Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mostly, the Smithsonian Sucked, but Rube Goldberg Rocked My World

Mostly, the Smithsonian Sucked, but Rube Goldberg Rocked My World

 

I grew up with an inflated view of the status of comic strip artists. My Mom had aspired to draw comics, as an art student at the Philadelphia Institute of Art. While she could paint, draw and sculpt, the “gag” part of comics mostly eluded her. So, she particularly admired artists who could also make her laugh.

My Dad also loved comics, and always opened his newspaper to the funny-page first. I don’t ever remember him watching a sports event on TV, but I rarely saw him when he wasn’t staring at a television set. He watched it because it made him laugh.

 

So, early on, I learned that to gain my mothers respect, and my fathers attention, I needed to be funny. Unfortunately, I had little natural talent in that area, and quickly became an annoyingly inane child. Even so, I believed that our culture held comedians and comic artists in at least as high esteem as doctors or TV anchormen. So, I listened carefully to what they had to say.

At the tender age of 5 or 6, my parents took me, for the first time, to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. It was there I learned just how highly this nation valued the great comic artists of our time.

Even at 5 or 6, the Smithsonian really didn’t impress me that much, especially considering how much my parents hyped it. The big fake elephant in the Natural History museum really didn’t hold a candle to the complete skeleton of a Brontosaurus I’d seen several times at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

That brontosaurus at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is awesome btw. It’s bigger than the Smithsonian’s fake elephant and fake blue whale, put together, and it is a real skeleton of the biggest fucking dinosaur that ever walked the face of the earth. It regularly scares the living piss out of small children, who run for their lives, screaming, as their parents drag them into the hall to see it. But, back to the Smithsonian.

Sure, they had a lot of cool airplanes at the Air and Space Museum, but again, not as many as the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. Parents, if you really want to show your kids something impressive, forget Washington DC, take your kids to Ohio (links to Ohio Board of Tourism).

Really, the only thing that really impressed me about the Smithsonian Institution was the Rube Goldberg Museum.

Yes, immediately after visiting the Natural History Museum, and the Aerospace Museum, my parents led me into a grand hall full of funny drawings, and full scale working models, of comical and bizarre contraptions. Among them, I recognized the mechanism behind the famous board-game “Mousetrap”.

Here I stood in a great brick building dedicated to the inventor of “Mousetrap”, as well as hundreds of other equally eccentric, unlikely looking inventions, all created by one man, Rube Goldberg.

Except for the big swinging pendulum, seemingly everything in that grand Gallery bore the recognizable style, and inimitable signature of this giant among men, Rube Goldberg. I learned a lot about this great man, as I gazed in awestruck amazement at his work.

I saw life-size working models of Goldberg’s elaborate contraptions, including a device that would automatically take your photograph. You sat in a chair, which caused a large whoopie cushion to deflate, the air from the whoopie cushion propelled a small sailboat, specially outfitted with a lit cigar on its bow, across a block of ice. When the boat reached the far side of the block of ice, the cigar touched an inflated balloon, which then popped. Nearby, a soldier with PTSD, hears the balloon pop, and believes that he has been shot. So, he falls over backwards, landing on the bulb of an old fashioned remote shutter release cable, attached to an old-fashioned camera, which then snaps a photo of the seated subject. The thing took up at least 300 square feet of floor space, and actually, kind of, worked. Pure genius, I thought.

Of course, a slightly longer cable release would have made the rest of the apparatus completely unnecessary. But here, and obviously in the mind of Rube Goldberg, complexity, and inventiveness were not enslaved by function, or chained by efficiency, but instead given free reign, and allowed to run amok. To me Rube Goldberg represented the triumph of the creative spirit over the stark brutality of the industrial age.

Apparently, Mr. Goldberg enjoyed an illustrious career as an inventor of amusing machines that graced the funny-pages of newspapers across the nation. According to a noted patent historian, some of Goldberg’s comic inventions spawned real inventions that helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. Many of Goldberg’s inventions, a physicist noted, defied the laws of nature in ways that would not work in real life. It seemed to me, even at the time, that many of his inventions required the assistance of unbelievably patient, gullible, cooperative and predictable people or animals, for instance, “the diver” in the Mousetrap, board game, or the soldier in the above described, photo machine.

But I had no doubt that Rube Goldberg was a big-shot. Maybe the biggest-shot of all. After all, this was the famous Smithsonian Institution. My parents spent money, took time off of work, and brought me here, because they thought it important for me to see. To me, it was clear. The three most important things in the world were, 1. natural history, 2. air and space technology, and 3. Rube Goldberg, and of the three, the Smithsonian’s Rube Goldberg collection impressed me the most. For years, when I talked about that trip to Washington DC, I invariably talked about the Rube Goldberg Museum.

Years later, our eighth-grade class took a field-trip to Washington DC, to visit, among other things, the Smithsonian. I was quite eager to revisit the Rube Goldberg Museum, and told all of my friends about it. But when we got to the Smithsonian, I saw the same old fake elephant, the same old airplanes, plus a space capsule from the Apollo program, and some moon rocks, but no Rube Goldberg.

Eventually, I found the big pendulum, that I remembered from the Rube Goldberg Museum, in a building called The Museum of Science and Technology. Without the Rube Goldberg exhibits, the hall seemed as lame and disappointing as the rest of the Smithsonian.

At last, I found one framed Rube Goldberg comic, along with an oddly comical bronze sculpture. The sculpture, I later learned, Goldberg designed as a trophy, and it is still awarded annually to a deserving comic artist, known affectionately as “the Reuben Award”. But, what happened to the rest of that magnificent exhibit?

I eventually deduced that the Museum of Science and Technology had hosted the extensive Rube Goldberg exhibit, to celebrate the induction of the framed print and the sculpture, into the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. The sign that I thought welcomed me to the Rube Goldberg Museum, was in fact, a banner, welcoming me to the Rube Goldberg Exhibition. At five years old, it didn’t occur to me that the sign for one of the Smithsonian museums, would be a little more substantial than a painted banner strung up with rope, and the difference between a museum and an exhibition were certainly lost on me at the time at the time.

