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A Few Musical Musings

On Sunday, I went to a fruit market, and heard a man playing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and doing a very good version of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satiin.” Rare to hear that! Unfortunately, he followed it a few minutes later with “Stairway to Heaven,” one of my least favorite songs of all time.

That is probably partly, though certainly not wholly, because that song was continually chosen by listeners on rock stations as the best song ever, for what seemed like twenty years in a row. They used to have these Top 100 countdowns, and they were fun, though my tastes do not often coincide with popular taste; but with ’60’s music, they did.

So I would listen to when the countdown would get down to 15 or so, and then by process of elimination I knew what was coming next. Stairway to Heaven was of course #1 again. Free Bird was usually #2. Layla high up there. Whole Lotta Love by “Zep,” an awful song in my view, was in the top ten. Hey Jude, a good song, usually was. probably because of the singalong chorus. A Day in the Life, a much better Beatles song, was often in the top fifteen.

Hotel California, usually in there. I was not an Eagles fan, but that is undeniably a good song, with a great lyric. Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones was in there years ago, but I don’t think it is now; similarly for House of the Rising Sun. Dream On by Aerosmith always was high up. The same ones, very often, though I have not listened to a top 100 countdown for quite a while.

I wonder, are any of the songs of today going to be on top twenty lists in ten years? Which ones? I know that it is usually the case that people prefer the music they grew up with. But though I grew up in the ’60’s, I liked a lot of ’70’s music, mostly on Independent labels: the “New Wave,” from New York, “Postpunk” from England, The “L.A. Underground, from…L.A. And a few ’80’s groups, of the indiepop variety.

And I like some ’50’s music ,at least the big hits. Doris Day, “Secret Love,” Bobby Darin, “Mack the Knife,” Andy Williams, “Moon River,” songs like that. I like early ’60’s surf, too. And while I would not want to listen to hours of it, there are many songs of the Big Band era, of Swing or lilting melodies, which I like. And for a while I was buying many albums of 1920’a music, quite listenable.

So I am not locked into my growing-up period. But can one really argue that the ’60’s did not have more great pop and rock songs than any other era? Beatles, Dylan, Mamas and Papas, Animals, Stones, Kinks. Donovan Johnny Rivers, Four Tops, Doors, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Lovin’ Spoonful, Moody Blues, Love, Association, Hollies, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, and more. You could listen to the radio for two hours, and hear so many great songs, particularly in the period of 1965-1967.

But what do we have now? Oh, I know that there are some stars out there. Taylor Swift sells billions of records, and she has talent, but I cannot really like her songs The rest of it, at least to me, fluctuates between decent, mediocre, tiresome, oppressive, and awful. Anything with autotune is awful. Soon, which may actually be now, computers are going to make the songs, as they make almost everything.

Do you know the cartoon show ‘”Phineas amd Ferb”? A very clever and charming show. Phineas, who is about eleven or so, wrote a song, “Gitchy Gitchy Goo Means I Love You,” Somewhat in a doo-wop style; and as virtually all the songs written by series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff (Swampy) Marsh, it was catchy. In the storyline, if became a big hit A record label producer wanted to sign Phineas to a big contract, but he told him that he didn’t wan to write any more songs he was satisfied with the one.

The producer said, that’s okay, he could take even one line of the song,. sample or dub with it , and make many records. A funny but actually unsettling concept, of course, because that is about what is being done now.

I love music that sounds like it is being played live.. I know that there have been “production values” for decades, but it wasn’t always that way. The incredibly great musician Artie Shaw said that the goal in ’30’s and ’40’s recording, was to do it in one take. So that if his band was doing an instrumental, and it was going well, the musicians would start playing more conservatively so as to not risk ruining the take. I have a copy of a radio show that Shaw’s band did for a couple of years, and there is a version of “Shine On Harvest Moon,” where they did just go for broke; and it is incredible, just to show how great they were.

I don’r listen to the radio now, because there is nothing good on it–for me,. Other people may well find music they like there. And I know about Sirius, where you can get dozens of stations, but the odds of finding a new song that I like, are very small. That is a shame. The last radio-friendly song I heard and liked was “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine, and that was quite a while ago.

I do have a six-disc CD player in the car, and that is what I listen to–but it somehow broke. So I will have to take it in, but do I want to spend for a new one? If, not, I guess I could buy a portable, battery powered CD player. Otherwise, I will be forced to listen to the car radio, and I know that Stairway to Heaven will be on there somewhere.

The author Stephen King posed a question, about if one were going down the elevator to Hell, which song would one want to hear? He said, “Seasons in the Sun.” but I don’t know if he was thinking about it in terms of what song he would consider fitting as he gave up all the pleasant things he had known; or what was the song he thought he would be tormented by there? I think he meant the former, but many of his readers seemed to look at it in the second way. My thought was that if it were the first question, what would it matter?, whereas with regard to the second, :”Stairway to Heaven” would probably be it, though there are several others, “My Sharona,”De Doo Doo Doo, Da Daa Daa Daa,” or any rap song, which would be just about as tormenting.

Imagining a Fifteen-Minute Chat with a Republican

I know that you’re a Republican, and you have no intention of listening to anything a Democrat has to say. I know that watching Fox News has got you convinced that Democrats are going to take away your gas stoves, and make you buy homosexual M&Ms, and have your children forced to read pornography in first grade. None of that is true, but I couldn’t convince you of that, and even if I could, Fox would just come up with other things to keep you angry and scared.

All I want to do is to take fifteen minutes to tell you about what the Republicans are going to do to your pocketbook and savings account. After that, you can ignore it, or maybe at least think about it, before you actually support and vote for it.

You do remember how last year, inflation was the major news story? Average prices had gone up about 9% from the year before. That’ is not good. There were reasons for it: the pandemic shutting down supply chains from other countries, and large corporations simply taking advantage of this, to raise prices far beyond costs, and rake in record profits. If you don’t believe me about the record profits they made, you could look it up briefly. But I don’t want to focus on that right now.

