Dismayed: As Hope Dims

Sometimes I truly feel that this “great experiment” on which our democratic republic is based has finally, like so many other noble experiments, long surpassed its apogee — if one wishes to consider that there was such an high point at all. As Oscar Wilde supposedly said: “American is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.”

I guess what dismays me the most is that so many of the American public are so gullible and easily manipulated by demagoguery that they are willing to turn a blind eye — no, go completely blind — to the unconscionable, morally and ethically bankrupt, sociopathic behaviour of Donald J.Trump and his toadies in the GOP. I don’t get it. Okay, I realise that he was not elected in true democratic fashion (i.e. by the public), but by the unmitigatedly antiquated system of the Electoral College; notwithstanding, that merely underpins the problem of why this man is not only unqualified, but completely and unapologetically corrupt. What disturbs me most of all is that he has blatantly lied to the people who have put the most faith in him and they refuse to see it. Instead they revel in conspiracy theories about the media (expect for Fox News of course). That in spite of what is figuratively slapping them in the face regarding employment, health care, taxes, fraud, misogyny, education, veterans rights, the “Wall,” immigration, his distain for the leaders of our democratic allies and adoration for dictators, his hatred for and attempts, if not to dismantle, at least discredit our criminal justice system, his “base” continues to worship this morally bankrupt sociopath.

Most noisome about all of this is:  these people, these fools, these lemmings, number, not in thousands, but in the millions! Approximately 40 (+ or- 2-3%) percent of the American public think he’s a good president! They ignore the constant inconsistencies, the compete and total lack of historical education, that his vaunted tax law is a sham: a tax law that throws a few crumbs to middle class Americans and small business, virtually nothing to working class/working poor Americans; but almost literally throws money at the extremely wealthy and the major corporations. He chooses a woman to head up the Department of Education who has summarily expressed her distain for our public school system and has done her very best (even before DE) to lobby for, not only charter and private school businesses but the for profit college industry. The public be damned. Then there’s Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson, Steve Mnuchin, Wilber Ross, and the overtly racist Jeff Sessions; all of whom are surrounded by criminality or some form of impropriety. And those are only the ones still employed! Trump has had largest turnover in White House personnel in history — 49 and counting; and that’s only after less than a year and a half.

His “believers” are so incredibly blind and stupid that, unfortunately, Trump was very likely right in assuming that “[he] could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any followers.” Unlike what a lot of folks have concluded:  thinking that Trump’s devotees are ignorant (although that may also be the case in a substantial proportion of them), the vast majority are simply stupid. You see, an ignorant person can be educated because they simply don’t know; stupid people choose to close their minds: it doesn’t matter what the reasons are. Ignorance is unintended, stupidity is a decision. In the case of Donald Trump his appeal to the sordid, vulgar, jejune, even reptilian aspects of the human psyche has made it easy for people to find him compelling. Marginally educated, even relatively well educated people who live in and associate in primarily homogenous environments, essentially want simple answers to the complicated, sometimes inscrutable issues they see beyond their limited spheres.  If those answers happen to be racist, misogynistic, insulting to anyone who isn’t as simple minded as they, or just merely disgusting and vulgar to any civilised person, all the better.

One can show, prove over and over, without qualification how Trump has lied and consistently turned his back on his supporters, that he has impudently — in your face, as it were — not “drained the swamp” but, has deepened and promulgated it “beyond the dreams of avarice,” to no avail. There’s nothing more closed minded than a zealot.

So, my fellow Americans, I seriously doubt that even with a sea change in either or both houses of Congress, the damage perpetrated on our precious dream of an eventual economically and socially egalitarian democracy is most likely all but lost. Sorry, John, Jim, Alex, Tom, etc.


No Hope Left for America

I’d been hoping to start writing about music and other art forms again, especially music; but a not-so-funny thing happened last 7 November 2016 that has put me into an emotional malaise that has virtually paralysed me; it put me into a funk from which I just can’t seem to arise: and that, my dear friends, was the election of Donald J. Trump and, since his inauguration the complete spinelessness of the major media, members of both branches of Congress — particularly Republicans, but Democrats as well — in not calling this man out for his flagrant and continued unbridled immaturity and arrant sociopathy (with its constant, insistent, pathological lying and associated narcissism).  Almost everybody skirts around the true issue:  that what we have in the White House is a buffoon, a fool who was (and still is) propped up and manipulated by the crazoids of the far-far (also referred to as the “alt”) right; i.e., racists, bigots and conspiracy nut-jobs who are just as sociopathic he is.  No, I stand corrected: they are  psychopaths.  

