The Internet of Things and the Technopocalypse

beecham_research_internet_of_thingsPrepare yourself for a zeitgeist shift. Your things are becoming smarter than you.

Internet-of-ThingsAll kinds of objects, from highway entrances to clothing mannequins, pace makers to industrial shelving, are already armed with micro-sensors which are communicating with the web to prevent traffic jams or inventory depletion, report arrhythmia or even when to run your dryer to avoid peak pricing. And it’s all happening without making a peep.

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Soon your things will take preventative actions: cars communicating before colliding, laptops ordering replacement parts prior to a warranty expiring, a smart wine bottle letting you know the optimal time to open it.

songdoprojectfinalcopyqi8It’s all well underway in Songdo, Korea, the first smart-city, where every essential “thing” will shortly be linked up and self-referencing via a perpetual stream of communication, bandwidth providing.

do-you-know-whos-watching-you-570x318While technophiles are thrilled about a system that will free us from routine nuisances prior to disruption, technophobes are sounding alarms that the infrastructure for a total surveillance state is now in place: one where your blender is subpoenaed to find out how many margaritas you swilled before you went out. And it won’t be afraid to talk. Smart objects will size us up at every turn, scanning our retinas, cross-referencing our profiles with however many gigs of data they’ve already amassed, like your purchase history, and that direct deposit your employer made into your account. The object will set its price accordingly so that you just can’t say no– and it’ll all happen before you blink twice.

how-much-does-car-insurance-cost-todayOr darker, your car is tracked as you drive into a low-rent neighborhood where you teach at an underprivileged school, but instead of being rewarded for your altruism, your insurance company bumps up your rate because the area’s high risk.

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It’s not a stretch to imagine a cyber attack causing a technopocalypse in your home, where that turbo Dyson vacuum goes Cujo, colluding with your alarm system and microwave to hold your family hostage. A security patch will restore it all just as easily as it came apart for the low price of whatever they feel like gouging you for, as you’re trapped in a broom closet fighting of a battalion of pissed off appliances.

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And what happens when smart technology evolves into smart-ass technology. How soon till your dishwasher is degrading you in front of your loved ones? “Is that really how you stack dishes? Are you blind or stupid or both?” Or your car jacks your twitter handle, hitting your followers with, “Guess who’s gonna be late again. Told him to avoid the 101 but dipshit knew better!” It’s only a matter of time before all of your objects are fighting for social media space. Your toaster oven will be more concerned with adding friends than heating up your crumpets.

yelling-hard-drive-latencyHaving blow out arguments with objects won’t be unusual. Nor will being humiliated by a crosswalk sign as you jaywalk. A ticket will arrive in the mail, the envelope will know it’s been opened, and a direct withdrawal will be made from your debit account.

HALquotes.004-e1363830156673And as you check your smart-wallet for whatever tangible currency you have left, it’ll recommend you consider a second job to cover your expenses. If you don’t get one, you’ll find yourself locked in by a smart door which doesn’t want you going further into debt. It’ll all be for your own good, it will say in calm voice. After all, it’ll know better than you.

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Look Out Multiverse, Here We Come

multiverse_by_hellstormde-d47da8qSince the Industrial Age kicked off three hundred years ago, our glorious species has been gleefully pillaging and polluting the planet with the impunity most often reserved for maladapted viruses– the kind that unknowingly kill their host, and themselves as a result of their fanatical zest for life. But before that happens, the smart virus will jump to another host with the intention of evolving a more sustainable relationship, one that doesn’t end in suicide.

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So are viruses smarter  than humans? Cause the test results are in, and it seems our host, this blue green planet we live on, isn’t feeling so hot at the moment. You might even say she’s pretty pissed  at this point, and showing signs of flat out fury.

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We stand at a precarious crossroads. The effects of industrialization have reached scientific certainty, and yet, an utterly irrational desire for growth in perpetuity has lead us headlong toward the equivalent of environmental DEFCON 1.

Destruction is imminent at this rate, albeit at a much slower and painful pace than all out nuclear war. To clarify, this is the destruction of us as a species, not Mother Earth herself .  She’ll be around for millions of years after we’re all dead and buried and recycled.imagesizer

And yet, all of the hubristic, mostly white males in power still lack the imagination to even consider an alternative to the current system. It’s going to be unbridled, unregulated, bottom-line thinking till the oceans boil and clouds are black with soot– great grandchildren be damned.

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You’ll find two books in the anthropology isle of your local digital bookstore that breakdown the similarities of all empires in decline. “A Short History of Progress,” by Ronald Wright, sheds a bright light on the logistics of how all Golden Ages end in ash.  And Joseph Tainter’s, “The Collapse of Complex Societies” is a similar page turner which will leave you dumbstruck that we know as much as we do about it all and still can’t modify our behavior.global-warming-pollution-concept-26921250

You know the premise by now: we’ve created a system based on the impossibility of an eternal supply of natural resources. Unfortunately, there are no new land masses left to loot, or oceans to flush poison into. Everything just accumulates from here on out. UnknownBut instead of even a minor adjustment to the economic game plan, we chose to dig deeper and push harder, with the singular ambition of keeping that balance sheet in the darkest black. It’s get-as-much-as-you-can-get-right-now, regardless of screeching alarm bells and super-sized hurricanes and historically harsh winters and mountains of terrifying evidence from nobel laureates. The central question currently being debated today  is still, “How and when can we get more?”31KochClimate

Treat a friend like that, or your car, and see how far it gets you. Can’t everything around us continue to work with just a little less?  What would an investment in awareness yield down the line? What are the profit margins of conservation?

Is it bleeding heart liberal to suggest not pathologically red-lining every single resource on earth that we can make a product out of? Yes it is, you commie,  socialist, loser. Now shut up and pass the pick ax, drill bit, exhaust pipe. Time to take another hit.moon_movie_image__3_

 

As we look to space exploration, the last frontier, our viral-minded mentality remains perplexedly unevolved. “What planets out there will give us the most? What can we bring back and mark up to keep this poison-spewing juggernaut on earth churning?” The 2009 film, “Moon”, with Sam Rockwell, is a story about a lunar mining operation for a deep crater mineral that will help the earth solve its power problems. We’ve stripped mined and fracked the earth to death. Thank goodness the moon’s so close!

A VISUALISATION OF MARS CREATED FROM SPACECRAFT IMAGERY.

Initial analysis concerning the colonization of Mars has unironic parallels: the likely abundance of rare metals like platinum, gold, silver, as well as deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, which is five times more abundant than on earth, could be used to replace coal. Hey, awesome! There’s a whole universe out there to exploit!

images copyEven better is the latest cosmological hypothesis which claims that there aren’t just innumerable exo-planets, and galaxies to eventually travel to and plunder, but whole other universes! A few cutting-edge physicists have postulated that our universe, all 13.8 billion observable light-years of it, is just one of many. And all of these multiverses are sitting in individual super-duper- major-massive black holes (my term) which protect them from whatever’s on the other side.These individual black holes are so big that they leave room for infinite expansion, which our universe has been doing since the Big Bang.

pia16695-43-1024x768It’s Big Capitalism’s wet dream come true. If these renegade physicist turn out to be right, then there are innumerable super-duper-major-massive black holes holding innumerable other universes all contained in super-duper-whopper-Mothership universe.

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A good visual is to imagine an infinitely large wheel of Swiss cheese. The Mothership universe is the entire wheel, and the holes within it are where all of these individual multiverses like ours sit. And more so, it’s possible that all of these black holes interlink like one-way portals to each other. It’s all connected.

Multiverse_-_level_IThe Swiss Cheese theory is nothing short of revolutionary, and it’s probably tasty with honey baked ham and spicy mustard on pumpernickel.

 

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And though it can’t be proved just yet, it should be enough for every near-sighted capitalist to breath a sign of relief that there are more than enough resources out there to infect with the virus of economic expansions in perpetuity.

Keep the blinders on fellas. And full speed ahead!

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Hey! I’m Walkin’ Here!

midnight-cowboyAs a decade long New York transplant, there’s nothing more galvanizing than witnessing downtown Los Angeles come to life– explode, might be a better adjective– with nationally recognized restaurants, brand new museums, indy boutiques and art galleries.

odeon_imageIt feels a little like Tribeca did in the 1980′s, when daring entrepreneurs ventured south from the Village and Soho in an effort to expand the city’s options for dining and imbibing and discovery. Remember when the Odeon was the only place down there to eat? Within a few years , there were fifty other spots to hit. All you needed was the will to adventure and a good pair of walking shoes and your options were unlimited.

jaywalking-ticketSo when the New York Times writes a piece on the spike in jaywalking tickets being slapped on pedestrians in downtown L.A., one can’t help but cringe at all the remaining dissimilarities between the two great cities. In short, how can you take a place seriously when it doesn’t trust its residents to cross the street on their own?

“We’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths,” proclaims Lt. Lydia Leos.

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I can just hear Ratso Rizzo complaining to Joe Buck: “Yeah, yeah, I’m s-s-sure, uh,  traffic accidents will clear r-r-right up with more jaywalkin’ tickets!”

I can report first hand and without exaggeration that the traffic downtown is rarely impeded by anything. The streets are w-i-d-e and relatively abandoned most of the time. Maybe after a Lakers game, or an event at the Disney Concert Hall, you get a back-up at the entrance to the 110 freeway, but there aren ‘t any pedestrians crossing there.

downtown-la-downtown-v37680-720As for accidents, what can be said? Drivers are as careless as pedestrians. The LAPD claims that 172 pedestrian were hit by cars last year, but they fail to mention how many drivers were fingering google maps on their phones when they ran over something that felt like a human body, which was probably also texting as the car plowed over it. 172 is an unfortunate number, but not terrible  for a county of 13 million plus people.

52d9bcefb451c.preview-300The truth about jaywalking tickets is far more pathetic. The city can taste a new source of revenue now that downtown’s starting to hop. Too bad the folks in charge are so short sighted. Why  punish the people responsible for the boom? They’re the ones populating the concert halls, helping new restaurants thrive after a show, bringing more and more of their friends downtown, and raising property values across the board. Not to mention the cultural capital of having people gather in what was a former dead-zone to exchange ideas over drinks or a game or a concert.

imagesThe most embarrassing aspect of all is the Draconian enthusiasm the police have in writing you up. You think they’d just nailed Scarface.  For real now, if you’re on a curb when the countdown starts and you take a step into the crosswalk, you’ve broken the law and can face up to a $250 fine. One friend got a ticket for $197, not sure who decides. But it’s outrageous either way.

52d9bd77d28c0.preview-300The bigger question this begs is that if it’s illegal to step into the walkway why has they city has installed timers at every light, telling us there’s 30 or 19 or 9 seconds left to cross? It makes no sense.  A smart lawyer should argue entrapment. Because that’s what it is.

Maybe we can suggest that the LAPD google LOS ANGELES GANG VIOLENCE and read up on some issues to clamp down on other than fining people for crossing across an empty street, like the shooting that left two people dead at the end of August, or the stabbings on Hollywood boulevard.

valley-girl-gunny-saxSo many people still tease LA for cliches that are no longer relevant, and we let it slide cause we know the truth. No one is, like, totally talking like a Valley Girl, like, anymore. Our food scene can compete with any city in the country. And for as much as the movie industry still dominates, myriad other businesses are thriving , from clothing, to photography, to architecture.

Missing_Persons_-_Spring_Session_MThe most dated criticism of all is that “Nobody walks in LA.” Apologies to Missing Persons, but your song is as dated as violation itself. People are walkin’ in LA. It’s the new orange.

los-angeles-mapWe have an extensive subway, in case you missed it. You walk to it. The red line at Hollywood and Vine gets you downtown in 22 minutes. Enough time to read a section of something called a newspaper. You get off and walk a few blocks to a bar like Caña, sip a handcrafted cocktail at around 6:30, then hoof it a few more blocks to the Staples center to see the LA King’s dominate another opponent.

