Conversation with a Conservative Lady

Standard

Below is a partial transcript of a discussion I got into on Facebook. It’s not the whole thing: there were a couple of guys involved as well, but I found what the lady in question had to say most interesting. Some of the misspellings and grammatic mistakes are mine, and some hers, some are from my retyping the posts.

I suspect our arguments can be picked apart to some extent. I think that rebuilding infrastructure is a necessary step in any case, and doing so would add a lot of jobs, which would put money in people’s pockets, which would make the economy stronger (since they’d be likely to spend it), and broaden the tax base, eventually enabling us to pay down our debt to China. Rebuilding infrastructure was one of the things government programs did during the Great Depression. It didn’t entirely fix the Depression, but I think it probably was a necessary basis for the activity during World War II and after. Why not do that again? Exactly what do we have to lose?
Then the conservative lady asks why I live in this country. At the time I was replying to this post I wasn’t as awake as I might have been. If I’d been more awake, I might have said, it’s my country too, for all its imperfections. I don’t think conservatives disagree that the country’s imperfect, but rather about just what is imperfect about it.

She also seems to think I’m envious of the rich, a frequent conservative line of argument. I don’t think that’s true. I wouldn’t object to having more money, but I don’t ask anyone to give it to me. What I’ve often said on the subject is, I don’t object to people being rich, I object to them being rich at MY expense. My last post, below, gives an example of that.

After that post the conversation ended, I’m not sure why. I’d like to believe it’s because the lady (and anyone else concerned) realized that the way my friend was treated was indefensible. But maybe (at least in the lady’s case), the decision was that I was a bleeding-heart liberal, and no more time should be wasted on me.

Still, I persist in believing that this country is supposed to work for all its citizens, not just some, and I think the titlted playing field is the source of a lot of our problems today. I’ll be interested in any comments anyone cares to make.

Conservative Lady: Ok, let’s play “Field of Dreams if you build it they will come. First who is going to pay for this field of dreams? And when it is built on the backs of the taxpayers, who is going to come? Let us not forget that large organizations have left this country, why should they come back with all the federal regulations, rules and fines, then not to mention all the taxes these organizations will have to pay in order to reimburse the government for borrowing more money (from China) to build these field of dreams. Ok, let’s tax the rich, these same people who actually used their own skills and personal assets to build their wealth, while there were all those who stayed working for the “man”, who did not go out on a limb to start a business that evidently was successful, or maybe we can raise the taxes on all the people that are receiving their livelihood from the government programs. I know, the people that do have a job and have worked for years can foot the bill for this field of drams, or better yet let’s make our children and their children and even more, their children pay for this improvement that will make businesses want to go into those areas because they have a better infrastructure.

Me: So I guess the answer is, let’s NOT generate new jobs that will make the economy better, let’s let the successful entrepeneurs drive wages down in this country to match the slave wages of other countries, and just sit around letting the country go to hell. Goodbye American Dream. Apparently that’s just for entrepeneurs, and nobody else. Let’s allow Republicans and successful business people exclude any groups they don’t happen to like from the democratic process, and hate the way we’re told to hate. As long as we’re borrowing money from China, let’s start MORE wars. THAT will prove our patriotism. And, speaking of regulations, let’s just keep letting Wall Street gamble with other people’s money, and bail them out again when they screw up. Government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich just works so well for everybody, doesn’t it. Seems like the wealthy have their own :Field of Dreams”, which works quite well for them. Too bad the rest of us aren’t invited.

Conservative Lady: Just a question, why do you still live in this country? How do think that government money to fix our infrastructure will bring sustainable businesses to these areas? According to your statement, Those Evil Republicans are the only ones that have start and continued a war, weren’t you a young adult during the late 60’s, Democrats led that war! What about the money that was given to GM, yes, they went back to work, made a quick profit, gave out bonuses, laid off those people after given them the bonuses and now we have a huge recall on those vehicles. And why are you so envious of the people that have been able to utilise there skills and succeed?

