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An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump –

Congratulations on your ascendancy to the presidency. You did it: you managed to con your way into the highest office in the land and you broke new records in doing it – not the records that you so blithely lie to the American public about, knowing full well that your claims are false, but the real record, the one that  you already know—and as many of us all know as well—that you lost the popular vote by an “unpresidented3 MILLION votes. You lost by over 2%, which, using historic election math—in any other period in history that is not now— would mean that you lost.  And yet…here you are.

Much of the world continues to sit in shell shock, feeling paralyzed by the reality and gravity of the situation, but our horror is beginning to fade as we begin to mobilize against you and your crooked band of cronies who appear poised like never before to rape and pillage the American social safety net and this country’s economy while declaring a virtual war on the very constitution that our principles are based on.

But hey – you found your tribe: The GOP. While they may not consider you a part of their tribe, you are now in bed with the party of the aging conservative white guys, fearful, paranoid, selfish, self-righteous sexist men who tend bristle to people-of-color; who tend bristle at people who have different orientations than them; who tend bristle at people (like us) who believe that we (meaning society) should all be allowed to make our own choices about things that relate directly to our own lives. You have put on a display that has made so many in your tribe bristle at their new leader. They have no choice, but still – you are an embarrassment – even to them.

Petulant Baby Man

You sir, are a petulant, arrogant bully and an unapologetic misogynist. These are not characteristics that you should be proud of. You conduct yourself like a child and clearly do not have the mental or emotional fortitude to conduct yourself in a fashion befitting this particular office. You are a coward hiding behind your thin veil of braggadocio and it seems plain that you are interested in this office more for the attention that your outrageous theatrics garner, than the fact that you could do actual work with an interest in trying to better our country.  It’s obvious that you have little interest in the vast majority of us who were born into a much less privileged social caste than you:  You hold a clear disdain for the great bulk of those of us who make up the fabric of this American Society and in fact it appears that you have a disdain for the great majority of people on this earth.

And with this, I can’t help but wonder why you ever ran in the first place. I think at first it was little more than a stunt to boost your brand, with a different set of future plans in mind. As things took a course that none of us (including you) ever considered viable, I imagine that you and your insecure inner-child finally saw an escape from the shadow of your father, Fred Trump, the man who legitimately built a real estate empire, and without whom you would have nothing. His “loan” of approximately $9 Million against your future inheritance—money that was essentially given to you to begin your professional career— is easily five times the total amount of money that the average person in America will earn their entire lifetime.

And still…you failed.

In 1990, your real estate, airline and casino empire effectively collapsed. These series of events have been very well documented, and yet you’ve continued to lie to world about the prowess of your acumen as a businessman.  You managed to escape the total implosion of your “empire” by effectively conning the banks to give you tens of millions of additional dollars while deferring interest on almost a billion dollars.  You are a charlatan and a fraud.

I believe that deep in your core, this reality nags at you, and I believe that’s why you refuse to release your taxes – not so much to hide the almost certain shady business dealings that you’re engaged in, but ultimately because it would reveal that your earnings are in fact minuscule compared to what you would have people believe, and because you do not want us to see how deeply you’re in debt.  I’m guessing tens of millions of dollars.  I believe that this is perhaps your single biggest fear: that you will be exposed and ultimately remembered as a con man and a fraud. Millions of us have already arrived at that conclusion.

And now, completely in over your head, you’re trying to run a country as you would another one of your corrupt business ventures, but the business of government doesn’t run like you’ve been conducting your presidency during your first week in office. You— the proverbial bull in the china shop— think that you can just sign executive orders and treat the office like a monarchy, but you will quickly see the wheels of government, Congress and the multitude of others in government slowly grinding down. You’ll get a couple weeks free-ride, but already, in your first week you’ve been handed your first defeat.  There will be many many more. Your “job” will cease to be “fun.” The protest movements that you are so beautifully fueling (thank you), will continue to grow and unify.  You will see reality as it really exists. Or maybe you don’t have that capacity.

I was one of the estimated 750,000 people who attended the Woman’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017 – Internationally it was probably the biggest protest march in history, with over 3 MILLION in attendance in the U.S. alone.  Your response was a display of childish anger that your pitiable inauguration attendance numbers were overshadowed by the remarkable outpouring of resistance against your agenda – one that is aimed squarely against us.

Womens March - January 21, 2017

Your inability to accept reality, you inability to display any impulse control, and your childish outbursts are all clear signs of a person with severe mental health issues.

I am no therapist, nor do I work in mental health, but I am well read (something that cannot be said of you sir), and happen to know a fair bit about mental health disorders as a result.

Keith Olbermann did a fine job in pointing out how clearly unstable you are, an opinion that many of have shared for the better part of the last two years.

It seems clear to me that you suffer from some form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). From Wikipedia, “NPD is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them.” In other words, YOU.

John D. Gartner, from Johns Hopkins University Medical School is a professional however, and his opinion of you is that you are a malignant narcissist and says that you are “dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”

I wish it was as simple as just that.  Of much greater concern is the fact that you display all the characteristics of a psychopath.  The criteria according to the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) share some of the same traits of NPD, but ultimately extend well beyond: lack of empathy, cold-heartedness, emotionally shallow, a general lack of any personal responsibility (i.e. your always being the victim, while you have no personal accountability), pathological lying, egocentricity and a reckless impulsivity.

Dan P. McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, noted that you are: “extremely disagreeable, narcissistic, and filled with anger.” Not a diagnosis per se, but none are qualities that would typically be attributed to somebody who of a stable mental capacity.

The question as to whether you might in fact have a form of dementia and are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, something your own father suffered from towards the end of his life seems valid as well.  Your speech is frequently disjointed to the point of incoherence; you are easily irritable, often paranoid and appear from your late night Twitter rampages to suffer from insomnia.  These are all clinical signs on early onset Alzheimer’s.