636px-Don't_jay_walk_1937-615After the game, mosey to one of the multiple eateries proudly still serving at 10:30 pm, (Baco Mercat, Teroni, Factory Kitchen, Alma, Cork Bar, Mo Chica, Bestia). Then catch the train back to Hollywood all without worrying about parking or gridlock on the 101 or a DUI checkpoint.

imagesBut now it’s WALKER BEWARE. And this at a time when Manhattan is giving its residents 6000 Citi-Bikes to ride at will. But we can’t cross the street on our own.  Can LA ever be a  great city treating its residents like children, or worse fining them like criminals? It’s highly unlikely… Even Ratso Rizzo knows that.

 

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Google Brain, On Sale in 2014

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumbFlip on any screen that plays a moving image and you’ll see a fast spreading cultural meme in films, TV series and TED talks alike: human beings are integrating technology so deeply into their lives that it’s getting hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 11.25.46 PMJ.J. Abrams has paired a cop with a robot in Almost Human. Intelligence is a show about another cop with a chip in his brain. And Spike Jonze’ Her deals with a heart broken guy (who’s not a cop– can that work?) who falls head-over-hard-drive in love with his operating system. It’s all pretty fanciful fiction… or is it?

ray_kurzweil1Ray Kuzweil says the human race will be inextricably linked with technology by the year 2045. He calls it The Singularity: a time when humans are literally augmented by technology via genetics, nanobots, and artificial intelligence. The phenomenon will continue to accelerate until artificial intelligence is unrecognizably advanced: meaning, if you have access to the resources, a simulated version of YOU can continue living, thinking, and evolving inside the nodes of a computer, long after you’re dead. There will be no going back.

Google_Glass-800x533It’s  frightening and fascinating to live in an era when the birth of this reality is so tangible. Google Glass isn’t out of beta test phase yet and we’re already imagining losing those bulky frames and inserting the tech directly into our eye balls. Memory chips in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is closer than you think.

Memorial Day TravelCars driving themselves? The technology’s been successfully tested for years already.  And talk about colonizing space has moved from sci-fi to think tanks. There is currently a plan on the table for an incremental colonization of Mars, one bio-pod at a time, just like we did for the international space station.  The only thing holding us back from our Martian future is the 7 month commute time, but astronauts are training on the highways of Los Angeles to prepare.

The Singularity is gonna be a rough transition, for shiz.  Tests are already showing the deleterious effects of all this tech on our analogue minds. Remembering, for example, isn’t just something we do by ourselves. It’s a lot more social than that.

UnknownEach of us gravitates to certain modalitites of knowledge. Some of us are better with historical events, others have a knack for dates and numbers, others still can recall the exact ingredients of a family recipe, or the precise order of notes in a symphony. Over time, we instinctively build a network of shared knowledge with those who are experts in the fields we are not. Not only does it keep us personally informed and more deeply connected, it also exercises different parts of the brain than merely looking something up on an iPad.

Unknown-1But more and more, people are turning to the web to satisfy their curiosity and the human web of memory is fast atrophying. How many phone numbers can you spit out from memory besides your own? Or addresses? What about that actor from that film? You know, he was in that other film, with that other actor? How long will you wrack your brain before the urge to pull out a smart phone overwhelms you? Why waste two seconds trying to figure it out? Or worse, call someone up who’s great with actors and films to ask them personally. Who wants to deal with that?

elementaryThe tendency to forgo remembering ’cause you have a super computer in your hand is called information off-loading. It’s an incredibly powerful convenience, but just like The Force, it has a dark side. What these tests are showing is that how we get our knowledge might be more important than we realize. Any grade school teacher will tell you that most kids learn better when the information comes from a human source.  Intangibles such as a tone of voice, cadence of a delivery, a concise hand gesture or moment of eye-contact, can be more essential to retaining information than we comprehend.

3ran2lIt wouldn’t so worrisome if we acknowledged all this, but one pathetic revelation of all this testing is the sorry extent to which people incorporate the Internet into a subjective sense of self. We actually think we’re getting smarter. But yank away that computer, and more than half of us couldn’t call our best friend in an emergency, much less figure out the percentage on a tip.

Sorry for the reminder, but Google is not a part of your cognitive toolbox. It’s an add on, and when you’re off-line, you may find yourself reaching for what under past circumstances would already be in your hands.

hard-drive-contentsThe Singularity will be fascinating when it’s finally achieved. Until then, we’ll have to put up with a whole new set of bullshit excuses from people and their newly integrated technology. Like, I couldn’t come into work cause my internal hard drive crashed. Or, your message got scrambled when my audio chip accidentally converted it.

India-call-centerSeeing people yelling at themselves in public certainly won’t be a rare sight. It already isn’t. But you can bet it’s gonna suck arguing with the Bangladeshi customer service rep that now resides inside your temporal lobe. Don’t worry if you can’t understand his accent. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to download a clarification app directly into your brain.

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Waiter, There’s a Soup In My Fly

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There’s an old adage that goes something like this: the only two creatures on the planet who will survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches… and Keith Richards.  The good news about the apocalypse is, there will  be plenty to eat, and the menu will be free of rolling stones.

insect_plate_lIf you’re stumped, you clearly haven’t heard about the latest protein diet sweeping the terroir: insect du jour. Baked Beetles via Bangkok. Fried grasshoppers from Guadalajara. Sautéed Capetown caterpillars and Butterfly Eggs in Bangladesh. Andrew Zimmern’s mouth is watering.

Turns out there are literally thousands of edible insects waiting to crawl across your palette with multiple legs, and food scientists are unwavering about their nutritional value.

fao_logoThe latest round of lab tests by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization prove that in the protein category, certain toe-biters  stack up evenly with chicken, pork and beef, and most have far more iron. It shouldn’t surprise you that a basket of fried Jerusalem crickets are hands down healthier than deep fried buffalo wings, and about 1/10th the cholesterol. Dipped into  ranch dressing, you’re beer-swilling football buddies won’t even know the difference.

MudbugMadness07Chowing bugs, AKA entomophagy, is well established in the far east. It’s been an voluntary alternate food source for decades, with the insecticide flavor pallete ranging from earthy to shroomy to nutty to crawfish-like, (which makes sense, cause ya’ll in N’awlins’ calls’em mudbugs). The right kind of larvae are nothing short of a delicacy, with the added bonus of being off the charts in omega 3’s.

bizarre-foodsThe fad has hardly caught on stateside, save Zimmern’s Travel Channel show and reality debacles like Fear Factor. It’s surprising they haven’t tackled the issue in The Walking Dead where you’d imagine food shortages being more dire than they’ve been portrayed.

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I want a scene where two desperate, dirty survivors are brawling over the last dragon-fly patty, only to lose it to a zombie sensing a tiny drop of blood inside the little bugger. The survivors would skulk back to their camp and settle for yet another night around the campfire, dining on boring black ant enchiladas.

http-inlinethumb47.webshots.com-41966-2133660080103582665S425x425Q85I can’t wait for the moment Costco’s stocking mass packages of chemically flavored arachnids. “’Scuse me, where are the Kirkland BBQ’d Tarantula chips?”  You’d ask, basket overflowing. “Aisle 37.” Would be the reply, “Between the Kirkland Salt’n’Pepper scorpions and Kirkland Waterbug filets. 5000 are only $24.95.”

ladybuglogoThe odds of them being out of stock are nil. Insects reproduce ten times faster than mammals, so the supply chain will forever flow. And as the trend turns from hokey to wildly profitable, farmers will migrate en masse from  pricey cattle and certified organic produce, to far more affordable insects, (pesticide free!)

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I can taste the revolution in fusion cuisine. And I look forward to  obsessive/compulsive food-bloggers snapping pictures of their nuevo small-plate insect dishes before diving in. But if it all sounds thoroughly inedible, just consider that most insects won’t have the slightest hesitation dining on you.

Shakespeare-Smiles-Wink-HeadshotAs Hotspur says in his death scene in Act V of Henry IV… “No, Percy thou are dust and food for…”   “Worms,” replies Hal, eyeing a juicy one beneath his fallen foe with a salivating smile.

 

 

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Jelly Roll Blues and Antigravity

800px-Jelly_cc11 copySo the facts are out, and the news is devastating. If you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard, brace yourself: Jellyfish born in space have “massive vertigo” when they return to our blue green planet here in the Milky Way galaxy, otherwise known as Earth.

HT_gravity_bullock_fixing_tk_131007_4x3_992In the early 1990’s, NASA sent nearly 3000 jellyfish into orbit on the space shuttle Columbia to gage how gravitylessness affected their development. This was back when NASA was flush with cash to piss away on experiments involving non-polyp forms of the phylum Cnidaria, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney be damned.

card-28363372-frontWhen they returned to the third stone from the sun, they exhibited an “abnormal pulsing” as so many of us do after late night binging at say, Taco Bell.  Apparently, under the influence of our gravitation pull, the jellies experienced a malfunctioning in the mechanism which employs calcium sulfate crystals to help them detect direction.

image3What has this to do with us, you wonder? Isn’t it obvious? Consider our long-term future. The one where we melt the ice caps, tip the atmosphere’s oxygen ratio from breathable to toxic, and then flee to the moon and Mars to rape and pillage what’s left of their natural resources.

jean-baudrillard1I, for one, am sad I won’t be there to see it personally. As Baudrilliard said between healthy drags of a self-rolled french tobacco cigarette, “Imagine the amazing good fortune of the generation that gets to see the end of the world.  This is as marvelous as being there in the beginning.”

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Because you just know that amidst our desperate race for extra-terrestrial survival there will be someone who sees an angle to make a buck, or garner a little more power than the other survivors, by say, shutting down the off-planetarty government or filibustering the intergalactic council, and he will start us down the very same path that got us to the point where we needed to get off the planet to stay alive in the first place (i.e. ignoring fifty years of scientifically proven global warming data.) Bank on it.

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But it’s not all dystopian melodrama here. Mother Earth will finally rid herself of the worst parasite to ever attached itself to a host for a free ride without giving diddley back in return: Humankind. And being free of our bad habits and wicked ways and relentless take and throw away without one iota of reciprocity, she’ll have a moment of respite to begin setting all the damage we’ve done right.

treesDM_468x461Golf courses all over the earth will become thick with growth, providing new sources of oxygen. Mineral mines will crumbled in on themselves, hiding the scars of centuries of gouging. Fish will slowly repopulate the seas without sushi being hocked on every corner including Rite Aide and CVS and Duane Reade, GMO seeds will slowly lose the evolutionary battle to organic seeds which are better equipped to adapt to rapidly changing environments.

And in a thousand years or so, reports will filter in that the Earth is ready for us to return. We’ll pack up all our shit, leave all of our garbage behind, and jet back home singing God Bless America, even though there’s an international population.  Much rejoicing will be heard on that journey, you can bet.

blobsBut then we’ll touch down and step out of the sleek ships, and fall flat on our faces, freaking out ’cause we were born in space and our bodies no longer have a clue how to handle Gravity. We’ll wobble around collectively, suffering from “massive vertigo” because– and this is my truncated blog-science, ’cause who’s got time to do real research anymore?– we all basically have jellyfish in our ears that help us keep balanced. Ultra-sensitive hair cells that reach out like tentacles and allow us to determine which way’s up.