Me: I live in this country partly because my grandchildren are here, and partly because I have a good job, and partly because this is the place to fight the nasty things going on, to even the small extent I do. I suspect that without infrastructure jobs WON’T come, but the investment in infrastructure will create jobs, which is at least a step forward. I didn’t like the Democrats in the 1960’s, and even now they’re only marginally better than the Republicans. I must agree that it’s been fashonable for at least the last 20 years for businesses to make a profit and then deny a share of that profit to the people who helped them make it. And I can’t say I’m particularly envious of the wealthy (I assume that’s who you mean). I’m a nurse, making more money than I ever expected to (with the help of government loans and several people who supported my effort to get educated), and live a pretty comfortable life, at present. On the other hand, I know people who DON’T live a very comfortable life, often through no fault of their own. One example: one of the women I work with in the nursing home where I work had to get surgery for two abdominal hernias (imagine working with those in a job where you have to reposition people). She didn’t heal very well, had to have a number of follow-up surgeries, and maxed out her health insurance. That meant she got her portions of her pay removed (can’t remember the right term for that), so she’s been struggling to pay those off since. One such bill she was about to pay off, when the people told her they’d lost her paperwork. Because of the aftermath of her illness, she’d lost her house and car, and she had also lost the paperwork to that particular bill. I suspect that’s a story that’s repeated over and over in this country. Is that the way you think this country ought to be? Keep in mind this was a woman who had a job (if not a well-paid one), and health insurance, but still got screwed. What exactly did she do wrong?

Mysteries of the Past

Standard

In a previous post I talked about the possibility of there having been a high civilization previous to the Suermieans, the earliest we have certain knowledge of. We don’t have a lot of solid evidence for that, but there’s a lot of evidence, ambiguous as it may be, that we can infer from.

Graham Hancock, in Fingerprints of the Gods, begins the book by talking about some 16th century maps of the western hemisphere, which included Antarctica. This was odd, because as far as is known, Antarctica wasn’t discovered until the early 19th century. In one of these maps Antarctica seemed to be iceless. Another odd thing: in some of these maps the western coast of South America was portrayed more accurately than the eastern coast. At the time this map was published, the eastern coast had been fairly well explored by Europeans, the western coast hardly, if at all. Why was the depiction so much more accurate?

The only possible explanation seems to be that some of the maps from which the 16th century maps were derived were very old indeed. One of the maps was made by Piri Reis, a Turkish admiral, who had access to a library in Istanbul in which many ancient documents may have been preserved. Just where such documents came from is unknown, but also unknown is any ancient civilization which had traveled so far and had the knowledge to make such accurate maps.

Robert Schoch, who studied the Great Sphinx, and found the erosion on it to be consistent with water rather than wind erosion, thus making the Sphinx older than previously thought, was dubious about these maps. He thought that in at least one the landmass identified as Antarctica was the southern tip of South America, placed off to the side, as the mapmaker had run out of room. So the evidence isn’t completely accepted. There may be other forms of evidence, though.

One of these is the town of Tiahuanaco, which is near Lake Titicaca in Peru. Lake Titicaca is a salt-water lake, with marine life similar to ocean life. The obvious conclusion is that it was once part of the Pacific Ocean, and was raised to some 5,000 feet above sealevel at some point. Tiahuanaco is now some 12 miles south of Lake Titicaca, and well above the level of the lake, but the evidence seems to show that the lake’s level has varied dramatically, and that Tiahuanaco was once a port situated at the water’s edge. One theory about Lake Titicaca says that it was created several million years ago, with the creation of the South American continent. But if it’s that old, what is a port doing on it? Who could have built it, and when?

Another theory is that it’s much less old than that, but still very old in human terms: it may have been built around 15,000 BC, which is far older than human civilization is supposed to be. But another author has evidence suggesting a very ancient civilization in human terms. Rand Flem-Ath (a husband and wife team) wrote The Atlantis Blueprint with Colin Wilson, and in it describes a discovery he made. The ancient site of Teotihuacan, in Mexico, has a large complex, including some very large and ancient pyramids. Like many ancient monuments, all over the world, it is oriented in a north-south direction, but the direction is off a little bit, relative to the current location of the North Pole. However, the North Pole hasn’t always been located in the same place. During the last Ice Age, it was located in the area of Hudson Bay, and that area is what the monuments in Teotihuacan, and elsewhere in Mexicon, were oriented on.

Not only that, but the orientation of other ancient monuments in other parts of the world are also towards the ancient pole. Not only are many sites aligned to the Hudson Bay Pole, but their latitudes are usually set pretty precisely on multiples of 5 degrees. Sites in the British Isles and in Mexico were at 50 degrees when the North Pole was in the area of Hudson Bay, for instance, Carthage and Quito are at 30, the Giza pyramids, Jerusalem, and Jericho at 15 degrees, and quite a number of others.

