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Housecleaning for the New Year

I very rarely do this, but I'm doing a bit of culling from the friends list, clearing out the deadwood, as it were.  Got a little tired of people who haven't posted in 10 months (have they moved on to greener pastures, discovered they had nothing to say, forgot their password, or maybe lost their internet access or perhaps even died - who can say?) and of people who never comment or give any indication whatsoever that they are reading my entries (I get ignored often enough IRL!).

At this point I believe the proper ettitquette, judging from similar posts others have made, is to offer the olive branch and say if you think you have been deleted with undue haste you may request to be added back, and I will give that the consideration it deserves.

Hints of High Culture

Over the New Year’s weekend I was talking with my older brother about the medium of film. Now that he’s retired, he has been indulging a little more in his love of movies, although his appreciation of the classics doesn’t even approach my own.  I think he is starting to fancy himself as something of an auteur, and always cites his yearly attendance of the Cleveland International Film Festival as evidence of his discerning taste.

With his increased amount of leisure time, and based on the success of recent movies filmed on the cheap with inexpensive devices, he is considering crafting his own short films.  I wish him luck. We discussed how we both kind of missed the boat on that. Both of us have seen way too many shitty movies to believe we couldn’t offer better fare ourselves. My main drawback is that I’m a technophobe, and cameras always seemed daunting to me. I also tended to prefer my art static – the painting, the written word, so I could savor it at my own pace. Still, with my much improved understanding of fictional archetypes, narrative flow and the sharpened ability to distinguish between necessity and distracting contrivance, I yet think I would make an excellent screen writer. It’s an absurd fantasy (for starters, I could never plausibly envision the two of us collaborating as creative partners), but it would be highly amusing if we could be like the Coen brothers, or even better, like the directing/writing team of the Nolans. In reality I’m certain we would end up bickering like (the not real) Frasier and Niles Crane.

As we were discussing this I began musing aloud how maybe the appeal of movies was similar to the draw of architecture for me.  For besides cinema, in the realm of creative human endeavor only architecture compares in offering the possibility of the apotheosis of what Wagner termed the “Gesamtkunstwerk” – the total work of art. (Thinking I was affecting an air of patronizing pretentiousness, at this juncture my brother then gave me “the Finger”). In such a building everything is carefully selected and configured to realize the end goal – the materials and the way they are employed, the textures and colors, the play of light and placement of the building on its site, the forms of the spaces themselves as well are their arrangement in relation to each other, the fixtures and furniture, and so on, all to provide a comfortable yet stimulating environment so that it can help its occupants lead satisfying and productive lives for decades to come. Maybe good buildings don’t possess the same cultural impact as a classic film, but in the long run they may confer the greater benefit to humanity.

Meanwhile, at work I am putting the finishing touches on a “scum pump station”.
While in the office, I have been listening to Christmas music via Youtube.  After finally getting my fill of Bing, Frank and Deano, I began to branch out into yuletide offerings by other performing artists. Eventually, after recalling how much I like the song "Blue Christmas", I decided to search for an Elvis Presley Christmas album, and several iterations/versions popped up.  This actually rather surprised me; I had assumed the Presley estate would rigorously sweep Youtube clean of any copyright infringements, but I won't pretend to be an expert on such matters.

I selected an album titled "Elvis Presley - Christmas & Peace", a double album with the first half constituted of pure Christmas music, and the second half of gospel songs and fairly traditional church standards that I suppose must be rather commonly sung in the South. I'll be honest, while I have acknowledged that he had a couple of good solid songs, I don't think I've ever sat down and listened to an Elvis Presley album all the way through.  When I was a kid in the 70's and 80's, my generation regarded him as something that old people (i.e., our parents) listened to, and his larger than life presence, persona that bordered on self-parody and the manner of his demise made him ripe for mockery. I remember the local television station running commercials for various "Best of" Elvis compilation albums during the daytime, the type that lists all the tracks in a vertical scroll very quickly, and says, "But wait - there's more!" and helpfully concludes with the P.O. Box number for your "check or money order" and that you can get cassette OR 8-track!  As the inevitable clip of him crooning some ballad played I would think to myself, "who the hell would spend money on this tripe?" And naturally, I eschewed all the broadcasts of his cheesy 60's movies, where he was a fishing guide, boxer or race car driver or whatever preposterously contrived occupation the threadbare script called for.