So let’s say that you and your family would spend $100 a week on groceries, and maybe another $100 on take-out or restaurant foods. That may be low, but it is an easy number to focus on. So with the 9% inflation, you had to pay $109 on the groceries and $109 on the takeout, so that instead of $200 a week, it was $218.

And you and everyone else who is not rich, were upset at that. There were endless news stories about how people had no idea how to make ends meet. Well, now the inflation rate is down to about 6%, so it’s $212 or so per month, in my example. And of course you hope that inflation will go down more, and it will, but you don’t have to take my word for it now.

So the Republicans ran literally billions of dollars of ads blaming the inflation on President Biden and Democrats. I don’t think that this was at all accurate, but I will not try to convince you otherwise. Republicans told you that if you voted for them, this would somehow be fixed. They never expressed one idea as to how they would combat inflation, except that they would reduce Social Security payments and Medicare. That may not matter to you right now depending on your age, but it should, and it will.

So the Republicans gained enough seats in the House of Representatives to take control. And what is their first, economic bill? They are going to get rid of all the income taxes, and all the corporate taxes, and the capital gains taxes which very rich people pay on the money they make on stocks and other investments. No more tax forms, no more I.R.S!

Except that to try to make up the loss in government revenue, the bill would slap a 30% sales tax on everything you buy. I am not making this up, it is in the bill. Every grocery you buy, every gallon of gas, every bottle of water, kitchen implement, gas, heat, a car, a house, a stick of furniture. All 30% more than the listed price would cost.

So back to the example of the family and groceries and meals that cost them $200 a year ago. They would now have to spend $260. Any item you buy at a store would cost 30% more. Your water and power bill, gas bill, trash collection bill, all would cost 30% more.

And if you had to buy a new car, which people have to do from time to time, it would cost 30% more.. Actually, more than that, because car dealers, and indeed any company which provides items or services to buy, regularly raises its prices. Let’s say 5% for cars, it could be slightly less or even more. So a car which cost $20,000 last year, would be raised by the car dealer to $21,000. The sales tax would be $6,300, so you would have to pay $27,300. Now, at this point one pays state sales tax on a car purchase; in California, where I live, it is high at 10%, but the state does do some good things with the sales tax money they take in. But even if you don’t think so, a car which cost $20,000 plus $2000 sales tax last year, for $22,000, now would cost $21,000 (at least), plus $6,300 national sales tax, plus $2,100 state sales tax, for $29,400. Just like that. And every state has a sales tax,

And if you think that maybe you could write off some of the car cost, as a business expense, you cannot, because there would be no income tax and no tax deductions under this Republican bill. Every single thing that you had been able to deduct from your taxes would be gone. You would simply have to pay 30% sales tax on everything you bought, with no way out.

This Republican bill, which has been passed out of Committee, and will be voted on by the entire House, would almost certainly mean the end of Social Security and Medicare, because they are paid for by income taxes. The funds would quickly go bankrupt, and that would be that. So when you finally had to leave working because of age or infirmity, there would be no safety net for you, the things that were put in under Democratic Administrations, and were immensely popular, except among the very rich, who hate any of their money going to anyone else. You would be like the Americans of the 1880’s or so, who when they lost their job or had to stop working, had no government support, no safety net, nothing but misery, unless their children could work, and support them.

That was the way that the very rich wanted America to be. And it was that way, until enough people thought it was so awful that they wanted to protect the citizens from this cruelty But the very rich never wanted to, and they are now able, with the aid of Fox News and their other outlets owned by them, to convince people to vote for Republican economic policies, which they do not really understand until it is too late.

Well, this bill will not become law, because Democrats barely control the Senate, and will never vote for it. But in 2025 if is almost certain that they will nor control the Senate. And then, if a Republican, Trump or DeSantis. or any of them, becomes President such a bill will pass.

And the result will be that you and your family will be back to where families like yours were in the 19th century. Making a small wage, paying more and more for goods and services, and always within the threat of one greedy employer firing you and sending you out into the street. It won’t happen immediately, but it will happen. It won’t be much different than in the Middle Ages, where the aristocrats owned all the land, and the peasants or serfs had to work on it every single day, with a little bread and ale being their sustenance, until they either died in their 30’s, or were killed in one of the wars the aristocrats sent them off to fight in.

It took 500 years for humankind to crawl out of that pit, and now the Republicans you support want to throw you back in. They’ll never tell you that, of course, they will divert you with cultural issues, or hate of Democrats. But that is where you will be, where we all will be, if the billionaires who run the Republican Party get their way, and make the laws they intend to make.

Okay, I could say much more, but I said only fifteen minutes of your listening time. Maybe you will spend some time thinking about it, or researching it, if you choose. I am telling you that the people who control the Republican Party have no interest in you, other than as a way that they can gain and keep power. Democrats have their flaws, of course, but they mostly care about the working class. They were the ones who passed the graduated income tax, where the people who earn more pay a higher rate. They passed the 40-hour work week, and the Safety and Health Act. They provided Workers Compensation, and the right to unionize. They passed Social Security and Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act

They did what they could, and the Republicans hated all of it, and have wanted to take all of it away And they will, if you keep voting for them. Thy are already poised to wreck the United States economy by not raising the debt limit, as Congress had done over and over, until the Tea Party and then MAGA Republicans got power. I won’t go into what will happen to the economy if the debt limit is not raised, but we will see soon enough, unless they are stopped in this madness and greed.

Thanks for listening.

The Year of the Scapegoat: Free Jinger

We continue discovering how toxic families work this year so that everyone who is involved in one can understand their role and why their family does what it does. Today, we’re taking on the Duggars, near to my heart because there are some aspects of the Duggar experience that are going to be familiar to anyone who grew up in a religious cult.

