Friday, December 31, 2010

Regarding the plight of the underclass, please take this message to Garcia...

We called out author Joe Bageant for his thoughtful and thought-provoking book DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS. Just the power of the title made me read it. I'm glad I did.

No author is perfect or all-knowing, and in the aftermath, I came around to thinking: Joe never really treated how some people escape a background of poverty and poor thinking. Part of it may be that part of the existentialist or libertarian or Christian creed: take responsibility.

We fully understand that only the very, very few are willing to do something so momentous as to take full responsibility for their life. Much easier, much more "gratifying" to blame parents, class, whatever for holding one back. Trouble is, it doesn't advance the cause.

As we launch out into 2011, ready or not, pays us all to think about "taking responsibility" -- for whatever.

An old story, dating from 1899, said it very well.

Share it with you here now:

A Message to Garcia

By Elbert Hubbard

In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion. When war broke out between Spain & the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba- no one knew where. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do!

Some one said to the President, "There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can."

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How "the fellow by the name of Rowan" took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, & in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?" By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing- "Carry a message to Garcia!"

General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias.

No man, who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man- the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it. Slip-shod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, & half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, & sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant. You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office- six clerks are within call.

Summon any one and make this request: "Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio".

Will the clerk quietly say, "Yes, sir," and go do the task?

On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don’t you mean Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia- and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

Now if you are wise you will not bother to explain to your "assistant" that Correggio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s, but you will smile sweetly and say, "Never mind," and go look it up yourself.

And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift, are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all? A first-mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting "the bounce" Saturday night, holds many a worker to his place.

Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply, can neither spell nor punctuate- and do not think it necessary to.

Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

"You see that bookkeeper," said the foreman to me in a large factory.

"Yes, what about him?"

"Well he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him up town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street, would forget what he had been sent for."

Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the "downtrodden denizen of the sweat-shop" and the "homeless wanderer searching for honest employment," & with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long patient striving with "help" that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away "help" that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues, only if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer- but out and forever out, the incompetent and unworthy go.

It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best- those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him. He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, "Take it yourself."

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled No. 9 boot.

Of course I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slip-shod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude, which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry & homeless.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds- the man who, against great odds has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes.

I have carried a dinner pail & worked for day’s wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; & all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous.

My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the "boss" is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly take the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets "laid off," nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village- in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed, & needed badly- the man who can carry a message to Garcia.


(of the story.....the beginning of 2011..............) Wish you the best new year yet.....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rx: for what ails you, work

To novelist Alice Adams in 1960, while breaking up with his second wife, author Saul Bellow wrote:

“The only cure is to write a book. I have a new one on the table and all other misery is gone.”

Mozart used to quote from himself, from work to work, and if it was good enough for him, surely for me. So, may we quote from "Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success":


summer home in Lovell, Maine, on June 19, 1999, superstar
author Stephen King was hit by a minivan. Suffering a collapsed
lung and several broken bones, he was raced to the
hospital at 110 mph over country roads. King nearly died.

Recovery was slow and painful, and the physical
therapy was grueling. King doubted his ability to ever
write again. But he did write again, five weeks after the
accident, and King eventually said it offered the best
therapy of all, even though it didn’t seem that way at the
outset. There was no inspiration that first day, only a
stubbornness and a determination and a hope that
things would get better, he said. That resolve was
enough to get King started.

King finished On Writing, his tome about the craft of
writing, in 2000 and turned to his long-stalled Dark Tower
series in the following years. He even ended up writing
himself, and his near-fatal accident, into the seven-volume
series. He later told interviewers that he was using the
work as a painkiller because it was more effective than any
pharmaceutical the doctors had prescribed.