The next question would be, how did the location of the poles change? Charles Hapgood was a scientist who theorized that at times the earth’s surface can move as much as 2,000 miles realtively suddenly, and that this is unlike the constant movement that is happening beneath the earth’s surface. Maybe Hapgood was a crank with a faulty theory, but Albert Einstein, to whom he sent it, didn’t think so. If that is true, it explains one phenomenon: quick-frozen mammoths found in Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon. How quickly they were frozen is the subject of some debate, but from what I read, they’ve been found with plantlife not yet digested in their stomachs, the likes of which haven’t grown in the areas where they were found for many thousands of years. It might also explain how an ancient map came to depict Antarctica (or part of Antarctica) as lacking ice: at that time at least some of Antarctica was about 2,000 miles further north than it is now. This might also provide an area where a REALLY ancient civilization developed, where we can’t find ancient artifacts because they’re buried beneath a huge ice sheet.

Not that there aren’t other sources of evidence for ancient civilization. For instance, there have been ancient cities found in the ocean off northwestern and southeastern India. There’s also a large complex that has been found near an island between Japan and Taiwan. Robert Shoch, the geologist previously mentioned, visited part of this complex beneath the ocean, and said he was disappointed to find nothing that was unequivocally human-made. But he also didn’t have long to study the area, and also saw only a small part of it.

So the history of the human race continues to be mysterious. Possibly the archaeological view that high civilization didn’t begin until the Sumerians is approximately true, but that was less than 6,000 years ago. Humans have been around much longer than that, so it’s not impossible that high civilizations have risen and fallen, and left little of their accomplishments behind that we can date unequivocally. But there are certainly some interesting things that suggest humans have been accomplishing amazing things for a very long time.

Illegal Drugs

Standard

Several years ago I picked up an interesting book: Crossing the Rubicon, by Michael Ruppert. The central thesis of the book is that 9/11 was at least partly arranged by people high in the Bush administration. That allegation has been out there for awhile, and you may already have an opinion about  it. And it’s not the part of the book I want to talk about here. Part of Ruppert’s thesis, evidence for which he says he began coming across in the 1970’s, when he was a policeman for the LAPD, is the convergence of government, big business and organized crime. One of those points of convergence, he says, is illegal drugs.

He points out that Prohibition, which only lasted 13 years, fueled the rise of organized crime. The “War on Drugs” has lasted 40 or so years. If it was successful, you should be hearing a lot less about drug addicts. Instead, he says, drugs are still easily found on the streets, and their quality, if anything, has gone up. Is there anything wrong with this picture?

Illegal drugs seem to be one of the most profitable products there are, and Ruppert alleges that governments have been involved in the business for a long time. There’s evidence to back him up, too. Probably not many people are familiar with the Opium Wars, in which Great Britain fought China in the 1840’s because China didn’t want the British selling opium in their country, which, according to Ruppert, the British had been doing since the 17th century (much longer than I had imagined). Unsurprisingly, China lost both those wars, setting up the situation in the 20th century during which the Manchu government disappeared, and was replaced by that of Sun Yat-sen, followed by Chiang Kai Shek. The Nationalist Chinese government wasn’t a strong one, sharing its power with various warlords,  and was eventually overturned by Mao Tse-tung and the Communists. That makes an interesting sidelight to the current “debate” on the correct size of government taking place in this country.

Ruppert further alleges that the agency that preceded the CIA during World War II also sold drugs to finance their activities. About 40 years later allegations were made that the CIA was running drugs into this country to finance their activities supporting the Contras in the struggle against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Drugs are not only big business, but they can have a large impact on politics.

If the above allegations are true, and at least some of them appear to be, I doubt that government use of drugs for financial and political gain stopped there. It’s fairly well known that the penalties for cocaines use differ substantially between powder and crack cocaine. Why is this? Powder cocaine users are usually white, while crack cocaine users are predominantly black. And a larger percentage of blacks go to prison than whites overall. Just possibly, this isn’t because blacks are more criminally inclined than whites, but because various political interests want more blacks in prison.

Most illegal drugs have been with us for over a hundred years. Black musicians were using cocaine 100 years ago (a few, at least), and it was only about a hundred years ago that heroin and cocaine were made illegal. They had been available over the counter and in various “medicines” up until that time. Columnist Leonard Pitts published a column in the last couple of months in which he quoted various statistics about illegal drugs. The one that stuck in my mind was that the percentage of drug addicts in this country is currently the same as it was 100 years ago: 1.4%. I don’t know how that statistic was arrived at, but if it’s even approximately true, that means that efforts against illegal drugs have done nothing to solve the problem.