My aunt used to say, “Someday, one of those Duggar kids is going to write a book.”

It turned out to be Jinger, now Jinger Vuolo. Like her older sisters Jessa and Jill, Jinger married early. But she married a guy who has a different approach to married life, ie, one that prioritizes respect for his partner. According to the Duggar girls, who court instead of date, their prospective husbands had to fill out an application that was something like 40 pages long so that Jim Bob Duggar, the family patriarch, knew that it was ok to hand over control of his daughter to her husband. That’s right, you control your daughter until she’s ready to breed. Then you hand over control to her husband. Their weddings are bizarre and icky but that’s part of the sex focused marriage rite for them.

Jeremy Vuolo passed the interview and background check but turned out to be decidedly more liberated than his father in law. Jinger has changed her views about her religion with her husband’s help (he’s in seminary for a conservative but not tyrannical church). These days, she’s ok with other people drinking alcohol, using birth control for her own family, and wearing whatever the f{}% she wants. She’s shed her dowdy below the knee skirts for ripped jeans, shorts and pants.

Well, the Duggar parents are having the vapors.

Sisters Jill and Joy Anna have also taken to wearing jeans on occasion but Jinger turns out to really be enjoying fashion. Jim Bob and Michelle strongly disapprove to the point where they have started excluding Jill and Jinger from the fold. They might negatively influence their other siblings, especially the younger girls. They have been admonished. But their husbands say it’s ok. Nevertheless, the pressure on Jinger and Jill has been so intense and negative that they’ve in had to seek professional counseling. Court testimony from two husbands show that the shunning and disapproval has had a negative effect on their wives’ emotional well being.

The Duggar parents are harsher in judgement towards their jeans wearing daughters than their convicted child pornography buying son. Let’s think about that for a moment. Josh Duggar used the site Ashley Madison to cheat on his long suffering Griselda wife Anna, had SEVEN children with her, and was caught with a ton of child pornography on the Linux partition of his hard drive. He has blamed others for putting it there and swears he’s completely innocent. The judge and jury weren’t buying it and he’s serving 11 years in a segregated unit for sex offenders in a prison in Texas. He’s been fined a hefty sum. His wife has had to sell most of his property to pay for his transgressions. She’s going to have to raise SEVEN kids by herself and even when he’s released, he’ll have to stay far away from children, including his own, for most of the rest of his life.

Did I mention that Anna can’t divorce her husband? I mean, I guess she technically can. He’s broken the only rules that would allow it according to the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) that the Duggars have been spokespeople for since they burst into the scene almost 20 years ago. Adultery should work, Child pornography should be a no brainer. But Josh and Anna have a covenant marriage, meaning they need to try extra hard to stay together. And, get this, Josh is still Anna’s spiritual head of the house. She looks to him for leadership and guidance.

Where am I going with this? Oh yeah, Jinger. So, while Jinger is getting a lot of flak for her clothes, lack of desire for 45 children and tolerance for her husband having an occasional cocktail, Josh has been walking through his trial, sentencing and appeal with daddy Jim Bob firmly at his side. Josh spent his time after his indictment living with a family friend. He went to weddings where children were present, presumably with the court’s approval that someone would be responsible for him.

While Josh’s infractions are extremely serious to US, to the Duggars, it’s Jinger and Jill who have stepped out of line and who can’t be trusted around their younger children.

For the last 20 years, the Duggars were held up as paragons of virtue. The children were so obedient. They were homeschooled. They were modest to the point of asexuality. They wore uniforms. They were so biblical. They believed in strict gender roles. They court. Kissing before marriage is strictly forbidden and monitoring is rigorously enforced. If you have ever been around a fan of the Duggars, as I have, it’s hard to understand how anyone could admire this lifestyle because those kids have been deliberately excluded from The World and have been likely punished for having any independent thoughts or personal aspirations. Weirdly, the Duggar fan never stops to consider how hard this must be on the children.

That’s because the Duggars and their admiring wannabes who join high control religious cults have a lot in common with the toxic family bullies. They crave power, control, absolute obedience and praise. They want attention for what they have accomplished, which is usually a family structured around fear and a formal control hierarchy. How else can you get those kids to march in step, hand in hand, mandatory smiles plastered on their faces and playing their instruments like little orchestras that any North Korean dictator would envy?

Come to think of it, have you ever noticed that high control religious groups iconography looks a LOT like North Korean propaganda posters? Yep. Check it out:

I’d add more but I don’t want to turn this post into a propaganda pamphlet for those of you craving a worry free world where residents wander around in native dress with baskets of produce. It gets to be boring. And anyway, who wants to spend eternity rigidly adhering to a bunch of arbitrary rules devised by a jealous and capricious god?

Well, the answer is, not Jinger Duggar. Her new book, Becoming Free Indeed, My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear, releasing next Tuesday, threatens to erode the mighty facade of the Duggar family and its unholy alliance with the IBLP even further. It’s going to be a roadmap for surviving cult mind control and the toxic family bullies that force their children into it.

I’ve heard that the Duggars enablers have already commenced a campaign tut-tutting Jinger for airing her grievances. (We don’t even know what’s in it yet and they’re already speculating. Hmmm…) It’s going to get worse. The guilt for what she’s putting her parents through, how ungrateful she is instead of a dutiful daughter. The remaining children under the Duggar’s control will be given a choice. Stick with the family or stay friends with your sister. Whatever limited bounty you’re getting from Jim Bob will be cut off if you choose to dance with the devil. It’s the way of the toxic family bully. To maintain control, they need to insert themselves into the middle of the family access to social status and any wealth. All they have to do is smear the scapegoat and the rest of the family falls in line. It’s what they’re used to if they haven’t been able to break free themselves.

