Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Impact of a Zimmerman Not Guilty Verdict

        There's a first time for everything. Decades have gone by filled with so-called "trials of the century" that went right by me. It is true this rumor that I spent my entire life completely removed from television until two years ago. That's not to say I didn't own a TV. I did. But I hadn't subscribed to television programming since I became an "adult" after leaving home for college when I was 16. I used the television to play DVDs that I would acquire from Netflix and that was all. People used to get this strange look in their eye when they would casually mention something like "the OJ trial" or a popular TV show of the day like "Madmen" and discover that I had no idea what they were talking about; they'd look at me as if I were some kind of alien from another galaxy.
       But there were very specific reasons for my refusal to join that club. Two of them at least off the top of my head: One, I believed that one could get a lot more done in their life if television wasn't a factor. This turned out to be more than true. Two, I believed that television, being a push information technology, i.e. we can't just dial up whatever we want -- we turn it on and have to choose something from a small pre-determined selection of material being offered. And this I believed was anathema to how I believed we should live. Yet another example of living life without real freedom. Besides the fact that it seemed to dumb people down. You lose your control. You voluntarily take things in that aren't of the highest morals nor the most intelligent. Indeed most of it is downright stupid for lack of a better word. Once in, you have no choice but to remember. The audio and images are forever etched upon the walls of your subconscious. Is it possible to take all that in and not be at least slightly influenced by it? I wasn't, and still am not entirely sure; we can after all discreate the memories and influence using the Avatar tools if we chose to. But why bother deliberately ingesting something that you already know beforehand you're going to want to vomit back up? A sort of forced bulimia of the heart and mind.
        In 2007, when we began to start pro-actively working on the book about the Age of Personal Expression, one of the Signatures of the Age I proposed was "a new American television renaissance." There were a lot of reasons for this, which are more than explained in the book itself. Call it 50% intuition and 50% discernment based on observation of the data I was collecting. In 2009 or 10 I decided it would be a good idea to start actively studying television, to sit myself down and watch TV like everyone else who partakes in such things; to deliberately attempt to model the average American. It's one thing to predict that a society is on the cusp of a creative renaissance in the field of television. It's another thing to see it for yourself in order to confirm or disprove the theory. (We are by the way). I also felt it was important to get a better understanding of the culture I was so eagerly willing to dissect and analyze. It didn't make much sense to turn in a 700 page book about modern society, a work of non-fiction sociology, without having had a real life experience of that society.
        So in the last three years I have watched more television than I have in all the previous years of my life combined. When looking back and reviewing my history we will observe "isn't that the phase where he spent three solid years watching TV for the first time?" Yes, it was. Truth be told I cannot say it hasn't been enjoyable. It was and it wasn't. It is and it isn't. I know a lot more about the world we live in. I no longer feel as though I live in a cocoon or bubble, separated and isolated from the rest of humanity as I did for the last 30 years of my life. I understand all the different sports that I've heard people rave about since I was a kid. I've watched a World Cup and a Superbowl and an NBA Playoff series now. I know what FOX News is and understand what all the fuss is about.
       I've learned there is no actual news reporting being done in America now. Except for rare occurrences on PBS affiliate stations, real news reporting, objective journalism, at least on television, is a thing of the past, a fond memory of my youth. It's been replaced by a strange kind of topical gossip mixed with subjective opinion as entertainment. I've probably seen every American film to break $100,000 at the box office in the last fifty years. Call me Mr. Smith or Jones. I'm fully in and entrenched in the American psyche. It's a ghastly place to live frankly; I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
        So yes, a first time for everything. America's latest "trial of the century" is the George Zimmerman case. It is the first I've ever followed. A few years or months ago, there was one revolving around a girl named Casey Anthony. But I didn't pay attention to it. Another regarding a girl named Amanda Something who had allegedly done something wrong in Italy. But again, it went right by me. When you've spent your whole life ignoring the things around you that you don't believe are important, it is easy to become accustomed to not knowing about such things. No one in the circles I hang out in knows about these things either. So it isn't like I've ever felt like I was missing something.
        TV is just not something that people in the music business or the arts, academic or activism circles partake in, even if they're on it or part of it. It's not part of our culture, or at least a very small part. If one goes without TV for a year or two in the forest, it doesn't matter if someone hears it or not. No one will notice either way. That's probably a better way of putting it. Some would argue with this; it's true that the issue is much deeper and more nuanced than I am allowing here, I admit that. One thing I can say is that now that we've entered the "new American television renaissance" there are certain aspects of modern American television that are useful and helpful to us all. Often times this means ignoring 99% of what's popular but paying close attention to specific shows that cover the topics that most affect you and your industry and your passions. Charlie Rose and Austin City Limits are good examples of this in my own personal life. Yes we can just as easily catch up with these programs online. But we can just as easily DVR them on our TVs and enjoy the many people pleasures that TV has to offer such as the giant screen and the cushy comfort of a suede couch.  
        With that said, despite the endless hours of research I did -- watching everything from the hottest sitcoms to the steamiest dramas to the most popular reality shows and competition shows-- I just couldn't get myself to endure something called HLN for longer than a few seconds. At first glance it appears that someone deliberately tried to envision what the worst possible dystpoian future might look like and then attempted to duplicate it through the lens of a television camera. The bobble heads are as fake and plastic as can be imagined on a bad PCP trip. False eyelashes and hair sprayed stiff as a board. Make up so heavily plastered on both the men and women that they look more like mannequins from Mars than human beings. The hype and drivel spewing out of their mouths every bit as irrelevant, vulgar, mean-spirited and ignorant as one would expect from a humanity gone mad in some twisted B movie about the end of the world.
        HLN I believe is short for Headline News. In days long gone, Headline News was the place one went for a quick fix of just news and nothing but news. But that's obviously changed. My assumption is that it probably occurred some time after Ted Turner sold CNN out to Time Warner or AOL. It's absolutely impossible to watch the channel, let alone access real news on it. One thing we notice is that HLN seems primarily dedicated to "true crime" programming. The audience is filled with the same people who voluntarily went to public hangings and lynchings back in the good ole days before the invention of television. Watching the day to day goings on of a trial or court case of someone you've never met and don't know personally seems akin to attending an execution just for fun.
        It's not that I don't get it. I get it. I just can't believe that there are people like this still alive on planet earth. One suspects this is the same group that watches reality TV or FOX News, believes same sex marriage threatens opposite sex marriage, doesn't believe in global warming, believes America has an obligation to support the fascist state of Israel, demonizes the country of Iran just because they are told to, doesn't see a problem with America's so-called war on terror, signs deals to allow fracking in their backyard, thinks GMO food is okay because the government and media tell them it is, same with prescription medications -- in fact they think that "vitamins" are a bunch of hype and hooey, and believe we should permit oil drilling on national public land. We all get it. We just don't want to believe it. And yet... there it is live and in person for all the world to see on HLN.
        On the few occasions that I've stopped to attempt to watch for a few minutes, I notice that I get a pain in my chest, extreme discomfort, agonizing dis-ease and anxiousness. These people are our friends colleagues and neighbors. (Not in New York City. But everywhere else they probably are...) We can't pretend they're not. Perhaps that's the part that is most disturbing. Knowing that in certain cases they're no different than the rest of us, and that in times of crisis or turmoil we'd feel as close to them as we would to anyone else. Perhaps on the surface we've got some common ground, because we're all human beings after all. But if we go deeper, even a little bit deeper, the profound differences between us and how we view the world begin to reveal themselves. And short of separating the country into two halves like we once did with India and Pakistan and promoting mass exoduses -- everyone back to your respective corner -- there's not much we can do about these strange bedfellows we are forced to live amongst. How else do we explain the likes of Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney or the Kardashians or Snookey(sp?) or Justin Beiber gaining such prominence in American popular culture? They're not appearing by magic. Someone is propping them up with enough attention to generate dollars or we would simply never know or even hear about them.
        Now with all this said, and despite it all, over the last seven days I have found myself paying careful attention to the George Zimmerman trial. For the first time in my life, I have become interested in one of America's many infamous "trials of the century". Truth be told it's the first one where I've even known what's going on or who the names refer to. Many of my peers and closest allies have lambasted me for it, questioning my judgment and sanity. But I've asserted that I believe that the case is an important one on several grounds. The race aspect is clearly fascinating if not important, the gun laws aspect, and perhaps most of all the general statement it makes about where we are and where we are headed as a society. Do we really want to condone such blatant violations of the laws we've worked so hard to create and defend in our young struggling nation?
        We're all too familiar with the "wild west" culture that once dominated the rural backwoods of the American heartland, when everyone walked around with a pistol or rifle or shotgun and shot at each other at will, people taking the law into their own hands. Florida, like much of the rural and even metropolitan South, with few exceptions (South Beach, Austin, Atlanta...), is much like the backwoods of modern America. It seems that every time some unthinkable crime or atrocity rocks the very heart and foundation of America's carefully preserved moral fibers it often turns out to take place in Florida or somewhere else in the South. (Sure these things happen elsewhere... That monster who kidnapped and held hostage three girls for over ten years in his basement lived in Cleveland or Cincinnati, right? But for whatever reason there sure seems to transpire many a horror down in the southland, especially Florida. Hell, one might say Florida is what keeps HLN in business.)
