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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Firesign Theatre

This will give you some idea of what I like about The Firesign Theatre. And let's just note that they came up with "UTV: For You, The Viewer" at least 30 years before those YouTube punks who make this clip possible here in the Future:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Back in the '70s, the great debate that developed was between those who preferred rock and those who preferred the upstart disco. (This will give you an idea of the general intellectual achievement of the time.) Being someone who neither danced nor had a girlfriend to dance with, I preferred rock. As time has passed, however, I have come to think that if asked to weigh in on this question today, my answer just might be "Swing."

Ah, swing music. It captivated the country from the late '30s to the mid-'40s, and I am currently under its thrall. Benny Goodman and his orchestra, who was to Swing what the Ramones were to New Wave, just get my toes a-tappin'. My current fixation comes courtesy of the channel on XM called The Forties on 4, but my interest has been alive for some time. (You can try out XM for free online for a three-day trial period.)

I've really loved jazz for some years, stretching back into the distant mists of my memory. I really got hooked when I was in college. I heard some of Scott Joplin's rags being played in the classroom next door to the costume shop and signed up immediately after for Jazz History. We followed the development of jazz from its origins in New Orleans and up the Mississippi to Chicago. We listen to Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory. (I even went to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band during this time. Fantastic.)

We listened to Bix soloing with creative abandon only to have Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra cut in after the number of measures indicated in the score. I discovered the glories of Fletcher Henderson and enlarged and enlivened my acquaintance with Duke Ellington and the aforementioned Mr Goodman. We listened to the great Big Bands and then Bop, with its patron saints of Bird, Diz, and Monk.

I stuck with it pretty well up through Modern Jazz and the Cool School, but found myself less interested in Free Jazz and the experiments of Coltrane. As jazz went from hot to cool, so did my interest.

Of course, I still like rock 'n' roll and its many variants, but there is something about swing that really steals me. I guess I'm just a hepcat at heart.

Swing out high and gutbucket and peace out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Call Me Myth-ter

Well, the number comments on Stanley Fish's most recent blog post is up to 268, which is not only a mighty number of comments, but also an address my wife and I used to live at. Only one of the 268 comments is mine, a comment I adapted from my post here yesterday. I have another one pending now, one in which I speculate that Professor Fish is preparing to drop the hammer in his next post.

At any rate, since I believe that he's getting ready to give a literary/mythological approach to this argument, it gives me the opportunity to wax self-indulgent about my understanding of myth in my own drab little life.

Today, I'm going to mention another Indian mound here in Georgia, but not the Etowah mounds. Instead, I'm going to talk about the Ocmulgee Indian mounds in Macon. Now there is also a pyramidal mound there, but the most interesting structure is a smaller mound that had a room built inside it.

The posted signs tried to interpret the room as having been made for political use, however, anyone with any sort of grounding in mythology would see it for what it really was: This was the place where boys were taken to be initiated. This was the place where boys were turned into men.

The building is a low one, and one enters via a long, low, narrow tube. This opens into a round room with a round ceiling. Places for people to sit have been dug out of the ground, with one set around the perimeter on one side and a smaller number of seats by the entrance. The symbolism is obvious: This is an outsized womb, and boys would be taken here so that they could be "born again" as men.

The entrance is the birth canal, and boys would be kidnapped, probably in the dead of night, from their mothers (who would be in on the whole deal) and dragged kicking and screaming down this passageway and into the main chamber. Once there, a number of ritual would have been enacted which may have been physical (in some cultures, the boys are scarred or circumscized or knocked about). After enduring some hours of ordeals (all of which would have been easily survivable), they would have reemerged down the birth canal, stepping out into the sun as men.

It's a ritual we no longer have, and we pay for that lack. This is why boys band themselves into gangs, gangs that invariably have rituals of initiation. they are trying to become men in a society that has no prescribed way of helping them do that. And that is a far harder trip than one down a mock birth canal, both for the boy and the society he inhabits.

Monday, June 25, 2007

And Now for Something Actually Worth Posting

Thanks to a friend on Phil Austin's blog of the Unknown, I came across a couple of things on youtube concerning a truly great magician, Tony Slydini.