Evolution will have done away with these reliable otoliths over the generation born in orbit and upon disembarking on good old planet Earth, intense dizziness will be the new normal, just like our fellow gelatinous Coelenterata blundering helplessly in the deep void of the ocean after being birthed in zero gravity.

still_blob4Then again, it might just improve our entire way of life. We’ll all be  way too nauseous to do any real damage anymore. Certainly operating heavy machinery will be out of the question. No one will be able to sink a putt, much less drive a golf ball 300 yards. And war will be reduced to slithering up to your enemy and trying to jiggle on him more rigorously.

We’ll lose a lot of great traditions too, unfortunately. Forget about ice hockey. Walking on solid ground’ll be challenging enough. On skates, unbalanced blobs are pretty much totally fucked.

UnknownI would, however, suggest buying stock in Segway as they will be the standard form of ground transportation until future generations re-acquire the gravity gene and set us on back on the circular course of imminent planetary destruction.

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The sweetest irony of all is that in between the time it takes us to regenerate the vestibular labyrinth in our inner ears and get  our balance back, the jellyfish who survived the apocalypse and repopulated the seas will rule.

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Hurry Up Right Now Too Late You Missed it!

Information overload, conceptual image

Anyone else getting the sinking feeling that no matter what you achieve in life it’ll be quickly lost in the spiraling eddy of data-overload that now engrosses every aspect of our lives like an inverted super-massive black hole relentlessly vomiting out “information” instead of sucking in?  Just me?  Lucky you…

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It feels like if we find the cure for cancer or world peace or life on Mars, it’ll be tweeted out between headline of government shut-downs, unpunished financial scandals, Kardisgustian baby gossip, and the network’s fall line-up of prime-time dogshit– where wicked, sexy people do devilishly sexy things that leave us hanging till next week’s devious, sexy, wickedness.

vinehandson1_1020_large_verge_medium_landscape“Hey, d’you hear about the cure for cancer?” You’ll hear on a street corner, though not in LA cause everyone’s in a car with the windows  up, and not in New York, cause everyone’s wearing a headset.  “Now way! That’s awesome! Hey check  this Vine video I made. It’s only a few seconds…”

find-the-cure-cancer-ribbonYes, cancers cure will trend for a day before being knocked out of the cycle by the utterly banal, because trends, by definition, come and go. And with 160 character limits and 7 second running times, nothing sticks for long before it’s eclipsed by new infinities of trivia.

(* Incidentally, need investors for a start-up I’m calling, Twigger. Send messages one character long, and make viral videos with negative running times.  That’s right, you’ll actually get  time back after watching a Twigger vid.)

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It’s not that time’s speeding up these days. It’s that we can’t focus for as long as we used to. Every smartphone communicates in the language of the instant. iPhone updates happen “Now” and then “Just now”, and then “1 minute ago.” Then “5 minutes ago.” If ten minutes goes by and you haven’t updated it says, “Ancient History”.

But all this is old news.  Polemical rhetoric about technology robbing us of deeper experiences has already  filled the shelves of virtual bookstores and not un-ironically, they’ll all get lost, (after a marketing blitzkrieg of time-sensitive expletives declaring how NOW these books about NOW are).

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We’ve entered an era where there’s too much supply and not enough demand, and it applies to everything from cars and online sex to independent movies to remote data storage.  Too many choices, option, alternatives. So  a battle ensues in every area– to be heard, needed wanted, demanded– and the effect it creates is the worst trend of all: false urgency. The gravity with which all this trivia is spewed is detestable.

I swear if I get duped by another mega-brand commercial I’m gonna pluck my eyes out. You know what I’m talking about, cause it’s happened to you; the moment when you’re focused on something worthwhile, like reading, and your attention gets pulled to an illuminated flat screen.

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You can’t tear yourself from the images ’cause they’re beautiful and they move in quick succession, evoking emotions you don’t have time to quell. Then, the music kicks in, scoring the escalation. It’s symphonic and powerful and, against all odds, you find yourself somehow invested in what you’re watching, even though it’s only been 14 seconds. You’re caught up in a narrative as gorgeous as a feature film, and you can’t wait to find out how it ends.

story_1475_1475-xlargeHave you seen the one about the woman trying to get to the airport in a storm? Her husband’s arriving and she wants to be there for him, so she drives, cautiously, as a storm closes in around her like some kind of sexual predator, slapping its phallic branches against her wet windshield and splashing fluids under her  wheels.

UnknownSwooping crane shots and edgy POV angles raise the tension with every frame. The score soars with symphonic bursts and eerie thriller sound FX.  The spot is nothing short of Hitchcockian, at this point. And I’m sitting in my living room on a sunny Sunday, trying to enjoy another miserable Giants shutout, and suddenly my heart is in my mouth.  Is this poor woman gonna make it?!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe screen goes BLACK.

Oh god. She’s dead! I’m beside myself with grief. I think about how my own mother is getting older and has a hard time driving at night. I want to call her. I should’ve already! What is my problem? Why am I not more grateful for everything she’s done for me? I’m a selfish little prick, that’s why. I hate myself.

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Then, a big, bright logo illuminates the screen: BRIDGESTONE! Our tires represent sexual equality for bad women drivers.

The woman, now safely in the passenger seat, smiles at her Wonder Bread eating husband.  The rain has stopped, ’cause men control the weather, and they’re safely on their way to anglo suburbia, where they’ll make love missionary style, and sleep on 300 count sheets. Oh, and 20% off all tires at Pep Boys. Sale ends tomorrow!

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I mean, holy shit, did I just go through all that for a fucking tire spot? And what was the budget for that extravaganza, twenty million? Thank god for local cable channels still making awful commercials that don’t elicit my deepest primordial empathies.  Thank god for casting cross-eyed guys and women with not-quite-perfect teeth. I wouldn’t buy carpet cleaning services from anyone else.

imagesI confess, as a storyteller, I take pride in the principals of drama. They’ve been around since the first caveman realized what made his fellow Neanderthals lean forward around the fire. What is it exactly that keeps people interested?

Aristotle advises that the best way to move an audience to catharsis, (meaning purification) is to evoke a primary concern: death usually does the trick. But there are degrees of death on the storytelling scale; near death being a close second, a serious threat just after that. Then fear and danger in general. Followed by the ticking clock of some urgency to achieve a goal… you get the gist.

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The problem is that everyone with a platform to tell a story today does as well. There’s a collective (and non-stop) need to craft compelling narrative, whether you’re a college kid in Dayton, or a local newspaper in Westchester, or a multinational conglomerate enslaving third world workers.  Whether you’re selling hair replacement products or children’s books or edible dildos, the goal is to “fight for eyeballs” through some form of urgency, and it’s maxing out our capacity for authentic emotion connection.

bad-date-storiesThe result is s plague of bad story-telling that reaches from  individual Facebook updates, to the White Press corps.  Instead of authenticity, it’s surface manipulation. There’s only so much bandwidth in the human psyche, and a lot of entities are competing for it. The result is a cat which chases its tail.  And the hard changes that would result in some form of personal or national catharsis are foregone for superficial stories of exceptionalism that are lost as fast as they’re spun in the imminently rising sea of zeros and ones.

stopwatchHow do we escape the insatiable velocity of the NOW? The only answer seems to be, individually. Only by voluntarily tuning-out can we make authenticity a virtue again; one that could spread virally to the tribe, and maybe become a collective value. It’s a local movement that’s already started to happen. Just think how threatened you are when you hear someone isn’t on Facebook.  It’s like saying I don’t believe in God in 1500′s Spain.

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When the ancient Greeks had their week-long theater festival in 500 BC, by law, the market place was shut down, as were the courts and the Athenian Assembly. For that entire week, it was about gathering in the theater with the singular demand of focusing on the centuries old ritual of honoring of the god Dionysus. It’s almost hard to imagine something like that today, where our government shuts-down for the exact opposite reason: they can’t agree on what the story is.

pisistratus festivalYou can bet the merchants were pissed about the revenue loss. They were too fucking greedy even then to open their eyes and see the cultural benefits of hitting pause for a few days.  The festival brought in merchants from across the ancient globe who were so impressed with the city that they returned again and again to experience the magic (and spend lots of drachma). The theater festival brought the entire polis together around powerful stories, and that tradition is what elevated the Hellenic culture into the Golden Age.

The Greeks understood one thing we’ve  forgotten: the culture with the best stories dominates.  This is the product the Greeks continued to export long after their empire fell,  a product we still buy today.  One wonders, in between detergent spots, what our 7 second culture will leave behind for the future?  3000 years from now, what of THE INSTANTANEOUS will remain?

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Notes From The Underground: LA vs NYC subways

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Yeah, LA’s got a subway. Make all the jokes you want. Skip riding it. Inhale gridlock fumes while inching forward at 2 miles an hour instead. We’ll be thrilled to keep this subterranean treasure to ourselves a little  longer. It’s still the best kept secret in town.

los-angeles-mapBut if you do get crazy and decide to drop the whopping $1.50 it takes to journey across the 88 miles of newly laid rail, don’t enter expecting what you get in New York or London.

The tracks of the LA Metro aren’t all lined with palm trees, but they’re a hell of a lot sunnier than the Big Apple’s concrete jungle.

Here are a few handy tips to prepare you for your maiden voyage:

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BEWARE OF CLEANLINESS. Unlike Manhattan, where the subways are more akin to cacophonous, gum-addled, rat-friendly saunas than a means of public transportation, LA’s metro is a cool, graffiti-free, rodentless haven of serenity.

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It’s rare to see litter anywhere in the LA Metro, whereas at 10pm on a Saturday at 42nd street, overflowing bins stacked like Jenga Puzzles are a common site.

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Most platforms in LA are immaculate, and some you’ll find ornately designed, like at Hollywood & Vine. Thousands of 35mm film reels, generously donated by Paramount Pictures, blanket the ceiling. Just below them, metallic palm trees burst from the tops of the columns. It’s unexpectedly beautiful and indelibly west coast.

img00366-20100928-2308In truth, a small rodent was spotted in a tunnel near the MacArthur Park stop recently, but far different from NYC rats who’ve been seen giving people the finger, this rat had a tiny headshot between its paws in a mad dash to a commercial audition.

CAN YOU SPARE A CLUE? In NYC, you’ll face an endless cycle of odiferous solicitations ending in some form of, “give me your money.”

flinders-street-subway-beggarIt’s not uncommon to have back to back to back  beggars on longer rides. It’s exhausting and saddening at the same time. But just when you hit the saturation point of feeling nothing, of tuning out every human interruption no matter how desperate, a well-told sob story or a witty rejoinder will actually penetrate your emotional armor, and make you dig into your pocket… and give. New York pan handlers are the best in the world. And they weren’t always beggars. They were, most likely, imaginative people with big ambitions.

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It’s much more rare to see beggars in LA. You get the occasional destitute wacko, but in typical Hollywood fashion, they tend to over-act. You want to give them notes. Help them tighten their bits… Thankfully most don’t possess the car-clearing pungency of an authentic NYC hobo. And like network TV, you probably won’t hear anything moving or witty enough to merit a donation.

It’s disorienting not having your guard up all the time against panhandlers, vagrants, and young hustlers hawking candy, but the truth in the City of Angels is that you’ll mostly be approached by desperately lost commuters– Angelenos included– trying to figure out “where the hell this thing goes”. It’s not always their fault.  LA hasn’t quite figured out consistency yet, or maybe it just prides itself on flakiness: one day the near side of the track heads west towards Culver City,  the next, you’re crossing to the other side to make the same trip.

subway1New York can be equally flaky, though, and so overwrought with signage it’s dizzying. Good luck making the same trip to Queens on a Saturday as you do during the week. Track closures for maintenance will undoubtedly detour you for hours. Give a whole new meaning to Sinatra’s paeon, ”If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…”

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MUSIC TO YOUR EARS. Manhattan is overpopulated with quality musicians, and all kinds end up showing off in the underground. Garbage-can percussionists, Japanese Shamisen, Jamaican steel drummers covering Bing Crosby, saxaphone so sweet you’d swear you were at the Blue Note.

