Friday, September 28, 2012

Hard Times

Yes it still is hard times in America. Of course hard times is a relative thing, there are many places around the planet where being down to your last twenty dollars is not all that bad. Places where an adult can work all week and being paid the equivalent of twenty dollars is the first step towards financial security.What always surprises me is no matter how destitute people are, they maintain a need for beauty, creativity and experiencing the pure pleasure of living. To destroy the human urge to create, the need to be happy, you pretty much have to beat it out a person -oppress them in the most inhuman and even then as an act of defiance people hold on. Lucky for me I've never been tested like that.

I did come of age during the last "Great Rescission". In a lot of ways this one is worse. During that economic down turn I spent a lot of time on the road and found out you can be happy with very little money. Back then one of my old cohorts, Cheap John, would give the Vulcan salute and say "live cheap and prosper". It's difficult to advocate the human right to pleasure when so much of the world is locked in bone crushing poverty and brutally ruled by people who's only talents are rooted in fear, pain and hatred. But everyone does have a right to be happy and maybe if we recognize that we would not tolerate so much of the other bullshit that's out there hurting the majority of the world.

I have always wondered if humanity is doomed to replay it greatest tragedies over and over again. This is a good book to read, it suggests that class hierarchies are genetically ingrained. We share more behavior with Baboons than would think.

There was another study about Chimpanzees that comes to mind (unfortunately I can't remember the the title or author). It was a series of experiments comparing the problem solving abilities of chimps and three year old children. Both have about the same intellectual capacity but the three year old children did better because they were able to cooperate, share and work towards a common goal.

From a Darwinian viewpoint maybe our softer side is what makes us superior -or at least we have the chance to transcend our darker heritage of violence and exploitation solely for personal gratification for a better future. 

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life"

     - Pablo Picasso

I have to admire Picasso for one thing, back in 1962 when he and several of his fellow artists tried to take over ab ICBM missile base and protest for world peace. Doesn't anyone remember the Cubist Missile Crisis?

Why does a dog enjoy having his head out thew car window? I say be a dog, take in the zen of being a dog. Wander, explore and take time to wag your tail. How you live your life is really your greatest work of art.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vegan friends

I am told if you turn Vegan
everything tastes like tofu
and there's no chicken soup for your soul
but in heaven will be all the animals
all the ones you didn't eat, waiting to say
thank you for not having us for dinner

copywrite 2010

Starting to plan a star party. Very soon the Orionids meteor shower will be coming up. This year they run from October 17 to the 25th; with the peak of the shower around 2-5 am on Saturday the 20th or the same time Sunday the 21st.

Star parties are a great excuse to stay up all night and have a good time even if you're on a budget. It doesn't take much to put one together, the most important thing is to find a dark night sky. In the outer suburbs where I live the night sky is just dark enough for passable viewing. If I had the time I would drive out to Cherry Springs state park which is about 38 miles west of Wellsboro PA. Cherry Springs has the darkest night time sky east of the Mississippi River. We have a family vacation out there several years ago just so our sons could see what the stars really look like.

Since the best time to view the shower is between 2 - 5 am there'll be time for a couple of classic Sci-fi movies before midnight.. This year it might be Close Encounters and War Of The Worlds or The Day The Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. I have a place in my yard for a campfire and by 2 am there should be a a bed of hot coals to keep warm by. You don't want to have a open fire for obvious reasons, it could take 60 minutes or more for your eyes to completely adapt to the darkness. A few flashlights with the lens covered over in red cellophane will come in handy, red light doesn't interfere with your night vision as much other colors or full spectrum light.

