Monday, May 16, 2022

Carry a Tuba, Be a Celebrity

You can make a living as a freelance musician in NYC if, and only if, you're able to chameleon yourself into any musical context (I wrote about my crazy musical promiscuity here and here), and double or triple up your gigs. You must work like a madman, and there's often no time to take a breath and register how odd your life has become. One particularly jam-packed day - June 9, 1993 - nudged into extreme oddness.

The night before, I'd played with my raucous brass band - veteran downtown players copping funky NOLA stylings with a boisterously avante perspective well ahead of its time. And the legendary Bob Dorough had driven in from Delaware Water Gap to sing a medley of his "Schoolhouse Rock" tunes with us, a decade before those 1970s gems came to be celebrated as a cultural touchstone.

We performed to an empty house at Greenwich Village's Gulf Coast restaurant, having chased away diners with our boisterousness - manager Jacqui Perrine (a helluva hip gal and friend-of-the-band), incensed that her customers didn't love us as much as she did, summed up her feelings tersely - "Fuck 'Em!" - and spent the night sashaying around the room in what was essentially a command performance.

The gig paid primarily in food and drink, and the latter rolled on until wee hours of the morning. So when my alarm clock blared the next morning at 8:30am, I was in un-fine fettle. Having hit "snooze" a few too many times, there was no time for shower or breakfast. I had to jump on a subway and go accompany a phalanx of giant trippy puppets (someone somewhere had gotten a grant) at World Trade Center as part of a lesbian drum band. All in a day's work.

I threw on a dilapidated tank top and shorts and dashed for the subway with my gigantic hundred year old sousaphone. Alas, in my stupor, I got on the green line rather than the red, necessitating a tricky cross-town transfer. So I emerged at City Hall Station in high dander, frantically flagging down taxis directly in front of City Hall, where a bored press gaggle was waiting for something newsworthy to happen.

A cab pulled up, and I instantly realized that I was about to make a spectacle of myself by trying to wedge an enormous sousaphone into a taxicab mere feet away from a phalanx of unoccupied photographers while in an unshaven, half-naked, and horrendously hungover condition. Oops.

The smart route would have been to disassemble the tuba to fit it into the cab, but that would take time I didn't have, so I tried to nonchalantly slip the sousaphone into the taxi, self-consciously aware that every choice was making things worse. And the damned thing absolutely would...not...fit. I began to panic at the sound of advancing footsteps behind me - the press surging en mass down the steps to grab a local color shot on a slow news day. "Grungy homeless musician comically tries to fit sousaphone in cab." Ha ha ha ha ha. Funny.

Finally, I braced my arms against the cab’s frame and impelled the tuba inward with my feet - success! - jumped in, slammed the door, and commanded the driver to move! I never looked back. If they'd shot my face, I'd have been recognizable...and disgusting. Hearing the clicks of multiple shutters behind me, I felt like Lady Di hightailing it away from paparazzi.

I arrived at my gig in the nick of time, sliding suavely into the queue of musicians as we emerged behind enormous puppets in the sunny plaza between the twin towers. Video cameras from all local TV news stations were there to excerpt the event. More press, argh!

As we finished up, I was ready to get home and finish cobbling together a night's sleep. But the band's trumpeter, my frequent musical co-conspirator and fellow non-lesbian non-drummer Frank London, suddenly announced that he and his girlfriend, Tine, had decided, spur of the moment, to get married. We were, after all, close to City Hall! So...would I come serve as tubist/witness?

The press, thankfully, had deserted City Hall. We found the marriage certificate office, Frank and Tine filled out paperwork, the judge did his bit, and I boomed some schizo-Mendelson on my sousaphone until staff from surrounding offices poked their heads in to request cessation with a gentility unique to NYC bureaucrats.

One can't get married without a celebration, so the plan was to head over to Odeon Restaurant - yet another crosstown jaunt. Frank (in shabby pawnshop tie, tails, and top hat) and Tine (in an improvised lacy white Bridezilla get-up) strutted proudly downstairs and west on Chambers Street, stalkishly followed by an incongruous hirsute brute bopping funky bass lines on a 19th century tuba.