Though King has permanent physical ailments as a
result of the accident, he didn’t lose his sense of humor.
He eventually purchased the van that caused him so much
pain for $1,500 so he could smash it with a sledgehammer.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

We've come across a very off-the-beaten track writer: Joe Bageant


Here's a thought-provoking essay:

Anderson Cooper and Class Solidarity

You cannot man the barricades with a mouth full of Cheetos

By Joe Bageant

"Class solidarity was such a good idea. It really was. Obviously, most of the people who need solidarity are in the world's laboring classes. After all, the rich have more than enough solidarity already, as was recently demonstrated by their successful execution of the greatest global financial heist in history.


Blogs he credits for publishing or defending or criticizing his work:·

Friday, December 17, 2010

No one "dug deeper" to find the musical meanings than Carlo Maria Giulini

Came across mention of a newly published (2010) biography on a former Chicago luminary: Carlo Maria Giuilini. He was guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, back in the golden days of 1960s, 1970s.

I read the book with interest. Then I listened to his recordings again, what a revelation.

Even before the 24/7 age of Twitter, Facebook, CNN, CNBC, cell phones, iPads, smart phones, emails, IMs, and all the rest, before there was an Internet, here was a man who insisted on taking enough time to sequester himself, to think, to study, do the job right. He often worked extensively with the string section of an orchestra on bowings, something many other conductors gave little thought to. But Giulini was himself a viola player. He knew how important these things were to get the "sound" he was after. Furthermore, he purposely limited his repertory to those works he could master. He purposely limited his time on stage to seven months per year so that he could spend the remaining five months studying, to be better.

His aim: music that touched the soul. He eschewed flash, dash, empty bombast, in favor of warmth, lyricism, humanity.

(I am made very aware, today, as I write this, that God truly is in the details, in any and every field of human endeavor. "Drink deep....." the saying goes...)

I had the unexpected fortune of meeting Maestro Giulini, on the street, outside Orchestra Hall, some 33 years ago.

I was looking in the display case of then-named Orchestra Hall one brilliant, freezing winter’s day (now it’s “Symphony Center”). On proud display: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s brand new recording of the Mahler Ninth Symphony, Carlo Maria Giulini conducting. Such was the affection of the music world back then for him that the yellow-label DGG cover art was solely the patrician visage of Giulini himself, dressed for the elements in a striking fedora and dashing scarf.

Sensing a new presence to my left, I turned and there was the maestro himself, wearing the selfsame hat, and the very scarf, taking in his mirror image.

Making eye contact, I nodded and said something terribly profound like “Nice to see you, Maestro.”

Nice to meet you, too,” the tall Italian chortled, delighted at the visual irony of the moment, extending his hand, which I shook. In those days, much was made, in the media, of his humanity and grace, vis-√†-vis the motoric thrashing the high octane music director Solti gave his selections (make no mistake, we were and are big Solti fans, too). Giulini conveyed that in a few seconds, in a chance encounter.

A music god had come down to the pavement and there I was to meet him. Like Judy Tenuta used to say “it could happen.”

And it did.

Hats off to author Thomas D. Saler; highly recommended:


Tooley visited Giulini the day before Marcella was to undergo surgery to relieve pressure on her brain after the aneurysm. As he was leaving, Tooley told Giulini that he and Marcella would be in his thoughts and prayers. "John, thank you for that," Giulini replied, "but the world is full of suffering and there is no reason why Marcella and I should escape it." He then found a silver lining that could help others in the same position, noting that the surgeons could learn something from the operation. Marcella's illness brought the couple even closer..............p 134

Giulini extended his kindness even to strangers. Marsha Head, a London piano teacher, who had never met Giulini, sent the maestro a letter telling him how much his "exquisitely sensitive, meticulous and spiritual interpretation" of the Mozart Requiem with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus had moved her. That following Christmas, Head received a phone call from Italy. "It was Maestro Giulini, who had taken the time and trouble, despite his own important commitments, to find out my telephone number and speak to me at length on the subject of music, sensitivity and spirituality. I did not expect or ask for a reply (to my letter), especially from such an eminent conductor. I will always remember that deep conversation, his genuine interest in my music, and the kindness, sincerity, humility, and huge musical intellect of Giulini...." p 137

Friday, November 26, 2010

Third Coast Festival -- Radio features

Came across Third Coast Festival. Highly recommend this amazing package of award-winning radio features.

This feature really grabbed me.

Here's an excerpt, a poem written by a Dutchman whose self-appointed task it has become to provide dignity to those who have passed on without anyone in attendance, poor or, surprisingly, even the rich.

Goodbye stranger

Goodbye stranger.

I say “goodbye” on the road to nowhere to the final country where everyone is welcomed in. Where nothing needn’t know your origin.

Farewell, sir, without papers, without identity, what were you looking for?

How much did you lose along the way?

Who stares through the empty window, waits, nameless man? Wait, while I speak and empty my empty words into this empty room.

I am too late. You, I never knew. Not in your weakness, not in your strength, not in the final country where you are greeted without name.

I don’t know the words you spoke, not to me. Who, then, loved you? In which rooms did you sleep? Who kissed you good night, who wear out your shirt?

Who will want to stand where you once stood? Who now takes the roads you took? Who still looks for you? Who remembers whence you came?

Who heard the voice calling out for you to come on home, man, to your final haven, Amsterdam?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Classical insanity

I have listened to classical music for 56 of my 59 years, but on and off, sometimes with large gaps. I started quite by chance with Liberace at age 3, before his rhinestone and Las Vegas era, when he performed classical selections, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, et al, on his daily television program, often with his brother, George, violin. I was such a groupie I would don a proper bow tie to watch; photographic evidence proves it. I was not an exclusive zealot at the time, however. My tastes were fairly kid-catholic and my other favorite shows at the time included Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob. Their music was, of course, more jingo than classical: “It’s Howdy Doody time, etc etc etc.”.

By age 7, my next great passion had taken Liberace’s place; it was sports, (both of them) and especially the greatest exponents of same, the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns, depending on season. There was no ESPN, there were only home town teams, everyone else was opposition. I especially idolized Indian right-fielder and slugger Rocky Colavito (has there ever been a better baseball name?). He hit four home runs one fateful night and achieved baseball immortality (June 10, 1959). Back in the 1950s, there were exactly two sports in the known Western world, no more, no less. We played all day in the summer, till dark during school. Our arms were baked cocoa right to the short sleeve mark. We were alabaster underneath. We watched our heroes on TV, when they weren’t on TV, we listened on the radio. Our career aspiration was to one day take their place. It seemed to us the natural order of things. It was all we knew of life.

Musically speaking, elementary school band was the next new thing. There was not much choice or thinking that went into it. You were expected to play an instrument and so we did. Nearly all of us. It was an orderly and entirely unfair process. To begin, we queued up to borrow free school instruments. Perhaps still in the sway of swingster Benny Goodman, my parents had instructed me to request a clarinet. By the time I got to the front of the line, all the licorice sticks were taken. Somewhat crestfallen, I felt I had somehow let my parents down. A “mellophone” was shoved at me. “Try this.” I took it home. I was summarily told to take it back, I did, and somehow wound up with a “cornet.” I don’t remember how. I took it home. Neither I, nor my father, nor my mother knew how to make a sound on it. My parents decided it was “too hard” to blow. The next day I was taught something about embouchure, lips were to buzz into the mouthpiece, not around it. Aha. The ship was sailing.

School officials further instructed parents and children to take private lessons to supplement school lessons. There were two choices: the frou-frou Educators Music (expensive, classical), and down the street, Duran’s Music Shop (cheaper, $3 per lesson, pop-oriented). Mom and Dad chose the latter (“you don’t like longhair music, do you?). So every Thursday night for 30 minutes, Mr. Local Harry James Guy with his white hair slicked back with Brylcreem would teach me, between cigarettes. The room was the size of a large refrigerator box. I could hardly breathe. I hated it.

One day in junior high band, my tone rankled the music director, a crewcut ex-Marine whose name I forget but I can see his face. In front of 60 kids, he called me out. Here’s how. Man of few words, he threw a chalk-filled eraser at me and hit me in the pants. (He later would throw an eraser at a reed player and hit him in the eye. A parent complained, school officials intervened, and that ended the practice. But I digress.)

“Play a tone,” he commanded.

A shy, acne-ridden skinny nobody back chair player, maybe 13 out of 14 trumpets, a real slacker underachiever, I was mortified.

I played the tone. It was pathetic, like a tiny, muted trumpet.

Only it wasn’t. Tiny or muted.

“Come up here,” he said. “Yes, that’s right, come up here!”

The master clinician sensed the problem, and immediately took my trumpet apart, stuck his white baton into the mouthpiece, and pulled it out, now covered with glunky black indeterminate matter, holding it high aloft for the millions of kids to recoil in horror at.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, ahhhhhhhh, yyyyyyuuuuuuuuukkkkkkkkkkkkk,” said my 60 bandmates, as though one.

I was now past mortified. I was wishing I was dead. My face was burning red, indicating I was still alive.

Mr. Marine Band Director Guy grabbed someone’s mouthpiece brush, marched me out to the hallway sink, and set about the operation, plunging the brush in and out about 100 times, all the while rinsing the little silver implement like a madman. He made a mouthpiece that had apparently never been scrubbed squeaky clean.

“That’s how it’s done, lad,” he sniffed. “Come on, let’s go back.”

He marched me back in, I skulked back to my chair like a wet cat, and he immediately called me out again.

“Play a note now,” he said. “That’s right, play a middle C and hold it.”

I did, and the tone was big, fat, pure and true. I had never heard myself sound that way before.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” said the band again, but this time a good oohhhh.

I think I recovered from the episode, but my love of things musical, band or otherwise did not for a long time, not to what it was back in the days of Liberace when it was fun and interesting and entertaining, even for a three-year-old. This was the dark side of music, and I didn’t like it.

Not long after I quit the band, and took typing in its place. I never thought about the band again for years.

Meeting Beethoven

As a teen, I listened to the Rolling Stones and Beatles, like everyone else. An aspiring percussionist, I turned metal wastebaskets upside down in my bedroom and beat the hell out of them to all their tunes. Couple of us formed a garage band, it lasted approximately one session, since we couldn’t really play guitars, drums or anything else. So not being able to emulate them directly, we did the next best thing: we read about our heroes. I read something that stuck with me: Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison said his favorite musician was Segovia. So I bought an album, Segovia. I was really taken with it. Here was another world…..

Later, upon entering college, in the university welcome packet, the School of Music had a little insert suggesting Music 141 (Classical Survey) to fulfill the humanities requirement. So, made curious by Segovia, and these new sounds, I did, 9 a.m., three days a week, first quarter, freshman year. Mr. Gano was the teacher, tall, dark, and wry. I’m not sure he wanted to be there. I did, though.

I applied myself toward the goal of getting an A. That included covering the required listening. In the audio lab in my dorm, I heard for the first time in my life Herr Beethoven, the immortal Appassionata, Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, and immediately after, the Fifth Symphony. G-G-G-Eb. I was “on the edge of 17,” like the Stevie Nicks ballad. I still remember the night. The top of my head was torn off. I was shaken to the very core. My life -- changed forever.

Through four years of college, I continued to take every music history course offered for non-majors. I wrote music criticism for the school newspaper, no credit, just for the love of it. I became an inveterate concert goer, and record collector. My goal was to return to college someday, and study music history. Soon enough, I graduated. My adviser said I was leaving too soon, I was just finding my passions. He was right.

Regarding my plan, I never did make it back, by now I had joined the working world, but I kept going to concerts, kept buying records, taping off the air, and attending master classes whenever possible: Weissenberg, Pressler, Schnabel, Fleischer, Schiff, Harrell, Glennie, Preucil, Miriam Fried, Starker, and now again, most recently, me at age 59, still at it, master cellist Lynn Harrell, Wednesday, October 27, 2010, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University.

