Archive for October, 2018

Never Again

October 28, 2018

From chapter 8 of Glass half-Full, we find Hilda, a restaurant-owner, telling some friends about an experience she had in Germany.

“Hitler and his thugs tried to take advantage of the situation; they launched a coup d’etat, called a putsch in German. But it failed, and they ended up getting arrested. The event has been named the beer hall putsch of 1923. Well, I was reading about these police officers who were killed by the Nazis that night. And I was reading in my guide book some information about the incident. I kept hearing this beautiful music, really spirited music. We walked in the direction of the music. We turned a corner…and there they were, five musicians playing five instruments: clarinet, violin, accordion, cello, a drummer. I could tell they were Jewish right away. I considered their courage: to stand there at the Odeonsplatz where the Nazis had made their first move to try and take over the world, and declare, with their music, that Jewish people, along with their music, were alive and well in the 21st century. They inspired me. We must have listened to them for an hour…the Bridge Ensemble.”

This excerpt from my 2007 novel describes an event in the life of a fictional character named Hilda. While writing the book, I chose the occurrence to make a point about what happens in the history of our human race when hate-based groups take up arms against other people.

However, the event described here, although presented as a fictional event in a story, is in reality something that actually happened.

It happened to me. I was “Hilda.” My son and I were in Munich in 2002 when the music reached my ears while I was reading a plaque about the four German policemen who had been killed during the first Nazi uprising in 1923.

It was a meaningful event in my life, so I made the experience part of a long story story that I later published in 2007. Glass half-Full is a novel about some characters in the Washington DC area; they’re pretty good people, but some bad things happen to them.

Bad things happen.

When bad things happen on a large scale, nations go to war against each other and all hell breaks loose for a while. When all hell breaks loose on a major scale–a continental level of magnitude and intensity–that is called “World War.”

We of mankind have had two of them. We hope that we never have another. Don’t we?

In both world wars, our nation, the United States of America, intervened on behalf of our Allies. In both wars, our presence and strength in the fray made a big difference, and we were victorious in both holocausts.

Holocausts is a word I use in the context of that last sentence, meaning  life sacrifices, by fire: lives being snuffed out by fire, or by other destructive means. In our post-World War II experience, the Holocaust generally refers to the mass-murder of six million Jewish Europeans under the murderous regime of the Nazis, led by the demonic Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler.

Never again should there be a holocaust of such immensity. Our nation and our armed forces were a large part of extinguishing the fire of persecution that snuffed out the lives of millions of defenseless, innocent persons before and during the Second World War.

AmIsFlags

Now, when people refer to the proposition of making America “great again,” this is–or should be–the meaning of the phrase, Make America Great Again.

That we have been, in times past, the defender of innocent people who are being slaughtered on a massive scale by hate-filled groups, –this is what made America great during World War II. And this is what, generally, does make America great in any present or future time.

Great, yes, because we have–on a massive scale– the resources and the collective will to serve as defenders of defenseless or innocent people anywhere in the world.

Not because we appoint ourselves aggressors to impose our so-called American way of life on any other nation or people-group in this world. This is where we crossed the line, in my opinion, in Vietnam. What began as a war to defend the free people of South Vietnam against aggressive Viet Minh insurgents, degenerated instead, to become a war of aggression in which we raised a lot more hell and bloodletting than we could legitimately justify; in a quasi-primitive nation that had not yet progressed to a phase of development in which they could truly understand the difference between these two words: communism and capitalism.

And may that never happen again.

A year or two ago, I also wrote a sociological novel pertaining to our Vietnam ordeal, King of Soul.

Let us Americans never be the aggressors. We are defenders. What makes our nation great, if anything, is simply the massive scale of defense we are able to muster on behalf of free and innocent people, whether it’s in Europe, Rwanda, the Middle East, or anywhere, including at home. May our great strength never corrupt us.