We drew attention. And while I was as underdressed for a wedding as any human being since the late Mesolithic, I'd reached a point of glazed giddiness, finally going full-Jacqui. Fuck it!

The strut transformed into a boogie. We shimmied and jived and moon-walked to Odeon, with pedestrians and construction workers hollering in approval, some following us for a block or two.

En route, a guy came up to us, poking a professional-quality microphone in our faces. "I'm Brrbz Brrbzn from CBS national radio! Can you tell me what's happening here?" Frank and Tine gave him a nano-interview, I churned out some soulful bluesy licks on cue, and Brrbz was off, hollering over his shoulder that this would be heard by X million people later that day. Hey, more press!

We paraded to the restaurant, necks craning to fathom what seemed like some celeb "happening". The streets throbbed with music and cheers as Frank tipped his absurd Mad Tea Party top hat toward strangers left and right (also: above, as we were waved at from office windows).

I later learned that the silly WTC gig had been reported on all the local news that night (none had shown up for our historical brass band performance the previous day), and that the radio report was heard by some huge swathe of the American public (radio was still a thing back then). But I missed every bit of it, having yet another gig to play that same night, cleaned up in suit and tie, contributing dulcet trombone tones to some classy soiree. All in a day's work.

And while it can't be the only photo from my taxi fiasco that surfaced in print, I couldn’t miss this one on the cover of the following day's NY Times Metro Section:


Photographer Steve Hart, the NY Times rookie covering City Hall back then, has gone on to become a respected fine art photographer (seriously check out his stuff, it's great), but kindly took time to dredge up the original image:

The moral of the story: If you ever want to make an enormous impact, 1. bop around Manhattan with a huge antique sousaphone, and 2. steadfastly resist attention.

Oh, and the nationally-celebrated tuba is still with me, now a still-jaunty 130 years old. At this point, he's like a family member:

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Processing Process

I've been improving my preceding posting, "Process". Depending on when you read it, you might have missed the expanded introduction (now three paragraphs), or the note beneath the two paragraphs of "Oscillococcinum".

I also made myself look like slightly less of a maniac in the portrait of what my life would look like without intellectual self-constraint (under "the Stuffy Professor").

Plus various other clarifications.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Process

I've managed to tie together a few loose strands of thought and reduced them to something more succinct. One simple sentence, in fact.

There is risk to synopsis, however. Over-compress and the point might diminish into seeming-banality. Even the most transformational insight can be pounded thin into dry cliché. It’s just a question of how much juice you’re willing to drain in the interest of brevity.

Ideally, readers will rehydrate it via their own rumination. Aphorisms are the ancient version of compressing data for efficient storage and transfer. Processing power applied on the receiving end restores the intended nuance and vitality. So consider giving the opening sentence more than a nano-second of attention, despite its seeming easy banality!


If you get (really) good results, don't question your process.


Parables:
Oscillococcinum

Homeopathy is a crock. There's no evidence for its (ridiculous) underlying "theory", and there have been no proper scientific trials, to my knowledge, of any homeopathic drugs. It's a scam and a fraud. But Oscillococcinum, the popular homeopathic flu remedy, works for me.

It's effectiveness is just as likely due to some little girl in Utica having prayed for it to be so, or the pills containing alien entities, or the letters of Oscillococcinum adding up to "Jehovah", as the homeopathic explanation. "Insert nonsense here." I don't care. It works, and that's enough for me. If you get (really) good results, I don't question your process.

Note: good results don't prove the validity of the process. It takes more than a few data points to prove something. But proof is a far higher standard than practicality requires. Your success might be due to unknown factors, and your process might be a complete red herring. Fine! If it's working, don't look under the hood. It's not necessary to both succeed and explain how/why. Just keep going, and don't sweat naysayers - if, that is, you get (really) good results!
The Acupuncturist

I once knew an acupuncturist who got very good therapeutic results, and who was shockingly good at diagnosis. She'd know if your tumor had gotten worse. She could predict your blood test results. Stuff like that.

When I asked about her process, she demurred. Do I really want to know? I insisted, and she started telling me about how the earth spirits sing to her when she spins the....etc. etc. The audio mutes at that point, when I stopped paying attention.