After that all you need to consider is food and beverages -usually you'll go through a lot of tea and coffee. Try and keep in mind that some people have dietary restrictions, partly why I was thinking of my Vegan and Vegetarianism friends but also ask about food allergies and other similar things to be aware of. It also helps to have friends with some kind of musical talent -don't forget to invite them..  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shameless plug

Probably everyone has an ambivalent relationship with advertising. Sometimes it entertains, makes us cringe or totally revolts us. Many of us have memories tied up with products and ad campaigns. Ask your grandparents who is "Speedy" or your parents "where's the beef". Advertisement gets to both reflect and shape popular culture and maybe it's always been that way. Archaeologists have found advertisements that are as old as the Great Pyramids. The Greek Olympic games had them, the frontiers of the Roman Empire can be mapped out in unearthed commercial messages carved in marble and the growth globalization can be documented by the ubiquitous presence of the Golden Arches, the Nike swoosh and the Coke-a-Cola logo.     
There is a wealth of bad of products and the advertising that goes with it. I had fun sharing these ads with my sister-in-law. She's now pregnant with her third child and has always been the doting and vigilant mother. No white sugar in her house, she has everything sweeten with agave syrup because honey is too commercial and how can you have organic honey where almost every other plant is sprayed with pesticides? I'm sure Whole Foods is trying to find a way to ease my sister-in-laws fears.

I'm 12 years older than my brother and almost 20 years older than my sister-in-law. As smart as she is, she is often suspicious when I show stuff like this. It's hard to believe any of us get to survive into adulthood. I wonder what the people of near future will look back on and shake their heads in shock and disapproval. Anybody remember Baby Einstein Videos? Back in the mid 1990's they were all the rage and I felt like a neglectful parent because I didn't have the spare cash to buy them. Fifteen years later the videos/ DVD's are linked to shorter attention spans and delays in language development. Who would have guested old school love and care is still the best thing.
Real satisfaction and the tried and true are the enemies of commerce. Nothing is more powerful than the promise of something new. So instead of practicing everyday to be an athlete all you need to do is buy the "newest" sneakers to get the edge. If it can't be new then it comes from an old, wise and forgotten tradition. And if neither of these ploys are applicable there is always sex, the suggestion of sex, and the dissatisfaction with sex. Like the adjacent ad suggests -if your wife isn't doing her job at home then give her a spanking. Let her know you're not happy. Of course that kind of message would never work today -advertisers have to be clever, ironic and much more insidious.    

Remember you can never be truly happy until you buy something to make yourself happy. The world is full of glamours high paying jobs, easy casual sex and eternal physical beauty as long as you attach yourself to the right commercial products. Just ask any advertiser.

Take the story of Cinderella, she had a nice personality but her Fairy Godmother knew what Cinderella really needed was the right packaging. Which meant a formal gown, a little bit of bling and a pimped out ride. And how can I forget the shoes. Notice the story ends when she gets the prince and we never find out how she "lived happily ever after". That part of the story isn't important because it could be too much like real life and Walt Disney wasn't buying it

And now for the shameless plug. If you enjoy reading this blog please tell your friends. So far the response has been good but if you share this blog with somebody and they in turn share it with somebody else ... it could be the beginning of a new force in world domination. And you can tell all your friends you started reading this blog back when it was just starting out.  

Oh yes -nothing is sacred. If a mediocre rock band of cartoon characters can slap their logo on over 3,000 products (including a KISS coffin) then why not history? Will kids on the verge of dropping out of school be able to rekindle their academic spirit with a KISS history book? I don't know but I think I see a product here. Any investors out there? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Paul Klee

Every artist is a cult of personality, it is impossible to look at art without wondering what kind of person created it.

 If the art speaks to you it's only natural to think the artist is a kindred spirit or at least a person worth knowing. If time and space were no barriers, who would like to associate with?  Would you drink all night with Picasso? Let Phillip K Dick write your biography? Have Salvador Dali paint your house? Contract Brian Eno and Cesar Franck to compose a symphony? Talk about life, love and world philosophy with Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and George Orwell?

 The artists we choose are like the friends we spend our time with. There are paternal forces in society that wish guide us down the straight and narrow path of working hard and never being troubled with the difficult questions of life. Never trust anyone who says they will think for you.  


