Monthly Archives: February 2010

a conservative at the pearly gates

When you stand before God at your final reckoning, He will glance at the big book of your life – He doesn’t need to read it , He knows every word and comma in it, of course – and He will note,  “You were a Republican, a conservative, and of course a Christian.”

And you will nod.  “Of course, my Lord.”

“And when your president asked for your support when he raised the debt for you and your children to fund a war to invade a sovereign nation that did not attack yours, a nation which experts said was not a threat to yours, you agreed?”

“Yes my Lord,  he was a good Christian like myself, for he exulted your name in public, so I supported him as he smited our enemies and their children.”

“And when your president asked you to take on that debt while he lowered taxes for the very wealthiest, what did you do?”

“I believed this was in praise of You, for the wealthy are obviously righteous and deserving in Your eyes, for You have kept them free from want.”

“And when your president gave himself permission to suspend the rule of the Constitution at his discretion, and secretly read your emails and listened to your phone calls, you were not concerned and even supported him?”

“Yes my Lord, as I knew in my heart was a righteous Christian I therefore trusted his discretion and his wise leadership.”

“And when your president, as he was leaving office, increased you debt by giving  $700 billion in unsecured loans to help already-wealthy men who had proven they mismanaged the money already in their charge, you supported him?”

“Yes my Lord, those men had merely made human mistakes, and that is to be expected.”

“So you were willing to give this president of your money and of your freedom, when he asked you.”  God will glance up at you.

“And when your next president asked you to give a little more, and share of your nation’s great bounty, to see to it that your neighbors could rest easier knowing that if they fell ill or came to injury through no fault of their own, or that if their children were born into sickness, they could get reasonable attention, and without the worry of financial ruin, as do the people of any of your nation’s allies, what did you say?”

“Why, my Lord, I had grown weary of being asked of, I have my limits, even You needed a day of rest. I turned my back, and rolled my eyes at the stories of those who suffered.  Can I come in now?”

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j’avais toute ma force

J’avais tout mon temps
J’avais toute ma force
On ne pouvait pas me bouger
Comme un roc

Johnny Hallyday “Comme un Roc” (Like a Rock)

I ran into a friend I’ve known for 25 years, I haven’t seen or talked with for almost a year I think, not since I quit Buddhism.

She said I looked the best she’d ever seen me.

She said it bluntly, almost a nonsequitor, she meant it.

No faint praise to a 47 year old man.

But I perpetually feel like I just got out of college and am looking at the world wide eyed.  Leaving a religion – and a religious organization – I had devoted 27 years to, has left me feeling I’ve never had an adult life.  In a lot of ways I didn’t – it was all my choice, I know that, but I used that religion as my excuse when I made flaccid decisions, when I turned away from fun and relationships and admitting I was angry those times when I should have been angry.  Or when I turned away from love.  That’s not how that Buddhism addressed life – it is more an “add-on” religion than an “admonition” religion.  But through a convergence of things that’s what I did with it.   Maybe I was expecting the organization, or someone in it, to get real and tell me to get real and look around and relax.  Maybe they did and I just couldn’t hear them.

Of course, not admitting the clinical depression I was silently taught by my parents not to acknowledge wasn’t normal until I finally sought help in my 30s, didn’t help either.

Take all you want
And leave them the rest to die

Ultravox, “Reap the Wild Wind”

So now, when there are guys I went to high school with who spent the past 30 years in marriages and raising children and greeting grandchildren, I’ve jumped off the operating table and I’m toddling into my later years, just starting to grow into them.  Seeing hints of my ribs I haven’t seen since college, learning to trust my body as I swim, accepting a smile at face value.  Maybe I have 5 years, maybe I have 30 – on some days like today getting suspicious about my heart I wonder if I have a weekend.  But as I write this I have a smile on my newly-handsome face.

But I won’t cry for yesterday
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow, I have to find

Duran Duran, “Ordinary World”

gays, brunch waitresses and biblical relativists

Pastor Rick Warren says: “Moral relativism is the root of what is wrong in our society.”

Sorry, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians – at the same time you condemn non-theists for your assumption that whatever morals they have are defined by their concupiscence and immediate personal and social expediency – as Relativists – you yourselves are Relativists when it come to the word of God.