It's not that I'd marked her as crazy, or a quack. Why would I do that? I'd most likely never believe in what she believed in, but I respected her results, regardless of how she got them. If you get (really) good results, I don't question your process.

The Car Detailer

I once wrote about a friend who details cars. His results, I swear to Jehovah, make your car look better than in the showroom. Better than the brochure. Not in some vulgar way. The finish isn't made extra shiny or sparkly. It's that your car gains an unmistakable classiness; a stateliness; a presence. It's eerie.

He's a genius who found a way. But for the yo-yos in the neighborhood (who'd readily concur re: his results), he's an "eccentric", because he doesn't do things the usual way (also: he's exuberant). In my profile of the guy, I wrote:
"Eccentric" means "odd and wrong". "Eccentric" people build perpetual motion machines, or believe they've found a way to communicate with the dead. They're absorbed in cranky, flaky quests which will never amount to much, but at least they're entertaining. It's a term of condescension; this is how we condescend to non-conformists. But is that an appropriate way to describe bona fide miracle workers?
You're not "eccentric" if you do better. Success should innoculate you from snark. If you get (really) good results, don't question your process.

Me

I talk to myself. A lot. Always have. My writing is just another channel in that outgoing stream.

At age 59 (and I've been everywhere, man), I've observed a large number of people talking to themselves. Some appear to be anxious, or to lack proper self-awareness. Many slide into reveries so readily that they lose touch with worldly experience. They're not here. In many/most cases, I'd use terms like "kooky" or "deranged" because insanity, as I once wrote, is the inability to reframe despite clear environmental cues. If you can't "read the room" - if you can't even perceive the room you're in - that's a problem. You will get poor life results until you manage to implant yourself in some semblance of a here-and-now.

Yet it goes without saying that reverie (deliberately light fixture in - or even temporary disconnection from - the here-and-now) does have its creative uses. I guess it's a matter of whether you can control it or not.

In my case, I verbalize thoughts and impulses to capture my intuitive flow. Unless I verbalize that stuff, it remains intuitive, steering "gut" and "heart", but entirely unavailable to my rational mind.

And the stuffy Victorian professor in my cranium needs to examine and make a ruling. It must all be crisply explained in nice clear words, dammit. Arranged into neatly digestible verbal cutlets. While the professor feels brilliantly robust, he's secretly quite feeble and needy. He easily grows upset and flustered if not fed properly. Hence the verbalized self-explanation.

I lacked this under-the-hood view for most of my life. All I knew was that I felt a mysterious compulsion to explain stuff to myself. I chalked it up to neurotic compulsiveness, and worried about myself....until years later, when it dawned on me that my process had worked tremendously well. This surprise came quite late in the game. Astonished, I gasped once I finally let myself see that I'd gotten really good results. It came as a surprise, and I realized that I didn't need to keep questioning my process.

The Stuffy Professor

If you don't understand the respiratory system, you might suspect that breathing itself is a neurotic compulsion. The stuffy Victorian Professor, in his boundless curiosity, might declare skepticism regarding this ridiculous huffing and puffing in which we endlessly engage.

Of course, that bodily function need not be thought about or declared upon. One might simply breathe, unexamined, as lamas and gerbils do. Let it be and go with the flow, baby. But a stuffy Victorian professor, in his staunch frosty rigor, won't shrug off doubts so easily. Skepticism compels examination. In time, the professor-in-your-head recognizes a proper basis for breathing and lets go. One can finally enjoy gerbil/lama breathing with no curious overseer injecting himself into the process. You got the stamp!

One might easily conclude that it's always better to go with the flow, baby. But, Jesus, imagine the potential disaster of an unexamined existence. Unchecked, I'd never cease chomping potato chips or chugging beer. I'd drive the wrong way down one-way roads (it's faster!), carry a gun and shoot awful people right in the head (I dislike them!), burn down my local Pizza Hut (eradicate shitty pizza!!), and randily hit on every attractive woman I ever encountered (ooh, shiny!!!).

