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"I am a man first, an artist second. As a man, my first obligation is to the welfare of my fellow men.  My contribution to world peace may be small. But at least I will have given all I can to an idea I hold sacred."

-- Pablo Casals (1876-1973)

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the noise The Noise       page one (2009, January - June)
Contents of this page:  Biblical values / Typo / Toward a Theory of Swearing / Conversion Rate / Immediacy / Dwarf Planet This! / The Sound and the Fuhrer / Bush Made Us Dumber / OMG! We Were Just Kidding! / Notes from the Blagosphere

Biblical Values
posted June 14, 2009

I have been watching a lot less cable news lately, and it has contributed greatly to my sense of peace. I imagine that part of the reason that mystic personages like John of the Cross and Thomas a Kempis were able to lead lives of holy contemplation was because they inhabited the days before CNN. Once theyíd established a reputation, all it would have taken was a phalanx of reporters shoving microphones up their noses and asking for sound bites and weíd see just how detached to the things of this world they could be. Then again, all we have are their writings. They seemed to be quietly devoted, but perhaps they protest too much.

Iíve also tried to cut back on certain parts of the newspaper, particularly letters to the editor. Iíve pretty much exhausted the handful of heated opinions that the uninformed mass of humanity brings to bear on most issues, and though occasionally some bright, thoughtful individual has something of importance to say, it is likely to remain a rarity as long as the mission of those pages is to allow anyone regardless of reasoning ability or knowledge of their subject to settle the matter once and for all in a few lines.

Still, now that it is ninety degrees outside, it seemed like a good time to address the latest in a long series of letters from persons who are suffering from a form of patriotism that looks an awful lot like stupidity. One such gentleman wrote in to the newspaper a while back to announce how proud he is to live in a land populated by persons like himself, and then went on to display the usual phobias that such right-thinking Americans have whenever they contemplate the awful mess that we are in courtesy of left-thinking Americans. He began by castigating the Obama administration for all of the horrible things it was doing like selling our country out to our enemies.

Obama has had a tough year. Heís already been in trouble for a handshake, a bow, and threatening to talk to some people we donít like very much. If he were a Republican he could get away with such courtesies because if a Republican president shook the hand of an arch enemy (hypothetically speaking, of course) it might look like he was showing some respect but we would know he was lying so we could trust him. With Obama you never know. One look into Kim Jong Ilís eyes and he might be hypnotized into selling all of our nukes to his new friend. Or some bacteria that rubbed off of the hand of the Jordanian King might make him impose Shariah law in five minutes. It is strange that he hasnít gotten around to that yet, actually.

At this rate one can only speculate on the kind of horrible, scandalous things our reckless leader will do next. Will he step on a crack while taking a stroll through some part of D.C.? Will he be caught blowing his nose left nostril first? Will he give another impersonal and inexpensive gift to a foreign leader? Clearly this man is running roughshod over our Democracy.

But then, just when all hope seems lost, we are reminded that we live in a land that is run by Biblical values. Thank heaven we are not governed by the Koran! Our gracious author chose to close his letter with this hymn to optimism. Youíll forgive me if Iím not quite sure what to think about this.

Iím wondering which biblical values he has in mind. Let us hope it is not the admonition to stone children (Deuteronomy 21:18) It is true that there is a verse in the Koran that condones and even seems to encourage, in some situations, the beating of oneís wife. This has been pointed out to me by at least one pastor who believed that all Muslims are terrorist savages and that this was part of the proof. Still, I think, forced to choose between the religions solely on the basis of two verses, I would have to go with one that sanctioned domestic abuse over one that encouraged infanticide.

If infanticide does not seem like such a bother to you, there are several cases where God commanded genocide. Does that make it a Biblical value? It is in the Bible, after all, though these instances are mainly localized in the books of Joshua and Judges. And donít forget Numbers. God tells the Israelites to fully destroy several peoples, who live in the 'Promised Land,' besides dispatching whole cities for their sins in books like Genesis. Those who love to see their enemies get slaughtered might want to remember that sometimes the Israelites themselves get the mass execution for disobeying a commandment. Mohammed, we are told, was a military man with lots of blood on his hands, but it does appear that Yahweh was more impressive in this regard. I havenít added up the numbersóI donít want to. Mass slaughter may be precisely the sort of thing that appeals to our letter writer but it turns my stomach. Mercy fanatics may take heart, however, by some other parts of the book.

Before we get there we have to slog through a long list of regulations. I hope that our man was not wearing polyester when he wrote his letteróthis is against Godís law. Eating shellfish is another no-no. But one that could cause me some personal anguish is the prohibition against approaching the altar of the Lord with a defect in oneís sight. I wear glasses. As the church organist I am uncomfortably close to the altar on Sundays, and, in the tradition of some luminaries of the church, could spend my days worrying that as a blemished human being I could not possibly ever get into Godís good graces. Fortunately for my mental health, I assume that since God made me that way, he understands my predicament. It seems more in line with the emphasis on kindness and mercy taken by Jesus, Godís "rebellious" son.

Now we are into more friendly territory if blood and terror are not your style, but there will no doubt be all kinds of problems for the writer of the martial letter to the editor. This Jesus fellow liked to say things like Ďblessed are the peacemakers.í Iím not sure, but I have a feeling you have to talk to your enemies prior to making peace with them. And then go quite a lot farther. At least with Obama running the country we have a reasonable chance things will never get that out of hand!

Political hatchet-men make sure to find a single phrase buried in years of writings that they can gleefully pounce upon to destroy someoneís chances of confirmation or election, but Jesus makes the job too easy. He goes on to say ĎLove your enemiesí and ĎBless those who persecute you.í I threw that last one in because if I ever meet that fellow on the street I want him to be nice to me. Surely I am persecuting him with my words.

The trouble with the Bible is that it says so many things to so many of usóand with good reason. It is as if God subcontracted the various books out to all kinds of different people and didnít check to see if they were squaring their philosophies. In a world as diverse and complex as the one we have, it would be better if Godís word reflected that than trying to ignore it. But it doesnít make it easy to pick something out of there and base your own code for living on it without considering that there are other portions that seem to contradict it. The bible is full of repetition in which the same historical incident is told several times in different ways. There are even four biographies of Jesus, all of them differentósome radically.

The easiest way to get around this, of course, is simply not to read it. And then make blanket statements about how our great country is founded on something we havenít read. Anything we like about our country we can assume comes from the Bible, and anything we donít probably got there courtesy of Carl Marx. This is certainly less of a burden; I often find things I donít particularly like in the Bible, and I imagine most people would also. Broadly speaking, for our gentleman letter writer it would be large parts of the New Testament; for me, it is generally the Old. But it really is not so simple as all that. Knowledge of your subject usually makes it hard to generalize.