        This new trend in killing and getting away with it is a reality, a mentality, that we worked hard to dismantle for hundreds of years in America; there was a certain sense of safety and propriety that all could feel as Americans. Not just because of the police or increased security or even the laws themselves, but because as a society we collectively decided that we wanted to live a certain way; in an environment and culture that felt clean, where we felt safe, where we could raise our children to feel safe. Are we slowly returning to a kind of wild west morality?
        This seemingly quick change to America reverting back to becoming a dangerous place seems to have very little to do with so-called terrorism. Every once in a while a 9/11 or "shoe-bomber" or Boston Bombing happens. (We've already explored 9/11 and the Boston Bombings ad nauseum, well beyond enough for most readers to understand that whether these were inside jobs or truly the act of Muslim extremists as reported that they're still "acts of terrorism", even if certain individuals working in the United States government knew all about them and participated in them.) But acts of terrorism aside, something dark and insidious has taken root in the heart of America entirely separate from America's war with so-called Muslim extremists. There have been more citizen on citizen attacks in the last ten years than anyone can remember ever happening for a hundred years prior combined. Why?
        What is it about NOW, about today's society, that is compelling people to become so violent? And so willing to express this violence in such overt manners as to bomb buildings or walk around with guns and kill other people they don't even know? It is hard to believe what I am typing as I do so. It feels surreal. I see and feel my fingers hitting the keyboard, but I find it intangible and difficult to believe the content. What on earth is happening to us?
        The first memory I have in our lifetime of this kind of horror is the Clinton Administration's attack of the Branch Davidians Compound in Waco, Texas in 1993. Over180 American people were murdered by government and military personnel, most of them women and children. Then came the retaliation in the form of Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City building on the same day a few years later. It is said that there were others involved. There are documentaries you can view either in DVD form or online. Highly recommended that you do so. But regardless of WHO was involved, the events happened. It's real. It's in our collective memory as a people. From there it only gets worse. Columbine was the first time that most of us ever heard of young children going into a school and killing a bunch of their fellow students. This wasn't just a suicide or a lone gunmen gone postal, nor was it a Kent State type accidental government killing of a few student protestors. This was a blatantly senseless and insane act by seemingly normal people among us. Still nearly impossible to believe. Except that there have been more since.
        The question is "why?" I would submit that the answer is because our heart is dying, the heart of we the people is dying as we helplessly watch our government self destruct before our eyes. Everything that we once cherished and held dear and sacred around us, our core structure if you will, has begun to appear to fall apart. The figurative safety net of a calm peaceful just society has begun to fray and tatter as more and more government coverups and conspiracies are revealed, as more and more covert operations and mass killings overseas and here at home leak to become headline news. It is as if we still want to believe in the America of old, the America of our grandparents, the America that won World War II and flourished through a great post-war industrial and technological age, but it has become increasingly impossible for us to do so in light of all the schemes scams and deceptions that we are bombarded with on an almost weekly if not daily basis now.
        I don't believe that anyone in their right mind, no matter what they say or pretend to believe publicly, truly feels good in their heart about the United States' government's invasion of Iraq, or Afghanistan, nor the bombings and assassinations in Yemen, or Libya, or Pakistan or elsewhere. Some may defend to their death the government's right to these atrocious acts in the name of self-defense, but they don't really believe it. Worse, they, like us, can feel the inner core of our most basic sense of morality decaying as each day passes and we continue to participate in these egregious activities.
        The problem is that we no longer have any control of what our government does. And America, unlike smaller countries, now feels too big and too powerful for we the people to regain control of. If we stepped up and spoke out against any one of the countless number of criminal activities the United States government does on a daily basis or has done over the last fifty years, we would all have to do it collectively or else those who did would quickly and surely be branded "terrorists" by the government and the media alike and imprisoned or killed on the spot. On live TV. It would literally take a nation of millions to protect us from this fate.
        So instead we become increasingly disturbed, diseased and spiritually empty and wanting. It is difficult to feel good inside, truly good, content, happy, fulfilled, when you see your own president on TV and know he is in large part lying and deceiving with almost every word he speaks; when you distrust your own government for so many countless acts of criminal behavior and deceptions through the years that you need to refer to lists in order to remember them all. How else is America supposed to feel? The financial crisis of 2008 and the bailout of the big bands with taxpayer's money. The horrific treatment of fellow citizen Bradly Manning. The suspicious details of the Sandy Hook school massacre. The targeted assassinations of fellow American Anwar al-Awlaki AND his son in cold blood without arrest or trial. 
         We may joke about president Barack Obama and his love of playing basketball and his daughters being cute and wanting a puppy and his wife being the one who wears the pants in the family. And we may celebrate the country's milestone achievement of electing our first African American president. But underneath it all is the same fear and loathing we felt during the Bush/Cheney years and all the times before. Only it seems to be getting worse. And as the curtain is pulled back more and more to reveal the nearly dead and decayed heart of American morality, the American populace seems to be getting more and more violent. Turning in on itself. Neighbor attacking neighbor. Family members killing other family members. It's a spiritual crisis. But it's roots are socioeconomic and political.  It's the reason why HLN's schedule is chock full of real life true crimes and murder trials.
         A little more than a year ago a young black high school student was walking home from his local 7-11 with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea. He was unarmed and talking on the phone with a friend of his on his cell phone. His name was Trayvon Martin. At the same time a lone gunman drove through the quiet streets of his neighborhood armed with a handgun in the name of "keeping his neighbors safe". He spotted the young black student, became suspicious for no apparent reason except that he was black, called the police to report it, was told by the police to stay away from the boy, but instead he somehow ended up coming face to face with him, getting into a fight with him and ultimately killing him by shooting him three times with his gun. The man is now on trial. But he claims it was in self defense.
        America is split on how to feel. Horrified, shocked, sad, frightened. But still split. This is the face of what has become of our American Dream. For all the reasons mentioned above. And THIS is what makes the case a racist issue. If the boy had been white, same clothes, same bag of Skittles and iced tea in hand, America would be even more horrified and shocked. Zimmerman would be ostracized from society, lucky to still be alive today and on trial. It most certainly wouldn't be for second degree murder but rather murder in the first. But as we've already learned from trials past, these things are tricky. George Zimmerman could very easily get away with the murder of Trayvon Martin. And that is what makes the case so important, why regardless of how opposed to reality TV or televised court trials one may be it is still one of the most important events in modern American history.
        If George Zimmerman, his name and who he is entirely unimportant, if this man is found "innocent" of murder, if he gets away with being able to kill another person who didn't break into his home, didn't attack him or his family, but who was simply walking home in his family's neighborhood, it will set a precedent in our society that has for decades been "unprecedented".
        It is not that we are all so anti-racism that we need Zimmerman to be convicted of murder. (there is certainly some of that in many of us admittedly; as stated, the fact that Martin was black is surely the cause of his being picked out by Zimmerman and ultimately the reason he is dead.) It is not as if we knew Martin personally or were friends with him. It is not that he was still only a child. He wasn't a public personality nor particularly cute and thus captured the heart of America as soon as his picture graced the front pages of national newspapers and magazines. It is all these things and yet it is much more.
        It is more than anything the gruesome possibility that this kind of frightening horrific event can happen in America and the person who did the killing could possibly get away with it. There is something abhorrent and unbearable about the prospect of this becoming our new reality. Regardless of what the facts turn out to be (and it looks as though as with all things we will never truly know), it is frightening to consider that this is the new direction America is headed. Will any neighborhood be immune to such horrors? Could it happen HERE next? Just downstairs and out our own window? Why not? What makes Sanford, FL different than any other town in America?
        These are just some of the questions that arise out of this sad and woeful case. I shudder to consider how many more people may take up arms and ride around their own neighborhood armed with a handgun if Zimmerman is found not-guilty. As much as we all desire true justice to be served in this case as in all others, this one seems to carry a heavy load in terms of its long term ramifications on society. Besides the race issue which is another matter entirely. Regardless of the jury's eventual verdict I for one don't want to NOT know a thing about the case and how it was decided. I believe it to be too historically important. It is in the bigger picture a fascinating story, true as it is -- making it all the more impactful, of two innocent people caught in a tangled web of unfortunate circumstances. One dies, the other lives. Both men's lives and the lives of their families' changed dramatically forever.  But down here on earth, above and beyond the great story and inevitable movie and book rights, one gets the feeling there are real hearts and minds that have stopped temporarily and waiting to be shaped by the verdict of the case. This is the aspect of this event that has the most power to haunt us well past the drama emotion and excitement of this latest trial of the century.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What Are We Fighting For?

