The Brothers Karamazov

"Actually, people sometimes talk about man's 'bestial' cruelty, but that is being terribly unjust and offensive to the beasts..."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Legacy of the Murder Ape

Human beings are unnatural. Nowhere on the planet, maybe nowhere in the universe, can be found another aware creature that slaughters its own kind. All of recorded human history is rife with mayhem and homicide. Pre-literate cultures such as the Maya and Aztecs have left behind evidence of ritual blood-letting on a grand scale. Nothing to compare with our heavy duty modern ordnance carnage but pretty good for early butchers using only stone knives.

We started off doing each other in with sticks and stones and increased the gain as we acquired the skills; but have we made an advance as a species? Or do we do what we do because we are the weakest kid on the block. We were the 90 pound weakling pushed around by everything in the jungle. But we got the smarts one day and were able to fight back.

With the smarts came the ego. It came and came and came until it lighted up our brains and drove out any lingering jungle smarts. (Like street smarts, the jungle variety are innate, useful and basic.) All the other beasts have it. We're unnatural; we don't. Or if we do, it has a Z class priority and is easily ignored. Having learned to kill but still being basically a weakling species; we kill each other.

I know, I know, not all of us do it you say. Really... how about killings done in our name or with our tacit approval? No point in listing all the ways it's done for us, everybody knows a whole bunch. Each of us has our private scent bag around the neck wafting abattoir stench up a wrinkling nose.

Is there a cure for what ails us? We could start the search by eschewing the preference for things over people. Might help. Got enough stuff now to last until doomsday which might be around the corner if we don't get with it. The primitive societies take the murder route too, so looking to them for guidance is not helpful. Nothing noble there; plenty savage, though. But the problem then, as now, is mostly about getting and having things. Hunting and fishing rights, prime territory, nubile ladies...the lot. What is gained in pursuing ever bigger, grander things and greater constructions if murder is in our nature and homicide our vocation? Why the pretense of any higher calling?

If we spent a fraction of our time, our interest and our effort, seeking ways to keep from doing murder, we might be successful. It would mean giving up our singular quest for stuff but it would be novel and who knows, we might learn to like it. Maybe, in time, not killing folks might turn out to be almost as much fun as offing them has always been. Let's try it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

through a glass ...starkly

Alas, after generations of happily peeping out at the world through rosy glasses the country is beginning to suffer the effects of age and pathology. Our vision is failing. What formerly was a seen clearly, with just a tad of wishful thinking, is now becoming distorted. We can no longer see the reality of what lies before us. We have developed a bizarre form of national macular degeneration.

Our collective eye on the world resembles a computer screen where scores of pixels are black and only bits and pieces appear normal but clump up at random.. We can make out parts of the picture, sort of, by squinting and straining but only in fragments and then, just barely. If this happened to an individual, it would be off to the eye doctor post haste.

But a society is less amenable to criticism and more defensive about failing sight.
So this debility manifests in strange ways. A case in point being the War on Terror. Viewing a map of the middle east through pixilated vision gives our war lords odd views of the enemy. The pixels reveal a cave in Afghanistan and an intersection in downtown Baghdad, not much more can be seen by our leaders. Aha, they cry. The enemy must be in a cave somewhere or else over there in Iraq. In go the troops, people get killed and the pixels line up elsewhere. Maybe Iran, squint, squint. See anything in Pakistan? Having trouble with the big picture fellows, keep looking. But,alas, all they see is little pieces of the big scene.

How to pay for all this never ending scouring of the planet looking for evil-doers? Check the balance sheet. Whoa! These pixels are a real mess. Can't find any cash and everything is in red ink. Big gaps on Wall Street and what's the treasury balance? Anybody here read Mandarin?

Okay, whew, a few bucks left in the vault, let's make sure we are energy independent again. Sick and tired of pretending to be friends with all those creeps to get their stinkin' oil, anyhow. Let's see the charts. Turn up the lights. More light. Can't make head or tail of these energy sheets. See a bit of Texas, not much oil left there, some gas though. An old nuke plant in Pennsylvania, that's good, oh, oh, short life span remaining. AH, Canada. Old friends and true. Oil sands in Alberta, what a mess! Geez. Thought they were neater than that.

It ain't easy trying to see the world clearly with skewed eyesight. Wonder how long this has been going on. Old age and faulty vision has a way of playing tricks on "the folks with kaleidoscope eyes." Sorry, Beatles.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Waiting For the Overture

The Thomas Pynchon character, Ethelmer, said of Plato in "his 'Republick',-'When the Forms of Musick change,'tis a Promise of civil Disorder.' " How accurately Plato's vision seems to trace the history of our Republic. Evolving taste in music appears to have repeatedly anticipated devolving events on our nation's horizon.

Back in the 1830 and 40s a growing anxiety over the expansion of slavery was reflected in the tunes of the day. " Bless Dat Lubly Yaller Gal", "De Boatman Dance"and "Little Topsy's Song" were the choice of sheet music buyers and on the lips of many. What society may have been anticipating was the tension building all around that culminated in 1846 in the War with Mexico. This calculated aggression added huge chunks of territory but was divisive and led to sectional rifts that simmered for decades.

Minstrel tunes inspired by Black bondage flared up again in the culture but began to be mixed with patriotic airs in the years leading up to the election of Lincoln and the secession of the South. The range was startling from; "The Female Slaves Lament", " Poor Old Slave , "Poor Uncle Tom", "The Aristocratic Nigger" to such rousers as; "Our Country Now Is Great and Free", "Stand by the Union" in 1850, " Our Union Right or Wrong" in 1857, "The Flag of Our Union" and "Honest Old Abe" in 1860.
Were these popular renderings harbingers of the trouble that ensued as Plato opined?

After the cessation of hostilities the Nation began reconstruction and looked to attain a greater place among the nations of the world. The public favored a lot of nonsense music as always: notably; "Father's a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead", " Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Ay!",and "A Hot Time in the Old Town". But towards the end of the century a new idiom was appearing. With roots in Cake Walk and Coon Song airs and John Philip Sousa rousing martial themes, "Raggedy-Time " was born. Heard everywhere were "Harlem Rag", "Tickled to Death" and the infamous, "All Coons Look Alike to Me", which sold a million copies.

Jingoism came into the mix soon after with "Shout the Battle Cry" in 1887 and then "Our Country" in 1890. After the sinking of a battleship in Cuba, the War with Spain was on and led to "My Father Was a Sailor on the Maine" in 1898. The war was notable for acquiring vast territory and, among other things, the systematic slaying of tens of thousand of Moslems by our forces in the Philippine Islands. Ragtime matured with the publication of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" after the war and kept the public's attention until the onset of the "Jazz Age".

The 20's did indeed roar. The dances, the booze joints, Prohibition made it all so daring, went on non-stop. From Chicago the big innovators of "Hot Jazz" poured Eastward to New York where the reception was sizzling. Jelly Roll Norton, Earl Hines and the perennial favorite, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, led the way. It could scarcely have been believed the culture could intuit anything dreadful over this glorious horizon.

Alas, the party was over in 1929. The Great Depression dampened everything and was followed after an agonizing decade by World War Two. The planet was torn apart until the end of hostilities. Then the fifties. "Your Hit Parade" had provided the musical menu for two decades. It was bland fare but all ages gathered to share what "Tin Pan Alley" had to offer. Enter now rock and roll. Borrowed from an unsavory past it was corny at first, Rockabilly bubblegum music, but then: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and big drum roll , Beatles and Stones! And then, Vietnam for ten years. Bummer. Metastatic change in popular music is just too darn prophetic.

Here's were we stand now. Starting in the late 70's Rock 'n Roll eased aside to make room for Hip hop and rap. The early rappers like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Hollywood and Lovebug Starski turned on a generation and swept the nation. An amalgam of ingredients linked performance poetry, scat singing and funk with talking blues and the spoken word. Always lurking in the mix was that old trickster, the "signifying monkey", to keep things from boiling over or growing stale.

We can't know for certain if this metamorphosis anticipated the series of adventures in the Mid East that have occupied the nation for two decades but it does follow a pattern. With no clear resolution in sight, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain to haunt us.

What will be the nature of the change in musical form that promises the next disorder and when will it appear on stage? We can only await its hearing. Meanwhile our future may be thrashing about in utero waiting for the overture to begin.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We have always been a right wing plutocracy

(What? Nobody ever told you?)

Oh, yes. It started even before we were officially a Nation. In 1786 in Massachusetts, Daniel Shays, a veteran of the Revolutionary War was, with many others, staggering under crushing debt and high taxes. Facing a possible turn in debtors prison (fine old Dickensian holdover, wasn't it?) Shays led a revolt of impoverished farmers. Patriot lawyer Samuel Adams wrote up a riot act suspending Habeas Corpus and the militia put down the protest, killed a few, hanged a couple. The people were up at bat for the first time.

_Strike one._

Several years later another handful of disgruntled veterans of the Revolutionary War (sound familiar?) living on the frontier in Pennsylvania and ignored by the elite back East, eked out a modest living making whiskey. To pay debts to bankers for war costs heavy excise taxes were levied on their product. They revolted. The militias were sent in and they, too, lost.