The thing is, not all family heads who join high control religious groups are bullies. And let’s not put all the blame on the IBLP. It wouldn’t be a cult if some people didn’t find it appealing. Let’s put the blame where it belongs. There is a certain subtype of these bullies for which wrapping themselves in the image of religiosity is ferociously important and a convenient cover for their darker dictatorial impulses. They demand compliance from their children. They do not tolerate deviation from their concept of normality. And any violators will be prosecuted by isolation, exclusion, family mobbing (a topic that deserves its own post) and financial withholding. Jill has had to set strict boundaries with her parents. She has described her father as very controlling and verbally abusive. I can relate.

Withholding money has already affected the Duggar children since Jim Bob Duggar signed all the contracts for the TV series he roped his kids into. He controlled the purse strings. Step out of line and you get nothing, including the money you might have used to have your own life. His daughter Jill ended up having to take him to court to get a lifetime of earnings he was sitting on. It made him millions. She ended up with a lump sum that has been described as barely minimum wage for all the hours she spent in front of the camera giving glory to her saintly parents.

Jinger may have learned from this experience. Put it all in a book that our aunts have been waiting for, describing all the tyranny in the most loving terms while she sticks a pin in the balloon that is the Duggar’s image of godly paradise. Write a check to Jinger Duggar Vuolo.


Do “The Motivations” Really Matter?

Another horrible mass shooting in America on Saturday night. A 72-year-old Asian man went into two clubs and killed at least ten people. He used a Cobray M11 9mm semi-automatic, which allows a killer to fire 30-round magazines in rapid succession. The weapon is illegal in nearly every developed country except the United States.

How did he get it? Probably in one of the ways that people get such weapons, almost always because they want to kill people. That aspect is important. Why he did this awful act is less important, I think, though the human mind always seeks for answers. He apparently had been a dance instructor in one of these clubs, at some point. Was that part of the motive, or was it just that he knew the surroundings?

The man was eventually cornered, and killed himself. So no one can ask him why. Many of these people end up killing themselves. Supposed experts in psychology might come up with theories based on what is known about his life, things he said or wrote. Does it really matter? Again, the human mind wants to know, or try to know. And the people trying to figure it out might think that by unearthing the reasons, if indeed anyone can do that, particularly with a twisted and murderous psyche, this will help prevent more such mass shootings. But I see no sign of it.

Something snaps. Or the mind was warped long ago, and then ultimately it led to this. And then after some articles are written about motives, the story recedes, as we wait with dread for the next one, which will have a different immediate motive , although there are probably some common threads in these. But the obvious similarity is the weapon of mass destruction.

Philip K. Dick wrote the great short story “Minority Report.” It was expanded to a movie, which had some of the story’s elements, and then added other aspects. The essence of Dick’s story was the imagining of a future society where people who were called “precogs,” and had some ability at foresight, could predict which people would later commit murder, though they were not always correct; hence the ” minority report” which might say that there was a chance that the person would not kill.

A society which was overrun with crime decided to lock up anyone whom the precogs listed as a person who would later commit murder, and keep them in some kind of suspended animation cubicle forever/ The murder rate was significantly reduced. But there were two questions: Was this moral for society to punish someone for something he had not done? And what if the minority report were right, in that case, and he would not have committed the act? Where should society morally stand?

Well, we do not have that ability now, but it may well happen. Now, we seemingly have no ability to predict these events; or even if there were warning signs, no legal system to keep the person from committing the mass murders. So the studies about ‘”motivations” do not seem to do us any crucial good.

There have always been bad, twisted, and dangerous persons in the world. But the vast majority oft them didn’t have access tot weapons which could kill hundreds of people. The gun culture in America is the most important problem we face.

And in some ways,though probably not purposely, the search for individual motivations may actually be a distraction and a detour, taking us away from what has to be the real focus, if we wan t to be able to reduce or even stop such horrific events which do not happen at all in many other countries which do not fetishize guns, do not have an organization which spends all of its time trying to sell guns to adults, teenagers, and now children; and do not have a political parry which is obsessed with allowing anyone to buy as many weapons as they want to,.

And which has installed a High Court which continues to insist that the term ” a well-regulated militia” was intended to protect and allow deranged and murderous individuals who want to kill as many people as they can with their guns. And which does not react, when such an event happens, by greatly strengthening the gun laws so that it will not happen again, but which is so afraid of the gun lobby, or so deluded, as to think that it is worse to try to keep these mass-killing weapons out of the hands of anyone who is not a soldier in military combat, than to allow anyone to buy the weapons, and potentially use them to kill people who happened o be in the club or arena or school or movie theatre where the murderer decided to carry out his mission of death.

Is Alec Baldwin Being Singled Out?

I am somewhat rushing this off, and not researching the facts of the matter, if indeed anyone exactly knows them, but we are going to have a trial on them, so we will hear much more. Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins, Director of Photography on the set of the movie “Rust.” This is essentially charging him with criminal negligence, somewhat akin to driving a car at 100 mph. and hitting someone, or shooting a loaded gun into the air in celebration, and the bullet hits someone.

I think that most people did not expect the D.A. in this New Mexico town to charge Baldwin with anything. But she said that from the outset, her office was considering such a charge. They even let one of the other people who she said could have avoided this terrible tragedy, plead to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against Baldwin.

My first thought, fair or not, was that Baldwin was being gone after because of his well known liberal politics, or simply because he is a big name, and thus a trophy for the D.A. But I try not to jump to such conclusions, because I do not know all the facts. It does seem very unusual, though. SAG and AFTRA issued a statement condemning it; the headline saying that they called it “wrong and uninformed.”

Clearly, a precedent here would put every actor in any film which has guns in it, which unfortunately seems to be most of them, at risk. Someone said on TV yesterday that because Baldwin was listed as an Executive Producer, he had more responsibility than an actor. But apparently these responsibilities were limited to having some influence over which actors might be chosen for roles, or with regard to script issues. Not matters involving the set, or safety issues.