          Yesterday's diary caused a minor ruckus amongst fans and friends. I believe we all know that to constantly bombard our hearts and minds with negative input and information is not helpful. As an Avatar Wizard I am clearly aware that what goes in is often times what comes out, and vice versa; what comes out is usually a strong indicator of what is going in. We are in a tough place right now as a global society. For news junkies there is certainly no lack of news to report. Unfortunately most of it is bad. Both on the world stage and domestically there seems to be a constant onslaught of bad if not horrifying news to report.
        For years I lived in a bubble, decades more like it; didn't pay attention to news. Didn't pay attention to anything except what I and the little group I associated with was working on. Some still claim that to be the best method of operation if you want to make the world a better place. I know plenty of people who live in that world. They have their thing, whether it be in tech or the arts or in the enlightenment arena and they simply keep worldly news and events of the day completely tuned out. They make their mark by doing their share, to try to make the world a better place and besides perhaps the name of the president of the United States, they don't have a clue what's happening around the world we live in.
        I lived that way for a long time. I don't fault those who still do. But something changed in me along the road. These Diaries would do a far better job of detailing what exactly it was than I could by trying to remember it here; besides the fact that it would waste time for me to attempt to do so. All I know is that one day I found myself woken up. Once awakened, to world events, national events -- events that shape our very lives one realizes, it is difficult not to occasionally cave into the general negativity that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Things have for all intents and purposes made a turn for the worse on a seemingly global scale. Yesterday's diary was a reflection of that.
        Though we must remember that this isn't the case all over the world. Iceland for example is doing remarkably well after a full-on peoples' revolution where they basically sacked all the banks and major financial institutions and anyone else they thought was up to no good. Australia comes in first out of 212 nations around the world in "general happiness and well being". Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, even Canada. There are places where real live people live who are doing better than well, no riots in the streets, no mass exodus of refugees, no GMO foods being forced down their throats, no fracking and no widespread government corruption.
        It just so happens that those of us who live in the United States and the West in general don't hear much about these places. They are generally kept out of the news entirely. For better or worse (I'd say worse..?) what we hear about instead is mostly the bad. Not only here at home, but related to any other areas of the world where things are going to shit. This is a reality for those of us who live in today's world. And there are valid reasons for it.
        Not only have things taken a turn for the worse in the United States -- when exactly did this happen? The alleged 9/11 attacks in 2001? The stolen election of 2000? Later during the Bush/Cheney regime's "war on terror"? Or more recently, perhaps coinciding with the Great Recession in '08? It certainly seems as though things have gotten worse over the last four years. Regardless, turn on the news or open a paper, and one will be hard pressed to not feel overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of negative events simultaneously transpiring around the world. It just IS.
        Today we learned that the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act -- the provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.-- by a decision of 5 to 4 (Republicans 5, Democrats 4. It still strikes me as ironic how much a Supreme Court Justice's political party affiliation plays so vital in the decisions they make.
        One would think that by the time a truly enlightened person gets to the point where they can be nominated for such a role that the idea of allegiance to or affiliation with political parties would seem childish and irrelevant to them. That shift in viewpoint happened to me personally many years ago. I couldn't possibly see labeling myself one or the other, both seem rather arbitrary, archaic, immature and limiting. And yet the Supreme Court Justices often make their decisions in such a predictable fashion based on their respective party affiliations that the country usually can guess what their decisions will be long before they announce them based solely on who's who in the Supreme Court that year. Criticism has poured in from voting rights activists: 
“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision erases fundamental protections against racial discrimination in voting that have been effective for more than 40 years,” Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, said in a statement. “Congress must act quickly to restore the Voting Rights Act.”
“Today will be remembered as a step backwards in the march towards equal rights,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We must ensure that this day is just a page in our nation’s history, rather than the return to a dark chapter."
         A large part of me believes that it was time to stop all these laws based on racial profiling. For many reasons. Save for another day. But suffice it to say that now that we have achieved the supposed impossible, a black man in the White House, isn't it time we started truly treating all people as equals? Again, save for another day.
         Late last night Infinito texted me that he now believes that the possibility of a "zombie apocalypse" may one day be possible based on what is happening around the world with natural gas fracking. Surely he was exaggerating, but the real point to his messages was that he was shocked and horrified, especially for children and future generations.
        Last night I stayed up ridiculously late studying. Learned that most of the laws and regulations that Congress enacted post-Great Recession '08 have been rolled back or are in the process. The Stock Market is raging once again, as if nothing happened and no one remembers it's sinking below 7,000 just a few years ago. I do. Scared the crap out of me. Never saw anything like that in my lifetime. Trillions of dollars vanished overnight unless people got completely out in time. For most people, whose investments are tied up in Mutual Funds or retirement plans of some kind, that simply wasn't possible. Many people I knew personally lost a small fortune and had to start saving for their retirement all over again.
        But the real clincher, the aspect of all this that should have everyone up in arms is how nearly every law and regulation that the Federal government put into place to stop the economic catastrophe of 2008 from happening again has either never really been put into place or is slyly being rolled back. The idea of "too big to fail" was shoved down the throats of every American for months as the government and the banks tried to explain how U.S. taxpayer money in an already sinking economy was going to be used to bail out these banks and financial institutions instead of regular working class people. It was one of the most egregious acts the United States government ever perpetrated. And that say's a lot. Experts are now saying that these same institutions have become even larger and more "too big to fail".
        And so it goes. All of it led me to ponder just how involved we want to be in all of this? Do we want to keep paying attention to what's happening around the world and trying to stop it? Or do we want to go back in our cocoon and pretend that there's nothing we can do about it? Yesterday's post certainly didn't cheer anyone up or inspire any hearts and minds. I myself felt more than depressed after writing it. Not that any of it isn't true. But must we focus on it? Can we responsibly live our own lives and pay no attention to the atrocities happening around us? In good conscience? If we decide the answer to that question is "no", is there anything we can really do about any of these things? Certainly at this point the only solution to what ails us seems to be a full on revolution.
        Most people scoff or laugh when they hear that in regards to the United States. But five years ago when I was dictating the "We Are the Revolution: Welcome to the Age of Personal Expression" book to Weather Girl, she scoffed, acted as if I was speaking treason. Just a few short years later we saw peoples' revolutions just I had predicted in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya just to name a few. And it will continue as the Personal Expression Age continues to ramp up. So what's to stop it from happening in the United States? That's the real question. What once seemed impossible now reads like history.

        But WHAT are we fighting for?

        I saw an interview with Peaceful Uprising co-founder Tim DeChristpher this morning with Bill Moyer's. It made me feel hopeful for the first time in years. The whole idea of The Personal Expression Age, at least in terms of it's major take-away from my viewpoint, is that the age will enable full on peoples' revolutions for the first time in human history on a scale we have never seen before; where corporate and government backed tyranny will be defeated by regular people. The governed will finally start governing the people they elect to govern them so to speak. Right now it appears that we are far away from that as we've ever been in American history. Especially compared to the fervent activism of the 1960s. But what if at the same time that the U.S. government is seemingly making it's most wicked and criminal turns, the people of the nation are simultaneously working to improve things and stop them? What if we were gearing up for a revolution and we just didn't know it?
        Ah... That's the question isn't it? Many people already believe we are in the midst of a revolution but it just hasn't been formally announced. There are certainly many events one could point to in order to prove that we are, despite the apparent backwards movement we seem to be traveling in as a nation.
        But what are we aiming to do? Well, lots. Protecting the environment that we live in and depend on for life is one thing. But more than anything I would say that our primary goal is to enact a series of changes that herald in a new era where freedom, equality, truth and justice truly reign supreme as the law of the land.