We had not seen Mr. Harrell teach since July 7, 1994, when my 11-year-old daughter and violinist (I was the Suzuki parent) attended his wonderful master class at Ravinia. We tailed him out to the parking lot after, where he graciously signed his CDs, Bach Cello Suites, and Beethoven Piano Trios (Grammy winner). He was a youthful 50, affable, down-to-earth. He gave my daughter a friendly smile as he signed. He is often smiling, kind of the antithesis of the tormented classical artist stereotype.

Fast forward 16 years. Wednesday, October 27, 2010. Lots has changed, but some things have not. My daughter has long since laid down her violin, but I continue showing up at master classes. Mr. Harrell had aged a bit, there was a bit more paunch, the red-brown hair now a mass of flying white wisps on top, the ruddy complexion seemingly a bit more pale (or was it the lights of Pick-Staiger?). His wonderful affability, and charisma, and genius and humanity? Still intact. For me, he is a kind of Schubert of cellists and teachers, sunny, but exceedingly intelligent, and with an undercurrent of understanding of darker things. (Regarding the latter assertion: listen to The Erlkoenig, or Winterreise.)

Which made Mr. Harrell’s presentation this time all the more remarkable. He was coaching a string quartet on their performance of the Schumann String Quartet, A, Op. 41, No. 3.

“Do you know how Schumann died?” Mr. Harrell asked the players out of the thin blue, very casually, and seemingly innocently enough.

“In an insane asylum,” came the matter-of-fact reply from the primo violin.

“Yes,” Mr. Harrell said. He paused a beat. “And you are aware that he suffered from schizophrenia, and manic-depression, and that he had earlier tried to commit suicide?”

“Oh, yes,” our scholarly twenty-somethings averred.

“It’s in the music,” Mr. Harrell. “Under the surface, but we have to hear that,” implying that we hadn’t been up to that point. (He is such a nice critic.)

Continuing he said: “Sometimes there is in the written music here that sense of ‘cold sweat,’ of ‘holding the dog down,’ of profound discomfiture, so to speak, and it has to come out.”

Then it hit me: all classical, all art, is insanity. Insanity, or nearly so, is discomfiture, on a scale from yearning to desperate pain. It is that desperate cold sweat. Or, as Mr. Harrell metaphorized, ‘holding the dog down.’ The teacher didn’t say it, but the contraverse screamed out: happy people don’t make art.

And so Mr. Harrell spent the rest of the two plus hours of teaching earnestly trying to get “more” discomfiture, more yearning, more insanity, if you will, out of his very calm, very clean, very well-dressed, very good-looking, very well-turned-out young upper class classical wannabes. We waited, we hoped, we sent good vibes up to the stage. But it never happened. My hair never caught fire.

I’m not sure it was possible. The kids were just too sane. Too long the post-modern world has been taught ‘cool’, not passion. The wood is very wet now. You have to care very, very much and you have to be perhaps a bit insane to make someone’s hair catch on fire.

It happens for those a bit older, a bit more wizened by life’s vagaries, a bit more insane, shall we say. From some of those ‘not from around here.’ (Sir Georg Solti used to have a phrase, “super-Hungarian.” You know intuitively what he means: crazy, insane, over the top.) Let’s take Solti, for one more minute. His CDs continue to sell many times more than other CSO conductors. Why? Because they are more out there, bolder, more plaintiff, more visceral, more shocking. And what is insanity, after all, but “perilously extreme discomfiture?” How’s that for a definition? Perhaps not so clinical as operational, but for me, for this essay, it works. It explains a lot to me, things I ‘knew’ on one level, but not quite on another.

What drove Solti? Quite simply, I think part of it was he was haunted. By something as small, he said, as a flip comment he made to his father when they were parting at the train station just as World War II was getting underway. George was being sent away for his personal safety. His father told him they would never see each other again, and became emotional. Young Georg? He was flip, dismissive. Sure enough, it was their last time together, and those few flip words, the lack of apprehension, the off-handedness, haunted him the rest of his life.

