Author: Brad

Real Estate Broker by trade. Farmer at heart. Writer in my dreams. I operate a successful business, raise a family, and do a thousand other things to keep me occupied. I'm rarely bored.

Institutional Delusion

Americans are often derided by foreigners for having a big country, and tiny, closed minds. There was a time when I would’ve found that offensive, but more and more I find it to be true. While most people start out liberal as youths and become more conservative over time, I find myself walking backwards on that path. Oh, I’m still against confiscatory taxes and in favor of individual freedom. I’m just more open-minded about things I don’t understand. Instead of my perspective shrinking as I approach the destination, it is expanding as I look back on a larger horizon. It seems that when you learn more you end up knowing less and less. And the further you go not seeing the surprises that lie ahead, the more shocked you are. Occultists have a belief in doing things backwards, but my metaphor is not an endorsement of the occult. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” right? That’s Freud, by the way.
A couple of years ago I discovered a fringe archeological theory that civilization is much older than we think. There are people smarter than me that believe the great megalithic monuments of antiquity may have been built by even earlier civilizations. Since they don’t ascribe to the theory of “Ancient Aliens” popularized by The History Channel in recent years, they have another idea. What if our current society doesn’t represent the pinnacle of human intellect? Could it be possible that there was an advanced civilization before the Biblical Flood? It doesn’t sound as crazy as aliens and panspermia (look it up) if you ask me. We already know that history seems to cycle politically, technologically, and morally. What if this cycle is just bigger than we currently accept? Is that such a stretch? The Flood story is not just found in the Bible. It spans most of the cultures of the world. Nearly all cultures have stories of a great flood with just a few survivors. Those survivors could have passed down the knowledge needed to build  the pyramids of antiquity, which are scattered around the world, not just in Egypt. Maybe the Egyptian ones were turned into tombs only after their original purpose had been lost to time. Perhaps they were as mysterious to the Pharaohs as they are to us.

One of the more recent authors I’ve been exploring, John Anthony West, thinks that water erosion on the Sphinx, which he’s had studied by geologists, means that it is much older than the 4500 years it is credited with. If this were ever accepted as true, it would re-write our entire understanding of human history. Most of academia rejects the idea, but how interesting to think that something so simple could shake the very foundations of civilization. That’s likely why academics discard the thought. The books they’ve written would be invalidated; their lectures pointless. And this returns us to the close-mindedness discussed above. There is an institutional rejection of unorthodox ideas that is almost frightening when you think about it. It’s been too long, and I’m not going to dig up the research because it doesn’t matter (though I did try)… Several years ago I heard the story of a world class, leading cardiologist, who rejected the catastrophic effects of cholesterol on the heart. He argued that inflammation was more the culprit for heart patients, and that the changes in diet and use of statin drugs might be doing more harm than good. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know all the merits of the argument, but I do know that the man was not a quack. He was educated at a leading university, and had something like thirty years of practice under his belt. The reason I heard of it was the uproar it caused for him to even make the suggestion that his hypothesis be studied. It challenged the multi-billion dollar paradigm of modern medicine, so the machine worked overtime to marginalize the man. Maybe he was right, but we’ll likely never know. We live in a time when our institutions are more important than knowledge, so renegade thinkers are silenced more than they are studied.
The average person has about a thimble full of knowledge in an ocean of questions. Once we get the thimble filled up, we just stop asking questions. We live in an information age that allows us to access more knowledge than the Ancient Library of Alexandria with the touch of a button. Rather than letting our institutions tell us everything, we should individually seek out the truth for ourselves. Fiction is boring. Reality is where the fun is.

“If I ever could”

Exploring philosophy in popular culture is an exciting hobby that can never be exhausted. No matter how hard you try, you can’t ever examine every film, song, or play to find all the subtext. Authors, directors and actors rarely divulge all their hidden symbolism anyway, so most popular works are left open to wide interpretation. This creates what I would call “sub-art” because the interpreter is, in a way, producing a new work with their interpretative portrait based on the original. It’s harder to be unique in interpretation though.