        DeChristopher stated, and I am paraphrasing, "We aren't trying to turn Walmart or BP into greener companies. Our aim is to eradicate them completely". At fist it sounds like an outlandish claim. But upon further inspection it seems more than reasonable. And possible. We must remember that the only reason that giant corporations have run the show for so long is because we have allowed our elected officials to allow them to do so. The fault may seem to fall in the hands of these giant multi-national companies or the government, but ultimately it is our party and we are the ones responsible for allowing things to get so out of control. Rather than attempt to change giant traditionally unjust and criminal corporations into simply nicer greener safer companies we instead may consider making them disappear entirely so that the bond between giant plutocratic corporatocracies and the people and laws they control is severed once and for all -- and a new world where people-run democratic organizations provide us with the goods and services we deem necessary. Much like NGOs or nonprofits or credit unions operate now. 
        Because of the system the United States government has allowed to be set up now with the largest corporations wielding all the power and nearly total control over the laws we live by and the justice system as well, we've entered a new era in American justice where there are now two justice systems operating simultaneously; one disguised as a a justice system whereby the most powerful individuals in both business and government control and manipulate it at will based on their needs regardless of what is moral just or lawful and the more traditional one that average everyday ordinary citizens are forced to live by. It's a system that the founding fathers of our nation fought for years to break us free from in their revolution -- but truth be told one could dare say its more corrupt and tyrannical than they 200 years ago could ever have imagined from where they were sitting. Little did they know how far off base we would get from the original ideal and how quickly we would do it.
        It's not just a changing of the old guards in Washington that is needed. But a complete rethinking and restructuring of our economic model as well. When our largest corporations such as Apple sit comfortably in their cozy offices in California and earn billions of dollars of revenue a year by selling their products to hundreds of millions of American citizens and other peoples of the world, but refuse to pay even a dollar in income taxes, we know that something terribly wrong has gone on. When the state they live in cannot afford to fix the roads and bridges these same Apple employees use to get to and from work everyday nor provide adequate schooling and education or medical care to their children and has to borrow the money for said projects from the federal government, which itself is also broke, who is it then who pays for these things? Their Fellow American tax payers.

        Most ordinary citizens don't know how to rig the system in order to not pay any income tax. So the average person gives up anywhere from ten to thirty-nine percent of their income to the federal government through paying taxes each year. Why should American tax payers give a dime to help the state of California when the problem could be easily solved if companies like Apple and others housed in that state would just pay their fair share of taxes like everyone else does? People argue that Apple may not have overtly broken any laws with their complex and twisted web of corporate technicalities and loopholes. But that's symptomatic of the root of the problem of this new corporate-run dual justice system we've unwittingly permitted to grow in America.
        The solution to this reprehensible problem is simpler than we think. A nationwide mass boycott of all Apple products would be a damn good start. Unless someone is generously willing to let their hard earned money in the form of income tax pay Apple's bills then there should be no reason why even one American citizen would not immediately want to join in a boycott of all Apple products until CEO Tim Cook and company promise to stop these games and bring that money back to the States where it belongs; to help the country that has been so good to them. Or we kick them out and never hear from them again.
        Part of the problem is that Apple, like so many big American corporations, has it's hands in so many pockets of government officials that the U.S. government is never going to promote such a move. In fact, one wouldn't be surprised if they didn't try to find some little known law that it violates. But the American people can easily do it. And just like Apple we can all safely claim that there is nothing illegal about doing so. It is our choice after all. At the very least, paying their fair share in corporate income taxes should be a requirement for any company that wants the business of right thinking intelligent American consumers. Taken further, the movement could extend to "not destroying the environment", "paying fair wages", "not supporting or participating in slave labor"... there are many but not an infinite amount of mandates that responsible American citizens can start to demand today from the companies that most want their business. Will the American people ever reach a point in their evolution as a country where they realize that these decisions are ultimately up to them? This I wonder. But I have hope. The movement is growing. One could easily say we have reached critical mass in many arenas. But rather than wait and see I believe the best action would be to start doing something today.

Affirmative Negative Action

         No wonder people still complain about the racial divide in America. This week the Supreme Court handed down a verdict that did away with several aspects of the Voting Rights Act that civil rights activists felt were important in protecting certain voting rights of minorities in America. The verdict was disappointing to many and celebrated by others. Texas and South Carolina, as many other states, want to pass laws that require anyone who votes in an election to have an ID. As much as I understand and empathize with anything that hinders anyone's ability to vote or have access to equal rights, I was personally surprised when I discovered that this wasn't already a law. I find it troublesome that a person can vote to decide something as important as choosing the president of the United States and not have to show a valid ID. I also find it to be bigotry of low expectations to claim that minorities are specifically being targeted if a state decides to pass a law requiring all voters to have a photo ID card, as if certain people depending on their skin tone just aren't up to the task of obtaining such a card.
        Frankly I would find it suspect if a living breathing active member of our society does NOT have some kind of valid photo ID; I would go even further and say that I am not sure I would even want them voting in important elections. White or black. Hispanic or Asian. I don't see it a question of race as much as a question of intelligence and good judgment. Who are these people who want to vote for the president of the United States or a congress person but don't even have a drivers license or some kind of official identification in this day and age?
        This may seem elitist, but I don't believe it is. Is having some kind of formal ID elitist? I find it to be actually a MORE fair and equitable perspective, giving ALL people regardless of their race color or ethnicity an EQUAL shot at the right to vote. There are plenty of poor white people who face the same kind of hurdles and challenges growing up in America that black folks do. Why not acknowledge that and stop acting as if black or Hispanic people are handicapped in some sort of way just because of the color of their skin? Isn't the real challenge poverty?
        With that said, there are some other aspects to what is in Texas's proposed new voter ID law that some claim is discriminatory against certain races, mainly minorities, such as moving polling places last minute in African American communities or closing them without notice altogether or even changing the posted times that they open or close. If this is true, it needs to be addressed and stopped. But we still may benefit from asking: is it just BLACK people that these types of laws are affecting? Or is it poor people in general? If it turns out that it's just poor people, maybe it's time we stopped speaking about the issues as if they're specifically race related and get down to the real heart of the matter. Economic social inequality seems to be a much more serious problem in America today than any issues related specifically to race or one's skin color.

