Windup Wire

A Different View of Culture

George Carlin and the Ten Commandments

I miss George Carlin.  Through humor he helped keep us sane in an insane world.  He was as much a philosopher as he was a comedian.  Here is George Carlin on the Ten Commandments:

Here is my problem with the ten commandments- why exactly are there 10? 

You simply do not need ten. The list of ten commandments was artificially and deliberately inflated to get it up to ten. Here’s what happened: 

About 5,000 years ago a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to try to figure out how to control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so they announced that God had given them some commandments, up on a mountain, when no one was around.

Well let me ask you this- when they were making this shit up, why did they pick 10? Why not 9 or 11? I’ll tell you why- because 10 sound official. Ten sounds important! Ten is the basis for the decimal system, it’s a decade, it’s a psychologically satisfying number (the top ten, the ten most wanted, the ten best dressed). So having ten commandments was really a marketing decision! It is clearly a bullshit list. It’s a political document artificially inflated to sell better. I will now show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that’s a little more workable and logical. I am going to use the Roman Catholic version because those were the ones I was taught as a little boy.

Let’s start with the first three: 

I AM THE LORD THY GOD THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE GODS BEFORE ME

THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN

THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH

Right off the bat the first three are pure bullshit. Sabbath day? Lord’s name? strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century. So now we’re down to 7. Next:

HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER

Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn’t be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent’s performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don’t, period. You’re down to six.

Now in the interest of logic, something religion is very uncomfortable with, we’re going to jump around the list a little bit.

THOU SHALT NOT STEAL

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS

Stealing and lying. Well actually, these two both prohibit the same kind of behavior- dishonesty. So you don’t really need two you combine them and call the commandment “thou shalt not be dishonest”. And suddenly you’re down to 5.

And as long as we’re combining I have two others that belong together:

THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTRY

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE

Once again, these two prohibit the same type of behavior. In this case it is marital infidelity. The difference is- coveting takes place in the mind. But I don’t think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else’s wife because what is a guy gonna think about when he’s waxing his carrot? But, marital infidelity is a good idea so we’re gonna keep this one and call it “thou shalt not be unfaithful”. And suddenly we’re down to four.

But when you think about it, honesty and infidelity are really part of the same overall value so, in truth, you could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments and give them simpler language, positive language instead of negative language and call the whole thing “thou shalt always be honest and faithful” and we’re down to 3.

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR”S GOODS

This one is just plain fuckin’ stupid. Coveting your neighbor’s goods is what keeps the economy going! Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays “o come o ye faithful”, and you want one too! Coveting creates jobs, so leave it alone. You throw out coveting and you’re down to 2 now- the big honesty and fidelity commandment and the one we haven’t talked about yet:

THOU SHALT NOT KILL

Murder. But when you think about it, religion has never really had a big problem with murder. More people have been killed in the name of god than for any other reason. All you have to do is look at Northern Ireland, Cashmire, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the World Trade Center to see how seriously the religious folks take thou shalt not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable. It depends on who’s doin the killin’ and who’s gettin’ killed. So, with all of this in mind, I give you my revised list of the two commandments:

Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.

&

Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man than you.

Two is all you need; Moses could have carried them down the hill in his fuckin’ pocket. I wouldn’t mind those folks in Alabama posting them on the courthouse wall, as long as they provided one additional commandment:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

Intelligence and Materialism

The person who actually gets an education and is well about themselves, to fit in circles, they kind of take off their intelligence like it’s a suit.  Which is just so harmful.  Like, why would you not show off your intelligence, but rather show off some shit you just bought?  It’s just backwards.  - Chuck D

Walt Disney and Conservation

One of the best books I have ever read is Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.   Gabler is an excellent writer that is smart enough to understand all that was good and bad about Disney.  He not only provides amazing insight to Disney as a person, but understands the time and culture in which Disney lived.  This book is a great entrance point in understanding many things about America in the 20th century.  Disney was not only the self made man that dreamed in Technicolor, but also creator of the modern corporation and many of the negative things that came out of that.  Following his life you see how the dreams of an individual can lead towards innovative altruistic things in society.  However, as his successes grew larger and larger, and his company grew along with those successes, there also emerges a darker side to his empire.  This is not only a story about American capitalism, but also a kind of myth template.