Despite that revelation, deep in my heart, I know that Rube Goldberg remains the single most important figure in the history of modern science, and I revere him, as do physicists, engineers, inventors, and comic strip artists, around the world. So, I honor his memory, and my memory of him, here.

 


On The Money, TV Advertizing

On The Money

Financial Advice for the Working-Class

TV Advertizing

Even though our culture was pretty sick before TV, and the age of modern advertizing, advertizing, especially TV advertizing, has dramatically altered our culture. These changes have had a detrimental long term effect on our health, as a culture and as individuals.

On the other hand, capitalism, has benefited greatly from the ubiquity of television, and especially TV advertizing. I sincerely doubt that capitalism could have maintained the pattern of growth necessary to keep it from collapsing, without the dramatic changes in our culture, brought about through TV.

Your great grandparents, who survived the Great Depression, still knew how to make things for themselves, hunted, grew, or at least prepared their own food. They didn’t need an endless string of shiny new distractions to keep their minds off of the emptiness of their lives, partly because their lives weren’t so empty.

They didn’t mind wearing the same patched clothes, day in and day out, because that’s what everyone did. They only bathed once a week. They quilted, sewed, and knitted. They had hobbies, like pigeon racing, amateur radio or spelunking. They played baseball. They played board games with the family. They played the piano and sang. They drank.

They listened to the radio, and bless its little vacuum-tube soul, the radio only tried to sell them stuff based on the merits of the product. The radio told them, for instance, “more doctors smoke Camel cigarettes than any other brand” and “Maxwell House coffee, good to the last drop.” That kind of advertizing seems downright wholesome compared to what lay ahead in the coming age of television.

By the time TV went color, it had already turned our world upside-down. Who benefited from this upheaval? Would capitalism have survived without the huge growth in the soap and cosmetics industries precipitated by the popularity of soap operas? Would Detroit automakers have sold nearly so many cars, without the aid of TV ads? Would that dramatic, across the board increase in consumption have happened without TV? I think not.

Television made cars look exciting. Television made smoking look cool. Television made a suburban middle-class lifestyle look normal. Television went after our children, in a way radio never did, with programming aimed directly at them, full of ads for toys, candy and sugary cereals. Television made Christmas into the orgy of spending that it has become.

Television changed our behavior in ways that made us hungrier for their products, and measured their success only in terms of units sold. Television effectively transformed our culture, purely for the benefit of capital, completely ignoring the effect this had on our psyche, the quality of our lives, and the sustainability of our lifestyle. Born to parents who’s lives had already been transformed, along with their culture, to serve the needs of capitalism, we are the product of this transformation.

So, how did TV turn us from slightly smelly, independent, self-reliant people into needy, greedy squeaky-clean thing-fiends? TV became the dominant social force of the 20th Century by making us feel inadequate.

By constantly showing us people who looked better than us, dressed better than us, and more importantly, were better lit, directed and rehearsed than us, TV programs steadily eroded our self-confidence. At the same time, commercials offered us a world of products, all advertized with campaigns designed not to tout the merits of the product, but to sell our self-confidence back to us.

No one noticed, or cared about those little flakes of dandruff, or thought they were anything but normal. No one made character judgments based dandruff. Only TV could convince you that a guy who thought you were hot, would change his mind once he saw the flakes. But people on TV never had flakes.

For years, TV showed us fictional people who were brighter, wittier, more successful and more virtuous than us. When TV showed “real” people, that invariably meant athletes, performing artists, writers etc., always at the pinnacle of their career. Normal people only appeared on TV as game show contestants, where we repeatedly demonstrated how stupid, greedy and craven we were.

As a result, we quit playing the piano and singing, because we really weren’t that good anyway, at least compared to The Osmond Brothers or The Partridge Family. We quit our hobbies, because we could all watch “the big game” on TV, and we stopped talking to each other, because someone smarter, funnier or more entertaining always had something else to say.

We lost a lot of cultural diversity, within our own culture, during that time. Pigeon races, pool halls, and piano teachers all felt the pinch, as people retired from a whole range of leisure activities, to watch TV. Cultural diversity, within the culture, went from a whole variety of activities, each with their own skill sets, knowledge, and physical activity, to which shows you watch.

After a generation of that, we don’t even know enough to answer questions on a game show. Instead, they pit us against each other in elimination competitions, like Survivor or American Idol. These are televised cock-fights, with human beings in the pit. They reinforce the futility of trying to compete in the global economy.

In one-on-one, head to head competition, in a tournament with seven-billion contestants, you have a better chance of hitting the lottery than succeeding in the global economy, on the strength of your own talents. So, why subject yourself to the humiliation of being berated by Simon Cowell? Just get used to living week to week, and good at groveling.

These days TV has to make you feel bad about yourself, cheap. TV no longer commands the media market share that it once held, as more and more people turn to the internet. Where TV allowed corporate interests to exploit known human character weaknesses, the internet helps them discover new ones, and new ways to exploit them.

The internet functions as a gigantic marketing focus group, allowing corporate ad agencies to analyze human behavior on an unprecedented scale. They no longer have to think about how people in general will respond to their sales pitch. They’re now learning what you, as an individual, respond to, and pitching to you individually, based on your own particular insecurities, which they’ve discovered by monitoring your behavior.

This is why we’re fatter, we do less, and we don”t know how to make anything for ourselves anymore. We can’t bear to pull away from these screens anymore, because they’ve become the central focus of our lives, replacing all else. We’re so strung-out now, not only do we pay for the glowing box, we pay for the content. Every month millions of us pay for cable or satellite TV, internet service, and increasingly, a data plan for the mobile phone as well. It’s become a utility, like water or electricity, that we can no longer live without. We can no longer live without it, because of the vast hole that it has created in our lives.