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Name an instrument and it’s probably being played, often in motion; like the five foot, Chinese violinist who tears through Flight of the Bumblebee at rush hour, on the sardine packed L train, falling to and fro without ever missing a note… Miraculous.

There’s far less diversity in LA. You’ll see an acoustic guitar or an electric piano, but never on a train. LA may be a stone’s through from Mexico, but you’re guaranteed to see more Mariachi bands from 125th to Canal than all the LA Metro combined.

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Not enough people ride the rails for a raconteur to earn a day’s wage, or even a Denny’s grand-slam breakfast, and yet they show up day after day to play. One can only marvel at the commitment. Rock on….

IMG_3931LA has room to grow, and hopefully the city will learn that they can take a page from New Yorkers and step it way the hell up! The underground is a place to let your imagination run wild. It’s the last place on earth where cell phones don’t work. And books are still read. It’s a place where an exclusive and momentary culture can be created, and thrive. It’s a place where you can paint yourself gold and take a nap… The subway is your oyster…

WELCOME ABOARD. LA can’t match Manhattan in the diversity of its ridership. The majority of west coast commuters are ethnic working class. Suits and heels are in short supply, though crossover happens for events like Laker games and concerts downtown.

ridersBereft are LA riders of that moment when the doors bang open at say, west 72nd street, and a pair of knock out, high status ladies step on, perfume wafting through the must like and nasal Shangri-La. Or perhaps, it’s the tall, dark, fantasy man, voluntarily reading Nietzsche… There’s simply no better place to have a sexual fantasy than in the New York underground. You know what I’m talking about…

ENJOY THE RIDE. It’s nothing short of quaint, stepping onto an LA train car. Almost calming… In NYC, you’re assaulted by advertising plastered on every possible surface, including the floors and ceilings. You’ll frequently face the train car buy-out, where Bud Light or Bacardi or the infamous Dr. Zizmore, promising smoother skin, covers the entire train car in the same ad.  More is always better.Wrapped Subway- New York- NY Rangers11

In LA, the virus of ads is still contained to a few placards per car. Seats are cushioned and decorated with velvety feeling patterns and the cars themselves cruise smoothly enough to write in calligraphy… Until you’re on the Expo line, that is, and hit a stop light.

IMG_5116It’s utterly bewildering to look out a train window and see a row of cars waiting along side you at a red. Isn’t the point of taking the train to spare yourself this very banality? The plan was to raise the tracks above street level, but funding was cut short, and though not the norm on most lines, it’s an utter killjoy. And exclusively LA.

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But unlike the Big Apple’s rail-grinding, ear-piercing screeches no set of noise canceling headphones can deflect– distorted announcements at deafening decibels, the boom box thump of break-dancers, and the chance of taking one of their hi-tops in the mouth– the LA Metro is so considerate and orderly it’s eerie.

photoAnd that awful NYC experience of dashing for a train you MUST catch only to have the door close in your face to the smirking delight of the passengers aboard, will never happen in Los Angeles. I didn’t know that a few days ago when I was shut out at 7th and Metro. I felt that wave of self-hatred– the one where had I left ten seconds earlier, I wouldn’t now have been late.  Then I had that meditative moment, where I realized time is relative and relax, you’re not living in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Then I felt a moment of nostalgia for all those trains I missed in NYC.  Then, a small Asian woman walked up next to me, and hit the illuminated button and the doors opened, and she walked on. I picked  my jaw up off the ground and followed her on.

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A One-Way fare is only good for a single boarding, on a single line. So you’ll have to swipe again to change trains, which sort of blows. And there’s extremely limited service after midnight and before 5am, as in none for most lines… which blows even more. But then again, who hasn’t waited for what feels like five fucking hours for the D train at 3 am?

Overall the LA Metro gets an A.  You still need a car to get around, and subway riders have a few things to learn, like not sleeping across two seats during rush hour– an offense for which you’d have your legs cut off in NYC– but that will come with time. And the way the system’s been built, it looks like it’ll be around for a while.

Tinsel town, you got rails of steel.

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The World Is My Recliner

wall-e-fatWe’ve all seen Wall-E, right?  It’s starting to feel like if the film wasn’t animated it could be a documentary about the near future. The floating fatsos in their all encompassing video chairs. Well, guess what? Like all post-modern phenomenon, it’s already real.

Jaguars-Lounge-slide-40T3-articleLargeThe New York Times recent article about the new Fantasy Lounge at the  Jacksonville Jaguars football stadium had an image  so familiar I initially thought it was for a re-issue of Wall-E. Jaguar fans now pay top dollar to go to the stadium and watch the game, in recliners, on TV’s… because reality isn’t half as good as what you can see from your chair.

It goes way beyond football…. Though I’m not quite floating, it’s getting more and more frightening what I can do from this recliner I’m leaning back in here.

The fundamentals you had to go to a store for a few years ago are gone: books, music, movies. To think that less than a decade ago appearing physically in a specific location was mandatory. Now it’s nostalgic.recordstore

Truth is, I recall those times with dread . So primitive to have to walk somewhere, buy something possessing weight, with physical money, all while interacting with a human being at a register?  Outrageous…

IMG_0459What a drag to maybe bump into a  young woman in the philosophy section of a used book store.  Strike up a conversation about Nietzsche’s over a cup of coffee afterwards… Or maybe, see a director you like perusing the Foreign Films bin, learning he’s about to start a new project, and getting an audition as a result?  What a relief to know none of that crap can infect me from my recliner .

fal08_early_at_the_farmers_marketThere were a few other places populated with human beings where chance interaction might accrue: the post office, the market, college. But fortunately, email and on-line ordering and university video seminars are slowly antiquating all that. I just clicked my way to a weekly delivery of organically grown local produce even though there’s a Farmer’s Market a few blocks down the street. Why bother?

Met2600-1Why leave the house to see theater, or hear classical music, or an opera when there are live simulcasts? At the right volume, and under the right influences, it’s close enough to being there, and you don’t have to deal with those pesky crowds at the concession stand. And

I can do it all from this laptop, for free, and I don’t even have to take my thumb out of my ass. I feel even better about my zero carbon footprint, and so should you.

UnknownI’m also really looking forward to the implementation of Bitcoin. Let’s get rid of physical money all together.  Abolishing the gold standard was easy enough. It also made it immeasurably easier to manipulate rates and value. Can you imagine how much easier that’ll be without the exchange of physical currency? The powers that be can make every cent we’ve save valueless, at will, with the click of a button…. We must protest! And we will!

IMG_0894It’s actually my favorite new reclining activity of all. Yes, my new found, cyber political activism. Now I can express my outrage without ever being in harm’s way. Why gather publicly to protest when I can sign an e-petition? In the last year alone, I’ve fought the construction of a new high rise, supported gay marriage, opposed a congressional farm bill and shown my utter contempt for the powers behind the Trayvon Martin verdict all with the swipe of a track pad.

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Turns out the high rise is going up anyway, and the farm bill passed, and Trayvon’s killer walked… but you can be sure I’ll be continuing to express my anger on Facebook and I’ll blog till my fingers bleed…

That is, in between one-click purchasing a new pair of digital headphones to complete the near airtight cocoon I’m building around this chair I love so fucking much. It even has wheels on it, so I can scoot closer to the light switch which I need to turn off before I fall asleep, blissful reclined.

 

 

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Epic America, Happy 273rd

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There’s nothing more patriotic than a July 4th roadtrip up  Rt. 1 along the literal edge of America to put all the miniscule bullshit of your life into immediate perspective.

One thing is certain: in Big Sur, California, you won’t be the only one having an epiphany through your windshield. Everyone looking over those jagged cliffs and into the epic Pacific, or hiking a meticulously maintained trail like the have in Pfeiffer national park, is being similarly awed by mother nature.

800px-Bixby_Creek_Bridge,_California,_USA_-_May_2013RT 1 is a daunting feat of human ambition in itself. Before it existed, Big Sur was a wilderness nearly impossible to access. So who laid down so much asphalt, along the most precarious seaside real estate in the nation, to make such a breathtaking adventure possible? The answer is as American as fat-free, frozen apple pie: Prison labor via San Quentin.

800px-Highway_1_prison_labor_campThree separate camps were established  to house the convicts who worked sunrise to sunset for our vacationing pleasure. There was littel concern about escape since there was only one direction to go… east.  It took those repenting murders and thieves about 18 years, and millions of dollars graciously provided by FDR’s New Deal to finish the job. I personally believe each and everyone of those felons righted their karma by leaving us all with so many memory making vistas. And they were the first see them, without paying camp ground fees!

imagesThose two lanes of United States highway began blowing minds in 1937 when they were officially opened to the public. It’s that very tribute to American ambition, and the criminal justice system, along with the muscle of thousands of wrongdoers, that stands in stark contrast to the nearby Heart Castle. The 240,000 acre abode is another awesome feat of human accomplishment, and only a few acres bigger than the actual man’s Olympian sized ego.

“I get tired of going up there and camping.” Said Hearst between sips of human blood, “I’d like something a little more comfortable.”

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But you weren’t staying over in one of his 56 bedrooms, or taking a dip in the 350,00 gallon Neptune pool, with spring water piped from the Santa Lucia Mountains, unless you were Winston Churchill or Marion Davies. The public be damned, until 1957, when it became a landmark… and a visit is was well worth the wait.

Across the street, on slightly less acreage, sits the home of another set of Sam Simeon mammoths: The North American Elephant Seals. Never have such corpulent, belching, barking slabs of blubber been so damn adorable. It just makes you want to hunt them to extinction, which nearly happened at the end of the 19th century.

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Now the coast is a federally protected sanctuary and a pit stop for families from around the globe. If there were a more pragmatic way to domesticate these peaceful, cuddly marine sloths, there’s no doubt they’d have been exploited en masse throughout the country as must-have pets. Fortunately, there’s no real place to attach a leash, and the jiggling creatures remain undisturbed.

Nature’s true real show stoppers, however, are north and just inland. The Los Padres National Forest is home to some of the most pristine hikes you can take on the continent. The Sequoias looming above  were mere saplings when were were fighting for our Independence, and somehow, we’ve managed not to destroy them in favor of plaster walled condos with ocean views.11

It’s an unfortunate chapter in our heritage that these lands were ripped from the hearts of people that kept them so sacred. Three tribes— the Esselen, the Ohlone, and Salinan— hunted and gathered in these woods for thousands of years. The Spanish were the first to exploit them and claim the lands as as their own, but they did offer some excellent European diseases to which the Natives had no immunities in return. God bless their endeavor.

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Walking through the parks today, you can’t help but smile at one simple truth: Nature always triumphs. And it will continue to do so, long after the human race has managed to obliterate itself in a Zombie Apocalypse.

Condors will nest in the high branches of the central coast’s mighty, middle-aged Redwoods. And entropy will continue it’s relentless death/life cycle just inches from the dramatic crashing waves, along the rugged cliffs of the left coast.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it before California itself tumbles into the sea, which could be any day now. And whatever you do, make sure to leave time for an epiphany or two.

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Human Exceptionalism And The Zombie Apocalypse

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Now that we’ve Zombified ourselves to death in tv and film– Wikipedia lists 641 individual titles– let us pause and contemplate our fascination with the denigration of the human race as we know it.