Something struck me when I read the Koran. I was hoping to find a book of peace and enlightenment so I could join the chorus of voices that tell us that terrorists and warmongers are distorting its teachings and that Islam is really a religion of peace. But I found that the followers of that book have the same problem that Ďthe people of the bookí (a phrase the Koran uses to refer to Jews and Christiansóthe book being the Bible) have. There are admonitions to good behavior and passages of nobility and majesty, insights into the mysteries of Godís world and pointers to a better one, but there are also indications of cruelty and narrowness and ignorance. There are plenty of verses that concern hellfire and the stern warning that infidels will surely suffer there for eternity. It seems to me that some Christians, particularly the ones who protest the most vigorously against the Koran, might actually find that book to their liking. It contains far more references to punishment and hellfire than the Bible does. Sort of ironic, isnít it? Not unlike the idea that the Christians who scream against evolution the loudest make the best case for itóby their behavior. Suddenly we donít seem much like the image of a loving God and more like a bunch of scared monkeys. Those scared monkeys then start to feed off of each otherís behavior, leading to more scared monkeys. Iím sure that fellowís letter was motivated by frustration and fear, but what to do about it? Constructive dialogue seems to be exactly the sort of thing that scares him the most because heís convinced himself you canít do it without giving away the company store. Better to hunker down and defend what he knows, which, unfortunately, doesnít seem to be an awful lot.

Persons of like persuasion tend to find each other, across religious traditions. People who want to make war on each other, and people who seek understanding. Since I am not much on the former sport, I sometimes wonder why I bother to address subjects like these at all, since calling religious knuckleheads what they are only throws gasoline on the fire. But perhaps there are some among these who are not so immune to discovery, and they will take the trouble to understand their own religious traditions and those of others. Perhaps they will be able to admire the strengths and forgive the weaknesses. And allow themselves to feel a little less threatened. With an eternal and omnipotent God smiling down on us, what have we got to lose, anyhow?

posted May 17, 2009

A couple of months ago I complained about some of the mediocre content on the Internet. In addition to the badly written and worthless self-indulgence on display I lamented the lack of grammatical standards and the ubiquitous typo.

This time Iíd like to show a little sympathy for those for whom getting their content up to code is a bit of a challenge.

It is true, as I have been finding out, that a person can actually edit blog entries after theyíve been posted, and Facebook will at least permit you to delete an entry and re-type it. Until recently I was not a member of Facebook and since this website dates from the Ďpreblogí days, meaning I am also responsible for all of the formatting and designing of the various pages, instead of typing an entry and hitting enter as most blogging sites allow you to do, I was ignorant of this fact. I thought perhaps once you hit Ďsendí you were no longer able to access the material, and that typo would forever haunt you, making it look for all the world as if you didnít know how to spell Ďthe.í

But it turns out you guys have no excuse after all. Still, life experience is often the best way to learn empathy, and it is time to share one of mine.

A while back I was attempted to post an entry to Ďthe Noise.í Some of these get Ďpre-writtení because if I didnít this website wouldnít get updated with even reasonable consistency. If I am too busily engaged in musical pursuits, for example. Since it had been a month since my last effusion, I delved into my trusty archives, in a Word document, and attempted to paste the article onto the appropriate web page from whence I could post it.

That was when five kinds of hilarity ensued.

The first kind happened when I hit the Ďpaste button.í My web page editor decided that the font I was using was too boring and decided to bless me with everything in its arsenal. A paragraph in Trebuchet MS, a paragraph in Sans Serif, and few words in Times New Roman, and those in different sizes.

Mind you, from recent experience I had been expected there to be some kind of problem. I had found, for instance, that when you type directly to the page the letters assemble themselves slowly, sometimes taking up to a minute for a moderately lengthy sentence to actually arrive at its destination. I can be typing three of four sentences ahead of what I can see on the page. This doesnít happen normally; it isnít like my abacus has a really slow processor, itís just that this particular page has some really strange bugs in it.

Evidently it has some pockets of hidden font instructions as well. Iíd experienced that before, but there had never been such a wellspring of diversity assembled in one place. It took about ten minutes to restore order and get everybody to agree on a font.

Well, it would have, except that some of the delegates changed their votes. Some of them wouldnít change no matter how many times I clicked on them, and others would whimsically become some completely different font per an algorithm known only to my computer.

At first I tried to simply select the entire text and put it into one uniform form, however, once I got three lines into it, my helpful editor kept selecting the entire page, table, banners, and all. Evidently there was a glitch buried in there somewhere that caused the mouse to think it had reached the bottom of the page before it got to the second paragraph. This phenomenon has also been localized to this one page.

I donít mind telling you I tried this a hundred times. People who work with computers know that the best way to achieve something is to keep trying the same method even though it didnít work the last nine times. In the business world this is known as the definition of insanity, but in the world of computers that is exactly the right method. Besides, I didnít want to have to convert the text two lines at a time.

But eventually, I came to terms with the fact that that was precisely what I would have to do. My wife can tell you there was much sighing involved, and a few things I would not say to my mother, were she a computer.

Once I got down to the nitty-gritty, a fresh load of hilarity was waiting for me. Some of the words became enlarged and threatened to navigate to other pages, others disappeared entirely. Then, for no known reason, one of the paragraphs suddenly turned blue. So did the air in the general vicinity, I seem to recall.

My colorful phrases were not through being colorful. One of them turned a nice side of drab green. This happened, I believe, because of a completely unrelated action I took to change the font of the paragraph half a page below it. At this point I was clearly seeing red, though I donít remember seeing an example of said hue in front of me.

I took me about two hours of stubborn persistence to get my wishes and post my article. I have since demoted that particular page and will soon have it deleted from the web site entirely. It is too autonomous, and I am too insistent on being able to express myself in coherent sentences rather than sighs and curses.

If you are looking for an excuse why you didnít bother to check the spelling of that two line rant you sent over Facebook last week, I may not be able to furnish one. But I have a greater appreciation for the perils involved in simply trying to get content published these days, even when it looks like it might have been a simple matter. An authorís works sit silently on the page, and often we have no idea of the tribulations involved in getting them published.

Now, if my Internet goes out just as I am about to upload this thing, I will have some more choice interjections for my living room walls. I could get a head start now by typing a line of symbols, just to memorialize, and show solidarity with, the legion of incoherent frustration we all feel at times like this.

But you know what? Shirt happns.

Toward a Theory of Swearing
posted March 29, 2009

Thisíll be good, right?

Back in the old days, when the English language as it was written down was hopelessly bereft of any emotional qualities, it behooved those who used it to be prepared to defend themselves with pistols at dawn when, inevitably, our remarks were grossly misunderstood. Often gentle kidding was perceived as a great slander, and much bloodshed did result. I speak of course, of the distant era before the coming of the emoticon. It is hard to imagine this now, when a smiling icon adorns the end of every sentence, but this was a great innovation, because it allowed the mood of the speaker to shine through without having to discern it from the clues left by the words themselves. This simplified our comprehension work greatly, especially with the coming of prescription drugs to insure that we are always in a good mood. Thus it is necessary to only use one emoticon, rather than a whole army.

