Filling my pantry – the weekly checking in and checking out…

Brain Dropping #141

         Check-Out.  I shop at the supermarket once a week.  It takes me no more than 15 minutes because I avoid 99% of what is offered on their shelves in colorful, misleading packages, and head for the very small sections of certified organic products.  But before you beatify me as a Saint of Purity I must tell you that I’m a sucker for dark chocolate Kit-Kats.  For most other edibles I go to Rail City Market, a small whole foods store in downtown St. Albans.  For meat, raw milk, free range eggs, sauerkraut and Kim Chi I depend on my pal Doug Flack and the Flack Family Farm.  I, along with four or five others, volunteer once a week to help pack and label jars of sauerkraut and kimchi in what we call the “Sauerkraut Seminar,” a combination of packing, labeling and wide ranging discussions covering genetics, evolution, political philosophy, music, movies, the politics of food and anything else that pops into our heads – followed by a lunch featuring what we call “stinky cheeses” of which Doug is an aficionado.
        But I don’t mind going to the supermarket.  I often bump into acquaintances and neighbors, like the unmarried twin sisters behind the deli counter, who work a dairy farm just over the hill from me in Fairfield, and who supplement their dairy income by working part-time at the supermarket. And over the years I’ve gotten to know a few of the stock clerks who miraculously seem to know how to find a needle in a haystack.  One woman in particular, Denise, can zero in on any product amidst the eye-popping profusion of stuff demanding my attention – like a small jar of capers.
       I also enjoy engaging the check-out clerks.  Most of them, girls and boys, just out of high school, but some are middle-aged women who, I imagine, are part of a two-wage-earner couple trying to get by on the minimum wage.  I always try to get beyond the routine “How are you doing today” with some comment or another, usually about the coming snow storm, or staying warm, or the dreaded possibility of pipes freezing. They all wear name tags – Claire – Carol – Roberta – John.  John is blind.  He’s a bagger.  I would guess that he’s in his late fifties, tall with gray hair, his telescoping walking-cane lying alongside the counter.  Very often I’ll bag my own groceries in my own cloth bags, just to hurry things along, but when John is bagging I keep my distance.  He’s quick and can determine soft from hard items and the order of their packing by running his fingers over the counter.  From time to time the woman at the cash register will call out a clue about what’s coming down the line: “Eggs coming John!” or “Glass jar!”   Without fail, watching their teamwork brings with it a warm feeling that stays with me as I roll my cart out into the frigid air.    

In praise of Hillary Hahn

Brain Dropping #139

         I just made a new friend – Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto.  I never heard it before I got it on You Tube with the remarkable young violinist Hillary Hahn.  May I prescribe it for a touch of the Mid-Winter blues?   Glazunov  was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and is best known for his “Seasons” and the  “Saxophone Concerto.”
             This performance is wonderfully filmed with striking close-ups of Ms. Hahn’s fingering.  This always blows me away – how does she know where to place her fingers on the fretless fingerboard?   For me, compared to the guitar, the violin is like being set adrift on a limitless sea of possibility.  My guitar has  brass frets that demarcate a forgiving zone so you don’t have to be that precise in striking the note as you press down and the string engages the fret. You can be a little sloppy and get away with it. But the fretless fingerboard is unforgiving – a millimeter off and the note is sharp or flat.  And here is Hillary Hahn, in Glazunov’s scherzo movement, zipping up and down the fingerboard with precision and at lightening speed with an expression on her face of fretless calm – even serenity.
             I know that’s why you must begin very early on in learning the fiddle so that you develop what is commonly called “muscle memory.”   I read a more scientific explanation of this seemingly preternatural ability called “myelination.”  “Myelination is the process by which a fatty layer, called myelin, accumulates around nerve cells (neurons).  Myelin enables nerve cells to transmit information faster and allows more complex brain processes.  Myelination begins in infancy and continues into adulthood.  During the tween years, myelination particularly occurs in the frontal lobe and facilitates cognitive development..”  
                There was an account of the training of very young Russian tennis players that relates to “muscle memory” or “myelination.”  It was an attempt to explain why the Russians were so dominant on the professional tennis circuit.  It was observed that students as young as four or five were given rackets, but no balls, and went through the proper motions for their ground strokes.  In the constant repetitions, it was theorized, the “muscle memory” or “myelination” was, so to speak “set in concrete.”
            I don’t to understand the science, but it seems to me in Hillary Hahn’s case – prodigious talent helps.