If your enjoying these images, they are all the work of Paul Klee. His work includes many influences and falls in between the cracks of expressionism, cubism, futurism and surrealism. I don't think he is as well known as many of his contemporaries because he was more of an individualist than a stylist. He lived and taught in Germany until 1933 and the emigrated to Switzerland after Nazi harassment. In 1937 , 17 works by Klee were included in the exhibition of "Degenerate Art". This was part of the Nazi reaction against modernism and like all authoritative states it was a way to discredit and destroy something they can control.

The deeply personal, the mystical, the parts of life that could only be felt and never well explained are dangerously subversive to any philosophy that demands  a complete devotion to order and duty. If life isn't a journey of exploration then what is it? If your own life is reduced to just an existence, the experience of a hamster in a cage, then have you failed in your duty to yourself? Who's purpose does your life serve?

"Art does not reproduce the visible, rather, it makes visible" -  Paul Klee 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Post cards from the week end

Here are a few postcards from the weekend.

Saturday we went to the Oley Fair. Oley is one of those small Pennsylvanian towns that's right on the edge of Philadelphia's suburbs and the rural interior. It's a community of old brick buildings surrounded by family farms. The people there are both quaint and cosmopolitan, it's a place where I've had conversations that range from traditional values to fractal geometry.

The Oley Fair is larger than most town fairs but only a fraction of the size of a state fair. So there are plenty of quilts on display as well as farm equipment though I think the John Dear dealer sold more pedal tractors than real ones.

All the children not raised on a farm were amazed to animals that were so much bigger than the family pet.

A prize winning cake decorated in marshmallow peeps. It was local favorite; Bethlehem PA (where the peeps are made) is only a short drive away.

Rides for the kids but thankfully no midway. It was wholesome.

The school orchestra and high school bands played.

A picture from when tail fins rules the world.

No event in Pennsylvania is complete without a car show. Probably no other state has more old cars per square mile than Pennsylvania.

On Sunday we went hiking. This part of Pennsylvania has many mile of trails with plenty more under development. There have been a few cool nights and some of the leaves are beginning to change.

 I kind of feel guilty taking some leisure time myself and my family. It seems that's one of the disappearing perks of the American middle class -a 40 hour work week with a livable wage. Many of my friends are working longer, harder and for less money than they were ten or fifteen years ago. Even friends who are well off and on the cutting edge of the economy find themselves on call 24/7 and quickly burning out.

Who ever said it was good to be working all the time? Take a produce like the i-phone 5. I'm told that less than 6% of the retail price goes to pay for labor and shipping. Would American consumers be willing to pay an extra 4% for their Apple products if it guarantees that Chinese assembly workers don't have to work 60-80 hour work weeks? Would Americans pay an extra 10% to bring that manufacturing to the United States? By the end of next year Apple is projected to be worth over 1 trillion dollars.

A weekend should be right not a privilege. People who are well rested, physically and mentally, are better workers and better citizens. This is not some wild Marxist idea, actually it comes from that crazy radical Henry Ford. Henry Ford grew up on a farm and detested the grind of working seven days a week When he opened the River Rouge plant in South Detroit the starting wage was $5 a day -double the average working wage at that time. Why pay so much? As Henry Ford said you should pay your workers enough so they can afford the products they're making.     

Over the weekend the Phoenixville Art Mural Movement finished their mural on the West End Fire House. Many people got together and each helped a little bit until it was done. They took a plain wall and made it a focus of local pride. This is what some people do with their time off from work.

Ed Roper designed the logo for the Phoenixville Art Mural Movement.

Phoeniville was once an old steel down that almost collapsed when the mill closed down. It's now a vibrant community with a healthy local economy. I plan to write more about Phoenixville and why they are successful and some of the other nearby communities are not.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Friend In The Devil

My Friend the Devil

The Devil is more pathetic
than he is the Prince of Darkness
during a night of heavy drinking
he'll call you at three AM
and bare his soul in detail
Or he'll stop by unexpected
to hit you up for twenty bucks
and fat chance of that coming back
Once wallowing deep in self pity
on how unfair the universe is
Old Satan had to rightly admit
he's as evil as they come, but added
every bit of evil he's ever done
started with a willing accomplice

The national elections of last November have come and gone, people have settled with the devils they know than opting for change. I've been hearing all kinds of political arguments where two sides square off and can't agree on the most basic facts. I'm not talking about ideas that are miles apart, these are people living in parallel universes.