Imagine the different course that history would have taken had Federalist newspapers made use of the emoticon when they warned that the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 would cause the "teaching of murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest :-)" Actually, Jefferson got elected anyway. But now we know why our schools are going to hell.  ;-)

Or perhaps, if Harry Truman had had one at his disposal in his letter to the music critic who wrote an unkind review about his daughterís singing. The sitting president seemed to be threatening to tear the criticís testicles out, but he could have meant it playfully:

"I have never met you, but if I do you'll need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak and perhaps a supporter below. :-)"

Or think of the sort of reputation Unconditional Surrender Grant could have had as a kinder, gentler Civil War general if he had used the emoticon in his note to the commander of Fort Donelson:

"Öno terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works. :-D"

Buckner, the confederate commander, could have responded "Got your note. LOL. You can have my 12,000 men. Request that you let us keep our IPODs."

Actually, the technology to create the emoticon has been around for thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. But amazingly, its use has emerged only recently. Before that, during oral transmissions the speaker would accompany his or her strong convictions with laughter and smiles to soften the blow. But for written communiquťs it was necessary to choose your words carefully.

I was meditating just that at breakfast this morningófor a few seconds. Suppose I told someone that there was a strong odor emanating from the cat. It would be assumed this was a negative assessment, since the word odor is not generally used in a positive way. If he had just emerged from his litter box smelling of cat cologne (the Ďfresh scentí that comes in every crystal) it would be wiser to use the term Ďscentí as in, Ďthat is an interesting scent.í Similarly, you would not want to tell your wife who has just dressed up and put on perfume for a night out that she is Ďquite odiferous tonight.í

While the dictionary assures us that the two words are effectively synonyms, this is not quite true. Their Ďdenotation,í or dictionary definition, makes them so, but their Ďconnotationí or meaning which the words convey including emotional stance, value judgments, or associations with other words or ideas, is that you will be sleeping in the garage.

I owe my original exposure to this sweeping idea to being present during 10th grade English class. Another earth-shattering idea that we learned that year was the origin of most English swear words. The theory, if I recall it correctly, was that while the French Normans were in charge of England (having taken over in 1066 AD), certain Anglo-Saxon words became devaluedóusing them was a sign of being vulgar, low-life, of the peasantry, rather than your sophisticated ruling class. It was a case of Ďpardon my English,í though envy may have caused the expression to be turned around later on to read Ďpardon my French,í notwithstanding that the words under the curse were English, and probably German imports to start with, so the French were the only ones not to blame, except that their cultural snobbism led to the connotations of these words arising in the first place.

While itís nice to know that swearing has its parentage in a series of ethnic put-downs, it doesnít tell me why, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, the first word I want to reach for is f**k! But I have my own theory for that. It is elegant and cultured and youíll want to try it out at parties if they are serving wine and/or cheese.

Youíll note that most swear words add absolutely nothing to the actual content of a sentence. Though they can sometimes function as adjectives, or verbs, or nouns, generally when used as swear words proper they do nothing to elaborate on the meaning of the thought being expressed except to make it longer. This is an important observation.

Suppose I want to write a poem. It has five syllables to a line, but the thought I want to express on line 6 only takes two syllables. I have a choice: I can either disturb the rhythm of the poem, or I can find a way to add three syllables to the line by saying the same thing but taking a little longer to say it. A great poet would find a way to make those three syllables worth the trouble to read, but most of us would not.

What Iíve just outlined here is the conflict between form and content. Form is the size of the mold, and content is what you pour into that mold. Does it fill the bowl? Swearing, goes the theory, is simply a way to reconcile the antagonism between form and content. You will want to try that out the next time someone criticizes your language. They may look at you as if you had lost your mind, but you will have gained it. In fact, you will have reconciled two more enemies: thought and instinct. You have been furnished a theory that allows you to do what you were going to do anyway but justifies it on an entirely different basis.

Breaking it down a little, I hit my thumb with a hammer. My lungs are full of air. I begin to say Ďouch! That hurts!í but find I still have air in my lungs and my desire is to expel all of that air in an orgy of rage. I fill in the gaps between every word with whatever useful words are at hand, generally ones with plosive consonants and good unattractive vowel sounds. When I am finished, the physical act of expelling all of my air, as well as the effort to achieve good diction so that all of the Ks Fs and Ts come out forcefully, will satisfy me that I have somehow balanced the equation between the hurt that the hammer blow has caused me and my forceful adumbration of it.

This is what I would do orally. Suppose I were condemned to write about the experience. I might launch into a torrent of erudition and crunchy adverbs that I might somehow imagine was able to absorb the fitful neurons of my fevered brain. Upon releasing the pressure, I would emerge a cleansed, sober, quite civilized model of humanity. It is a small price to pay if I have completely confused my fellow man in the process.

By the way, I feel much better now.

Conversion Rate
posted March 10, 2009

Where you ready?

All last year, while the election coverage roared on and on, and the news media struggled to put something on that would hold our attention just until the next time a kid fell down a well or some nice girl from the suburbs got abducted or some goldfish rescued a family from a burning building by dialing 9-1-1, it was flashing at us from the bottom of our screen.  "The digital conversion is coming! Analog users, the end is near! Warning warning! You have until February 17th to get your TV equipment updated if you value you viewing experience! Get yourself a convertor box NOW! before it is too late! This friendly but dire warning brought to you as a public service. NOW! p.s. We think the North Koreans have enough nukes to blow up Canada. Have a nice day."

So February 17th came and went, and, if I'd gotten around to it, I was going to write a column ridiculing the fact that, as a child, I was told that we were going to go metric in this country by the year 2000. All of those feet and inches, gushed my over-stimulated 4th grade science text book, were suddenly going to became meters and kilometers. Because it made more sense to make everything multiples of 10, which was why, of course, we were going to do it. And the best part was, the reality meets the road part, was that we were going to give everybody 20 years to get it done, which meant that even the most status-quo loving Americans could get on board with it. I was going to make fun of the fact that we, as a country, could not possibly make such a sweeping change like that in 20 years if it involved repainting yardsticks and swapping out odometers, but if it affected our TeeVee, then, by God, we were going to do something about it!

And then we couldn't even manage that.

Last month, the legislature passed, and Obama signed, a bill pushing back the deadline to convert to digital television. The current deadline is June 12th. The argument ran that poor people and senior citizens didn't have their convertor boxes and would watch in horror as their televisions turned to static. And then they would give their congressmen hell over it. I understand the dilemma. One of the people who wouldn't have been ready is my grandmother. Her children have to run interference with government agencies all the time. She needs somebody else to do her taxes. She has, probably, a 4th grade education and spent much of her life providing for her family by working in the fields in a small town in Austria. It took quite a bit of time to convince her to use the answering machine her children bought for her and she still likes her black and white television. Life is pretty simple, or it ought to be. She spends much of her time crocheting, and watching Matlock. Her idea of criminal justice is that 'they should just shoot them!" If my uncle hadn't gotten her a conversion box, Matlock was going to be a thing of the past. It wouldn't have mattered whether the deadline was in February or June. Or two and a half Olympiads from now. She wouldn't be ready.