Today is Groundhog Day. Every February 2nd, I’m reminded of the Bill Murray film that I’ve loved for so long. Murray has become a bit of a cult of personality over the course of my life. Other stars of a similar caste have done the same, John Malkovich to a lesser degree, but Murray takes the cake for cultural icons with minimal attractiveness, and maximum cerebral appeal. I’m not going to give a synopsis of the movie. If you haven’t seen it more than once you are of limited taste, and have possibly been living in the third world for the last twenty years. I have often philosophized about the movie, so this year I thought I would search the internet to see what other theories were out there. One of my favorites, it turns out, is actually quite popular and not at all original. Punxsutawney, PA is actually Purgatory. Come to think of it, the alliteration might be the inspiration that sparked the idea in the writer’s head. Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis are credited as writers on the film, but Rubin was the originator. I’ve not been able to find much info on him, but I presume he is Jewish, so I’m not sure that Purgatory was what he was striving to depict. Still, when viewing it through Catholic lenses, it looks very much like a study on theology. There’s a great piece by Jim Ciscell (no relation) on toptenz.net that studies this in detail. I regret that I didn’t take the time to write it myself, but my day job keeps getting in the way of my writing. I especially like his observation that Phil (Murray’s character) might actually have ruined Ned Ryerson’s life through his disregard for people he found insignificant. In a way, his vanity had led not only to a miserable existence for him, but possibly for others too, even people on the periphery of his life. While I would like to think that my analysis of the movie was original, it is also gratifying to have the validation that comes with other people espousing the same view.

The Youtube channel “WhatCulture” has a video that attempts to explain how much time Phil may have spent living the same day over and over again in Pennsylvania. Even though I’ve never thought to compute the time, I’m somehow relieved that there are people out there working on important studies such as this. They came up with something over thirty-three years. That’s how long it took him to become fluent in French, a concert pianist, and a professional ice sculptor. Oh, the things one could do if they spent three decades devoted to nothing but self-improvement… and with that realization, a little bit of sadness crept over my heart. I have not used the last three decades to their full potential. Nobody does, I guess. Still, there’s more I could’ve done. There’s more I should have done. Phil was given a great gift in that he was able to live the same day over until he got it right. I’ve only been working with consecutive days, none of which have been perfect, but many of which have been good. Many reject the idea of Purgatory in general, but I’ve always found it to be one of the few comforting beliefs in Catholic Dogma; the idea that it is not necessary for one to be perfect, for they will be afforded the opportunity for perfection if their humanity keeps them from getting it completely right on the first try.

Life is all about second chances, and according to the expert analysis on the internet, Phil Conners got over 12,000 second chances. While he started out bitter and angry over the “hell” in which he was trapped, he eventually came to appreciate it as he became more and more perfect over time. My understanding of the theological necessity of Purgatory is that it is to perfect the soul before it can participate in the perfection of the creator. While I’ve heard it described as equal to hell in its pain and suffering, my own interpretation is that as a soul is purified it begins to see the need for it all. No pain, no gain. By the end of the movie, Phil is a delightful person, adored by all the people that despised him at the beginning of the “day.” He won them over in one day. It just took him thirty-three years to do it. Good show.

“Where do the good times go?”