This is the existential discomfiture that moves the handful of Bachs, Beethovens, Brahms’, and Bartoks, and their interpreters, among us, to respond, research, record their thoughts in notation for performance, and then posterity. You don’t need partings at train stations to generate this feeling. There is enough insanity resident onboard the human condition all by itself. And we each one of us are touched by some of that insanity, from a little to a lot, the terror and beauty of insanity woven into the fabric of the human condition. Composers? Artists? It itches them something fierce, something violent, and they break out in not in rashes, per se, but in great torrents of sound. They take the pain to write it down, and pass it on, generation to generation, as though it were the only salve, the only balm, extant for this strange rash of insanity that is more or less resident onboard every human on the planet.

And why the discomfiture? Now we cross the line into unspeakable things, but I’ll speak them anyway: it is the injustice of the human condition. We are put here without our consent, as flawed beings, and we are condemned to death. It is manifestly unfair.

It is a crime.

It is why people don’t like God, religion, the Bible. It’s not that they’ve never heard of him, like evangelicals think, it’s that they’ve heard, and they don’t like what they’ve heard.

Most let it go at that. They choose religion like choosing a political party, I’m a Christian (fire insurance), or I’m not (maybe the light just goes out and nothing’s there at all, I’ll take my chances). But neither side much cares for God, the dirty little secret of Christianity. If you love someone, or something, you read, and study, and learn all about them. You are enraptured, you spend the time and the time flies by. But most Christians tolerate God at best, and most have never read the Bible. They are conscripts, more or less drafted, and as ignorant as an enlisted man as per the whys and wherefores of the Pentagon. They do the minimum. They look forward to being free of the service one day, though they know there’s no out. So they don’t think about it. When they do, their antipathy shines through.

Amazingly, one active Christian once asked me why would anyone want God to rule the world? He said it with incredulity, condescension and disgust. He spends his weekends telling prisoners about things spiritual. He takes them cookies.

Pulling back the curtain

At least one individual has not been so easily put off. He has been neither daunted by God’s distance, nor his imperiousness, nor by pop culture images and icons of what he’s supposed to be. Rather like a bold Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz, he pulls back the curtain to see the man behind, and get at the real truth, surely a perilous undertaking, no? You risk your life when you get close to God.

Speaking about author Jack Miles. He writes as follows in his remarkable, Pulitzer Prize winning book, God An Autobiography, about how the real God of the Bible not the fake God of our culture, and the remarkable way he changed over time in the Biblical narrative but few have noticed:

“Among these self-characterizations, the most startling comes in a soliloquy derived from The Book of Numbers. Thinking back to his origins in heaven and forward to his human death, Yahweh Incarnate recalls, of all unexpected moments, the time when he sent a plague of poisonous snakes – “fiery serpents” – upon the Israelites. Wandering in the desert, they had complained of hunger and thirst. The snakes were his reaction to their complaint. After many had died of snakebite, the survivors turned to Moses desperate for relief, more than ready to repent of their crime of complaint. Moses then prayed to the Lord, who instructed him to break one of the Sinai commandments and make a graven image of a serpent. “Set it on a pole,” he told Moses, “and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (21:4-9). Moses obeyed, the plague was lifted, and the people moved on.

“Now, alone in the night, more than a millennium later, having committed a capital offense against the religiopolitical establishment in Jerusalem, Jesus imagines himself “lifted up” on the gallows of his day and compares himself, in that condition, to the serpent that Moses “lifted up” on that pole in the desert. The serpent was lifted up so that the dying Israelites could be cured of fatal snakebite. YI will be lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” This is the equation, but it is a deeply shocking equation, for what did the Israelites see when the looked at the bronze serpent? Antiquarians may say what they will about sympathetic magic or apotropaic (preventing or intended to prevent evil) medicine. In the story as we now have it, what the Israelites saw was a reminder that the Lord had been prepared to kill them in large numbers for no greater offense the complaining of hunger and thirst. When they looked at the bronze serpent, even though it cured them, they saw a reminder of why they had so greatly to fear him. The snakes, after all, were not the cause of their dying. The Lord Himself was the cause.