        The Supreme Court also made a decision this week about whether American colleges and universities should still be allowed to take race into account when reviewing applications to attend their respective schools. The case touches on hot buttons revolving around so-called Affirmative Action laws and issues in the United States. But the Supreme Court stepped around having to make any major decisions this time; they threw the case back to the lower courts. This is why we didn't hear much about this Supreme Court decision this week. They did make a formal statement though that will make it a bit more strict and difficult for schools to use race in college application acceptance decisions. At this time most schools do consider race (skin color or nationality) in this process in order to increase the diversity of the overall student body, or so they claim. If you ask me, that's racism -- by definition, to be even considered based on the color of your skin.
        In 2003 several major decisions came down from the Supreme Court ( Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger ) that did strongly affect Affirmative Action in the school application process, but frankly the outcome seems murky. Schools are now supposed to refrain from using a point system that gives "free extra points" to minorities, but are still encouraged to "consider race" to make sure that their student body is diverse, but without necessarily a quota system intact.
        Though many of my friends and peers tend to support the government continuing to uphold some kind of affirmative action program, I tend to lean against it. (Granted, as a well-bred middle-class white male, I can AFFORD to "lean against" it. Or so I'm told. I have always been very curious about this issue and open to learning more from those who still support these programs.) But on the surface, I believe that it's past time we did away with such things. To me it seems that the issue of affirmative action is largely a generational issue at this point in our history. Those who are old enough to remember having lived through the civil rights struggle and either witnessed or experienced a lot of overt racism in their life (not necessarily aimed at them specifically) seem to be more adamantly supportive of affirmative action programs. Those of us who are younger and grew up in a culture of more equality and diversity, where public personalities and our cultural heroes seemed a random combination of many different races, both black and white, see less of a need for such programs to still exist. In fact sometimes they seem downright reverse racist.
        [Contextual Note: I have never claimed or pretended to be a hard-left leaning liberal, though I am aware that the public often views me as such simply because I am an artist, and at times I can understand why. Except those who really ARE radical lefties; they often accuse me of being too far to the RIGHT or too capitalist-minded. I think this confusion and the whole paradigm just proves what I've been saying since we were in our late teens: DON'T JOIN ANY CLUBS. So said the banner I used to walk around with at protests or displayed behind me on stage. Early on I wrote in these Diaries and recorded plenty of YouTube rants against joining ANY political party no matter what country you lived in IF you wanted people to believe you to be an intelligent person. The boxes that you are forced to jump into on both sides are way too small, limited, illogical, and most of all archaic -- and because of this at times seem rather arbitrary. (You can't claim to be "pro-life" (as in anti-abortion) AND at the same time be pro-capital punishment (as in pro-killing people and thus anti-life). Unless of course you are taking that viewpoint simply to fit in with a particular political party's platform. It's illogical and shows a real lack of thinking. To me at least.) Point being, sure I'm liberal, more than most. On some issues. But that doesn't mean that I support ALL or ever a majority of the views of the standard flag-waving American Democrat. I have learned through the years that I usually don't. But I sure as hell wouldn't classify myself as being right-wing or conservative or Republican either. Yikes. Though I do share some of their viewpoints. I will say this though: as brain-fried crazy as most Republicans appear to be in today's America, when forced to choose, I find myself more and more shifting towards FOX News rather than MSNBC. There are many things despicable about both entertainment networks (mainly that they pretend to be news networks in the first place), but the one thing I can say that I admire about FOX as compared to MSNBC is that at least they know and acknowledge what they're doing over there. MSNBC still pretends it's an objective news network, as if they speak for all rational right thinking Americans. FOX lets it's freak flag fly; they just throw it all out there, mercilessly and without apology. The actors on MSNBC really believe they are journalists, and my fear is that many semi-intelligent right thinking innocents might be fooled into thinking the same thing.]
        In terms of affirmative action... most of the people in American society we come across and deem to be "hip cool smart liberal modern well thought out" people seem to be supportive of affirmative action programs, just as they seem to be passionately against any sort of voter photo ID laws. But I would posit that "encouraging cultural diversity" on college campuses is admirable, even desirable IF the students and parents of those who attend WANT that, but that there should be NO mandate to do so by the government. That's not democratic. It may be well-meaning, but it's flat out reverse racism, and damn close to communism.
        What if certain people only want to go to school with people of their own kind? Should that be illegal in a free society? In times past we would say "yes" because of what it was symptomatic of. But now? I'm not too sure. Why not let private institutions at least make their own rules? Wouldn't that be the more democratic way? Let's say that a school only wants to have black students. They've offered up their reasons for it. The student body and their parents have approved of it, requested it even. The school is privately funded through grants and foundations and generates plenty of its revenue from it's incoming tuition and alumni donations. Do we really want to live in a society that will not allow that school, it's faculty, student body and alumni to do what it deems best for itself? It sounds like communism to me. Not a democracy of free people. 
        And what if a white applicant IS turned down who is more than eligible to make room for a black or Hispanic student who is less eligible just because she is NOT a minority? (as was the case in this particular Supreme Court case (Abigail Noel Fisher vs. the University of Texas)) This kind of thing evidently is more prevalent in modern times than most people realize. All because we are trying to guarantee that minority students are accepted into higher learning institutions as often as non-minority students. There is an irony in that America doesn't have too many years to go until so-called white people are no longer the "majority"... What then? It will become clear that our quest to reverse a long history of racial bias and bigotry against so-called minorities has now transformed into a matter of socioeconomic issues more than race or ethnicity. What then?
        This strange phenomena is happening in today's world. White students don't receive any free points on college applications and may in fact find it more difficult to be accepted into the same school that a minority student finds it easy to get accepted into -- all because that student is white. The methodology used to create such an unfair playing field may have started out well-meaning and was for all intents and purposes necessary when the idea was first proposed; but the disadvantage that it places some so-called majority students in shouldn't be happening at all, nor should it be accepted as some kind of unfortunate collateral damage. We shouldn't be using any specific quota that schools need to meet or direct affirmative action practices like a point system with free points going to minorities IF we want at the same time to be able to claim to be a color-blind free society.
        It may sound like a radically controversial idea, but what if we passed a law instead that made it illegal to put anything on a college application that revealed the race, ethnicity or nationality of the applicant? Just flat out against the law. If we really wanted it to be fair and equal that wold include the applicant's name. They should just be assigned a number instead, or rather, just apply with their social security number. Leave it all out. It would be fascinating to see what would happen in that kind of scenario. Regarding schools being encouraged (some may say "coerced") to actively attempt to have a more diverse student body (which I personally find objectionable and not a true representation of a free society), why not allow for the fact that one particular school may end up with a large majority of white and Asian students if they ONLY used academic factors in their acceptance policy? Just as another school with a different focus and mission may have a student body that is primarily black or Hispanic? Or vice versa. Either way. We won't know until we try it. But one would like to think that acceptance into any higher level educational institution is based on how well qualified the applicant is, just as in it is in the real world when applying for a job.
        Here now is the perfect place to reveal that for many years I have felt prejudiced against because I am a white male. When going to college definitely, and when applying for government loans and grants for business and for non-profit grants. As someone younger in America who never really witnessed racism or bigotry first hand and was not around during the major civil rights movement, I always found it odd and frustrating when I was told that unfortunately I couldn't qualify for any special loan programs or grants because I wasn't black, Hispanic, Jewish or female. If only... WE are supposed to go out there and succeed withOUT any kind of special consideration or benefits on the grounds that we are Caucasian and male. It doesn't matter whether we are rich or poor, grew up in the ghetto or the burbs, had two parents or just a single mom. None of it matters because we aren't considered a minority of any kind and therefore we qualify for "nothing special". Just saying. The thought has occurred to me more than once.  
        All this got me thinking about professional sports. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see clearly that for whatever reason black people at least appear to excel at professional sports in America. More than white people? Well that's just a statistic plain and simple that can be checked online if it weren't well past 3 am in the morning. There was a time long ago however when black Americans were not allowed to play baseball in the MLB -- (Major League Baseball club). That changed of course. The recent film 42, about Jackie Robinson, told the story. The same was true with American football. That story is even more confusing convoluted and upsetting. It may be hard for us to believe today, but the first time an African American joined professional basketball wasn't until 1950 but that was just ONE player in the entire league. It wasn't really until the 1960s that African Americans began to become viable active members of professional basketball. The first Hispanic American in the league didn't join until Puerto Rican Butch Lee in 1978! Hard to believe.
        Other sports like golf and tennis and hockey seemed like they may never be racially integrated to many people who followed such things. But now of course anyone under the age of 30 in modern America cannot even imagine golf without Tiger Woods or tennis without the Williams sisters, and it's highly likely they don't even have memory of professional golf or tennis without black players. That's the environment that we live in today. It may have taken affirmative action practices like certain quotas of minorities a team must meet or race-based preferential treatment to get us to the place where we are now in professional sports, but by all accounts it appears that a person's skill and talent in a particular sport is what gets them in now and takes them to the top of that game. IF they're good enough. I believe the same principle should apply to our schools.
        Just to play devil's advocate, one certainly notices the severe lack of white players in the NBA. Of course no one is allowed to talk about that in American society for fear of being fired and having their entire life turned upside down, but from an objective viewpoint it would appear that white people just don't like to play professional basketball. Or perhaps they just aren't allowed or encouraged to play as much as black people..? We are assured this is not the case though and that it's all based solely on the players' skill and talent at the sport and nothing else. So what if it is? Should we not begin to require all major sports teams to have a certain number of white players on every team just to make it fair? It's a thought. Don' white players deserve to play as much as anyone else? Wouldn't the sport benefit from having a more diverse roster of players from different ethnicities?
        In times past a common phrase heard around the world in regards to America and race relations was that we may have made a lot of progress towards equal rights for all but that we still have a long way to go, especially in the arenas of civil service and politics. Hell I even remember people of both colors exclaiming that "I'll tell you this much, we'll never see a black president." Movies were made about the subject. They were always comedies, because the idea seemed so far fetched and ludicrous that it seemed downright comical to suggest such a thing. (Racism or just entertainment? Will we ever be able to laugh at such things without throwing someone under the bus?)
        Well lo and behold now this has changed too. There is a real live living breathing African American in the "White House" (how's that for American irony? There may be nothing to that oft heard idea of "American Exceptionalism" -- I can assure you there's not. Unless you count the variety of exclusively American ironies that abound in this great confounded nation.) The ONLY problem with the exuberant pride Americans take in electing a black president is that he isn't any more black than he is white. He's a genetically perfect mix of both races (colors? What is a "race" anyway?) We need to remind real racists of this... Obama's mother was white... They need to aim their irrational hatred towards someone else. But perhaps that's the true color-blind utopian future that human rights activists have been envisioning for centuries... All the races and nationalities need to just start making love and marrying until we fuck all the color differences right out of us. It would sure fix a lot of our problems.
        Regardless of the future of interracial marriage and free love, I believe that one can safely say that at a time and in a age when one of the most respected and feared men on the political stage of planet earth is a man of color, and Mayor Bloomberg shares control over the most important and powerful city in the free world, namely New York, with a black man, Jay Z (who has a reported net worth valued over 450 MILLION dollars, no one has the right (or at least certainly not the rational) to claim that people of color need to continue to receive hand outs or unfair advantages or benefits over and above anyone else just because of the color of their skin or their ancestors' history.
        When an African American man raised without a father by a single mother and his grandparents can rise up through the ranks of us all -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic and every color in between -- to become president of the United States, when he can claim that he's best friends with the two wealthiest people in the entertainment industry -- Oprah Winfrey and Jay Z, shoots hoops with the country's greatest basketball players like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and plays golf with one of the most winningest players to ever grace the fields of green, who also happens to be black, I'd say that we're not doing half as badly as people may want to still believe.
        If anything, we white males still left in America may soon be asking for some affirmative action of our own. 