This is what magic is really all about. I hope you enjoy them.


Well, Stanley Fish is on about his three favorite Atheists again (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens), and this time he's taken the interesting tack of changing his perspective on the argument in order to further confuse his potential commenters. He's really an old sophist, at heart, but his aim seems to be provocative. He'd like people to try looking at reality in different terms than they had previously, and so he constantly inverts expectations and makes arguments based on a perspective that he neither defines nor identifies.

At base, I think he's trying to show that the assumptions that religious people adhering to so-called Western Religions (none of which developed in the West) and those of atheists are essentially the same. They both concern themselves with white-bearded old men who sit on golden thrones and dispense their patronage to whichever courtier flatters them most. I think that he's saying that, by even writing their books,the atheists are positing the existence of such a being just so that they can deny it. They have to believe in such a deity at some level in order to think it worth not believing in.

In his current essay, Professor Fish argues that God, should such a being exist, is beyond our comprehension and that its existence or nonexistence is therefore beyond proof. And, of course, the denunciations have already started piling up, some 29 by the time I took a look at eight this morning.

His trick, of course, is in his use of the word "God." He is using it in place of other terms, such as "the eternal" or "the divine," simply in order to provoke argument. By using the word "God," he automatically conjures images of a beard-o in flowing robes who chooses his favorites capriciously. This is where the sophistry comes in.

He's edging up to a pool in which God cannot be known with the mind, but only experienced in rare moments of altered perception, but has refused to dive in. He's very good at playing coy and prefers confounding to illuminating, but he's reaching an interesting point. I think he might be getting ready to assert that the problem with these religions isn't the existence or nonexistence of God, but the refusal to see these traditions as symbol systems that aren't meant to be taken as literally as is done by either their adherents or their detractors. He's trying to get to the point of saying that religion is myth.

A few years ago, we started attending church for the same reason that so many people do: We were having a child, and we thought it would be "good" for him to to get some kind of religious background.

I had been raised Catholic, and so I kind of insisted on going the Catholic route. This was not just because it was what I knew, but because I had some sense of how to use it in order to get to deeper levels of consciousness. I am not someone who can believe in this stuff as fact, so I used my small acquaintance with myth in order to be able to participate fully and with an open heart.

For example, I find the concept of the Trinity--when presented as gross fact--to be absurd and nothing but a bunch of rationalizing. However, by thinking of it in terms of symbol and myth, I was able to understand it in a way that made sense, at least to me. I took God the Father as being the equivalent of the Chinese conception of the Tao, that which is beyond time and space. God the Son symbolized this eternal principle active in space and time. God the Holy Spirit was that principle active in the hearts of men.

None of this had anything to do with old guys dispensing boons.

The problem then presented is not one one of temporal concerns such as morality, but becomes a problem of setting oneself in accord with the eternal. The sacraments and the ritual called The Mass are there to perform this function, to aid the seeker in trying to put oneself in accord with that which is beyond space and time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Miscellaneous Friday

It's been a while since I've done a Miscellaneous Friday post, such as this one, however, a number of things have occurred to me that I needed to comment on in my own infantile way, so I have revived the concept from its slumber.

First, there is this story about our unbeloved Vice President, the most powerful Dick in the world. This man needs to be stopped. Again, I would like to suggest that we start by impeaching this bastard rather than going after the handpuppet he calls "Mr. President." The first step would probably be to indict him--there's a whole list of things to choose from to accomplish this--and then impeach him. With any luck, the trial on whatever he was indicted on wouldn't begin until after January 20, 2009, so that the handpuppet would be unable to pardon the jerk.

In my ideal world, he would then get taken to as many town squares as possible and placed in stocks so that people could pelt him with rotten fruit provided at the taxpayer's expense. A jail term is probably the best we could hope for. He needs to be humilated, though, and taught the lesson that no one--and I mean no one--is above the law in this country. In fact, were I running for President, I would make putting Mr. Cheney in jail for the duration of his worthless life a plank on my campaign platform.