_Strike two._

"A reign of witches", Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State under George Washington, aimed this jeremiad at Presidents Washington and Adams. This honorable duo were convinced our young Republic was so threatened by the French revolution and the Democracy it championed, they wanted war with France to stop it.

Jefferson was further appalled when the Alien and Sedition Act was passed and enacted. This early piece of fear-mongering legislation was father to countless future acts designed to make certain democracy remained a rousing slogan and little more.

Among the immediate results of this passage and the suspension of the Bill of Rights, was the arrest and prosecution of opposition newspaper editors. Armed mobs attacked the offices of the Philadelphia Aurora and presses were destroyed. Criticism of our fledgling government led to the ultimate sacrifice for the young publisher, Ben Franklin Bache. Benjamin Franklin, demonstrably the most sincere democrat of the founding clique, was his grandfather. Alas, Poor Benjamin's Legacy: trivialized in history books as that quirky old dude with the almanac and kite. Take that demos!

_Strike three._ The game is not going well for the folks, so far.

Enter now President Thomas Jefferson who wrote, "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." Apparently he was not referring to his own blood as he sat out the war at home in Monticello. He managed to serve two full terms as President without vetoing even one single bill of Congress. Tom owned 600 slaves; denied suffrage was the due of women and men without sufficient property. Still he is regarded as the best friend the common folks ever had. Those were the good days; it got worse.

Six years after Jefferson retired again to Monticello the Seminole Wars began, ushering a non-stop series of ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and gunboat diplomacy that continues to this day. It made next to no difference which political party was in ascendance, the march to power was assured. For two hundred years, Democracy- for-all leftist humbug, masking a heavy rightist plutocracy, has clanked forward, scarcely hindered by popular outcry.

The reactionary elements plaguing us today differ little from their anti-democratic ancestors. We have seen consistent disdain for the masses by the political class from the very founding of the Nation. Populist efforts have been tolerated as Loyal Opposition in the best of times: trivialized if considered annoying at other times; scurrilously demonized or worse if threatening the status quo at any time. Democracy has always been a kind of show pony to gain the good opinion of the nations of the world. Like a backward relative only trotted out to show our compassion. You can't be seen as top drawer if you are known to beat the hired help.

The goal of the ruling class has long been to keep everyone from learning the true
plutocratic inclination of our government. It wasn't as easy early on to weave the spell of a benign democratic proclivity in light of atrocious actions occurring all around, but it was done.

In those early pastoral years, aside from blazing political oratory, street corner pamphleteering and billboard plastered barns, only the press was available. The struggle to convince us we were a democratic society and not the product of a rightist and enabling leftist cabal, was never easy for our masters until the powerful electronic media that came in with the twentieth century. Now it's a cinch.

We are able now to fight two wars simultaneously, station troops at hundreds of bases around the globe, provide third world quality health care and educate millions for jobs that no longer exist and, borrow the money from our rivals to accomplish this. All the while professing it is done in the name of the people; hailed aloud as democracy in action, and meaning it! That's the kicker; we really believe it all makes sense.

Would our perception of ourselves be the least bit different tomorrow if the NY Times and CNN announced the following? "Congratulations. You have accomplished the first citizen sponsored, democratically produced... World Wide Empire, in history."

_Game over._ The People forfeit.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Murder Ape

They had it all. Living in a sylvan place that provided beauty and plenty and that was rare in the universe, they thrived and expanded. Nature and circumstance had been generous to the folks back then and life was good. Other creatures guided by surest instinct could not venture beyond the tethers keeping them locked into place or habit and this hobbled most novelty and mobility for them.

Not so with us. Our early ancestors, somewhere along the line, had lost their fur, their estrus and their fear of fire. Fortunate genetic twists had provided access to unlimited carnality coupled with a bare and luscious epidermis for increased pleasure. But instead of becoming artists of sensuality and connoisseurs of ecstasy similar to our distant cousins the Bonobo apes we morphed into something tragically different; the murder ape.

What went wrong? One of our prized possessions at the time was the mastery of fire. This enabled protection from the elements and provided a way to deter rivals or intruders but, alas, it also had a down side. Our ancestors had become highly addicted to the taste and aroma of cooked flesh. Lost in history is the exact source of the haunch, the chop or internal organ that was the source of the deadly proto-prions they were ingesting with dinner. In pregnant women fetal development was influenced by these warped proteins the eating of meat had unleashed into their systems.

The effect was devastating. A marked incidence of the failure of the fetal skull to knit properly because of brain swelling caused repeated miscarriage. Fortunately a few hydrocephalic newborn survived if the mother was able to deliver successfully. This saved the tribes from extinction but the results of this aberrant brain growth has haunted our kind ever since.

The large-headed, swollen brain offspring with this sinister brain distortion were the ancestors of us; the murder apes. With this physical transition the door to the past, the golden age, was lost forever. The onset of a burgeoning self awareness and increased intelligence gave a significant evolutionary advantage but again, there was a cost. Because of enlarged frontal lobes ready access to the instincts which guide the lives of normal creatures was gradually rendered forfeit. The newly arrived ego screamed for attention. The former natural instinctive balance, our primal monitor of conflicting urges and impulses, became almost regressive because of this new ingredient. And so it remains, an elusive remnant sending helpful guidance signals mainly ignored in the resultant cacophony of ego.

Instead of a well balanced, sensual, somewhat privileged primate we now have a naked, lustful, highly predatory but self aware creature lacking a firm rudder with which to steer through life. A creature who, unlike other super predators, the wolves, large cats, etc. had lost the instinctual intra specie restraint exhibited by such powerful others. We had become instead vicious and blood-thirsty towards our own kind.

This is the sad story of how a simple addiction caused a promising primate family to become a planetary scourge. The taste for cooked flesh, unhappily laced with bent or folded protein, led to fetal brain swelling. Those not aborted had a damaged brain which contained a fierce predatory nature and a massive ego function This novel brain addition screamed so loudly for attention that it over whelmed the sounder instincts of the creature. Without this guidance our species became far less admirable than an ordinary wolf pack.

We had become and remain still, the murder ape.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"times they are a changin' ", not really

During the Civil Rights Movement an oft quoted bromide was:
Whites in the North say of the Blacks: Come up but don't come close.
Whites in the South say: Come close but don't come up.

Now it seems as if the quote should be changed to:
Whites in the North and the South: Don't come close, don't come up.
Racial segregation has morphed from enforced to voluntary in four decades. We no longer have the specter of "Whites Only" signs, cattle prods and fire hoses but something else has taken their place. Something light years more subtle, just as divisive.

I believe it started with LBJ's Great Society shuck. The powers that be had no intention of creating such a utopia but wanted to "keep the Blacks from rising". By proffering the Civil Rights agenda one obstacle would be removed from President Johnson's "Guns and Butter" scenario and maybe the cities would no longer burn.

The first, and to my mind greatest, error was that school integration was to be accomplished by compulsory busing. This, as LBJ himself was heard to say, will cost the Democrats, the South. The loss has haunted race relations to this day. A natural constituency of Blacks, the Democratic South, was gradually forfeit and empowerment given to hordes of rabid reactionaries. If the Congress had a little foresight and enough gumption to resist LBJ regarding the effect of such coercion on a multitude of reluctant citizens, it would have died in committee. Instead a "gazillion" bus miles have been traveled only to find the kids still huddled in comfortable homey enclaves even at university level decades later. They are also less, rather than better, educated.

Busing has been used historically to give remote or rural kids access to school. That's not where the problem lies. I grew up in a city in New Jersey during the forties when students from the townships were bused in to the central high school. City kids who lived at a distance caught metro buses at discounted fares. It all worked. That included the black and ethnic kids as well. De facto geographic segregation existed in the lower grades but not at the high school level..

Wherever it's being done solely to foster integration, busing hasn't worked as intended. However, it's still not too late to bring it to a halt, then begin


Phase out those thousands of big yellow buses, their drivers, maintenance and insurance costs and put the money saved where it belongs: quality of education. Double the salaries of the best teachers where hazard duty pay is indicated and stand back as the lines of eager applicants form.

Let voluntary desegregation and actual integration begin, finally!

Quoth the Raving



Julius Caesar

Veni,Vedi,Vici...Sidi ( I stuck around )

Uncle Sam


....Zero Gravitas

Quoth the Raving

All I know, all any of us know, is what we're told.

...Zero Gravitas


Quoth the Raving

If it walks like a depression, talks like a depression, and looks like a depression; it's a recovery.

...Zero Gravitas

Nice paint job

Nice paint job
Watch your step!

Quoth the Raving

Full scale War in Korea; we called it a Police Action
Police Action in Iraq; we call it a War.

...Zero Gravitas


Gene Pool?

Gene Pool?

Quoth the Raving

Ecology is an impending Black Swan quagmire therefore incorporation is anathema to Economists.

...Zero Gravitas


Quoth the Raving

An incoming US President who does not immediately resign his office after having received eyes-only briefings of what's really going on is hopelessly co-opted or delusional.
....Zero Gravitas

Quoth the Raving

We are now a nation of middlemen. What becomes of us if the center cannot hold?

....Zero Gravitas

Quoth the Raving


Why not use some of the red ink to make things Green?

....Zero Gravitas

"Ashes to Ashes"

"Ashes to Ashes"