This kind of exploitation wears us down, as people. Normal life becomes more stressful and less rewarding, as we become increasingly insecure and needy. People lose social skills as they spend less time in social situations and more time with their devices. Because of this, difficult social situations become impossible, leading to strategies of denial and repression.

Conversation and public discourse become lost arts, replaced by pundits pushing wedge issues and horse race politics. Not that I think democracy has any redeeming value, but conversation, discussion and debate sure do, and losing this ability cripples us as social creatures. So, while capitalism has flourished in this new media rich environment, we as people have not fared as well. I think its time we acknowledge the damage it has done to our culture, self-concept, and our quality of life.


Addendum to The Snack-Cake Wars

Addendum to The Snack-Cake Wars

 

Last week I presented, as an installment of my regular column, On The Money, Financial Advice for the Working Class, a piece called The Snack-Cake Wars. While I covered the story of consolidation and collapse within the snack-cake industry from a free-market perspective, my research revealed other dark, chocolaty forces at work, beneath the heavily frosted surface.

 

While its doubtful that Hostess could withstand Little Debbie’s pricing advantage for long, under the present economic conditions, I uncovered incontrovertible evidence of a secret branch of the Little Debbie empire, responsible for covert “Black Ops” attacks against the Hostess network, that certainly hastened that company’s recent demise.

 

These “Black Ops” teams, mounted a campaign against Hostess, responsible for hamstringing the company’s response to cash-flow problems, and demoralizing the staff and management. The actions taken against Hostess involved numerous episodes of espionage and sabotage, and culminated with the murder and kidnapping of American citizens.

 

Little Debbie Smile Squads These highly trained, seasoned mercenaries, know martial arts, carry fully automatic assault weapons, high explosives and have air power to back them up. They often travel in small, blacked out, armored vehicles invisible to radar, and carry out missions with impunity, seeming at will.

 

Early Sunday morning of January 15th, Little Debbie Smile Squad 6 broke into the Simi Valley home of J. Thomas Twinkie Jr., aka The Twinkie Kid, and murdered him, execution style, in his own bedroom. Smile Team 6 also kidnapped Twinkie’s wife Tina and stole computers, flash drives and documents from Twinkie’s home.

 

Hours later, Smile Team 6 Dumped the lifeless body of the man who invented, developed, and marketed the immortal snack-cake that bears his name, into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Catalina and Kuala Lumpur. Soon thereafter a video of the entire gruesome assault and murder appeared on a Youtube video posted at a radical Little Debby fan website.

 

The J. Thomas Twinkie Jr. murder, and the kidnapping of his wife struck fear throughout the Hostess network. If Little Debbie could murder Twinkie, in his fortified compound on his vineyard in Simi Valley, they could strike any of them, anywhere. Twinkie’s murder crippled and demoralized the Hostess network, right at the moment that they needed to wrestle with the short-term cash-flow problems plaguing the company. In many ways, Twinkie’s murder sealed Hostess’ fate.

 

Twinkie’s murder outraged Californians, and Simi Valley Sheriffs issued an arrest warrant for Little Debbie herself, as well as Does 1-6, the as yet unidentified members of Smile Squad 6. The murder and kidnapping of US citizens by a multinational snack-cake superpower raised issues of sovereignty, due process, and human rights. Angry crowds burned effigies of Little Debbie at protest marches all over California.

 

Still, Little Debbie snacks remain on grocer’s shelves all over America, because everyone knows, that without the nausea that Little Debbie snacks induce in the poor and down-trodden people who eat them, the oppressed masses would certainly rise up in an unstoppable rebellion leading to complete chaos.

 

So, despite the public outrage, the arrest warrants, and the condemnation by elected officials, Little Debbie continues to operate with impunity in the US. If you are considering stepping into the vacuum in the snack-cake industry left by Hostess, to compete with Little Debbie, head-to-head, be prepared. Little Debbie is one tough cookie.


The King of China

The King of China

 

Apparently, the trend towards outsourcing jobs overseas, extends even into the, seemingly sacred, realm of our national monuments. I mean, sure the Statue of Liberty came from France, but that was a gift, not a contract. Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned but I expect our national monuments to be built from New Hampshire granite, with love, pride and American craftsmanship, by chubby white people who speak English exclusively.

 

Not that I think Blacks, Hispanics, or Native Americans should be excluded from these jobs, especially if they pay well, I just don’t imagine them getting so excited about yet another marble monstrosity on the National Mall, to celebrate the empire that enslaved, and/or nearly annihilated their ancestors, and continues to abuses them to this day. That’s just me.

 

But Martin Luther King is different. I know lots of Black artists and craftspeople who would love to have a part in the design and construction of the Martin Luther King Monument. Today, I’ll bet a lot more people wish the Federal Government had taken that route. But, alas, the job of constructing the massive statue of Dr. King, along with the plaque identifying King and inscribed with one of his most powerful quotes, went to a very competent, and competitively priced, Chinese firm.

 

While the Chinese firm, quite competently, built the monument to specifications, as it turned out, someone on this side of the world, kind of paraphrased Dr. King’s famous quote. Apparently, a lot of people were not happy about having some low level bureaucrat’s interpretation of Dr. King’s famous quote, attributed so conspicuously, to Dr. King himself.

 

Almost certainly, Black American craftspeople would have caught the error, and fixed it, before casting it in bronze, saving a lot of embarrassment. In China, however, they simply filled the order to specification, and enjoyed embarrassing the incompetent US government. Sorry, no refund.

 

So, after enduring this humiliation, the US government scrapped the misquoted plaque, and ordered a replacement. Did the Federal Government learn from its mistake, and hire a Black-owned American business to make the new plaque? No, they went back to China.

 

This time, a firm from Shanghai, with a checkered reputation, Plack Shaque, won the contract with a bid much lower than the competition. With the deficit crisis raging all around them, and catching a lot of heat for the budget overrun caused by the misquote, who could blame them for trying to save money.