Almost 50 years ago Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown, was published. He was writing about having grown up in Harlem, in New York City, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, and one of the most powerful portions of the book was his description of what he called “the plague”; when heroin came to Harlem. He explained that the black community there didn’t have high expectations. If you were a young black male, you expected to get into more and more trouble throughout your teens, and that you would be going to prison for a long time by your early 20’s. Making an honest living, let alone a good one, was hardly even on the radar. Brown’s opinion was that heroin constituted an acceptable way out for many young men (and women), so that once “the plague” was really underway, there was hardly a family in which there wasn’t at least one junkie. Obviously, people without hope tend to be more attracted to drugs than others. I can only speculate as to whether the appearance of heroin in Harlem was coincidental, or whether it was “arranged” by people who preferred to see young black people addicted to drugs rather than agitating for political change. The very fact that I can seriously entertain that notion suggests the volume of corruption in this country.

It’s also pretty well-known that Southeast Asia was a source of drugs during the Vietnam war. A good many soldiers became addicted there, and the CIA was allegedly promoting the production of sale of illegal drugs to finance their activities in the region. According to Michael Ruppert, the US war against Afghanistan may have been prompted, at least in part, by the Taliban’s threat to stop allowing poppies to be grown in the country, which might have seriously cut down supplies of heroin. He also alleges that drug problems came to Iraq with US occupation of the country, facilitated by various construction companies patronized by the government.

I never finished reading Crossing the Rubicon: it was too depressing. Drugs were far from the only subject addressed in the book, and it testified to a terrifying level of corruption in this country and the rest of the world. While I hadn’t studied the problem, it had been too obvious for me to be totally unaware of. Drugs may be an important component of corruption, but it’s obvious that they’re hardly the only one. It’s not hard to find stories about the corruption of people we’re suppossed to be able to trust, in all kinds of areas.

Ruppert saw an interaction between three major groups, regarding drugs. Organized crime brings them to this country and distributes them, then launders the money, often in American banks. Because of drug money, American banks can give American businesses loans at lower rates than businesses in other countries can get, giving them an advantage. Industries and banks then buy politicians to pass legislation that favors their various activities. I find that scenario scary.

Is there a solution to the problems caused by illegal drugs? On one end of the problem, the solution would be to reduce people’s desire for them. Not exactly an easy thing to do in today’s culture. On the other end, how do you reduce corruption? That takes a moral rejuvenation, and perhaps an incorruptible authority to punish those selling the drugs in large quantities, rather than those consuming them or selling them only in small quantities. One possible solution would be to legalize all illegal drugs, recognizing that alcohol and tobacco are as dangerous, and possibly even more so. Whether that would make things better is debatable. What doesn’t seem to be debatable is that our previous approaches haven’t worked.

Prehistory

Standard

A few posts ago I wrote about an article by physicist Carlo Rovelli, who contends that science is not about certainty. At best, it’s our best understanding at present of how the world and universe work. This is by no means only true of physics. The history of the human race is also very mysterious. Scientists stying DNA have reportedly tracked all the DNA they’ve studied back to one female ancestor some 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. Which seems to mean that the human race, as we now know it, must have originated about that time. If that is approximately true, then what have humans been doing all this time? History, as recorded in writing, only goes back 5,000 years.

The mainstream archaeological view is that humans wee stuck in the Stone Age for a considerable length of time, and it wasn’t until about 6,000 years ago, more or less, that we see the beginnings of civilization with the Sumerians. And the Sumerians seemed to suddenly acquire an almost modern civilization, with many of the practices and institutions we now have, like agriculture, towns, writing, a law code, etc. Did none of those things exist before the Sumerians? There are certainly legends suggesting they did. Legends like Atlantis and Mu, and in ancient Indian writings, descriptions of things that sound very much like modern aircraft.

But we don’t have to decide whether we believe or disbelieve in Atlantis. There are strange enough things from historical times that we don’t understand. One of these is the Great Sphinx.

Mainstream Egyptologists believe that the Sphinx was carved from bedrock at about the same time as the Great Pyrmaid was built, generally agreed to be a little prior to 2500 BCE. That view received a shock about 20 years ago when Robert Schoch, a geologist, studied the Sphinx, and concluded that the erosion on it (very prominent toward its rear) was water rather than wind erosion. This means that the Sphinx was carved either before or during a time when there was a great deal of rainfall in Egypt. There’s some debate about just when the climate there changed, but the most recent date I’ve seen (and it’s by no means certain), is that there were at least occasional periods of heavy rain as late as about 2300 BCE. The actual date may be quite a bit earlier.