915What is it about the walking dead chewing through the faces of the few of us left alive that captures our attention so thoroughly? Is it our primordial schadenfreude of seeing the top dog fall, even if it’s our own species? Or does it have to do with our innate appetite for fresh flesh?

One thing the Zombie genre continually illustrates is how thin the facade of “civilization” is. Take away the police, and traffic lights, and the rest of the rules that maintain surface order, and we’re no better than a pack of wild animals.

Slide1629But how insulting to animals is that? They’re not the ones destroying the earth in these movies. They’re rarely as barbaric to each other as we are. They hardly exploit the planet’s resources like we do. And yet, Human Exceptionalism– the idea that we’re somehow superior to every other species– still prevails as a reason to eat them in large quantities.

We flatter ourselves with the belief that the history of the world is the history of human evolution. But isn’t the idea that all this was made for us just a vestige left over from however many religious creeds? Aren’t we ready for more?

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For all of the eye-rolling we do at the salad chomping vegans, they have some pretty common sense arguments concerning the human being’s place in the bigger picture.  Carnivores want to argue that we’re the top of the food chain, as if that were the end of the discussion. We’re more evolved than other animals, because we use language and reason and plan for the future… but so do animals to certain degrees. Don’t whales sing? Aren’t squirrels planning for the future hiding acorns?

coke-ahaWhy exactly is a human life is more important than a cow’s or a chicken’s? Is it because we can talk? Birds can fly and we can’t. How many points do they get for that? Is it because we have intelligence? So do dolphins and octopi and White Tailed Deer: know why they give birth near the highway? It’s not because they like exhaust. Their primary predator, wolves, get hit by cars trying to get to them. Pretty smart strategizing.webwolves

And what if we weren’t at the top of food chain?  What if an alien species lands on  tomorrow to check out how their work on the pyramids is holding up and  decide to stay and enslave us in fattening pens, eventually mass processing us for food? By our own reasoning, it’s justified, because they’re now the superior species, right?

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Wait, no, okay, go back– The reality is, we’re carnivores by nature. It’s how we got to this point in evolution! Our brains evolved because we ate meat. Those thousands of years of protein intake got us to where we are today!

But it’s a false premise. The reality is, we’re omnivores, and more so, the majority of non-human primates are mostly vegetarian. Probably because it’s easier to pick a berry off a tree, than chase after something running like hell to get away from you. Or something that might turn around and kick you in the skull, ending your hungry, brutal life.

2002_gutting_buckI’m curious, in all these debates, how many carnivores have slaughtered, gutted, and cleaned what they’ve eaten? I know the answer for 99 percent of them. And I wonder how much it would change their feelings about what they eat if they did. The truth is, today we can survive, even flourish, without eating meat. And that we used to do it isn’t a reason for continuing to do so.

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We used to enslave people before we abolished it. Why it took so long to is another jeremiad, but let’s just consider for a moment that we may not be as smart a species as we think.

dairy-1Vegans hope to bring some awareness to our current anthropocentric prejudices. Their questions are basic: Are we causing suffering by confining animals in cages? Are we cutting their lives short? Doesn’t every animal want to live as much as we do? Can we admit that our primary justification– that our life is more important– is bogus?

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For the majority of us tearing carelessly through resources in an attempt to make more money and take nicer vacations, I’d argue not really. The planet might be better off with  a few less over-consuming humans and a few more baby lambs, who’s eco-hoof print is nearly nil.

What about the fact that animals eat each other? It’s true, but it’s not what we’re debating.  Animals are not moral agents, and they’re not industrializing slaughter, or wasting what they don’t eat like only humans can do.

khunu-himalayan-yakGranted, if you live in the Himalayas and yaks are the only thing around, you’re going to eat them. Or if it the zombie apocalypse does happen, and a squirrel will get you through the night, then you do it to survive.

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But we’re not talking about life or death circumstances here. And we’re not talking about a limited, or ritualistic consumption of meat every now and then. We’re talking about the mass processing of sentient beings; creatures that feel pain and have wills to live and reproduce and nurture their young and mourn their dead, just like we do– because we have acquired a taste for them.

So it’s not that we’re superior, or that we deserve it, or that it’s just natural.

draft_lens14885931module155317686photo_1321895193Plants_vs_Zombie_AppAnd that will become  clear when the zombies finally arrive.  I am certain someone, somewhere is working on an app for communicating with them. The one that translates, Please don’t eat me and my loved ones because we want to live and  love life, into a series of comprehensible gurgles.attack-of-the-vegan-zombies_med_400

Or maybe, we can reason with them. Tell them being a vegan zombie is not such a bad life choice. There’s enough beans and kale and watermelon for the undead too. And they taste pretty amazing.

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Bother… It’s Easy!

It’s a hackneyed gripe, and the last thing I want is to sound embittered, but I swear to god, I’ll shoot up a CVS the next time I get an enthusiastic promise from someone about something only to be followed down the road by a non-response response.

It happens more and more frequently, and this ain’t about us having thin skin: after multiple seemingly engaging interactions, ones in which plans are discussed, be it personal or business, we end up hearing zilch.

Did they not hear the message? Did the email end up in junk? Are they manic depressive schizoids who say yes, awesome, great! when they really mean, fuck off, you suck, I’m not interested?  I mean, the NSA’s reading my texts.  Why aren’t they?

fragmentation-1Our lives are more fragmented than ever: our attention pulled in so many directions, and though we claim to be more and more linked in, it’s clear that this new modality is having some serious side effects.

We’ve his a point in life where every disaster, every shooting and hurricane, every Arab uprising or political sex scandal, is collectively absorbed by a good part of the world instantaneously.

work.5614641.1.flat,550x550,075,f.full-up-like-a-landfill_largeOur brains may one day evolve to the point where we can process all this blather, but at present it’s causing us all some major glitches, like fatigue and boredom and over commitment and cynicism and error riddled multitasking, and worst of all, a total loss of our sense of wonder.  There’s just no time for that anymore.  Wonderment comes with reflection, but how can you do that in this 24 hour information blitzkrieg?assassinationnewsletter

 

Did nature really intend for us to ingest everything at once?  Is it perversely nostalgic to think about how it took two months for some people to find out Abraham Lincoln was assassinated?news24 blackhole

What irks me most is the new dearth of consideration. It forces you to become cynical out of a sense of self-preservation– so you don’t get our hopes up that something you’d love to see happen actually comes to fruition through a new connection.  Why, with all of this “access”, is communication between people devolving so quickly?

Two recent non-response responses were comical in scale.  One was with a company with whom I worked for nine months.  We spoke several times a week.  Met multiple times.  Made money together.  The project did not end up breaking global return records, but no one was shocked about it.  Over all, it was a well-executed partnership. Months later, an opportunity arose, and a call was placed to share the news, and moreso, the wealth.  No call back.  Maybe they did not get the message. I have about 350 emails from these people.  Let me shoot them an email or four over the next few weeks.

Radio silence………………  Really? …..Wait, wait… Did I miss a cue?  Did I insult someone’s fat assed wife or alcoholic father or slutty girlfriend?  I couldn’t put my finger on any such faux pas. So WTF? …..Nothing??  For whatever reason, after whatever history we had, these people couldn’t bother to hit the reply button and say, hey, no thanks, or not right now, or we’ve all had our tongues cut out over here.

The same thing happened with a lady not long ago.  6 dates with a woman, set up through a close mutual friend, where the attraction was palpable. Things were said, plans were made, DNA exchanged, connections forged in the coils of our gray matter.  It was a tad on the frightening side, in all honestly, and perhaps that had something to do with the sudden, clearly deliberate non-response to any attempt to communicate.

The last communique I received was a gushing morning email about the exciting night before.  How she hadn’t felt so giddy since high school.  And then…. nada…. At first I thought her phone died. Her reply-texts had been instantaneous.  But after unreturned calls, my thoughts turned dark.  Perhaps she was tied to a chair in a basement with electrical tape over her mouth.  Her abductors had smashed her cell phone into pieces.  I would have to find and rescue her.

After not getting any ransom calls, my thoughts turned to death.  Surely, she had been suddenly dragged into the gears of a cross-continental bus and scraped across the country… or hopefully worse.

Imagine my disappointment when I found out she was alive and well: her phone firing on all bars.  The call came from the mutual friend who set us up.  I had begged her to find out what had happened for me.

The girl was not calling back.  It was intentional, and I had to find a place for that in my newly bitch-slapped reality.  Was her boyfriend back in the picture?  Had I been used? Did some deeply twisted part of her say all those things knowing she was going to follow up with silence? Or maybe she was just schizophrenic and I could date the half of her that I know really dug me?

The most fundamental of social intelligence tells us to avoid making enemies.  Why sew seeds of resentment when a moment of simple communication can neutralize any future conflict?  Why send anyone into the questioning conundrum of “wait, what happened?” when the 6 seconds it takes to reach out can put all doubts to rest.  Why burn the bridge with the close mutual friend who set us up? When did saying no thank you become so damn difficult?

Why, with the accessibility of all the handheld devices we have up our collective asses, are we unable to communicate the slightest bit better?  Does all this facility have some adverse/inverse affect like making us lazier or more covetous of privacy?

I know, I know, your “slammed” at work, things are “crazy busy” and you’re “in the weeds”.  Everyone is so ready to spin how busy they are.  But it’s bullshit.  I’m not asking you to sit down at a desk, dip a quill into some ink, compose your thoughts, fold the parchment into an envelope, seal it with wax and walk it to a post office.  I’m asking you to take ten seconds, raise that index finger up, and click reply.

But the moment “relationships” became virtual, the moment that being “friends” with someone could be achieved with a click, was the moment they could be deleted just as easily. Understandably, I can’t find a single human being who hasn’t been at the other end of this phenomenon.  I’ve heard all kinds of time periods for the hurt people feel at not getting a basic response– 2 months, 2 weeks, 2 hours—the reaction is always the same—how could they not even BOTHER.

Free minutes, unlimited SMS, FB, Twitter, Gmail: how difficult is it, really, to tie up loose ends?  How much discomfort are you really facing by replying rather than not?  It’s not like bumping into me at a Wholefoods, or on the 6 train, or at the Stereolab show, where I can throw a beer in your fat face, or kick you in the balls, or hurl epithets at your family.

The perplexing thing is how it ultimately takes more effort not to respond. Things drag it out longer.  You get more texts and calls and emails wondering where you are, and what happened.  Negative vibes increase.  Your karma begins to rot.

Information overload, conceptual imageIs it a symptom of the dreaded post-modern condition that all this technology actually sets us back? Are we caring less cause we’re so overloaded? Or is it about a desperate need for status in  a sea of mutuality?  I don’t have to bother responding to you, so I won’t…  All this connectivity is really the illusion of connection, the illusion of community. It’s the difference between describing a great meal to a friend and actually having one with them.  Only one will leave you satisfied. And that’s what suffers when we can’t be bothered to bother.  Sincere connection is worth more than status, more than money.  How deeply did we connect with each other is what builds cultures.

God, it’s discouraging.  Lowering the bar to “bothering”.  Forget being considerate, or the social Olympus of days gone by, being respectful.  I would never in a million years place that antiquated, extraordinary expectation on people today. Who’s got the time for it?
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Five For A Buck

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15wine_01There used to be a bar I loved.  There have been many over the years.  Almost all of them were dives and there ain’t an ounce of irony in that claim, nor the slightest hope for your approval that I’m the type who’d hang out in one over some upscale place with three different Syrahs on the menu.

Awesome-Face-PiercingThe best dives share one essential feature, and it is a mohawked bartendress with facial hardware, or the fact that after a certain hour, she’d reach a tattooed forearm out and light a cigarette for me. Nothing like that at all.