 

As a result, if you visit the Dr. Martin Luther King Monument on the National Mall, you will see a plaque that reads:

 

Rev. Dr. Martian Luthier King

(1929-1968)

I Have Dreem”

Close enough for government work, if you ask me.


On The Money, The Snack-Cake Wars

On The Money

Financial Advice for the Working Class

The Snack-Cake Wars

Recently, I found myself tempted, at a gas station register, by “Zingers”. You may recall, “Zingers”, I know I do, as frosted snack-cakes, packaged three to a pack, in three distinct colors, pink, off-white, and dark-brown, with three correspondingly different blends of artificial flavorings. Packages of “Zingers”, as I recall from my fondest childhood memories, always conspicuously bore the image of “Snoopy”, the beloved beagle from the comic-strip of old, Peanuts, by Charles Schultz.

 

Dolly Madison, not the President’s wife, but the company of the same name, that manufactured “Zingers”, had a deal with Schultz, and one of the big three TV networks to sponsor all of the Peanuts TV specials. For decades, Dolly Madison and Peanuts were inseparable.

So, when I saw these “Zingers”, as I paid for my fill-up, I looked for my old friend “Snoopy.” He wasn’t there. Apparently, “Snoopy” was the first victim of the Snack-Cake Wars. Then, instead of the Dolly Madison logo, I saw the word that shocked me to my core, “Hostess”.

 

Hostess!” Had Hostess mounted a hostile snack-cake-takeover? How could the SEC Allow it? Don’t we need competition in the snack-cake market? How could they let “Big Twinkie” gobble up its chief competitor? What choice is left to snack-cake consumers? Little Debby?

You can’t be serious. Little Debbie is to snack-cakes, what Hamms is to beer, or what Ripple is to wine. Who will compete with Hostess in the upscale snack-cake market?

 

What do you mean you don’t consider “Twinkies” upscale? Have you ever tasted a Little Debbie Moonpie? A marshmallow smooshed between two pieces of cardboard tastes better than a Little Debbie Moonpie.

 

Now, I hear that Hostess itself, currently teeters on the brink of insolvency. The news just gets worse, doesn’t it? How can that be? Did the Dolly Madison acquisition leave them over-leveraged and vulnerable, or did Dolly Madison and Hostess merge to fend off an all out assault by Little Debbie? Will Twinkies, Zingers, Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, Snowballs and Fruit Pies become a thing of the past, like passenger pigeons and black African rhinos? Will we stand idly by and watch it happen?

 

I know Little Debbie, or Lil’ Deb’ as they call her in “Da Hood”, has gained a lot of “street-cred” in recent years, while the Twinkie has seemingly become a victim of its own success. While oft ridiculed for its ubiquity and its durability, we should not forget that the Twinkie ranks as one of mankind’s greatest culinary technological achievements, for exactly those reasons.

 

Now it appears that sweet, innocent, Little Debbie, will gun down the Twinkie Kid, in cold blood, bringing to an end, forever, the golden age of snack-cakes. Clearly, its a race to the bottom now, and Little Debbie has a big head-start.

 

That’s what capitalism looks like. It’s bloody, its ugly, and it tastes like a marshmallow shmooshed between two pieces of cardboard, leaving all of the fondly-remembered snack-cakes of your youth, dead and buried in the dust of time.

Little Debbie doesn’t make fond childhood memories. Little Debbie reminds you of hard times, sad times, and desperate times. Little Debbie is what you eat when you can’t even afford McDonald’s. While Mickey D has “the Dollar Menu”, Little Debbie will hook you up, even if all you have is a quarter.

 

That’s how Lil’ Deb’ earns her street-cred. Little Debbie can turn hunger into nausea cheaper than anyone. Yes, Little Debbie has gotten rich off the hunger of the poor and down-trodden in these difficult economic times, and now she’s throwing her weight around in the snack-food industry.

 

Twinkies, on the other hand, have become the Pat Boone of snack-cakes, suburban, white, old-fashioned, and out-of-touch. I guess this is what the collapse of civilization looks like. Everything decent, noble, and righteous about our culture, gets cast aside, and torn asunder for any last scrap of profit that can be wrung from its corpse.

 

If you want your grandchildren to know the sweet, sweet, eternal softness of a Twinkie, you had better stock-up now. Every American family should have a stash of heirloom Twinkies, so that they can share with their children, the taste born of the very pinnacle of American social, cultural, and military dominance. While the American Empire fades into the dustbin of history, the taste of its brief triumph can linger on the lips of your descendants for generations, if you act now.

 

Your grandchildren will want to know what was so great about capitalism, that it was worth sacrificing 95% of the planet’s biodiversity for. If you buy a box of Twinkies now, you will be able to show them why it was all worth it.

 

A Boon for Investors?

Investors, if Hostess goes under, Twinkie production ceases, but Twinkie demand will continue. The laws of the free market say that under these circumstances, Twinkie prices will rise. Rising Twinkie prices means profits for shrewd investors who stockpiled Twinkies before the demise of Hostess.

 

Willard Dwarkin at Moodies Analytic says, “Hostess looks shaky right now, but as long as Twinkies remain in production, they can continue to meet demand at the current price. However, we expect a dramatic spike in Twinkie prices in the weeks and months following a bankruptcy filing by Hostess. Even if another company buys the Twinkie division, and continues production, we expect that pre-collapse Hostess products will maintain their appeal, and appreciate in value, not unlike “pre-CBS takeover” Fender guitars and amplifiers.”

 

To illustrate, Dwarkin added, “Recently, Dr. Pepper/Snapple brands made a deal to take over an obscure Texas soft-drink company marketing a product called “Dublin Dr. Pepper”. Since the takeover, unopened bottles of Dublin Dr. Pepper have sold for as high as $9,985, even though the identical product, Dr. Pepper still sells for under $1.00 a bottle. We think Twinkies have an even greater potential for appreciation.”

