Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Guide to this Blog

 Structure of this blog and navigating the posts.

All my posts are labeled by category--music, education, politics, etc. The column on the right of the page has the labels and the dates of publication. I hope you can leave a comment on any of the posts that interest you

Welcome to My Blog.




These photos symbolize the road to achieving your goals.
Think about what you want to achieve.
Do the research and the reading that will help get you closer to your goal. Read profiles and biographies of people who are successful in your area of interest. 

I love to write, and I love the writing of the late John Updike, so I read books by him and about him. 

Apply this idea to what or whom you like.

Most importantly, don't give up!
Just because Sisyphus could not roll the stone over the hill doesn't mean you can't.

My guiding quote is from the great Stephen King 

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

So, whatever your goal may be, don't sit around daydreaming and waiting for inspiration. Think of a plan of action and do it. 


Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Wisdom of a Child's Book

Here’s a familiar scenario. You’re about to practice your piano, put the final changes on a scrapbook project, work on that story you began so long ago, or complete the half-painted portrait in the basement, the one you promised yourself would be done by spring. You’re about to start any of these or some other creative project for which you never have time, when you remember that the garage is messy or the laundry’s unfolded or the crisper in your fridge hasn’t been scrubbed in weeks. You do the ‘responsible’ thing, of course, and sacrifice art to practicality.

          It’s sad and disconcerting when any of us, upon hearing his or her muse, turns a deaf ear and marches to the drum of duty. But it’s tragic to abandon her for the mundane, the banal, and the ridiculous. I’ve struggled with these choices myself, through the years. Opting at times to clean a closet, alphabetize my CDs, or organize my sock drawer rather than write. I’ve read and listened to many learned people and motivational speakers on this topic, who offered interesting and helpful advice. But sometimes inspiration comes from an unexpected source.

          Many years ago, when my daughter, Amanda, was a little girl, I received a surprising revelation from a book we read together, Norton Juster’s  The Phantom Tollbooth, The protagonist, Milo, in Juster’s classic, finds everything boring and seems to have lost his zest for life at the ripe old age of ten.  However, all that changes when he discovers adventure and excitement, after entering through a mysterious portal to another world—the eponymous Tollbooth. There, Tock, the time obsessed dog, and Humbug, a life-sized but harmless insect, join him. They always find the cloud behind the silver lining. The trio set out to rescue the twin princess, Rhyme and Reason, who are imprisoned in The Castle in the Air.

          We read this short but powerful book once through, just for the story, and then discussed several key points in it, as was our practice, and we both had an Aha moment . We discussed the value of puns and considered a question from the book: which is of greater value, words, or numbers? (It turns out they’re equally important, something we had suspected all along.)

 The most enlightening lesson for me came at the next to last chapter when Milo and his companions must overcome the final obstacle of their quest.

          To find The Castle in the Air and save Rhyme and Reason, they must climb the treacherous Mountain of Ignorance. Along their ascent, they encounter a host of demons, each with his own particularly nasty talent and an equally nasty trick up his sleeve. Offering to assist our faithful trio in navigating a difficult mountain pass, the demon, Trivium, convinces them to perform several useless tasks; Milo, to move a huge pile of dirt, one teaspoonful at a time; Humbug, to carve a hole through a stone wall with a needle.

          After three days, Milo realizes how little progress he and his friends have made, calculating that, at the rate Humbug was tunneling through the stone wall, he would eventually breakthrough in a little over 8,000 years! With the revelation that they had been hoodwinked, they immediately abandon their useless efforts. But before resuming their mission to rescue Rhyme and Reason, they have a talk with their nemesis.

          “I am the Terrible Trivium, demon of worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit,” he declared. When Milo asks Trivium why he tried to persuade him and his friends to complete the tedious tasks, the ogre replied, “Think of all the trouble it saves. If you do only the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about facing the important ones which are so difficult.” (Like climbing mountains and rescuing princesses.)

          Finally, the demon discovers and is angered by Milo’s secret weapon, the source of his common sense. After he had reached a point of incredible boredom and frustration, Milo used the pencil given to him by the Mathemagician--a Wiseman who uses math to cast useful spells-- to calculate the combined progress and hours worked, disappointing the ogre.

           “If you hadn’t used that dreadful wand to count how much time had passed,” he said to Milo, “you’d never know how much you’d wasted.” 

          Here’s some sound advice for Milo, Tock, Humbug, and the rest of us, for all who are engaged in important work, missions, or quests:  Keep using magic instrument. We all have one. It’s called a clock. Of course, we all must clean the garage, scrub the crisper, and even organize the sock drawer sometimes. But it’s so easy to lose track of time, to become lost in the trivial and separated from our dreams. Before we spend eight thousand years tunneling through a stone canyon with a needle, we need to check the time and measure how much we’ve lost.

          Milo, Tock, and Humbug eventually rescued Rhyme and Reason, left the Mountains of Ignorance, and finally made their way to the Kingdom of Wisdom, a place towards which we should continually strive, often stopping for sustenance and inspiration at our own castles in the Air.