Snowden and Hastings Signal a New Darkened America

        As NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden continues his escape from the hands of United States government officials abroad -- he left Hong Kong for Moscow on Sunday reports say -- news is continuing to leak about possible foul play in the auto accident that killed Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings. One can read the article here. (No need to rehash the details of the story here). Hastings is a hardcore journalist. Blew the lid off of several important stories over the years. He was being investigated by the FBI and at the same time was researching another explosive story about the government evidently; he sent a blind-copy broadcast email out to his friends and family alerting them to these facts and warning them that they would probably be questioned by the FBI in regards to him. Some believe the email itself to be suspicious, that perhaps Hastings didn't really send it. Others believe that it was he who sent it but that the panic in his tone of the email and the fact that he died a few hours after sending it is fishy.
        Earlier today we were catching up on the latest events related to Edward Snowden. Sunday's news shows were primarily quiet on the issue, except for the now-repugnant Meet the Press (David Gregory is destroying the once admirable benchmark Sunday news show formerly hosted by Tim Russert). Gregory spoke about Snowden as if he were a criminal and a fugitive, as if he had committed some kind of massive terrorist plot that killed hundreds of people -- no different than how the United States government is talking about and handling the Snowden leak.
        At this point we expect that from the United States government (not everyone who works for it, but a seemingly large majority of them); but not from journalists. I am not sure if one could call Gregory a "journalist" per se. He's more of a gossip monger and media whore for U.S. elected officials. But it was still surprising how willing he was to hang Snowden out to dry without any benefit of the doubt. Worse yet was Gregory's handling of his interview with fellow journalist, The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald. On live TV in front of potentially millions of viewers Gregory asked Greenwald whether he believed that he should be prosecuted “to the extent that you aided and abetted” Snowden.
        It was a shocking moment for anyone who understands what is happening in the United States at this time when it comes to American government tyranny and their broad-sweeping and consistent moves to lull citizens into thoughtless zombies with little or no rights. Gregory's question was shamelessly less a question and more of a statement -- a tactic he uses frequently in order to sneak his opinion into what should be objective journalistic dialogue; it was asinine to begin with because what person in their right mind would answer in the affirmative to such a question? "Yes David, I believe I should be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a criminal. In fact that's why I've come on your show, to turn myself in." So clearly David Gregory knew what the answer was going to be. The problem is he should never have asked the question. Especially now that even mainstream journalists in America are coming under attack so blatantly and on such a constant basis by the federal government for still attempting to do their job.
        [It should be pointed out that it isn't the media who is doing something wrong as of late by reporting on issues they suspect to be possibly illegal or harmful to the citizens or the republic by the current American government. The fact that they do not agree with what the government is doing or wants to do is what's at issue. The government is trying to brand anyone in the media who leans in a different direction as being partisan, or illegitimate or even criminal. They are doing the same thing with American citizens now too. But it isn't the job of the media nor the people to agree with or approve of what the government does. In fact some might argue that our mandate is the exact opposite of that, to keep the government in check. Unfortunately the current government of the United States no longer seems to recognize that they work FOR the people. The set up is quite ominous now. There is a strong sense of fear in the air now about not appearing too opposed to or critical of this particular White House administration. As if it's nearly a matter of life or death. The media for their part is still out there battling it out trying to do their job. At least some of them are. Fewer and fewer it seems.]
        And so it is now. Today is June 24th. The year is 2013. It doesn't FEEL like the United States of America anymore. There is a palpable sense of worry and fear in the air among most people regarding the American government. As if we are in the throes of breathing our last breaths before some major final calamity. There is something terrifying and ominous about the sitting U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama. It's not that people wish Mitt Romney were elected... (Republicans still do surely; but that isn't what's in the air.) It's more like this strange dark-hearted mystery character that no one really knew too much about is starting to show his true colors... a suspicious evil is slowly leaking from his pores and Americans can sense it. One might say it's a frightening unconscious awareness of just how wrong America got it when they jubilantly elected the man five years ago. But unfortunately it's not just a vibrational unconscious fear at play.
        There are very specific and overt reasons for America's pessimism and quick about-face in regards to Obama. There are so many heinous and egregious actions being taken by him and his administration both here at home and all over the globe that it's erased any sense of hope or positivity the country once felt when he was first elected a few years ago. Unmanned drone strikes kill inumerable people all over the world without anyone knowing except the government or the people doing the killing. Along with them, other more sinister "targeted assassinations" are also being carried out now on a regular basis in what is being called "America's Dirty Wars" in some fifty countries around the world. No congressional approval or declaration of war is necessary anymore. Obama writes a name on a piece of paper and a whole village in Yemen or Pakistan is bombed overnight, killing the man for suspected "terrorism" or even just hate-speech without an arrest or a trial AND countless innocent civilians along with him.
        It may sound outrageous, like some movie plot about a dystopian nightmare of some future fascist world, but it's happening now. And it's happening on a regular basis, everyday. Add to it the government's continued attack on privacy and civil liberties -- more now under the Obama administration than under the Bush/Cheney regime, their consistent attacks on media outlets, wire-tapping, giant spying programs that log ALL American citizens' call records and internet usage without their knowledge, more arrests for minor drug possession than any other sitting president, continued torture and force feeding of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, government support and protection for giant evil monoliths such as Monsanto despite loud protests by the majority of the people, and a slow and steady devastation of the air and water from fracking by big oil companies due to a lack of regulation and a complete disregard for environmental protection laws already on the books. On and on it goes.
        This is just a random list off the top of one person's head. With some study and research by a more knowledgeable person I am sure one would quickly become aware of many more countless harmful activities that are taking place that are not in the best interest of the American people. Unfortunately we're not even discussing the more sinister conspiratorial issues that are at the heart of America's downward spiral into indebtedness and decrepitude here. These are just the day to day news headlines that we live with on a daily basis now. And that's what makes it so damn sad. Bush was scary. No one will argue with that. At least his agenda was. But this is more than scary. It's terrifying. And sad. It feels as though America has quickly fallen into the hands of some kind of wicked police state overnight without our knowing. 
        Perhaps the worst part of it is that it appears that every time someone steps up to speak up or speak out against the U.S. government in today's world they mysteriously die of some odd unnatural causes. Or they are hunted down like a fugitive and imprisoned and never heard from again. It's making the Bush/Cheney years start to feel like the good old days. And that is a frightening prospect. If only it didn't feel so true.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What IS Real Music?