My feelings of despair have harboured for a long time; however, there was always the caveat of hope that people of good will would ultimately find a way of prevailing this insidious — perverse — proclivity that the U.S. has manifested over the past generation or two; i. e., since the Reagan administration, of looking backward to a period of time when only white european (including middle/upper class hispanic) culture, “free market,” economics where wealthy, predominantly (though not exclusively) protestants prevailed.  This regression, moreover, has included the dismantling of the governmental (both state and federal) protections and regulations we have since learned to be extremely beneficial to the well-being of the public’s health, safety and security (to name a few), all in the name of economic expediency; what is erroneously referred to as conservatism.

Class warfare has raised its ugly head in the era of Donald Trump in unprecedented ways that are genuinely frightening.  I’m a product of the 60’s and 70’s.  I saw the riots in Watts, Chicago Democratic Convention, Kent State, and so many more.  All of these resulted in promises of change; and gradually change had begun, until Ronald Reagan, unintentionally through his economic policies, emphasising corporate and upper income tax cuts under what has been historically proven to be the fallacious concept of  “trickle down” economics, coupled with a gratuitous increase in military spending over domestic  resurrected a class (and resulting racial) warfare on the the country’s less fortunate.†  But, there’s plenty of blame to go around.  Democrats have this convenient amnesia when it comes to Bill Clinton’s “Welfare Reform Act” which summarily caused millions of people to lose their benefits causing immense pressure on non-profits to try and cover the gap; and his signing away the Glass-Steagall Act paving the way for the recession of 2008.

Class warfare is easy.  All that the wealthy have to do is throw money at Capitol Hill so that they (those who have that kind of huge money) can, and unabashedly, do their bidding on those we — the putative electorate — have supposedly (naively) elected to represent us.  And what is the easiest of the easy ways of creating class warfare?  Bigotry, racism being the most efficacious, followed by (not necessarily in any particular order) sexism, LGBT oppression, anti-intellectual thinking, and free speech suppression (on both the left and the right viz. college/university harassment of conservative speakers); though I’m sure there are more: bigotry covers a lot bases; which is why classicism is such an effective tool.  When you have so many people quibbling and squabbling amongst themselves it’s easy to sit back, watch and exploit.  The exploitation with all of the technological “bells and whistles” at peoples’ disposal has become the modern day equivalent to Juvenal’s “bread and circuses;” as long as the populace is sufficiently distracted with easily accessible toys (smartphones) and their accompanying diversions (games and social media primarily), as well as an educational system (both public and private) that is woefully lacking in teaching the art of critical thinking, and you have a perfect formula for keeping a large segment of the population acutely prone to demagoguery.

Just look at the current political situation.  Contrary to the tendency of most pundits you hear in the media who flatter the American electorate by constantly saying “The American people aren’t stupid,”  that somehow they manage to see through the sham and phoniness and make the right decision.  Well, we’ve seen how well that worked out, and I’m not just referring to election of Trump; rather, I’m referring to how the power brokers — the folks that own the media — have saturated our society with extremely visceral, yet mind numbing distractions under the guise of entertainment.  Entertainment which has insistently lowered the bar literally appealing to the lowest common denominator.  That explains the election of the last two presidents and why so-called conservative Republicans have become the dominate party in our governments, both state and federal.

Elections, especially presidential elections, have become no different than any other form of entertainment; i. e., distractions that focus more on personality — the politician’s “star power” — than on what his or her agenda.  Oh sure, there’s constant blather about focussing on those matters, but let’s face it, that very rarely happens.  After all that’s not the sexy part.

Let’s look at the last two presidential elections.  Why was Barack Obama elected president?  Was it his policies on trade, healthcare, military spending, domestic spending, his experience?  Maybe some of his ideas appealed to some of the more educated voters; but, that was not the reason he was elected: he was elected because he was black, young, photogenic and had the backing of the Kennedys.  Let’s face it he might never have been elected if African-Americans hadn’t come out in droves to vote him strictly because he was of African-American descent and he was a Democrat.  Moreover, he was young (relatively) and appealed to the “youth” vote simply because he was young, dynamic and black which made him very hip.  Then there is the whole inexperience thing; although he had some experience in the Senate, he was only there a few months and had not really garnered the kind of experience one would need to be able to work with members of the opposing party (not that they would anyway, expressing their blatantly racist views to having a person of colour in the White House).

