31 August 2010



I saw a bumper sticker today (while down at the Kennedy Space Center): "Take my work ethic, not my wealth." That got me to thinking, as poorly and messily as that happens.

I was trying to figure out what the person thinks, and my best guess is that they think that someone is trying to take something of value away from them, their monetarily measured wealth, and give it to someone who's lazy, doesn't work, wants a handout, etc. Reminds me of the sign my dad's secretary had on her desk: "We fight poverty. We work."

I can't argue with the value of encouraging all to have a good work ethic. It seems almost obvious that while working hard doesn't guarantee success, not working hard is almost certain to guarantee failure. And I won't deny that there are shiftless people in this world who would rather scam you or just take it easy rather than work hard.

While Mack and I lived in Daytona Beach Shores, the Shores put in sanitary sewers. That meant (1) the building we lived in had to be hooked up to the new sewers, and (2) the old septic system had to be decommissioned. If I remember right, one of those jobs was done by what one would likely identify as a "Mexican" guy, even though he could've been Guatemalan or Texan for all anyone would really know. The other was done by what one would likely think a couple of "white" guys, although who knows their pedigree, etc. To make a long story shore, the Mexican guy worked his butt off, did his job, got in there and got out; the white guys spent most of their time loafing, standing around, talking about baseball, and griping about immigrants! Seriously. (They were right outside the open windows.)

So, sure, there are shiftless people, and they're not all black guys drinking 40s in paper sacks. Those exist, too, but they're not like some kind of supermajority. Given the fraction of black guys in jail for one thing or another—often some kind of non-violent drug offense—it's not like there's that many to have around in the first place.

So, then I wondered if the bumper-sticker person was thinking about the idle rich, like I would be more inclined to do. I mean, there are plenty of rich people who never did anything beyond being born to get the money they have. Oh, they may have pulled a few strings to make sure they get to get other peoples' money through tax breaks and the like, but that's not exactly what one thinks of as the Protestant work ethic.

So, you have people with this grievance, imagined in some part, about people not working and taking their money. And you have other people with this grievance, also likely imagined in some part, about people not working and taking their money. And I'm sure there are others with some grievance I'm not imagining but that similarly fits the "I work, I earn what I got, and those lousy bastards are trying to steal it from me."

They all can't be true, but that doesn't mean they're all false. I'm sure from some economic point of view there are numbers that can be come up with that tell whatever story one wants.

Surely we all know in our personal lives that holding onto grievances and coddling them is a surefire way to destroy the relationship into which the grievance arises, no matter how much one or the other party is at fault.

To nurture the relationship, one has to at least consider the possibilities of listening, of forgiveness, of openness, and of desiring to move forward.

How can we create a situation where people can air their grievances about situations and policies at the national level without nursing them?

Whatever happened that led up to the economic collapse of 2008, what matters now is figuring out equitable policies that help the nation, as an ensemble, grow and move forward.

Whatever happened that led to immigrants wanting to come here to work for less-than-minimum-wage cash, we have to find a way to bring those people into the above-ground economy and keep them here as citizens. We need more immigrants who want to become new Americans, not less.

Whatever happened that led one group of people to think they could own another group of people -- or that leads people now to think that kind of thinking was justified—we need to now realize that that wasn't us. We are neither the slave owners nor the slaves, unless we want to imagine ourselves as such. The impact of something that awful still affects us, as do so many past events, good or bad, but then is not now. Even a moment ago is not now. The grievance, real for some, imagined by others, just isn't worth nurturing any further.

However this society ended up deprecating the lives of that small fraction of us who love someone of the same gender, what matters not is to not continue embracing that deprecation, but to build a world that values families of all stripes.

Justice has its demands, but sometimes there's just no way to achieve any more of those demands than stating them as facts. You can't undo the past, but you can determine how the future will be.

I know this is stupid Pollyanna silliness, but I just can't imagine how to move forward without forgiveness and openness and letting go of the picking at it until it bleeds over and over and over again attitude. Let it alone. Give it a break. Put a bandage over it, hope it stops bleeding, let it scar, and let the scar blend in with the rest.

Nurturing the grudge, convincing oneself that one is being ripped off or threatened or hurt isn't worth it. I know that if you're in the frame that those slights are real, tangible, and dangerous that this will sway you little. But if you aren't totally hard-hearted about it, maybe just let the love in your heart create a place where you can forgive others the slights, real or imagined, against you and move forward together. Yes real slights need to be addressed and justice should be sought, but even in that framework there has to be a way to move forward without nurturing the grudge.

I'm not holding my breath, but I think we've got to try something different, since the way we—we all collectively: not just you, not just me—have been doing it doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere.

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25 August 2010


Build Baby Build; Burn Baby Burn

I would hope that those who think, like I do, that it's okay for the developers to build the Park 51 project ("mosque at ground zero") also believe, like I do, that it's okay for folks who want to burn a pile of Korans to do so. The objections to either use ones being offended as sufficient reason to tell someone else what to do with their property. Others shouldn't get to determine what's sacred for any one else, whether that's a book, a flag, or a chunk of nearby property.

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12 August 2010


Adult Alternative

I am having strange feelings for a fifty-three year old. I have found much joy in listening to music created and performed by a band that started just when I was getting out of the music world, think mid 1980s, but of which I had been largely oblivious to for the following interval. Their music is challenging, pretty, energetic, serious, discordant, childish, psychedelic, enchanting, self-indulgent, condensed, lush, aspirational, down to Earth.

Oh, yeah. And weird. (I forgot weird the first time around.)

I like weird.

Yes, friends and neighbors, I have discovered the Flaming Lips.