Not everybody has children looking out for them. Some people live in very remote areas, some people are desperately poor, and can't afford a $40 convertor box. I feel for them. It would be mean not to. The government has tried to do what it usually does in those cases, which is to make it as easy as possible for people to make the adjustment. It has offered coupons for half-off convertor boxes that it provides.  But then we got word that the government ran out of convertor boxes.

I can see why some people in congress think that if the government isn't able to provide what it said it would, people need an extension. Before we succumb to the latest round of government-bashing, let's take a second to recall how often we have trouble running our own families or communicating with our friends or coworkers effectively. And then multiply that by a factor of a thousand. I'll bet you or I wouldn't do any better running whatever program that is. They say they underestimated the need for the boxes. And they started a waiting list. Fine. And now they need to be fair to the people who couldn't get them in time for the original deadline by putting off the conversion until June. Fine.

But sooner or later we are going to have to make a decision. Because the next time, there are still going to be people who still aren't going to be ready. And the time after that, too. Some folks just don't have it in them to adjust to new technology. Some don't want to. If we wait for everybody, the train is never going to leave the station. After a yearlong ad campaign that had to be the most ubiquitous in history, and endless tutorials on how to make the switch crawling across the bottom of your screen so you didn't have to do anything more complicated than sit on your tush and watch the screen for further instructions (1,000 times) we didn't get there on the first try. Unless you are Michael Phelps, you might not want to hold your breath waiting for a successful conclusion to the second attempt, either.

I hope I'm wrong about that. But I've come to recognize an important thing about human beings.  They are never going to be on the same page. Four thousand years after "Thou shalt not kill" and some people still can't handle it. Any standard you can think of is not going to 'work' for everybody. If I waited until everybody knew or valued classical music before doing what I do, I would have to wait forever. Nobody else would be practicing their specialties, either. Given the complexity of our society I am sympathetic for those who seem to be floundering in it. Sometimes I am one of them. Every time something new comes along I have to make an adjustment, and it isn't always easy. But it is, for survival purposes, necessary.  I've come to realize that no matter how low you set the bar some can't get over it. And that doesn't even include the ones who are actively railing against all such innovations. My favorite theologian*, Douglas Adams, makes a point about that in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. On the hot topic of evolutionary progress, he writes that some people weren't too happy that human beings came down from the trees. "And some even thought that leaving the oceans had been a bad idea." Luckily for me, most of them aren't able to use email. But they have spokesmen. And they can send their nasty, misspelled emails to [email protected]   But just so you know, your constituents have my sympathy. Let's do what we can for them, shall we? And then get on with it.

By the way, spell-check flagged my negligent spelling of the abbreviation 'tv' above. I forgot that references to the divinity have to be capitalized.

*yes, I know Douglas Adams was a writer of science fiction comedy, and an atheist. Your point?

posted March 1, 2009

An article I wrote on Music and Math last month must have the hallmark of genius because I wrote it all between late Friday night and early Saturday morning. I imagine a lot of college freshmen have had the same experience with their works of genius.

I mention this because it is often observed with a great deal of reverential hoopla that a work of art was created in a very short span of time and somehow this is part of its miracle and its mystique.

Now the internet has given us a great opportunity to bask in that thing that many of us love most of all: immediacy. Not being burdened with the agonizing reflection that often accompanies professional authors before they commit words to paper, or send them around the world.

It is interesting, this urge toward the here and now, to be part of the fires of creation while they are still hot. I remember teaching a couple of sections of a theory class at a college. It was a remedial class, the material wasnít that interesting, and it met early in the morning. Lots of bored and perturbed freshman at 8 in the morning. Great.

I tried to be entertaining. Since my brain manufactures bad jokes like flapjacks in situations like that, I would sometimes insert a goofball insight into the middle of the lecture. At 8 o'clock I always got a reaction. Since Iíve had practice in immediately recalling my improvisations for later, I would try the same joke at nine. It never worked. The students never seemed to think it was funny. As if the strength of the joke itself didn't matter, but only whether it had been premeditated.

But if I created a new joke at the nine oíclock section, they would react. As if they could tell somehow, perhaps by a slight difference in the delivery, whether it was a fresh joke or something I had already concocted from my fertile joke-telling cranium. Apparently bad humor has a very short half-life.

I repeated the experiment practically every day all semester so I think my methodology is fairly sound. The sampling is pretty scientific. And I had to get up very early and deal with some hostile freshmen for several weeks to get the data, so donít knock it, ok?

But Iíve had more than a little reason to doubt whether the unmeditated rantings of some guy from somewhere are worth posting where everybody can see them. Of course, I am biased. I play music that was often written down hundreds of years ago, maybe by someone who spent their life honing their craft and several months or years refining their musical creation. That is a concept that often doesnít take either. I still remember a student remarking about how a composer was able to just come up with a piece of music just like that and I had to remind her that she had no way to tell just because it was all there on the page whether it hadnít taken the composer several hours and a great deal of pacing around to get from the first measure to the second. There are times when musicologists can tell us that with a good deal of certainty.

I've noticed that a lot of people think this way. Just as people will pay attention if someone is singing something but will assume it is background noise if you are playing it on a piano, people will also take heed if it appears that you are just making it up as you go, but lose interest if they think that you had planned it out beforehand. So much for look before you leap: if you want an audience, just leap! While this is certainly a popular ideology, succumbing to  the fun of just throwing down thoughts as they occur to you and not worrying about revisions and editing, there have been many great musical minds who have also excelled at the immediacy of improvisation. Many jazz recordings attest to this. I donít know how many authors are adept in this medium. There has been improvisational poetry and experiments in flicking the paint on the canvas.

Whether there is something to the cult of immediacy or whether it is just the thrill of putting yourself in cyberspace, the internet is now a flood of blogsódiaries and journals, pictures and videos, often of the most mundane things, but then, that is pretty much the stuff of life, is it not? And most of us are not publishing our effusions with an audience in mind, aside from friends and whoever else wants to share our passions.

I am now a grand old man of 37 and can remember a time when the world was much different. Someday Iíll tell my grandchildren about a thing called a reasonable expectation of privacy before the age of Youtube when you never know if you are making appearances in videos that are being seen by millions. A woman who had a temper tantrum at an airport found that out recently the hard way.

One of my pastors has a blog on a thing called blogspot (there I go being quaintly old-fashioned again and thinking you might not know what that is) and it has a convenient little button at the top of the page that allows you, with one click, to sample other blogs. Many of them are in Spanish, which Iíve mostly forgotten since high school. Too bad. The internet is making me feel like I ought to expand my linguistic horizons a little.

Does it do this for anyone else? So much of it seems to consist of little outposts of self-indulgence. By way of a series of random clicks I managed to come face to face with what would have once seemed like the lowest standard of journalism, but is now probably responsible for most of what is on the internet, pound for pound.