Next, today's Times features a review of the new movie A Mighty Heart, which happens to star Angelina Jolie. My comment is not about the movie, which I have not seen and probably won't just because who needs it. I mean, it's easy enough to get depressed without paying $9.50 a ticket for the privilege.

No, what interests me is this phrase that appears in the review: "Mr. Pearl was a casualty of Islamist hatred of Western civilization." I'll come right out and say it. That notion is plain wrong. First, who is Manohla Dargis to decide that every adherent of Islam hates Western Civilization? That can't possibly true and is, in fact, merely prejudice dressing itself up as received wisdom.

Second, the Muslims who thought up the attacks on 9/11 weren't driven by hate, I think, as much as fear. And it's not so much Western civilization that irks them, as it is American pop culture. They might have disdain for Bach or Socrates, but it's Michael Jackson and Desperate Housewives that get their panties in a knot. They fear the same things that our homegrown religious fundamentalists do: TV, short skirts, and the rock 'n' roll music. If Footloose taught us anything, it is that rock music leads to dancing, which leads to premarital sex and other kinds of fun. As religous fanatics, they fear secularism. They revere the past and loath the future. They prefer a universe in which man is the whole point of the existence of the planet Earth, a planet that sits serenely at the center of the seven spheres.

So, let's stop talking about them hating Western civilization or our freedoms. This is an enemy who must be understood in order to be defeated. We can't do that with platitudes.

There was something else that I wanted to spout off about, but it is gone. It's probably just as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Mything Link

Okay, a little more on Joseph Campbell and how his interpretations of myth have led me to think differently in other areas of endeavor.

Recently, we visited the Etowah Indian Mounds in North Georgia. The archaeologists who have excavated the sites over the past decades have done an admirable job in preserving the mounds, but the signs set next to each one showed no real insight into what each mound was for. A background in myth makes some of these things plainly obvious.

For example, the first thing that struck me about these mounds was that they were pyramids on the American model, similar to the pyramids one might see in Mexico or Central America. This, in itself, is interesting, because it suggests some kind of relationship between this culture and those found south and west of it.

The sign next to the largest mound had the general function right. This would be the place for the celebration of holy days, the equivalent of a cathedral. The idea here is that the structure represents the central mountain of the world, the still center around which everything else rotates. That still point represents the eternal, which is why your most sacred moments are supposed to happen there.

The second, smaller mound was described as probably having some kind of governmental function, but that doesn't wash with me. I suspect that it had something to do with the every day rituals, the ones having to do with marriage and birth. It would have been similar to a modern church.

The third and smallest mound has been identified as having something to do with death. Bones have been found there, and the official line is that this is where state funerals were held and that the bones kept in the ossuary were those of the leading citizens of the town. Although this is fundamentally correct, I suspect that this is where everybody's funeral was held. Without having a great deal more information, it's hard to say whose bones were interred there or for what purpose. However, I think that the mound itself would have been the counterpart of the modern chapel in a funeral home.

I think I'm going to continue this as a series, and tomorrow will post about the Ocmulgee Indians mounds in Macon. That's a whole different kettle of fish.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Now, I'm a fan of neither Hillary Clinton nor The Sopranos, so it was particularly surreal to find out about and then watch the video of Hillary and Bill aping the final scene in Tony Soprano's fictional life on You Tube. My review of it is that it is lame. Politicians with no discernible sense of humor of their own shouldn't try to yuk it up on You Tube.

I'm not a fan of The Sopranos for several reasons, none of which necessarily apply to anyone else on the planet. First of all, I almost never watch dramas. I've got enough problems of my own without adding those of some fictional idiots on top. And drama on television, no matter how celebrated, tends toward melodrama rather than tragedy, soap opera instead of Death of a Salesman. And, at the end of the day, can we really say that The Sopranos is anything other than Dallas or Dynasty with violence, nudity, and profanity?