Supposedly, Baldwin was told by the person on set who was responsible for such things, that the ‘gun was ?cold,” not loaded. That would seem to be common practice when dealing with guns on set. Was Baldwin supposed to fire it into some bushes to see? Obviously, it is absolutely necessary to make one hundred percent sure that no weapon on set is loaded. But what was Baldwin supposed to do, more than any other one of a thousand actors in movies is supposed to do?

Danny Cevallos, a respected defense counsel, said today that Baldwin saying in an interview that he would never fire a gun, was a mistake, because he did probably pull the trigger in this incident, albeit thinking that there were no bullets in the gun. The idea is that if you say something which can be contradicted, then that is used by the prosecutors to throw all of your credibility into doubt. Fair enough, but again, what was Baldwin legally required to do to make sure that what he was told about the gun not being loaded, was correct?

I am no expert in movie-making, but I think I have seen all sorts of guns, presumably not loaded, being fired in films.I think that Bruce Lee, and then later his son Brandon Lee,, were killed in dreadful on-set accidents. In the movie “Twilight Zone,” the then-hotshot director John Landis staged a scene involving a plane in which actor Vic Morrow was killed. In the chariot race in “Ben-Hur,” two people were killed, I think. I even heard something on TCM about how legendary director Michael Curtiz was so determined to have a particular historic film look realistic, that he put real spikes in the ground for the battle charge scene, and at least two people were killed, and maybe horses, too, by running over the spikes.

I don’t think that anyone was charged in any of these tragedies, but one could look it up. And if not, that does not mean that a more enlightened era could not have charges result from such incidents, though we have not, until yesterday. But unless we hear something astounding in this trial, I just do not see how Baldwin was guilty of a homicide through criminal negligence. The penalty is over five years in prison.

It is not that I am a major Alec Baldwin fan, though he had a great scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and more significantly, I respect him caring about the country, and speaking out against Trump, which was never without risk. I cannot shake the suspicion that there is politics maybe beyond bagging a celebrity, involved here. If the facts show otherwise. I will accept that. But in a country where it seems that certain people can say, or incite, or threaten anything, and nothing happens to them, I do wonder.

Frock!! Chard! The Decline of Western Civilization?

On Monday, the Wordle word was “frock.” It is a word I like, because I grew up with stories which used language like that. It actually took me six guesses to get it, as I again chose not to look for letters, but make guesses too early. But I got it, and I thought that frock was very likely the word before I made my last guess. But I was pretty sure that with the state of non-reading in this era, the word would baffle some people. And I was right.

From an internet article, “Wordle 576 angers American players with a word that ‘is too British for an American game.'” “A certain word has infuriated a number of Wordle players who struggled to solve a particularly uncommon five-letter word…”

“This isn’t the first time players have been thrown a curveball, as words such as leery, coyly, quart and agape have caused a lot of frustration for fans in the past.” It appears that some Americans complained that the word favored British players. One said “I should have gotten it on row three, but I thought it was too British for an American game.” “That’s not even a word, shut up, I hate you Wordle, added one very furious player.” “I’ve always thought it was a strange word, I’m going to check it’s (sic) origins,” wrote another.

Okay, I am glad that people are playing the word game, and trying. But to not know the word frock? Anyone who reads novels would have easily known the word. Or even if one read about a priest’s frock, or a religious official being defrocked. I was stunned to see that many people did not know this word. And frock is a word which gives some color to the language; not just saying dress, or outfit. Frock to me connotes prettiness, perhaps a nice party dress, something that a younger woman might wear. Language is not just for trying to be erudite or even pretentious, it is descriptive and sometimes charming. Usually a story with the word “frock” in it, is a nice one, with romance in it.

But the fact is that many people simply do not read books, particularly older ones. Nancy Drew and her friends wore frocks. The girls in Rosemary Desjardins novels did. I never read those, but I knew about them. I think they did in the Dumas novels, of course translated from French to English. It is a word which should not be lost, as so many are apparently being.

I wasn’t going to rant about that, but then on Wednesday, the word was “chard.” That is a word which I first encountered in a “Mad Magazine.” I didn’t usually read them, maybe a friend gave me a copy of one. It was a spoof of “Popeye,” where he was trying to get a can of spinach, and people kept handing him other leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, parsley, and chard. I reasonably assumed that chard was another one; and I then occasionally ran into it at a grocery store or on a menu.

When I had the letters a, c, r, d, h after three guesses, I knew that the word had to be chard. Many other people apparently did not, according to this article, “Wordle 578 angers players with strange word, ‘ – – – ing hell, that’s just not reasonable.'” One comment was, “I really didn’t think that would be the word. I’ve never heard of it before.” “Thought that last guess was a word, now I have to look it up,” someone else wrote.,

Chard is not a word that one needs to know. Frock is not either, actually. There are a few words that we need to communicate, and it looks like we are reducing to that. The opposite of the way language began and developed. It is good to know many words, not to show off (well, yes, there is that, too), but to express nuance, and to actually name different things. Chard is not lettuce, or arugula, so one should call it chard, to differentiate. Is a frock the same as s dress? Maybe, as I have rarely tried to buy them (not for me!), but if I were to see a sign on a store window advertising “summer frocks,” I would know what they meant, and what they probably looked like. Plus, if I wanted to write or read something, it is valuable to know many words.

Remember Orwell making up words like “plus good,” and “double plus good,” to both mock and horrify, with a language which substituted simpleness and common usage for color and depth? He thought that a totalitarian state would do that. But people can do it to themselves, if they don’t read, and learn words.