Oh, it's not that I didn't know there was a band named the "Flaming Lips." It turns out I even owned one of their CDs, _Clouds Taste Metallic_. I think Newbury Comics included it as a freebie in an online order shipment one time. But I wasn't familiar with the CD's contents, except for the one tune, "Bad Days," that was on the _Batman Forever_ soundtrack. I couldn't have told you a thing about the band's style, the names of their records, what they were known for, at all.

I was clueless.

Discovering them was quite serendipitous: On the night early in June before we were to head to my mom's family's reunion on Sand Mountain in northwest Georgia, I wasn't sleeping well, so I got up in the middle of the night, got a drink of water, and checked in on what was going on on Facebook. Within moments, three different Facebook friends updated their status to say that they were waiting on the live webcast of the Flaming Lips performing _The Dark Side of the Moon_ at Bonnaroo. I think I had seen that on the schedule, but it's not like I was going to stay up until all hours of the morning to listen to live webcasts from Bonnaroo for anyone. Old fogey, and all that.

And even as I was curious that night about these Flaming Lips, I wasn't going to start listening to something at 1:00 in the morning when we had about 600 miles to drive the next day. I did do a search on Flaming Lips, and ran across their performance of "Do You Realize" on the Letterman show, though.

I was blown away.

This band was singing about life, death, appreciation for the now, appreciation for the other, all in a little ditty that while not under the classical three-minutes in duration for a good pop song, clocked in in less than four. I knew that I would have to hear more. So, before leaving the next morning, I downloaded the Lips' _Dark Side of the Moon_ and _Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots_ (where "Do You Realize" is found).

We cranked up _DSotM_ as our first listen on the ride that morning. It's no masterpiece, but it's fun. Good craftsmanship in making new arrangements of something that everyone knows. Hot performances. Lively recordings, with lots of punch. That was the first inclination I got as to the playfulness and love of music-making that seems to be an attribute of much of the Lips' records. But _DSotM_ has a little too much "novelty" about it for me to get a clear indication of what this band could do.

Later in the day, we listed to _Yoshimi_. It was very nice, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Would a second listening yield new responses, or was it something nice enough but nothing to get excited about?

I listened to _Yoshimi_ again on the flights to Fairbanks in June. Through headphones. What was this? Some kind of trick? A fusion of punk with prog? Of stringent production values with tunes and words that are accessible if somewhat sideways. A recording with immediacy but with sounds, lots of sounds, including squeaks and squawks and synthesizer chirps and synthesizer farts and fake audience noises, with ambiance out of the wazoo, with a mix that used both channels. With content addressing topics like when one should fight, whether programmed entities have real sensations and feelings, the nature of feelings, of love, of hate, for any entity, biological or cybernetic. And instrumentals. What is this? Another trick? Instrumentals? No one plays instrumentals any more.

I was enamored. I read up. I learned that they were from Oklahoma. Oklahoma? A perfect complement, for this one at least, to Leon Russell and Toby Keith and Merle Haggard.[*] All was well and good with a Universe in which a band as experimental and curious and out there as the Flaming Lips could come from Oklahoma, with "Do You Realize?" even being named the State Rock Song of Oklahoma.

I bought more. _The Soft Bulletin_ turned out to share many of the attributes of _Yoshimi_, if musically more lilting and lyrically more directed towards mortality, the wounds and disappointments of life (from spiderbites to AIDS and cancer to wounds in the head and gashes in the leg of unknown origin), sanity and insanity, and each of our individual demises. And bugs in your teeth.

By then I considered myself a fan. I bought tickets for their upcoming show in Saint Augustine. (From what I've read and seen, the shows look like a real trip. I am excited about seeing them, and not in the way you get excited about seeing some band that meant a lot to you as a kid. It's more like being a kid and being excited about seeing a band that means something to you.) And I bought their latest, _Embryonic_, a rambling double CD featuring a rougher sound, with lots of overmodulation, extreme dynamic range, and topics addressing a world that will not cooperate.

Speaking of rambling, that's what I'm doing now, since I have no intention of going through a song-by-song review of any of the albums. Go. Get the albums. Listen to them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

What I really wanted to get across was my own joy at finding something at this point in my life that speaks to me in ways I just never anticipated being spoken to again musically. Yes, Wilco moves me as a serious rock band, and I hear they put on a awesome show. But for their edginess, Wilco only gestures towards the truly weird. The Flaming Lips embrace the truly weird. Embrace it and put it on a pedestal and say, "Hey, listen to this. Isn't this cool? Isn't this freaking awesome?"

One can argue that their approach to serious issues is on the level of the dorm-room bull session, but I don't think that goes as far as those making it would like. There's enough ambiguity in their approach to those issues; there's the lack of smarminess that these are the only points of view one should have. Instead, there's pervasive mystery and questioning and lack of certainty.

And fun. Even while addressing the monetary, labor, and power imbalances that are attributes of all societies, something like the "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" is silly. Why it's a music video that wouldn't have been that out of place on MTV in 1980-something.

To Debbie Atterholt, Lars Hall, and Bill Steber, thanks for posting that you were fixing to listen to the Lips perform _DSotM_ at Bonnaroo. I owe you for the joy I've had the last few months listening to this band and learning about them.

So if you've wondered what the hell was going on with me and the Flaming Lips recently, that's it. I found new musical love at this point in my life for a band that's been around for almost the last thirty years. I think they were hiding from me.

[*] Everyone reading this knows that my lover/partner/unindicted-co-conspiritor of the last going-on sixteen years, Mr. Mack McKinley, is from Hooker, Oklahoma, in the Oklahoma panhandle, right?

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