Finally, I grew up in a state that was still entangled with the Mob into my youth and early adulthood. I knew people who were connected, restaurateurs mainly. I knew a guy who found out that he could get somebody beaten up for a small fee. I did dinner theater at one restaurant where we couldn't rehearse on Wednesdays because of private "card parties" and where the remains of two guys who had been missing for some years turned up when the place was torn down.

I even knew somebody who got whacked. He was the cousin of a friend and he stole cars for a living and he turned state's evidence and "they" found out about it and "they" blew his brains out in a stolen car in Lincoln Woods.

I could go on and on.

I didn't watch The Sopranos for the same reason my father wouldn't watch war movies. I've had my fill of it for real.

As for Hillary, I'm not a fan because she blows with the prevailing wind and seems to have no convictions other than an overwhelming desire to slake her thirst for power and prestige. I have no problem with a woman being President. Such a turn of affairs might be just what we need. But not this lady. And not another Clinton or Bush. Enough with the dynasties. We need fresh blood and new ideas, and I don't know who to recommend for that. In fact, I'm not even going to try to decide for another six months because it's too soon to care.

And don't get me started on Celine Dion!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I Got Nothin'

After posting almost daily for a couple of weeks, I'm finding that I'm quite tired of the sound of my own voice. This is not any kind of an announcement. I'm not retiring from blogging or learning to keep my big mouth shut. I might feel differently tomorrow or even later today. It's just that right now, right at this moment, I wish I'd just shut the hell up.

And I will. Right after this sentence.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Friday Excuse

This Friday, like last, I have a class. That means no long, meandering, blithering post today because I will be in a classroom trying to make myself into a better workerbot. If I have a chance to post tomorrow, I will, as I still have some thoughts about how Joseph Campbell's study of mythology has come into play in my own life and how I have used his thoughts to clarify things I have encountered in my life.

Nothing about atheists, Christopher Hitchens, or Stanley Fish.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Even though there is a delightful article on Reuters concerning a think tank report that shows that extremists of The Three Great Religions (The Triumph of Monotheism!) all have similar world views and values, I've decided to write a little more about that blog post that upscale God-defender, Stanley Fish, wrote about Christopher Hitchens and friends, hereinafter known as The Holy Warriors of Atheism.

While my thoughts yesterday were inspired by Professor Fish's citations of the Abrahamic myth of creation, today's is inspired by the following passage:

Hitchens asks, “Why, if God is the creator of all things, were we supposed to ‘praise’ him incessantly for doing what comes naturally?” The usual answer (again given by theologians and religious poets) is, what else could we do in the face of his omnipotence and omnipresence? God is the epitome of the rich relative who has everything; thanks and gratitude are the only coin we can tender.

Or can we? The poet George Herbert reasons (and that is the word) that if it is only by the infusion of grace that we do anything admirable, praising God is an action for which we cannot take credit; for even that act is His. “Who hath praise enough?”, he asks, but then immediately (in the same line) corrects himself: “Nay, who hath any?” (“Providence”) Even something so minimal as praising God becomes a sin if it is done pridefully . Where does that leave us, Herbert implicitly asks, a question more severe and daunting than any posed by the three atheists.

This time, I'm going to mix my mythology with a smidgen of history and try to put the whole notion of the praising of deities in the proper context and make the practice understandable without resorting to either rationalizations (such as the above) or attacks (such as those made by Mr Hitchens).

In order to do this, we have to go back in history, through the mists of time, and before the Triumph of Monotheism. Let's go back to neolithic Europe, the time and place made popular by Jean Auel's laughable novels, such as The Clan of the Cave Bear.

(N.B.: I owe a debt of gratitude for yesterday's post and today's to someone I never met: Joseph Campbell. There was a lot more to the old guy than "Follow Your Bliss," and in these matters of understanding ritual and myth he is a wonderful resource. Thanks, Joe, wherever you are.)

The remnants of altars to bear gods have been found in the mountain caves of Europe. The altar would center around the skull and some other bones of a bear. Rituals would be held in which freshly killed and cooked bear meat would be offered to the bear god in the hope of ensuring a continuing supply of bears in the future. And this is the basis of prayer and worship, neolithic peoples hoping to influence nature in order to ensure a continuing supply of bears or bison or corn or whatever their main staple was. Similar rituals and altars to the ones performed in the bear caves can be found in hunter-gatherer societies around the world.