Unchecked, id is horrendous. And it's checked not just by superego - conscience, shame, and moral compass - but also by knowledge and rationality. So we need to scrutinize gut feelings and apparently natural processes for bona-fide utility. And, even beyond that filtration point, the Professor is still more useful for fine-tuning and optimization. That's his jam!

Back to Me Again

The intuition that's laboriously been verbalized for my brain - logged via an outflow of words, both written and vocalized - has, to my utter shock, produced good results. And if you get good results, don't question your process!

Thanks for your suspicions, professor, but this process has proven beneficial. Scrutinize other stuff!

Youthful Processes

Young people don't know if their process works. They lack sufficient evidence. Without a track record of success to consider, who knows; your process might be wrong-headed! At very least, skeptical scrutiny is called for.

Ceaseless self-narration, for example, might represent disruptive anxiety rather than a mental logbook of insight and epiphany. There's no single recipe; no master list distinguishing fruitful, proper processes from ditzy, anxious, backfiring ones. We're all unique.
And that's precisely why you must never question someone's process - or your own - if it gets (really) good results!

The proof's in the pudding! By their deeds you will know them!
So I don't know what to tell people under 40, aside from the postcard I sent forward, as a child, to my adult self, reminding me
Be kinder to yourself.
Keep self-assessing - stay skeptical! - but maybe don't be the very harshest of hard-asses.

On the other hand, like anything else, self-kindness isn't the best process for all people in all scenarios. That's why I also sent along a caveat:
...but don't make a crutch out of it.

Screens

Why am I not a full-out digital nomad?

Screens.

Most people work on at least a 27" computer screen. But when traveling, you have to make do with 15". And most people watch at least a 55" television. But when traveling, you need to make do with 15". A bit larger if you stay in hotels.

After making do with a 15" laptop for a week or two, upon returning home you'll feel considerable relief plugging back into a comfortable work set up, and plopping down for evening entertainment on a decent sized TV. It's not an enormous sacrifice, but it's a big reason to come home. Cut that tie, and everything changes for a bunch of people.

You can fix part of this, if you're wealthy and insane, by buying a $2000 flight case for your 27" computer monitor and shlepping it around with you, paying overweight baggage fees. Of course, you're still sacrificing, just in a different way! But nobody takes their TV with them.

If I could have reasonable screens away from home, I'd feel at home anywhere, both working and relaxing. But it's simply not possible. This heightens the magnetic attraction of my house.

Millions find themselves in this predicament without realizing. Travelers in 1875 didn't complain about being out of touch with friends back home. It's one of the traveler's inherent sacrifices. How could I possibly talk to Ruthie if Ruthie's not here with me? I’ll be back in a week! Talk then!

But hook Ruthie up with a phone, or a Zoom, and we realize what we’d been putting up with.

If I could stretch or unfold some portable rectangle to 27" or 55", my ties to home would loosen substantially (I'd likely buy more of my books on Kindle and scan more of my paperwork to further cut those ties).

This tech advance is so necessary - a serious chunk of society bursts with the need, whether we recognize it or not - that it's simply got to happen, and soon.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Two Post-COVID Social Anomalies

Two post-COVID social anomalies:

1. Everyone Thinks We Can Read Their Mind

In the middle of a discussion of house prices, a friend suddenly declared "Three Monks!" and peered at me expectantly. Not playfully. No rakishly cocked eyebrow. He wasn't inviting me to solve the mystery. This wasn't a Jeopardy moment, he expected me to parse his declaration and keep going.

Confused, I asked him to explain.
"That's the beer!"

"The beer...uh, well, I've heard of Three Monks beer. But how does that pertain to house prices?"

"Remember how last month I was trying to think of that beer I liked?"

"No."

"Well, that's the name. Three Monks"
This happens a lot. Almost constantly. Here’s how I believe it plays out: “The random thing which just fired in my cortex must be meaningful for you, because my thought-stream is paramount. After all, that's where all of this is happening.”

Last week, someone began to update a friend of mine about someone named "Raquel". My friend asked who this Raquel person is.
"You know, Raquel! Bobby's wife!"

"Who's Bobby?"

"My neighbor!"

"I've never met Bobby or Raquel."