We are defenders not only in the military applications. We are-and should always be–defenders of the defenseless in matters of law. We are, according to our original founding codes, advocates for justice in all of our institutions: courts of law, legislative bodies, government agencies, immigration agencies, overseas aid, and administrative law from welfare to wall street. That is what makes America great.

May we never stray from the preservation and extension of truth, justice, and yes, the American way.

And may we always be defenders of same.

Glass half-Full

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From Digging to Digitization

October 26, 2018

The history of mankind has consisted of humans pulling stuff out of the ground and reworking it to suit our own survival purposes.

As people became more and civilized, and organized, the underlying survival instinct took a back seat to other motivations—gathering surplus, tribal organizing, development of skills and trades, cooperation and competition. . . eventually industry,  government, education, business, recreation, sports, entertainment.

The progressive developments of all these human activities required something that was necessary and common to all of them:

Resources.

Stuff from the earth itself. Raw material. Basic stuff:

Water, dirt, plants, rocks, ores, animals, hides.

As civilization moved forward, these basics were refined by us— reconstructed, manufactured to fulfill the requirements of human development.

Locomotv copy

The list of basic stuff (above) was revised to include:

Drinks, processed foods, fertilizer, livestock, leather, pets, tools, machines, lumber, metals, trains, cars, planes, appliances, telephones, radios, televisions, computers.

Computers–aha! With these, human development embarked upon a new phase.

Information itself becomes as useful (or at least we think it is as useful. . .) as all the other stuff that we’re using to make the world a more convenient place since the beginnings. Knowledge itself has became a resource. Yeah, though I dare say it—a commodity.

So we notice that over the course of human progress we did move steadily from pulling stuff out of the ground, and reworking it so that we could improve our life, to—

Pulling information out of our data machines.

Like it or not, this is the outcome of human history. We have come to this. Now development is largely about retrieving and using data files to improve life or capitalize upon its developments.

In the same manner as we traditionally removed natural resources from the ground and turned it into our good stuff.

And bad stuff. Let’s not forget that part. Our progressive high-tech life now generates bad stuff. Pollutants, toxins, noxious substances and, of course, shit itself, which still happens every day on a very large scale.

A consequence of our globally massive improvement project is that more and more persons are being driven into knowledge jobs.

Instead of all that plowing, digging, mining, constructing that we did all through history—more and more of us are typing, cataloging, programming, sitting at desks and watching computers do our so-called  work for us. Such activity (relatively, it is inactivity) becomes the order of the day for us as far into the future as many of us can see.

This digitized transformation of human development will bring us to some huge changes. I read an article about it this morning:

  https://www.ips-journal.eu/regions/global/article/show/the-false-hero-called-digitalisation-3050/n

Seeing as how we now have entered the age of information retrieval slowly overtaking natural resources recovery. . . seeing as how we gaze collectively at what seems to be the setting sun of human physical toil, I offer a tribute to the noble enterprise of Human Labor.

RailEngn

This tribute I offer in the form of a song. Gordon Lightfoot wrote it years ago.

It is one of the best songs ever written about the glory of human labor. You may listen to the songwriter’s rendition here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXzauTuRG78 

I also offer my own rendition of Gordon’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, a song that I dearly love to sing.

    Gordon’s Railroad Trilogy

As you listen to both versions, imagine you are watching a sunset—the disappearing brightness of human labor accomplishment, being supplanted by a foggy dawn of. . . whatever is ahead for our collective endeavor.

King of Soul

Et tu, Brussels?

October 23, 2018

Of course everybody who goes to Rome brings home mucho pictures. People travel there from all over the world to tour the originating sites of the ancient Empire; then they take a little chunk of early European history home, in the form of photographs.

When we were there, yes, we certainly did do the obligatory tourist ritual of snapping photos of the so-called Imperial City. You’ve probably seen classic images of the Roman ruins, which commemorate the Empire period of two thousand years ago.

But I was most fascinated with a relatively new structure there, Il Vittoriano.