 

Dwarkin continued, “If however, Twinkies go out of production, which in our analysis, is about a 50-50 chance, we could see a dramatic rise in Twinkie prices that will continue to outpace inflation for the foreseeable future.”

 

We expect that, in the future, Twinkies will trade like any monetized durable commodity. But, unlike gold or platinum, for which mining continues, constantly adding to the world supply, every time someone eats a Twinkie, the world supply will diminish by one. Twinkies are nearly as durable as gold, much lighter to transport, and have the added advantage over gold, in that you can eat them.”

 

Of course it is possible that a large run on Twinkies by investors may solve some of Hostess’s cash flow problems, possibly delaying, or even averting bankruptcy, but Dwarkin thinks otherwise. “Our numbers suggest that Hostess lacks the production capacity to respond to an unprecedented strong short-term demand. We feel a surge in investor interest in the Twinkie market could cause prices to surge well in advance of any bankruptcy filing by Hostess. In any case, Twinkie prices are not likely to drop much under any market condition, so we see very little risk to investors here. Moodies is very bullish on Twinkie futures right now.”

 

Obviously the snack-cake sector of the economy is undergoing dramatic upheaval at the moment, but the one thing you can count on, to remain stable for decades into the future, is the eternally soft, and immortally creamy Twinkie.


CD Review, Peter Gabriel, New Blood

CD Review, Peter Gabriel – New Blood

I was fortunate indeed to have received, as a gift from a dear friend, and a man of impeccable taste, this album:

New Blood, by Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel, New Blood

I listened to it, for the first time, on the night of the Winter Solstice, in the throes of a strong dose of psylocybin. I could not have chosen more perfect entertainment. Listening to this work transformed an otherwise auspicious occasion into a miraculous event.

 

No artist, in any medium has moved me as much, or as often, as Peter Gabriel. No one even comes close. His music is not just familiar to me, it is burned into every fiber of my soul. The songs contained on New Blood are all old friends, with new orchestral arrangements, but there is nothing tired or re-hashed about New Blood. Quite the opposite.

 

All of the pieces on New Blood sound better than the originals. This remarkable, opulently produced masterwork, nearly makes those undeniably great Peter Gabriel albums from the past, like Rainy Windshield,

Security,

and So,

sound like rehearsal tapes by comparison. New Blood may be Peter Gabriel’s best work, as a producer, to date.

This is an album unlike any other. It doesn’t sound like a classical orchestral recording. Every instrument on this record sounds like it was close-miked, and recorded on it’s own track, like a rock album, rather than miking the concert hall as they do in most classical recordings. The result is a full orchestral arrangement, with the intimacy of a chamber music ensemble, and the dynamic range and deep, full bass of a rock album.

 

New Blood includes very few of Peter Gabriel’s big hits. You won’t find “Games Without Frontiers”, “Shock the Monkey” or “Sledghammer” on New Blood. Even “Solsbury Hill” is only included as an encore. New Blood is certainly not a “Greatest Hits” release. On New Blood, Peter Gabriel chooses tracks that benefit from the rich orchestral textures, and finds something new in them. As a result, New Blood sounds like a completely new Peter Gabriel album, as original as “Supper’s Ready” in 1972,

as original as Security in 1982,

and as original as the 1992 “Talk to Me” tour.

New Blood has a completely new sound.

 

Peter’s voice sounds great, as always. All of the vocals on New Blood soar. Peter features his daughter Melanie Gabriel on “Downside Up”, and Ane Brun will melt your heart with her take on “Don’t Give up”, the piece Peter originally sung with Kate Bush. The vocals are so good that I find it hard to make myself listen to the instrumental disk.

 

Disk two, of this two disk set, includes instrumental versions of all of the same songs on disk one, with the exception of “Solsbury Hill” which only appears on disk one and “Blood of Eden” which only appears on disk two.

 

New Blood proves that the man who elevated rock music to a high art in the seventies, with albums like Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, as part of Genesis, became arguably the most influential musician on the face of the Earth in the eighties with his early solo material, and blossomed into a full-blown pop superstar in the nineties, still has something to say to us in this new century. With New Blood, Peter Gabriel has taken his work to a higher level, and in so doing, he has elevated the state of the art.

 

This record, miraculously, exceeds expectations, in ways that I could not have imagined and that words fail to describe. You simply must hear it! Thank you Bobby for the generous gift, thank you Peter for all of the music, and thank you God for ears to hear it.


Schools, School Buses and SoHum

Schools, School Buses, and SoHum

 

On “Thank Jah its Friday” today on KMUD, Solar Dan offered an interesting solution to the current transportation problem facing the SoHum Unified School District.

For those of you who don’t live in SoHum, you probably don’t know that this very rural school district, covering an area about the size of Rhode Island, relies, or at least relied on, a one million dollar annual state subsidy to provide school bus service to the 700 or so school age students who live here in SoHum.

Last week the school board was informed that this subsidy had been cut from the state budget. So, the school district will run out of money for bus service in February. Lay off notices went out to all school bus drivers and other transport personnel just a few days ago. Starting next month, parents will be responsible for getting their kids to and from school.

My initial response was HURRAY!!! I know a lot of people like schools, and some folks even send their kids there, but I don’t care. I hate schools. I hate school buses, and I really don’t care much for school children.

I went to school. I know what goes on there. I also went to school in a rural district and spent over two hours a day in school buses getting there and back. I don’t wish that on anyone.

Even though I’ve been out of school for thirty years or so, the wounds I suffered there still pain me today. I learned to hate school early. By second grade, I had had enough. I couldn’t take it any more, and I was driven to commit an act of terrorism against a school bus.

As the youngest of a team of conspirators at my school bus stop, all of us disillusioned by school, we spent our time together at the bus stop, talking about how we could sabotage the bus, as to prevent it from making it to school. As we stood there, in the crisp morning air waiting for the inevitable arrival of that giant banana slug that would swallow us whole, grunt, groan and lurch about for another hour and a half, and eventually spit us out, nauseous and desperate to pee, at school, we would dream up elaborate schemes to disable the school bus.