"How is that possible?"

"There are literally billions of people I've never met. Also, I've never even been to your house."

"But I thought you knew everyone!"
It's all happening in my mindspace. You exist in my mindspace. How can you not be intimately familiar with the flow of thoughts through my mindspace, or with the other objects existing in my mindspace?


2. Knowing Who You Are Doesn't Elevate the Relationship

Say there's a clerk you see regularly, but who treats you brusquely, like a random customer. You figure she doesn't remember you. One day, you approach, start to identify yourself, and she interrupts.

She knows who you are. You don't need to say your name.

But there's no eye contact, no human engagement. She remains every bit as brusque and impersonal as if you were a random stranger. You've gone from being a random NPC (non-player character) to being an NPC with a name.

This never happened to me before COVID. Once people knew my name, there would be some minimal level of human interaction. "Hey, Karla." "Oh, hi, Jim." No more. Now I’m expected to silently approach and accept my takeout order or prescription or paperwork, exactly like before, but without self-identifying. Like an 18th century Russian serf grimly awaiting his weekly potato.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Not Hollering at the Pharmacist

I returned from the pharmacy with two paper bags with my old-dude pills. Ripped them open. One contained, instead of my prescription, an open bottle of Ibuprofen. Whaaaat?

Being a prudent person, I carefully checked the packaging. No other bottle. And as my indignance grew, I began rehearsing my speech to the pharmacist. Why a speech? Because everything about pharmacies these days is messed up. I was already on my last nerve.

In my imagination, the pharmacist insisted she'd filled it right, and I took her to task, emphasizing the LIFE OR DEATH nature of her sacred mission and scolding her for blame-shifting when she owed me an APOLOGY.

Before driving back to the pharma to speak my lines and retrieve my pills, I figured I'd hastily double-check the discarded packaging. And there, of course, was my correct pill bottle. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what getting old is like.

Three takeaways:
1. When things get weird, check twice.

2. Raise your anger threshold every year. Otherwise you WILL be "that guy". The older you get, the less you must holler. Burn that into your brain. Old people hollering cluelessly is like Jewish stinginess or black people publicly eating watermelon. Go the other way! Do not give them the satisfaction!

3. Napoleon's great quote, "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence," has a corollary for the over-55 set: "Never ascribe to society's decline that which is adequately explained by your decline."

I still don't know how the Ibuprofen got into my hand. Must have been on the shelf next to me. The older I get, the more strangely objects behave.


See more posts about aging here, and more amusing anecdotes here, and more "funny" postings here (notice the index of "labels" - aka tags - in the left margin, below "Popular Entries").

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Antidote

I surely don't have any strident extremists reading along at this point. They hate calm, reasonable centrism even more than they hate the opposite extremists. Above all, extremists hate having their perspective shifted. They like it RIGHT WHERE IT IS.

But this morning I jumped into a Facebook group to make my usual maddeningly complacent case for calm and blessing-counting, and drew the familiar patronization (that's easy for me to say; I don't understand how terrible things are, etc etc).

I posted the following response and....nada. I actually shut everyone up, en masse.

I shut everyone up. In the midst of a contentious social media thread. In 2022. I'm here rubbing my eyes, unsure what to do with a magic ring this powerful. Anyone know a volcano I can toss it into?

It appears that I've stumbled upon the antidote:

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Competition

I am not competitive. Not the least bit.

Why would you suppose this is? Docility? Low testosterone? Complacency?

No. It's because I try my best.

To a few readers, that made sense. But let me draw the connection for those who don't immediately understand.

I do my very best, and let the chips fall. It's a simple maxim, and I like simple maxims. But here's the problem with this one - a problem I struggled with for 50 years: sometimes the chips fall and you still don't win. Sometimes the chips fall and you don't win even though you did something terrific while everyone else just dicked around.

Such scenarios are not merely "disappointing". Psychologists say that if a lab rat is randomly rewarded or punished for the same behavior, the rat will lose its hair, age prematurely, and go insane. So if you ever find yourself caught in a system where reward and punishment are doled out with bafflingly randomness, you have three options:
1. Lose your hair and go insane.

