up, so did my commentary, all encapsulated in “Waiting.”

The book documents the election of such an unsuitable candidate, who has proved to be worse than feared, a “crazy maker” a gas-lighter of reality, a believer in his own mendacity.  These issues populate the entries.  As Eric Hoffer said in his classic The True Believer (1951), “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.”  During the period I sought out other expert journalists, psychologists, bloggers, economists, and even novelists in an attempt to understand.

The publicity release at the end of this entry explains the title and more about the rationale.  It is not simply a collection of entries from the blog.  There is a narrative tying things together and the entries themselves have been edited to minimize redundancies and present them better in print. 

As an ex-publisher it’s also been a labor of love, to write a book, even participate in its design, bringing me back to my start in publishing in 1964 as a production assistant.  So much has changed since then in the industry.  For me, the publication was as much about the journey. I think of it as an act of professional closure as well as a cry for the kind of democracy our forefathers envisioned.