Interestingly enough, these are also signs frequently associated with Addiction to amphetamines.  The prescriptions you received for the “diet drug,” Tenuate Dospan in the ‘80s have been documented, and your erratic behaviors (including your bizarre performances in the debates you lost against Hillary Clinton), suggest use of some sort of amphetamine-like substance. If any of the suggestions above are even remotely accurate, I would be doubly concerned that you might have a substance abuse issue on top of your apparent mental illness. Together, the combination would be as dangerous as it seems that you may in fact well be.

I had a dream about you a few nights ago. You and I were together in the duplex I used to live in during my twenties, and in the dream I was the age I am now, and you and I had known each other a couple of decades earlier.  You had already become president, and I was genuinely alarmed at the decisions you had been making, and how you had somehow become so seemingly evil since we had last been in touch. I was asking you how you could be doing such awful things against humanity. I was pleading with you, believing that you surely must still have some shred of dignity and compassion left in you. And then I awoke out of the dream. I tried to slip back into sleep, but the emotion from the dream felt so toxic that I had to get out of bed and walk around: I had to fully wake up before going back to bed because I did not want to slip back into that same state of mind.

This however is not a dream. This is real. This is a nightmare, and I am awake. I know that I am under attack. My brothers and sisters are all under attack. We see you as a threat. You are clearly vindictive, but you cannot successfully wage war against an entire population. We will #resist, and while we are aware that we will not win every battle, do not be mistaken: We WILL win the fight.


Posted in Politics & History.

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2016 is a thing of the past. Let’s leave it behind.

2016 was a tough one for many of us. I know it was for me. The pop icon death toll was heavy. Bowie’s passing took me out at the knees. Prince and Leonard Cohen rocked me pretty hard as well, but we lost a bunch of others who further made last year one of the heavier years in terms of loss that I can remember. Just a few short days after Bowie, we lost Alan Rickman, and from there, it just never seemed to end.

Leon Russell, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake both of ELP, Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley and Sir George Martin.

Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Tom Hayden, Elie Wiesel, Harper Lee, Edward Albee, Morley Safer, Garry Marshall, Carrie Fisher followed by her mother Debbie Reynolds the very next day!

And then of course we have the mind-numbing ascent of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. That’s a lot of bitter pills to swallow in a relatively short window of time.

In Chinese Astrology, 2016 has been the year of the Red Fire Monkey, and the Monkey has been a busy boy – manipulative and mettlesome, dismissive and reckless. I understand that many of your might consider anything astrological to be a nonsense, and that’s fine…but I’m not done.

Fire Monkey

For me, an Ox, 2016 was supposed to be a year where I planted seeds of radical change. Indeed, in taking a good inventory, it has been just that. In January, Patty and I purchased property in Joshua Tree – two dwellings on 5 acres, one of them attached to an enormous garage, a space that will eventually become a desert studio of sorts. Our home of the last dozen years was put on the market and sold, so that we could have the money to begin work on the place in JT. We are now renting a condo, which is in itself, a new set of things to get accustomed to.

In 2016, I made the decision to go sober. Some days are easier than I would have ever expected; others, not so much. Clear signs that my (relatively new) job will not last too far into this new year have become abundantly clear. I should be upset, but I am not. I will simply look forward towards better opportunities where my talents can be better utilized. I have always landed on my feet. I cannot imagine living my life any other way.

I have an old friend Camille, a lovely Leo with a wonderful mind who posted some wise words to reflect on:

“The silliest thing we could possibly do right now is be that old dying generation [who] laments reality and is blinded to the possibilities before us… Magic is all around us. Listen for it. It wouldn’t hurt you to believe in great things….Life is living all around you.”

She is on course, spot on. We cannot live in the past, and when we do, we deprive ourselves of the magic and beauty of everything we should recognize and embrace each and every day. These words from Alan Watts sums it up nicely:

We have lost a lot of iconic figures, yes, but their passing should serve as reminders that we need to up our game; we need to stoke the fires of our creative selves to further edify the lives of those that are the closest to each of us.

We are facing a political morass that portends some rough years ahead – absolutely. So stay vigilant and stand strong against that which you know is wrong. Refuse complacency. Reject evil intention.

We can, and should make a difference in whatever ways we are capable. We need to lead with love and compassion, but don’t be mistaken – we can still be fierce.

If 2016 is the year to begin laying foundations, 2017 is the year to commence with the actualization.

2018 will be about fruition. I am up for the challenge and ready for the ride.

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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America, What Have You Done?

America has just done the unthinkable. Somehow, against all better sense, and in opposition to almost every single poll and predicative data model, it has elected as its next president, a man who has unapologetically flaunted himself as a xenophobe, a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe, a liar, a bully, emotionally unstable and a narcissist.

370 prominent economists signed an open letter issuing a strong warning against voting for Trump, describing him as a “dangerous, destructive choice” for America. I didn’t seem to help.

Aaron Sorkin—in a letter to his daughters—described Trump as a “thoroughly incompetent pig with dangerous ideas, a serious psychiatric disorder, no knowledge of the world and no curiosity to learn.”

Even Trump’s own autobiographical ghostwriter Tony Schwartz warned that if Trump is elected President, that, “the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn…that he couldn’t care less about them.”

This country has just signed up for a four year prison sentence – one that will largely result in the unraveling of much of the progress we’ve seen over the last 8 years under the Obama administration. Of even greater concern are the appointments that will be made to the Supreme Court – those will have a sweeping resonance that will be felt for the next two to three decades. Mike Pence has already said that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned if he and Trump get into the Whitehouse. This administration’s SCOTUS appointments could go a long way to see that pledge become a reality.

How is it that this man, who easily fits the definition of a psychopath, was able to win the adoration and support of so many millions of people? This is our next president. A vulgar human being with no empathy for people in need, a man who displays a visible disdain for the bulk of the American people who are struggling just to keep their head above water. And the most baffling part of the equation – These are the same people who most likely came out and supported him in the largest numbers, voting against their best interests. These are the people who are most easily manipulated by the fear of “the other.”