Even if you don’t have it in you to read the whole book, the intro alone is worth reading through if you see this title at your local bookstore.  That alone poses a whole series of interesting questions.  It brings up many of the topics that are touched upon in the book.  Disney was a man that at different times was claimed by both the right and the left in this country, depending on the time of his life and what was happening overall in society.  Whether talking about art or commerce there are many pros and cons surrounding Disney.

Today I saw the latest in the Walt Disney Earth Day movies.  The narration of these movies are kid friendly, and too lacking in facts for me although I of course am not the intended audience, but the images captured are always amazing.  The one out this week is called Bears and it follows a family of bears in Alaska.  Even though this movie is aimed at kids, I felt that they could have provided more information on the bears.  However, the shots of Alaska, and of the bear’s interactions with each other are simply breathtaking.  While I was watching the film I couldn’t help but think of Gabler’s book and a certain passage where pros and cons of Disney’s wildlife films are touched upon.  Many people are probably not aware of this, but Disney did do a lot to create the modern wildlife documentary.  The following passage is from the book:

Then there was his effect on nature and conservation.  By anthropomorphizing animals in his cartoons, Disney helped sensitize the public to environmental issues; with Bambi he triggered a national debate on hunting.  Later when, basically for his own curiosity, he commissioned  a husband-and-wife filmmaking team to shoot footage of a remote Alaskan island and then in 1948 had the film edited into a story of the seals who lived and bred there, Seal island, he essentially created a new genre, the wildlife documentary, and though he would be sternly criticized in some quarters for imposing narratives on nature and turning animals into characters, his films may nevertheless have played a greater role than anything else in popular culture in educating the public on conservation and building a constituency for it. 

One can definitely argue with that statement and bring up people like Theodore Roosevelt or John Muir, but I definitely think there is something to be said for something that makes children empathetic to nature at a young age.  Anyway, if you love beautiful shots of nature or are looking for a good kid’s movie, the movie is worth your time.  If you are looking for something deeper, look elsewhere.  If you are interested in art and commerce and American history, then I can’t recommend Gabler’s book enough.

 

Deadwood and United Fruit

Everything leads back to DeadwoodDeadwood is my favorite TV show of all time.  I believe it is the closest we will get to Shakespeare in our time in terms of dramatic depth and the shows rich verbal complexity.  The show takes place in the illegal town of the same name in the late 19th century.  The show is about how societies organize themselves and also about the bloodier side of free market capitalism.

Today I was reading about how the connections between leaders in our country and the United Fruit company that lead to coup in Guatemala in 1954.  This coup happened because of the revolving door between big business and government.  John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles both represented United Fruit when they worked at the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell.  When the Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz came to power he wanted to nationalize lands owned by United Fruit.  Arbenz was no communist, he only wanted an economic arrangement that was actually beneficial to his country.  However, the Dulles brothers, because of their long standing relationship to United Fruit, and their views that any kind of nationalistic indigenous behavior was the work of communists, decided to try to overthrow Arbenz government once the Dulles brothers became the Secretary of State and the director of the CIA.

The show Deadwood shows how economic forces shape political reality.  It is dramatic truth that helps one to understand the world at large.  During the second season the titan of industry William Hearst comes to the town.  His role in the town is the primary overreaching conflict of season three.   When he can’t get what he wants by using covert methods of misinformation, coercion, and bribery, he turns to violence.  He employs the Pinkerton detective agency, which in the show could easily stand in for the CIA.  They use violence to crush organizing activity, and eventually kill the person who most stands in the way of his ability to acquire a claim that he desires.

Our country has a history of allowing corporate interests to drive foreign policy decisions.  The incident with United Fruit and Guatemala is just one such incident.  One can look to recent events in Iraq, especially in the aftermath of the initial invasion, to see how companies help shape our policy for their own interests.  Sometimes these policies can even manifest themselves in overt violence.