In 1987, when I was a very young man, Kenny Rogers still had his natural face. He was quite a superstar with hit records, movie roles, and concert tours. And he came out with a song that year called “Twenty Years Ago.” Apparently “life was so much easier” then. So, 1967 was a good year for the songwriter, I suppose. I remember listening to that song on the radio, and relating to it even then. I’m not sure what was so difficult about life for me in 1987. I was just a kid; no responsibilities, no bills to pay, no mouths to feed, no vices either. It was before I’d picked up any of the bad habits that adults find so hard to shed. Even in 1987 though, I was sure that life had been easier before.
Flash forward thirty years and here I am twenty years out of high school, the same as the writers were thirty years ago. Thirty years is what it takes sometimes to gain a little perspective. Back then, I was listening to the song dreaming about the things I’d never seen. Thirty years is a generation, you know. You lose a lot in a generation. I often think of how my grandfathers’ generation is currently on the way out the door. The last guys to put out a crop with a team of mules… well, the last non-Amish guys to put out a crop with a team of mules, they’re almost gone. The boys that stormed the beach at Normandy, and remember their dad’s first Model T, are departing daily. Once that’s gone there’s a good piece of history that none of us can really know about. Oh, we can dream about it, and read about it, and imagine what we think it was like. But we’ll never really be sure because we didn’t see it with our own eyes. We will never know what it was like before electricity was a given; when you had to study by the coal-oil lamp on a long winter evening. Hopefully we won’t find out what it was like during the Depression when my Grandad says they would set rabbit traps all the time just so they would have something to fry up for breakfast in the morning. Dirt-poor used to have a tangible meaning, the key word being dirt. I’ve never known it though. Most of the dirt-poor people I know these days don’t know much about it either.
There are other songs I remember from my youth with much the same theme as Kenny’s from ’87. “Like a Rock” from Bob Segar is pretty similar. I wouldn’t have equated the two back then… no perspective, you see. Now I know that both songs are not singing about a year in time. They are about a year in the life of a man. The other day while we were filing away some things with the changing of the year, a photo appeared in one of the drawers of a much younger version of me. It was from early in my career when I thought I knew much more than I actually did; such an arrogant guy. I remarked that there was so much I’d like to tell that guy I used to be. It’s interesting to think about what you might do differently if you were given the gift of writing a letter to your former self. If there really was a way to get a message to a younger version of you, what would you say? It doesn’t matter. Cocky as I was I’m sure I wouldn’t listen anyway. Still, twenty years ago if I’d known half of what I’ve learned I would be a very dangerous man. Come to think of it, that sounds a little cocky. Perhaps I haven’t lost it all yet. The thing about it is, time has a way of mellowing you out a bit. Some of the most interesting people I knew twenty years ago have gotten quite mellow these days. I’m not talking about my peers. The guys I knew… my mentors twenty years ago have settled down quite a bit in their fifties and sixties. It seems that I’m not the only one time has changed. Life was anything but easy for them twenty years ago. They were scratching and clawing at success back then, sometimes making great strides and sometimes falling on their face, but they were taking the big risks back when I had very little skin in the game. For some of them, fortune has shined brightly. Others have passed the years and made bets in all the wrong places, squandering what little they might have had. Some are still my heroes, and some are goats.
As I look back twenty years at my eighteen-year-old, and twenty-eight-year-old self, I’m struck by how at each year since eighteen I’ve learned more and more, and known less and less. When you’re young, you think you’re gaining knowledge with experience. The older I get, the questions just get bigger, and the answers more elusive. And that, perhaps, is why life was easier twenty years ago. To quote the lyrics: “It almost seems like yesterday. Where do the good times go?” Ah well. If I get another twenty years, maybe I can figure it all out.

Merry Christmas! God Save You!

To Christmas or not to Christmas, that is the question: “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.” So dramatic, that Hamlet. Yet, this is what my inner dialogue has been focused on these last few days. The news too often reminds us that no one is safe, not even in a little town like Owensboro, KY. Regardless of the things we do to pretend, life is fleeting. It can be snuffed out at any second, even at Christmastime. It’s enough to make you want to not participate in Christmas at all; to let it die, to sleep, to end the heartache and shut out the light. That’s the temptation, and likely the reason so many people choose Christmas as a time to die.
Christmas is an idealized dream world. We have been conditioned to think that Santa Claus is coming to town, and every boy and girl child will wake up happy and excited. Many do, but as we are reminded every year by holiday classics like “A Christmas Carol,” there is just as much suffering on Christmas as any other day of the year. The Sir Patrick Stewart incarnation of Scrooge from the 90’s is my personal favorite. When watching it the other night, as I do every season, I was still struck by how many Scrooges I come in contact with throughout the year. Sometimes I even see him in the mirror. It’s easy to let a storied character like that become a caricature of what they actually were intended to be: a depiction of a real person, not a cartoon. Sir Patrick’s Scrooge is very human, and that’s one reason I like him so much. The other reason is that his version of the story focuses keenly on the broken heart that caused Scrooge to become the person he was. The sub story that the Ghost of Christmas Past tells us is of a young Scrooge who became such a heartless old miser. His young heart was broken by the death of his sister, and then by the loss of his true love. The first was the uncontrollable truth that is life: death waits for us all. The second was even more damaging because it was self inflicted. Villains aren’t born. Life makes them what they are. As a young man, Scrooge chose to focus on the financial failure that he perceived himself to be instead of on the riches of young love. By choosing material wealth as a prerequisite for love, he lost the more precious of the two, and then he did what so many of us do by hardening his heart. His love gone, he was left with nothing to focus on but himself. That is always a dead end. Enter the Ghost of Jacob Marley, and the Christmas miracle that would save Scrooge.
A friend remarked to me in a correspondence this week (yes, some people still correspond) that he was using Christmas as a time to focus on the outward instead of the inward. That’s what Scrooge learned to do in one night from his ghostly friends. Most of us don’t have that advantage. While it would be horrifying to be visited by ghosts and given future knowledge of one’s destiny, it would be easier than learning things the hard way in real life. Still, we can take cues from our community rather than ghosts on how to focus on the needs of others. Some people collect food for the homeless, some support toy drives, others go visit a shut-in. Everywhere you look, there are people trying to ease suffering this time of year. All you have to do is take a hint and join in, or harden your heart and sit in the darkness like pre-miracle Scrooge. It’s a choice.
Back to Hamlet… In thinking about hardening my heart this Christmas and focusing on the fact that it’s just a dream, just another day… I was reminded of the Scripture that says “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” And that is the true meaning of Christmas. After all, it’s His holiday. Life is an unpredictable mess each and every day of the year. There are wars and deaths and crises of every kind. Christmas is a season to set all that aside and “let your heart be light.” While your troubles may not be out of sight for long, it is a season to forget about your problems and focus on the troubles of others for a little while. It’s not a cure all, but a salve that certainly soothes the pain a little. Scrooge’s boisterous nephew, Fred, reminded us of that. Christmas never put a scrap of gold in his pocket, but he believed it had done him good, and would do him more good. “So, God bless it!” I wish all my readers a sliver of joy this Christmas even if it’s just for a day, and as Fred exclaimed, “Merry Christmas… God save you!”