        Last night Vancouver and I were on the phone about the new album the band and I have been recording. I brought the hard drive that the whole album is on to his place in my suitcase when we flew to LA for the Sunset Sessions gig. Vancouver called me screaming that he had just listened to the tracks and had vomited in his mouth. He couldn't believe how raw and rough they sounded. He especially couldn't believe how insanely rough the drums sounded. I had told him I was bringing him "the finished tracks" so he could add all his parts. (This is a technique that is becoming more and more popular fyi for those who are not musicians. Transcendence is a band. The same band that has been touring and recording together for 11 years. Same guys. But we do presently happen to live in five different cities. All over the country. From Miami to Atlanta to New York to Seattle to Los Angeles. It's crazy. Normally we fly to one city to record. For the basic rhythm tracks for this new album we did. But then we parted ways. I've been recording my guitar parts in New York and my vocal parts in Seattle. Father Bloopy (now-The Ex Norwegian) adds his bass and keys and guitars in Miami. Vancouver will add his guitars and keys and vocals in LA. All through shipping hard drives around the country. It's a fascinating process. Sometimes if we are just doing one song, we will just fly the files over the internet. And yet the end result is still the same thing: a finished track. (the latest one I just described is about to appear in an upcoming sports film being released later in the year. We were never in the same room once together. But no one will ever know or even think about that aspect of it... They'll either "like" the song or not. This is a side note, but it's essence is actually pertinent to the major theme of this post.))
        Vancouver knew we had started tracking the project using v-drums triggering a multitude of high grade drum samples. It was an experiment based on several different needs at the time. Using drum samples is so common today that 98% of the music we hear on the radio is made that way. Even if the drummer of the group originally recorded his parts on real drums. Often times the mix engineer will substitute better sounding drum samples if he thinks he can improve the track or he wants it to sound more current or even if he just wants to change up the sound of the drums a bit from section to section. Again, most people don't know this. Then again, they don't care. They don't think about it.
        So The Ex Norwegian and The Poet and I fill Vancouver's head with days and days of stories about how incredible "the new stuff sounds". And he can't wait to power up this hard drive and listen to the tracks and start adding his parts to them. But I had brought the wrong hard drive to LA! So what he was listening to were the rough demos we did of the songs back in July of last year. He was aghast. He couldn't believe this was our idea of "amazing sounding finished songs". And for good reason. Demos can be notoriously shitty sounding. Even if you're used to listening to them as we are. But he had been set up to believe he was about to sky dive over the Grand Canyon with a choir of angels or something. And instead we throw him out of the back of a plane over a garbage heap with a couple of crack whores.  
         The conversation soon turned into a debate about using drum "samples" versus "real drums". (Drum samples are "real drums". But they are samples of real drums. The sound itself isn't being created there in that moment. The PART is being played live there in that moment. But the SOUND could have been created thirty years ago. Google it if you aren't familiar with the process.) Granted, in our genre of music, rock, (pop-rock in general -- ALL of the various different radio formats and genres and sub-genres included) we almost exclusively use real drums. Rock bands that is. Yes the engineer then replaces a good portion of them with what he considers "better sounding" real drum samples IF the band lets him or her do so; but the playing is all real, the feel is real, it's human. And that's what we the artists are used to. Again, the people, the music consuming public, has no idea that this paradigm or any debate about it one way or the other even exists.
        [It is still shocking, funny, twisted, trippy, controversial and disturbing to US, musicians, when we see an artist pretend to play live on TV with a little group of musicians behind them also pretending to play drums and bass and guitar and keyboard when we know that the album was almost entirely made on a keyboard and that those musicians were hired just to show up and pretend to be playing -- their mics aren't even turned up. It's still an "issue" for most musicians to see that. Especially if the singer is also pretending (lip-synching).]
          The conversation got me thinking about this whole ongoing debate about what is REAL music. To be fair, it's primarily only musicians that even think about this kind of thing. Music lovers especially casual ones don't seem to even know the difference between what we call "real" music, i.e. traditional music instruments being played, and "non-real" music, i.e. music that is made on computers or keyboards or beat/drum machines. But as much as non-musicians don't give a shit, musicians really give a shit. Trust me. They are ADAMANT about how important it is for music to be made on "real instruments". Typing it here it sounds ridiculously inane and funny. I know. But believe me, it's a subject that much passion goes into when you get a room full of musicians together.
        To my mind, though I used to agree with this sentiment and it's taken some getting used to, I just couldn't really rationalize it. I believe it's a generation thing more than anything... more on that later. I couldn't figure out why the rest of the world didnt seem to care as I and other musicians did... for example, EDM (electronic dance music) is the most popular music in the world today -- if we go by certain statistics... And it is made entirely on computers -- no "real" musical instruments involved. Why didn't average everyday people care "how" this or any other music is made? I struggled with this question for years. Both as an artist and as an ardent music lover.
        As a listener I could care less how the music I love is made. I LOVE Nabukazu Takemura. Everyone knows that. he makes "blip music". It's just a sound or two repeated over and over -- all chopped up using a laptop. For the most part. And if a band wants to go all keyboardy like Bowie did with Eno back in the mid-seventies, if i LIKED the music they produced, I didn't care HOW they made it. But why did I care as a musician? Why did it matter to me if a band used drum samples versus real drums? Or if a guitarist used a guitar amp modeling app from a computer instead of a Vox AC30 amplifier? No matter how I tried to piece my logic together I just could not rationalize my criticism.
        So I did what all musicians should do. I continued to contemplate it and feel into it and at the same time I listened to the Top 40 -- Billboard's Hot 100 list of the "most popular songs on radio and in sales" -- to try to get a better understanding of what the differences were. Truth be told, there are no differences in the bigger picture. The WAY that the music is being made may be different, but the passion and skill and sentiment behind it is still surprisingly the same. That' s why the average music listener or even the aficionado doesn't care or even notice. To them it's just MUSIC: a feeling and/or a thought expressed through the filter of the art and craft of music. They either vibe with it or they don't.
        I kept on listening to popular music. Not just the popular music that I perceived that I "liked". But ALL popular music. Studying. Learning. (I will grant anyone that the lyrics to 99% of popular music suck. That is, they just don't offer anything intelligent, meaningful or new. AND that popular music is for the most part ingratiatingly repetitive. Not only within the construct of the same song, but from song to song and artist to artist -- they all sound phenomenally similar. As if ONE artist made them all rather than 100 different artists (on the Hot 100 list for example). These are valid viewpoints. As valid as a purely subjective viewpoint can be that is. Most people share them. (this is a false and illogical attempt to rationalize a viewpoint, i.e. "everybody feels this way..." I know that). But to be fair, these aren't new ideas. Many people have this complaint about pop music. This is why the majority of popular music is geared towards and consumed and enjoyed by young people between the ages of 10 to 18; and why most people move beyond pop music once they reach a certain age. They are searching for more meaning, for something new, for more intelligence and variety lyrically, etc.
        One thing to bear in mind though is that we as young people don't listen to popular music because we like it or dislike it. We listen to it to be a part of a scene. To feel a part of something bigger than we are. Because most people -- or at least the perceived majority of people we come into contact with in school when young -- listen to whatever is being played on pop music radio and TV, we tune in in order to have knowledge of it and to share in that collective experience. Black sheep and outsiders, like myself when I was younger, do the exact same thing by taking an opposite approach. We fit into and become a part of a different scene by refusing to listen to what is popular on the radio and instead join a smaller niche group where everyone does that. But our primary goal often times at that age is just to be a part of something big due to our limited access and mobility.
        So yes, popular music does have it's limitations as mentioned above. Few would argue with these distinctive markers of popular music. There is only so much one can listen to songs exclusively about dancing, drinking, falling in love, making money and fucking to a 4/4 rhythm set to 120 beats per minute. I grant the music snobs that.) 
        But I did and do find a lot of the music that is popular today and has been since the beginning of the "popular music" concept first developed remarkably entertaining and intriguing. So I have continued to listen. Genre and format and "how it's made" be damned. It finally hit me one day while taking a walk outside to get some fresh air. It really shouldn't come down to "what instrument" is used to make music. As long as its "good music". Meaning that "we like it". Music like all art is completely subjective. Our perceived like or dislike of it IS purely subjective. So too is our transparent judgment of what makes it good or bad. Those are just terms we use to reflect what we like or don't like. This idea of course drives so-called music snobs CRAZY. They will scream and argue till they're blue and pass out that there IS a difference between "good and bad" music. That they can somehow qualify it. But they'd be lying; to whoever they're arguing with and to themselves. (It's much like the visual art world in that aspect.... What makes a valuable painting versus one that sells for $1 at a yard sale?)
        If we discovered a another species of conscious beings from another planet or solar system entirely who knew nothing about out music or how it is made and we played them a wide variety of music that has been created on planet earth over the last fifty years, they would have NO idea what we consider good or bad. They would have their own opinion and feelings about it. The last thing they would probably think about would be "what instrument is that song being played on?" They just wouldn't care because it wouldn't occur to them to care. 
        So whats to stop regular folk from worshiping the music of the Black Eyed Peas? or Drake? or Usher? or JT? or Kesha? Or anyone else they happen to love...? The same way musicians tend to love The Beatles or The Doors or Led Zeppelin or The Boss? So what if Kanye and Jay Z make their music on little MPC beat boxes or laptops or keyboards as opposed to on traditional musical instruments? Isn't that MORE inventive and innovative in a way? I began to see that perhaps it was. After all, any 13 year old can pick up a guitar and learn to play a power chord well enough once some overdrive is added to make it sound "cool/hip/authentic/real" and write a "song". But these new music makers (and they aren't really new anymore --(that's what I meant about this being a generational thing...) are pioneers in their quest to make music withOUT any traditional musical instruments. We can no longer use the term "real instrument" because what IS a REAL musical instrument? I would assert that it is ANYthing that one can make music on. So we are reduced logically to calling them what they are: traditional musical instruments, versus just "musical instruments".
         I began to see that the only reason we care is because we are musicians. It matters to us... For a variety of reasons. Sure. And there's nothing wrong with that. What's wrong is when these musicians use this idea to justify insulting or criticizing the music that others make just because they don't make it the same way that they do. Their true claim, their only claim, is that "they aren't making it using traditional music instruments". But what does that really matter? It's a principle issue. And all because of this illogical reason of "principle", many musicians are willing to ignore entire social trends of modernization and progress transpiring all around them in the art and music world.
        Some call these types "traditionalists". We've all heard the term before. In a variety of contexts. I've never liked tradition myself. I've spent my whole life trying to avoid it at all costs. Rock 'n' roll certainly didn't start off traditional. It was all about bucking the system and breaking with tradition. What's with this small group of close minded musicians who refuse to accept the various new methods and processes that their contemporaries are using to create music with? It's an odd anomaly when you consider it.
        I used to belong to this group until recently. I don't want to mislead or misrepresent. I have always been open to ANY kind of music, purity or tradition be damned; as a listener. I liked what I liked and that was that. But as a musician I must confess to playing the music snob millions of times when critiquing other musicians. Why now I don't really know. But that is pre-epiphany. The whole paradigm has changed for me now. I find music snobs annoying. The funny thing is that there are so many little sets and subsets of music snobs in every category of music, all claiming that the music that they like is the "best" or "only real" music. It's ridiculous. Pair up the classical music snobs against the indie rock snobs against the classic rock snobs and let them verbally duke it out for a few days or weeks. They'll eventually realize they're all saying the same thing based on early-adopted transparent beliefs that have no justification and make friends and laugh it off, or they're most likely mentally or emotionally challenged and we shoulnd't be entertaining adult dialogues with them in the first place.
        After all, it's this same group who 70 years ago protested against the "electrified guitar" versus a "real guitar", or 100 years ago complained about the switch from classical to pop composition not being "real music". Ten years ago you wouldn't catch a "real musician" recording "real music" into a computer (rather than onto analog tape) even if they were dead. Five years ago it was "they suck; they use autotune!" Now who in their right mind releases music withOUT autotune??? Perhaps only people who don't want to make living from making music. All of these distinctions eventually become arbitrary and archaic because society continues to move forward without us unless we r willing to keep up and embrace what it is we r actually doing: making popular music, i.e. making music that is popular with the masses as our job. To make our living.
         It took me a while but I actually love technology in music now and see no difference between a great guitarist or a great loop or beat creator. About eight years ago, I watched for the first time this DJ kid take our music -- as we were creating it in the studio on acoustic instruments -- and import it into his laptop every night and come up with the most insanely catchy "new" music from it by the time we arrived in the morning. Like totally new songs... The result can be heard on our All Your Heroes Become Villains album from 2011. We combined what we did and what he did to create an absolutely thrilling sound. It was like he had a whole different aesthetic and artform to music making than we did. Yet he was using OUR music... but making it all on his laptop. It was wild.  He couldn't play a note on a guitar or piano. But he could talk music and he understood music just as well as any of us did. [An interesting note: Our nomenclature is also different. Artists like him, Moby, David Guetta, Skrillex, Akufen, Jam and Lewis, Kanye, Mark Ronson, et al. DO have an entirely different way of speaking about music. They might not refer to notes and chords in the traditional sense. It may take traditional musicians some time to learn the vernacular of their style of music making, but the final result -- what everyone is going for -- is the same.]
         I have heard so many musicians over the last ten years attempt to qualify why and how their music is better because they play an instrument versus those who don't. They use terms like genuine or organic or authentic. But I believe that all those terms are more indicative of something mysterious inherent in the soul of the music rather than in how it's made. I have worked with too many "musicians" now who don't play a traditional instrument but they still believe they are organically creating "music" and so too do their fans. The DJ guys and beat maker guys. It's just a new form of music... It sprang up around us all while we were digging rock music. So maybe we missed it. But I've watched them. They're doing the same thing we are. Just on different instruments. It's a trip. It's glorious. Their inspiration is the same. Their commitment to purity and greatness. They know no different than how they make music. They never thought "hey I'm going to try to create music NOT on a traditional instrument. They take it for granted that that's how you make music. Just as many "rock" musicians know no difference. But it's all music.
        I look at it this way now: If an artist comes out one day whose main instrument is a cardboard shoebox and whale samples (weirder things have happened) and he finds a way to make it sound cool and it catches on and people like it, there is really NO way that someone can rationalize saying it's "bad music" -- just because it's created on a shoebox and not a "real instrument". They can try. But they'd just be spinning their wheels. No one would care. The song is already at #1 and now inspiring a whole new generation of kids to go find old shoeboxes and write hit songs on them. And THAT'S the real beauty of music/art. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