2. Armor your ego and develope a snarling self-confidence that "they" are wrong idiots and you hate them and don't care about them at all and you didn't want to go to the prom anyway.

3. Meditate, a lot, until whatever happens makes you giggle.
If #3 sounds a bit like drugs, alcohol, and other familiar escape hatches, that's only a superficial similarity. Those routes scramble you so you can't think, and blind you from seeing. With meditation, you see and think clearly, but reframe it all from a lofty enough height that it just doesn't matter.

Here's the missing chunk: don't just let the chips fall, but don't even hang around for the tally. Once you’ve done your thing, act like a movie star walking away from a burning building. Not superior, and not disenchanted. Just already on to the next thing.
I've gone extreme. I entirely eschew Skinner Boxes. I don't grab at trinkets. I don't seek wins or validation or kudos. I've been through all that, experiencing both profusion and scarcity, and am no longer opted-in to the process (see this important posting). But given that the world is nothing but Skinner boxes, what's left if you reject all that?

Doing your best. Always doing your best. That's what's left when the smoke clears and the insanity subsides. That's the solid ground.

Do you know that jaded feeling when people have too much candy or sex, or so many possessions that they need a bigger house? Human beings are famous for becoming inured. Take that recognition one step further, and you'll notice that the prizes - the finger traps and waffle parties and YOUR BIRTHDAY - are hilariously chintzy to begin with. Yet we keep striving, driven mad by the desire for the same sad, crappy prizes. We never learn!

The only thing that never gets old; never gets dull; never ceases to satisfy; is the satisfaction of a job well done (or, at least, a full effort given). The satisfaction of trying your best and letting the chips fall.

Competitive people have an aversion to trying hard, so they require motivation. They need provocation. They need some shiny shitty trinket to grab for. That's why they're competitive. Competitive people take a detour from Doing The Thing by watching themselves as they do the thing. People who simply do the thing, devotedly, have no use for trinkets or other red herrings. They don't watch themselves on a big screen in their mind’s eye. They just work. Like maniacs.

Most people are remarkably disinterested in the thing they've devoted themselves to doing. It's all just props for the pose; an excuse to compete for the crappy trinkets which are their one true love. They live their lives pining for yet more Skinner boxes, playing video games to the 16,000th tediously repetitive level in order to add the blue sapphire to their on-screen meaningless abstract trophy case.

They're expending energy and pumping emotion and imagining themselves to be trying their best, as an abstract simulation - almost a parody - of people who really do try their best. But it's all about the meaningless abstract trophy case. It’s all about the greater flaunting. All about them.  A whole other framing!

Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.

If you truly want to sing, it doesn't matter how other people sing, or how people view your singing. Just sing! Do the thing you say you want to do! Give it all you've got....without framing yourself as "The Hero Who Gives it all S/He's Got". Skip that detour. Just sing, and walk away non-chalantly. The chips may or may not flow your way, but the chips are just stupid chips.


Confession: I can be passive-competitive. Just as one can be aggressive without being aggressive, one can be competitive without being competitive. I make hay with the line, falsely attributed to Sun Tzu, that “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by." I know how to wait.

Napoleon said "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." I would add that human beings are constantly making mistakes. Again, all you need to do is wait.

We human beings are so flawed that if you just wait, your competitors (even if you're not competing, that doesn't mean phalanxes of people aren't competing with you!) will inevitably hoist themselves by their own petards.

You don't need to stop in order to wait. Keep on going, but pause your assessment. Action continues, expectation suspends. That's how I beat the golden adonis Ricky in a ping pong tournament when I was literally the worst player. As I recounted here:
When Ricky's shots, humming with topspin, sizzled toward my side of the table, I'd simply return them. Clunk. Right down the middle of the table. Nothing fancy. No english. No pace. Just a big, dumb, clunking return - volley after volley, point after point. And Ricky, sensing my strategy, began tightening up, returning my cloddish volleys with increasingly hostile smashes....some of which missed. Meanwhile, none of mine missed. Clunk. Right down the middle. Clunk. Clunk.

I won, of course. And, of course, he refused to shake my hand. Poor guy. I may, to this day, be the worst thing that ever happened to him; the sole blot on Ricky's otherwise immaculately golden life record. Here's to you, Ricky, and the botoxed pilates teacher with whom I visualize you sipping overly buttery Chardonnay in your Malibu hot tub. Remember me by my sound: "Clunk".
This was me that summer. Fearsome, no?

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Empathizing With Pro-Gun People

A compromise on abortion would be possible if both sides would be more honest about their actual feelings. The problem is that in bipoloar societies, both sides crouch into unnaturally extreme positions to avoid giving ground to the other side...even though they're often far closer to each other than they'd ever imagined. Same with guns. Same with loads of things. One might almost get the impression that forces are at work to artificially divide the population, provoking anger and fear.

Here's my posting from 2012. It starts with guns and analogizes to abortion, but the argument would work equally well the other way.


Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a lot of people saying stuff like this:
I don't like guns, and I would never own one. It's not my culture. But I have nothing against hunters and others who use firearms responsibly, and I don't want to see their guns taken away. I respect the second amendment, but I want sanity. I don't want weapons sold without background checks, I don't want assault weaponry available, and I don't want to see private citizens building huge arsenals.
I've written something similar, myself (check out, by the way, the story of how the Australians accomplished all these things).

This tack is helpful. Because for people whose culture does involve the responsible ownership and use of firearms, whenever they hear people from other cultures talking about gun control, they sense a trap - an attempt to engage a process leading to no more guns for anyone anywhere ever. And, of course, that's not paranoia. There is a core of extreme anti-gun sentiment, and, like the anti-smoking movement, and many other "anti-" movements, the favored strategy is gradual erosion. If gun owners don't aggressively oppose all regulation, they fear they'll eventually need to kiss goodbye yet another aspect of their traditional way of life, upended by sanctimonious people in faraway places with different values and customs.

I believe many - though certainly not all - gun owners agree with the rest of us about assault weapons, background checks, and crazy arsenals. So why aren't they saying so? They're silent because they've been backed into a defensive posture. Any concession might aid those hoping to completely revoke their right.

If you're a liberal who has trouble relating to this, consider your position on abortion (assuming you're pro-choice). You would likely acknowledge, privately, that abortion is much more than a mere run-of-the-mill medical procedure. But you'd never concede that publicly, because you consider the right of access to abortions critical, and there are sanctimonious people in faraway places with different values and customs who want to revoke that right.

All things being equal, you might be open to sane regulation discouraging irresponsible folks from blithely considering abortion to be just another tool in their contraception arsenal, and to ensure it's used only as a last resort, and with responsibility, thoughtfulness, and respect. That's the sort of responsible behavior most pro-choice advocates work to protect.

But all things aren't equal. If abortion proponents conceded any of that, they'd be aiding those hoping to completely revoke their right. As with gun rights proponents, political pressure makes public posturing more extreme than private perspective, and makes reasonable people appear to support appalling behavior. And so the many sensible people on both sides, who actually share common ground, choose an extremist line. Such is life in a starkly binary political climate.

I'm not saying it's a perfect analogy. But it doesn't need to be. There's enough symmetry there to feel empathy with the other side, and to understand why they - and we - seem crazy.

Of course, there are also gun advocates who favor arming society to the teeth. Rather than restricting guns, they'd allow them to flow like candy, and we'll fix school violence by arming teachers (read some wittily pragmatic thoughts from a teacher friend of mine). I've not yet found a way to empathize with that perspective.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

TV Stuff

See previous TV postings in reverse chronological order by hitting the "Television" label in the left margin. If you're lazy, just go here. Here's the most recent extensive retrospective rundown.


Severance (on AppleTV+) is a mindfuck series straight out of the kooky PBS dramas of the 70s (The Prisoner being the most obvious, but I particularly remember "Steambath", where the patrons of a grimy NYC steambath gradually realize they're in the afterlife and the Puerto Rican kid who handles the towels might be God).