Rarefied Earth

“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does, but you ain’t afraid when you’re washed in the blood like I was.” So goes the lyric in one of my favorite Don Williams songs. It’s a fond recollection of an unspoiled childhood in simpler times coupled with the confusion of middle age. If I listen to it too closely it brings on an allergy attack, and my eyes get a little watery. He references fallen heroes, lost religion, and fallen friends. I’ve dealt with all of that the older I’ve gotten. It leaves you scratching your head, “What do you do?” I wonder.

This week I’m choosing to focus on being thankful rather than angry; thankful for the way the world was, not angry at how it is. I grew up on a road that wasn’t paved yet with a one lane bridge over the creek. We had to take the tractors the long way around to get to the “back of the farm” because the bridge was too narrow. There was still a country store within a mile in either direction. My school was a couple miles down the road, and church was just a mile. We watched TV on a thirteen inch with rabbit ears (it was color though). For fun, we would rent a VCR and movies on the odd weekend. That’s right; we had to rent the machine too. My prized possession was a Knight Rider bigwheel that I literally ran up and down the sidewalk till the wheels came off. A trip to the combine junkyard for parts was better than a day at the beach. Western Sizzlin was our preferred restaurant destination if we were lucky enough to go out to eat, and you could count on pudding for desert.

School life was simple back then. When you got in trouble bad enough to get sent to the principal, you were going to get spanked twice, once by the principal and once when you got home. The teacher would have you go out to dust erasers at the end of the day, if you’d been good. We were still saying prayers in the public elementary school. Timed tables were the preferred method for teaching math. Sentences had to be diagrammed. There was an annual talent show where we could showcase our lack of talent, and when you got sick Mrs. Patsy would take care of you until Mom could get there.

Grandmother was right up the road, ready with a deck of cards and cookies for your visit. There was a neighbor who’d go out for a drive on his lawnmower, and another that drove his tractor to the store. Yet another hauled seed and fertilize in the back of his car. No dually pickup was required to farm in those days. Even on the bad days we were making good memories. Like the time I got to see a bull fly. “If I’m lying, I’m dying,” to quote Jerry Clower, who we listened to enthusiastically. That bull did fly. I suppose I should devote an entire article to that someday. Later that day he tried to kill me, so I eventually punched him right between the eyes. Not sure if the punch did it or not, but we respected each other more in the years that would come. He never gave me any trouble after that. There were times we got two tractors stuck in the mud because we weren’t smart enough to know it really was that wet. There were barn tiers that broke because the tobacco was that heavy, and times we came within an inch of death doing something monumentally stupid. There were a lot of bad days all together that add up to a lot of good memories. When someone tells you that you’ll look back and laugh, they’re right. However miserable it is, odds are that enough time gone by will turn the tears into a grin.

There’s a humorist that I like to listen to named Dylan Brody. He did a piece one time about how his life had been a “slow flow of glass.” It’s a great story about his childhood and how we’re all “going to be what we’re going to be.” You don’t get to be the person you are overnight. It happens slowly, like a pane of glass that starts out perfectly flat, but morphs over time. I recommend looking him up. The guy has an interesting perspective. I’m not always happy with the person that I am today, but I’m a work in progress. As I give thanks this week, I’m thankful for the quirky, backward little community in which my foundation was laid. It was far from perfect, but in retrospect it was rarefied earth. I grow fonder of it with each passing year.