I did it, and probably everybody reading here, did that, when they were children, and even beyond. Learning a new word is exhilarating. Being able to come up with “le mot juste” (the brilliant editor Robert Gottlieb used that term in a movie I just saw, “Turn Every Page” about the collaboration between him and the highly esteemed writer Robert Caro), is very satisfying. It’s probably like knowing what key to hit on a piano to achieve the perfect line of music; or which color to use or mix to create the artistic effect you are trying to obtain. You can get along without that ability and knowledge, but your work and your life are diminished without it.

Not that I know all the words! But almost all of the non-scientific ones, and I have not seen a word on Wordle that I have not known. I think that is likely true for Beata and Jmac here, who play Wordle regularly, though if any of Jmac’s Welsh words actually come up, I will not know them. Words like flwrwhwr, or something. But good old English or American words, I know. And it is fun to read an author who has a good vocabulary, and to silently share a complex word with him or her. Is it as good as having a great meal, or listening to a beautiful piece of music? I don’t know, but it is good, and that is all ye need to know.

So pick up some books, everyone! Read them! If you see a word you don’t know, look it up! (what my mother always said when I lazily asked her to tell me). Try to use it in a sentence! Brush up your Shakespeare! (Who wrote that, and in what musical?, for a bonus point).

Questions Of Guilt

There was a show on MSNBC last night entitled “Racial Healing.” I did not watch it; and it may well have been a good show, with important things to say. It was surely not a bad show. But I will admit that I am rather tired of seeing shows which to me, at least, are about the bad things done to Black people in this country by White people. Were there bad things done? Absolutely. without any question. And many of them still continue, though very few would argue that things in that regard have nor improved. at least somewhat. But there is more to be done, certainly. Except that writing only for myself, I am not inclined to want to hear about it every day on the news. Why?

That has something to do with the concept of guilt. While I know that in some sense none of us is free from some blame for various things, I wonder about the diffuse aspects of guilt. Surely someone who owned slaves was guilty of perpetuating a horrible custom, even though it was accepted throughout much of the world at that time. That doesn’t make it less bad, of course.

Someone who did not own slaves but supported slavery, was also guilty, though we would agree, to a slightly lesser extent. How about someone who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War? They were young, they were fighting for their state, or so they thought.

At the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln gave this great speech, with the words, “With Malice Toward None, With Charity for All.” In that sense, he forgave everyone who had fought on the other side in the war. But of course one could say hat this forgiveness was not for him to morally give. Is that only for God? And how would you know if it were given?

And those who fought on the Northern side? Are they still guilty of what some historians call “the original American sin of slavery”? What if they were strong abolitionists? Or what about people who did not live in America at that time?

If someone’s ancestors came to America after slavery was abolished, are they guilty of this sin? In one sense, no. If one wants to believe in the concept of “original sin,” which is part of a some Protestants’ belief, as I understand it, then they are guilty. “With Adam’s Fall, We Sinned All,” was the first line of the Puritan primer which taught the alphabet and religion to children. Adam was expelled from Eden, because he and Eve disobeyed God. And thus every human being who came after them, inherited that sin, in that belief system.

I would say that the story, and the doctrine of original sin, was written to try to explain to people why, if they know God is good, they so often lead hard and even miserable lives. “Because you are human; and humans are imperfect, and commit sins; and Adam disobeyed God, so all humans thus bear the weight of that, and must try to atone for it.” And that of course validates the role of the church in telling you what do to and not to do, and in punishing people, at least in those days, for failing to follow the dictates. The stocks, the whipping posts, the scarlet A’s, the burning or drowning, or suffocating with rocks piled upon them.

The church doesn’t do that any longer, at least in the Western world, but they do in some of the Eastern world. And then Western Civilization has developed a legal system which claims to try to practice principles of justice upon people. Also, to protect law and order, and property, and things like that. It is basically a good system, but of course it has its flaws and unfairnesses.

It is said that the four rationales for legal punishment are : 1) Retribution (by society); 2) Restraint, locking people up; 3) Rehabilitation, hoping to turn them away from crime; and 4) Deterrence,; fear of punishment keeping people from committing crimes.

Then there is the issue of guilt, which might keep people from doing wrong things, or at least trying to atone for them if they can. At one extreme, there are people with a “guilt complex,” who feel guilty about many things they did or did not do. At the other extreme, there are sociopaths, who feel no guilt about anything.

The question as to how civilized society allocates and apportions guilt, is a complex and fascinating one. And historically, the rich and the powerful have written the laws; but even so, some general morality and fairness has usually been put in.

We just heard the chilling story of how a man in New Mexico ran for office. lost by 48 points, then claimed that the results were wrong,he was cheated. Then he conspired with some other people to kill elected officials in that state, and almost did. Will he be found guilty of conspiracy to commit a violent crime? Very likely; usually all that is needed to convict is one act in furtherance of the conspiracy, which there certainly was. And all the people who participated in the conspiracy are guilty, albeit probably with lesser sentences.

Now, what about Donald Trump, and all those people who lied that they had won elections, and thereby accelerated this idea that people are being cheated in elections, and thus have the right to attack the Capitol Building put bombs there, kill other people? The legal system will not go that far, to dole out guilt and punishment to them for this conspiracy in New Mexico. Some might well think that they should, and I do, too, but of course there is the question as to how far the chain goes?. Some totalitarian countries do; and if the fascists take over, they might do it here. Some of the Republicans in the House, maybe most of them, subscribe to insane theories which would allow them to throw all sorts of people into jail, or to be executed, formally or informally, for things hat others have done.

But we do not reach that far in an a democratic society. Do we give reparations to Black people for slavery? Some certainly believe so. That money would be paid by the government, and thus by people who were not alive when slavery was extant, and many who hate the concept. But because they live here now, they would be paying for it to some extent.

If a person moves to America next year, from Finland or Peru, do they take on the American sin of slavery? If they go away, do they still carry it? If an American moves to France, does he garb himself in the sin of the Ancien Regime, which treated the lower classes with cruelty and contempt? Does he also inherit the acts of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution? Two different sides, but sins on both, does he inherit them all?