As people started living in towns and villages and as each person's function in the care and feeding of that society became more specialized, the rituals evolved. In some cases, a family of gods sprang up in which each individual god was identified with particular natural phenomena, such as the Greek system. (This influence can still be seen in the Roman Catholic tradition of canonizing saints who are identified with particular groups.) In the Near East, several sheepherding tribes developed a fairly abstract notion of deities, the chief of whom was known as Yahweh. Over time, devotion to Yahweh eclipsed devotion to any of the other gods worshiped at the time. ("[Y]ou shall have no other gods before me.")

Since these were people who herded sheep for a living, they sacrificed sheep to their god. The echo of this is still heard in Christian ritual where Christ is The Lamb of God who was sacrificed in propitiation. The idea is still the same, and when Christian business men pray before a meeting for a successful negotiation, they are unknowingly echoing their neolithic forebears who were trying to make sense of life in the Alpine forests.

My thing is this: Neither the atheists nor the theists seem to have any true understanding of the subject they tire the rest of us out by discussing ad nauseum. Both are mired in abstractions and childish simplifications of very difficult and profound matters. Perhaps if more people took the time to consider the mythic and metaphorical implications of these matters, there would be less disagreement.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


A couple of days ago, Stanley Fish, famous academic bigwig, wrote a post on his New York Times blog concerning books written in the last few years by the prominent atheists, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Normally, I would link to an article such as this one, but since it falls under the "Times Select" banner, such a link would be useless for anyone who doesn't subscribe. Those who do should be able to find it fairly easily.

Now, Professor Fish takes arguments he finds commonly presented in these three books and tries refuting them by going to the Johns, Milton and Bunyon, among others. This post has garnered 213 comments so far, which is an enviable number of comments and shows how dearly people hold their opinions on these matters. Now, I had considered responding there, but would have had to write a very long comment to match his very long post. Instead, I thought I'd just note a couple of observations here, both of Professor Fish's post and the attendant comments and of the subject that those writings led me to.

First of all, I found it interesting that both Professor Fish and the Three Atheists (as well as the vast majority of commenters) limited their discussion to what my junior high textbooks called The Three Major Religions ("The Triumph of Monotheism" was the actual title of one of the information boxes in a history text book. This was in a public school. So much for the separation of church and state! Also, in terms of monotheism, I find Christianity to be the best buy: Three Gods for the price of one.) No one gave the time of day to any other outlook on divinity, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Shinto, any of a variety of nature religions, or Satanism. Can any discussion of the concept of God be considered valid if it limits itself to only the Abrahamic religions? Isn't that a tad parochial in the now-a-go-go, Information Superhighway, One World we now live in?

This is part of why I didn't jump into the fray. The ambit of the discussion was too circumscribed. And, at the end of the day, isn't such a discussion just the kind of thing that college sophomores indulge in on sombre evenings, only with fewer big words and arcane references?

One of the commenters, a William Theo, pointed out that atheism is itself a belief system and a fundamentalist one at that. I thought that a very interesting insight, and one that points me to what I consider to be the shallowness (however gussied up in language or quotation) of both sides of this argument. Neither side takes into account that the stories that constitute the sacred writings for The Three Great Religions are myths, that is, symbol systems designed to open one's being to a different way of perceiving reality. Both sides assume that the stories they are dealing with are facts instead of metaphors, perhaps no one more fiercely than the atheists.

Professor Fish spends some time expounding on the tale of Eve eating the apple, which he presents throughout as a historic event. He and the early modern cohorts he brings with him into battle present this tale as one of corruption and sin and the exercise of free will. However, when looked at as myth, it becomes a tale about epistemology and how our ability to acquire and use knowledge separates us from the reality that surrounds us. Eve eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and her consciousness moves from an experience of the unitary and the eternal to one that is fragmentary and rooted in time. Her world becomes binary, and she becomes aware not only of good and evil, but naked and clothed, dark and light, and death and life, among a myriad of others. Sin, then is not a matter of behavior, but one of awareness. Sin is being lost in fragmentation and time and being unable to experience the divine, which is unitary and eternal.