24 Karat Gold Tour Review – Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders at Bridgestone

Some stars burn out. Some fade away. Others smolder, and reignite when you least expect it. That’s what I witnessed in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville this week. For our anniversary, I had gotten my wife tickets to tick a mark on her bucket list and see one of her lyrical heroes, the Gypsy Queen of Rock and Roll, Ms. Stevie Nicks. Personally I have always considered Rumours to be a herculean feat of recording, but I am not the super fan that she is. Still, The Pretenders were the opening act, and they fit right in my wheelhouse. They’re the type of band I love because they were good enough to break into the mainstream, but also deep enough not to achieve the kind of pop music success that ruins so many artists. Front-woman Chrissie Hynde is the type of snarling, guitar slinging, prancing singer that makes a rock show worth seeing.chrissie

As we sat, waiting for the lights to go down Monday night, I was nervous. I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years: Up and comers, prime-timers, and over-the-hill guitar heroes just looking for a place to play. I was expecting this show to fall into that later category. Would they be able to pull it off, or would we cringe with embarrassment when their voices cracked? Would it be so technologically enhanced that we were basically listening to robots animatronically lip syncing to a digitally remastered copy of their formerly great selves? You take a great risk when you go to a show like that. Avoiding it is the safe thing. Not going means you can remember the greatness when you heard them on the radio as a youth; going means you might be stuck with the memory of their later day faltering. If they falter, that is. Not going also means you never know. I like knowing, and life is all about taking risks. This time it paid off as we witnessed one of the all-time, top-five greatest rock shows I’ve seen. The Pretenders opened with a ferocity that sounded and looked like their heyday. I’ve seen enough artists onstage and met enough offstage to know that makeup can do amazing things, but Chrissie looked outstanding. Wearing an Elvis t-shirt and fitted jeans, she looked exactly as she should. Her vocals were spot on as she sang over pounding drums and the hard hitting baselines that give the band their signature sound. The only thing missing from their set was a piano, which would’ve helped on “My City Was Gone” and “I’ll Stand by You.” Other than that, they were perfect; setting the bar very high for what was to follow. They plowed through their set going from hit song to deep track back to hit song with little interruption. And then, it was time for the Gypsy.

As excited as I was, not many people were there for Chrissie. The night belonged to Stevie, and the crowd of what had to be 15,000 or more welcomed her and her technically perfect band to the stage with a thunderous applause that only a superstar can generate. When the music started and she began weaving her spell no one would remember that it was 2016, or that she was 68 years old. All that was evident was that she was doing what she was born to do. The name of the tour is 24 Karat Gold, and it’s appropriate. Her hits have not tarnished over the years. The “old-new” songs, as she called them, were great too. She referred to them that way because she has recorded a number of songs in recent years that have been locked away since her most prolific days of songwriting. Newer songs she’s written are still quite good, even if you can’t sing along because they never had the benefit of being drilled into your brain on Top 40 radio. She was singing them for her, she said; singing them because she liked them. I heard no disagreement in Nashville. When the time came for “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (the Tom Petty duet) Chrissie joined her onstage and sang Tom’s part. That was a treat in and of itself. The ladies seem to share a deep mutual respect, both complimenting the other. My one complaint from the show was the movie screen and background videos that ran throughout Stevie’s performance which were a bit distracting at times, but complimentary at others. “Stand Back” was one of the standout times when the screen worked, as the stage was transformed to undulating gold streamers that fit the eighties groove that makes the song so fun. That was my favorite song of the night. Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” That goes for a songstress too. Time will catch up to all of us eventually, but in 2016, Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders are still doing what they were born to do. And doing it very well.

Moron millions with much to do

“There is much more to be done than just live small, complacent lives.” Surely, that is the most poignant quote from the villain, Tobin, in Hitchcock’s 1942 classic film “Saboteur.” He was delivering a monologue about how stupid we in the “moron millions” are and how the few elite know so much better. In his speech, that one quote sticks out as the kernel of truth on which the villain and the hero can agree; there is much to be done.