Arcaheologists dispute this idea, because they’ve found no evidence that the technology existed to carve such a large-scale monument before 2500 BCE, or so. But this overlooks the fact that we don’t really know how the pyrmaids, and particularly the Great Pyramid, were built, to say nothing of other Egyptian monuments, or other monuments in a lot of different parts of the world. Two pyramids were supposedly built before the Great Pyramid. One of these is the Bent Pyramid, the other was also imperfect. The Great Pyramid is possibly the most impressive monument in the world, not only because of its size, but because of the precision with which it was built. It is oriented almost perfectly to north, east, west and south, with the length of the bases on each side almost exactly equal, and oriented almost precisely on a latitudinal line, almost precisely at the point where lower Egypt begins, that it includes the mathematical concepts of pi and the Golden Section (both usually thought to have been formulated much later), and seems to also be a scale model of the northern hemisphere of the world. Its orientation isn’t perfect, but the errors in it are extremely small. How did the Egyptians create something with such precision, which needed extremely accurate knowledge, as well as sophisticated tools?

Mainstream archaeology has thought that Egypt had no iron, which seems unlikely, in view of the amount of stone that had to be cut, and very precisely cut too. And the stone with which it was built were often very large, of many tons apiece. The so-called King’s Chamber, inside the pyramid, is roofed with slabs weighing about 70 tons apiece. How were these moved and put in place?

These are by no means the only unanswered questions about ancient Egypt. There are temples (for instance, the temple in front of the Great Sphinx) made of even larger stones, of hundreds of tons apiece. To make this example even more mysterious, the temple is built within the depression where the Sphinx lies. Since it was carved from bedrock, most of it lies below ground level. We now have cranes that might be able, with difficulty and long preparation time, to move stones of that size, but they wouldn’t have sufficient space to do it within the area where the Sphinx is. At this point we can theorize about what kind of technology Egypt may have had that made it possible to not only conceive, but carry out such impossible-seeming feats. The simple fact is, we don’t know how it was done.

Not that the above exhausts the mysteries of ancient Egypt or other parts of the world. Graham Hancock addresses this and other mystries in Fingerprists of the Gods, and other books, and so do a number of other people. The genre of historic and prehistoric mysteries goes back some distance. Perhaps the first, and best-known mention of Atlantis comes from Plato, who seems to treat it as historical fact, though he may possibly have intended it as a fable. But the famous Greek historian, Herodotus, records having visited Egypt in the probably the 4th century BCE, and having conversed with an Egyptian priest, who said that Egypt’s history extended back 30,000 years. Historians and archaeologists have been reluctant to believe this, but it’s possible that the priest actually knew what he was talking about.

An interesting discovery by Robert Bauval, also in the 1990’s, was that the Great Pyramid and the other two pyramids close to it, are aligned in a way that mirrors the belt of the constellation of Orion. That constellation was identified with the Egyptian god Osiris, but more interesting than that is that Bauval did computer modeling of just how the constellation appreared to Egyptians of that area in different eras. The appearance that most closely matched the alignment of the three pyramids (and other monuments of the complex, which completed the representation) was dated to about 10, 500 BCE. If that’s accurate, it’s approximately the time that the last Ice Age had either ended or was in the process of ending. This could either be a coincidence, or an accurate memory of how the sky looked in that era. There’s certainly evidence that the Egyptians knew a great deal about astronomy in order to so accurately align the Great Pyramid, so I think we have to believe there’s a possibility that they DID in fact know what the constellations looked like in that remote epoch.

Egyptians were by no means the only ancient peoples with astronomical knowledge. Almost everyone knows about Stonehenge, and how the light hits the central part of it at certain times. Fewer may know about one of the pyramids of ancient Mexico, where the light hitting the pyramid on a certain day (probably the Spring Equinox) produces the illusion of a gigantic serpent on the pyramid. Ancient people seem to have known a great deal more than we now give them credit for.

There’s much more to say on this subject, but I’ll continue with it in later posts.

Television

Standard

Television is an odd phenomenon. When I moved here to the Roanoke Valley I found one of the TV stations advertising itself as “Your hometown station”, and one of the first events my wife to-be and I went to was one of the weather forecasters from that station speaking at the church in which we eventually got married. I guess I found it odd to think of TV being treated as a tradition. It hasn’t been around much longer than I have, but I guess that’s long enough to form a tradition. I suppose the idea of celebrity played into this particular event too. A person on a local TV station seems like kind of a small-time celebrity. But maybe that’s a whole different subject.