From Here to Inanity (Yes, I’m watching too many movies…)

Brain Dropping #140

        “From Here To Inanity!”   I’m weary of watching the same movie over and over again – not exactly the same movie but different movies out of Hollywood which are predictably formulaic, repeating the same tedious plots and characters.  I’ve labeled these uninspired, insultingly banal flicks “Southern California Movies.”  Evidently they are inexpensive to make because the weather is sunny most of the time, the studios with all their technology are at hand, and the actors live in the neighborhood so they can reach the set in minutes.
        You know that you’re about to be intellectually insulted when the opening credits roll.  They are often superimposed on the broken lines of a highway zipping by from the point-of-view of the driver, setting up a visual rhythm to the voice-over of an adenoidal Dylanesque singer plinkety-plonking on a guitar and mouthing dead-brain lyrics about life, love and hard times.  Or, we are sweeping over night-time Los Angeles in a helicopter shot which zooms in on a window, and then to a close-up of a hand shutting off a loud clanging alarm clock.
       It’s always sunny, the streets are immaculate, no overturned garbage cans or “Go Fuck Yourself” graffiti – and black homeless folks are conspicuous by their absence.  All the characters appear to be well-fed, with jobs with enough free time to complain about the main plot idea.  That idea usually revolves around a surly, sexually confused teenager and a lonely, dismayed single mom who works, if we can call it that, at a hoity-toity downtown Los Angeles Art Gallery.  The plot can easily be switched from light comedy to stark drama if the husband is an Iraq war veteran with PTSD.
      A ubiquitous gay friend is thrown into the mix somewhere.  He is always funny, adorable and self-effacing.  If the movie has pretensions of being a “film” of import, he will say at one point: “I don’t mind giving blow jobs if I’m treated with respect.”  The secondary characters are, in no particular order: a sarcastic divorcee who is pondering lesbianism, played by a woman who is not by Hollywood standards, a beauty – say a Bette Midler or Joan Cusack type.  Then, the doofus brother or uncle, played by Randy Quaid, always good for a laugh when things get too heavy.  He ends up being very wise, and in a scene of nauseating poignancy, lectures the girl or boy about the true value of life – accompanied by a warm hug and a guitar riff in a minor key.
     Meanwhile, the mother has met an unkempt, handsome house painter (Mark Ruffalo) painting the house next door.  He too is adrift in the world and can relate to the disaffected teen ager.  After several miscommunications the mother and the housepainter hit it off. The teenager is ecstatic. The housepainter turns out to be a very talented artist, and the mother sets up a show at the art gallery.  Now, depending on how the film is rated, we have the O.S.S. – the obligatory-sex-scene with flashing breasts and buttocks with a female voice vocalizing softly accompanied by the plinkety-plonk guitar.(Never, ever a glimpse of a penis erectus.)  Cut to a sunny day, a high, long view of  a convertible driving through Big Sur.  The housepainter is driving, the mother is leaning lovingly against him, and the teen ager with his/her new friend beaming in the back.  At the beach the sun is setting to the sound of the Dylanesque, pseudo, folksinger singing of the joys of true love as the closing titles roll against a blood-red sky.
     I believe these mindless movies, avoiding any semblance of social consciousness, are the end product of the Hollywood blacklist which scared the bejesus out of the studio big-wigs sixty years ago. “Citizen Kane,” “I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Sullivan’s Travels” – were written and directed by socially-conscious lefties like Orson Welles, Albert Maltz, Jules Dassin, Dalton Trumbo, Alvah Bessie, Edward Dmytryk, inspired by the Great Depression.   All but Welles were blacklisted and denied their livelihood because of their radical political beliefs.  In the age of “American Sniper” and the Great Recession, we need them more than ever.