Some will argue that it was due to the votes that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson pulled from Clinton was just enough to tip the scales, and for what it’s worth, they may well be right. Neither of the mainstream candidates managed to receive 50% of the votes cast.

But I think there’s something much bigger at play. We’ve been watching it for the last decade, if not longer.

During the financial meltdown, great swaths of our population had become dispossessed; they had seen (and continue to witness) the staggering momentum of the growing income inequality; they have become painfully aware that the financial sector and lobbyists control the decisions that get made in big government, and as a result that they are the beneficiaries as well.  These are the people who have become disenfranchised in every aspect of their lives, and have rightfully come to feel righteously indignant towards our nation’s government. These people have come to believe that there is nothing left to lose. For many of them, that belief is correct, and for many of them, they are us.

These sentiments have been felt across the entire political spectrum. The anger and disenfranchisement has become part and parcel of the very fabric of our political consciousness. I believe that these are the forces spawned both the modern Tea Party as well as the Occupy movement five years later. Bernie Sanders’ ascent was the opposite end of the same spectrum that brought forth the supporters of our now future president, and once the information that the DNC colluded to keep Sanders from any real shot at the nomination became public, a powerful block of energized voters suddenly felt doubly marginalized by the political establishment that they were already feeling so much anger and frustration towards. The DNC made a fatal judgment error and now the rest of us are going to pay the price. As a result, voter turnout in 2016 was unimpressive.

2016 marked the first time in Unites States history when voter registration crossed the 200 million mark (200,081,377 if you want exact numbers), and yet the total number of votes cast in the this presidential election was 128,843,000.

2016 Electoral Map

Let’s break that down. ~64.4% of the people registered to vote actually showed up at the polls, and the remaining ~35.6% (71,238,377 million people) did not participate – more than actually voted for either Clinton or Trump.

Clinton received 59,923,033 votes (47.7%) and Trump received 59,692,978 votes (47.5%). In the grand scheme, this margin is razor thin, but the fact remains that she received 230,055 more votes than he did. This is significant and points to the ultimate flaw in the Electoral College system. Trump is the fifth president in U.S. history who has won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote.  The last time was George W’s first term in 2000. The last time before that was in 1888.

[Note: while you typically see Voter Turnout rate listed closer to 55.6 %, that percentage is based on the percentage of V.A.P. (Voting Age Population) as opposed to actual registered voters – I prefer to calculate the number on actual registered voters – that is why my numbers  appear higher]

When you compare this with the presidential election from four years before, the difference is notable. In 2012, there were 146,311,000 registered voters in the U.S. and 129,085,410 of those people turned out to the polls. Of those votes cast, Romney received 60,933,504 votes and Obama received 65,915,795 votes. So, by comparison ~88% of the registered voters made it to the polls and the losing candidate (Romney) received more votes in 2012 than either Clinton or Trump did in 2016. And there were 50 million FEWER register voters in America in 2012! Let that sink in.

Andrew Sullivan’s article America and the Abyss just days before the election portended some catastrophic times coming our way explaining that Trump has “long treated the truth as entirely instrumental to his momentary personal interests,” and points to the fact that with a Trump presidency, a Fascist ideology will be voted into power. Thank you America.

I expect that the GOP will be emboldened to a degree that will make the last eight years of obstructionism seem like child’s play. And the last eight years will only be the beginning, if they get their way. Things are going to get really uncomfortable for those of us who identify as progressives and liberals, and for those who cast their vote in support of this vindictive, thin-skinned megalomaniac, the reality of what they’ve done will begin to sink in as this administration slowly does what they can to unravel what social safety nets do exist.

Neal Gabler opened his post-Election article, Farewell, America with the following:

“America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.”

Indeed. I have seen a slice of America that I never wanted to believe truly existed, at least not to this degree. I believe we are entering into a sad chapter for our nation, and while I refuse to believe that the sky is crashing down upon us, I cannot support an administration that stands so violently in opposition to everything I believe in.

It’s okay to stand against that which is wrong.

Posted in Politics & History.

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Going Sober

I don’t know if this decision has been months or years, or even decades in the making, but I do know that there has been a definite shift in my thinking.

To stop drinking that is.

I don’t pretend that this will be an easy thing, because the fact is, I like drinking alcohol. I love the complexities and subtleties of a good glass of red wine, as well as in a good bourbon or rye. I also enjoy the euphoric qualities that I get from alcohol…until the enjoyment stops.

In high school I smoked weed regularly, and for my last couple of years, was a regular wake-and-baker. It never interfered with my studies or ability to get good grades, but for most of that time I felt conflicted because I never really liked how it made me feel. And yet, I continued to smoke for many years.

I moved to Seattle a month or two before my twentieth birthday, and it was shortly after that, that I quit. Pot and I were never friends, and yet I spent years of my life trying to make it work. I have no explanation as to why. I just did, and when I finally arrived at the decision to stop, it was clear to me that it was what I needed to do in my life.

This feels similar.

Line 'em up!

In general, regardless of how much I am enjoying drinking in the moment, invariably at some point I find myself not enjoying it, and yet I often keep drinking. Other times, I drink half a glass of wine and start feeling a headache, or just physically off and I’ll dump the remainder of my glass into Patty’s glass and call it a night.

These are inconsistent behaviors, and it bugs me that sometimes it appears that I have will-power to respect my own boundaries, and other times I don’t stop even when I know I should. Does this mean that I’m an alcoholic or do I have “alcoholic tendencies?” Is that even a thing? Am I a part-time alcoholic? Is there any such thing as that? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

What does matter however is the recognition that my body has begun to protest in different ways pretty much every time I drink. I get preemptive hangover headaches; I feel fatigue; my digestive system gets upset; I can’t sleep. More than that, I don’t believe it’s good for my general mental state of mind, and it definitely is not good for me emotionally. I am a depressive by nature, and drinking does not improve that particular tendency. More often than not, I experience a general depressive state the day after I’ve been drinking, and I have spent too many years trying to keep my dark passenger at bay to find this acceptable.