I had already noticed how hypnotic TV is. When I lived in a meditation center, children would suddenly freeze in front of the TV, and would have to be told to move. But I probably have a somewhat unusual relationship to the medium. That’s because my parents never had TV in the house when we were growing up. I think it was a conscious decision on their part, and a good one. There are a lot of things on TV that children don’t need to be exposed to. Not just violence or sexuality, but commercials, as well as shows that might as well be commercials, that tell people what it’s okay to do, or what they should do. A lot of the message is to buy stuff, and a majority of the things on TV are things you don’t need. Nobody needs to buy cars or clothes every year (unless they’re growing children), to say nothing of the kinds of foods and drinks that get advertised and seen on shows.

And when you’re sitting in front of a TV all day, you’re unlikely to care much for reading, which cuts you off from a whole lot of stuff, some of which is very worthwhile. Of course popular books and series often become movies, but it’s a pretty rare movie that’s as good as the book, let alone better. And game shows? So-called reality shows? The “reality” game shows I’ve watched  (not recently) seemed to demand lying and cheating to be successful. Not exactly what you want to teach your kids. I also caught part of a “Real Housewives” (I don’t recall what city). It looked like the women were obscenely rich, and only had trivial interests. I don’t remember the details anymore, but who wants their kids to see THAT?

At one point, after I started working for a living, I bought a TV, and got hooked on watching it. Just about everything. That was a reaction to not having a TV before that. And goodness knows I’ve seen some pretty good stuff. But nowadays? More channels, and less to watch. I finally decided to get rid of my satellite service about a year ago. I was paying about $100 a month for it, and because I work nights ant weekends, I couldn’t watch much in the way of sports (which I would have watched), and other than the CSI’s and Law and Orders, there just wasn’t much I was interested in. So sometimes I catch a little piece of something at work, but I’m not really in the TV world now.

I wasn’t totally out of the TV world when I was a child. I used to watch at my cousins house, who lived across the road from us, and at both sets of grandparents. I remember how far back Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Bonanza, and The Flintstones go back, and marvel that they’re still on TV, and that presumably people are still watching them. I suppose it’s kind of like my favorite books and records, but it still seems strange.

And when I (very rarely) catch part of a political show, it always seems like pure propaganda. There’s so much that seems like it’s being misrepresented. Particularly on the conservative side (I’ve never cared for the conservative viewpoint, and now it seems to be baised to the point of insanity), but also on Bill Maher’s show, which I used to watch sometimes. There’s a lot of craziness out there these days.

If I didn’t work nights and weekends, I’d watch sports, but without TV, and driving a car without a radio, I’m disconnected from sports now too. Eventually I hear who won the World Series, the Super Bowl, and all the other big events, but it’s not important the way it used to be. I suppose that makes me a real nerd, doing little for entertainment besides reading books. I can think of worse things to do, though.

Of course there have been things on TV I’m glad I didn’t miss. I, Claudius, on PBS back in the 70’s, was based on two books by Robert Graves that I’d read and enjoyed, and I thought the series was one of the best things I’d seen. Possibly even better was a movie of Eugene O’Neill’s, A Moon for the Misbegotten, with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst. That was O’Neill’s last play, one with a lot of deep emotion to it, because it was almost autobiographical. I had read a lot of O’Neill, but not that play.

Of course, on a more mundane level, there were a lot of shows I enjoyed then too, and I’ve enjoyed some since. The Laws and Orders and CSIs, but also biographies of musicians I’ve liked. And the occasional science show. It’s not more than about two years ago I saw most of a program on William S. Burroughs, at one time one of my favorite writers, on PBS. Glad I didn’t miss that one. And I’ve liked silly stuff at times too. But it seems like now silly stuff is downright stupid, though maybe that applies more to movies than TV shows. I no longer have much expertise in either area.

Still, it’s kind of interesting being cut off from a major part of the media like that. Maybe it makes me more isolated, but I wouldn’t be too sure of that. TV can be as addicting and isolating as anything else. I’ve certainly had periods of watching a lot, and of course it can be quite hypnotic, which lots of people obviously like. It’s very good at building alternate realities. I just don’t care much for the kind it builds.