Good Manners , Bad Manners

Brain Dropping #137

         I find It amusing that slacker politicians and legislators always talk about etiquette and good manners whenever protesters interrupt their asinine and self-serving rituals, like Governor Shumlin’s speech under the tarnished ‘Golden Dome’ in Montpelier, Vermont.  I’m using the word tarnished in its moral sense, since the people’s representatives, except for too few, have ignored the needs of the ordinary folks who helped send them there.  How dare the working people of Vermont, whose lives have been disrupted by cruel cuts in social services, disrupt the political jawboning at the State House!   The Governor and his minions sitting comfortably in their upholstered seats or spooning soup in the cafeteria, have done little or nothing for the thousands of Vermonters in need.  Indeed, the Governor and his cohorts are considering worsening that need by further cut-backs in social services – fuel assistance and mental health for children. And they perseverate (Look it up – I did.) and procrastinate and postpone with pusillanimous posturing (Ahh! Alliteration.) to avoid a fairer tax burden on working Vermonters, and for the very wealthy to pay a bit more.  Surely, you remember that Ben Cohen (He of Ben & Jerry’s) and more than fifty other wealthy Vermonters, out of the goodness of their hearts, signed a letter to Shumlin urging him to raise their taxes after their nearly 200 million dollar windfall by Obama’s extension of Bush’s immoral tax cut for the 1%.  Our Reaganite, supply-side Governor preferred not to, and cut services to the poor instead.
         So, getting back to manners and good deportment.  How would Miss Manners or Dear Abby rate legislators who make promises they know they can’t keep?  How would she characterize the behavior of the people’s representatives who compartmentalize their moral obligations, and turn a blind eye and a deaf ear on good people suffering through an economic downturn of the last thirty years through no fault of their own – good people who see the rich getting richer at their expense?  How mannerly and well-behaved is a Governor and legislators who undercut the hope for a truly universal health care system, using fiscal flim-flam as an excuse?  I would hope that Miss Manners and Dear Abby would agree,such behavior is rude in the extreme, and deserving of a good finger wagging – Tsk! Tisk!
        Is it any wonder that the good folks at the Vermont Workers Center felt the need to roar their disapproval – to raucously disturb the folks in their upholstered seats pretending to listen to yet another mealy-mouthed speech from a Governor guilty of rude behavior and, what’s worse, disrespecting the people’s will.
        I’m all for respectful and mannerly behavior – let it begin with the people who have the power to change our lives for the better, but would much rather play the callous game of expediency, at the expense of their needful constituents.

Let’s march and chant and Love those haters!

Brain Dropping #135

         Charlie Hebdo.  Scandalous! Outrageous! Obscene! Blasphemous! Insensitive! Anti-Semitic! Islamophobic!  Anti-Catholic! Misogynistic! Homophobic!  Yes,yes, yes!  So what?  Outlaw ’em!  Jail ’em!  Suppress them!  Censor them!  Kill ’em!  But then: Commie! Lefty! Pinko!  Pervert! Socialist! Aetheist! Revolutionary!  Whistleblower! Abortion advocate! Civil Rights protester! Anti-war demonstrator!  And down we go on the slippery slope toward the death of free speech. 
        In 1977, American Nazis wanted to march peacefully in Skokie, Illinois but a permit was denied them. The ACLU defended their right to march as a matter of a First Amendment right.  The ACLU lost thousands of members because of this principled decision.  The ACLU did this because they knew very well once a society makes a concession to the squelching of free speech, no matter how obnoxious, it is a step toward totalitarianism.  Without ironclad protections for speech, the powers-that-be will begin the nefarious process of declaring any opposition as a form of treason. “You’re either with us or against us!”
       Our history is rife with examples of just such a tamping down of free expression from the Alien and Sedition Act signed into law by President John Adams, the suspension of Habeus Corpus by Abraham Lincoln, the Palmer Raids against anti-war radicals, 1919 -1920,  the Espionage Act of 1917, McCarthyism,
the Black List,  Obama”s relentless attack against whistleblowers – ad nauseum! 
      Going further back in history the suppression, torture and murder of those who preached against religious orthodoxy.
      It is difficult to listen to  the Kike haters, the Fag haters, the Commie haters, the Raghead haters, the Chink haters, the Wop haters, the Frog haters, the Lesbo haters, the Nigger haters, the Gook haters, the Jap haters, the Bohunk haters, the Pollack haters,the Limey haters, the Mick haters without wanting to smash them in the face, or at least force them to shut up – but that will inevitably lead to the bully-boys patrolling the streets in the name of hide-bound morality and political correctness. 
      The only rational way of countering hateful speech is with more speech and mass protests.

Obama’s Forked Tongue

Brain Dropping #136

        Speaking With Forked Tongue.  When I was a kid listening to The Lone Ranger on our Emerson radio, I was always amused when Tonto said: “The white man speaks with forked tongue!”  Now, we have a black man speaking with forked tongue – President Barak Obama in his phony State of the Union speech.  Let’s for a moment overlook the outlandish assertion that “The State of the Union is strong!” (Yes, it is for the money-grubbers at the top!)  What appalled me, and it seems Obama appalls me every time he opens his mouth, were his grandiose proposals to “level the playing field” by a miniscule financial transaction tax on Wall Street wheelng-and-dealing, and the idea of free Community Colleges so that the poor could do some boot-strap lifting.
       It is true that these are two great ideas to begin with, to close the appalling (there’s that word again) wealth gap in our oligarchy, but it’s too-little-too-late and the Prez knows it.  These two overdue proposals could have had a bit better chance than a snowball in hell if he had the guts to make them when he first came into office six miserable years ago, when the Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress.  Even the NYT, which never met a politician it didn’t kowtow to, was incredulous. ” The question at the end of the evening boiled down to whether advancing initiatives with little or no hope of passage constituted an act of bold leadership or a feckless waste of time.”
      Then why do it?  C’mon – think, you know why – to pave the way for Hillary in 2016!  This was Obama at his Stepin’ Fetchit best, carrying water for the Democrats.  This was the “politics of hope” at its most cynical.  Give the poor bastards a mirage to pin their hopes on in the next election, and maybe, just maybe they’ll fall for the same old flim-flam yet once again.  And maybe the honchos are right!  Maybe the United States of Amnesia will prevail.