Designed in 1885, inaugurated in 1911, and completed in 1925, this incredible monument makes an absolutely grandiose visual impression when you first catch sight of it.

VitorioB

You can see from this grand edifice that the Italians have never forsaken their proudly imperial self-image.

This morning, however, a Roman venue of a grittier sort—the Circus Maximus— was brought to my attention. In his Seeking Alpha post,

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4213358-now-circus-maximus?isDirectRoadblock=false

Mark J. Grant used that  ancient racetrack as a metaphor for the  fiscal contest that is now heating up over in Europe.

Here’s what Mark wrote about the presently escalating Continental showdown:

“The new “Circus Maximus” will include all of the European Union and their population of 512 million people. Sit back and enjoy the grand spectacle as Italy has now presented its budget and the European Commission has sent it back. Rome then reacted to Brussels and stood steadfast on the banks of the Tiber and now the overmasters in Brussels and Berlin will hand down judgment, and likely some form of bureaucratic justice, that was not fashioned in Italy, but which Italy is expected to obey.”

The original Circus Maximus, however is just a dirt racetrack.

If you’re a boomer geezer like me, you may remember, from a classic race scene in the 1959 MGM movie, Ben Hur, Charlton Heston heroically outmaneuvering a less-than-honorable competing charioteer, to win the great chariot race.

  BenHur

That scene may or may not have taken place in the Circus Maximus of olden times.

The real Circus Maximus, where those famous chariot races usually took place, wasn’t conducted in the Colosseum. The actual site was really a huge dirt track, located near the Tiber River, beneath Palatine Hill, where Roman emperors and their hobnobbing hoodoo entourages could view the spectacle from an elevated, privileged position. Here’s what the real Circus Maximus looks like now:

CircMax1

Seeking Alpha blogger Mark J. Grant speculates figuratively on how the present European budgetary shootout at the Circus corral may turn out:

“The European Commission will likely wield the big stick. This is initiating its so-called ‘Excessive Deficit Procedure.’ This process has never been used before and will likely be tortuous for both Italy and the European Union. Fines have never been applied to any country, with previous breaches by France and Germany overlooked, and yet, there is always a first time.”

If Mark J Grant’s racetrack metaphor is indeed indicative of the present European Contest, we’ll see in the days ahead whether Italy’s impudent leaders can prevail in their fiscal rebellion, or whether they will go down with classic mutterings of “. . . et tu, Brussels?”

Smoke

Change is Gonna Come

October 19, 2018

Some wise person said a fish wouldn’t know (s)he was out of water until it actually happened. When the angler yanked the critter up the into air, the fish would immediately know that something had gone terribly wrong.

I think our situation in modern life is a little bit like that. In our present media-engulfed life, we humans are so totally immersed in electronic media that we would feel disoriented and panicky if we were suddenly jerked out of it—like a fish out of water.

Some might even suffer withdrawals.

Nowadays some social critics among us complain about the dumming-down effects of twitter and facebook, and all that other blahblah googlifief also-ran flimflam that’s floating around in the datafied air of 2018.

Back in the day, during the adolescent phases of my baby boomer generation, people romanticized about the fact that we were the first generation to get raised up with a tv in the living room and therefore a boob-tube mindset. Whoopdee doo that we had pop-culture and instant gratification on the brain instead of the traditional 1-2-3 and a-b-c worldview of previous generations. No wonder we fantasized that we could change the world. We were walking around in the first-ever TV-generated dream world.

Actually, some of us did change the world. Those guys who were mastering their calculus and fortran instead of doping up—they managed to hatch out a totally electronic data tsunami that has since commandeered our attention and maximized our compulsive fascination with constant entertainment distractions and rampant twitt-faced narcissism.

Along with some real information, of course. There’s always both bad and good in any changes that are gonna come.

A  generation before us in the timeline, it was another set of emergent media wonders that were transforming the world of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Our parents’ generation also grew up with a revolutionary media box in the living room and the dashboard—radio. They had Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Glenn Miller, Amos n’ Andy,  and Orson Wells’ terribly realistic radio depiction of us being invaded by extraterrestrial aliens.