What really great story telling can do is to relate truths in ways that are easy to comprehend.  Great art can help us to reach universal truths by allowing us to step outside of our current political moment. It can help us interpret the world around us in ways that journalism, which can often be biased and is also often the mere recording of data, cannot do.  If you are looking to understand the world that we inhabit it helps to pay attention to the news, it helps to read history books, but one should never forget the value of art.  Fiction can sometimes be more enlightening than mere fact.

Public Enemy’s Intellectual Vietnam

I’ve been listening to a lot of Public Enemy recently.  I don’t really listen to rap that often, but when I do it is almost exclusively Public Enemy.  I remember when Public Enemy were in their heyday, and they are still putting out good records now even if they sell less, they had a large crossover white audience despite often singing about black concerns.  Many people wondered why, and I think if I remember the band itself was even a bit confounded by why there were so many white people at many of their shows.  I think the reason that is, is that what they do is just so undeniably great.  When I listen to their records I realize that I am listening to a completely unique artistic statement.  They drew upon black soul, early hip hop, and rock n roll in their music, but the way they put everything together defies categorization.     

I am most familiar with their classic run of albums It’s Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Fear of a Black Planet, and Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black.  The sound of these records is as dense as Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.  However, while Spector’s Wall of Sound was “a teenage symphony to God”, Public Enemy’s sound is at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Their music is infused with dread and revolution.  It is music that is meant to provoke.  However, as a musician, I listen to these records and am in awe of the arrangements.  There are so many different levels of sound going on, that shouldn’t work, and yet somehow do.  There are air raid sirens stacked on top of electric guitars, stacked on top of all kinds of drum loops and percussion, stacked upon strange vocal samples.  And that description doesn’t even touch what is going on half the time!  This is really musical stuff that reaches the level of genius. 

The lyrics are also extremely political.  This was at a time when mainstream rock n roll had ceased to be a force for social change.  Public Enemy picked up the baton and ran with it.  Although Public Enemy were often rapping about black concerns, it is not hard to identify with the outsider or underdog.  Plus their lyrics were often batshit crazy in a way that is completely fun if you have a certain sensibility.  I love the term “intellectual Vietnam!”  As Dylan said about Ice-T, who also put out some great stuff, theses guys were, “throwing horses over cliffs.”  They weren’t messing about! 

In Chuck D they not only had a great lyricist, but a great voice.  His baritone is like a cannon going off.  He is a captivating street preacher that demands your attention.  There aren’t that many voices that charismatic in music, let alone in rap.  Also like so much rap out there, and so much country music, and so much mainstream music in general these days, he isn’t selling fake rebellion forged with consumerist ideas.  From the lyrics to Say It Like It Really Is, one of their more recent singles: 

I don’t give a damn about poppin Champaign
Say what y’all wanna say about
Change
Revolution I’m a say what I’m saying

Rather be stuck up than stuck down
Here’s the difference
I picks up the black and brown
Against Mr. Man informants and government
While real people starve and cant pay their rent
They you seriously don’t mean what you meant
I ain’t tricked deceived paid off inagreement
Somebody planned it
Glad y’all understand it
Those that don’t
Headharded like granite
We look out for them too
And don’t take em for granted

Lost in the Dream Album Review

I recently became aware of The War On Drugs album Lost in the Dream.  This is simply the best album by a newer artist that I have come across in some time.  It’s a strange amalgamation of FM radio staples like Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty crossed with the dreamier sounds of something like Roxy Music’s Avalon.  This is one of those albums that allows you to get lost in its world.  It’s something completely familiar and new at the same time. 

The thing that this album does best is create emotion and mood.  It’s crafted in the way that great 70’s rock albums were, as it definitely works best as a whole.  Listening to it you can’t help but be swept up in the artist’s imagination.  The War on Drugs is a band fronted by Adam Granduciel of Philadelphia.  He plays many of the instruments and is the visionary behind this work. 