What also matters is the fact that I am a child of addicts. My father has spent the majority of his life as a fairly severe alcoholic, and my mother got strung out on heroin when I was seven. She spent a chunk of her life doing dope, and even after stopping, spent the remainder of her life being sustained by methadone. If that’s not the perfect stage for a kid hardwired for substance abuse, then I don’t know what is. With that in mind, I’ve been damned lucky. I have many friends who are thankfully in AA, because in their earlier life, their drinking had taken them to the brink of implosion. I have never experienced that particular downward spiral, and for that, I am truly grateful. But as mentioned, it seems that I might have “alcoholic tendencies,” and considering everything, perhaps that’s enough. If I drink too much with any sort of frequency, then I probably shouldn’t drink at all. And, by my estimation, I do.

So. I’ve decided to stop.

Initially, I started telling people that it was maybe just for this month, or that maybe it was just for the duration of the year, but I realize that is just a chicken shit way of leaving myself an out in case I slip. And I very well might, but if I am serious about this decision, I need to make it with absolute clarity and intention.  Without that it’s just a flavor-of-the-week, and I want this to be more than that. No self-righteousness or judgment towards others. I will need to teach myself how to be with friends who are drinking and be centered in my decision to abstain. That’s really why I decided to write this – to state this publically so that I can hold myself to my own words and my own intention.

All about the Goose

Hello soda-and-lime.

Posted in Personal Ramblings.

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The Best Films of 2015 – My 2016 List of Favorites

Scrambling like a maniac to get this post out before heading out the door to our favorite annual Oscar party where it’s my hope to once again win the pool as I managed to last year. I do this list each year, and as always, these are not my predictions, but rather my personal list of favorites from the previous year. This year lots of tips of the hat to a few really great documentaries, some disappointment that The Good Dinosaur didn’t get nominated, and some genuine befuddlement that The Martian got as much attention as it did…let’s not even get started on some of the most ridiculous science scenarios that I just could not get over.

Mad Max: Fury Road

#1 – Mad Max: Fury Road
Hands- down my favorite movie of the year. It should win every category that it’s nominated in, but will most likely only win in technical categories and potentially (hopefully) for costumes, production design and film editing as well. Effectively twenty years since the screen was first finished, this post- apocalyptic heavy-metal joy ride is true to the dystopian original, The Road Warrior, is so pumped up on high-octane angst and exhilaration, that we ride along in what I consider to be THE action movie of the new millennium. This film effectively delivers on the promise of everything we always hoped that Mad Max could ultimately be, and is perhaps among the most fulfilling film experiences I’ve had in years.

#2 – The Revenant
The film that will almost certainly land Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar is a remarkable feat of filmmaking. Beautifully shot, The Revenant is epic in scope. A brutal and grueling tale of fur trappers in the early nineteenth century in Montana and South Dakota, the film is a classic man against all odds story of survival, tenacity and sheer force of will. Seemingly impossible to fathom, the story is purportedly based on an actual account of one Hugh Glass who apparently endured all the grueling punishment that we watch in awe and horror as the spectacle of The Revenant unfolds. Alejandro G. Iñárritu has delivered one of the great films of his, and will likely win for the second year in a row, and while it is a remarkable film is deserving, it is still not Mad Max; Fury Road.

#3 – The Big Short
Ugh. Yes, it is that good. You could call it a horror story, only it all really happened and we all had the displeasure of having to live through it. The Big Short is a scathing indictment of the events that eventually led to the real-estate /financial meltdown that were the result of the deregulation of the financial industry during the Bush/Cheney regime. Complex schemes and the sheer voracity and greed of big business and Wall Street are handily explained in this page-turner of a movie. Great performances help propel The Big Short to greatness. Highly recommended to anyone who still feels confused about what the hell it was exactly that happened in America that created the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

#4 – Amy
Amy is the Music Documentary of the year as well as documentary of the year. I was pretty upset when the news hit that Amy Winehouse died. This film succeeds in telling the story of one of the more meteoritic rises to fame and the subsequent plunge into the ultimate demise. Amy strips away the entire tabloid manufactured perception of who we think she was and instead uncovers a sweet, passionate talent doing her best to navigate the choppy waters of the media juggernaut, of celebrity and wealth. Tons of unseen private footage gives us an unprecedented look into a young woman who has a great talent, but is simply trying to find her way through the pressure cooker of life under a microscope. Exhilarating and infuriating, v cuts through the false pretense and gives us a glimpse of a venerable and lovable life marred by the insatiable hunger of the cruel media world.

#5 – Lambert & Stamp
A very close second to Amy, Lambert & Stamp is an engrossing documentary that shows how a young couple of entrepreneurial young British men, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, with no prior managerial experience, effectively adopted a young band—The Who—and managed to propel them to the heights of global stardom during the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is a directorial first from Cinematographer James Cooper, and is utterly compelling. The film is about the Who, but is as the title suggests more about this odd-couple team, and is from beginning-to-end a fun and sometimes bittersweet account of two men who most of us were likely never even remotely aware of prior to the making of this film.

#6 – Ex Machina
While I expect Alecia Vikander to win for best supporting actress for her work in The Danish Girl, I preferred her in Ex Machina. I also preferred this film as well. Ex Machina seems like a David Fincher film, but it’s not. A sci-fi suspense flick, Ex Machina explores the extent to which Artificial Intelligence can cross over into the realm of the undetectable and becomes unsettling as we begin to wonder who it is that is ultimately being tricked and manipulated.

#7 – Room
Edge-of-your-seat, uncomfortable and deeply emotional, Room tells the dark story of a young woman held captive in a single room and her son, Jack who has never known anything outside of the four walls that is the entirety of this reality. While most of the attention has been (and my guess as well will be on Oscar night) on Brie Larson, I think the ultimate treat is young Jacob Tremblay, who plays her son, both inside and during the second half, when they manage to escape and Jack first experiences the world outside of the four walls of Room. There is a lot about this film to get unsettled about, but in the end, it is story about the enduring power of love and devotion, and is a film that packs a lot more emotional punch than you might expect from reading this or another random review.