I refer to the time-wasting exercise of clicking on Many Links. It is easy to stick these in anywhere, and keep anyone who is feeling slightly bereft of purpose chasing trivia all morning. As it happened, my initial click was caused by wanting to learn something about a book that said pastor had listed among his favorites. Instead of winding up somewhere I could buy the book (which was my rather naÔve assumption) I got taken to a very short list of persons who were also fans of this book. Apparently blogspot is more into social networking than commerce.

Now that my quarry was gone, I decided to find out where the path would lead. Letís call it webprovisation. And letís just admit that some of our webprovisations are longer than some ragas. I like to keep mine to a dull roar. I clicked on the link of the person at the top of the list.

It was a teenage girl. Her blog postings consisted almost entirely of pictures of her kittens (they were cute) and I believe one post about how bored and depressed she was and how she had no friends.

There was a link to a second blog under her name and it turns out that this blog belonged to some other guy, maybe a friend of hers. I was silly for thinking that it was her blog just because it was under her name. In the blogworld anything you happen to like gets Ďfavoritedí and there is no difference between stuff you actually create yourself and things you identify with. Not that this is terribly new, it is just easier to access.

This fellow was probably also a teenager. His first blog entry read something like this: "this is my first blog entry. I donít really know what to write. Iím so nervous. Well, here goes. I guess Iíll just type something."

Many people donít update their blogs very often because they donít know what to say. But they want to say it anyway. Somehow, everything you are thinking and feeling has to go out over cyberspace or it doesnít count. I remember when we all felt that way about television. Whenever you saw the camera you waived like an idiot because you were on tv! We still do that, of course. Because mass attention is so magical we donít need to do anything but bask in it.

There are still some people who reflect on what they are going to say before they say it, who decide that not every thought they have in a given day is worth sharing with the world, and who take the extra five seconds to proofread their writing before posting it. We call this the old media. Some of it is now online. It jostles uncomfortably with these new-style diary entries and family album photos and heated misspelled political diatribes and discussion chat rooms. It worries about its continued existence. It worries about standards.

Now there are plenty of people who know a thing or two about respect and civility and how to spell and debate and express their thoughts and there are days when they make web surfing a pleasure. And then of course there are the ones who werenít paying attention in 4th grade when we learned what nouns were or where to put apostrophes and if I had been born a century or two earlier I wouldnít still be reading their failing book reports in the form of undead web effusions. I try to steer clear of such effluvium whenever I can, but sometimes it hits you square in the face. And no, I donít need emails telling me to just lighten up. I realize there are some people who just arenít cut out for expressing their thoughts coherently, or even having thoughts I would want to know about. And for many, the idea that you can post a bit of yourself right here right now trumps any consideration about whether, with a reach like the internet, where you can communicate with anybody in the world with a computer who can read in your language (or with eyes or ears in the case of pictures, video or sound files), you have any responsibility to whoever might be on the receiving end. Will this even be worth anybodyís time? Authors bother with such questions. Teenage diarists don't. They just didnít used to publish their diaries where the world could see them.

Now that anybody can publish, it is no wonder badly phrased, incoherent, incomplete, imbecilic thoughts are on parade 24/7 in such large quantities. It is a little disturbing, but it really shouldnít be a bit surprising. Mine might be the last generation old enough to even notice the effect of this tidal wave of incivility and incompetence mixed in with the unprecedented ability to communicate, learn, and discover. Like the governor who complained about the new train locomotives going at the Ďbreakneck speed of 15 miles per hourí in a letter I once saw in a museum, I thought Iíd register my dismay before everyone forgot what a transition like this will bring to the human consciousness. It is not all good. But Iím sharing it with you while it is still fresh and new (sort of). Itís a little glimpse into how Iím feeling on this cold March morning. Thousands of other people have said virtually the same thing, online or in the papers. It is not a difficult thing to notice. Maybe some of you feel the same way and will be cheered reading this. Is it supposed to matter? I have a blog and I am writing things in it. In the here and now.

But I have to admit, I took a few minutes to proofread it first. Does that count?



Dwarf Planet This!
posted February 20, 2009

For some reason (I think somebody has just come out with a book) Pluto is back in the news recently. So I thought I'd get this column out of the archives and dust it off. It seemed funny at the time....

from September 2006

In August, the Society of Big-Deal Astronomer-type Dudes decided to review the rules on who gets to be a planet. Evidently, beside the security problem at our nation's airports whereby persons are able to smuggle vast quantities of harmonicas into the country with impunity, one of the things that ought to concern every red-blooded American is just how easy it is to be a planet. If every rock that went around the sun got to call itself a planet, well, schoolchildren would have an awful lot to memorize. Besides, there wouldn't be much in it for the real planets. They might have to start calling themselves superplanets or something to distinguish their major rockness from the rest of the rubble rabble.

So, in case too many Americans think they can supersize their way to becoming internationally respected celestial bodies, the astronomers tightened their rules, and under the new ones, Pluto doesn't get to be a planet anymore.

Pluto took the news hard. I can't print what it said here, which gives you an idea of just how vulgar it was. All this comes from hanging around with the wrong crowd. Pluto couldn't stop being pulled into the lurid orbit of Neptune, and, under the rules, you aren't a planet unless you are independent enough to have your own orbit. If you cross in front of anybody else, not only are you a rude piece of rock, you get your planethoodedness revoked. Pluto tried to appeal, suggesting it was merely trying a little cosmic dosido, but the astronomers, most of whom have bad memories of being forced to square-dance in 4th grade, didn't find that amusing.

The news isn't all bad. Pluto still gets to be known as a "dwarf planet" which doesn't sound very P.C., and does bring up the highly philosophical question, 'just when is a dwarf planet not a type of planet?' Apparently, they still wanted to distinguish Pluto from some of the asteroids that promised to fall out of their orbit just past Mars and hit the earth if they get the time, and a few baseballs that escaped the earth's gravity during the 20s. But it does prove what a categorical mess we've got on our hands. In addition to Pluto, a few other insignificant rocks I hadn't heard of have recently been found loitering on the outer rim of the solar system. One of them had an attractive name like JZ76493B10-9674GJH2 which was probably the confirmation number on the last book I ordered from Amazon. Imagine how shocked I was to learn that they had named a sun-orbiting rock after it.

It does just go to show you how no label is sacred anymore. Luckily, however, this change won't rock the musical world. I was listening to Gustav Holst's orchestral suite "The Planets" a few days after the incident because it came on the car radio, and realized that Mr. Holst doesn't need to worry about removing "Pluto" from his list of pieces, each of which is named for a different planet in our solar system. When he wrote the piece during the First World War, Pluto hadn't been discovered yet. Now it's just an ignominious igneous rock. How the mighty have fallen.



The Sound and the Furher
posted February 1, 2009

Itís time to shelve all of those Hitler comparisons. We should start comparing people to Stalin.