I would think that most people would say, no, they do not. But that is in a legal sense. Legal and moral guilt are two different things, though sometimes they overlap. I do not feel personal guilt for the way that minorities have been treated in this country, but it upsets me, as a human, and as an American.

I know that virtually no one is not guilty of some prejudice or unfairness, though this is in all sorts of areas besides race. My grandparents came to this country from Russia and Austria, around 1905. My parents voted for Stevenson and JFK and LBJ, and Clinton, and all the rest of the Democrats. We voted for Thomas Bradley a Black man, for mayor of Los Angeles, and for governor. I grew up in a mostly all-White suburb. I met a few minority members at university. I met more in law school. One I would consider a friend, though we did not spend a lot of time together. As an attorney, I worked in concert with attorneys who were Black, and then cordially dealt with some on the other side in cases, and with Black and Hispanic judges. All with collegiality and I don’t think a hint of prejudice on any side. Does that absolve me from having to watch all the shows on race relations? I’m not trying to be flip about it, just looking at it from a possible perspective.

I think that those who are decent people are apt to feel more of a sense of guilt about things. How the homeless and poor are treated. How massively overweight or otherwise aberrant appearing people are sometimes sneered at; how some people might benefit from the “halo effect,” where one very favorable attribute (looks, athletic skill, artistic talent) is allowed to color the whole picture of that person. For whatever it is worth, there are all sots of psychological studies which bear that out. So all of us have likely at some time or other been unfair or unkind in our perceptions and actions.

We could go to self-help groups to try to improve; we can listen to seminars; we can have others inveigh against us for the general failing in society; or we can resolve to do better. Or not, of course. Or we may think we will, but do not.

What does this all have to do with the show on Racial Healing? Nothing directly, just conceptually. I personally do not enjoy hearing more recitations of sins of people who are not me, not my family, nor my ancestors in this country, or probably any country. Not that as human beings, we do not all bear some collective responsibility; but in that sense, we are collectively responsible for all sorts of things done by people in different eras and places. I think it is important to try to learn about it and consider it, but no to be inundated with it.

As a graduate student, I was a Teaching Assistant in an open-ended psychologically oriented class. The topic came up about generally hating any group of people. And the professor, a famous philosopher, and Jewish, said that he did not hate the people of any country. I could say what I wanted to in the class, and I thought of saying that in general, I hate Germany. but I did not. And that would have been too extreme; but I cannot ever forgive that country, and the vast majority of its citizens, who knew very well what was being done to Jewish people, and who were much in favor of it. So now it is a different era, with different people, but are they really different underneath? Do they feel guilt every day? Do they pay reparations, literal and figurative? Should they?

These are all important things to think about. I do not have the answers for everyone else; and even if I thought I did, I would have no power to have them put into effect, nor to have everyone accept them. But we should at least consider such profound questions, since affixing and accepting guilt are are powerful acts.

The consequences of the wealth gap

This should come as no surprise to us but many of us don’t think about who benefits the most from tax cuts on the rich.

It’s men.

It’s really weird to see men on Twitter bemoan the fact that Elon Musk has lost half of his wealth. That’s billions and billions. Like we’re supposed to feel sorry for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that he’s had to suffer.

The thing they fail to mention is if he had $320 billion to begin with and now he has $160 billion, he’s still got more money than god. And that wealth for billionaires is increasing by $2 billion/day.

Meanwhile, many of them feel that any request to pay taxes is offensive. We’ve all heard the ridiculous hyperbolic whining about how it’s theft or communism or something.

But I think the Oxfam spokesperson makes a good point. In their far from realistic grab of all the money so they can be the king of the mountain, they’re starving infrastructure, healthcare and other services. Wages have not kept up since probably before Reagan. And this falls most heavily on women who use public transportation and other services.

All so Elon can burn $160 billion dollars and squelch voices on Twitter in favor of the radical right.

My tiny violin is now microscopic.

Spare: Review – They’re Overqualified.

I read the book, all 15 hours. It was the best autobiography I’ve read in a long time. I’m not a Royal watcher although I’ve watched The Crown, more from a historical, feminist perspective. Queen Elizabeth II had a pretty interesting life but she lived it in a cage and tried very hard to never give her opinion on anything. The duty she pledged to her country and commonwealth meant she had to cut back in other areas of her life. That seems to have had a trickle down effect.

This book is about Harry, the spare. His role was to be a backup to his brother. He wasn’t supposed to shine or have a career of his own. He was just supposed to wait around until or if he was needed, including providing organs.

The thing is, he’s interesting. His book wouldn’t be a best seller if it was boring. Unlike a lot of autobiographies, Harry has a character arc. He recites his flaws. He’s not bookish. He’s done some pretty stupid things like wearing a nazi uniform to a costume party, getting naked in Las Vegas, and not wearing enough thermal underwear at the North Pole. So he’s not perfect and never claims to be. But he learns from all his experiences, he atones, he grows as a person.

The weird thing is that Harry seems to have a calling. He wants to serve his country, he wants to fly apaches, he wants to test himself, he wants to help other wounded service people. He’s got so much on his plate and the drive to do them. And he’s a romantic, wishing someday that his princess would come.

I think the saddest part of his autobiography is not so much his inability to come to terms with his mother’s death. The saddest thing is his wanting to belong to a family and being pushed out of his own. He finds belonging in the outback, the army, and in Africa. He wanted to be included in his brother’s family and his extended family. But over the years, his living arrangements at the various palaces get pushed further and further from the inner circle until he has literally been pushed into the staff quarters.

As William settles into his role as crown prince and his life falls into place without even trying, Harry has to make his way in the world, define himself, do things that he finds difficult. He challenges himself and comes back to England from Afghanistan battle tested. He’s become an alpha and William starts to get irritable that Harry isn’t showing him the proper deference. He’s not relying on William’s beneficence. He’s like… his own person.