#8 – Spotlight
Untangling the web of deceit and conspiracy within the Catholic Church, Spotlight tells the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the world when it uncovered. The systemic sexual abuse had been going on in the Catholic Church and the decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment. This is not exactly what you’d call a feel-good romp; you cannot help but to feel angry and disgusted our three heroes uncover layer upon layer of one pedophile priest after another.

#9 – What Happened, Miss Simone?
#3 best music documentary of the year. More to come when I have the time to finish.

#10 – Best of Enemies
Since I still have to shower before hitting the brown carpet, I will come back with my review of this later…either tonight or after work tomorrow night. Watch the trailer and just know that it’s great.

Posted in Art & Design, Film & Video.

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Bernie vs. Hillary – It is, but It isn’t

I recently read a piece that opened with “As Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have become head-to-head rivals, their denizens have begun attacking each other, the Democratic Party eating itself like a snake that loves science and Planned Parenthood. And things have gotten ugly.” I have been watching this on Facebook, and indeed it appears to be true and frankly rather disappointing.  I’ve witnessed so many people who I consider to be intelligent thinking individuals, jumping on the band wagon, quick to bash each other, as well as whichever other democratic candidate they’re opposed to during this pre-election neurosis.

Personally, I’m sick of it.

I get it. You like Hillary; You like Bernie. I like Bernie–hell, I think he’s fantastic. He speaks most directly to what I believe in, and even at age seventy four, after thirty five years in office, he is still an idealist whose commitments are as passionate now as they were when he began his political career in 1971. I genuinely hope he gets the nomination as the democratic candidate for the 45th president of the United States. It may well happen, but it also may well not, and if it ends up being Hillary, she has my vote. Will I be as excited as I would be for Bernie? No, but I refuse to engage in Hillary bashing, as I think there is more at stake between the ideologies of the two parties than between these two candidates.

The Democratic Candidates

Is Hillary more closely tied to Wall Street and the political establishment? You bet. That said, she’s ultimately still on the same team. I completely reject the assertion that she is more like a Republican than she is a Democrat. I am even more tired hearing folks who insist that Democrats and Republicans are essentially all the same. That argument is lazy and ill-informed. If anybody doubts that, they might want to spend a little time doing some research and see how each party stacks up on Reproductive Rights, Healthcare, Social Security, Equal Pay, Tax Reform, Gun Control, Gay Rights and Education. Are Hillary and Bernie entirely aligned in these areas? No, but compared to any of the candidates vying to the GOP nomination, the contrast is stark and defining.  Even more critical to consider: whoever wins the next election, they will almost certainly have control over the next one, if not two Supreme Court Justices. That—more than anything—will have the most lasting influence on legislation in the decades to come, and over many of the key issues listed above. Don’t think that the GOP is not painfully aware of this fact.

So seriously, people need to shut it with the anti-Hillary hate-speech. The GOP is most often the party who lead their attacks and manipulate their constituency using hate and fear. I thought we were the party who were supposed to be above all that.

People are just being passionate, is that it? That’s great, but being passionate is not an acceptable excuse for being antagonistic and judgmental, especially if it’s not even backed up with an informed and well-reasoned point of view. I am seeing so many Democrats engaging in Neanderthal bombast and histrionic hissy fits that are really only fitting for the throngs of Trump supporters, high on misplaced outrage and low on IQ.

Maybe that’s it: Perhaps the Trump attack methodology has actually rubbed off on so many of my friends who are engaging in rhetoric that seems seriously out of character. It’s a strange thing to watch.

The “debate” that is going on between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters is not healthy for the Democratic party as a whole, unless it really is a debate. A heated and passionate one is fine, but it should still be civil and respectful. More important in my mind however, I believe we should be more concerned with what sort of future would we be looking at if somebody like Cruz or Trump were to ascend to the highest seat of power in the land. That thought makes me wince.

Anybody should feel free to disagree, but I hope they take the time to know what they’re talking about and do their damnedest to have a civil dialogue. Nobody has to like both candidates, but everyone may have to accept that the one they prefer may not be the one who’ll be running in the end. I may well have to accept that as well.

I just hope that it’s Bernie.

Posted in Politics & History.

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Bowie’s Gone and I Feel Lost

It’s been a week since the passing of David Bowie, and as much as I try, I cannot shake it. Feeling lost is really the only way that this can be described, but it’s difficult to reconcile how hard this has hit me having never even met the man.

And like so many of us, he feels so much a part of me and so with his departure from this plane, it feels as if a piece of me has died as well. So much of his music has unwittingly become a part of the fabric and filter of how I hear music, of how I think about music. It’s been this way for a long time, and his departure has left me feeling stunned.

David Bowie

I am not alone in this feeling. So many of my friends on Facebook have been experiencing the same unshakable feeling of emptiness, and I don’t know that any of us can fully articulate why this particular loss has been so hard. We just know that it does. It aches. Many of my friends find themselves crying uncontrollably at different times during the day(s). They try to find meaning, but there isn’t any.  I haven’t been able to cry, but it’s right there under the surface and feels like it could burst at any moment. But it doesn’t.

I showed up late to the party. It was the summer of 1980 and had just turned nineteen in Rotterdam a week or two before.  My friend Aaron Berg and I were about two thirds through a ten-week bicycle tour of Europe. We were staying for a week in Amsterdam with the family of a friend and co-worker, Simon Van Waay, a wonderfully sparkling Dutch man who—in his eighties—had a spirit younger than most of the students that came in and out of the campus bookstore where he and I worked together.

It was nice staying in an actual house with real beds and bathrooms: most of our trip was being done with sleeping bags, bedrolls and a tent, staying wherever we ended up each day at dusk.