You know what Iím talking about. Whenever somebody in an opposing political party says or does something we donít like we compare them to Hitler. Itís a clichť, and it is way out of the bounds of reality since most of the people who get slammed with that title, the equivalent of a verbal homemade nuclear warhead (so easy to make and so powerful), have never gassed millions of Jews or made war on all of Europe and part of Africa. People used to compare Bush to Hitler because he was sending troops into Iraq. Saddam Hussein actually stood a better chance for the Hitler honors because he attacked every country that bordered his at one time or other, but he was far less successful than the crazed dictator, who has now become the posterboy for evil. But you donít need to make actual war to get the comparisons drawn. If you suggest anything that can be construed as an attack on free speech (no matter how speciously) you can be called a Nazi. If you arenít as "pro-Israel" as some parties would like you can get the Hitler honors. If you say something that suggests you might not be as progressive as someone else, or too progressive, you might be a Hitler. Pro-choice people get the nod sometimes for "killing babies." Take a stand on an issue that, while it might be moderate or nuanced, can be extrapolated by your enemies to the point of inflexible insanity, and your hate-filled "attack" suddenly makes you just like the Fuhrer.

Somebody pointed out this over-the-topness once in an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer is caught smoking a cigarette and his accuser intones "you, sir, are worse than Hitler."

The reason I am going to suggest the change has nothing to do with the unfortunate ubiquity of our simpleminded declarations that everybody we donít like is another Hitler. It is that, if we are going to do it anyway, we ought to adopt a new poster-child.

It isnít like Hitler doesnít deserve to be the very emblem of evil. The number of lives ended or horribly disrupted because of the movement he led is massive. Even given the lamentably high number of horrid examples of humanity over the millennia, he cut an impressively hideous swath. But historians believe that Joseph Stalin actually ended more lives than Hitler. They estimate his count at at least 20 million. Hitlerís, besides the roughly 6 million Jews he had gassed, and the millions more that died in the war, actually falls pretty far short of that total. I donít like to quibble over evil of that magnitude. They are both strong candidates for the ninth circle of hell.

But the people of Russia apparently donít see it that way. Vladimir Putin, who someday just might join this list, is making sure that history is getting re-written in Russia. The history text that is most popular right now is taking the line that Stalin was a much misunderstood leader who had to take extreme measures to save the country he loved. Some of his methods may have been violent, but they were necessary in order to insure the long term stability of Russia. What a great man!

And people are being told this again and again, and lacking alternatives, are believing it. They are lacking alternatives because those voices are being silenced. People are being imprisoned and killed for speaking up against Putin. Even now in Russia it may be too late for reason to prevail. The propaganda machine is in full swing. Is the war machine too far behind? And once again, we are asleep at the switch. The stories out of Russia are getting buried on page A-10. They will make the front page when something of a catastrophic nature happens to the rest of the world. When it is too late to do anything but try to put Russia down with guns and tanks and ĖGod help us allónuclear weapons.

I have an eerie feeling that weíve been down this road many times. In the meantime, I can only suggest a propaganda war of our own. I doubt many Russians are reading our blogs (in translation?). Maybe they arenít allowed to. And they may not have much contact with westerners anymore. Maybe they are already in mass-denial and like it that way. But at least we can remind ourselves what we are up against. We can remind each other and we can remind our leaders. And we can keep spreading the news about what is happening in Russia. Because, like a nightmare in slow motion, it is happening again. And we don't seem to be able to do anything the stop it. Or want to.

The first thing evil likes to do is get a make-over. The first thing complicity likes to do is roll over and hit the snooze button.

How bad will it get this time?


Bush Made Us Dumber
posted January 19, 2009

Keep reading. This article isnít about what you think itís about.

 Eight years ago we had a messy, contentious election that brought a fun-loving Texas oilman into the white house. For some it was a great moment in America, and for others it was the gravest catastrophe in American history. For ĎWí, as he was called, was thought by many on the left to be nothing more than an extremely stupid, arrogant cowboy. I could put quotes around that phrase but it was uttered by too many people.

 Now granted, Bush is certainly no rocket scientist. But I thought then, and I still do, that he canít be quite as dumb as his critics portrayed him. Given eight years to make a case against himself, though, he hasnít emerged as much of a genius. But if you listened to the stream of liberal guests on television and the radio and the paper and your neighbors, you would have wondered how the guy could walk upright.

 Surrounded by a team of advisers who probably had a lot more going for them in the cerebrum department, they managed, despite the incredulity of their enemies, to get their way on quite a few major issues of the day. For a while, anyway. For a guy for whom every sentence was an adventure this clearly seemed like a reach eight years ago. But here we are. My liberal readers are thinking about what a complete mess this country is in, but I want them to look harder. In order to create that mess, I would assert, one has to wield political power effectively. You have to sell your ideas, and get people to buy them. And congress. Even a Republican one. Especially if you want to keep it that wayófor six of your eight years.

 Could it be that he was underestimated just a little? How different would the last eight years have been if, instead of all the shouting and contempt, liberals had coolly and strategically put forward an alternative agenda, voiced by someone who could appear to take seriously the administrationís ideas while inspiring us with the notion that there was a better way to deal with our fears, not by ignoring them hoping our real enemies would go away, but by developing a better strategy than the one we were given? It would need to be somebody with a little personality and the ability to communicate their way out of a paper bag.

 Instead, a lot of what I heard wasnít inspiring, or well thought-out. It was a lot like eight years of cross-fire, with people shouting the same lines over and over. Both conservatives and liberals seemed to feel that it wasnít even worth wasting breath over those idiots on the other side who just didnít get it, so, instead of trying to persuade, it was better to just get your way by being more hysterical.

 I remember the morning after the 2004 election. All those stupid red states, went the moan among Democrats. People were apologizing for be born in one of them, treating their whole state like it was some backwater where the people wore mastodon skins and carried clubs. Forgetting that, in most cases, 49 percent of the people there voted for the Democrat. There werenít any blue states or red states. Most of them were pretty purple. And yet some of the very same people who were accusing conservatives of seeing the world as being too simple were doing it themselves. There has been a lot of that these eight years.

 When you are in an adversarial relation with someone or something it tends to dumb you down. Your IQ slips. You become obsessed with building a case against them. You ignore any evidence that doesnít point in the direction you want it to go. Life is about raging against that person or idea. It isnít that you donít have a point, itís that after a while, the point gets so sharp that all it can do is cut people.

 Then, after a while, when it seems like no one is listening to you, you crank up the volume. Same talking points, just more screaming. IRAQ HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH 9-11! over and over, on the television, and in the papers, and on the radio and on the street. Pretty soon you are yelling it at your breakfast cereal, which definitely had nothing to do with 9/11.

 Iíve read a lot of political discourse in the last eight years. Thereís been quite a bit of case building, and the same arguments made over and over. Weíve been told we are a very divided country (over and over). There were blue states and red states, people who thought Iraq was a good idea and those who thought it was a disastrous mistake. One of the interesting things to emerge from the last eight years is the fact that both conservatives and liberals see the media as their enemy. If you are conservative it has long been one of your articles of faith that THE MEDIA has a liberal bias. If you are liberal, though, you accuse the same media of being a mouth piece for the administration during the build-up to war. Logically it seems like a strain for both positions to be trueóat least as far as THE MEDIA goes. If you take the outrageous position that the media is made up of individual people with potentially different opinions you could get it to work. That isnít too glamorous, however. Our enemies arenít individual soldiers. We like to take on the whole army.