Before I praise this album, I do want to point out its weak points.  If these songs were stripped of their sonic treatments they wouldn’t be as strong as the writing of classic rock artists who definitely partially inspired this work.  The album almost strikes me as nonverbal.  Although I have listened to the album many times over the last week, I can’t remember the words, and although it is highly melodic, I probably couldn’t hum you any melodies if you walked into the room now, although that may change over time.  But this album is almost like an impressionistic painting and less like a portrait.  Also, while Adam Granduciel is a good singer, he is not a great one.  His voice serves the songs, but never rises above them.  Both of these are problems that would normally get in the way of me enjoying an album, but every other detail of the album is spot on. 

Because what the album does is, through performance, production, and mixing create an incredibly emotional sound.  The drums swing like you want rock n roll drums to swing, the record sounds warm and inviting, the songs rise and fall dynamically just when they need to.  Sonically, again, this album is inventive by combining American radio rock with the spacious sounds of British post punk bands.  In some ways it is almost like listening to incredible instrumental music, you might not be singing along, but you feel happy and sad as the world becomes more alive around you.  At the end of the day that is the most important thing music can do: create vivid emotions.  

Because this album is much more emotional than intellectual, and because before I described it as almost nonverbal, I feel that words fail in describing it.  It is something that you need to simply listen to.  Whether you are going on a cross country drive, or sitting alone on a rainy day, this album will do right by you.  Even now, like a dream, it is drifting way into the ether, getting harder to remember.  But I know when I’m back inside of it I will feel something, and that is enough for me. 

Manipulation of the Press by the CIA

I mentioned yesterday that I am reading The Bothers by Stephen Kinzer. This is a book about Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles.  If anyone wondered what role the government has played in shaping public opinion, look no further than how the Dulles brothers influenced the press during their lifetime.  I understand that this took place in the mid 20th century, but one only needs to remember Judith Miller and others during the Iraq War, or look at the CIA’s manipulation of events surrounding torture today. The following is a passage from The Brothers (Henry Luce was the owner of Time and Life magazines):  

Their old friend Henry Luce put each of the brothers on the cover of Time during their first year in office.  Allen was pictured with his ubiquitous pipe, smoke curling up toward a black-cloaked figure carrying a dagger, above the title “In an Ancient Game, New Techniques and a New Team.”  Foster followed a couple of months later.  Wrinkled and sullen, staring out from beneath a black homburg in front of a globe encircled with red, white, and blue banners, he looked worthy of what Time described as his mission: “To Unite Principle and the Facts of Life.”  

Luce’s friendship was only one of the many assets that helped Foster and Allen project their views into the American press.  Foster built a dense network of media contacts, and once Allen became director of central intelligence he went even further.  Allen established discreet contact with owners, publishers, and editors of influential daily newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks.  Among his regular collaborators were William Paley of CBS, Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Alfred Friendly of the Washington Post, and James Copley of Copley News Service.  Through them, and through the journalists who were veterans of the Office of War Information, the U.S. government’s official propaganda arm during World War II, he regularly planted stories about foreign countries and their leaders.  By one account he could “pick up the phone and edit a breaking story, make sure an irritating foreign corespondent was yanked from the field, or hire the services of men such as Time’s Berlin bureau chief and Newsweek’s man in Tokyo.”  The columnist Allen Drury called him “a man of notoriously thin skin who is not above trying to get the jobs of newspapermen who criticize his agency.”

Years later it became clear that Allen’s efforts to influence the American press were not casual or episodic, but part of a multifaceted project called Operation Mockingbird.  Through it he funneled information, some of it classified, to journalists disposed to promote the CIA worldview, among them James Reston of the New York Times, Benjamin Bradlee of Newsweek, and the influential columnists Joseph and Stewart Aslop.  Operatives also planted stories in smaller news outlets and arranged for them to be amplified through networks controlled by friendly media barons.  Frank Wisner, who helped oversee Mockingbird, called it the CIA’s “mighty Wurlitzer.”  