But radio was no TV. Radio was about hearing. TV was like a whole new, artificial world of hearing AND seeing.

The rate of change, accelerating in the TV age, has exponentially accelerated and intensified with the coming of the electr(on)ic internet, 21st-century version.

A few years ago, I undertook a writing project to express some of the angst of the boomer generation that I grew up in.

Because I had graduated from high school and then entered college in 1969, my novel, King of Soul,  turned out to be mainly about the elephant-in-the-room issue of my g -generation’s historical  era—the Vietnam war.

But that war was far from being the only issue that we Americans had to deal with.

LittleRock

In struggling to depict—and even to somehow reconcile—the great divide between them that went and us who did not go to Vietnam, I embarked on a research project to learn how the Vietnam war had started and how it escalated to become such an overarching generational crisis. My g-generation was torn apart because of what all took place over there as a result of our tragic illusion.  We thought we could, with our high-tech way of doing things, show a country of undeveloped farmers how to expel the communists.

We learned a very hard lesson. It was tragic, what happened.

While the world had worked a certain way during the Big War, when we ran the Nazis back into their holes, something had sure as hell changed by the 1960’s.

The old tactics of massive military push against jungle guerrillas did not work.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the kids didn’t wanna have to go over there and do Lyndon’s dirty work.

The anti-war movement’s seemingly sudden organizational strength in 1967 was no mere happenstance. Those activists who devised a widespread effective resistance against the war had learned the hard facts of life from a previous protest movement—the Civil Rights movement.

It took a while for the anti-war movement to get its act together. But when they finally did, it was because of a hard lesson that had been learned by black folks down in dixie.

In the Freedom Summer of 1964, a widespread collection of honky activist youth suddenly showed up down in the Segregated South to help the black folk get organized for voting and organizing real societal change. There in the historical shadow of the old defeated, slave-slappin’ South, wide-eyed yankee students got a fierce reality check. Their rose-colored glasses were left broken on the blood-stained grounds of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, when they saw what violence and oppression the racist Establishment was inflicting on people of color.

Right here in Amerika, it was. Land of the free? and home of the brave!

A wake-up call it was. Based on what them wide-eyed college kids from up Nawth encountered when they got down here, they got a severe reality check. Stopping the war in Vietnam  would be no walk in the park. There was bad shit going down right here in the good ole USA, just like in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

If the peaceniks wanted to get us out of Vietnam, they would have to get organized, and maybe even pick up some heavier-duty tactics . . . civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, there were a few blacks who were doing alright. Sam Cooke was one of them.

During the early 1960’s, Sam was a very successful singer-songwriter. Most of his tunes were soulishly romantic and swingy. He had a knack of finding the best in everything he wrote about. With an admirable optimism that shone forth in all his song-work, Sam managed somehow to spread good will and positive attitude everywhere he went, in spite of all the tough changes that were going down.

Some may have thought Sam to be an uncle tom, because he didn’t get angry.

But Sam Cooke—even though he celebrated optimism and good attitude—was no uncle tom.

He was not a “house nigga.”

Here’s a song that expresses Sam’s feeling about the societal changes that he felt needed to happen in the USA in the mid-1960’s.  After his death in 1964, this composition was released posthumously on the B-side of a single record called Shake, and also on an album by the same name.

Here’s the tune, A Change Is Gonna Come:

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

And here’s my version:

    Sam’s Change Is Gonna Come

As we geezers have seen in our lifetime, change did indeed come.

But some things will remain the same.

Here’s a truth that always remains: Change is gonna come, like it or not.

When it does, may the change be with you, and . . . may you be with the change, if it is good.

If it’s not good, go listen to some of Sam’s old hit songs and get an attitude adjustment. Maybe you can learn to deal with it as he did—with a good attitude.