 I hoped you conservatives would keep reading because despite the title this wasnít another tired futillion against Bush. You might have noticed that his enemies got more bad press above than he did. But I donít want you to get off too easy. [note: this essay was written in late October] If Barack Obama gets elected you are going to be on the other side. As I write this, the polls say that is very likely, although there are enough Ďundecidedí voters out there who might really be McCain supporters who just arenít ready to say so.

 Some of you are getting a jump start on this. Weíve already heard the one about how the very fundamentals of our democracy are in jeopardy. Our morals are going to dive pretty fast too. Apparently America is quite literally (isnít everything supposed to be taken literally?) going to go to hell once those Dems get into office. There are going to be abortion clinics on every corner (look out, CVS) and gay people waiting in the bushes to hurt your children on their way home from school.

 It might be nice if we could turn the rhetoric down just a tad. As if treating human beings with a little dignity mattered enough to have a reasonable discussion sometimes instead of making everything into a disaster movie where if the other side wins they are going to eat all our babies, and if we win, paradise is just around the corner. I can just about guarantee you that our Republic is not going to perish overnight no matter which party is currently in charge. Some very smart people tried their darndest to make sure of that a couple hundred years ago by distributing power in such a way that nobody gets too much of it for too long. Except for us. We the People. Weíve been in charge pretty much the whole time. And sometimes it is hard to imagine how our democracy can survive us.

 It has, somehow. For a lot of election cycles. Every one of them has been "the most important election in American history." The stakes have never been higher. The campaign rhetoric has never been nastier. (the race between Jefferson and Adams in 1800 was pretty rough, for example) The hard-working decent American people have never been smarter. True, we did not have a scary secret Muslim running for president (thatís ok to say, right? As long as I donít call him black?) but we did have a scary Catholic once. Weíre still here. Still thinking in absolutes, still convinced that we are totally right, and our opponents our completely wrong and completely dangerous.

 It is possible that every president we have could be our last. That somehow the wheels could come completely off the cart. Many countries around the world can furnish examples of what that looks like. I donít know how weíll really now when that is going to happen because somebody always thinks it will, and they have always been wrong. If I were more of an entrepreneur I would start an American Museum of Crying Wolf, and it would rival the Smithsonian in the amount of material I could clutter it with.

 Take a jog through that history and a sobering conclusion awaits us. People have been thinking in gross exaggeration for a lot longer than Bush has been in office. So maybe itís not his fault. But Iím not stupid. I needed a gimmick to get you to read this! And it worked. Maybe it got your pulse up a little. Some of you may actually believe that our country is about to go down the toilet. Not just a little. All the way. You are scared silly. There isnít anything you can do about it. No petitioning, no redress, no civil discourse. Maybe your brains just donít know how to handle subtlety, I donít know. Maybe they used to, but too much political rhetoric has dumbed them down. There is a struggle going on in this country, no question about it. And people have always had the choice to get involved or to get afraid. Some people always make the first choice. But it is easier, if youíd rather not strain your brain, to make the second. Which leaves you outside the process, with very little sense of involvement, or power. All you can really do from that vantage point is vent your frustration. Which a lot of liberals have been doing for the last eight years. It may be the conservatives' turn now.

 Something Iíve noticed about political rants is that they give birth to more rants. Even if you are a fairly intelligent person in normal life, when somebody shouts in political hyperbole, your blood pressure rises and you want to shout back. All the blood flows away from your brain and prepares you to attack the offending party.

 It would be easy to vent my spleen, and it is very tempting, given the amount of dumber than stupid and just plain ugly rhetoric Iíve been hearing lately. Most of it for the moment seems to be coming from one side, but Iíll leave you to speculate about that. And yes, I seem to be falling victim to broad brushing and complaint to some degree in this very essay. It But I hope Iím doing something else here also. Giving you something to think about. Saying my piece in a way that is constructive and that invites dialogue rather than either reflexive amens or invectives.

 This is not as easy as hyperbolic screaming in all caps, treating your readers like they are total idiots unless they vote for your guy, but it is worth trying. Communication of a worthy idea is always worth trying, even if you fail most of the time.

 Eight years is a long time. Our sense of life before Bush can get lost in the mist of memory. Sometimes it does seem that during his administration, we all got angrier, and dumber, and angrier, and dumber. We could blame the party in power for that, since it is fashionable. They were the ones making the decisions, so, after all, they started it.

 But they had a lot of help. 



OMG! We were just kidding!!!!!!
posted January 14, 2009

You are all in really big trouble.

Apparently, you took us artistic subversives seriously when we told you that Christmas was about more than getting stuff, or that there is more to life than the endless pursuit of merchandise. All those cozy Christmas specials that come with the built in message of peace on earth or family and friends or just adoring the Christmas lights somehow got to you.

Frankly, after all of these years of ignoring that stuff, we thought you had built up a tolerance.

It was 1965 when Charles Schulzís now-iconic Christmas special took the air for the first time, complaining about a holiday that had become overcommercialized. This was when Christmas didnít begin until November. I was born after the Schulz epic and even I can remember a time when the Halloween decorations came down first. Even back then, and who knows for how many years before that, some troublemaking social-prophets cum entertainers were giving us trouble for thinking that what Jesus really came for was to save us money on toys and games. And if Jesus saves, so can I. Fifty percent off, if I hurry hurry hurry.

But it wasnít just the ones with the religious message that were grinding their axes at what the holiday had become. The specials with the secular messages were crooning it too. Christmas is in your heart. The Grinch found that out long after Ebenezer Scrooge, who was also moved by the cozies of Christmas to give back what he stole from everybody (legally, of course). This year, even a fellow named Madoff was getting into the act of remorseful re-gifting. It seemed that the Christmas spirit somehow caused people to rise above their petty self-interest and indulgent selfishness and do something for their fellow man, or at least get a cozy Christmas feeling and stop being a jerk for a few minutes on Christmas Eve.

Youíve noticed that in nearly every one of those shows that Christmas is in trouble. It might not happen this year. Look out! We have to save Christmas, over and over and over. And each time, it magically happens. Even when our heroes think theyíve failed. Because they didnít know the true spirit of Christmas. And now you do and it is killing us.

The economy is in trouble, and you are getting the blame for not buying enough stuff for Christmas. Itís been in trouble for months, of course, but retailers were really hoping youíd come through with your usual appetite and save them from having to downsize or close.

No such luck. Retail sales were down around 4 percent. Places like Sears and the Gap took a 12 to 14 percent hit, and at Wal-Mart there was actually a 1 percent increase from last year (though it didnít meet predictions of 2.8 percent). Most stores saw a drop of anywhere from 3 to 10 percent. Some people are saying the sky is falling and others are saying this is not a disaster, though it is a concern.

One of the articles I read was titled "the Grinch steals Christmas." Well, you all are the Grinch. I hope youíre happy.