Then there’s Trump.  First let’s consider how stupid the American electorate really is.  After their experience with voting in an inexperienced junior Senator nine years ago one would think (don’t forget many Obama voters voted for Trump) that maybe, JUST MAYBE, they would have learned that voting someone in with not only less experience in government, but WITH NO EXPERIENCE in government, one who was used to running a business as a personal fiefdom wth 1) no concept of history, and 2) absolutely no concept of constitutional government; but, no, they turn around and elect (according to the anti-democratic Electoral College) a sociopath and sexual predator as president.  And yet, this part of the electorate for the most part are still willing to turn a blind eye to what has become an innumerable number of improprieties and abuses of the office, because they continue live under the delusion that he’s going to change things for their betterment.

I watch “Morning Joe” in the morning because it’s good for me to get the perspective of a legitimate conservative thinker like Joe Scarborough; and yet, what I see is this honest-to-God diehard fiscal Reagan Republican having to quit his party (of which he had been a lifelong member) and become an independent because he could no longer identify with the Trump/Bannon idiots and the completely spineless others of the “new” Republican party.  Moreover, George Will, yes GEORGE WILL, that bastion of conservative intellectualism, again a staunch Republican, also felt the need to quit the GOP because he could no longer stomach the direction of his erstwhile party.

The thing that really gets me is the constant talk of “the base;” that 30-35% of the electorate who are more than willing to believe that the lies, deception, jingoism, racism, sexism (to point of predation) and the quintessentially narcissistic inability to take responsibility for any mistakes or any of the aforementioned foibles are perfectly acceptable, because none of these constantly and demonstrably (by his own actions and words) are real:  it’s all “fake news.”  Everybody knows that the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Boston Globe, the major networks — even NPR/PBS — are all conspiring against him.  It’s only Breitbart, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Drudge Report that tell the truth; i. e., only what Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and their supporters say is true, no matter how contradictory or false their statements have been or currently are.  The fact that he has that many people (don’t forget 30-35% means millions) unquestionably supporting him, or least willing to vote for him again is monumentally depressing to me.  How stupid, how blind, how completely oblivious to reality can that many Americans be?

Ignorance is terrible thing for an ostensibly democratic state; but, stupidity is so much worse.  The former is a result of insufficient learning of basic facts as supposedly delivered by our school systems — both public and private; the latter is the result of either a conscious decision on someone’s part to be able, or (more than likely) unwilling to engage in critical thinking, and thus ignore facts and simply go by what one feels is emotionally more satisfying: whether it’s voting for a narcissist/sociopath who will say anything to appeal to the most xenophobic, and base aspects of our species, or for someone, in spite of his/her determined efforts to try and appeal to the those higher elements of the human psyche; i. e., intellectualism, rationalism, open mindedness, will vote for that person because of some tribal or racial predilection; e.g, liberal/progressive, race.  In any event either is deleterious to a democratic state; whether it’s the former, which would be ultimately destructive, or the latter which could possibly be beneficial, because the end was the result of a decision based on the completely wrong premise:  not the qualifications or ability but on strictly emotional, narrow-minded criteria by an infinite amount of life saturating media whose primary purpose is to make extortionate profits by pandering to and sanctioning the public’s over indulgence for as many frivolous and jejune distractions as can be possibly absorbed.  The result is an electorate that is virtually incapable to, or recalcitrant of, making a rational, informed, intelligent political decision.

What depresses me more about all of this is our current social structure, as a result of ultra-conservatives dating back to the Nixon administration, has become virulently anti-intellectual.  The disparagement of scientists, artists, and educators in general has continued to grow as the far right and the financial-powers-to-be have managed to keep people ignorant, politically unaware and naïve; and, have continued to exert their powerful influence on the spending of government.  As a result schools, libraries, and literally every institution and organisation dedicated to the advancement of human intelligence and social enlightenment and the betterment of the planet have been and will continue to be financially, and therefore culturally, starved of the resources they need to educate our nation.  The last thing the GOP, as it stands now as Trump’s errand boys and girls, want is that the American public learn, critically evaluate, understand and ultimate realise how they (the GOP and a few Dems) will do anything to keep the public in the dark about who actually runs things in DC.

Contrary to the pundits and commentators on MSNBC, CNN, and network Sunday morning talk shows, the American electorate is pathetically ignorant and/or stupid politically.  It’s not their fault; and that’s what angers me most of all.  Politicians have done everything they can to cut money for education, particularly in the humanities and the arts.  Not because (as they would lead you to believe) the arts and humanities aren’t important or are frivolous; rather, the humanities teach us the lessons of history and culture, the arts teach us discipline and how to think critically.  These are exactly the qualities that those on the far right in particular do not want the public to possess; that would result in an ACTUAL DEMOCRACY in which the people are truly capable of choosing the representative or senator who not only represents but REFLECTS the people who have elected him/her.

