Thanksgiving in Australia

It is already Friday here, but they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia,  so Thanksgiving is only really happening at home.  At least that is my reasoning why I am celebrating today.  I spent all morning listening to the Eagles destroy the Cowboys.  I come from Pennsylvania and my Dad is from Philly, so I was quite happy about that.  Still it is quite surreal listening to a football game at 7:30am.  

There is so much we take for granted that would be totally different if we were born somewhere else.  In the states we think of November as the end of fall and the beginning of winter, but here in Australia it is actually the end of spring and the beginning of summer.  Christmas happens in the summer.  They drive on the left side of the road, which even weirder seems to make people walk on the left side of the sidewalk.  For over half the day I am also in the future as Brisbane is 14 hours ahead of Austin. 

So well someone back home is celebrating Thanksgiving, with winter coming down, walking on the right hand of the street on Thursday, I am in increasingly warm weather, walking down the left hand side of the street on Friday, with no sign of Thanksgiving at all. 

How much do these differences change one’s perception of the world?  These are obvious differences, but so much of what we assume to be normal is an accident of birth.  It’s a strange world. 

However, the Eagles beating the Cowboys is definitely real.  There is much to be thankful for! 

The Balls of Advertisers

The balls that advertisers have:  Nothing says Australian Cricket like Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In Brisbane reading with the TV on in the background.  A KFC commercial has come on twice that shows a family from the 70’s to the present eating fried chicken while watching cricket.   One is supposed to take away the idea that KFC is as much a part of Australian tradition as cricket.  Think about it, shitty fried chicken from an American company that originated in Kentucky is boldly claiming to be part of cultural tradition in a foreign country.  It is delivered with total sincerity.  The commercial is meant to pull on the heart strings.  When this kind of distortion,  or bold faced lie, can be delivered without blinking an eye during casual viewing, is it any wonder that companies and their politicians can get away with murder? 

Lewis Black On Fox News and Black Friday

Lewis Black On Fox News and Black Friday

The above clip of Lewis Black on Black Friday exposes the absurdity of Fox News.  Apparently Fox News is coming down hard on workers that want off on Thanksgiving, but not on corporate stores that are forced to be open…

One day I hope that those that support the Republican Party, who aren’t rich, will wake up and see how it in no way, shape, or form represents the average American.

The Past is Not Past

I spent most of the day either at rehearsal or learning about Stonewall Jackson.  S.C. Gwynne has written another captivating book.  I’m not far enough into it to feel that I can talk about it, but there is no question that Jackson was a “unique” individual.  Today was one of those days that slipped through my grasp.  One minute I’m drinking coffee and the next the sun is going down.

After this recent election, which seems to defy reason, I have been looking for answers about our current political climate in our history and culture.  How did we arrive at this moment in time?  Take climate change for instance, something for which Obama just made a great step forward with his deal with China.  (I am still reading up on our deal with China for more specifics.)  The fact that climate change is occurring is scientific fact.  There is some uncertainty as to the exact outcome, but don’t get confused by the word uncertainty.  Think about if a large rainstorm came in.  You know that the ground will be soaked, but you can’t say for certain if the big oak tree out front is going to fall over.  That however, doesn’t mean it is not raining.  Anyway, so science and all reason point to climate change happening, yet not only does a portion of the populace not believe it is real, but we have elected officials that are not scientists, that claim they know more than scientists, going to be in charge of parts of our environmental policy.

Now there is no doubt that these people are for the most part bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.  You don’t have to be Columbo to deduce that.  You also don’t have to be Columbo to figure out that the regions with the most jobs in the fossil fuel industry are also the regions that are most against us doing anything about climate change.  Yet I don’t think it is as simple as a mere question of economics.

From the very beginning of our country there is an element that is against any kind of centralized authority.  Part of our country also puts faith above reason.  I just read in the Stonewall Jackson book last night that in 1850 Florida only had 85,000 inhabitants and half of them were slaves.  It is hard to imagine that modern Florida, with Disney World and Miami and the countless beach resorts, was created in 164 years, which is the lifespan of two humans.  Go to Miami and think about how two lives ago it was a desolate swamp.  As far as civilization goes our country is but a baby.

I am still thinking about all of this myself.  I wanted to ask those of you that read this a rhetorical question.  How does our unique American history and culture affect the way in which we think politically?  Places that were settled by different ethnic and religious groups often ended up quite different.  Places that had to subdue the land and keep people oppressed often ended up quite different than places that were booming with industry.  All of these things factor into who we are now.  How so?

The Fall of Man and Accidents of Birth

Every single day that I decide not to fashion a flute out of another human being’s femur bone is a small victory.  I know that I am a flawed human being that occasionally has an unreasonable temper.  I know that I can occasionally let my self-interest overcome the good of the group.  I, like most people, am neither a saint nor a sociopath.  Most human beings are complicated characters that are somewhere in between.  I am no different.

However, it is exactly because I am very consciously aware of these traits that I feel that we should be kind to other people when we can overcome our own chemicals and tribal biases.  As long as human behavior is not hurting others I believe it is the height of self-righteousness to try to control other people through the law.  There is a huge difference in my mind between stating your beliefs and trying to impose your will on others through the power of law.

In your personal life, again as long as you are not hurting others, you can be as ignorant as you wish, though I would advise against it.  But when people try to prevent others from experiencing their own journey towards happiness and meaning, it makes my head spin.  Most of us human beings, I’d say 99% of us, have our own shit to sort out and should be concerned with that before trying to impose our will on others.