James Gandolfini and the 8 Foods We Eat in America That Are Banned in Other Countries

The news that Sopranos actor James Gandolfini had died on Wednesday hit most Americans with at least a little surprise. Death does that. It's so permanent. As sad as the event is to some, if not everyone, (especially those close to the man one assumes), there was an odd sense of something uncannily not surprising about it.

(I only met Gandolfini once. We shared a pleasant three hours together with a few other guys smoking cigars in Midtown Manhattan a few years ago. Though I would not classify us as being close, he was as nice a chap as anyone else you'd want to hang out with.) Wednesday's news could have been about anyone. In fact it was. James Gandolfini was after all just another one of the many thousands of people who die everyday. And lest we forget, approximately every four seconds someone on planet earth dies from hunger or thirst alone; in addition to all the people who pass on from accidents or natural causes.

The only reason this event received more attention than the ten to fifteen souls who died in the last sixty seconds while I was writing this will is because of America's insanely hard to rationalize obsession with Hollywood celebrities. There's no logic in it. No anthropological undercurrent of genetic or survival instincts at play. It's just a very strange disorder of priorities, most likely created by the evolution of American society into a thrill, luxury and pleasure seeking society as opposed to a day to day survival based one.

As I expressed through various social media a few moments after we heard the news, the biggest take away from Gandolfini's death -- besides the obvious empathy for his family, is just how young he was. Because life expectancy continues to increase as knowledge of health and wellness information expands and technology advances, 51 years today is what 31 used to be. Most men aren't even peaking in life yet in many Western and even Asian cultures. It's a terribly young age to die, as in the forever kind of death. In this regard its shocking and more than sad. Though for those who knew Gandolfini even from a distance it wasn't the craziest thing ever heard. He certainly didn't look 51. Personally I thought he was closer to 65. Not that that would be any less disturbing. 65 may have been a ripe old age to die once upon a time but these days it seems just plain tragic. The man did appear to be much older than he was and he certainly didn't appear to be healthy or even health conscious or concerned.

This got me to thinking about what a strange place the United States is in regards to our beloved capitalism and our health. On the one hand we pride ourselves on possessing one of the most liberal free markets in the world today, i.e. very few rules laws and regulations and thus an easy environment to make a ton of money in fast. On the other hand this has led us to simultaneously have one of the most inhumane and criminal set of circumstances and practices related to the public health. America is one of the only "civilized" or "first world" countries in the world where people can still be notoriously dishonest with each other to the point of killing each other in the name of making money. Whether it's poison food or deadly drugs and so-called medicines or environmental toxins in our air and water, it ain't hard to get away with committing alarmingly egregious acts in the name of business and free enterprise.

I've said it before but it's worth repeating. There is no way the average person in America could grow up here and raise a family and know how to live a healthy lifestyle unless they actually do a ton of research on their own and are willing to almost entirely buck the system and go against the status quo. If you just live your life doing what everyone else does or what you see illustrated in the mainstream or recommended by the medical establishment you're bound to get sick and die of unnatural causes. This is primarily due to the legal bribery and blackmail system that governs and controls the United States White House and Congress; they call it "lobbying". 99% of Americans don't even realize this is how the government works (or doesn't work better put), so they don't understand that there is a problem to fix. They assume everything is okay, safe, secure, been set up already, and all they have to do is follow the rules and they'll be fine. Little do we all know.

Only in America can you manufacture and sell poison food and get away with it while being fully aware that 1 out of 3 people will get cancer but be fine with it because "everybody does it." Below is an interesting article on 8 poisonous foods that Americans consume daily but are banned in other countries. You can see the list by clicking here.
And this list though shocking is actually pretty slim compared to the reality. It just touches the surface. Americans are so accustomed with the notion that most people get cancer and heart disease and Alzheimer's that they take it for granted. They seem to believe that these diseases are "natural causes". It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

There's more. Much more. Because the practice extends way beyond our food. It's the environment. The air. The water. Over the counter medicines and toiletries. Prescription medications. Doctors and the health care system. Everywhere you look you see blatant causes of America's leading causes of illness, premature aging and untimely death. And though there is common knowledge about these facts within the industries that produce these goods and provide these practices and within the government, the knowledge is not shared with the people because it would limit the amount of money that tens of thousands of American companies could generate unless they changed their business procedures and practices or their entire business model.

This would hurt the economy we are told. We have always been told this since the invention of invention and commerce. It's the oldest excuse in the world. And yet it is firmly held belief by many. A rallying cry of big and little business across the board. Fluoride is a great example. Cows milk is another. On and on. So for now, as things stand, each and every person in the States needs to look out for their own health and wellness and yet of their family. No federal agency or sitting president or mainstream media outlet or medical doctor is going to advise us to not grill meat because it causes cancer or not drink diet soda because it has been proven to make one MORE obese and cause brain tumors. This is all information one has to find out for themselves. It's unfortunate for the James Gandolfinis of the world. Whether they're famous actors or just good old fashioned regular folk.