This will NEVER HAPPEN in the United States until we, the people, compel those whom we have elected to do the right thing.  In this case the impeachment and removal of a president who has every single day, during the campaign and since inauguration has (ironically consistently) bespoke not only his incompetence, but total (and uniquely) mental inadequacy for the job.  The latest revelations are from Michael Wolf’s “Fire and Fury” book. I mean what the blazes more do you need?!

So yes, I have no hope.  Even if the Democrats manage to take back the House and the Senate, the damage that has been done by Trump and his fascist zealots will take years, even decades, to undo.  Just look at what the bungling Devin Nunes and the Republican members of the Congressional Intelligence(?) Committee have done to totally and deliberately destroy any credibility to that committee, the GOP, and the concept of representative government.

Then there are the things that Trump has managed to do (about which, of course, he brags as his HUGE accomplishments) by executive order in despoiling generations of protective regulations against health, civil liberties, the environment, you name it , and staffing his cabinet with people who, because of their vested interests in deregulating, who are bound an determined to castrate those organisations of which they are supposed have fiduciary responsibility.  It’s enough to make an intelligent, rational person vomit.

Of then there is the latest in regard to the mass murder in Parkland, Florida.  I mean, seriously, does any sane, rational, moderately intelligent person seriously believe that arming teachers, who are so incredibly overburdened, under paid and disrespected as it is in this country, is a remotely responsible idea?  Unfortunately, there are many people, mostly Republicans, who actually think this is a good idea.

To sum up and reiterate, I am sick and tired of the folks (like Donny Deutsch on Morning Joe, as well as Joe and Mika) who keep saying that the American public isn’t stupid. They supposedly know what going and they’ll change things in November, blah, blah.  NO! Let’s be clear the American public IS STUPID!  Otherwise people like Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, Ron Johnson, and host of other ultra-rightwing nut jobs would never see any part of Washington, D.C. I’m with Bill Maher this one.


†This “theory” of economics perpetrated by Milton Friedman’s version of Adam Smith’s school of  laissez faire economics is often referred to as the Chicago [University] School of Economics.

A little Catching Up

I was up to 3:00 a.m. a few days ago writing something for my other blog.  It was stuff that had been (still is) on my mind.  The steroid I was taking for the poison ivy I contracted clearing some brush to the gate to our backyard wouldn’t let me sleep, so I decided to take advantage of my insomnia and clear my head of some of the reasons for my extended absence (or more like non-activity).

In short, I’ve been going through a period of re-evaluation.  I’ve been following the WCC/Rider situation, but have been only marginally involved as I’ve been struggling with adapting to my new life up here in New England.  Moreover, my conflicted relationship with my alma mater haven’t afforded me the level of championship to the cause as my confreres.  It’s complicated.  As I begin this new life journey, most likely sans musique — or at the most peripherally —  I see my consociation with WCC as anterior, therefore, having little relevance to my present life.  I now see my primary function in life, at least for the present, as tending to the house, gardening, taking Blaze out for his walk/run, reading through my library of song and various piano works and eventually composing again; but, the idea of being actively involved in “the music scene” is simply out of the question.  I realise the dream of music has long come and gone — especially as an organist or a conductor.

Facing reality is always difficult, particularly when one has lived a fantasy almost all of one’s life.  But, at least I’ve managed to come to terms with a few years left.  So, now I can redirect my efforts to more constructive things such as becoming more actively involved in my community and further developing my growing interest in art and art history.  Maybe I rent myself out as a private tour guide.  Hmmmm.