Well, that was then.  I have to confess, while some of that unique style of his wore on me after a while, the gospel songs struck a chord deep within me.  In particular, "I Believe" and "It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)" really stood out and resonated.  He sang them simultaneously with such power and sensitivity; he was really selling it.  And while I am not a believer myself, I was completely certain that HE was - there was no way he could fake those sentiments.  He had to have been a man of strong faith - why would a bona fide rock star even bother to release albums of gospel music otherwise?  He murmered, he belted, the lyrics swelled to a crescendo that almost evoked tears.  There is no questioning the richness of his voice and the immense control of it that he wielded.  I was moved, and a bit humbled.  So, a reassessment is in order - to the doubters out there: Elvis was the Real Deal.  The man had chops.  And soul.

I guess my generation has Madonna, at least.  Ugh.

Contrast

As I shiver this morning in single digit temperatures (like most of the rest of the continent of North America), it strikes me, and not for the first time, that Nature displays delicate beauty often in conditions of extreme harshness. Both at sunset yesterday and sunrise today the sky featured the softest looking clouds, hued with pastel lavender highlighted with a gauzy pink.  It seemed so Impressionistic I fervently wished that Claude Monet could return from the dead just to see it and nod his approval.  I also fervently wished that I had the time and opportunity to snap some photos that I could post here, but alas, there were other pressing concerns at the time.  Hopefully some of you were treated to similar sights.

Another Data Point

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, is not surprisingly currently sitting on top of the box office. But if you take a peek at its “Rotten Tomatoes” scores something rather interesting emerges. The critics have showered the movie, by and large, with breathless praise, and accordingly have awarded it a compiled score of 92%, which is stellar for fantasy genre or big-budget action fare. But the audience score, from ordinary schmucks like you and me, is only 52%. That’s a HUGE disparity in the perception of reality. Someone should be thinking long and hard about why that would be the case. Why do those two scores have such a vast gulf between them? It’s not like the movie was some high-brow arthouse flick that mainstream audiences would not be expected to “appreciate properly.”

Bolstering the view that there is something amiss in the Force is the fact that, in its first ten days the previous SW movie, “The Force Awakens”, had made 175 million dollars MORE ($540 million vs. $365 million domestic).  (Source:  http://www.showbiz411.com/2017/12/24/box-office-update-fans-speak-with-closed-wallets-as-the-last-jedi-now-175-mil-behind-force-awakens )

It looks like all the kiddies swept up by the hype and dutiful Gen-Xer’s like me who grew up with the original films, fulfilled their cultural obligations initially to see it and many came out expressing a collective “meh”.

I’m not going to speculate at this time why this is occurring – I haven’t even seen the movie yet. Nonetheless, this fits in nicely with my theory that the “experts” in many fields (especially those pertaining to culture) are out of touch with the people they claim to serve. Like the economists who have been proven consistently wrong about the state of the economy and where it is headed, to the bankers who insisted the financial system was not teetering on the brink of collapse, to the media types and pollsters who said there was no possible way Trump or Brexit could win, to the executives at corporate behemoths like the NFL, Microsoft or Marvel, that badly underestimate the ire of customers they have pissed on/off, our elites – the people who have appointed themselves to positions of authority and influence, don’t understand what motivates, inspires or outrages the people they depend on for a living. Or they do but they don’t give a shit.

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Still Life With Grinder

As I mentioned in an earlier post, after a two year hiatus I was finally able to get back to painting, one of the main joys in my life. Using the copious amounts of free time (heh) that I had in August and September, I completed a painting intended for my older brother.  It was supposed to be given to him on his 50th birthday, September 29, and although I did indeed manage to finish it on that day it still had to be varnished, which can only be done after the oil paint is completely dried and cured.  I finished varnishing it yesterday, which still was far shy of the recommended SIX MONTH wait. Oh well - I guess we'll see if it is negatively affected thirty years from now.  Anyway, without further ado, allow me to present "Still Life With Grinder":