I say this all merely as one sinner to another.

In Buddhist terms, Eve (and then Adam) went from Nirvana to Samsarra, just to bring an idea or two formulated somewhere besides the Near East.

I will go on about this, particularly the symbolism inherent in the Near East religions tomorrow. Unless I don't. Only time, fragmentary time, will tell.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Drayton Update

Chapter 12 has been successfully revised. It took me about two-and-a-half weeks. I think it turned out pretty good, at least better than it was. Oh, yeah. It's also about three pages longer than it started out being. That's one of the risks you take.

Next, obviously, Chapter Thirteen. Every day I write the book.

Today's Before Coffee Thoughts

I was just reading an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times written by a fellow named Roger Cohen, who works for the International Herald Tribune, which, I believe, is also owned by The Times. In it, he argues that the Democrats currently running for President shouldn't attack Mr Bush's record on homeland security because the country "is more secure" than it was before 9/11.

That may or may not be true. I really pretend to have no expertise in the matter. However, there were a couple of points that the article brought to mind.

First, I would like to float the notion that we should take the word "homeland" and bury it in a pit out back. It's a foolish and mindlessly nationalistic word that smells of fascism and isolationism. Let us sing, "America, America, land that I love," not "Homeland, Homeland über alles."

Second, Mr Cohen makes the following statement: "The United States has escaped attack these past six years because it is harder to hit, not because the bomb-us-back-to-the-Caliphate boys took a time-out."

His conclusion is not backed up by any evidence. It is merely stated as a fact. And, while I'm not certain of the facts myself, it occurs to me that, although it may be more difficult for terrorists to attack us in exactly the same way again, there is no reason to believe that attacking us is any more difficult now than it was several years ago.

The thing that people don't think about in regard to terrorist attacks is that they are not made for any sort of tactical reason. They are horrific publicity stunts meant to draw attention to the grievances of the attackers and support to their cause while seeking to modify the policies of the attacked through the infliction of fear.

There is every reason to believe that al Qaeda has not attacked the United States since September 11, 2001, because there has been no reason to. Mr Bush's war in Iraq provides them with all the publicity they need. You'll notice, for example, that not only are you not hearing about terrorist attacks here, you're not hearing about them occurring anyplace else, either, outside of Afganistan, Iraq, and the Greater Israeli Metropolitan Area.

The whole idea of determining whether we are safer or less safe than before is idiotic and pointless. We should be looking at underlying causes and trying to understand what motivates those who would attack us (and it is not because they "hate our freedoms," whatever the hell that means) and design policies that undercut their motivations, their recruiting, and their value to others. The so-called War on Terror is actually mostly a war over ideas. The weapons with which to fight it are publicity, market research, and policy. And if that's not a war that we can win, I don't know what war we can.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Let Me Take You Down

This past Sunday in The New York Times, professional singer, songwriter, and preying mantis lookalike, Aimee Mann contributed an article about The Beatles' most famous album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. She started out by remembering how important the album was to her when she was young, and then went on to run it down, since the easiest way to make oneself seem superior is to denigrate commonly accepted truths.

Now, Sgt. Pepper is not my favorite Beatles album. I'm partial to The White Album, that great kitchen-midden of musical styles, ideas, and approaches. However, when Ms. Mann states that she prefers the lyric writing of Fiona Apple to the lyrics of Apple's founders and calls John Lennon's melodies "underwritten," I have to take exception.

In the first place, let's take the songs of Ms. Apple. Now, when I first heard her, I thought that she was really on to something, and so I investigated her music in a bit more depth. And what I found was this: She writes songs in two modes, the jazzy one that apparently has the exact same tune every time and the other one, the forgettable one. Her lyrics, from what I've heard, are fine, but not extraordinary. And there's a certain self-congratulatory smugness that pervades her work.