The Humanoid Carbon Units Have Chosen

Why are so many Democrats surprised? You have nobody to blame but yourselves. Why? Well let’s see:
1. Thanks to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the neo-liberals (those who profess liberal and progressive ideals but who just as bought and sold by Wall Street as the GOP) you maintained such a strangle hold on the DNC that you quashed your chance at a PROGRESSIVE POPULIST who was in Bernie Sanders. He had the ear of the same people Trump had. However, Sanders focused his energy on UNITING people against the 1%, not fear mongering and racism, misogyny, lies, and foul language (among his other lovely traits).
During the primaries it was shown over and over again that Sanders would have soundly defeated Trump; whereas, a Clinton/Trump contest was ALWAYS considered close. But NO, the Democratic Party’s machine insisted on choosing an incredibly flawed, scandal ridden, highly damaged, uninspired candidate thinking that because being an high profile woman with all those years of experience in government was all she needed, along with all of her powerful corporate donors.
Sanders has had none of that baggage. He is a man of unimpeachable character, whose cause for all of his adult life has been economic justice for working people, from poor to the rapidly eroding middle class, and as a part of that social and educational justice. But then again we all knew that didn’t we?
2. Then there’s the media who treated Sanders as they have with all grass roots efforts — dismissively. Sanders campaign against giant corporations, don’t forget, includes the major media outlets, who  attempted for so long to ignore, even avoid, Sanders and his highly focused, positive populism.  The mass media have treated populism as primarily the domain of the far right, or, as it is now known, the alt-right — as strictly a movement of anger.  Yes, anger is often the motivation behind a populist movement; and, the major media outlets drew upon that anger as a means of paralleling Trump and Sanders.  But, here in lies the difference:  Sanders’ populism worked to channel that anger into a movement for POSITIVE change by showing poor, working class and middle class of all backgrounds, locals, colours, societal variations and education into a common, unified cause for economic justice:  out of which can then many of the societal problems can be more effectively approached.
Trump’s version of populism fits more conveniently into the mould the media prefers in which the anger is directed inwardly white vs.non-white, Christian vs Muslim vs. Jew, middle class vs. working class vs.poor, men vs. women, traditional lifestyle vs. contemporary lifestyle (not just straight vs. LGTB), the list goes on and on.  The result is demagoguery in which each group’s  anger and fear of “the other” is exploited so that each feels Trump is speaking directly to or at them (depending upon the perspective) generating this “popular” support whilst all the time destroying any semblance constructive dialogue or civility.
Unfortunately, as a result of our federal, state and local governments’ continued insistence on under or de-funding education at all levels (especially primary and secondary schools) H. L. Mencken in his essay Notes on Journalism will continue to ring true:  “No one in this world, so far as I know…has ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.  Nor has any one lost public office thereby.”

Not Quite an Hobson’s Choice, but Close

For the past few years, I’ve deliberately avoided discussing politics in my column, or social media generally, simply because it’s usually a waste of time and energy (as will be this rant).  But, sometimes the need for one to express one’s thoughts (and yes, feelings) about such matters becomes overwhelming.  I’d be curious as to how many folks here think about what’s going on, particularly as pertains to the presidential (and in many ways least important) race.

For me, I have to say this has to be the single most disappointing presidential race I have ever experienced in my, perhaps too many, years on this planet. Never, have I disliked, even been repulsed by, both candidates.  Usually one is relatively acceptable.  For me it’s usually been the Democratic candidate because I am generally of a more progressive persuasion.  Notwithstanding, that hasn’t precluded the positive aspects of the candidates from the other side.  Even Nixon was responsible for the establishment of the (now virtually moribund) National Endowment for the Arts.  At least Reagan, Ford, G.H.W. and G.W. Bush were not openly malicious, notwithstanding my disagreements with most of what they brought to the White House.  Anyway, you get my drift here.

However, this time around I have to say I am in a serious quandary.  Back in 2008 I was very much in favour of Hillary Clinton; Let’s face it Barack Obama was simply not ready for the office; and he has (very much to my regret) proved it (the reasons for this would be for another discussion).  At that time Hillary Clinton was still a very credible candidate for the office; she had not been corrupted by the secretive machinations as Secretary of State for the Obama administration.  Her credibility has been seriously undermined by her inscrutable determination to not be forthcoming on not just her incessant e-mail revelations, but her whole circumspect approach to dealings with the Foundation and in what other cryptic endeavours she and Bill have been engaged.  I’m not generally one to pay attention what the American public as a whole thinks (since I for the most part have a pretty low opinion of the American public’s irrational, emotional and largely ill-informed “thinking”), but this time around I have to concur, I find her to be vexingly disingenuous.

That being said, I then think, how can anybody in their right mind even remotely consider Donald Trump a serious contender for president?  To those of you who support his candidacy… What is wrong with you?  I know that people don’t like to be told that they are stupid, but… YOU’RE STUPID!  There is, and can be, no other explanation as to why anybody with anything other than the I.Q. of a radish, and the emotional development of a four year old, would even remotely consider this man for the office.  There simply is no excuse.

I guess what bothers me the most is that the Democratic Party had a bona fide alternative, a chance to win not only the presidency, but actually precipitate a major sea change in Washington beyond the presidential level, which I mentioned is actually less important that what is commonly referred to the “down ballot” part of this election.  Nothing could reflect more clearly the distinction between the two major parties than what happened prior to and during the conventions:

The Republicans went with the “outsider” candidate who reflected precisely all the worst qualities of the so-called base of the party:  xenophobia, racism, religious fanaticism and the worst form of jingoism, economic inequality, global arming denial, you-name-it, all packaged in the fear of anything remotely associated the government.  The result is a candidate who the majority of Americans find repulsive.  A person whose unfavourable ratings are close to 60 per cent of the public.