Like so many classic films waiting to be discovered by we Generation X’ers and our slightly younger brethren Millennials, “Saboteur” is a film that speaks to our present struggles. It predates the Boomers too, and that generation would do well to watch it. It’s cliché to blame ones predecessors for the world’s problems, but given their track record the Baby Boomers will have a lot to answer for in the final tally of things. An anti-establishment film if there ever was one, “Saboteur” reminds us of Aesop: “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” The movie starts in an American airplane factory with a fire. The saboteur disappears like a ghost, and the hero, Barry, is framed for the fire. Not only did it cause a major setback for the war effort, it also cost his friend his life. He sets out to catch the culprit, only to find that he was not a lone wolf. In fact, he was a paid operative for a group of leaders in society. Rich and powerful people were conspiring to help the Nazis, all while pretending to be fine, upstanding members of society.  As Barry runs from the police, he uncovers their plan to conduct more clandestine operations. In order to clear his name, he has to derail their plans and expose the plot without getting killed. Modern directors should study Hitchcock more often. They would discover there are ways to make things suspenseful and scary without splattering brain matter all over the camera lens. It’s a wonder he was able to make the movie, even at the time. He was smearing a group of high powered people; real people with real power. Movies like this still get made on occasion, but all too rarely.

The speech in which the opening quote of this article appears is so fascinating because it shows how cool and collected evil people can be when concocting and explaining their machinations. Having both a public and private policy comes very natural to them. The metaphorical wolves in sheep’s clothing, none of it bothers them. They even grow tired of wearing the clothes and would prefer to show their naked aggression. They start wars, carry out assassinations, and overthrow countries without remorse or regret. When questioned, they are dismissive of their Earth changing consequences with statements like, “What difference does it make?” and “We came, we saw, he died.” They throw parties and accept awards for being peacemakers all while planning their next drone strike on someone who may or may not be their actual target or enemy. If a four year old happens to be killed in the process, so be it. It is worth the cost for them to acquire the power they crave. If their decades old wars cause twenty service people to commit suicide every day, their policies don’t change. Their insatiable desire for control only fuels their blood lust further.

The founders of our country were against a standing army. Why? Because standing armies need something to do. The military’s only job is to kill people and break things. When our war machine was not dismantled after World War II, we were given the Big Bad of Soviet Russia. They gave us something of which we could be scared. Something the elite could hold over our head and say, “You have to keep giving us all this money and power, or the Russians will get us.” After that died out, we were given the Big Bad of Terrorism. “Let us listen to your phone calls or the terrorists will get us.” I’m not saying I liked the Soviets, and I certainly have no use for ISIS. Both enemies were exacerbated by people seeking power. They were enlarged and encouraged by evil people for evil purposes; evil people who sleep well at night no matter how much blood is on their hands. “Saboteur” came out in 1942. It is as frightening today as it was then because no matter how many battles we “stupid, small” people win, the enemy is always there. There is always much more to be done.

The power and the glory

“Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?” That was the question from Kazim, a Brother of the Cruciform Sword in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s a quote that we should consider as we head out to the polls this fall. Those of us who plan to participate, that is.

I watched a few minutes of the presidential debate the other night. That‘s all that I could stomach. There was a time when I would’ve ingested the entire spectacle, but that time has passed. It’s all a bit too predictable and cliché at this point. Nothing new comes up, policy wise, in these things. It’s just a chance to get in one liners and rack up some sound bites for the media to hype until the next debate. As I watched this one, all I could think about was how mad I would be if I were a Democrat. They’d likely never admit it, but they must be furious. They have been force fed the worst candidate anyone could possibly imagine. Some would make the argument that the Republicans have been force fed as well, but that would be false. Whatever your qualms about Trump, he was the clear choice of the electorate. He’s unconventional, but his votes are his own. He won. Hillary however, won nothing. She was anointed for the spot. So afraid were the rank and file senators and governors in her party that they didn’t even try opposing her. She had the field almost completely cleared by sheer name power, and still nearly lost to the placeholder, socialist, geezer from the Northeast, Bernie Sanders. No one else even stepped in to challenge her. And now they’re stuck with her. I know exactly how they must feel. I felt that way in ‘96 when we were force fed Bob Dole as our “choice” to run against an enormously popular Bill Clinton. We all knew it would be a joke from the beginning, but it was his turn, so the establishment let him have it. They knew whoever ran would lose, so why not Bob? It happened again in ‘08 when we were stuck with John McCain. No Republican could follow Bush and win. McCain had been in Congress since Mash was the number one show on television. In 2008,  he should have been shopping for retirement homes and taking regular naps, not making a bid for the Whitehouse, but it was his turn.