Most of these plans involved technology, knowledge,and financial resources that we, as school children, lacked. But, finally, we arrived at a plan that was within our, quite limited, realm of the possible. We figured that we could put nails on the roadway, that might penetrate the tread of the school bus tire, causing a flat tire. That would leave the bus stranded by the side of the road. At last, we had a real workable plan.

The next day, I deliberately left the house by the side door, rather than the front, which led me past my father’s workbench. I knew that an open box of nails sat on top of it. I stealthily grabbed a handful of nails as I passed, and shoved them in my coat pocket. When I got to the bus stop, I showed them to my friends, and said, “Here’s just what we need!”

That’s when I first noticed my friend’s real ambivalence about actually carrying out the sabotage we had planned. They weren’t serious about it. For them, this had all been idle talk to pass a few minutes, but I hated school. I wanted to sabotage the bus, for real. I wanted that bus to be stuck by the side of the road with a flat tire, and I wanted to be late, maybe even an hour or two late for school as a result. I wanted it bad. I hated school. Did I say that before?

We had a plan. I had the tools right in the palm of my hands. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by. I convinced them to go through with it. We scattered a few nails on the road, but didn’t think they would go through the tire if they were laying on their side. So, we stood one of the nails up on its head, with a few pebbles to stabilize it, right where we thought the bus tire would hit it.

My heart pounded as the bus approached, but I kept my cool. The oldest boy in our terrorist cell, however, watched the bus hit the nail, and made a gleeful display as it happened. That tipped-off the driver, so forget about the “not getting caught” part.

As it turned out, the bus didn’t get a flat tire, and we arrived at school, right on time. Later that day, however, I received a note to report to the Principle’s office. The older boys all fingered me, the second grader, as the mastermind. I played dumb and young, which, at 8yrs old, I did pretty convincingly. We had come up with that plan together. We all had a part in doing it, but the nails matched the ones on my dad’s workbench, so they had physical evidence against me.

I don’t remember the punishment. Getting caught was bad enough. Finding out that most people are just talk, and won’t do anything unless you push them, coupled with the knowledge that my friends had ratted me out, and that our plan had completely failed, affected me deeply. As a result, I still hate school buses, and school children, and most of all, I still hate schools.

Schools are prisons for children, and taxpayer-subsidized daycare for the selfish, irresponsible half-wits who have the nerve to reproduce in the face of global ecosystem collapse. …And why is this country overrun with greedy morons who reproduce like rabbits, gladly send their kids to prison, and have no idea how to live sustainably on this planet? Public schools, that’s why.

Kids aren’t born that stupid. It takes years of expensive, daily instruction to crush a child’s natural curiosity and intelligence. Public schools don’t produce intelligent, thoughtful and creative minds, they transform them into mindless consumers of pap.

So don’t whine to me about your school bus problem. On the other hand, if you wanted to put those buses to good use, take Dan Glaser’s suggestion, and create a rural SoHum bus system for everybody.

I’d sure appreciate a bus that would pick me up at the county road and drop me off in Redway or Myers Flat. I wouldn’t even complain about all the fucking rugrats on board. Wouldn’t that be progressive, environmental and cool? A rural bus system that anyone could ride would go a long way to making SoHum into the kind of hip, forward thinking and conscious community that we are so fond of pretending to be.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could catch a bus in Whitethorn, or Alder Point, or Ettersburg, or Blocksburg, that would drop you in Redway? Think of what it would mean for our carbon footprint, as a community. Think of how much better life in SoHum would be.

Think of how much easier a rural bus system would make life for a lot of the older people who live in the hills but no longer see well enough to drive safely, or for you, when your truck breaks down, or your kids want to visit friends across the watershed, or when gas prices go through the roof, or when you can no longer afford to cruise all over the countryside in your F350.

It would certainly increase the ridership on the current county bus system. People who took the bus in from the hills would use the local bus to go between Redway and G,ville, and could take the inter-city bus all the way up to Eureka. The rural bus system would really make public transportation viable in SoHum. If I have to drive my truck into Redway, there’s no way I’m taking the bus to Garberville. And, if it means I have to leave my truck, unattended, in Redway all day, I’m sure not taking the bus to Eureka. But, if I could catch a bus into Redway, I’d use them a lot.

So, lets prove that public schools haven’t completely lobotomized us as a community, and do something truly progressive and intelligent for a change. Lets turn this crisis into an opportunity to do something that actually serves the community’s needs and makes a real step forward towards reigning in our carbon footprint and moving towards a sustainable future.


On the Money, Beyond Civil Disobedience

On The Money

Financial Advice for the Working Class

Beyond Civil-Disobedience

It’s great to finally see large-scale outrage over economic injustice here in the US. This outrage is of course completely justified and long overdue. However, as outraged as many of these people are about economic injustice, they seem even more outraged that anyone involved with this new movement, would choose a course of action other than that of strict non-violence.

These Non-violence Nazis become livid with rage at the idea that anyone would besmirch their movement by resisting arrest, destroying corporate property or doing anything active to prevent the cops from brutalizing them. For them, civil-disobedience is the only disobedience that they will tolerate.

They think that practicing non-violence makes them better than other people, and they vilify those other people as inferior spiritual beings. Its a religion with them, and like most religious fundamentalists, they are stupid and wrong, and they want to exploit you every bit as much as those Wall St. pigs.

They’ll trot out Gandhi and Martin Luther King as their great examples of the power of non-violence, and try to bludgeon you to death with them intellectually, but neither man’s ideas really hold water in our current situation. Let’s take a look at why that is.

Let’s start with Martin Luther King, since we will celebrate his birthday next Monday. Truly MLK ‘s life deserves celebrating. This remarkable man, a great thinker, speaker and leader served his people in a way few have, and paid for it with his life. Nothing I can say will diminish the contribution he made to people of color, this country, and humanity. However, Martin Luther King led a very different movement, with very different goals than the protesters involved in the “Occupy Movement”.