The Democrats on the other hand through their blatantly corrupt determination to assure their predetermined (thank you Debbie Wassermann Shultz machine candidate of choice was the chosen one despite all data that evidenced over and over again that THEIR outside candidate Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump by as much as two-to-one margins.  Why?  Because people knew Bernie Sanders was authentic.  He didn’t have innumerable skeletons in the closet, and always stayed on message — a message, by the way, to which the folks at “Black Lives Matter” blinded themselves because of their tunnel visioned approach to the political situation.

Anyway, for me the political process in this country has not only hit an all time low, it doesn’t look to improve anytime soon.  In fact, with the mass media frenzy feeding on Clintons e-mail and foundation bungling and the latest Trump crazy man faux pas on virtually anything, I don’t expect the American public to become intelligent soon — if ever.

So, I’m confronted with the “lesser of two evils” syndrome — again.  Do I vote for a big mouthed blowhard, narcissist who cannot make a decision in which he feels does not benefit him personally, or do I vote for a completely compromised, surreptitious person whose credibility ever since becoming an high profile ill-prepared member of an high-profile ill-prepared president’s cabinet?  I afraid I’m going to have to hold my nose and divine into the quagmire with the latter, for two reasons:

1) At one time she was an idealist with progressive ideas, and maybe, just maybe, if she’s elected with at least a Democratic majority in the senate she can retrieve a little of her old self

2) She’s not Donald Trump.

I really can’t stand this.

A Merry Christmas Indeed

This Christmas was more special for me:  it’s the first Christmas I can remember in a very, very long time in which I can safely say I’ve enjoyed and fully appreciated the season.  You see, for the past 30 plus years I’ve worked in what is probably the most Scrooge-like, coldblooded, mean spirited business in which a person could work at this time of the year — retailing.   Actually, I’m insulting the Dickens’ character because he, at least, became repentant toward the end.  Retailing on the other hand, especially what are referred to as the “big box” stores, primarily (but not exclusively) department stores has no such scruples.  Moreover, the American consumer has become equally coldblooded in encouraging major retailers’ (and many small ones’) behaviour by gorging themselves in spending and debiting themselves to borderline insolvency in order to slake a need to be accepted by others through a superficial act of materialism.

The problem lies in that this act of buying “things” in voracious quantities has been so conditioned into the American psyche that those who don’t (and even a few that do) work as retail sales clerks — oh, excuse me:  “associates” (as if that reflected that they aren’t considered the low life scum that they are considered) —  don’t even give it a second thought that these stores have to be manned by people during those wee hours of the morning in which these stores insist upon being open.  When stores like Kohl’s are open 24 hours during the week before Christmas I’m sure the people who shop at 3:00 a.m. are so incredibly selfish, or absolutely stupid/clueless to understand that just because they can’t sleep at night, it doesn’t mean that that sales person, who is doing everything he or she can to stay awake, doesn’t want to be at home sleeping next to a partner or spouse.  The thoughtlessness of the American consumer is one of the most telltale examples of our material obsession over life affirming values.  It is significantly indicative of how petty and shoal American society continues to devolve.

We could give a s— about those essentially indentured servants to our beck-and-call to which they must respond (at 4:00 a.m.), and who must deal with the most petty of enquires about those things that are no longer in stock and for which there is no longer a supply and the irate self-entitled behaviour such circumstances engender.  Hey Ms/Mr. shopper, do you think that:  1) what you ask is reasonable? 2) That the person of whom you are demanding your petty concerns actually gives a damn?  Moreover, even if you don’t acknowledge what kind of loathsome creature you are, do you think making some one else’s life miserable just so that you can buy a few trinkets for somebody you wish to impress with your “thoughtfulness” justifies your incorrigible behaviour?

Nevertheless, I still blame retailers for taking Christmas and making it into something so less than the religious and (dare I say?) spiritual holiday that it is supposed to be.  It is simply a reflection, a byproduct, of the materialism as generated by the avarice defined by the nature of Capitalism.  Greed has not only become the dominant force behind this holiday, it has become the expedient tool by which the avaricious have asphyxiated the original concept of Christmas by quite literally eviscerating it.  A recent Wall Street Journal article shows how the season has been co-opted by businesses appealing to recent societal trends by capitalising on trashing Christmas for the politically correct and the monetarily fruitful vomit of “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.”

I, for one, am sick of it.