Hillary was supposed to have gotten her turn in 2008, but the course of events got away from her. She had put in her time in the Senate, establishing her own pedigree sufficiently that she would be able to run then. And then Barack made that good speech, and the money men saw an opportunity. So deals were made, and Hillary got put on the back burner. She would have to wait until she was older than she’d have liked. A few concussions and God only knows what else later, she’s now in the fight of her life with a very unconventional candidate, and you might add in a very different country than what we were in 2008.

The debate was an overall snoozefest from what I’ve seen of the clips. Clinton said exactly what you would have expected, and Trump was far more restrained than anyone might have thought. He was polite and held his composure for ninety minutes; a plus for him. Clinton stood erect without coughing for ninety minutes; double plus good for her. All in all, it looked to be a draw, optics wise. Take away the obvious aid and comfort given to Clinton by Lester Holt (He may have been under duress; Clinton’s problems have a way of ending up dead), and you would’ve had a pretty even draw across the board. Quick aside: Theory posited online this week from professional poker players says that Clinton was tipping off Holt using hand signals. He did respond every time she touched her face. I’m just saying.

Price once said that the two party political system was nothing more than an illusion of choice; a veiled form of fascism where our vote doesn’t really count. It would be easy enough to agree when we are always faced with the lesser of two evils. We may not be facing that this time. As I look at the two candidates with all their flaws, I’m struck by this: Clinton is in it for her own glory. She has no special policies or abilities that couldn’t be put forth by any of 100 other more likable Democrats. She’s doing it because it’s what she has set out to do. Trump on the other hand has less to gain, and more rarity to offer. For as bombastic and arrogant as he can be, his desire to save the country seems genuine. He had a very comfortable life, and he is risking it. The paramount question is this: Was this risk for his glory, or for that of the Republic? Time shall tell.

Lyrical therapy

The world is a tough place. Everyone has their own way of getting by. There was a song a few years ago about making a choice between “drugs or Jesus.” There are more options than that though. Some people use liquor, some escape into television and movies, some read, others seek solace in music. Combination cures are popular as well. Lyrical therapy has always been one of my favorites though. I’ve written a few songs; novelties mostly. There’s “Cousin Sally” about an awkward love affair, and then my greatest hit was “Lola’s House.” It’s about a brothel frequented by all the self righteous in the community. Kind of like “Harper Valley PTA,” but slightly edgier. You won’t be hearing either on the radio. Despite my interest in many musical genres, my songs always come out country. Probably because they’re simple to write, and simple is a good descriptive of my musical ability.  It’s been years since I’ve written any songs. Now I mostly escape into other people’s lyrical wonderlands. Drive-By Truckers have one of my recent favorites, “If you’re supposed to watch your mouth all the time I doubt your eyes would be above it.” Classic.

Styx has been stuck in my head the last couple of weeks, specifically “The Grand Illusion.” It works on a macro and micro level because it paints a picture of the illusions in the media and our personal lives. Micro: Long time readers will remember a treatise I wrote several years ago against the Facebook. My opinion on the social platform hasn’t really changed, but last year I needed to get the word out on a local political issue. My business page was not the place to do it. I’ve used FB for years to peddle my stock in trade, but hadn’t used it personally until then. So over the last several months I’ve been experimenting with it, and I must say, I hate it even more than I thought. Between the immodest moms posting selfies of their finely toned abs, the lewd jokes, and the misspelled words, it is a tragicomedy of modern vanity and general stupidity. It’s the place people go to cast their illusions and pretend they have a wonderful life, or to garner sympathy for how pathetic their life is. They also announce to the world when they’re leaving town, who their kids are, and what they’re cooking for dinner. And I let it suck me in. Shame. Macro: The political cycle we are currently in has the media in a tailspin, literally. They spin, and spin, and spin. It’s getting to the point where I don’t believe any of it. They cut their sound-bites, and push their agendas, and can make anyone look bad (or good). Technology has reached a place beyond the imagination of Joseph Goebbels. Had he been afforded all our modern tools, the Third Reich would’ve ruled the world (and it may yet). While “The Grand Illusion” is a subtle reference to personal and political delusions, “I’m The Slime” by Frank Zappa is a more direct indictment of the corporate media and our personal weakness for their trickery. It’s not nearly as catchy though. Zappa is an acquired taste.