It's very measured, teasing out its premise cagily, but when you see the series finale, you'll understand why. Eight episodes methodically coil a spring that releases in glorious catharsis in that finale, which has an unheard-of 9.8/10 rating on IMDB, rivaling the "International Asassin" episode of The Leftovers, my favorite single episode of TV (so great that I nearly can't handle it). FYI, my second favorite was this Doctor Who. The Severance finale would be a close #3.

Note: rewatch the finale. It's intended to be viewed twice.

Cockpit Casual (on YouTube) is great but impossible to describe. Sort of a chill aviation chowhounding travel show featuring the music of the pilot/creator's jazz guitarist father. Watch the 10 minute preview, and here are all the episodes.

I did not like Yellowstone. I did like 1883 (on Paramount+), a prequel from the same people. I might have enjoyed 1883 less if I'd seen Yellowstone first. Do with this info what you'd like. But if you're interested in luxuriously-shot western panoramas, fine acting (including Sam Elliott at his best), and a plot you don't need to follow real closely, bask in the untold millions it cost to produce this thing. The catch is you'll need to sign up for a month or two of Paramount+. But if you're not darting in and out of streaming services - a month here and a month there - you're not doing it right.

Better Call Saul (on AMC) is killing it this season.


Less recommended:

Pachinko (on Apple), a would-be sweeping inter-generational epic about Japanese mistreatment of Koreans, starts off good, but doesn't tie anything together, leaving a mess. Seems like most viewers, touched by the heavy-handed heart-wrenching victimhood, didn't mind, but I have a persistent need for things to make sense (in 20 years, that utterance will strike people's ears as evidently autistic).

Russian Doll gets great reviews, and I made it through season 1, but in season 2 all characters sound exactly like star/creator/writer Natasha Lyonne. Many puppets, one mouth. That familiar blunder of unchecked auteur excess drives me nuts. I am also not nearly as charmed by Natasha Lyonne's character as Natasha Lyonne appears to be. So many female show-runners strive (consciously or not) to be Mary Tyler Moore, offering series as proof-of-concept of their own delightfulness (most recently Better Things comes to mind). Moore did it transparently, and we fell in love with Mary Richards organically. But ever since, creators see it as a model to solicit adoration of their irresistible irrepressibility. They yearn to throw their hats in the air, freeze frame it, and turn the world on with her smile.

Raised by Wolves started off stiff and dry and, this last season, dissolved into a plume of useless sawdust.

Peacemaker is by far the best manic comic strip show. The quirks are extravagantly self-conscious (it's not only women making flagrant bids for quirk adoration), but there's some genuine brilliance. Yet the nutritional value was awfully low.

Righteous Gemstones is a very good and well-crafted show needlessly wrapped in stupendously dumb and gratuitous vulgarity. It's like The Wire with dick jokes; Succession with literal feces filling the screen. It's like they shot it, realized it was way too good, and had a roomful of semi-illiterate 14 year olds give it a polishing pass.

I can't forgive Station Eleven. One of my favorite things to ponder is post-apocalyptic flourishing. Outpouring of humanity and creativity under impediment. Rising to occasions and refocusing on fundamentals. Station Eleven treats the scenario with shallow actorly pretentiousness, like a project workshopped by the dramatics department at Topeka State University. So heavy-handed, so maddeningly untrue to its proposition. The world blows up and it's just like summer drama camp.

Maniac (on Netflix) was pretty good, but yet another self-consciously clever omnibus. An entire genre appears to have sprung out of Legion, which I loved, but which was too kooky for mainstream audiences. The pitch these days, I suppose, is "Like Legion, only a bit more grounded!" Which makes as much sense as "Like Salvador Dali, but a little less surreal." Just watch Legion! But don't expect it to make sense (yes, I'm a hypocrite, but so are all of you, suddenly developing antipathy to incoherence whenever stuff gets genuinely creative!).

Foundation (on Apple) was, alas, unbearable. It made Westworld look coherent.


On Deck:

New season of My Brilliant Friend
Starstruck
Slings and Arrows
Detectorists
Hawkeye on Disney+ (starring Tony Dalton from Better Call Saul)
Wolf Hall
Rake on Amazon
Paul
Spiral
Un Village Francais
Travelers on Netflix

And, once I finally hook up Hulu: The Great, Dropout, and Difficult People.


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