I very rarely do a still life painting: it's been over a decade since I even attempted one, and aside from that work (which is about 70% complete) I only have one other still life amongst my trove of artistic output.  This is a personalized work - it's the actual view from my brother's kitchen into the dining room. As ever, I somehow selected extremely challenging objects to feature, as metal and glass have no color of their own, and thus can only bend and reflect the light from around them. In the past I would have agonized over getting everything as precisely rendered as possible - that grinding wheel would be perfectly elliptical, for example, with the 5 spokes exactly spaced along it, but now I just boldly sketch it and accept the outcome with only minor refinements. The proportions and relationship of certain components of the room, like the windows and furniture, are just a little bit off - if anything, I slightly augmented their relative skew to inject a bit of Germanic-style Expressionism into the composition, as I felt it would heighten what I like to call "the inherent drama of Things", as if this was a scene heavy with portent.

One general rule of painting is that you work from the back to the front - that is to say that you do the background first (because you often end up painting over a big seciton of it) and do the objects in the foreground last. I totally violated that guideline!  I suppose I thought that if I didn't succeed at the Main Event, i.e., the three objects on the counter, I wouldn't even bother to finish the painting and I would write it off as a waste of time. This approach created a bit more work for me later, but in the end everything still came together, more or less.

For many artists it is a fascinating challenge to include a "painting within the painting" (is that a variation on "Art imitating Life imitating Art"?), and so I gleefully antcipated including the painting my brother has of a barn as part of the overall composition, but shrouded in shadow and projected at an angle, only partially seen between the spokes of the grinding wheel.  It also injects a welcome splash of color into the mix (so does a piece of his treasured Fiestaware!).

All in all, I would say that this painting successfully accomplished what I set out to do.  It's not perfect by any means, but as time goes on I appreciate more the quirks of my painting style even if they detract from any sense of photo-realism.

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Probable Ancestral Stands Against Tyranny

One of my favorite popular history books is Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City".  So when I was browsing my local library last week and spied a more recent work of his prominently displayed, I elected to check it out.

"In the Garden of Beasts" is an account of the experiences of the U.S. ambassador to Germany just as Hitler was coming to power.  Primarily covering 1933 - 1934, it is filled with behind the scenes recollections of the ambassador, his aspiring writer daughter, and many others that frequented Berlin society at a time of momentous change. To someone who loves history, is a WWII buff and is more than half German by lineage, obviously this was catnip for yours truly.

I basically spent all of yesterday reading it, and was astonished when a passage came up that included a certain detail.

One of the events that kicked off the "Night of the Long Knives" on June 30, 1934, where Hitler purged anyone suspected of being a dissident from the government, was a speech given by the vice-chancellor, Franz von Papen.   The "Marburg Speech", given on June 17 at the University of Marburg, called for the restoration of certain freedoms that had been recently taken away, urged a crackdown on the SA, the Nazi paramilitary group that had been terrorizing citizens, chided the government's use of propaganda, criticized the development of a "false personity cult", warned against the "selfishness, lack of character, insincerity, lack of chivalry and arrogance" that had characterized the political revolution transforming Germany and in general heavily castigated the Nazis.  As can be imagined, it created a lightning storm and precipitated all sorts of scheming.  It also turned out to be the very last public speech made in Germany against National Socialism.

It so happened that Papen did not write the speech, though he shared the sentiments expressed within it.  It was actually carefully written over several months by his speech writer, Edgar Julius Jung (with help from Papen's secretary). Jung wrote the speech, and, fearing Papen would heavily revise it or lose his nerve, only gave it to him 2 hours before it was to be delivered, while they were en route to the venue.  He had also taken the liberty of distributing copies of the text of the speech to the foreign correspondents beforehand - so it was already out there.. His hope was that the remarks would cajole President Hindenburg and the army to dissolve the government and throw the Nazis out of power in the interest of restoring order.  It was a bold plan, and it almost worked.  Hitler was, of course, incensed by the Marburg Speech. "All these little dwarfs who think they have something to say against our idea will be swept away by its collective strength," he shouted.  He continued to rage against, "this ridiculous little worm," this "pygmy who imagines he can stop, with a few phrases, the gigantic renewal of a people's life."