Ms Mann admits to skipping over "A Day in the Life," the finest song on the album, because it was too dark for her preadolescent mind. Of course, lyrically, it is also lightyears beyond the best achievements of almost any others. Dark, yes, but also very poetic and evocative, open to interpretation.

The entire album is very sophisticated lyrically, and it covers a lot of ground. It's at once a reflection of the Beatles' desire to create a concert for their fans now that they had stopped touring and a rueful examination of nostalgia and the wish for a better future. It's an album that's about trying to survive emotionally in an increasingly dissociative world. It's about getting by, getting better, and getting along. There is, throughout it, a longing for a simpler time, a time of "Love Me Do" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

As far as John's melodies go, it was his countermelody in "She's Leaving Home" that musicologists held up as being an example of the Aeolian Mode, whatever that is, and had them comparing Lennon and McCartney to Shubert. And what does "underwritten" actually mean, anyway? It reminds me of the scene from Amadeus in which someone tells Mozart that his music has too many notes. "Underwritten" is a meaningless criticism, the kind of thing that someone writes when they don't have anything insightful to say.

As I said, Sgt. Pepper is not my favorite Beatles album, nor is it for many of their most devoted fans, I think, but that does not mean that I think it a poor album either. As a record--as a piece of recorded art--it is quite extraordinary, subtle, nuanced, funny, witty, and insightful without being overly self conscious. It's a great work of art, an important and seminal one, and it's still worth a listen. Aimee Mann should try it. She might be surprised.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Not too long ago, I mentioned the parallels between the fictional Mafia family, The Sopranos, and the mob currently running the country. I mention this now in light of the sentencing of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby yesterday.

As you may or may not know, Scooter got a sentence of 2 1/2 years in federal prison, and while he's hardly likely to go to Levenworth, it still won't be a barrel of laughs. And I feel bad for him for a couple of reasons. First, he has a completely idiotic nickname that he outgrew about 40 years ago. Second, he is paying the price of prizing loyalty above honesty, and he's shown no signs of having learned anything from his experiences so far.

Years ago, I read a book called My Life in the Mafia by a guy named Vincent "Fat Vinnie" Teresa. Fat Vinnie was an associate of the New England mob back in the Sixties, and he ended up turning state's evidence after he found out his former friends weren't taking care of his family while he was in prison. I bring this up because it seems like Scooter Libby is destined for a similar experience.

There are those who want Mr. Bush to pardon Libby, but the White House seems to have no intention of doing so. And they're not going to for this reason: You can't pardon the innocent. To accept a pardon is a tacit admission of guilt, and the Bush Administration doesn't want any more attention given to their implicit guilt than absolutely necessary. And so, Scooter will sit in jail and Dick Cheney will go shoot some more friends on canned hunts.

Perhaps the lonely hours in his jail cell will give Scooter the opportunity to think over wisdom of maintaining the code of silence. Perhaps he will see the error of his ways and learn to put loyalty to his country and to justice and to truth above loyalty to a political party and its failed agenda. Perhaps he will come to see the outing of Valerie Plame as the political equivalent of a mob hit and will tell what he knows to those who can legally do something about it. Maybe not.

Two-and-a-half years is a long time to be separated from one's wife and family. It's a harsh penalty, but a fair one, and one that he has little chance of avoiding. Let us hope that that he will understand the suffering he has caused his family because of his unswerving loyalty to the Bush Administration's code of Omertà.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What's the F***ing Problem?

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second District has told the FCC that they can't impose fines on the TV networks just because some dingbat blurts out the occasional expletive on an awards show. My guess is that this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which will rule in a 5-to-4 decision to limit free speech and uphold the ability of the FCC to tell the networks exactly what kind of shit they can allow people to say on their fucking shows. And this will come from the justices who think of themselves as being libertarians, which just goes to show what a load of horseshit these labels that people hang on themselves really are.

Of course, that will probably just encourage the networks to show unexpurgated versions of censored shows on the Internet as a way of generating more hits and therefore more ad revenue from their websites. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

The thing that always strikes me about these controversies is the way that the use of profanity and nudity is always put forth as being somehow groundbreaking and sophisticated. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Breaking down these barriers has led consistently to the production of works that are more puerile and less sophisticated than those that preceded it.