Happy People, by Werner Herzog

Brain Dropping #134

       Happy people.  It’s below zero this January morning in northwestern Vermont, but the sun is brilliant and the reflected light from the snow shocks the eye.  I can’t help thinking about Genady and Anatoli, two Siberian sable trappers of the Taiga.  The Taiga is a conifer forest in Siberia one-and-a-half times the size of the United States. As the Taiga advances toward the Arctic Circle the trees disappear and the treeless land becomes the permafrosted Tundra.  The lives of the two trappers, depicted in the film “Happy People” by Werner Herzog, are elementally, organically interconnected with their stark environment.  From their little town of Bahktia, on the banks of the mighty Yenisei River, flowing 3,420 miles to the Arctic Ocean, they set out during trapping season for remote trapping grounds a hundred miles or so from the village.  Each man has his own trapping zone of hundreds of square miles, where he sets his traditional traps made with a hand axe from the trees of the Taiga. In the Summer season, fighting off clouds of mosquitoes, he prepares several rudimentary trapping huts with provisions and firewood which provide shelter as he makes his rounds on handmade skis, to collect the trapped, frozen-solid sables. In the awesome silence of the forest he encounters bears, lynx, wolverines, moose and elk.
        Although Herzog paints an idyllic picture of folks who seem to be self-sufficient and perfectly comfortable in their remote surroundings, I have become concerned with Genady and Anatoli.  Genady, in particular  won my deep respect by his contemplative manner and quiet dignity.  When they are at home in Bakhtia with their wives and children, gardening (the growing season although short enjoys almost 24 hours of sunlight encouraging quick maturity in vegetables.) or carving traditional dugout canoes, the warmth of the community of trappers and their families makes for a happy life.  But when they set out in sub-zero temperature on their snow-mobiles and with trusty dogs running alongside, they are cut off from all communication.  In one amazing scene in the film, Genady in returning from the trapping grounds for Christmas with his family, travels on his snow-mobile for ten straight hours, through the winter darkness with his dog running along side, the dog never riding on the snow-mobile, never stopping to rest.
        The effect of this film and the lives of the trappers, has crept into my thoughts just before sleep comes to me under my down comforter. I worry about Genady breaking a leg, or his snow-mobile breaking down hundreds of miles from any safe haven, with no cell phone – no way of calling for help. As I drift off I think of strategies for getting Genady, his dog and his load of sables safely back home.
        When I was a young art student I was told that the very best brushes for oil paint were made from Russian Sable.  They are among my most prized possessions.  

A F*cked Earth ?

Brain Dropping #133

        Is Earth Fucked?  No that isn’t my foul-mouthed persona talking, that’s the title of a presentation
given by Brad Werner, a “complex systems” researcher at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union
held on Dec. 2012 in San Francisco.  2,400 earth and space scientists were in attendance. Most of this Brain Dropping is taken from an article about that meeting by Naomi Klein.  I guess to spare some of the more straitlaced scientists the title was printed thus: “Is Earth F**cked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possiblities for Sustainability Via Direct Action Activism.”
       Brad Werner walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he used to answer that question. The jargon flew hot and heavy: “System Boundaries” – “Perturbations” – “Dissipation” – “Attractors” –“Bifurcations” and other stuff incomprehensible to the uninitiated in complex systems theory.  But the bottom line was clear: “Global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that earth-human systems are becoming dangerously unstable.”  When asked by a reporter: “Are we fucked?”  Werner set the jargon aside.  “More or less,” he replied.
      One dynamic in Werner’s model offered a ray of hope. He termed it “Resistance” – movements of groups of people who adopt a set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture.  This includes “environmental direct action – protests – blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.”  He observed that mass uprisings of people along the lines of the Abolitionist Movement, the Civil Rights Movement or Occupy Wall Street represent the likeliest source of friction to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. “If we’re thinking about the future of the earth and our environment we have to include resistance as part of that dynamic. It’s really a geophysics problem.”
      Brad Werner is talking about revolution folks, if we are going to keep the planet from being FUCKED!