“What, then, does Jesus suggest that all mankind will see when they look upon him lifted up on the cross or, later, look upon an image of him in that condition? How can we avoid saying that they will look upon the cause as well as the cure of their distress? To the objection that this comparison is far-fetched, I would reply that it is Jesus himself who has fetched the comparison from afar. The bronze serpent is a detail from an obscure episode in Israelite history. The comparison is so arcane, so recherch√©, that it can only be fully, provocatively intended.

“Anyone who sets out to comment on the character of Jesus quickly finds himself in competition with his subject. Jesus is more provocative in characterizing himself than most commentators begin to guess. I include not just learned commentators but naughty screenwriters, satirical novelists, nihilist philosophers, everybody. The latter all intend to blaspheme, and they all succeed (blasphemy is an easy target to hit). Jesus, however, blasphemes with a resourcefulness that exceeds theirs, because he knows so much better than they do whereof he speaks. Was there no other image available to him than that of the killer snake? Could he not have compared himself, for example, to the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led the Israelites through the desert? Why dredge up this brutal incident and this grotesque symbol? Why, if not because in this incident human crime and divine punishment are so excruciatingly ill-matched? The death penalty for a complaint about bad food? How can divine innocence not be called into question? Why conjure up the memory of the bronze serpent if not to suggest that those who will see Jesus upon the cross will look upon not just the remedy for the human condition but also its cause?”

So God changed, most remarkably. More remarkably, perhaps, than we have ever heard, or if we heard, understood.

In a way that is geometrically more powerful to rock one to the core than even mighty Beethoven’s Fifth, than his Appassionata.

Some say he didn’t change at all, that’s he’s the same individual, e.g. he killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. And when he returns, he will make war with the kings of the earth, killing again.

True. He is the same person, but with this remarkable act stuck in the middle of the play, of taking responsibility for his creation, and redeeming it, and making good on the crime that makes us all, more or less, crazy, he changes, too. The same and different at the same time. It is nothing less than a mind-shattering turn of events. Any other perspective renders the self-sacrificial action functionary, pedestrian, agenda-bound --- instead of perpetually awe-inspiring, even shattering (in the common youth parlance, [I am] “wrecked” by it).

That he would do this for us, convict himself of the crime of the human condition and then pay the price to achieve justice for us……….when properly understood, can never fail to stun, amaze, awe.

Perhaps you have to be a little “insane,” to ‘get it?’ Otherwise it just goes over one’s head, no?

As another Great Musician, reggae man Bob Marley once said: “who feels it knows it mon.”

Indeed. Music is a balm. It treats the existential itch.

But this Yeshua, this Jesus, as Jack Miles so powerfully illustrates is The Balm. He alone cures the existential itch. Some composers, Bach most notably, understood. The rest were trying desperately to as well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is more money the answer?

There was a report out last week that said, roughly, after you meet your basic needs, more money doesn't make you happier.  We were inclined to "dig deeper."  Here's what we found.  These individuals had money, and lots of it.  Here's what they said:

I hate to be a failure. I hate and regret the failure of my marriages. I would gladly give all my millions for just one lasting marital success.
J. Paul Getty

The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone.  There is no pleasure in it.
W.H. Vanderbilt

I am the most miserable man on earth.
J.J. Astor

I have made millions but they have brought me no happiness.
John D. Rockefeller

Millionaires seldom smile.
Andrew Carnegie

I was happier when I was doing a mechanic's job.
Henry Ford

We thought also of the story of Jesse Livermore, one of the greatest speculators of his day, the 1920s, 30s, 40s.  He killed himself, with a shot to head in the coat room of the Sherry Netherland Hotel, NYC, November 28, 1940.  Fable has it that he was broke, but not true.  He had more the $5 million in cash and trusts.  He had fought depression all his life, the depression won.