I don't know whether or not it is a good thing to break down these barriers, although I suspect that the indiscriminate disposal of taboos is ultimately unhealthy for a society, just as is too strict a code of them. A society has to try to strike a balance in what it allows and what it restricts. We live in a country in which Bono accidentally used the F Word while accepting some meaningless award and in which children can buy assault weapons at the murderous equivalent to the boat show. Neither shows, to my mind, much balance, however, one must wonder which imbalance is more harmful to society as a whole.

Monday, June 04, 2007

First Things First

As time has passed, a consensus has grown that both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney deserve to be impeached and removed from office. (And those are two separate things, by the way. Impeachment is the proceeding that leads to removal.) The trials really would have begun long ago except for one small roadblock. Nancy Pelosi. If both Mr Bush and Mr Cheney get removed, Ms Pelosi would become president, and most diehard Republicans would be willing to imolate themselves before they would let that happen.

This weekend, the solution occurred to me. Start out by impeaching Cheney. Remove him and let Mr Bush nominate his successor. Since, according to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, he would have to get the approval of a majority in Congress, he would have to choose someone less divisive, say a moderate Republican like Joe Lieberman or a conservative Democrat like Lincoln Chaffee. This would preserve a buffer between Ms Pelosi and the White House and also might get Mr Bush to understand that he is accountable to the Congress, the courts, and, most especially, to the people.

It's even possible that we could get by without impeaching him, and he could run out his remaining term properly upbraided and corrected.

It's Darth Cheney. He's the one we should be after.

Friday, June 01, 2007

9/11 as Symbol

I was just reading Frank Rich's review of Don DeLillo's new novel, Falling Man, and it is only the most recent of several reviews I have read of this book. Having not yet read it, I am not going to review it. In fact, I'm not sure that, as a creative writer, that I have any business judging anyone else's work publicly in any way, shape, or form. Anything that I might write would be too freighted with the weight of my own hopes and dreams and disappointments to be useful as a guide for others. Therefore, I am going to try to refrain from writing about the work of other writers from here on out.

But I digress.

In reading these reviews of Falling Man, I've noticed a common assumption underpinning them. (I'm going to have to tread lightly here. All I have to say to the reader about my following points is to ask him or her to cut me some slack. I'm working through this right in front of you, and this does not represent some polished argument that I've been burnishing in a back room. I'm thinking through this out loud, not passing any laws.)

But I digress again.

The assumption, of course, is that the attacks on September 11, 2001, changed both history and our society forever and that art has a responsibility to make sense of it and to provide a context in which these nearly random, extremely idiotic acts can be understood. And it occurred to me while reading Frank Rich (and I'm not knocking Frank Rich--I am, in fact, a big fan) that this fundamental assumption is wrong.

The 9/11 attacks were not profound events in the way that the critics and, frankly, society at large wants them to be. We, culturally, were not changed forever on that day. We were changed temporarily and nothing more.

Now, let me make plain that I am not speaking on behalf of the bereaved and the survivors. Their experience of that day was--and had to be--different than the experience of the nation as a whole. The effect of those terrible events had to be far more profound and meaningful and significant for those folks than anyone else. To say otherwise is to cheapen their grief and dilute their sorrow.

For the rest of the nation, though, however stunned and saddened we were on the day and in the days ensuing, life returned, bit-by-bit and step-by-step, to the way it had been before. As I've said before, the government did nothing to encourage us to do otherwise, asked nothing of us, and saw us as no more useful than a dissenting opinion or a fresh idea. In his speech concerning the attacks, the President asked us only to go shopping, and we have, for the most part, complied.

And this is the reason why artists have had so little to say about 9/11 and its aftermath. There's not really anything to say. It was a horrible and terrible day, however it changed us less than has the popularity of the iPod. The desire of critics and of the population at large to want 9/11 to be more significant--to mean something--is understandable, but wrongheaded. We cannot sort through something that has not occurred.