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The true draw of all these wonderful shitholes was a well curated jukebox.  One that not only enlightened and broadened my musical palette, but also subtly dictated the type of patron-alcoholic most welcomed there.

imagesI starting bar hopping in the age of CD’s, so we’re not getting nostalgic about a needle dropping on a 45.  But we are talking about a time when a good CD jukebox got you five songs for a buck, and you’d take your time clanking through the racks, deciding what the next fifteen minutes of vibe should be.

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It was in a dive called Gary’s in New Rochelle where I first found the Velvet Underground’s outtakes LP, “V.U.”  It was released by Verve Records in 1985 but good luck finding it in a record store.

images-1(**Record stores were public establishments filled with vinyl discs organized alphabetically in big bins. You’d peruse isles and isles of them making selections based on cover art, pick too many of them, put several back, still have too many, torment yourself over final choices, then pay with something called cash.)

220px-The_B-52's_-_Wild_PlanetGary’s had VU in their wall mounted jukebox, and I got to know it over the years, along with many other bands I didn’t own.  I quickly learned which songs off the Violent Femmes LP would get a room full of strangers singing about why they couldn’t get just one fuck. Or the B52’s ever reliable “Wild Planet,” which would put people on the floor, wriggling like lobsters.  These were the bands the Iona College/North Avenue crowd wanted to get sloppy too, and the jukebox was our great enabler.

cd-coverThe Candlelight Inn was a borderline biker bar and the their jukebox never strayed far from the fundamentals.  It had plenty of bands I knew, like Sabbath and Zepplin and Skynyrd, but instead of their “Gold & Platinum” greatest hits, they had the integrity of whole albums.

“Gimmie Back My Bullets” was an LP I apprenticed over $6 pitchers of Peils and chicken wings.  The best song on it, “I Got the Same Old Blues,” never made it to the greatest hits compilation and that was the reason I chose it over and over again.  I must’ve spent $10 bucks on that track in the salad days of underage drinking… and the nods from the leather clad bad asses made me feel, at least for the 4:08 it played, like I was a bad ass too.

SANY0004After turning 21, it was all East Village. The great 7B bar turned me onto the best of Brit Rock like Paul Weller and The Jam.  And I’ll never forget the panoply of punk in the free standing machine at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut on the corner of Avenue A: Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Misfits, Sucidal Tendancies, Dead Kennedys, Buzzcocks. Fuck yeah.

220px-Dead_Kennedys_-_Holiday_in_Cambodia_coverI didn’t own any of those titles, but they all became mine in that isosceles shaped bar.  I learned what to play by listening to what other people drove, and when.  We sustained our own anarchic culture between those grungy walls, and the language we were bound by came thrashing out of that jukebox.

IMG_0205There were several nights when the jukebox determined our location.  We spent hours with our faces pressed against the glass at WXOU or Mars Bar, McHale’s or The Cedar Tavern, Corner Bistro or Rudy’s or the P&G or the Whitehorse, pairing the exact right tune with whatever poison we were nursing.images

Now it’s 2013. I’m over 40 and in Los Angeles.  And there are some great bars in this town.  Dives that made Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits proud, so New Yorkers back the fuck off.

medium_bukowski060The Parlour Room on Yucca had a classic jukebox.  The bands it harbored had evolved but they were still indicative of good taste: LCD Soundsystem, Muse, Black Keys, Brazilian Girls… But a few flips deeper and you could find Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Beastie’s first LP and even deeper than that Elvis Presley and Nina Simone.

But on a recent evening, one in which I had agreed to meet a talented musician, I entered to see the old school jukebox replaced by a  blindingly bright touch-screen monstrosity.20111219162122_99425

“What the hell is this?” I asked our bartender. “It’s great.” He beamed. “It plays everything!”  And therein likes the problem.  A jukebox that plays everything? I thought the whole point was to “make a selection,” not have your will satisfied regardless of the bar’s environment.

imagesWith it’s high speed internet and full on keyboard, you can chose anything from the planet earth’s library of music, from vomit metal to Christian rock to the soundtrack from High School Musical 3, which was played several times by a very wasted birthday girl in a tiara, heels too high to balance on, and satin pants a size too small. Sex-y!

So while that gaggle of giggling squeakers commandeered the music, and danced to what they had decided was ironically funny ’cause it was so cheesy, they became their own little ecosystem independent of larger collective that had assembled to enjoy a night out.  The jukebox, once essential to unification, was now the source of alienation.

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I searched for the bar owner in hopes of kicking him in the balls, but it was clear he had already lose them by cutting the anchor of his faithful base in favor of trying to please the hoi poloi. Maybe a cockpunching was in order.

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One dude clad in leather was so miffed, he vengefully swiped his credit card for $10 and proceeded to play five Yngwie Malmsteen songs in a row, which may just have been worse.

The same owner runs The Well not to far away. It too is well known for baddass jukebox. I can only hope and pray to the music gods that it stays old.

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The Agony/Ecstasy of a Solo Show

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The most disheartening question you will ever hear from an actor friend is  “Will you come see my solo show?”

We’ve all cringed in our seats, eyeing the cell phone we didn’t turn off, thinking, “Don’t make me trudge through your banal life story for 90 minutes, I beg you…” Autobiographical one person shows are the pinnacle of solipsism.

medium_Mike-DaiseyBut every so often, a solo show hits you so completely outta the blue — inspires you so deeply — that you find yourself filled with a brand-new currency for creativity.  For all of the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, it’s still a show worthy of your time and the price of admission.  Here’s a theater performer who took on a powerful and popular corporation and literally affected change.

logo_think_different_plakatDaisey was a devotee of Apple, using many of its models over the last 20 years.  He became a writer on those computers.  But as time passed, and Apple’s production moved to China, and word began spreading about how these devices were made, Daisey decided to look past the company’s white-washed “Think Different” campaign — ubiquitous billboards with the images of John Lennon, Pablo Picasso and the Dalai Lama — and shine a light into its darkest corners.

When my alma mater, Bucknell University, asked me to perform The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs last fall, I balked.  I pride myself on crafting my own solo work, which I have been fortunate enough to see produced on both coasts and elsewhere.  And it’s never autobiographical. I’d much rather craft something metaphorical.

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But the school was having a semester-long tech conference in which heavy-hitters like Walter Isaacson (author of the recent Steve Jobs biography) and Rebecca Skloot (Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) were speaking, and the organizers thought a monologue confronting the dark side of technology would be a good fit.

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They were in the process of courting Mike Daisey to do the show on campus. But then the NPR report about the show on This American Life broke, revealing that Daisey had exaggerated some parts of his story, and made others up entirely.  The fabrication fiasco became bigger than the show itself, and Bucknell decided not to book him.

But, as in all good stories, an unexpected twist occurred.  Daisey replaced the untruths with new, verifiable information and made the monologue available on his website, royalty free.  Use this script as a blueprint, he offered.  Revise it, alter it, adapt it.  Just keep telling this story.

And so my dance with another writer’s words began.

apple-and-snake_1280x1024_2988When you  compare the revised version of the monologue with the initial draft, you see that Daisey had a killer narrative on his hands without needing to embellish a word.  He was so close to having it all: the drama and the truth.  But not unlike Steve Jobs, somewhere along the way, he lost site of the original design.  Why does temptation, and the subsequent fall, always involve an apple?

As I prepared for the performance on campus, I became more and more entangled in the details of the story.  Daisey interweaves three intriguing threads: the history of Steve Jobs and Apple Inc., a personal odyssey to the Foxconn plant in China, and a lifetime appreciation of technology.

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The power of the monologue resides in its contradictions.  We love and want technology, but we’re starting to understand its negatives.  The same goes for Steve Jobs; he was a genius, and a tyrant.  He changed the world, but ended up being the very type of exploitative corporation he would have despised as a younger man. And the fact that everyone in the audience has one of the devices in their pocket raises the stakes even higher.

And it goes well beyond the iPhone. As the New York Times reported last year, “bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.”  As informed as some of us are, most of us still have no idea of the scale of injustice.  The reason our high-tech toys are as affordable as they are is a direct result of some hardcore human exploitation.

65 tim-cook-sorry-ogrady copyBut the paradigm is starting to shift.  If you follow the news, you’ll see that changes are occurring, slowly but surely, at Apple, and in China.  Mike Daisey’s played a role in holding a very powerful corporation’s proverbial feet to the fire, and that’s good for theater in general. This kind of social activist message — the kind that indicts and incites and inspires all in the same breath — is the most valuable thing humankind has to offer.

I’ve made some distinct choices with the material.  Some cuts, so as not to slam the audience over the head with the message too many times.  And I’ve added a slew of projections that help bring the piece to life visually.  I believe the play possesses the same immediacy and relevancy as it did when it first graced the Public Theater stage a year and a half ago.63 jobs apple image copy

But that’s ultimately for you to decide.  I’ll leave you with this in contrast to Daisey’s admission of guilt, Apple still has some questions to answer about the future of its grand design.

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Talking Timbuktu

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You have to marvel at a culture that prides itself on intolerance, denial and annihilation.  No, this is not another rant on our gridlocked, be-uncooperative-at-any-cost US Senate, though they do a bang-up job on all of the above.  It’s about the Taliban infiltrating a large country in Africa called Mali.mali_small_map

Islamic rebels entered Mali a year ago and singled out the north of the country to practice their never evolving tenets of negativity.  They kicked off the party by banning music and dance, two of the most deeply ingrained disciplines in the country’s deep history. Music historians will argue that Mali may very well be the true birthplace of the Blues.


ringTo show their well roundedness, the Taliban also banned ring tones, replacing them with versus from the Koran (aren’t those technically “sung”?) Then they got to work destroying the tombs of venerated Malian saints, claiming that such shrines are forbidden.

But where is it written that forbidden things have to be destroyed?  That sort of defeats the purpose of labeling them forbidden, doesn’t it?  And don’t you need forbidden things to exist so as to know and understand what’s not forbidden?  And what we should be collectively aspiring to?

forgiveness-300x200The Taliban’s central priorities are not the promotion of their own culture and beliefs, but the destruction and erasure of everyone else’s.  Strangely, their form of Islam forsakes the two elements every other religion in the world holds sacred—forgiveness and tolerance.

NorthMarketDuckFatI’m not quite up to date on Muhammad-mania, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t venerated because he hated others with such unflinching purity.  And where in the Koran does it say that music and dance, the height of health in every culture, should be met by amputation and death?  I mean of all the targets you can go after, you’re gonna fuck with the musicians?  They’re having a hard enough go of it as it is.  I mean, why not duck fat?  You’d at least make an enemy of something that could cut your life short.

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I’m not sure about you, but whenever I come across a movement whose biggest goals in life are to weaken and discredit culture, law and science– the pillars of the Enlightenment– I stop and wonder.  And that’s the central problem with Islamic fundamentalists. They have absolutely no wonderment in their lives.  No modesty before the sheer volume of brilliance human talent has produced.

If they did, they’d have a hell of a lot more fun in a city like Florence, Italy, for example, or even a day out in their own country of Afghanistan, taking in the Buddhas of Bamiyan or however many other cultural relics they’ve since defaced, literally.  It’s such evolved thinking.  Here’s something different, let’s destroy it!

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If they let a little wonder in, I bet they’d be less inclined to say to each other on a fine, sunny day, “Hey, let’s find some talented local musicians and chop their hands off.  That’ll show’em!  Yeah, and after, we should look for sacred texts to set aflame, ‘cause then people will forget all that history and convert to Islam! “

For the sake of the mental exercise, let’s imagine a world where the Taliban had its way. What would be left, exactly? What would we do all day besides read the Koran and suck on rocks and fuck sheep?  Oh, wait, wait a second.  We could stop everyone else on the planet from attempting to express any kind of creativity. That would keep us pretty busy.

shariaSuppressing women is full time job in itself.  They keep popping up, wanting to read and drive and not be raped to death.  You’d think that somewhere along the line, one of these toothless motherfuckers would say, “Wow, this suppression thing never seems to stick.  Every time we’re expelled, everything goes back to the way it was.  It’s like listening to a broken record.”

But that would require knowledge of music, which they don’t have, because songs are evil.

So let’s all take a moment to appreciate just how deeply integrated music is in our culture.  Who isn’t bopping around to some kind of personal soundtrack these days?  Who isn’t exposing their kids to as many different types of music possible?beyonce-super-bowl-performance-02032013-01-580x435

The Super Bowl, the pinnacle of commercialized male aggression, had a thirty-minute tribute to the female form, in dance and song and sparking guitars, that was nearly as impressive as the game itself, especially sans the power outage.  And it wasn’t just pop. The music actually spoke some cultural truths, too, because if you do really want it, than you really better put a ring on it.

In banning music, Jihadists not only stop the joy a listener receives, they also stop the collaboration that happens between artists, and for a place like Timbuktu or Bamako, that can be devastating. The art scene there is as diverse as any big city in the world, including New York. Can you imagine Manhattan with a music ban?Toubab Krewe at Bele Chere Festival in Asheville 2010

My friends, Toubab Krewe– an amazing afro-rock band that has lit up festivals like Bonnaroo– have studied music in Mali and performed there several times.  I do my damndest to not imagine them with stubs at the ends of their arms instead of hands, because that would launch me into a personal journey that would end in the very darkest manner imaginable.

Here’s a band made up of culturally aware, college educated Americans, who have dedicated their talents to keeping an ancient tradition of another countries music alive, the musical tradition of Mali.  And they stand in a long line of highly accomplished artists who choose to collaborate with these musicians– everyone from Ry Cooder to the Rolling Stones.

timbuktuForget about going to war over oil.  We can get attack Canada for that, if we really need to.  In Mali, the music alone is worth taking on the Taliban for.  I’m all for another Shock and Awe.  Let’s gather us up some Islamic Rebels, tie them to benches with women’s panties, and blast Ali Farke Toure’s Grammy winning blues record into their ears until they go deaf.

They won’t have to suffer another note of music after that… And we’ll all be happy.

 

 

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Here’s the (Sandy) Hook

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Why is it easier for a teenager to get a semi-automatic weapon and enough bullets to level a school full of children than it is to get a case of beer or a joint?

xbox360wallpaper6-540x338For the record, it needs to be said that the majority of weapons kids who smoke pot fire are contained in the Xbox they’re vegging out in front of.  And new studies show it’s great for hand eye coordination!

Never has a political force been more out of touch than the NRA.  Armed-guards in every school are a killer solution to the current pandemic of public shootings.  How long will that go on till a disgruntled, underpaid guard unleashes his wrath on whoever’s closest?  What will the NRA offer as a solution then? That armed guards are needed for each armed guard in every school? How about arming the teachers in case the armed guards for the armed guards go postal? And the kids themselves might as well be armed in case the teachers loose their goo, right?

It’s like an Escher drawing of bad logic.a-NRA-NEW-YEAR-640x468

I believe we should use this thinking across the board for all our problems.  It’s the Tipping Point mentality.  Take whatever problem lies at the core of the issue, and multiply it till it magically neutralizes itself.

imagesCorruption in government? Pay the politicians more, and they won’t need to steal!  Kids addicted to adderall?  Manufacture new drugs to balance out the bad effects!  Insurrections in third world countries?  Arm them with more weapons to use against us when we intervene.  It’s worked well so far!

It’s maddening. And I have since heard more than one person fantasize about infiltrating the NRA, rising in the ranks over a period of five years, and then open firing on the leadership at one of their big public gatherings in a standard, but all too necessary you-reap-what-you-sew lesson for the ages.

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather QuillIt’s also comical in the unfunniest way how political these fanatics get.  Lucky for them the right to bear arms is only the 2nd amendment.  They only have to know two, before they stop listening completely.  How many of them can name the 3rd amendment would you guess?  And why is it that they are so intolerant of the 1st?

hickman1The second amendment was written a few centuries ago, when the threat of an angry superpower was looming. Were the British going to come back? What about the French and Spanish? The right to bear arms had an actual context back then.  And that’s when bearing arms meant tapping gunpowder into a riffle, and a cotton ball, and then stuffing a ball into it, followed by a ramrod to pad it all down before firing once and reloading.  Let’s be true fundamentalists here, for a moment.  True Americans.  Everyone in this country has the right to bear muskets which take 3-5 minutes to load.  I’ll back that amendment any day of the week.

wayne_lapierre-620x412But if the weapon evolves, then so must the law.  That’s called logic.  And logic will triumph.  Logic is viral.  Logic seeps into the debate whether Wayne LaPierre likes it or not, and it’s ever so interesting to watch how the NRA rationale is trending. More and more people, conservative republicans, we might say, are seeing them as out of touch.  Yes they are a powerful lobby.  But so are angry and grieving mothers– never a wise demographic to provoke with intolerance.  Mad Mothers, as we have already seen, can garner more firepower politically than AR-15 assault rifles.

13-CartoonsIt will be interesting to watch this play out.  Our rights are inalienable, yes. They are also a privilege not to be taken for granted or abused.  When they are, they are amended. It’s happened 27 times before in this great nation.  And it’s about to happen again.

 

 

 

 

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When “Blank” Friday Comes…


It got a little misty in the hours after Thanksgiving dinner. A marine mist filled the air just enough to blur the omnipresent police flashers as a gaggle of cops redirected traffic around a bottlenecked parking lot. 11pm, an hour before Black Friday, and shoppers were lined up at Best Buy to cash in on once-in-a lifetime deals.  What a fucking comedy.

The ultimate laugh line being that every item these committed consumers shorted their families for, so they could push and shove and outrace their fellow consumers to stuff into a shopping basket, will be available at an even lower price in just a few weeks, when all of these box stores push out last year’s inventory for the next’s.

Never have I seen the masses so hook-line’n’sinkered in my middle-class life. Try getting these sloths off of the couch to vote, or do volunteer work, god forbid, and you’ll experience the true meaning of staunch apathy.

But tell ‘em there’s a SALE! on a flatscreen– one that at “half off!” is still turning every member in the supply chain a big-breasted profit– and they’ll not only leave their fart seasoned recliners in the middle of the night and wait on line for hours, they’ll also literally battle their fellow apathetics in the process.  At least they’ll get some exercise, right?

Consumerism is a formidable opiate. It not only gets us high, it’s also good for the economy, stupid!  This fallacy is so wide spread, so deeply ingrained, that it’s impossible for us to imagine any other form of world order.  The entire fallacy thrives on the concept of scarcity.  Scarcity is what determines value.  But today, that thing we so desire, that’s on sale today and today only, will never run out.  It will never run out because without it, the fallacy would become transparent.  And that can’t ever happen.

Consumerism has some powerful friends, helping her out too. The rapidity with which culture is moving is its strongest by a long shot.  There’s less time to observe, process, debate, because our collective bandwiths are so maxed out in keeping up with everything seemingly vital. Funny how less important it all seems with the gift of distance.

We’ve grown entirely numb to the naked fact that we’re being pitched and scammed and programmed from the second we wake to the moment we sleep. The sheer repetition of it all is so far beyond the horror imagined by George Orwell or Philip K. Dick that it’s literally laughable. Big Brother is not just watching, he’s playing an active roll in manipulating every single desire we think we have.

And what is it about speed that’s so valuable, exactly?  We can get all our shit faster than ever now, but aside from organ transplants, how often does it actually matter?  And what’s sacrificed in exchange?  Giving up grammar when we whip off half-baked texts is only one in a haystack of examples.  I don’t want to sound like my parents, here, but how much longer would it take to write correctly?  And what would the cumulative affect of that be?

baudrillardI’ll spare you the diatribe on lost values and corporate mind control, and how capitalist ideology repackages itself to capture and assimilate the revolutionary impulse and turn it into yet another commodity. You can read Michele Foucault and Jean Baudrillard for that. They’ll blow your mind I promise.

Let’s get really whacky instead, and use our imaginations for a sec, to think about a world order where all of life is not based on the acquisition of bullshit built to become obsolete so you’ll buy it again– not on what we consume– but what we provide.  How would things be different if social status was based on giving back, instead of accumulating? What would it be like competing with each other for that?

What we’re best at right now is blunting our awareness with pharmaceuticals, or reality television, or impulse shopping.  It’s a post-modern pathology, and it’s also increasing in velocity.  We’re all participating in the acceleration to some degree.  But similar to the propagation of the false-scarcity myth, fulfillment from bio-chemistry, or reruns of the Jersey Shore, or the once in a lifetime bargain will never satisfy us, because if it did, the system would collapse.

So what if, instead of an official national shopping binge ominously labeled Black Friday, we spent the day after Thanksgiving… meditating, and called it, Blank Friday? Meditation has been proven to increase happiness.  It’s been proven to last if practiced, and you don’t have to wait in line with a bunch of other schmucks to do it.  It would require a radical shift in our devout self-preoccupation, but as we’ve already seen, we’re capable of all kinds of astounding behavior.

You don’t see Tibetan monks jonesing in the check out line at Costco for a reason.  That scene is the pinnacle of their worst nightmare.  But leave them in silence for five hours, in an unadorned room, and hook them up to an EEG machine, and you’ll see massive spikes in the left prefrontal cortex. This is the area that correlates most with happiness. The brain’s other pleasure centers, the left forebrain bundle, the anterior insula and the precentral gyrus, also pop with meditation. And it’s been proven that while meditators are more aware of their feelings, they’re also less affected by them. You rarely see monks falling victim to impulse purchases.

What if, instead of racing to amass more shit, we meditated on how consumerism continues to stratify society.  Or how protecting our ecosystem might prolong our children’s lives?  How would our national awareness shift with a deeper understanding of something that actually is threatened by scarcity? Like clean water, or non-gmo corn?  What would it be like for everyone to set aside a few hours after, to consider what they’re giving back?

‘Tis the season, and for another year, we’re told that buying more is the best thing we can do for our country.  It will boost the markets and slowly trickle down.  Really? To whom, and for how long?

It’s a radical statement, especially in academia, and definitely in the Beltway, but Milton Friedman and Unregulated Capitalism can blow me.  How many more “corrections”, aka, scandals and collapses, do we have to trudge through for us to understand that “the market” doesn’t know best. Instead, it’s just as paranoid and neurotic and stupid as we are.  It needs hardcore disciplinarians helicoptering its every move, at all times, in perpetuity.

The corporatization of everything, our food, energy, health care, Hollywood has not only poisoned the source, it’s diluted the common good by piting us against one another in a thinly veiled consumption-a-thon based on a fascist self-interest.  And for many, the incessant scramble for the next rung has plunged them not only into debilitating financial debt but serious emotional debt as well. And the latter is even harder to pay back.

If there ever was a sign of an empire in decline, it’s when people start deferring to hope over reason.  Haven’t we essentially replaced our faith (blindness) in God with a faith (blindness) in capitalism?  That this giant, all knowing, all-powerful entity is going to take care of us without us really having to DO anything?

I think a national meditation day would do wonders for the empire.  It would be a challenge, I know, but we could ease our way into this new self-awareness by declaring to all Americans that there’s gonna to be a big fucking SALE! SALE! SALE! on THINKING. Starting at midnight, December 31st. 2013.  Get in line before it runs out!

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Sandy and The Meta-storm

For all the pandemonium Sandy spewed on New York and Jersey, there was one meme that spread as far as the arms of the spiral itself, and it was this: nature’s power to stop “free” markets, and even social media, offered many a much needed, if utterly unanticipated, respite from the grind… at least for a day or three.

This storm was the ultimate eye opener, especially for Millennials too young to exploit social media for less recent catastrophes. Here was an event to Tweet and Facebook and Instagram about, and thousands were physically unable to do so cause the big plug had been yanked. Did anyone think it would take five days for The City That Never Sleeps to restore power to every one below 34th?

Gen Xer’s were fortunate enough to have their disasters happen in pre-Facebook and Twitter days. 9/11 was not a social media event, thank god. But this isn’t a social media bash. It’s an attempt at seeing a silver lining in the swirling maelstrom.

We traipse around oblivious to how electrified are lives are.  But when entire neighborhoods go black, the illusion of the greatest city on earth snaps into immediate, perhaps nightmarish awareness. No fridge, no phone, no internet, and no cable is one thing.  But for thousands, zero telecommunications infrastructure never really crossed their minds as a possibility.

Cell phone batteries quickly faded searching for non-existent tower signals. And that was the last link anyone had to a normative existence.  A smart phone can run a business sufficiently when it’s working.  But try doing that piggy backing a wifi-signal from the pavement outside a Starbucks you can get into cause it’s too jam packed, or lining up at a payphone with a pocket full of quarters, which happened every where there was one to be found.  It was like a dose of what the breadlines must have felt like in communist Russia.

Without any way to dial out, plug in, or interconnect, it’s obvious that one will feel isolated. But I’d argue that’s not all bad… at least for a stint. In the bloated monstrosity that “connectivity” has become, the occasional helping of forced isolation can swing from unpleasant to nearly euphoric with a simply change of perspective.

Imagine a full week where you can’t be reached on any device. You don’t have to lie or hide or find some remote location where you’re off the grid, because shit simply doesn’t work, and everyone accepts it. So you don’t have to update, or check in, or reply to every mostly irrelevant communiqué you’re normally inundated with. It’s laughable how quickly all those urgencies because totally irrelevant, isn’t it? And what exactly was it that you ended up missing?  There would only be one option left at that point, and that would be to process life’s minutes and seconds for what they were in the moment, instead of repurposing them for how they fit into your virtual meta-narrative.

Which is what exactly?  It’s harder than ever to pin it down today. Life has become more meta-phoric than ever. And events like Sandy remind us just how fragile the metaphor has become. And we’ve all gone so “meta”, so quickly, that we haven’t quite begun to process the multitude of side-effects.

We’re represented by so many virtual entities– whether it’s a social media profile, or a video game avatar, or an online storefront instead of a physical one– that it takes an angry bitch like Sandy to tangle those cords around our necks in an effort to remind us how unreal it all is.

Only by paralyzing the network can we take account of what the metaphor has become.  We’re too embedded, otherwise, and there simply is no break from it.  There’s always something new to promote, or follow, or sell, to stop and smell the rainwater.

Cliché, I know, but holy shit is it true. We can all sit around and marvel at how the world is changing, but how many of us forget to include ourselves in the equation? How much has all of this technological hegemony changing us?

Social media and “smart” everything is only a few years old.  Having it fail during a crisis in which we’d love to have it most is great training in reminding us just how gossamer thin it all is.  All that time spent perfecting our meta-narratives is gone without a trace.  If we’d spent that much effort constructing something physical, a hurricane still might blow it away, but there would at least be a foundation on which to rebuild.

What if Facebook never came back?  Would we remember how to keep in touch? Or we we realize that no one really has more than a few good friends they actually want to share their victories and defeats with?

It’s too bad JJ Abrams new tv show Revolution devolved so quickly into kitchen sink melo-dreck, because the premise is something we need to explore, and frankly, prepare for.

During Sandy, and after, there were a bunch of friends and some family I couldn’t text or call or email.  I just had to pray for them, and hope they were okay. And when they finally surfaced, and I heard the sound of their voices, a deep wave of appreciation was felt that would never have been the same if they had been updating et al, ad nauseum.

It’s the LACK, the period of disconnect, that precious, delicate, void that is more and more rare these days. And more and more powerful.

Someone should make an app for that.

 

 

 

 

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Instant Eradification

So, rewind for a sec… God forbid we dig up The Occupy Movement– it was so over, like, however many minutes ago– but it’s time call a spade a spade.

All of those unshowered, vagrant conspiracy theorists– the 99 percent who claimed the system was intrinsically stacked against them, the ones the main stream and liberal media pigeon holed– were more right than wrong.

The recent Libor Index debacle is what debate-team judges refer to as a knock out punch. It illustrates with certitude just how systematic fraud really is. Wall Street banks aren’t just colluding with US regulators they’re doing so on a global scale.

Regulators continue to claim the wrongdoings are the result of a few “bad apples, acting on their own,” when it’s clear and certain that the entire orchard is infested. What’s clearer now than when the Occupiers were in Zuccotti Park is just how deeply the regulators are in on it.

These guys were the final barrier. The last hope we had. They were under-maned and over-loaded, we were told. But with enough evidence and conviction, they would get at least a few of the bad guys and make an example of them. Then the facts started trickling in. And they weren’t pretty. Were these regulators really asking us to believe that they missed the “red flags” for six years.  Six years….

Said regulators were pretty damn prompt doling out those TARP billions, though. That part wasn’t bungled or delayed in the slightest. Is it crazy to think that instead of working backwards to cover their asses after it all blew open, these regulators could have used a tiny sliver of that massive booty to hire a few more people to improve their lame-ass system?

Yes. Because, as we now know, the regulators stood more to gain in leaving the status quo’d.

Banking scandals are a disgrace of greed. We will look back on them as we do the robber barons, except the robber barons did some civic good, like building railroads and museums and parks. Environmental scandals, on the other hand, are nothing short of catastrophic, and we won’t look back on them, because we’ll all be burnt to a toxic crisp before enough time passes. Both scandals share one basic truth: soon there won’t be anything left to abuse.

The predictions for Arctic warming are being surpassed by the incoming data. The ice is receding faster than we thought. And we react– unbelievably– by preparing full steam ahead to drill the land once covered by ice! Reminds me of the commercial where the cancer patient is still inhaling through the hole in his neck because his tongue was destroyed by smoking.

Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s stupid wealthy CEO, plans to spend $37 billion a year (roughly $100 mil every 24 hours) searching for more, more, more, more, more, more, more oil. British Petroleum recently closed its solar division. Shell stopped its research and development on wind power in 2009.

Why chase alt energy when there’s a trillion in profits to be made in fossil fuels. Extract. Extract. Extract without putting back. Because that make sense. All our resources are totally limited! The batteries in our phones are never going to die! The gas in our cars will never hit empty! The food from our farms will never stop growing!

Why is it so hard to understand that disaster is looming on a larger-than-imaginable scale in near the future? Our children will see a different world. We’re just waiting to see to what degree. There have been some studies saying the idea is too big and too abstract for people to grasp. If it’s not something they can relate to in their daily life, it won’t have any impact.

It begs the question, how much have we really evolved? What’s so hard to grasp about deferring satisfaction? About conserving for the future. Don’t we read these stories to our children every night? Don’t we remember the story of the three little pigs? How the third one worked real hard so as not to become back bacon. Don’t we all know how much better it is to wait?

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Tellin’ It Like It Should Be

Discerning what’s real and what’s not in our increasingly byte-sized reality is becoming a savagely challenging task. Add a home address in Hollywood, CA. and it can become downright surrealistic.

Last week, in the span of a few hours, tweets flew unmitigated concerning two code-red emergencies in our immediate neighborhood. A KTLA news helicopter crashed at Highland and Franklin, an exceedingly busy intersection serving as the main vein into the 101 freeway. Then, three blocks away on Hollywood and Wilcox, an area heavy with tourist foot traffic, an LAPD S.W.A.T. team stormed an apartment, uncovering a cache of automatic-weapons and dynamite.

Wait, dynamite? I thought the bad guys had upgraded to dirty bombs and whatnot. What kind of cartoon villain bothers lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite anymore? Either way, people were freaking out on the net, updating and hash tagging and ichatting. It was a social media apocalypse.

One thing about human nature will never change. We all loves us a train wreck. Two simultaneously is double the pleasure. Until the truth comes out…

As it happens, the helicopter landed safely in an empty lot with no serious injuries. And the S.W.A.T. team raid wasn’t really a S.W.A.T. team raid, but a stunt coordinated Hollywood film shoot, with union actors, undoubtedly.

It goes without saying that Tweets are unreliable. But what does need to be articulated is how the blitzkrieg of tv, film and the web have created a psychological hunger for extra-ordinary stories.

Never before has life imitated art on such a grand and yet intimate scale. There was a time when people would have fled from both potential disasters for fear of a stray bullet or helicopter blade being lodged in their heads. But our desire to weave a narrative to share with our synthetic friends has become too tempting, too valuable in a cultural sense. Be first to break the news, and your reaction to it. Even if you haven’t been there.  Did you hear? Have you heard?! You mean you haven’t? OMG!

But notice how our references, how our sources, are becoming more and more detached from their origins. Today more than ever before, the details of the event, and their veracity, end up playing second fiddle to the storyteller’s point of view. And what could be more post-modern than that?

Didn’t you hear yet? California tumbled into the sea! I had just crossed the boarder into Nevada on my way to Vegas and couldn’t believe how lucky I was…

We are selfish even in our solipsism. What’s most shocking is how old a phenomenon it is.

Scholarship on theater in Ancient Greece often recants how audiences confused fiction with reality. Plays about gruesome domestic murders would inspire copy cat crimes. And vice versa, where fictional characters from Sophocles and Aeschylus would be cited by lawyers in their speeches to the court. And the Golden Age juries would accepted it. Everyone relates to a well told story.

Certainly, there are varying degrees of accuracy in all self-woven narratives. Watching the political theater unfold at the Republican National Convention was highly entertaining… in a B Horror movie kind of way. The blogosphere was aflame after Mary Fallin’s redonkulous speech on the history of Oklahoma. Turns our a majority of her facts were fabricated.  An essay in Esquire put it best: “Handed in as a seventh-grade history essay, this (speech) would get no better than a D. Delivered to the convention of one of our only two political parties, it was perhaps the most singularly dishonest speech I have ever seen a politician give…”

Paul Krugman’s upbraiding in the New York Times was also memorable: “Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday night may have accomplished one good thing: It finally may have dispelled the myth that he is a Serious, Honest Conservative. Indeed, Mr. Ryan’s brazen dishonesty left even his critics breathless.”

Politicians have always spun long tales. We’re naive to expect truth from any of them. But the troubling trend is spreading into the personal, social realm now, as a result of social media. When our value is measured by how many “followers” or “friends” or “likes” we have, we’ll all begin campaigning for more.

What the future of this trend will be know one can say, but you don’t have to be Nostradamus to guess.  I have a suggestion for the political realm in general and that’s to just go all the way already. Forget about the truth completely and let’s agree to elect the candidate who’s woven the best story. It’s what we’re craving after all isn’t it?

I’ll I was secretly disappointed when I learned the raid was a movie shoot, and that the crash wasn’t a fiery explosion. The ordinary is nothing to tweet about. We have to have more!

Isn’t that why we still go to the theater, which is thousands of years old, and the movies, which will be alive and well in every single country on the planet for decades to come? If reality as we know it is going extinct, let get as good as we possibly can at creating our own illusions with a well-structured, cliche free, climactic and emotional-in-the-right-places story.

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