On the second or third day of our stay in Amsterdam, I got hit with an ugly virus. For the better part of two days, my fever held at 102, and even after it broke, I was weak and spent, unable to do much of anything. During the days, I was mostly alone, with Aaron out exploring the city, our hosts at work and their kids doing whatever it is that Dutch kids do in the summertime.

My one saving grace was the stereo in that house, and while many of the records were by artists that I was either unfamiliar with or unimpressed by, there was one— the timeless, magnificent Hunky Dory. During those sick days, I listened almost exclusively to this record, unable to believe the depth and breadth of the music, the lyrical calligraphy, and the adventurous range of it all. My entire concept of what popular music could be was being turned on its head, and I felt as if I was being transformed in a way that only those life-changing records in our lives can do.

Before Europe, I had already resolved that I wanted to become a musician and that would eventually play in a band that wrote and played original material. This new discovery was fuel like nothing I could have imagined.

Prior to Europe I had certainly heard “Changes,” “Fame” and “Rebel Rebel” on the radio, however I never paid them much attention, as I had been more entrenched with prog-rock, fusion and jazz during my last two years on high school. Realizing that this gem was almost a decade old at the time of my discovery was in itself unfathomable. If Hunky Dory record was this visionary, I wondered what the rest of Bowie’s output was like. I had become a fascinated devotee of this strange creature, and was about to embark on one of the more obsessive musical explorations of my life.

After Europe, I visited my friends Tom and Ben for a month in Seattle, where they had an apartment to themselves while their father was teaching English on a boat somewhere in the Philippines. He had paid the rent in advance, and left the place in the hands of his two teenage sons, my two best friends at the time.

Ben, Tom and Daniel - Seattle, 1980

We had virtually no money, but somehow managed to scrounge food and the occasional beer. At the center of everything that went on in that apartment was a turntable and a small but impressive selection of records. A couple of the records that will forever be tied to the memories from that party month are Ziggy Stardust, and the then recently-released Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), to this day still easily one of my favorite records by Bowie.

After my visit to Seattle, I spent nine months living with my grandparents in Redondo Beach, working and saving my money for my eventual move to Seattle. I bought my first guitar, a six-string Ovation. I began teaching myself songs. One of them was “Andy Warhol” from Hunky Dory. I also started teaching myself “OhYou Pretty Things” on my grandparents’ piano.  I was working at Millie Riera’s Seafood Grotto,  with people who were all in their twenties and thirties, and they were more than happy to further open my eyes and ears to more Bowie. I became deeply obsessed with Station to Station, Low and my favorite at that time, “Heroes.” A couple of my more savvy co-workers took things a step further, and made a point of turning me on to Brian Eno and in particular, Another Green World, Before and After Science and Music for Films, all records that I became infatuated with in parallel with my new-found devotion to Bowie.

In the summer of 1981, I finally moved to Seattle, a city that would remain my home for the next 22 years. I ended up playing in several bands, the most notable of which was Skin Yard, an outfit that I co-founded with Jack Endino. Our first show was in the summer of 1985, during the earliest days of the scene that would eventually be known as Grunge. At first we did not really fit with much of the music that was contemporary to us. Our singer, Ben McMillan was often criticized for being “too Bowie-esque,” and indeed, Ben was a BIG Bowie fan. Keep in mind that this criticism was leveled at a time when Bowie’s most recent recordings were Let’s Dance and Tonight. These were records that were the very antithesis of what our burgeoning music scene was about, however Ben’s influence was ultimately rooted in the earlier material from before Scary Monsters. The first cover that Skin Yard ever ever did was “She Shook Me Cold” from The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie’s second release. We released a live recording of the song as a bonus track to our first record when it came out on CD. I still think it is a worthy (if not bombastic and sloppy) rendition.

None of this however, gets the meat of what it is…was… about Bowie that has so many of us feeling such a sense of anguish in his death. What was/is it about him that has left us with such a sense of pain and loss?

His presence was magnetic and his talent utterly breathtaking. He was always an anomaly, intensely public, yet intensely private at the same time. A dichotomy that seems near impossible, yet he managed to glide effortlessly between them.

His creative genius is unparalleled, and even though he laid a few eggs in my book (everything after Scary Monsters and before The Buddha of Suburbia, and then again his records Hours and Reality), his albums individually are more innovative than the entire catalogs of most artists. Bowie’s “bad” albums (see above, and feel free to disagree) would be a remarkable achievement for the average mediocre band whose music fills the airwaves today. I can only imagine what it must be like to have to try to measure all your new work against a bar that was set so high – a bar that you set yourself. It’s like Martin Scorcese trying to make another brilliant piece of work after having released Taxi Driver… It took him a while.

I think for many, David Bowie is the artist that most inexorably marks their musical life, and it’s pretty easy to fathom that we’ll never experience another artist in our lives that will have the creative impact and influence this Bowie’s work has imprinted on all of us. It’s more than his music: It’s his essence. It permeates the ether, and now with his final record “,”he’s left as an enduring gift, a deliberate and thankful goodbye to all of us, and the most elegant departure, with Lazarus as the signature and his final parting glance. Contextualizing this final release as part of his greater oeuvre is nothing short of mind-blowing.

Many of us share a certain connection with each other based the shared love we have for Bowie, and in the ways that his music has altered the ways that we reflect on music, think about ourselves and about how to better live creative lives.

With his passing, we have ultimately lost a part of ourselves, but if you try to consider a world where he never existed, where these gifts were never known, we would have to consider entirely different versions of ourselves as well.

For this, I am deeply grateful. His life contains lessons on how we can better live our own lives. That said, shaking this is still gonna take more time.

I can't concentrate

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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Too Many Guns, Too Many Dead

I grew up at a time when Viet Nam played front and center in the lives of our nation, when the war was being broadcast in unedited detail on our television sets every single night. It was a horrible thing to behold, and was literally tearing the consciousness and the social fabric of this country apart.  I was raised by people who believed that our participation in that war was unwarranted and unconscionable. As a kid, I used to have regular nightmares of war. I joined my mom in several protests against the war, a war that we as a nation finally succeeded in ending largely due to the veracity and persistence of protest here and around the world. These experiences, along with the many assassinations and murders that were occurring during the sixties and seventies, firmly cemented my steadfast opposition to the obsessive culture of guns that has infected these United States of America.