See, the thing is, we didnít really mean it. All this rhetoric about wishing Christmas wasnít about the worship of commerce. It was rhetoric. We figured you wouldnít listen to us anyway, so what was the harm? We knew that, after a day at the mall jostling against irate stressed out fellow shoppers you would want to come home to a cozy fireplace and the impression that you could be an individual again, and that all of that buy buy buy and iwana-iwana that was making your life miserable would go away for a half hour while we entertained you with the notion of finer things in a world where such trivia didnít have to run your life. We figured you had had your recommended daily supply of minutiae and wanted to feel the grandeur of principle, especially the kind that didnít cost anything. So your television pretended that Christmas wasn't about getting what your kids were screaming about for Christmas, it was about warm fuzzies. Everybody wants those for Christmas. And then that appliance of yours that doesn't have to work for a living compounded the lie by telling you the fuzzy feeling you got in your heart was more important than opening your wallet to the marvelous machinations of American capitalism. In fact, it put capitalism out of business, matter-wise. This is pretty radical stuff, but then we deal with radical notions all the time. We pay them lip service and then we get on with our lives. We don't change our behavior to accommodate the radicalness.  So when you all heard that your priorities were out of whack you were supposed to feel chastened, pour yourself some eggnog, be cozy for a few moments, and then go back out there into the real world and spend yourself into oblivion. You weren't supposed to actually change your behavior. That's why kids love Christmas so much. It is about pretend. It is a parallel universe. Look but donít touch.

And then you busted through the transparent wall that separated the two. And now look what you did.

The economy is still a mess. We are bailing ourselves out with the equivalent of ten yearís worth of the war in Iraq in two easy payments of 350 billion. We donít know what happened to the money from the first half but we are dutifully sending in the rest. Probably private jet sales are up, but car sales are down. Didnít any of you guys get your significant others a luxury car for Christmas? What about a pickup truck?

If this keeps up, by next year we are all going to have to find out what Christmas is REALLY all about. Iím not sure youíre going to like it.



Notes from the Blagosphere
posted December 10, 2008

I suppose you are all dying to know what a guy from Illinois thinks about the recent arrest of our esteemed Governor, Rod Blagoyevich.


 I know it was a shock to the rest of you. At least, thatís the way the media covered it. I tooled out of bed Tuesday morning and heard all about the Ďshocking development.í Yes, a real stunner. But then, the media thinks that everything is a shocking development, and you are supposed to think that, too. It keeps you glued to your set to see if anything more shocking develops.

 Let me just say again for the record: :yawn.:

 We all knew he was corrupt. We also knew he was a first class jack-ass. Wait! Are there any children reading this blog? I said jerk.

 A couple years ago he had a budget battle with the legislature. He didnít like their ideas about fiscal responsibility, he said. He took a sickle to it, line by line, and decided they could do without some items. He vetoed their budget and told them how to get it right. They over-rode his veto by something like 76 to 4. Those were the good times. When he actually got four votes. Another time the legislature told him where he could stick it unanimously. I had never known that a governor could be that unpopular with his legislative body. And I had just come from a state which had elected its first Republican governor since World War II and sent him to do battle with an entirely Democratic House of Delegates. He got himself involved in some pretty serious scrapes with the speaker of that house, but he got a lot more votes than our buddy Blagoyevich.

 Voted down unanimously! As if they didnít like the guy and were sending him a message in all caps telling him so.

 Which he returned with interest. Rod called an emergency session of the legislature which just happened to coincide with some major holiday. Iíve forgotten which one, but several members were upset because they had already bought non-refundable plane tickets home for said holiday, and if the Governor had waited for another day or two they could have spent time with their families and returned refreshed to do the state's work. Which the Governor had no intention of doing because he wanted to punish them for not doing it his way.

 Iíve forgotten whether that unanimous punking came before or after he Ďimprisonedí the legislature during a holiday. It could have been their way of saying screw you too, buddy. And happy holidays.

 What has been long established is that we have a governor who does not play well with others. Unless you pay, you donít get to play. This is what got him in trouble. Apparently, selling a Senate seat is still a crime, even in Chicago, which is where the governor decided to live even though the governorís mansion is in Springfield. He didnít care much for the capital city, but even if I had his quote about it under my fingers, Iím sure most of his sentiments began with F and Iíll spare the blogosphere more phonics pollution.

Come to think of it, if you took the letter F out of our language I donít know if the governor would be able to say much privately about anything.

So there he sits, charged with trying to sell a Senate seat, and requiring bribes for all manner of state business. When he gets convicted, they can house him in the Illinois Governorís Wing of the state prison (in a cell with our last governor). Meanwhile, citizens are saying all things predictable:

 --Every politician is a crook and this just proves it.

 --He should do the honorable thing and resign (I had a good laugh over that one. If you know Blago at all, you know the harder you push him to do something the more he is going to dig in his heels. If it were me, I would dare him NOT to jump over a cliff.)

 --Can you believe this guyís stupidity? To challenge people to record his conversations, insisting that he never does anything wrong and a day later to get caught on a recording using his own cell phone, which he had to know was tapped, asking for bribes as obviously as you can do it?

Yep. Thatís our Governor. I donít know why this is a shock to anyone.

Wait. I left out one. A local paper had a full page editorial excoriating the governor and finally dropped in this clichetic gem at the bottomóBlagoís removal would lead to a new era of honesty in politics.

I hope you werenít drinking anything when you read that line. If you were, Iíll wait while you clean your monitor.


So, other than a big yawn, do I feel anything much about the recent development?

A little satisfaction, I guess. Another of those people who go through life thinking they can bully anybody into anything and not get caught just got caught. That makes the day a little nicer.

Back in high school I had a journalism teacher who was the same way. As long as you played her game, which was not to complain to anybody while she verbally abused and harassed you all year, you got an A. Mostly she ignored us, which meant there were no consistent assignments and no consistent grading system so you never knew where you stood. One time the only actual assignment for the term (the things we wrote for the school paper were never commented uponówe students ran it ourselves and she never bothered herself with it) was an article she suddenly made us write for no apparent reason. She took great glee in marking it in red from tip to stern and gave it an F. Then she called me to her desk and gave me seven kinds of hell for having written it. Since it was the only grade I got that term, it was strange to see an A surface on my report card. She liked to jerk me around, obviously, but the time my mother had a conference with her to complain about her lack of teaching was the first time I ever got a B. When dad came along a few grading periods later I got a C. If they had brought grandma and the cat I donít want to think about it.

It was obvious to me that spending all of the class time engaged in her own pursuits in front of the computer meant her sense of responsibility to us and the school was warped and the one thing she did not like was getting called on it. Some years after I left the school she got caught taking school funds for her own use and got fired. I knew what kind of person she was but we never could do anything about it. Even the principle (to whom we appealed) thought we were just bent out of shape. But eventually they figured it out. And eventually even this Governor is going to jail. It isnít much, but it is something.

 But, you are thinking, what about the rest of them?

 Boy, you really know how to spoil a nice moment.



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