Here is where it gets personal.  My mother's maiden name was Jung.  It is by no means a common German name, and I was immediately struck by the possibility that he could very well have been an ancestor of mine.   It turns out he has his own Wikipedia entry, which states that he was from the Rhineland.  My mother was also from the Rhineland area.  I strongly suspect he could have been one of my mother's great uncles or something similar.  And certainly her family's disdain of the Nazis was well known. Here is a man who heroically took a huge risk in an attempt to save his nation and prevent a catastrophic war.

Obviously, he failed. The speech was wildly applauded by those who heard it, but it was immediately banned from broadcast on the radio and publication in all German newspapers, although it did make the rounds in the international press. It also did crystallize Hindenburg's misgivings about how the Nazis were conducting things and on June 21st the president conveyed a message to the chancellor he was concerned about the rising tension in the country, and if Hitler "could not get things under control", martial law would be declared and the government would be placed in the control of the army.  The Night of the Long Knives was intended to be the answer to that threat, and it completely succeeded in achieving Hitler's aims..

Thus it was that a scant two weeks after the speech and by Hitler's personal orders, Edgar Jung was picked up by men of the Gestapo and taken to the secret police headquarters.   He was then shot in the basement, and his body was later found outside of Berlin dumped in a ditch.  So I guess I have a relative that was specifically chosen to be assassinated by Adolf Hitler.  Wow.

Time Travel Movies

I enjoy science fiction, although at heart I’ve always been more of a fantasy guy.  Science fiction movies are usually superior to fantasy movies, though, and get produced more often, so I end up seeing more of them. Probably my favorite subgenre is the time travel movie. Time travel has always fascinated me because not only does it often hinge on causal paradoxes, but it permits us to entertain “what if” scenarios, or as they call them in the study of history: counterfactuals. Since I am admittedly enthralled with the concept of determinism and the extent to which it governs our lives, a well-crafted plot centering around time travel is effectively catnip to me.

Although a lot of sci-fi films feature time travel, like the Terminator franchise or several Star Trek movies, I do not consider them time travel movies per seObviously there is a lot of room for debate, though.

As a public service I have compiled a list of recommended time travel movies that are worth your time. In each of these, either the protagonists engage directly in time travel, or time travel is an integral part of the plot.  These run the gamut from large scale spectacle to intimate, low budget artiness, from clinical seriousness to gleeful farce, from relatively straight forward, to so fiendishly intricate that I still haven’t figured out just what the hell happened (that would be Primer, which I understood well enough until about 2/3rds through, where it veered into a spellbinding incomprehensibility beyond my pay grade to fathom). Without further ado (and in chronological order - hah!):

The Time Machine (the 1960 original, of course, not the 2002 remake)
Back to the Future (1985), and its sequels
Groundhog Day (1993)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Frequency (2000)
Primer (2004)
Looper (2012)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Time Lapse (2014)
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Synchronicity (2015)
ARQ (2016)
Counterclockwise (2017, have yet to see, but the trailer looks very promising)

Missing from the list is Timecop, which I have not seen but is pretty famous, though I’ve always suspected that I’m not missing much in that regard.  There could easily be other entries appended to the list; sometimes it can be hard to curate the candidates…does “Interstellar” count, for example? I could be persuaded to include more – provided they are quality cinematic fare (i.e., they don’t suck).

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Stray Thoughts on the Drug Crisis

I keep hearing more and more about how bad the current "opioid epidemic" is (yes, I know it's been quite bad for at least three or four years now).  I suppose I must count myself fortunate that it has not touched anyone I care about or directly know, but in my state of Ohio is it particularly bad.  There was one town where the sheriff threatened to limit the number of emergency calls to three per person, as so much of the town's budget is now siphoned off by responding to people that OD (he later backed off, though, so I guess it's back to business as usual, eh, addicts?).

On some level I intellectually understand how addiction works, I know there are physiological changes, I know the brain chemistry gets altered, I know it's not merely a matter of cultivating stronger will power.  But I still totally don't comprehend how people keep falling into this disastrous course to begin with.  I mean, it really and truly stupifies me.  And as usual, the media never addresses any of the questions I have, at least not in a substantive manner.