The recent debate over guns is a good case in point. It's difficult to listen to people that say it important to be patriotic but in the next breath claim that we all have to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. The gun industry is a multi-billion entity and public safety be damned if there few more sales to be made. The pro-gun argument as brought up the gun culture of Switzerland. One Swiss citizen had a brilliant rebuttal on how different the United States is from Switzerland and how Switzerland has very strict controls on private ownership of guns. The one thing that stayed in my mind was when that Swiss citizen explained how his country has a social contract to take care of each other and because of that "we are not at war with each other, like they are in United States".

It's best to be opened minded and on friendly terms with as many people as possible -but that's not easy. My version of Occam's Razor for political discussions is whoever relies on the least number of conspiracies probably has the best solution. There is no shortage of true believers that hold on to the conviction that Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery, that the World Trade Center was packed with explosives and every aspect of the 911 tragedy was pre-planned by the US government, or the Federal Reserve was created by a cabal of Satan worshipers that spent their summers together in a place called Bohemian Grove. 

One bit of political logic that defies common sense  -is the government needs to keep lowering taxes on the investing class so they will have more money to create jobs. Some of that logic was refuted in the last election cycle.  If that was true we should be swimming jobs. When Clinton ended his term as president the government had a surplus and unemployment was like 3%. George W Bush cut the taxes on the investing class and within eight years the surplus is gone, the economy is ready to meltdown and unemployment shoots up over 10%. Now during the Obama years taxes are kept low, actually the tax burden on the top 1% is lower than it's ever been since 1945. You think we now have to pay the investor class to go out and invest.

That almost seems to be the case. In every state large employers are paid to stay or come in and set up. There are all kinds of subsidies and tax abatements (corporate welfare). Of course every other tax payer has to make up the difference -including smaller businesses and competitors. That doesn't sound like free enterprise, does it?

What is totally in conceivable is that 19 states allow certain select employers to keep the state payroll tax for themselves. Instead of state governments writing a check to attract or keep a business within state boundaries, this kind of stealthy deal hides the true cost. The lost tax revenues are not tracked by the state so only an accountant with access to the official records could figure out much the rest us are paying for that big box store or politically connected industry to stay in business.    

Think about it? Money being withheld from workers paychecks isn't going for improved roads, police protection or better schools -no it's going straight into the pockets of the employer. Every worker is paying for their job. It's one reason why big box stores and franchised retailers can have huge economic advantages over small business; and maybe it's one reason Main Street in American is suffering so much. This is not only unfair but it could be unconstitutional because the workers are being forced to pay a tax but they have no representation with the actual recipient. Even if this is not unconstitutional this practice stifles competition and helps create a shrinking pool of lower paying jobs. 

The Fine Print is a book worth reading. David Cay Johnston explains why internet service is so much better in over twenty other countries than it is here. Or why your phone bill keeps going up while the cost of communications keeps going down. It a good way to find out more about the devil we live with.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

In defense of reading

When I was a kid, the adults of my world worried about the rise of Communism and decline of literacy. Actually they feared the complete decline of Western Civilization but saw TV as another thing that rotted children's brains and kept them away from books. One of my favorite gateways into literature was Classic Illustrated comic books where you can read Moby Dick in 50 action packed pages. Honestly I did like Classic Illustrated's version of War Of Worlds but a comic book can only do so much as a watered down representation of a good story. At least I'm proud to say I never used a Classic Illustrated for a book report.