Being gay doesn’t hurt anyone.  In fact being gay, being of a different race, being male or female, being from another country, are all accidents of birth.  Show me someone trying to ban gay marriage and I’ll show you a motherfucker with too much time on their hands that should be looking in the mirror first.  And if you don’t want to spend time looking in the mirror, go down to the local orphanage or something else that will be of some good to people.  If you believe that gay people shouldn’t have the right to marry, that women shouldn’t be in control of their own bodies, that new immigrants are somehow less deserving than the less recent immigrants of your ancestors, I may disagree with you, but that is your right.  However, again, actively campaigning to have these beliefs codified by law is exactly where I feel the line should be drawn.

Although I don’t believe in the Fall of Man as having actually happened, I love it as a story.  We are all flawed.  We are all on a daily struggle to overcome our chemical makeup and our imperfect knowledge and this strange ocean of absurd culture that we are born into.

There is only one place in life we should be trying to reach.  As the great Kurt Vonnegut said:  “Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Language, Red Necks, and Culture

If you go into a really conservative part of the Bible Belt, you will see that fear, guilt, and shame run rampant.  Of course I am painting with a wide brush, because no area is monolithic.   However, as a generalization, this rings pretty true.  These feelings that I listed are the results of years of religious and cultural repression. 

Have you ever played whack-a-mole?  It is the game where you hit moles that pop up with a mallet.  As soon as you hit that mole, another one is popping up somewhere else.  You can suppress some human emotions, but other ones will come out in their place.  When people in these regions are suppressed,  or oppressed,  because of various institutions, I believe it leads to a lot of the strange behavior that we see in this country.  They are so obsessed with people’s sexual orientation, because their own sex lives have been burdened with so much guilt and shame. 

That’s not to say there aren’t good people in these regions.  Often, these people are super generous and kind, even more than some liberals can be.  The problem is this generosity only usually extends to those that are part of their community or tribe. 

One of the great problems of the modern age is that we are in an increasingly interconnected world that faces global problems, but this local and tribal outlook still exists.  The world has become interconnected faster than societies can adapt. 

One of my favorite history books is Empire of the Summer Moon.  It is largely about the Comanche Indian Wars in Texas.  In the earlier days, before the six shooter was introduced, surviving as a Texas Ranger was almost like natural selection.  Only the toughest and best survived.  Why Am I talking about this?  Because the bravado that is so prevalent in Texas, I believe, comes out of this period.  At one point you had to bold and tough to survive. 

But the world changed so much in the last 150 odd years this trait, which was once a necessity for survival, is now an impediment to our country.  150 years ago isn’t that long ago.  It is my great grandparents.  In the late 1800’s people didn’t even know what existed at the north pole.  Now we can see into the farthest reaches of space.  The world has moved on, but a large part of our culture has not. 

If we are going to overcome the challenges of this century we need to change culturally.   This is not an easy thing to do.  Especially when people are struggling, they cling to their culture and identity as a way to keep their bearings. 

George Orwell, in The Road to Wigan Pier, wrote a critique of socialism.  However , he was a socialist.  He just realized that in order to get people interested in socialism you had to meet people where they were at.  He saw many on the left as being too academic, in the sense that they were talking about a belief he shared in ways that would never reach the average person who would benefit from these beliefs. 

In order to reach more people Democrats and liberals need to think about the language that is used.  Frank Luntz, a completely vile Republican pollster, has realized this.  For instance, people that were for the estate tax were much less likely to support the death tax, when they are the same exact thing.  But people were more willing to tax a rich person’s estate than to tax someone for dying.  Only the language had changed. 

Mark Twain once said that, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.”  The left needs to start with something as basic as language if there is any real hope for progress in the future. 

The reason I view Frank Luntz as vile is because he uses his talent to muddy the waters. He is only interested in his own financial interests and of keeping those in power who don’t have the best interest of people at heart. You can use language to either distort the truth or to shine a light on it. He does the former.

Protests Erupt Over Opera

The opera The Death of Klinghoffer is causing all kinds of drama in NYC.  I just read the following New York Times article about it:

New York Times The Death of Klinghoffer

If you want to read a basic description of the plot and what people find controversial about it you can find it on Wikipedia:

Wikipedia The Death of Klinghoffer

I am not going to pretend that I understand the opera having not seen or heard it.  I do think Rudy Giuliani is an ambulance chaser, but that can be a conversation for another day.

Here is my question:  When is the last time that a pop song, let alone an opera, started a serious political discussion?  This is what art is supposed to do, to bring up subjects in a way that get people discussing things in a peaceful manner.  The opera may be great or it may be terrible, but it has gotten people talking about an important political topic, one of which there isn’t enough discussion on.  It doesn’t seem as it is, by design, meant to anger or offend people.  It seems like it is the work of a serious artist that is trying to get people to think.

People have the right to peacefully protest anything they want.  If they find the opera offensive it is their right to stand outside and provide people with an alternative viewpoint, as long as they do not threaten or harass those that want to see it.

However, when it comes to art I would rather see a free exchange of ideas.  I would rather see some kind of in depth and honest criticism of the work than a protest.

However, in this case, I think the protestors lose in two ways.  First they are meeting complex ideas with something simple.  Second, they are drawing attention to something that they don’t want people to see.  That never works.  Protests are a a great way to bring attention to things that aren’t receiving enough attention.  Let’s face it, operas have about 0% effect on popular culture in America.  I don’t even know the names of any newer operas other than this one and I listen to a ton of music, including on occasion opera.  Now I am interested in seeing this one at some point just to see what all the racket is about.

I remember when The Passion of the Christ came out.  There was a lot of controversy over that.  I don’t like to let others make up my mind for me, so I went to see a movie that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, because I wanted to decide for myself what I thought about it.  I did not like the movie, because I thought it dwelled on all the wrong aspects of Jesus, but I was glad I went because it was a large part of the cultural conversation at the time.  In my opinion anything that makes one think is a good thing, even if at the end of the day what you think is that you don’t like it.