What King wanted was civil-rights, equality under the law, and desegregation. King did not seek to overthrow the government, he sought to make it more inclusive. If you want your civil-rights recognized, it makes sense to show that you will remain civil, even when violating the law. So, non-violent civil-disobedience made perfect sense for that movement.

At that time, nearly everyone, including Martin Luther King, thought that civil society was good for people, as long as everyone could participate. King believed in democracy. King believed in civilization, and Martin Luther King prayed for world peace while yet another unbelievably brutal, technological war raged on in Vietnam. But, things change, and at some point, the ideas you once hung your hat on, reveal their flaws.

Today, things look different. Civil society has been laid bare as nothing more than the machinery of exploitation and oppression. Civil society no longer offers workers the promise of a suburban home with a two car garage, for willing participation. Now all civil society offers workers are lives of abject slavery with no hope of home ownership, no access to health-care, and no chance of getting ahead of monthly bills. Yes, civil society is what made the 1% so obscenely, filthy, stinking rich, and the rest of us into their slaves.

The only reason we live as one nation, is to serve the needs of industrial capital. Every year we sacrifice more of our time, our power, our freedom and our dignity for the benefit of civil society, usually called “the Global Economy”, and every year, corporate interests use it all against us, to enslave us further.

Human beings function most effectively in small groups. The more we try to function as a single global entity, the less meaningful our lives, as individuals, and the more despondent we become. Who wants to be just another cog in a giant machine that you have no control over. No one! We only do it because we serve the 1%. Don’t forget this. There’s nothing noble about civilization. Civilized people are not better, smarter or more interesting. They are just more cooperative servants.

So, if civilization is the enemy, civil disobedience makes no sense at all. We don’t want to be recognized by civil society. We want to do away with civil society. We want to end the stratified economic system, the environmental exploitation, the mass consumption, and the waste. We don’t need to become better people, or even prove that we are good people. We just have to stop them from killing us, and the best way to do that is to disable the machinery of exploitation and oppression.

Luddites Smashing Machinery of Oppression

Those Non-violence Nazis don’t respect your rights, won’t stand for your freedom and won’t treat you with any more dignity than the Wall St. bastards who have been beating us down for generations. They expect you to sacrifice your freedom, human rights and dignity for their benefit. They want you to submit peaceably and willingly to arrest and brutality, not for freedom, rights or dignity, but for their new, kinder, gentler mass fascism. You sacrifice your body. They make the decisions.

Look at them, they’re already telling you what constitutes acceptable protest. They’ll decide on the acceptable terms for a compromise, and they’ll tell you when a deal has been made. Do you think they will ever stop telling you what constitutes acceptable behavior? Will you ever stop listening to them?

Why do you think they are so concerned about remaining “civil”? They don’t want to see a breakdown of civil society, or of the control and enforcement mechanisms of society. They just want those control structures to change hands, leaving them in charge. If you’ll sit there passively while a cop beats you down, because they told you to, you’re probably dumb enough to do what they say when they take over, right?

Martin Luther King is not leading this movement. This movement is led, if it is led, mostly by disaffected middle-class white people who know how to manipulate people to get their own way. Most of them would be quite happy to live in a world fraught with economic injustice, where workers live lives of endless despair and toil, as long as there was a good paying job in whatever field their college degree prepared them for. So don’t let these weasels bully you intellectually, by bringing up the name of the great Martin Luther King.

Now let’s talk about Gandhi, and his struggle. Under Gandhi’s leadership, the Indian people drove the British colonial empire out of India. An amazing achievement, certainly, especially for a very poor and unarmed population, but clearly not the only way to get rid of the Brits.

George Washington also led his people in a successful campaign to excise the British Empire from a colonial expansion.

The Afghans also successfully ejected the British. Clearly, a diversity of tactics can work effectively against the tentacles of a colonial power.

We are not challenging a tentacle of power here. We are challenging power itself. This empire has nowhere to retreat to, so it will fight to the death. A colonial power can always retreat from a colony if the endeavor becomes unprofitable. History teaches that both military resistance and non-violent resistance can make a colony unprofitable, leading to a withdrawal of the colonial power.

So, again, civil-disobedience is not a morally superior choice, or even a tactically superior choice. We choose tactics based on the ultimate goals of the movement, and on our own goals as individuals. So, if you believe that peaceful assembly and civil-disobedience are the only acceptable forms of protest, that probably means you also believe in laws, and cops and prisons and a stratified, specialized society structured for the purpose of maximizing economic activity. In other words, a fascistic oppressive regime, just like the one we have, except that in this new one, you enjoy a privileged status.

You just can’t have civilization without oppressing the masses. We have ten thousand years of evidence to back this up, by the way. We will never all live together, peacefully, as one big happy global family. There are a lot of reasons for this.

Biologically, human beings are small-group primates. In our natural environment, you almost always find humans in tribal groups of 15-40. This form of organization has worked for humans for something like three-million years, and it still works today. Civilization, on the other hand, has been tried dozens of times, and failed each and every time, and it’s failing again now. Just as the Incas eventually abandoned the city of Machu Picchu, its time to abandon the pyramids, ball courts and human sacrifices of our own “advanced” civilization.

Group dynamics tells us that the larger a group becomes, in terms of numbers of individuals, the more energy must be devoted to communication, before the group can act coherently. At some point, a group can become so large that communication consumes all of the energy available to the group, and the group becomes incapable of any action beyond maintaining itself. If it grows still further, it will collapse, because it will take more energy to communicate enough information to keep the group integrated, than the group generates. Civilization has become such a group.

The idea of a global, peaceful, egalitarian society is just a fantasy, concocted to keep us in line, just like the American Dream. In reality, both civilization and the American Dream of a middle-class lifestyle for everyone, oppresses people, destroys the environment, and can never be made sustainable. So, if you believe that non-violent civil-disobedience is the only acceptable form of protest, then you also support global oppression and ecocide, or at least the fantasy that perpetrates it.