Standard

The other day I read the current issue of the New Yorker, which called itself a science fiction issue. I didn’t read the fiction (never do with the New Yorker, for whatever reason), but did read several pieces by science fiction writers. One was by Ray Bradbury (that was good timing), also by Ursula Leguin and William Gibson, as well as at least two by authors I hadn’t heard of before. That’s one way to talk about science fiction, and arguably a better way than trying to list all the various themes and pertinent writers.

So yesterday I picked up the new Miles Vorkosigan novel, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Bujold has been publishing for about 30 years, and is one of the best of the sf (my preferred abreviation) writers currently. The main character of most of her novels, Miles Vorkosigan, is a very likeable character. Born to a noble family of high achievers, because of exposure to poison while still a fetus, he is very short, his bones are very brittle, and he has seizure disorder. But he’s also very ambitious, and doesn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wants to do. What he particularly likes doing is sticking it to bad guys, and he gets around his physical problems through intelligence, imagination and energy. Perhaps that description suggests Bujold’s stories are compulsively readable. If so, it’s because they are. Happy endings abound, but that doesn’t mean the stories are necessarily superficial. Bujold is one of the best of the current writers in the genre.

You don’t have to take my word that there were more good writers in the genre in the 1960s. If anyone is interested, I can send you a list, and you can decide for yourself. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some very good writers today.

Besides Bujold, I have to admit that William Gibson is one, though I’ve never read anything of his that I’ve really LIKED. Maybe that suggests a lack of sophistication on my part. C.J. Cherryh is a different matter. She’s been publishing 35-40 years now, and though I haven’t read a lot of her books, a number of them are of really high quality. The longest, and arguably the best, is Cyteen, published between 25 and 30 years ago, though she published a sequel fairly recently. Part of that novel deals with sexual molestation and its effects, and the sense of being trapped. Cherryh handles that theme very effectively, which makes me wonder if she possibly experienced something of that herself, or knew someone who did. Having begun publishing so long ago, when she must have been relatively young, and being so successful, makes me wonder. I don’t think writers are so successful so young unless they have something to say. Perhaps that theme was part of what was driving her.

More recently, she’s been writing a series in which humans are a minority race on a planet full of black humanoids who are also larger than humans. The main character in that series is human, the ambassador between humans and the native race, who finds himself losing contact with his human friends and family, and to some extent going native. The series is adventurous, and the message is more implicit than explicit. The native race’s culture seems to be more  Japanese than African.

C.S. Friedman’s first novel, In Conquest Born, absolutely blew me away, but though she’s continued to be successful, I’ve liked none of her subsequent work as much. Unfortunate.

L.E. Modesitt is another author who’s been doing it a long time, and very prolifically. He leans a bit more to fantasy than science fiction, but is good in both. His novels tend to be violent, though his characters frequently deplore the need for violence. He also values hard work, discipline and responsibility.

David Wingrove published a series called Chung Kuo beginning perhaps two decades ago, about a world in which virtually all the landmass was covered by an artificial environment on pillars (so a few people could live underneath) dominated by the Chinese, and about the forces trying to destroy it. I found the last novel in the series disappointing, and haven’t heard of anything much he’s done since, but the series is worth checking out.

David Zindell is another who wrote a series about the far future, beginning with the novel Neverness, about a space pilot who is ambitious, daring, and somewhat criminal. The series continues with his son as the main character, and the son is rather a nicer person (in fact a bit too nice to be true), but the series holds together very well.

Gene Wolfe is a writer who’s been around for quite a long time, and has an impressive body of work, with several different series. He writes more in the science fantasy vein, with both advanced technology and the apparent supernatural. One series is based in the past, another two in the far future. He’s old enough that more work may not be forthcoming from him.

Orson Scott Card is another author who has been around a long time. He’s done quite a variety of things, but I think his best work remains the series that started with Ender’s Game. An alien race invades earth, and genius-level children are the group that finally repulse and nearly destroy it. Sequels to that novel have gone in a variety of directions, but my favorite is the series based on Bean, first found as a child on the streets of Rotterdam, who develops into being second only to Ender in the force opposing the aliens. Little as I like Card’s political opinions, he’s a very fine writer.

Peter Hamilton started publishing within the last 20-30 years, but I only came across his work a few years ago. His most recent series is what is called space opera: A truly evil alien race attacking human settlements in the galaxy, which makes for a wide picture, with lots of action and characters. The sequel to that takes place in the same universe, in which a mileu separated from the rest of the galaxy finds a man with the power to change the past. Other humans get wind of this and attempt to enter the mileu. That’s the kind of power that makes people salivate.