King of Soul

We Wanderers

October 14, 2018

For a very long time, people have been wandering through our world.

Many choose the rootless lifestyle because wandering makes them feel free. Others crave adventure, or exotic experience. Some launch out in search of new opportunities, greener pastures, richer soil, more money and less trouble, or better jobs. Or maybe just wide open spaces instead of crowded hovels.

Pilgrims wander in search of the sacred; saints strive for holiness; sinners search for sin,  seekers seeking yang or yin.

Immigrants flee political oppression; maybe they’re escaping persecution, evading execution,  or fleeing war-torn areas.

Refugees are all over the globe, frequently concentrated at certain infamous borders. We see pictures of them with trouble in their faces and children on their backs.

In earlier ages of our world development, populations were concentrated in old world cities and settlements. By ’n by, through exploration new world continents were discovered. Immigrants began streaming to the open lands. They spilled across borders, through forests, across streams, over mountains. We congregate along coasts.

Only two centuries ago, the North and South American continents were wide open spaces, as compared to the Old World. While our undeveloped wide open spaces were  being populated, millions of immigrating travelers streamed in through the ports; they trundled through the coastlands, trudged across vast prairies, navigated the swift rivers, slogged over steep mountains.

But eventually those wide open spaces filled up with settlers. From virgin countryside, the New World sprouted millions of farms, foundries, factories, and modernizing facilities fulfilling functions about which our forebears held absolutely no understanding. All along those rising watchtowers and MainStreet thoroughfares  towns sprung up;  cities burgeoned into metropoli, and before you knew it America was as crowded as the old country.

When the Irish and the Italians, and all them other Europeans, Africans, Germans, Asians and Aegeans crowded in, New York and Boston and Philly and all them other cities became crowded, almost like the Old Country had been.

Americans worked hard and prospered. We got rich. Agriculture was flowing; industries were growing, stores and businesses were showing so many services and goods. Everybody’s fat n’ happy, pleasing mom ’n pappy; wages high; expenses low, keepin’ up with them Joneses just for show. And we built ourselves quite a nice little nation which later became, after a couple of world wars, a beacon of liberty in the eyes of the world.

   StatLibty

Well that was then and this is now.

After 9/11, seems like everything changed, and not for the better. Instead of grace and generosity, we seem to have slid into a descent toward selfishness and paranoia.

And I can understand that.There are, after all, bad people in the world, and terrorists and self-righteous fanatics who are willing to destroy the world in order to save it. And yes, we do have to form a humane strategy for protecting our citizens from war and destruction. Let’s not forget, however, that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We need not slip further into xenophobia than we already have.

As our British brothers and sisters had earlier discovered, running an empire is no walk in the park.

Now what used to be the great American experiment seems to be slipping into a world gone mad.

Sad.

As I was pickin’ around with some tunes recently, I remembered an old song from back in the day that pertains to these matters, as conditions had existed in the earlier times, when everything was different and the continent we absconded from the natives was still wide open with what we thought was freedom and possibility.

I stumbled across a tune from rhymin’ Simon. The song moved me deeply, so I thought I’d toss it out there for you to hear and ponder. I hope Paul doesn’t mind, especially since he himself borrowed part of the tune from an old Christian hymn.

  Paul’s American Tune.

And here’s another old tune from back in the day, which I think Woody or Pete had something to do with.

  Wayfarin’ Stranger

As you listen, I wish you to be warm and well-fed, which is what most folks in this world are searching for, at least until they manage to become fat ’n happy.

King of Soul

Beethoven

October 8, 2018

Before he raised the baton to conduct Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Christopher Warren-Green told us Beethoven was a revolutionary.

ConductorCWG

He matter-of-factually referred to the most disruptive orchestral composer ever as a revolutionary. And just before cranking up the Charlotte Symphony, Chris speculated that those infamous first-four-notes, da-da-da-Dahhhh, were probably lifted from a French Revolutionary song of that era.

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times, as Charles Dickens later wrote.