In a post-Prejean moment, Lauren Ashley, self proclaimed Miss Beverly Hills in the Miss Universe Organization universe, told www.foxnews.com (who have taken down the original post, or hid it from search)

The Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman. In Leviticus it says, “If man lies with mankind as he would lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death and their blood shall be upon them.” The Bible is pretty black and white.

The Miss Universe committee says they are proud to develop women who are not afraid to express their opinions.  The City of Beverly Hills points out Ms. Ashley is from Pasadena, has taken the moniker “Miss Beverly Hills” without their consent, and “condemns” her pronouncement, saying the city of Beverly Hills is, itself, a diverse, accepting community.

Anyway…

The passage Ms. Ashley quotes is Leviticus 20:13. The usual passage in the Bible – from among about 4 in that big book – quoted to show how “black and white” God is in condemning gay men.  Apparently God gives a free pass to lesbians.  And it’s been suggested that passage is actually an admonition against the accepted practice at the time for victorious soldiers to rape their vanquished foes.

As Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic points out, this is a matter of life and death for many men, in Uganda and Iran, and elsewhere.

What Christians don’t so often quote is Leviticus 20:10

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

God demands the same punishment – death – for your garden variety straight adulterers.

He also demands exile for a couple if they get together and it turns out she has started menstruating. (Leviticus 20:18)

And what does God command you to do in Exodus 35:2?

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.

God uses the same language to condemn brunch waitresses as He does homosexuals.

So why don’t Christians storm their local supermarket on Sunday morning and drag out and kill the cashiers?

You don’t because despite one of your favorite disdainful accusations against the non-religious, which I myself have been called – ” Relativist!” – you are the same when it comes to God’s word.

Miles Davis and Gene Simmons – together again!

I’ve forgotten way more things than I remember…

I was browsing Emusic.com this evening with my monthly 50 credits to burn (about 40 cents a credit: usually a song costs 1 credit, and most albums cost 12 credits, but sometimes you can find whole albums or symphonies for only 1 credit, or just a few).

I came across Miles Davis’s classic 1959 Kind of Blue. It’s like the Stradivarius of jazz albums, often called the best jazz album of all time, one of the greatest albums of all time, where everything just came together just right for one shining recording session. Not that Miles Davis hasn’t had other shining moments.  But this is jazz’s “Stairway to Heaven” without the leaden radio overkill and quick blowback degeneration into snide pop culture kitsch.

Classic jazz is not my thing, but I shrugged and figured it was worth $5.00, already spent, to have.

The first track sounded familiar.  That brash two note burst over the ambling rhythm section.

I am sure I’ve heard at least a snippet of all 5 tracks before, sometime over a restaurant’s muzak or while channelsurfing hanging for a long moment on Ken Burns’ Jazz.

“So What” is Kind of Blue‘s first track.  It took me more than a full minute to realize why it sounded so familiar.

5 years ago I had remixed it.

In the first half of the Oughts, I poured my creativity into composing tunes and whipping up remixes using the basic Acid program.  I bought it for $30 on a lark, thinking it might help me sustain my brain power.  Using it you copy and paste samples, and even with that basic program you can do subtle manipulations – cuts and pastes and shifts down to the 1/90th note, pitchshifting and micro-tonal note bending – making the samples your own.  There is a huge slice of the music industry where musicians sit in studios and create riffs, beats and scales of notes that are sold in legitimately royalty-free sample packs.  Sony has AcidPlanet.com as a posting and community website for its music program users. I posted 50 tunes there as Scajaquada.

AcidPlanet.com had a remix contest with Miles Davis’s “So What”.  Kind of Blue had just been remixed as A New Kind of Blue.  I made  my own take on it, and I called it “So What – Elmwood Strut”. (Elmwood Avenue is Buffalo’s main college-kids-clashes-with-gentrifiers street) It came out kind of Esquivel.   A lot of my stuff did, someone called my nascent style “Garage Lounge”.

This actually got to #1 on the Jazz genre on the AcidPlanet.com “artist” charts, for about half a day.  But I was still shocked and thrilled.  For a time it was my most listened to song.

And at the same time AcidPlanet had a remix contest for a Gene Simmons song, “Sweet & Dirty Love”…

I couldn’t resist spending a weekend making a mash-up – “A New Kind of Sweet & Dirty Love” – Miles Davis and Gene Simmons together again in the new millenium!

deconstructing toyota

This is actually about my ongoing struggle with the shortcomings of story and language in recreating the world…

Toyota president Akyo Toyoda, appearing at congressional hearings today, said in his prepared published statement

…I would like to discuss what caused the recall issues we are facing now. Toyota has, for the past few years, been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick.