Guns and Country

Many years ago, when I was still living in Seattle, at one of the parties that I threw throughout the year, I had a friend walk up to me and inform me that one of the guests was—apparently—carrying a concealed loaded handgun. He was a friend-of-a-friend who was also at the party, so he—like my friends—was welcome as well. His gun however was not.

A little dumbfounded, I walked up to the man and welcomed him to my party and then cut to the chase.

I said “I need to ask you a question. A friend of mine informed me that you are carrying a loaded weapon on your person. Is this true?”

He said that yes, in fact it was true. He was polite about it.

I said, “I need to ask that you take your gun out and put in your car.”

A little incredulous he asked, “Are you serious?”

I told him that I was and said that either the gun needed to be removed from the party or he would need to leave himself.  I assured him that he was welcome, but that his gun was not. He pondered this for a moment, and then left. He was unwilling to remove the gun from under his jacket.  I was more than a little surprised, but accepted that his perceived “right to carry a loaded weapon” was more important to him than an evening engaging with a house full of fantastic and fascinating people.  I still reflect on this and am reminded how skewed some people’s ideology is from mine.

I am writing this post in the wake of the recent shootings of nine attendees at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 18, 2015 by one Dylann Roof.  I have been thinking a lot about the epidemic of public mass murders in our country and have reached something of an emotional breaking point.

Jon Stewart spoke for so many of us I think in his sad and seemingly desperate response to the incident, a video that took over my Facebook feed as so many of my friends were seemingly feeling just as distraught as I was.

Charleston is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of killings. Remember Isla Vista on May 23, 2014? 7 dead, 14 wounded. Remember Fort Hood on April 2, 2014? 4 Dead, 14 wounded. Remember Washington D.C. on September 16, 2013? 13 killed, 3 wounded. Remember Santa Monica June 7, 2013? 5 Killed. Remember Newtown on December 14, 2012 (Sandy Hook Elementary School)? 27 killed, I wounded. Remember Brookfield on October 21. 2012? 3 dead, 4 wounded. Remember Minneapolis on September 27 2012? 7 killed, 2 wounded. Remember Oak Creek on August 5, 2012? 6 killed, 3 wounded. Remember Aurora on July 20, 2012? 12 killed, 70 wounded. I could keep going, because the list seems inexhaustible.  The majority of these murder sprees were executed using assault rifles.

There are another three dozen that I did not list since Columbine. Remember Columbine on April 20, 1999? 15 Dead, 24 wounded.

I have a number of friends who debate the tired and faulty Second Amendment argument, that we are guaranteed the right to own firearms in America, but this is a red herring.  It is also lazy.

Discussions about the Second Amendment is not about the right to own a firearm (presumably for the purpose of hunting, “recreation” or self-defense), it was created at a time before we had an organized military as a part of our country.   In this last century, the language has been perverted to extend to the ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles—weapons created purely for killing and for war—as somehow being our god-given right.

I call bullshit.

The simple fact is that we have the single highest per-capita gun ownership of any county in the world. Some claim that we have more guns in America than we have people, but these numbers are debatable. Wikipedia says that the number is approximately 88 guns per 100 residents. In either case, is this something that we should be proud of?

Guns Ownership in America
And with more guns, it just so happens that the U.S. has far more gun-related killings than any other developed country: Each year, more than 30,000 people die in the United States in firearm-related incidents (over a third of those are murders and almost two thirds of those are suicides).

Gun Murder Rates Around the World

In a 2013 article for The Atlantic online that compared gun homicides in US cities to some of the deadliest places in the world, the authors created a map, that shows that a number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world:  Atlanta has the same gun murder rate as South Africa, Detroit as El Salvador, Phoenix equal to Mexico’s gun homicide rate. The article goes on to point out that if New Orleans were a country, it would rank second in the world for homicide.

Homicides by State Compared to Countries

So with the single highest per capita rate of ownership and the highest rate of gun-related killings than any other developed country, why is there such a virulent fight for the right to own even more?  We seem to hold on for dear life to our right to “bear arms,” and as seems to be the American way, enough is never enough. What is wrong with us? Maybe it’s time to reassess.

Back to the gun fanatics reading this, please take note that NOBODY is looking to strip the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights, so please –leave that argument at the door.

In an OpEd from John Paul Stevens (an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010), he makes the point that it was generally understood in legal circles that the Second Amendment specifically limited the scope to uses of arms that were related to military activities.

Indeed, the text of the Second Amendment provides that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That is by the way, the ENTIRE text of the Second Amendment.

For the sake of removing any ambiguity, but also of restoring sanity and a desire to reduce the incidence of gun violence in America, Stevens suggested the addition of five simple words to the language:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

To me, the intent of this language is/was already clear, but without this additional clarification, the unnerving hubris of the NRA and their incredibly powerful lobby will continue to have free run of our government and its policies regarding gun ownership and gun control.

The simple fact however, is that there is no good reason why anybody needs to own a semi-automatic assault rifle. You like target practice? Good for you. Use a regular rifle. I think it’s time to accept that we need to restrict the scope of gun ownership in this country.  Don’t you want to see a decline in the mass-murders that now seem all too commonplace? …and please don’t give me the mental health debate…

The mental health argument is even worse than the Second Amendment argument. Forget about the fact that this argument seems to only be used when the assailant is a white perpetrator (blacks wielding guns are invariably called“thugs“or “terrorists”), because the unassailable fact is that the more guns there are, the more gun deaths there will be as a result.  It does not matter whether the murderer has mental health issues or not. A person with mental illness cannot shoot up a theater or a school or a government facility unless he has the weapon with which to murder.  It’s a pretty simple formula, one that should not take a mathematician to figure out.