Forsooth, ’twas a very revolutionary time—1776-1820.

And Ludwig van Beethoven was right in the middle of it.

Right in the middle of a time when the 18th-century European order of things was being torn apart by radical new  ideas about the People running the show instead of the old fuddy-duddy royals who had been doing it for hundreds of years.

The young composer from northwestern Germany was indeed a musical revolutionary; he revolutionized music.

He turned the purpose of music upside down. Whereas the old order of things, financed by the royals, was all about making beautiful, harmonic, perfectly constructed sonatas and concertos to celebrate order and perfection—-

Ludwig, unable to ignore the terrible angst of that tumultuous age in which he found himself living, reflected—yeah, he even embraced—that disruptive spirit of the times.

And when they heard it sounded forth in the 5th Symphony, the royals hardly know what to make of it.

Beethoven was like the Elvis of his times, except he had an entire orchestra behind him. Multiply Elvis’ chutzpah by the number of musicians in an orchestra. That was the effect of Beethoven on the world of music.

And on the world itself, as thousands of performances since then have revealed.

Or, If not Elvis– think of  Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rich Mullins or whoever expresses your disruptive angst and propels it into an awareness that the world is forever changing.

Like it or not, the world changes; sometimes that transforming is not pretty. Sometimes it is even disruptive, destructive, revolutionary. Music–and art generally–needs, in order to be valuable, to reflect the times we live in, and the changes that need to happen–not portraying a rose-colored-glasses dream that masks the profundity and excitement of living on this dangerous planet.

It would have been very hard, you see, for the young German prodigy to adopt the comfortable precision and beauty of his courtly predecessors—Mozart and Haydn. Au contraire, Ludwig caught hold of the gritty thrust of those revolutionary times. He deeply felt that terrible, violent wind blowing out of France; and he did, as any self-respecting genius would do, transform that terrible zeitgeist into revolutionary Music.

A truly new music, never heard before.

Unlike like any orchestra ever heard before.

Better to make disruptive music, than impose bloody revolution.

CharlotteSymph

Be like Beethoven, not like Robespierre.

Work together like a revolutionary Symphony.

Teach the world to ring out Liberty!

King of Soul

The Brett v Blasey Blowup

October 2, 2018

This is a bad situation.

JudiciaryComm

It is probably true that many many men have been getting away with rape in days gone by. And it is certainly true that politics and trouble have polarized and spun out of social control as many many victimized women who are mad as hell about the arrogance with which men flaunt their libido and leverage their blahblah white male privilege and so it is indeed possible that all hell is breaking loose in America.

And it is true that a couple of those rad feminists caught Jeff Flake while he was trying to get on or off an elevator, and those two feisty women delivered a tongue-lashing that would intimidate any uppity male member into limp impotence and politically correct compliance.

And it is true that Jeff Flake threw a curve at his fellow Republicans by trying to do the right thing and provide a forum for all this raw rage to be aired out. Maybe he did all of us Americans a favor by in effect slowing down the runaway train of GOP nomination fever, for the sake of casting our eyes for a week or so on the extreme danger that is inflicted on Americans by so many men walking around in hyped-up sexual frustration.

But the possibility that any of these issues will be resolved in the next week, as the FBI investigates Blasey Ford’s accusations—is about as probable as the New Ladies’ Temperance Union imposing mandatory burka coverage upon the live skin of all those millions of young women of America who so delight in flaunting their provocative features, even as they revel in denying lecherous men access to the partaking thereof.

And so, while this started out as a bad situation last Friday, what we know for sure is that by next Friday it will be a worse situation.

But my strategy concerning such bad situations as this is: Write a song about it.

So I did.

I wrote a song about what happened in the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last Friday, around 1:30 Congressional time. I borrowed the melody from Mamas and Papas old tune, Creeque Alley.

You can find the tune sung at http://www.careyrowland.com, at pretty much the top of the page:

The Ballad of Brett v. Blasey