This makes sense in a broad brush way, but not a real world way.

This is the scenario Toyoda suggests:

As a crowd of American car buyers is chanting “TOY–YO-TA! TOY-YO-TA!” 24/7 outside company headquarters, a frazzled overworked designer is being forced to deliver the finished specs for the driver side flooring overnight. (Remember, Toyota denies the problem is in the software).

I picture him played by Bobcat Goldthwait.

He is forced by Toyota’s insane growth to design the flooring for two new models in the same time he used to design one, exhausted but running on adrenalin at 4:00 in the morning, the shine of the florescent lights overhead glaring off his monitor, he hits the “5” key instead of the “4” working on a CAD rendering of a plastic floormat.

Three hours of work later his team boss comes around, growls. “Is it ready yet?”

“Yes, yes, sure boss, uh…”

“Good!” The boss leans over Bob’s shoulder, hits a key, sends the design.

“But- but!”

“But what!? We have to get these new models out now! The Final Approval Committee is meeting at 8:00!”

“Shouldn’t you, uh, check it first? Cross the i’s and dot the t’s and doublecheck my figures and my lines and all that?”

“Can’t you hear that hungry public outside screaming for Toyotas?”

“Uh well, I don’t know why we have to design new floormats, and a whole new interior floor, can’t we just work things around a reliable and, uh, proven safe floor design we already have? I mean, uh, just a couple millimeters to work around, I could do that. In fact, I’d feel better about it….”

“No! Your design goes out now!”

And we hear the crowd’s chanting swell, as Bobcat hunkers, cowed, and pushes his glasses back up his nose. “Uh, okay, yeah, you’re the boss…uh, can I go home and get some sleep now?”

Sorry, this kind of “story logic” might work in pulling along a Troma Team movie, and the argument works as a gloss-over in the semantic structure of an apologetic sentence… But it flounders as a logically causal scenario. Do you really think busy showrooms would force a design department and subsequent safety department of a multi-billion dollar industrial corporation to skip a series of doublechecks?  I don’t know the truth here, but just saying.

life on mars

It’s a godawful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair

This morning as I walked into Tim Horton’s – this one is actually inside a gas station on Elmwood Ave on my way to work – to wait in line for my usual half-decaf half-regular coffee and toasted bagel with veggie cream cheese, breakfast of champions! – David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” slipped onto the muzak. Usually the music is a bland but uplifting amalgam of Lionel Ritchie, Le Chic, Five for Fighting deconstructing the last 40 years of Top 40.

I only discovered Bowie’s “Life on Mars” a couple years ago – an online friend, who’d been raised in England, was all about the BBC series named after it as BBC America was replaying the 2-season limited series.  She was even asking me what I thought this clue or that clue meant, based on her describing things to me.  By the time I upped my cable tier to include BBC America, it was off, and I found its sequel, Ashes to Ashes, only after the fact on it’s On Demand lineup.

The song for me knots my unfulfilled connection with her, and my fascination with that sort of brash, flushed and thickly dreamy 60’s music – I love Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark and Scott Walker, and The Monkees.  It is more about a feeling from my childhood when that kind of music was what me parents had on the car radio.  “Life on Mars” is a bit later than that, and infused with Bowie’s hyper-intelligent charisma.

The song – which I’m pretty sure was more popular, or at least more regarded, in England – was even covered by Barbara Streisand in an oddly produced version with the vocals buried way in the back of the mix in some fog beyond the thumping piano, which was a style in the late 70s which meant a song in intended to be played loud.   It’s on her Butterfly album, the one whose cover is the hyperrealist painting of a fly walking on a stick of butter.

“Life on Mars” haunts me.  Like his “An Occasional Dream” – deliberate but dreamy, piquant, full of fully rendered imagery – it strikes an embarrassingly powerfully resonant chord in me.

Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show

The BBC series Life on Mars was about 2000’s police detective Sam Tyler who gets hit by a suspect’s car, and finds himself in 1972.  He gets messages from, and we get glimpses of, his being operated on back in our time.  He has a hell of a time adjusting to the 1972 pre-politically correct Harry Callahan style of police work.   All the while trying not to let on that he doesn’t know what the hell is going on and seriously being unsure what year is real and what year is the dream.  Kinda like I feel a lot of the time.  He hears his mother’s voice on the radio while tuning between stations, thinks her hears someone passing on the street mutter that his girlfriend’s in danger without him, things like that.

