Monday, June 26, 2017

China Set to Emulate Black Mirror's Nosedive Scenario?


Last night I watched a Black Mirror episode titled "Nosedive." It was about a social media-driven dystopia in which everybody is constantly being rated by everyone with whom they come in contact in physical or electronic space, and their overall rating can have profound implications for where they can work and live, what they can buy or which services they can receive, and with whom they can associate in order to maintain or boost rather than lower their rating and enjoy the rewards or suffer the consequences thereof. This turns almost everyone into approval-seeking phonies compulsively and anxiously on guard against being down-rated by anybody in any social situation.

This Orwellian nightmare scenario seemed plausible enough in the not-too-distant future, but, judging from this alarming article (the full article is behind a paywall, but be sure to check out the video), something disconcertingly like it may already be coming to China in the form of an ominously named "social credit system," and it may come here sooner than we could have ever imagined. Be concerned. Be very concerned!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meryl Streep's Incredibly Beautiful Photo

I’m much more of a verbal person than a visual one. So, I tend to get much more excited about beautiful words than about beautiful photographs.

But today is Meryl Streep’s 68th birthday, and when I saw the photograph above of her on a Facebook friend’s page, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I don’t know who took that photo or when they took it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as struck by a photograph of anyone as I am of this one. I think it’s absolutely stunning. Meryl looks so incredibly beautiful and alive in it. It’s almost too much to bear. But in the best of ways.

Happy Birthday, Meryl. Your amazing photo has certainly made my day a happy one. And I suspect that it's brightened the day of virtually everyone who's seen it. Everyone, except, perhaps, Donald Trump or his supporters.

Monday, April 17, 2017

RIP Allan Holdsworth, Guitar Colossus


"I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can." ~ Robben Ford

Though I've never played an instrument, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. And for decades, Allan Holdsworth has thrilled and inspired me like no one else with his astonishingly fluid and impossibly complex virtuosity and steadfastly uncompromising musical sensibility.

Frank Zappa called him one of the "most interesting" guitarists on the planet. Eddie Van Halen said he was simply "the best." John McLaughlin quipped that he'd steal Holdsworth's licks if he could understand them. The praise went on and on from guitar luminaries the world over.

But Allan Holdsworth died yesterday at the age of 70. So, there will be no more soul-searing guitar lines and otherworldly chordal phrasings from those magic fingers. A giant who perhaps stood taller than any other in the prodigiously demanding genre of guitar-centered "fusion" has passed on.

While it was well-known that he was in poor health, Allan's death still comes as something of a shock. A friend of mine saw him perform just a little over a week ago. And, despite his not having practiced much for a long time, he was still in virtuosic form.

Sadly, Allan never prospered from his music. In fact, he was apparently in pretty dire financial straits at the end. For while serious guitarists and hardcore guitar fans idolized him, most of the public never even heard of him. And if they happened to chance upon any of his music, they probably cringed from the strangeness of it.

I confess that, huge Holdsworth fan that I was, I found some of his music pretty "out there" too, and some of it left me cold. But then there was this solo, my favorite guitar solo ever, and this rare, hauntingly pensive and beautiful acoustic guitar piece on an album he despised and tried to suppress.

I was blessed to see Allan perform in person a couple of times. One such time was in the early to mid-80's at a local nightclub in Palo Alto, CA. This song, in particular, enraptured me and is probably my favorite song that he himself composed. I wish I'd been able to see more of him.

Fortunately, his recorded music lives on, and YouTube abounds with his live performances and this lovely tribute. RIP, Allan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Resonance of Paterson


I saw a movie trailer months ago and knew I had to see the movie when I could. Today I could and did. And I know it will linger in my heart and mind for a long time.

It's a Jim Jarmusch film called "Paterson." It's a quiet, contemplative film about a young guy named Paterson who lives and drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey. He wakes up every workday to the clock alarm in his head, kisses his wife, eats his Cheerios while composing poetry in his mind or notebook, and dutifully walks to work. He sits in his bus before his shift writing poetry until his beleagured boss comes along and reminds him it's time to go to work. As he drives, he listens attentively to the conversations of disparate people around him. When he gets off work, he walks to a secluded place and sits on a bench by a waterfall writing more poetry. Then he walks home, greets his endearingly ditzy wife, eats dinner, and takes his bulldog for a walk, and leaves him parked outside a cozy neighborhood bar while he ambles in for a leisurely drink and quiet conversation with the bartender-owner and an assortment of fellow patrons. The next day, it all begins, progresses, and ends almost exactly the same way.

Never before have I seen a film that resonates so powerfully with my sense of the trivial repetitiveness of life. Life's pointlessness has been acutely on my mind over the past year or so, and "Paterson" drives it home. Not in a depressing way. I'm not depressed, at least not most of the time, by seeing life as "a tale told by an idiot," even when its "sound and fury" gives way for me as it does for the film's protagonist to quiet, purposeless reiteration.

And never before, perhaps, have I identified so much with a film's character. Paterson is the guy I would likely be if I were even as bold and capable as his very unassuming and mediocre personage. For one thing, I now understand the lure of a neighborhood bar the way I could never fathom before. And if I were a little more outgoing than I actually am, I'd probably end my numbingly repetitive workdays with a trip there to sip a mug of beer and talk pensively with others while cool jazz played warmly and unobtrusively on the jukebox in the background.

And, like Paterson, I would write before and after work. Not poetry but nonfictional prose. And, because of my similar lack of ambition and/or confidence, I would do no more than Paterson to get my work published for pay or recognition.

The film also conveyed to me an acute sense of how alone we ultimately are, even if we're married to someone who truly loves us and we're surrounded by chattering people all day long. My philosophy may tell me we're all interconnected with each other and with the whole shebang of kosmic existence, but my heart feels existentially separate from every one and every thing. Yet I don't find this feeling depressing so much as simply and resignedly factual.

But it's also a fact that once in a blessed while a special film comes along that makes the idiotic tale of life and aloneness glow with rare and poignant beauty that leaves me happy to be alive, in part so I can experience such affecting works of cinematic art and bask in their affirming afterglow. "Paterson" is one such film for me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is Cataclysmic War Imminent?



"North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of." ~ President Trump

Is there about to be a nuclear war? NBC News reports that the U.S. may launch a preemptive conventional strike against North Korea if that country seems on the verge of conducting a promised nuclear weapons test, and it's maneuvering some serious weaponry in place for this. True to form, North Korea threatens massive retaliation if the U.S. does attack. Suppose it does and they do. What then?

North Korea has nuclear weapons and says it will use them against the U.S. if it attacks. They also have conventional and presumably chemical and possibly nuclear warheads they could use to attack South Korea and elsewhere. Moreover, relations between the U.S. and China and Russia are hardly amicable at the moment. And China and Russia are neighbors and supporters of North Korea to some degree.

My wife is traveling to Thailand next week to visit her family. What if war breaks out in that part of the world while she's there? And what if it goes worldwide?

I can't help but be concerned. I deplore the way the North Korean government conducts its affairs and treats its people. By all accounts, North Korea is a hell of unimaginable oppression and suffering for millions of its people. And there is grave and legitimate concern about North Korea improving its nuclear arsenal and soon threatening the U.S. mainland with it. But what effect would a devastating war now have on countless millions of people?

And why is North Korea so bent on building its nuclear capabilities? Has U.S. saber rattling played no role in this? Has the U.S. really done its best to stop North Korea's nuclear arms development by diplomatic means, or has it been kindling the flames with its policies and posturings for decades?

What would we do if we we perceived ourselves to be threatened by a superior military power, we had a nuclear weapons program, and we believed that we needed to flex our nuclear muscle to deter aggression against us?

What concerns me even more is that Donald Trump is our president. Yes, we appear to have some capable people in charge of our military. But President Trump is in charge of the people in charge. He makes the final decisions. And I have a difficult time thinking of anyone less qualified than Donald J. Trump to make sound decisions in a time of climactic crisis.

Sometimes I get so fed up with the way of the world and with human folly that I just think, "Fuck it! Let it all be blown to hell!" But I don't really want that to happen. I want peace to prevail and for people and life everywhere to flourish on this pale blue dot.

Maybe my concerns are overblown. Maybe sanity will prevail at the moment of truth. After all, despite NBC News' report, I don't hear alarm bells going off in the journalistic media. Yet, one lesson I've learned after all this time is that human beings are dangerously unpredictable and that crises can build and spin out of control amazingly quickly. And when I look at the world as it is this morning, I'm not sanguine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Old Song Becomes My Reality, Sort Of

Fifty years ago, the Beatles released a song that has special relevance to today. Back when I first heard it, I was amused but emotionally detached from the distant scenario it wittily described. Today, not so much.

I've been keeping this blog for thirteen years or more. And though I haven't checked to confirm it, I think last year may have been my first birthday where I didn't publish something here.

I couldn't let myself stretch it to two, even though I don't have that much to say about anything at the moment other than the fact that I'm mostly glad to still be here, unequivocally glad I'm still able to post these entries, and very hopeful that I'll be back next year with lot more to say that's worth saying.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trying Not to Vilify Trump Supporters

Today I posted to Facebook a Nicholas Kristof column in which he urges his readers not to vilify Trump supporters as the "enemy." He says he received a backlash from people disinclined to follow his advice after he initially tweeted it. A friend of mine commented that "Actually many of them are [enemies]." This is how I replied:
It's very easy for me to demonize and malign Trump supporters. And goodness knows I've done my share of it. But it doesn't feel good to me to despise and reject people for their beliefs, just as it doesn't feel good to be despised and rejected by others for my beliefs. It also seems counterproductive, as Kristof points out.

What helps me to stop doing this or, at least, to do less of it is to understand that various factors cause people to do the things they do, including support Trump, that they don't choose. Researchers and theorists such as Jonathan Haidt and George Lakoff are illuminating what these causes are.

The way I see it, the fact that we don't support Trump is not something we can rightfully take credit for, and we can't rightfully blame others for supporting him. What we can do is try to understand why people do what they do and work with this understanding as best we can to foster the best circumstances that we can. As the great philosopher Spinoza said, "“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

I'm REALLY trying to follow Spinoza's lead because it seems like the best way to live. It's tremendously difficult at times. And this is one of those times. But, as Spinoza also said, "All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."