Surely, all of this experience, all of these men, food for thought...............

Credit for quotes:  "When the game is over it all goes back in the box," by John Ortberg.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Illusion vs. Reality
Author Russ Baker Connect the Dots

We have movies like The Matrix that tell us there's another reality beneath the surface that we are unaware of. But these come from Hollywood, and they're harmless, and fun, and meant to entertain us, and entertainment is pretty much everything nowadays, right? And we don't believe that stuff, not really, right?

Here's a book the puts forth the supposition that everything you thought about the last 50 years of USA history is wrong. That the reality in your mind is an illusion. That the institutions and people you have placed your trust in have not been worthy, to put it mildly. That your attention has been misdirected, masterfully, but the likes of the CIA, Big Oil, the Eastern Establishment. I've heard this stuff, you have, too, and shrugged it off. After all, America is basically honest, right, the land of the free, home of the brave, apple pie, baseball, and all the rest.

500 plus pages here. Couldn't put it down. This work, (and Shoebat's God's War on Terror) are two must read's that, well, you "must read."

Friday, July 09, 2010

How's that for irony?

King James (LeBron) tattoos include "witness" and "history" on his legs, "chosen 1" on his back and ironically to Clevelanders: "loyalty" tattooed on his chest.....

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Giving away or returning a hard drive? Read on....

Many PC users are still under the impression that deleting a file removes it from the hard drive. It does not. The data is still onboard, and savvy banditos can access it if they get their hands on your drive. That's right, your account numbers, passwords, user IDs, credit card numbers, you name it.

How to handle?

Surf over to Kill Disk. They have a free product that will "kill" your disk, or remove all data. There are two levels: one pass "kill" (free download), and high level, military-style multi-pass, priced from $39.95 to $59.95.

The free version is a no-brainer, and if you're hesitating at the tariff on the high-level versions, we have two questions for you: 1) how much is your peace of mind worth? and 2) how much will it cost you in time and effort to reclaim your life if all your confidentials fall into the right hands?

Can't happen to you? Happens to the U.S. government even; students found sensitive U.S. defense contracts -- in Ghana!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Today we are digging deeper into the meaning of work. What could be more basic? What can someone possibly add to this inquiry? Turns out: a lot. What Jack Miles is to theology, Walid Shoebat to Bible prophecy, Malcolm Gladwell to perception -- i.e. a groundbreaker -- Matthew B. Crawford is to work.

Yes, that stuff we do each and every day. In SHOP CLASS AS SOULCRAFT he challenges our basic assumptions about blue collar vs white collar work. He goes on to to tackle bigger issues of meaning, satisfaction and community.

The writing style is a joy. One section he is the uber-academic (he has a PhD from the uber-University of Chicago, what can be more academic?), the next is talking like an earthy mechanic (he is one of those too, a motorcycle shop owner in his real life).

Not too be missed.

At the very least you'll have a new appreciation for the guy who fixes your pipes or tunes your car. And maybe you'll steer your son or daughter to consider ALL of their options. Here's a range of hourly rates for plumbers in my area: 138, 156, 172. Compare that with Best Buy's starting rate of some $8 to $10 per hour. That's a 15:1 ratio. Like they say, "do the math."

Friday, January 22, 2010

This web page tells you everything you need to know about USA financial picture

USA debt clock. We call your attention especially to the harrowing bottom line of tsunami debt soon to break on shore and wipe everything out in its path: unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, and Rx drugs. At this writing, an incomprehensible $107 trillion. Worth bookmarking.

We desperately need new representation in all levels of government by those who understand and can solve this massive and accumulated problem. There are a few, men like Ron Paul, Rand Paul (his son). Does the recent election in Mass. portend a turning................?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Japan -- bankrupt

You hear a lot about Uncle's deficits, and how bad off Euroland is (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, etc.), but not as much about Japan. They have been, shall we say, "under the radar." Here is a new screenshot of the radar, however....