I haven’t seen it.

I did watch most of the 8 or so episodes of the American ABC version.  I am sure it was more ham-handed and unsubtle than the award winning British original.  It was probably Harvey Keitel’s first regular series television work.

And when ABC decided to take it off the air mid-story, they did have the courtesy of tying it all up, answering everything, and giving it a real ending.  The ending was obviously put together at the beginning assuming this situation developed.   It was a Philip K. Dickensian cheat.

The DVDs of the BBC original just came out for the U.S. player format.  I got it from Netflix two weeks ago, haven’t watched it yet.  I keep putting it off.

I have so much invested in the song, and in the series, (and I just glanced over the online friend here…), I’m embarrassed.

Worried that I’ll be abysmally disappointed to finally watch it.  Or, like Sam Tyler, that I’ll be finding clues to guide me back to my real life…

But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again…

Is there life on Mars?



the Vatican rags Bob Dylan

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, yesterday came out with a list of Top 10 rock and pop albums of all time.  They admitted it was a “semi-serious” attempt to offer suggests in case you got stuck on a deserted island.  Lost‘s one-note thump of an opening theme didn’t make it.

1:  Revolver…The Beatles
2:  Dark Side Of The Moon…Pink Floyd
3:  (What’s The Story) Morning Glory…Oasis
4:  Thriller… Michael Jackson
5:  Achtung Baby…U2
6:   Rumours…Fleetwood Mac
7:  The Nightfly…Donald Fagen
8:   Supernatural…Carlos Santana
9.   Graceland…Paul Simon
10.  If I Could Only Remember My Name…David Crosby

(from Marc. A. Catone, www.counterpunch.org. I can’t find a direct translation of the article – I assume it will appear later in their English weekly edition)

Apparently, this was a light-hearted response to what they describe as the “cheesy” music festivals going on around Italy this time of year.  I somehow picture the Trapp family at the Salzburg Festival by way of Eurovision, with more gesticulation.  I may be wrong.

Revolver was also picked as the Top Rock/Pop Album of all Time by (baby boomer leaning) Rolling Stone.

I’ve  owned only one: U2’s Achtung Baby. In the 70’s you didn’t actually need own either Dark Side of the Moon or Rumours – you heard every song on them on the radio and at friends’ houses on regular rotation.

And for some reason my stuffy 50’s-reminiscing parents loved Webber and Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, which they literally played all the way through every Easter weekend.  And they also loved Godspell and took me to see it at the Studio Arena theater when I was 11, where we sat in the front row and actress Lynne Thigpen – later The Chief on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – kept smiling and winking at me.  (for a fleeting moment at the start of my adolescence everything came together and I was damn good looking)

And interesting that two of the artists, Don Fagen and Carlos Santana, were at least at some point  – and both may very well still be – practicing Nichiren Buddhists.

Interesting, too (and this is where I turn snarky – or at least as snarky as I get)…

Bob Dylan was pointedly left out, and the article’s writers, Giuseppe Fiorentino and Gaetano Vallini, pointedly explain why, via the Wall Street Journal

Dylan was excluded from the list despite his “great poetic vein” because he paved the way for generations of unprofessional singer-songwriters who have “harshly tested the ears and patience of listeners”…

Yes, that’s right –

The Catholic Church “condemns” a groundbreaking innovator because his followers think they are living up to his example but are in fact tone deaf to it.

Now, I’m an idiot six ways to Sunday, and my pile of shortcomings is the only thing tall about me.  I am a lesser man than most, and I think I know that.  I will listen attentively to your opinion as long as you are not hypocritical – or lying about your facts – or have an “opinion” that informs you to hurt people who have nothing to do with you.  At least I think I will; if I am a hypocrite please tell me.  I hate hypocrisy and will call it out.

I won’t go into a litany of the Catholic Church’s transgressions here – some of which have touched my life.  It’s pretty easy to find them eagerly listed on the internet.  But I know and work with devoutly Catholic men and women whose lives are so much larger than mine – including a convent of damn cool social activist nuns around my corner (literally).

For myself, I practiced the same Buddhism as Fagen and Santana for 27 years – devoted my life to it, before I dropped out last year.  Sorry Vatican, but it wasn’t Buddha who said

Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned.