My Favorite Blog

77822525_custom-400f4615fd9c7d4f20632b2c549d9cace3c04f05-s6-c30

http://www.dish.andrewsullivan.com

You can also just type in andrewsullivan.com into your browser.

My favorite blog is Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish.  It is definitely one of the models for this one.  I like several things about the site, from its content, to the way it is set up.  Sullivan has interest in a wide range of topics.  He can jump from political topics to lighter ones, such as what is the best cover song ever, from post to post.  Many blogs try to focus on a specific topic so that they can find a niche.  However, that is just not the way most people think.  I am a musician and my number one passion is music, but I love reading about politics, film, nature, and literature as well.  But really I like reading about just about anything if it is presented in a clear and insightful way.  Most people have more than one interest.

Although Sullivan has moved to the left in recent years, or at least stayed in the same place as the right has gotten crazier, I don’t agree with him on everything.  However, it is the clarity of his thought, and the fact that he is willing to evolve as time moves along, that makes him interesting to read.  He is also willing to admit that he is wrong.  Life is like that; where you change your opinion and make mistakes.  It takes a smart person to know that they don’t know everything.  Andrew Sullivan can occasionally come across as harsh on TV, but in writing he is almost always very thoughtful.

Blogging interests me as a form for two reasons.  You can get in insightful information in short bursts.  Also, you can follow someone’s real time thinking on issues.  A good blog, in my opinion, should be like a well written diary entry, that focuses on the world, and not oneself.  But like a diary entry it charts how you feel about the world at that place and time.  As Facebook pages shows us, mine included, there are very few people that have lives interesting enough that we want to know what they are doing every single moment.  That’s why I choose to only talk about myself, in terms of what I am doing, only when it is relevant to some other topic.

Not everything I write is a home run.  However, hopefully I will keep you coming back as I explore the world around us, as it is an endlessly fascinating place.  I don’t understand how people can be bored in this world.  There simply isn’t enough time to explore all of the strange, mysterious, fascinating, frustrating, wonderful, horrible things out there.

Listen, Read, and Watch this Weekend

'Sunday Brunch' TV Programme, London, Britain - 06 Jan 2013

I thought about writing something about ten times today.  But nothing came.  Could it have been the fact that it was as hot as Africa out?  Could it have been the drinks I had last night?  A few recommendations for the weekend is all I have today:

Listen to:  If you love great singing over pop music, and are looking for an album this weekend, check out Frank Sinatra’s Watertown.  It was recorded in 1969 and it is Frank’s one attempt to play the 60′s pop game.  It’s a concept album and a masterpiece and I hope to write more about it at some point. The song I Would Be in Love (Anyway) alone is worth the price.

Listen to:  With Weird Al at number one in the Billboard album charts, and the soundtrack to Frozen still selling units, I think we can safely proclaim that mainstream America has lost their minds.  If you want to support music that is actually intelligent, melodic, extremely musical, and sad and funny as hell in equal measures, check out Morrissey’s new album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  It’s the best thing I’ve heard in years.  Yes, I’m going to keep pushing this album on you.  It’s that good.

Read:  I finished the Brendan Behan play The Quare Fellow.  It takes place in Mountjoy prison.  It’s the first dramatic piece of Behan’s that I’ve read.  It’s subversively hilarious, poetic, and rings true in every word.  I’ve been thinking about the death penalty in Texas lately, and this play will make you dead set against it.  It does so without ever becoming some kind of self righteous morality tale.  In fact it is the fallen nature of everyone involved that makes it’s final sequence seem like some kind of sad cosmic joke.

Watch:  If you want to see things in the world you have never seen before and laugh your arse off while doing so, check out the Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced An Idiot Abroad.  The show stars Karl Pilkington, as the little Englander and title idiot.  This is someone that doesn’t like to travel hosting a travel show.  The show could easily descend into reality show brainlessness, but the footage is excellent.  In often trying to torture Karl they send him to places that most travel shows would never go to.  Also, although most of Karl’s commentary duly earns him the title phrase, he occasionally stumbles his way into truth as when he compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man.  There is also something strangely lovable about Karl.  His words and deeds are often at opposites.  He will say something completely offensive and then show kindness towards someone that most people never would.  The full series is available on Netflix.

That’s all for today kids.  I am throwing a party for my brother tonight, so the bottle calls again.  To quote Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this shit!”  (P.S.  Another hilarious watch is the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia espisode Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth.  In this episode they spoof the Lethal Weapon series.  You haven’t lived until you have seen Danny DeVito having sex to the cheesy 80′s saxophone music that they play in those movies.)

Passport Propaganda

Last night I forgot one of my books and was stuck in a situation where I had nothing to read.  I started reading the quotes in my passport and realized that almost everyone was propaganda and most were easily disproved.  They are all part of, as George Carlin would say, “the national bullshit story.”  I thought I would post the quotes and then follow up with why a response to each one:

The principle of free government adheres to the American soil.  It is bedded in it, immovable as the mountains. – Daniel Webster

Ok, total bullshit.  First of all soil cannot be bedded with principles of anything.  Our soil, aside from possibly the particular chemical makeup of it, is no different than any soil.  Also, democracy and free governments are never immovable.  They are things which need vigilant citizens to maintain.  Just look at the history of our voting rights.  Look at the current NSA scandal or things Hoover’s FBI did or any of number of things to learn how free government and democracy are easily eroded. 

We have a great dream.  It started way back in 1776 and God grant that America will be true to her dream.  – Martin Luther King

I am nitpicking with this one.  Martin Luther King was obviously a great man.  The quote itself is fine in a kind of whitwashed way.  However in 1776 they did let slavery remain legal.  Also, whether or not there is a God, it is again going to take actual people to make us stay true to the founder’s more noble ideas. 

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  – John F. Kennedy

Again, I like John Kennedy fine, but this is simply untrue.  If we look at the history of Guatemala or the Congo or many other examples, there are plenty of times that we let liberty be snuffed out. 

This is a new nation, based on a continent, of boundless possibilities. – Theodore Roosevelt

This might have seemed more true in Roosevelt’s time.  However, with our modern environmental problems we are seeing that even our vast continent is not boundless in its possibilities.   Nothing physical is boundless. 

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come from the heart of America. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

This is a very vague statement.  What exactly is the heart of America?  Is it the people?  If so there have been many times when presidents passed things by executive order without the outright consent of a large amount of people.  Is it Washington?  If that place always has a heart I’ll shit myself.  Besides, the decisions they make there, look at Iraq, don’t always pass in the world as planned.  Again a vague statement that is a bunch of meaningless feel good nonsense. 

For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrowded desert and the unclaimed ridge.  It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground.  Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.”  Is a new world coming? We welcome it – and we will bend it to the hopes of man. – Lyndon B. Johnson

Again vague feel good nonsense, this time rooted in American exceptionalism.   Johnson himself found the limits to our power in Vietnam.  Case closed. 

May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world. – inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869

This refers to the transcontinental railroad.   It should be noted that much of the work was done by Chinese laborers.  Although it is disputed how many, varying wildly, many of these workers died. 

We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world.  They have many things to teach us as people.  We are glad they are always here and hope it will always be so. – Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version

There is nothing wrong in and of the quote itself.  However when you use it as a selling point for our country it helps to remember how we treated the Indians and how we have exploited animals.  The Mohawks also fought against us in the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812.  We also took their land.  Also, look how we treated the buffalo, which we almost wiped out of existence during the western Indian wars.  Look now at how we treat animals in factory farming.  Again the statement is fine, but when you examine it closely as a selling point for America, it kind of makes you wonder. 

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity – Anna Julia Cooper

This statement is another one that is fine in and of itself as an idea.  However, it is false when used as a selling point for America.  Also, first of all, you are not born with the right to anything.  Rights have to be fought for and maintained by vigilant citizens.  If we were born with rights we wouldn’t have needed the Civil War or the women’s suffrage movement.  Also if one looks at gerrymandering today, you can still see that our freedoms, in terms of the right to truly govern ourselves as a true democracy, are still being eroded.  We are also not free in a lot of ways.  If I get caught with weed in Texas, a victimless crime that hurts no one, what freedom I do have will dissappear.  

My point is not to be a killjoy or to say we should stamp out attempts at using language to aspire to greater things.  It is just that we need to, as individuals,  to think.  Democracy and freedom are not birthrights, are not unique to America, and do not come from God.  Only by being vigilant citizens, paying attention to what is going on, and by standing up for those that are oppressed,  can we truly have a democracy that represents all.  Also, total freedom is an illusion.  To be free in a way in which we can all persue our own version of happiness, as long as we don’t hurt others, is still along ways off. There is much work to be done.

Pity Our Enemies

I finally finished reading Borstal Boy.   In the afterward Benedict Kiely writes about what made Behan so special.   Kiely knew Behan and at the time was teaching Borstal Boy  to female students at a college in Virginia.  If only we could all be more like this:

They were, not surprisingly, impressed by words not customarily in use in respectable American homes: but much more they were impressed by the author’s vast and obvious humanity, by his humorous acceptance,  his abounding life and love of life.  His people, from the roughest screw (prison officer) in Walton to the gentlest boy in the open prison camp by the North Sea (and with the possible exception of the R.C. Chaplain who, quite without authority, cut him off from the sacraments), are almost all looked upon with sympathy, or, at any rate, with a sort of pity (“for very oft we pity our enemies”), or with defensive enmity that becomes perverted brotherhood.  You feel that if the worst of them had met him elsewhere,  and under less claustrophobic circumstances,  the unpleasant things might not have happened.  

Borstal Boy  is an account of Behan’s time in prison and reform school as a young prisoner.

The Danger of Too Much TV

I just read a quote the other day, and I believe it to be by Werner Herzog, that “Those that read gain the world, and those that watch TV lose it.”  (I am currently in a van with limited Internet service so I have no way to check the source.)  Today while in the hotel breakfast room the local news was on.  I overheard the local yokel anchors, or cue card reading Ken and Barbie dolls as I like to call them, reported that Mitt Romney might run for president again, they were building a waterslide in the area.  After that the Ken and Barbie dolls feigned mock surprise at legalized weed in Washington State.  “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “this shit is fucking depressing.” 

Last night on I took a beautiful brilliant ferry ride across Lake Michigan.  After awhile it got to cold and windy on the upper deck.  Downstairs, before I was able to escape into my headphones, I heard a clip from Fox News where Bill O’Reilly and some other faceless stooge talked about how President Obama might be the worst American President ever.  Really?  Worse than Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush?  Even if you don’t like Obama certainly you can comb the annals of American History and find several presidents whose use or misuse of power make Obama look like an ancient sage. 

You often hear that this is the golden age of television.  In terms of the long form drama this is definitely a time where there are many worthy and intelligent shows.  Comedy is also not restricted by so many puritanical rules, and therefore there are several really great programs in this form as well. 

However, overall TV remains a place of soul stealing degradation.   It so often plays to the lowest common denominator,  champions meaningless consumerism, and beats the drums for mindless patriotism and barbaric foreign policy.  When it is not doing any of that it takes full use of the culture wars and keeps us divided and ignorant.  The jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, as to whether this is just the inevitable result of the free market or purposeful manipulation by the powers that be.   Someone like Rupert Murdock is actually doing both.  He is fulfilling a demand of the market and furthering his political and economic interests at the same time. 

I can’t help but feel that if more people read and less people watched TV, that we would be a more enlightened and intelligent nation.  Maybe this is just wishful thinking. 

I am currently reading Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy.  It is his account of his time spent in jail and reform school as a young prisoner.  Behan was a vociferous reader.  What strikes me is his empathy for others and his tolerance for those different than himself.  He is serving time because he was caught with I.R.A. bombs in England.  However even at a young age he sees complexity rather than simplicity.  He comments that it is the system of the British Empire that he is against.  He befriends many English prisoners and realizes that some of the Irish that are part of the British Empire and British legal system are some of the worst of the lot.  He judges people as individuals and not based on predetermined catagories.  He even defends Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality to other prisoners, Wilde was a favorite writer of his, at a time when such behavior made one an outcast. 

There seems to be a strong political debate going on about guns in our country right now.  Maybe we need a strong debate about the role of TV in our society, which may be far more dangerous to us as a nation in the long run.

The Hot Air Balloon of Reading

Sometimes I view reading like going up in a hot air baloon.  It allows you to see farther than you did before you read something.  You also get a more complete picture of what is going on.  However, sometimes that same change in view allows you to miss what is right beneath you.  I have read a good deal, more than many, less than some, but I don’t feel that it makes me superior in anyway.  It is just a different set of knowledge and tools than some other people have.  I envy someone that can, let’s say, change the breaks on a car or start a fire in the woods with no modern tools.  The two kinds of knowledge are not necessarily exclusive.  However, we need and should value people with different skill sets.  Other than people who purposely spread ignorance, refuse to learn anything, or use what they have learned only for their own enrichment, we all need each other in this world. 

Literature as Propaganda

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/06/why-the-cia-distributed-pocket-size-copies-of-doctor-zhivago-in-the-soviet-union/371369/

The above article is about how governments, The United States and The Soviet Union in this case particularly, viewed literature as a powerful tool for propaganda.  This story focuses on Doctor Zhivago and how the CIA had it distributed within The Soviet Union.  I always have felt that if more people read, and spent less time watching the brain deadening junk that is mainstream television, that this country would be better off.  Not a bold or original though I know, but most likely true.  

There is a really great book by George Orwell called All Art is Propaganda.  In the book Orwell uses literary criticism as a jumping off point to tackle larger ideas concerning politics and society.  It is a fascinating read that I highly recommend.  

As the review on amazon.com says:  All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary.

I Love the Doctor

I read a lot, but recently I had trouble concentrating on reading.  I was being distracted by a good deal of the technology around me.  One of the many reasons that I feel the 60’s were such an intensely creative time is that people had enough technology to create new things, but not enough to be too distracted.  That could be a bullshit pub theory, but I think there is some truth to it.

Anyway, to get my reading concentration back I decided to dive into a book that was fun.  I figured if I could get the rhythm of reading back I could then jump back into more serious works.  I am an absolutely huge Doctor Who fan and I decided to read Doctor Who: A History.  This approach seems to be working.  If you are struggling to get some books going, start with something you know you will enjoy.

I really can’t begin to express how much I enjoy Doctor Who.  I have watched all of the new episodes and am now making my way slowly through the Classic Doctor Who shows on Netflix.  There is really nothing else like it.  The show began in 1963 and is still going strong today, despite it being off the air from ’89 to 2005 other than one TV movie.  Even during those years there were countless radio programs, novels, spin-offs, etc.  At this point, despite however nerdy it sounds, I am a full blown Whovian.  If I said otherwise I would be in denial!

It’s hard to explain why I love this show so much, but I am going to try to get across some of the reasons.  I love that the show has endless boundaries.  Because the Doctor is a time traveling alien the stories can be anything from funny to scary and take place anywhere in time and space.  One week you could be in Victorian England and the next you could be on some imaginative fictional planet.  The show is filled with both goofy humor and serious moral questions.  That limitless potential makes it consistently fresh and exciting.  It also reflects the power of the human imagination to go anywhere and do anything.

The character of the Doctor is one of the best fictional characters ever written.  He is highly intelligent but also often a complete madman.  This slightly mad quality and his inquisitiveness even in the face of danger, make him a highly entertaining character to watch no matter whom is playing him.  The best thing about him is that he often represents brain over brawn.  Although he is constantly surrounded by violence he only uses it as a last resort.  Even on those occasions when he does have to resort to violence there are almost always unintended consequences.

A key to understanding the mythology of Doctor Who is the idea of regeneration.  The Doctor is a Time Lord and instead of dying he regenerates.  What this means is that he takes on a new form with slightly new personality traits, allowing the different actors that have played him to bring something new to the table, but he is always the same character.

One of the things that is interesting in the book is how many things that have now become iconic parts of the show were done for practical reasons or because of mistakes.  The idea of the regeneration was created, much as I assumed it was, to allow for there to be a reason for different actors to play the part.  The Doctor also flies a time machine called the TARDIS.  It looks like a British blue police box and it is much bigger on the inside.  Originally the Doctor’s time machine was meant to blend in with its surroundings.  However, the show was notoriously low budget during the classic run and they realized they didn’t want to build a new TARDIS for every show so they left it as the police box.  One couldn’t imagine the show without it now.

In music people constantly talk about happy accidents.  That is something you do by mistake but ends up being a keeper.  Angus Young’s riff in Thunderstruck was a “happy accident”.  He was messing about in the studio, but now as soon as that riff starts people know what it is instantly as the song is played in countless sporting arenas.  How many things over the years that have become mainstays in our culture have been created without intent?

Who is my favorite Doctor?  In the classic years it is Tom Baker as he brought just the right amount of insanity to the role.  In the new series I started with the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston.  I didn’t think anyone could top him, but then I became of fan of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor and after that Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor.  I know I’m not really answering the question, which some of you will deem important, but I really liked all of the actors that played the Doctor on the new series.  If someone would come new to the show I would personally recommend starting with Matt Smith’s Doctor because he has the best beginning episode and the production values are the closest to what modern audiences are used to from a TV show.  But I loved the dark quality that Eccleston brought to the role, and while watching Tennant’s episodes I didn’t think anyone could take over the role from him.  Tennant had some of the best episodes, played the Doctor exceptionally, and had possibly the best companions, but some of the Russell T Davies scripts that took place on present day Earth were a bit silly.

There is so much more I could write about this subject.  If I am coming across like a silly fan, that is because I am.  But I make no apologies, as this series has brought me countless hours of enjoyment.  If you are looking for something that is fun, intelligent, and imaginative, give it a go.  You just mind find yourself spending countless hours aboard the TARDIS.  Dear Lord where does the time go?  At least this time I know.

Understanding Others Through Fiction

There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about the relationship between men and women and what women have to put up with.  That is an interesting and important conversation to have at any time. I want to kind of get off track for a minute and talk about empathy. 

In the novel Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, one of the themes is that those that lack imagination are capable of evil things.  Those that lack imagination, lack the ability to put themselves in others shoes, and therefore do not develop empathy.  In the novel the main character reads a book about the Nazi Eichmann.  Eichmann never questions his morality; he just does the most efficient job that he can.  He lacked the imagination to put himself in the shoes of those that were suffering.  This theme that Murakami highlights is not original, but the way it weaves into his masterful novel is really powerful. 

Fiction can be a great way to temporarily step into the shoes of others and learn empathy for those unlike ourselves.  Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove tetralogy are some of the most entertaining books that I have read.  Commanche Moon is a bit uneven, but that is a small complaint in an otherwise great series.  I want to talk about the second novel that was written and the last novel time wise in the series.  That novel is Streets of Laredo and it is black as coal. 

I don’t want to give anything important away regarding the overall story.  However, now is where I want to circle back to the first topic.  In the book you are constantly made aware of how women are made to feel in this wild west environment.  The women in this book are given real inner lives.  They are constantly under the probing eyes of men and often under the threat of real violence.  You feel empathy for them the way they are written.  They may be living in a fictional past, but the emotions and situations are too real to ignore. 

As a man you shouldn’t need to read a western novel to understand what many women go through on a daily basis.  However, fiction can make you dwell on something that you might only temporarily ponder otherwise.  I am not pretending that reading can solve all of the worlds problems or even most of them, but it can’t hurt to take temporary journeys into the lives of others through literature. 

Reading and All-Knowing Space Gods

Right now one of the several books that I am reading is L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Prouty was the basis for Mr. X, played by Donald Sutherland, in the Oliver Stone film JFK.  Prouty is a controversial figure, as one can imagine, given the fact that he believed in a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, amongst other things.  If you look him up on the internet you will see him praised as a hero and called a sham.  I think there are very interesting ideas in this book that are very credible, especially regarding our reasons for getting involved in Vietnam.  I also feel there are times he makes bold claims which he does not back up.  He often talks about a High Cabal of money men that are making decisions for the country, but he never backs up this claim in any substantive way.  I haven’t even gotten to the JFK stuff yet.  

The reason that I bring up this book is that I believe that when we are reading, that we always read with a hyper critical eye.  I think reading in general is positive.  I think you should purposely read things from a wide variety of perspectives.  I think Ayn Rand is batshit crazy, but I still read The Fountainhead.  Even in a book so full of asinine theories, there were small moments of truth.  All humans, no matter how flawed, are still possible of revelations.  Also, even the best writers have biases and blind spots.  Even if you are reading for escapism, you should occasionally reflect about what the author’s aims are and if they hold water or not. 

However, life is short, and you do not want to spend too much time out in la la land.  You cannot possibly read every book.  You need to pick and choose your battles.  Occasionally though, you should venture out into strange territory and try out some new ideas to make sure that life is never too safe.  Just make sure you are thinking when you do so.   

The only exception is when you are reading this blog.  I have clearly descended from some all-knowing space god. My aim is true.