When Harry met Meghan, it was love at first sight. Enough said about that except that they oddly have the same approach to life. They have purpose. They are direct. They bow to no one.

So, that’s a problem.

They’re also overqualified for the positions they are in as senior members of the royal family. They have a sort of gravitas that comes from testing themselves outside the royal family. Harry has his mother’s touch in being empathic and relatable. Meghan studied international studies at Northwestern and had already taken on service projects of her own. Her acting experience gave her confidence, poise and made her an asset as a speaker. The camera loves her face.

Being spares gave them a certain kind of freedom that William and Kate don’t have. Or wouldn’t know what to do with anyway.

Sibling rivalry is a lifelong theme. Harry has no ambition for the crown. Willam’s safe in that regard. But there is competition for who is the better man. And when it comes to the Royal family, there can be only one king, one crown prince. One person captures the flag just because he was born first. There seems to be some assumption on William’s part that being the better man follows suit. it seems to come as a surprise to him that his brother, the family screw up, might be competition.

The thing about this book is Harry is insightful. He lays out the pieces methodically and then puts them together. Envy and insecurity are dangerous feelings. Weirdly, they’re not part of Harry’s makeup. He’s got anxiety. He’s frustrated. He has panic attacks. But at no point in this book did I feel like wanted to be anyone but who he is. It’s just that he doesn’t define himself as his brother’s spare kidney or fall guy decoy.

The toxic family pattern comes into focus throughout the book. The main actors are there along with the flying monkeys and enablers. The tragedy in all this is throwing Harry and Meghan to the wolves in order to save other more “dignified” members of the family from scrutiny. Harry’s role was to allow the royal family to play up his flaws so that the press wouldn’t focus on the other seniors.

That’s what all of the distancing was about over the years, the putting baby in the corner, the exclusion from William and Kate’s society so that Harry always felt like a third wheel, bewildered at the isolation from the brother who was his closest ally since his mother died. It makes it so much easier to put all the negative press and spotlight on someone who you don’t feel close to. It was bad enough before Meghan. But after Meghan, it got so much worse because the royal family members themselves actively participated in a smear campaign against her. Well, they’re only spares. What’s the harm?

The good news is that the smear campaign only takes up the last third of the book. The first 2/3rds is all about Harry, his amazing experiences both sacred and profane. And funny. And sad. His longing for his mother is on almost every page.

It’s brilliant.

Highly recommended. You can clean your house on this book and not even realize it.


Wordle Pitfall

I missed a Wordle. I am embarrassed and chagrined. It happened a week or so ago, and I can only now bring myself to write about it. Actually, there were major stories regarding the House chaos in trying to elect a Speaker; and Prince Harry’s book; and the floods in California, so I thought that my Wordle adventures did not amount to a hill of beans.in this crazy world.

Where have I heard that phrase before? If you want to read a really enjoyable book that will take you to another time and place, it is Aljean Harmetz”s “Round Up the Usual Suspects,” all about the making of the film “Casablanca,” She used to write for the Los Angeles Times newspaper, and I always liked her pieces. Then she wrote this book, and one about the making of “The Wizard of Oz” Her research is excellent, and she writes with intelligence and charm.

Well, that helped me to delay writing about my wordle miss for a paragraph. Actually, I have only missed three wordles in about 350 tries, which might sound like I am praising myself while pretending to be critical. No, I absolutely hate to miss getting one of these, and I am a lot better at word games than knowing how to work a computer or any technical device, where I would not even want to tell you about all the difficulties I have. So I had better be able to do well in a some areas.

Okay, the word I missed was “layer.,” on January. 4. It seems like an easy word! But for me, at least, it was very difficult, for two reasons. First, it had the dreaded (for me) – a – e r. The same sequence that caused me to miss “parer.” There are so many word possibilities, from baker to pacer to taper to waver. Second, I made a foolish mistake by not trying a word with an L in my third or fourth guess. My third guess helped me to get the – a – e r order. But an L would have guaranteed that I would have gotten the word, as I am sure that most here did.

So with – a – e r, I had the bright idea to try “carer,” thinking that a repeated letter was a possibility, and so “rarer” would have been a very tricky answer, and “carer” would cover that, and a c in the word. Nope,. no c, and no r in the third posiition.

Then I thought that a w was very possible, with wafer or waver, or even a w as third letter, with pawer. or even cawer. I tried waver to test the w and the v, but neither was a letter in the word.

Suddenly I am looking at one more guess, and I thought k could well be the third letter, as in baker or maker. Baker was a recent word, so I tried maker, and that was wrong, and no little green dancing figures to herald a successful game. Blah.

The L would have easily done it. But even so, you will admit, won’t you????, that – a – e r is a dreadful sequence for a wordle player? I ask you this: If the word were waver or waxer or faxer or vaxer, or faker or laker, would you have gotten it? Yes, laker is apparently a word; the mascot of a college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I think, shows a drawing of what looks like an 18th or 19th century man of French ancestry, steering a boat on a lake, so that was apparently a term used then; and how that school got its nickname which was also the name of the Minneapolis, later Los Angeles, Lakers. How did I know hat? Because I was looking up some team in a small college playoff game, and their nickname was the Lakers, and I wanted to see what their mascot looked like.

But the word wasn’t laker, or lager or lamer or laxer, it was layer. And I missed it. I battled back with sleek, belie, lemon, opera, pixie. grimy, sedan, human, (well, a couple of them were a bit hard), but it did not make up for missing layer. I do have a little excuse, that I was watching the House voting, and I wasn’t concentrating enough, but a good Wordle player must surmount such things.

At least,I will try to develop a strategy for the next time that Wordle comes up with that darn – a – e r!