The lust for profit has driven retailers to take these extraordinary and ultimately unprofitable extremes with little or no consideration for the fiduciary responsibilities to their employees welfare.  The amount of business they do in additional sales relative to the cost of good will and additional expense to their employees (I’m sure there are egregious anecdotal exceptions) much less operating overhead, simply goes against any rational business sense.  But, that’s what we’ve come to expect from these big stores:  desperation over rationality.

Anyway, I’m glad I’m out of it and am in a position to say “no” to working weekends and late nights.  This year I was able to do what little shopping I needed to do with ease and no stress or pressure.  I was able to simply spend quiet evenings listening to REAL Christmas music, watch “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown,” have a simple yet elegant meal by candlelight, and just overall simply relax and absorb the the wonders (again through the true music of the season) and mystery of Christmas with my beloved.  Whether or not one  adheres to precepts of the theology associated with Christmas Day is irrelevant.  There is something much more — a metaphysics if you will — that, if you’re simply willing to give yourself the time and honesty, transcends all the commerce, and avarice that have become such an unfortunate aspect of Christmastide.  Hey folks, there are twelve days in Christmastide, not one; do something more than just buy a present or two for someone.  Find yourself.

Change of Plans

I had planned to publish a diatribe concerning an important art museum—well, not so much as the institution but one of its principle individuals, who has a tendency to be… let’s say… rather petulant and vindictive, who will satisfy that peevishness at any cost, namely on another individual who had no idea that he (me) was a pawn in this little game of vengeance directed (actually misdirected) by this important, albeit unsuccessful, individual toward a previous immediate subordinate.  Taking that into consideration, rather than risk a law suit by this childish, mean spirited individual and his HR flunky I chose not to post my original diatribe.  At leafs I finally got it out of my system and now can hopefully move on.

It’s unfortunate.  I had found a perfect use for floccinaucinihilipilification.

Don’t celebrate yet.

Contrary to what some of you might have been led to believe, I will still continue to compose and make my comments here. I wrote the previous column because I needed to say this. This has been something that has been eating at me for a long time; and, I felt that if I didn’t finally express my thoughts and feelings I simply wasn’t going to move forward.
Ergo, for those of you who do think I have something to contribute to this world, I’m sorry to say that you will see my comments from time to time here.

Impatience with the Impatient

When I was writing about my feelings about Boston area after we moved here, I got to thinking about why it was taking me so long to get through it, which in turn, got me to thinking about the impatience of those who have don’t have to struggle, or have little trouble expressing ideas or performing tasks, or learning things quickly with those of us who are more deliberate, or seem “slower.”  I usually find those who are impatient with people who don’t get it the first time — or even the second — to be a generally intolerant and non-empathetic group as a whole.  There’s an arrogance, and a smugness which accompanies impatient people:  they feel they “must” explain things twice to others when they (of course) understood or learnt the first time.  They simply can’t understand why others have to be so stupid or dense — or so SLOW!  “Why does it take so long for them to do it?” or “…get the job done?”  Well, some of us just need a little more time.  It’s not that we’re stupid or retarded; usually it has to do with making sure whatever it is we are doing is done right — the first time, as much as possible.

I am NOT a believer in multi-tasking.  It’s a foolish and virtually impossible concept, and invariably leads to second rate, or worse results.  The business community has adopted this concept with the nitwit idea that getting someone to try doing three or four things simultaneously will increase productivity saving time and money.  Of course this is a fallacy, except for the unique profession of the Organist/Choir Director (which I don’t feel like explaining at this point) it is physically impossible for someone to perform two things simultaneously, much less three or four.  And even if it were possible, would you really want your surgeon double as your anaesthesiologist?  I didn’t think so.

But, I digress.  For me the main reason for my plodding along is (and I for once don’t think I stand  alone here) an obsession with perfection, or what I perceive to be perfection.  That means fussing over details:  choosing the precise word, or notes/phrases. I certainly do not presume to think that in my case what I do is superior to others; quite the contrary, I feel that I have to slave over everything I do in order to at least achieve a level of parity to others.  With words it is the constant rephrasing of a sentence or obsessively trying to find the precise word to express my thoughts.  Unfortunately, I am not blessed with the encyclopaedic memory or razor sharp wit of Oscar Wilde or, musically, mon cher maître Malcolm Williamson.  No, I have to scratch and clammer my way in order to achieve a few notes, phrases, words, sentences.  Luckily there are the slow geniuses:  Gustave Flaubert comes to mind, as does Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc in whom I can take a modicum of consolation, though a I am far from a genius.