Wading through the levels of symbolism in another person’s lyrics can be a wonderful adventure. If you really want to get lost, Pink Floyd is a good place to start. If you want to go to the combination therapy I mentioned earlier, pair Pink with the Wizard of Oz and you’ll be lost for the next couple of years trying to figure it all out. I heard an author on a podcast a while back talking about The Wizard of Oz, and found that there are actually several levels of symbology going on there. His name was Robert W. Sullivan IV and he wrote Cinema Symbolism. I haven’t read the book yet, but based on his lecture it is one that I should pick up. It’s important to remember that these songs and movies (not unlike the article you’re reading now) are sometimes written for reasons beyond their face value. Some fiction is quite true, and some fact is highly fictionalized. Wonderful adventure that it may be, setting out on an expedition through pop art can also be dangerous. Thomas Cardinal Wolsey said, “Be very, very careful what you put in your head, because you’ll never, ever get it out.” Once you open your mind beyond the vulgar surface of things, it’s hard to go back on Facebook and see anything but stupidity and a lot of sad, sad people.

Solemn promises

It’s time for another dirty little secret: I hate The Pledge of Allegiance. For whatever reason, it’s always felt wrong to me. As the country has begun the descent into chaos these last twenty years, it’s felt more and more wrong every time I’ve been at a gathering where it is said. I’ve slowly stopped saying it. I’ll usually stand, but I don’t recite the words any more if I can do so without attracting too much attention. God forbid someone question my patriotism! It’s curious that in a country where so few people under fifty know how many branches of government we have, or what the Constitution even says, that people will question your patriotism for such a small thing. That’s where we are though.

The Pledge always felt a touch un-American to me. I never could quite put my finger on it, but it always sounded a bit more communist than republican (as in republicanism, not the Republican Party) to me. With a little research, I found out why (hat-tip USHistory.org). It was written by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy in August of 1892 with the thought that it could be used by citizens in any country. So it’s not really even an American thing. According to Wikipedia, Bellamy “championed the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources, which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.” It’s the whole “Jesus was a communist” theory that you can hear preached in so many churches these days. Of course they don’t use the “c” word. Communist is one of those words that we aren’t supposed to bandy about anymore. Communism was defeated in 1989. It’s all over folks; nothing to see here. Move along. It would take more space than we have here to debate whether or not Christ was a communist, so I’ll save that one for another day. It’s pretty safe to say that any compassionate person cannot be a communist however. Since Christ is closely associated with compassion, let’s assume for a moment that he was not a communist. Most people have little idea that the first European system of economics attempted in North America was indeed communism. Many of the settlers at Jamestown in the 17th century starved to death trying the whole “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” thing. They found when there was no incentive for someone to strive for success that everyone suffers. That’s yet another history lesson we don’t have space for. Look it up. Starvation and cannibalism are the end results of communism whether you’re in Jamestown, VA or Kangwon, North Korea.

Back to the pledge… A pledge is a solemn promise. I take my solemn promises pretty seriously. In fact, I don’t make many. I definitely don’t make solemn promises that are poorly worded, or given to inanimate objects that can be hijacked by lesser men (and women, Hillary fans) than I. The cool thing about the Constitution is that it’s simple, it’s written down, and you know exactly what it says. It’s also difficult to change. I can pledge allegiance to something like that. It’s an idea with which one can agree or disagree. It is not a symbol. Symbols are tricky. They can change with the times. They can be used by one group for one thing, and another for another thing. What means hatred to one group can mean love and acceptance to another. A star to a Satanist is something nefarious. To my children, it’s just something pretty in the sky. We live in epic times. All the tumult can lead you to think about a lot of things: pledges, solemn promises, what really matters, and what does not. This study on The Pledge of Allegiance led me to think about the epic movie, Braveheart. During his interrogation and right before his torture and death, William Wallace is asked about his king. “Never in my life did I swear allegiance to him,” he replies. His interrogator answers back, “It matters not, he is your king.” Stories like that are popular because they speak to fundamental truths. Every red blooded American watching that scene was moved with compassion for the brave heart about to be sent to death. He was acting with treason towards a corrupt and unjust crown to which he’d never sworn allegiance. He never made a solemn promise to his evil king. That’s one of the reasons we live in a republic and not a monarchy. Men are corruptible. Truth is not. People that swear allegiance to a man or a flag can easily be led astray. People that swear allegiance to an idea can walk to the gallows with a clear conscience. Flags can be hijacked. Truth cannot. For that reason, you should think carefully about the solemn promises you make, and go with your gut. People who are not socialists ought not say socialistic prayers.