For me both reading and writing are laborious tasks but they are also very rewarding and therefore essential. When I lived in South Jersey, before and just after casino gambling came to Atlantic City, I did a lot seasonal work or worked the overnight shifts. This gave me time to read. Nothing was more luxurious than sitting in front of the big picture window at my old address spending the afternoon with a book. There were few distractions there, for a long time we did own a phone or TV and being about a couple of hundred yards from the WOND broadcast tower -we only had one radio station.

Within a select group of friends we would trade books back and forth. After any of us would read a book it was common to sign our names inside it before passing it on. I remember being really excited to start East Of Eden when I saw over twenty other people (more than half of them I knew) had read that very same book. One of the most popular titles was On The Road which sparked my interest in the Beat Generation. The Beats had their short comings but I like the idea that there might be more to life than birth, work, family and death -and that the only way you could find out for sure was to explore the possibilities some where out on fringe; that living a life with curiosity was a voyage of discovery and that the risk of failure was better than an existence of quite desperation. William Burroughs became one of my literary heroes -though I have to admit I found Naked Lunch was unreadable and repulsive. Burroughs book Junkie might someday be seen as a classic and even if it has to be reduced down into a Classic Illustrated comic book it should still be required reading for every middle school student. As a cautionary first person narrative on addiction it brings home the point that drugs are worth avoiding. Without any moralistic preaching Burroughs makes drugs boring and uncool.

Right now I'm looking for a copy of The Adding Machine: Select Essays by William Burroughs to borrow. I read the Hippos Where Boiled In Their Tanks a few years ago, another book I can recommend for anybody interested in the Beat Generation. It takes elements of a trashy pulp fiction novel and mixes that in with some if the inside gossip of the Beat celebrities.

I know that people read more today than ever before but most of what they read is online and with so called social media. I hope that more people take time to read things don't need an emoticon to reveal its true meaning. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When art imitates history -or could the DaVinci Code be for real?

So was it a high-brow pulp fiction or an oracle with a clarion revelation that Jesus was married? There was always speculation that Mary Magdalene and Jesus had a special relationship but Christianity, right down to its Jewish roots, always had a problem with women. Even in the creation story at the beginning of Genesis, it was a woman that brought on the fall of man. In Jewish folklore Eve was Adam's second "wife". Adam's first wife was Lilith and she was a particularly bad character that God had to expelled from Eden.

None of this is really important to me but it's fascinating because these stories are the foundation stones of Western Culture. The themes they generate constantly come up in art -as well as a whole bunch of places you would never think of. Even in a secular country any argument over things like social welfare, crime and punishment, family life, or birth control can be filled with all kinds of Biblical references and subtexts.

Mary Magdalene is often portrayed as a prostitute though there's not single word in the Bible that even hints at that. The name Magdalene means magnificent or exalted and some feminist theologians point out that she is the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection and proclaim the good news (that's what Gospel means "the good news") that Jesus has risen.

The image of the fallen woman still lingers. One aspect that I find ironic is that Lloyd Webber's song from Jesus Christ Super Star -I Don't Know How To Love Him , is frequently requested at wedding receptions. It make me wonder if anyone really listens to the lyrics.

Here is the papyrus scribe that was recently found. It doesn't look like much.

 Here is the translation

This new discovery might be the beginning of a new line of Christian mythology. In some circles mythology is a dirty word. To me life seems to be a mystery with a few good guidelines and not too many answers. I'm comfortable with that but I recognize most folks are not. The idea of a holy text with immutable and indisputable truths is a necessity for people who can't live without concrete answers. Some minds are anchored in a solid foundation, others float on the water - overall neither one is superior.

There does seem to be a real human need to have the divine come to Earth and share in the experience of being mortal faulted creatures -only to show us how to be our better selves. 

On another note, last night I took one of my sons to the local artist guild meeting. Every community could benefit from an artist guild. Not only do artists get to meet and compare notes but it's a whole lot better that staying at home and watching TV or youtube.

If you don't have anything like an artist guild near you, start one. The act of creation is a divine act.