I have always admired prolificacy.  I look at Bach and Mendelssohn; also Frederick Church and Thomas Cole come to mind: people whose individual output was astounding, not only for their quantity, but the quality of their work.  It is very humbling indeed.  Unfortunately (yes I know I’ve been using that word a lot), as someone who has more than likely suffered from some form of ADD (w/o the H nowadays) it has been very difficult to prioritise, or at least focus on any one thing.  As a result little gets done.  Ironically, once I do focus on something then nothing, I mean nothing gets in the way.  I remember one summer I lost about 3-5 lbs because I would spend the entire day learning and memorising the Franck Grande Piéce Symphonique. Of course I also had access to one of the biggest organs in the country upon which to practise.  Such is not the case presently, or probably forever.

So, I hope that explains a little as to why I’m so cumbered in my attempts at some sort of productivity.  I may have more to say on this; but now,  I have to go practise.

What ever happened to the well dressed man or woman? Part IV

A couple generations ago dressing down used to have negative connotations. It meant dressing below standard, below what was even considered appropriate for casual or sportswear. It was so onerous that the last thing you wanted to experience from a parent or your boss was a “dressing down.” Nowadays, dressing down pretty much means avoiding at all costs anything resembling good taste, especially anything tailored, such as a suit (men’s or women’s), or a blazer and slacks, a dress, or a skirt with a co-ordinating blouse. Dressing down is a by-product of the 70’s/80’s commercialisation of the 60’s free-speech, anti-war, “it’s-not-what’s-on-the-outside-but-what’s-on-the-inside-that-counts” movements. This, of course, brings us to the idea of “casual Fridays;” which is little more than an excuse for not wanting to look like Gregory Peck in “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.” A look I don’t necessarily see as pejorative.

The movie “Good Night, and Good Luck,” made a strong impression on me. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it takes place at the CBS studios in New York during the early 50’s. What impressed me (beyond David Straithairn’s uncanny realistic portrayal of Edward R. Murrow) was the setting. More precisely, how people dressed in that setting in that time: the men in their dress shirts and ties, and women in A-line dresses or skirts and blouses with mostly collar and stand or peter pan necklines. Now granted, this was an office environment in the news division of a major network; and yes, there was a sameness, an overtly conformist look (emphasised by the black and white cinematography); nevertheless, the setting was not atypical of the standard office environment of the time. The point is, they looked professional – people serious about their work and dressed accordingly.

Ideally, I suppose, the world would be better if people weren’t judged by what they wear, or how they maintain their hair, or how they smell and other aspects of personal hygiene – hmmm. Anyway, such are not the ways of most highly developed cultures. And since our society thrives on the visceral, what we wear is one of the primary determining factors in the way we present ourselves; it tells others a lot about how we wish (or, more accurately, how others think we wish) to be perceived. That includes all manner of dress, whatever the circumstances. Whether we like it or not, what we wear makes a very powerful initial – visceral – impression.

Dressing down is just that; dressing down. It’s a symbol of lowered standards; standards society has come to accept as the norm. It reflects the cavalier attitude that recent generations have fostered toward the imprecise, the unclear, the inexact. We no longer focus our attention on one or two tasks and endeavour diligently to assure their veracity. No, today we multi-task, which is a euphemism for companies to overwork and under pay employees so as to achieve what can only be at best the bare minimum. As long as we get the job done. Whether it’s done well is really not the principal concern today. Businesses supposedly can’t afford the time and cost of some one concentrating single mindedly on only one or two projects and doing them well. We proclaim the need for and supposedly value excellence; but, we really don’t have time for it. We can’t afford it. Yet, for some reason we have lots of time and money to redo the job again and again until it’s right; that is, until it’s “good enough.” I use general terms because this issue of multi-tasking is endemic throughout our society. It does not matter whether the work involves manufacturing or supplying a service; multi-tasking, cutting corners, is pervasive. And it’s reflected in how we dress. Treating your appearance seriously is no different than treating your work seriously.

Oh, I can hear it now, “I don’t need to get all dressed up to do my job well.” Theoretically that’s very true. But, dollars to donuts, reality dictates the opposite. Unfortunately, as Kevin stated, the sin of it all is that when you don’t know an higher standard you don’t know you’re lacking it. If the standard of dress is slovenly, well, I guess that’s “the style” and we’re supposedly no worse off for the lack of knowing any better.

Unfortunately, there is no surprise to any of this. After all we are a society driven by what is commercially expedient; and the key to commercial expediency is the lowest common denominator – what has become referred to as “Pop Culture,” in which charlatans like Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, John Cage, Terry Riley, John Galliano and John Gaultier , and any street thug who spews violence laden profanities to a back beat are lauded as geniuses. Who needs to learn how to draw? Who needs theory and counterpoint? Who needs talent? Evidently nobody these days.