Although there are a number of good writers currently in the sf genre, I get the impression that quite a few of them are more interested in producing product than good writing. I’ll mention just one, and I’m not even sure it’s true of him: Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert, who created an instant classic with Dune, in the 1960’s. He also wrote an interesting biography of his father, who encouraged him to write more about the Dune universe. By now he’s written more books about it than his father did. I picked up the first of those, and quit halfway through it, not really liking his writing style. I haven’t checked since to see if it has improved.

But it’s hard to come up with new themes. In one of the recent series (not Twilight, more recent than that), in which war has become an entertainment, reminds me of a novelette from 50 or so years ago, based on the same premise. The background was more 1960s than futuristic, though. The same themes keep coming back, and I wonder if that theme is now more urgent than then. The novelette was written before the Vietnam war had begun to really escalate.

Resonance: A Few More Thoughts About Music

Standard

As I understand it, the word resonance refers to vibrations; where, when one object vibrates, it causes another to vibrate too. That’s the literal meaning. So, when we hear a sound, it is literally vibrations causing the structures in our ears to vibrate. From these vibrations our brains distill meaning, whether from random sounds, speech or music. Music is a particularly mysterious phenomenon, since it can resonate not only with our ears, but also with our emotional centers. Music can make us laugh or cry, cause disgust or ecstasy, and I doubt that even musicians understand how this happens. They may understand that when they play or sing something in a certain way it produces a certain effect in most people who hear it, but I doubt they understand why that happens.

Of course we know that music can have profound effects on people, and thus can be threatening to some. A lot of people feared rock and roll 60 or so years ago. Now it seems that rap is the music that is feared. My question is why music should affect us so. It seems to be a universal in human culture, which means it speaks to (or resonates with) something deep within us.

According to one source, this is our emotional center, which, in some contexts, the author refers to as a “brain”, and says that more can be understood through our emotional centers than our intellectual centers, because the emotional center is more subtle. Because this is  so, that makes possible what the author calls “objective art”, which he compares to a physics textbook, saying that with proper preparation anyone will get pretty much the same thing from a piece of objective art as anyone else.  He says that, by contrast, most Western art is based on associations, some of which may be pretty universal, but which people interpret according to their own associations, which may be quite individual. So one piece of music may move one person to tears, while another may not be able to hear anything in it at all. The difference in reaction may be due simply to each person’s background. Someone who has been trained may see more in a piece of art than someone who hasn’t been–but that may depend on the kind of training and just what effect it had.

Someone might be influenced to dismiss all music as meaningless, for example. Another person might be trained in the structure of music, and be unable to hear the music for the notes. Still another might be trained in the development of his or her emotional center, and be able to perceive much more in any artwork than an ordinary person would. We ordinary people just blunder around in the immense forest of music, and find parts of it we like or dislike, for reasons we probably don’t understand. I’ve never cared for opera, for instance, but it’s been immensely popular in the past, and continues to move some people.

In the 19th century there was a huge controversy about whether music should be representational or abstract. Richard Wagner was probably as popular a composer as there was in that era, and since he wrote little besides opera, his music was considered representational. Brahms was considered the examplar of abstract music, since he never wrote operas or music supposed to definitely represent any particular thing, like Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony, for instance. That didn’t mean that Brahms didn’t appreciate Wagner’s music (I don’t know if the reverse was true), and now the whole argument seems kind of ridiculous. Some music is good, even if we can’t define what makes it good, and some isn’t, and categories seem to make little difference.

If there’s a way to know what makes one piece of music better than another, it must be through perception. The more deeply we can perceive, the more likely we are to be able to tell real gold from fool’s gold. The same is true for the musician. A musician who can hear the octaves within each note he or she plays may be able to play something that’s deeper than another person can play, though it might not be as immediately accessible, or even be thought boring. It’s an odd thing that virtuosos, who can play virtually anything, often seem to have little to say, while instrumentalists with much less talent may be able to light a fire in their audiences. Mere physical dexterity counts for less than what we might describe as emotional depth. Some people have a lot to communicate, others very little.

That doesn’t mean that many of us have nothing to say worth hearing, but that we haven’t yet figured out how to express whatever it is. We each have our own story, and that story may be meaningful to others, if we can find a meaningful way to tell it. Musicians want to make a living, like anyone else, but the best of them have something more they want to do, or they wouldn’t have gotten into music in the first place. That’s true of any kind of artist, and most of us have artisitic inclinations, even if we haven’t learned how to express them.

So go ahead and try creating. You never know when something you do may resonate with someone else.