Years of Living Dangerously

http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/where-to-watch/

The link above is to the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously.  You can watch the first episode of this series for free.  To anyone that wants to understand climate change better, is skeptical, or wants to be able to talk about it more intelligently with friends, I can’t recommend this enough.  It is highly accessible and it covers a wide range of topics associated with climate change.  The science is touched upon, but it is not a heavily scientific show in the sense that it is just data thrown at you.  It follows several celebrities as they travel to different regions of the world that are already facing problems that are caused by climate change.  The footage is astounding and the show is highly entertaining, despite being of a very serious nature. 

I know the idea of following around a few celebrities around could easily descend into farce, but in this show it is not the case. The celebrities aren’t so much driving the action as they are just familiar faces that are standing in for the audience on camera.  This is a sober production.

The show does deal with the ecological problems that are associated with climate change, but it also deals with the human issues as well.  We are already seeing crops die, wars being fought, and jobs being lost because of climate change.  These are not things taking place in the future, but are issues that are already starting to arise. 

I also liked the way that the show dealt with people of faith.  People like me are already onboard.  I would vote to curb emissions yesterday.  We need people that have beliefs that stand in the way to change their mind.  This show deals with the idea that science in no way challenges faith, at least not in the big picture.  At the end of the day we all share the same planet, and if we are going to inhabit it in a way similar to the way we grew up, we better find some common ground. 

The Brothers that Created Modern America

For any of you interested in American history, and understanding how we got to where we are now, I cannot recommend the book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War enough.  It was written by Stephen Kinzer, who is the national cultural national cultural correspondent for the New York Times.  This book is incredibly fascinating and very well written. 

John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State under President Eisenhower and Allen Dulles was the head of the CIA.  Both worked for the corporate law firm Sullivan & Crowell.  Their father was a minister.  They brought together the interests of big business, interventionist foreign policy, and especially in the case of John Foster Dulles, missionary religious beliefs, in a way that had never been done before. 

Their grandfather, who was also Secretary of State, was the first Secretary of State to help overthrow a foreign country.  He helped bring about an end to the reign of the monarchy in Hawaii.  They grew up in the realm of the exclusively white patriarchal ruling elite.  Both brothers went back in forth in their careers between representing large corporations and representing our government. Both believed that the US had a role in shaping the world.  Often their policy beliefs were in line with what the interests were for large corporations. 

I am only partially through the book at this point, and I want to read more before I say too much.  However, if you want to understand how the modern world was created in the world after World War II, I already know that this book is essential reading. 

I was a History Major for most of my college career before finally graduating in American Studies.  The wider you cast your net when learning history, the more time and people you cover, the harder it can be to understand the specifics of what was happening and why.  That is why a class concerning the history of the Civil War is so much more interesting than a broad American History class.  You are able to get down into the nitty gritty of things.  By focusing on the Dulles brothers, who were fundamental in shaping US policy, this book makes understanding this period of history easy to those that might not be well versed in it.  However, this book is full of revelations even for those of you that might have read different texts concerning this time period.  If you are interested in our history, or troubled by the current US, I can already say that this is essential reading. 

On the Road Again

I am on the road again with Shinyribs which makes posting hard.  I am in east Texas.  It is only a short run that lasts through Sunday.  When I only go out for three or four days I don’t bring my computer.  When I don’t bring my computer there is no spell check.  When there is no spell check even more poblems than usual arise!  I am the world’s worst speller.  Those little kids in spelling bees would bury me and dance on my grave!

Some thoughts while away:

1.  Last night I played a venue that gives away a free gun before every show!

2.  The new War On Drugs album is fantastic.  It sounds like Tom Petty meets Roxy Music, which is a good thing.  I’ll be writing more about this soon. 

3.  There is a really interesting article about Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage at The New York Times website.  I unfortunately don’t have the link right now, but it is worth checking out.  It displays how politicians, and this is definitely not only true of Obama, calculate stances on certain issues based on the bigger political picture. 

I am actually not traveling today.  I am hoping to find a computer somewhere later. 

In the future, when all is well…

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