Sadly I agree with the Economist that regardless of this never-ending parade of murder sprees, that we will not likely see any gun control in this country. But can we at least finally fess up that with fewer semi-automatic assault rifles, we will see fewer murders happening in the U.S.?

Seriously America, what has became of our common sense?

Additional Reading:

Battleground America from the New Yorker

Gun violence in the United States (Wikipedia)

Posted in Politics & History.

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Springtime in the Mojave – A Rumination on Nature

There is a reason why she’s called “Mother Earth,” and it really helps to get away from a city to fully appreciate the earth we live on and the exquisite variety of life that exists on it. Growing up, I spent a good number of years living away from cities, and most (all?) of those years were without a television. Under those conditions, you invariably spend a lot of time in the woods or along the beach, or wherever you happen to be living your life, but the point being that without all the fabricated trappings of this modern life, you are allowed to reconnect with the sublime beauty and delicacy of nature. We tend to forget that we are in fact part of nature, not just an observer. These days—for me—it’s the desert. On first glimpse, the desert can seem desolate and barren, but the more time you spend there, the more you quickly realize the richness and diversity of life that lives there. Last weekend, we were out at our place in the desert, Rancho de Ardilla, with my old friend Sluggo, his lovely wife Laurian, and their two remarkable kids, Dregen and Blixa. They came down from the Bay Area for an all-too-short weekend, but it was such a nice visit, I think we’re all still jonesin’ for more. This is a wonderful time of year to make a trip out to the Mojave. All the spring flowers and cacti are in innumerable states of bloom, and much of the wildlife is emerging from their different states of their hibernation. During our visit we saw a little nest built inside of a cluster of a “Jumping Cholla” cactus (Opuntia fulgida) lined with a the finest and softest of bird feathers and bits of thread, and at the bottom, three tiny little blue eggs. The mama bird is apparently able to fly effortlessly in and out, but there is no predator that could realistically navigate the treachery of this particular cactus to get to the eggs. The following morning, I went to get another peak, but the mama was keeping her babies warm and flew away as soon as I got close. I apologized and gave her space so that she could return. I am still blown away by this remarkably profound occurrence in nature. Bird eggs in cactus A little later that same morning, I was coming back from somewhere, and upon nearing the house, was informed that there was a snake on the porch, and with our previous experience with a snake in pretty much that same location, Patty and Laurian were keeping everybody inside. I took a quick look just to establish that it was not a rattle snake (it was not). What we had here was a beautiful (and extraordinarily long) gopher snake, very common out in that area, and good for keeping the smaller rodent population in check. The gopher snake is in fact rather shy and wants nothing more than to be left alone. Sluggo and his family left to head back to the Bay Area, but I continued to keep tags on our little gopher snake (which by then I had begun calling “Herbert”), and eventually s/he curled up among a dense cluster of what I believe to be a Euphorbia cactus. I was watering the various trees and bushes on the property as well as giving a (smaller) drink of water to the various cacti as well. I gave a nice spray to the Euphorbia cluster and Herbert immediately lifted its head and began drinking as best it could from the water as it dribbled down along the edge of the cactus shaft. Eventually the water pooled up a bit along the base and s/he dropped her head down and was gulping as much as possible before it soaked down into the sand below. I went back and we repeated this ritual several times over the course of about twenty minutes, and I swear during that time Herbert began looking a little more filled out and vibrant. I was likely imagining this, but it was delightful watching this lovely little creature in the simple solemnity of that moment as it was drinking and quickly as was possible, because in the desert, who knows how long it might be until the next rainfall? Herbert the Gopher Snake With every visit the desert, I get closer to my sense of place on this planet, and am increasingly drawn out there as a likely place to eventually land on a more permanent basis. I like living in a city, but progressively I find a deeper connection to myself and my inner peace in a place where the simpler aspects of life are on display everywhere you look. There is something so immediately Zen about spending time in the desert, and finding my Zen self is something that I strive for each and every day.

Posted in Personal Ramblings.

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Billy and the Kid

I cannot recall for sure, but it was either 1991 or 1992. The Smashing Pumpkins were playing at the Paramount in Seattle and I was on the list +1 for the show. My son, Dashiell was twelve at the time and was a pretty big fan of the band (as was I). There was a special after show meet-and-greet Billy event, and about 150 of us were all hanging around waiting for the star of the show to arrive.

After about half an hour, and hush comes over the room, and my son excitedly whispers “Look pop, it’s Billy Corgan!” And so it was, and damn, he is a seriously imposing figure – especially with the extra six inches of lift that his Frankenstein platforms where giving him. Everybody in the room seems too paralyzed to walk up to their idol, so I say to Dashiell, “Go up and introduce yourself!” He says, “Really? You think so?” I’m like, “yeah, your twelve, you can still do stuff that you won’t be able to get away with as easily when your older. Go talk to him!” So he does.

Billy Corgan's Eyes

My 4’3″ tall son walks up to the imposing giant of a figure and being the very first person in the room with enough nerve to break the room, says, “Hi, I’m Dashiell!” All the young worshipers seem to be in a state of utter disbelief that this kid just walked up and began chatting with Billy. My son quickly becomes so confident that he tells Billy which songs he didn’t feel were as strong and why etc. The room is still awfully quiet so you can pretty much hear the entire conversation, and looking around the room I can see that certain people have a horrified look on their faces, that this little kid would ever have such nerve to offer any genuine opinions/criticism to the man of the hour. The best thing though was that Billy was super cool with my son and had a very real and engaged conversation with him. He seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say and was not at all the rock-star persona that I’ve heard about so often.

Billy talked with Dashiell for close to fifteen minutes, and everybody in the room was starting to get noticeably annoyed and agitated, no doubt fearing that they wouldn’t get their turn. I finally walked up and  said “We should go Dash,” and we did. I wish I’d have brought a camera. Great show followed by a really fun memory with my son.

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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