Saturday, April 22, 2023

Reflection on Monopolies (part one)


In American television shows and movies, of Apple products are ubiquitous. Yes, every time a character is using a laptop, it’s a MacBook and every time they need to make a call it’s on an iPhone. Well, recently I’ve watched several TV series and Movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime that are British, French, and German productions. Apple doesn’t have a stranglehold monopoly in Europe because in the shows and movies; I saw (to my delight) a variety of phone and computer products in use. Some phones were Androids, some were Nokia, and the laptops on display were MacBook (of course) but there were also HP and Dell Laptops. Some of you may think I’m just a grumpy old man, railing against Apple and its monopolistic practices, and you’d be right. But I ask you, how can we just idly stand by as a hand full of tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon control the overwhelming majority of market share? If you haven’t thought about the dangers of them combining into one big company that can serve our every need, I suggest you watch the movie Resident Evil (if you have a stomach for zombies) In the movie, The Umbrella Corporation has absolutely no competition. It provides every product and service one can imagine. In one of The Umbrella Corporation’s research labs, an accent releases a deadly virus that turns everyone into zombies. The metaphor here is sweet: We have all be turned into consumer zombies by these monopolies, even if we don’t have a proclivity to eat human flesh.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Reflections on Vietnam

About a month ago, I went shopping for pants in Kohl's department store. While looking through the racks in the men’s department, I noticed that at least half of the merchandise was made in Vietnam. I'm an old-timer with a long memory, and I can't forget the terrible loss of U.S. life during the Vietnam conflict. I mean, damn it, 55,000 soldiers gave their lives fighting to contain communism in Southeast Asia, and we didn't let them finish the job. And now we're buying merchandise manufactured in Vietnam?

 Another reason Vietnam has been on my mind is that almost every movie or documentary about the terrible, tumultuous sixties, whenever scenes of protesters are shown, they are implied to have the moral high ground. After all, according to them, our government was killing "innocent" villagers and peasants in that God forsaken country. Many of the young protesters, some of whom were high as a kite, shouted "LBJ, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today"? I would also have loved to hear an alternate chant of "Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh," how many peasants have you done in"? To accuse LBJ of being a war criminal while ignoring the atrocities committed by "Uncle Ho" as his followers called the protege of Stalin and Mao, was beyond dishonest and hypocritical. First, Ho Chi Minh decided that North and South Vietnam should be united, so he went about terrorizing peasant farmers into forming "collectives" and with the help of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) overpowered the peasants and villagers, occupying South Vietnam. And Uncle Ho had an interesting way of dealing with those that didn't comply, "enemies of the State." He buried them alive. So why was this any of our business, and why did we send troops to help the South Vietnamese? Did you ever hear of the Cold War?

 Having lived in the shadow of nuclear annihilation, after seeing the  movie "Fail Safe," which scared the bejesus out of me, and living through the Cuban Missile Crisis (see "The Missiles of October”) when the nuns asked us to pray that the this was not the end of the world, I became obsessed with knowing all I could about the Cold War (see "The Cold War: a New History," by John Lewis Gaddis). While I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, I think I know a lot more than the average bear.

 After WWII, Harry Truman, fearing the Russians would try to expand their empire beyond Eastern Europe into the West, instituted a policy of "containment," to stop the spread of communism. Every president, including Lyndon Johnson, followed this policy. Many of Johnson's critics derided the theory of the "domino effect," that proposed that once Vietnam fell, the neighboring countries would soon follow suit. Well, shortly after we pulled our troops out, because of public pressure by people who didn't know shit from Shinola about foreign policy, Cambodia was taken over by Pol Pot, a brutal communist murderer (see "The Killing Fields") and Laos soon followed.

 In conclusion, I suggest that you read Michael Lind's brilliant analysis of the Vietnam conflict in his book "Vietnam: The Necessary War."


America and the Taliban


I've been watching the PBS Frontline special "America and the Taliban," which covers twenty years of our involvement with that scum of the earth.

It's so disheartening to see that we made the same mistakes there, in that godforsaken country, that we did in Vietnam. When we won the war in 2003 and drove out that vermin, Pakistan, our so-called ally, gave sanctuary to the Taliban, who were able to regroup and plan a counter insurgency. Similarly, Laos gave sanctuary to the NVA and the Vietcong when we had them on the run during the Vietnam War, but we didn't punish the Laotians then, just as we didn't punish the Pakistanis in 2003. Worse yet, we give millions of dollars to Pakistan every year.

Another interesting development in Afghanistan, prior to the 911 attacks, was the occupation of that country by the Soviet Union. Because of the damned Cold War mentality, we, of course, were against the Soviets. However, keep in mind that The Soviet Union intervened in support of the Afghan communist government in its conflict with anti-communist Muslim guerrillas during the Afghan War (1978–92) Under the communist government, then in control of Afghanistan, women didn't have to wear beekeeper suits if they chose not to. They were fully integrated into society and had access to education. We know what their fate was when the "Muslim guerillas" took control. I ask you, which is the greater evil, communism, or religious dictatorship? Lastly, the saddest irony of all is that the U.S. provided aid and ammunition to the Taliban, which it then used against our soldiers during our involvement in Afghanistan.


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Songs from the Fabulous 80s New Wave--My Favorite Musical Genre

Hold Me Now--Thompson Twins


Everyone Wants to Rule the World--Tears for Fears