At some point the aspiring addict did make a conscious choice to partake of this pharmaceutical scourge.  Doesn't everyone kind of know by now that taking drugs "recreationally" is a horrible idea, that never leads to a good outcome? I mean, is it a problem with future time orientation, that these drug abusers can't imagine what their life is going to be like 5 or 10 years from now (if they are even still alive at that point)? Is it arrogance - they think it can't/won't happen to them?  Is there always an economic stressor - i.e., is there a financial component or correlation? People assume it is an unemployment issue, but I've heard plenty of stories of factories that can't hire enough workers - they actually have to scale back production because they can't find enough personnel that don't have drug problems.

Here's a perfect example:
http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-07-31/ohio-factory-owner-eager-hire-workers-there-just-one-problem

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is a professional and has a 14 year old son who is starting to look like the type who would not thrive in a college environment.  I brought up the option of him going into a trade instead. "There's plenty of work out there, and it actually pays pretty well once you get a bit of training and experience under your belt," I told him,"and if you aren't a drug user you have a huge advantage, because half of their workers are, and it's a challenge just to get them to show up for work on a regular basis."  He started laughing - thought I was joking.  When I assured him I was not his demeanor lurched into "holy shit -are you serious?" territory.

So what is the root cause? Boredom? I've heard that excuse before - most often applied to inner city "youth".  The reasoning went that if you occupied them with basketball or some other structured activity all anti-social behavior would magically cease.  Like they don't already have televisions and smart phones to fool with and X-boxes to wile away the hours.  Some people allude to nihilism, as if this listlessness and lack of purpose has some philsophical underpinning, but I am not fully convinced.  What does the drug user hope to get out of indulging in his habit - are there no other things in his/her life that they can derive pleasure from?

My life has certainly has had its challenges and trials, but no matter how bleak the days get there are still things I take pleasure from: listening to music, watching my plants grow, creating art, talking with my friends, petting our cats, reading a good book, enjoying a fresh cup of coffee or a tasty meal, recieving a comforting embrace from the Wife, seeing a vibrantly-hued sunrise, hearing birdsong, the list goes on and on.  Are such diversions and pastimes really not available to these addicts?

Is it a "support system" issue?  Don't these people have healthy familial or romantic relationships, or even solid friendships that could theoretically head off the personal disasters we keep seeing in the news reports? It seems a lot of them DO, they have spouses, they come from loving homes, but the stranglehold of drugs ensnares them nonetheless.

Is it a cultural problem, perhaps even a spiritual one?  Is it "hopelessness"?  Most of us now live in a low-trust, isolating, atomized society where institutions like church that formerly bound us together in functioning communities have fallen by the wayside, the victims of long-term neglect or even a combined assualt from the forces of Modernity and globalism. Alienation then ensues, rendering people easy prey - it's a working hypothesis, at any rate.  And not so incidentally, who is at the wheel while all this shit is going down, anyway? Who is steering this ship? I see compromised, deluded elites that assure us that the Promised Land is in sight, while running us into jagged reefs that will tear our fragile commonwealth asunder instead.

I am now reading and hearing reports of people who are saved by the squad four or even five times in a year - sometimes twice on the SAME DAY.  Part of me, the ultra-rational pitiless part, thinks we should just cut our losses and let these people off themselves.  As I often believe about many things, there's no direct fix for this - we just need a "reboot".  It's the children I feel bad for - maybe we could divert the resources we squander on the adults to them instead, so we can give them a fighting chance to have an actual future.

As I intimated before, I don't have any answers, because I don't understand how people can keep embarking down this destructive path in the first place.  I have questions and a few nagging suspicions, but that's about it.

Ten Years

The Wife and I observed our ten year wedding anniversary yesterday.  Had a very nice dinner but we primarily just marked the occasion - I'm not one for big blowouts, and the Wife hates all the planning and inconveniences associated with arranging "events".   Still, I thought it might be proper to drop a little note here about it. Here's a photo of us just after the ceremony, where we got hitched and stayed the weekend:


A shout-out here is appropriate to millionbubbles , who is taking her own plunge into matrimony tomorrow - wishing you and your man the best!