I choose “None of the above”, thanks…

Brain Dropping #132

       It’s Official.  We are no longer a Democratic Republic!  We are truly an Oligarchy! – at least according to a study by two professors at Princeton University – Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page.  Based on data drawn from over 1,800 policy initiatives between 1982 – 2002, rich, well connected individuals got the legislation they wanted passed against the will of the majority of voters.  For example:  77% of the electorate polled wanted a public option in health care, but the medical and insurance honchos prevailed and the Public Option never saw the light of day.  The American public was left with the flawed, gordian knot of the Affordable Care Act – with no cost-caps  and tens of thousands left uninsured.
      Here’s Martin Gilens one of the authors of the study: 
                          “………contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe,
                          ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United 
                          States.  Economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have
                          a substantial degree of influence.  Government policy-making over the last few decades
                          reflects the preferences of economic elites.  Voters are not effective at holding politicians 
                          accountable for policies they adopt.  Voters have limited choices. Is there no way back to a
                          to a more democratic society?  The Age of the Robber Barons stoked the Progressive era.
                          Perhaps it takes a Great Depression.”
      I do believe most of us, who haven’t buried our heads in the sand, already knew that ” We-The-People” are not only getting the short-end-of-the-stick, but most of us are not even getting the stick.  We’re given candidates, most of whom are shitty choices.  These blah-blah politicians live cozily in the pockets of the money-men who have been given the green light by Citizen’s United and McCutcheon, to bribe and suborn ethically challenged mediocrities to whom lying is an art form. (I think of Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont.)  If you’ve been keeping score, Barak Obama has violated about 80% of his election promises, and few people seem to notice.
      And these pusillanimous putzes have presided over a corrupt governing clique which has seen the plunge into poverty of 50% of America’s school children, according to Global Research.  
      If this is oing to continue to 2016, let’s start a national movement to write in “None-of-the-above” the next time we play the rigged voting game. “Then what?”,  you ask? Get in touch – I have some ideas…

Some Odious Comparisons

My Brain Dropping #131

          Odious Comparisons.  “Comparisons are odious!”(Detestable.),said Miguel De Cervantes, Christopher Marlowe and Jack Kerouac.  So here are some detestable comparisons.
          Today, more women die in childbirth and pregnancy related causes than at any point in the last 25 years in the U.S.  The U.S. is one of only seven countries in the world having an increase in maternal mortality over the past decade – Afghanistan and South Sudan among them.  Mothers in Iran, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Greece have a better chance of surviving pregnancy than U.S. women.  Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women. The root cause is poverty.
          Odious comparison.  And yet the Republican pricks, who now rule over both houses of Congress are planning to cut WIC, the supplementary food program for mothers and infants, and funding for the breast feeding support program.  The U.S. is the only country in the developed world without paid maternity leave.  It’s just as George Carlin said:  “If you’re a pre-born fetus, all these motherfuckers will fight for your right to be born. But after you’re born – you’re fucked!”
          Odious comparison.  Corporations, world wide, have stockpiled over 32 trillion dollars in off-shore accounts to escape taxes.  3 trillion would be enough to eradicate world poverty! 
          American college students now owe tuition debt of 1.3 trillion dollars.  That’s more than credit card debt.  The average student debt upon graduation is $30,000.  College tuition has increased by 50%, a rate greater than inflation, over a ten year period. State funding at state schools have been cut by 14%.  At one time some states paid 75% of state college funding.  It is now down to 20%.  For public schools, 35 states have reduced funding by as much as 10%, Oklahoma cut funding by 23%.
          Odious comparison.  The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter plane has racked up a cost overrun of 7 billion dollars.  The overall cost of the development of this death-machine is nearly 400 billion dollars with another 700 billion during the program’s lifetime.
          Odious comparison.  400 billion dollars could provide every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home.
          But so compelling is the paranoid, siren call of national defense, and the jobs it creates at the expense of innocent victims blown to pieces in lands far away, that even Vermont’s Congressional delegation, including Bernie Sanders feel that at 200 million dollars per copy, it is  worth it.  Perhaps Bernie, Patrick and Peter would like to hear an evaluation of this remarkable aircraft they are championing, from Pierre Sprey the co-designer of its predecessor, the F-16. ” The F-35 is a lemon aircraft – an excessively heavy gas guzzler with low bomb-carry capacity, low loiter time, incapable of slow flight and detectible by WWII low frequency radar.” And it catches fire standing on the tarmac.  But it is a goddamn job creator!