I don’t think people should sacrifice their freedom, human rights or personal dignity for civilization. I think it’s high-time we sacrificed civilization, reclaimed our personal power, freedom, dignity and rights, and saved the planet from the rapacious onslaught of global capital, and our lives from the endless servitude of work.


New Year’s Resolutions I Can Keep

Some New Year’s Resolutions I Can Keep, for a Change.

This year, in an effort to conserve what remains of my self-esteem, I decided to make some New Year’s resolutions that I know I can keep. That way, when I look back on 2012, I can avoid the self-loathing, despair, and feelings of inadequacy that come from failing to live up to my own expectations. Here’s a few of the ways I intend to lower the bar on my own achievement goals in the coming year.

 

I John Hardin do hereby resolve this New Year’s Eve 2011, that in the coming year…

 I will not smoke marijuana while brushing my teeth.

I will not have my penis tattooed.

I will not have sex with a penguin, or dare I say it, any waterfowl. Chickens aren’t waterfowl,right?

I will not get breast implants.

I will not masturbate at funerals, no matter how sexy the deceased.

I will not ax-murder any Indonesian taxi drivers.

I will not perform open heart surgery without washing my hands first.

I will not join any church that requires a “Baptism in Blood”.

I will not wrestle alligators while bungee jumping.

I will not say, “Mmm, tastes like chicken” during oral sex.


On The Money, The Problem of the Middle-Class

On The Money,

Financial Advice for the Working-Class

The Problem of the Middle-Class

 

I hear a lot of the talk about the poor, put in terms of a problem to be solved, for example, the homelessness problem, the problem of poverty, or the problem of income inequality. On the other hand, I never hear anyone talk about the middle-class in such terms.

 

You never hear politicians talk about helping people break out of the cycle of income and consumption that keeps them locked in a middle-class lifestyle. You never hear this kind of talk, even though the middle-class is, by far, the bigger problem, both globally and locally. This is undeniably the case.

 

The reason we, here in the US, representing about 5% of the world’s population, consume roughly 30% of the worlds natural resources, is that we have a lot of middle-class people. Sure, our middle-class consumes much more, per-capita, than middle-class people elsewhere in the world, but the dream of a middle-class lifestyle, and the resources consumed in the process of realizing it, or at least trying to, lies at the heart of our current global environmental crisis.

 

In the same way that suburban sprawl degraded the countryside by leveling forest and farm for millions of tract homes in the US, the growing global middle-class will happily plow under everything that makes life sustainable on planet Earth, for an attractive, but illusory, high-consumption lifestyle. The middle-class is an idea not founded in reality, so it cannot be made sustainable. It’s a disease, a mental disorder, a social disorder, a cultural disorder. This disease makes life more difficult for everyone, especially the poor, and soon, unless we can stop it, this disease will render the entire planet uninhabitable.

 

Clearly the middle-class is a problem, if not the problem. But it’s important to realize that the middle-class is composed of people, suffering people, confused people, people who need our help. They didn’t ask to catch this disease, and they can be cured, so we need to address the problem of the middle-class, compassionately.

 

People infected with Middle-Class Syndrome require pretty substantial incomes to support their high-consumption lifestyle, this often requires them to work long hours at stressful jobs. Many of these people took out huge student loans to get the education that helped them land those salaried positions, and/or have mortgages and other debt commitments that keep them trapped in a high-stress, high-income, and high-consumption pattern of behavior, and they see no way out.

 

Our capitalist economy dictates that everything, including workers lives, even salaried workers lives, be managed for maximum productivity, to remain competitive in the marketplace. A person managed for maximum productivity, really doesn’t have the energy left at the end of the day to genuinely contribute to society. So, instead, the middle-class consumes products, substances and services to compensate for the emptiness that characterizes the life of someone managed for maximum productivity.

 

They buy stuff. The merchants who sell them stuff, the enablers, of course, tell the middle-class that they are great people, and that they shouldn’t waste their energy contributing to society, when they can just “vote with their dollar”. In this way, the merchants become dependent on the middle-class ‘s addiction to consumption, and the middle-class become dependent on the merchants for their self-esteem, social interactions and sense of well-being, leading to a vicious cycle of income and consumption that characterizes Middle-Class Syndrome, and maintains the flow of cash into the pockets of the super-rich.

 

While a person with this disease may consume three or five or ten times the resources of a person living near the poverty line, there’s no evidence that it makes them any happier than even people living deep in poverty. In fact we have quite a bit of evidence that most people with Middle-Class Syndrome live in real misery, far beyond that endured by most of the world’s poor.

 

Besides the fact that a very large percentage of the middle-class abuse alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs, far more than the poor and working-class, addictions to substances like oil, coal, gold, jewels and plastic blobjects full of high-tech circuitry, also plague those afflicted with Middle-Class Syndrome. Most can no longer control their own behavior, and so they slip further and further into self-degradation, taking the neighborhood, the community, and the natural world down with them.

 

So, we need to address the problem of the middle-class, not only as an environmental issue, and a social justice issue, but also as a public health issue. We need to address their mental health issues. We need to address their substance abuse issues. But, we absolutely must find a way to change their abhorrent behavior.

 

We need to educate them about how to behave respectfully. Because many middle-Class people grew up middle-Class, they never learned to respect themselves, other people, or the community of life. They simply know no other way of life. As tempting as it is to blame the middle-class for all the harm they do, we must recognize that they are caught in a trap and are simply too stupid to find their way out of it, and have forgotten how to function effectively in the real world.

 

Meanwhile, nearly all of the world’s resources, including the life-force of most of the world’s people, gets sucked up and destroyed, to fill the increasingly empty lives of the middle-class, and the already overstuffed pockets of the super-rich, for whom the middle-class mostly work. Yes, if we as a species, and an ecosystem, hope to survive this century, we need to find an effective, permanent, and final solution to the middle-class problem, right now.


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