America, Imagine a World Without Her

Recently, an old friend, who has become an arch conservative in his middle-age posted a review of Dinesh D’Souza’s film “America, Imagine a World Without Her” on his Facebook timeline. The piece was published on the conservative web site Frontpage Mag and written by Arnold Ahlert.

I don’t know about you, But I can’t imagine a world without America. On the other hand I find myself struggling with imagining an America that isn’t willing to contemplate all of our past. We’ve accumulated a great deal of bad karma. I’m not talking about self-loathing. But I do think it’s important to understand how we got to this place, whom we’ve hurt, what we’ve destroyed to get here, and to endeavor to be better human beings today and in the future.

I also find myself puzzled by my friend’s news sources. He was an intelligent and gentle boy. He married his high school sweetheart. He is a very accomplished musician. I cannot understand how he can take a web site seriously that bears the subtitle, “Inside Every Liberal is a Totalitarian Waiting to Get Out.”

“America, Imagine a World Without Her” calls to mind the old silent film Birth of a Nation. Sorry but myopic ultra-nationalist apologia give me the willies. And Ahlert’s review was nothing more than a poorly reasoned screed against liberals. Both are quite beside the point.

The community of people who respond to my friend’s posts are the real point. There are a number of us middle-aged types of varying political persuasions who regularly post on his Facebook links. Aside from being Americans, we are all musicians.

The conversations start off polite. We seldom agree. After a while the words get more pointed. I don’t think we change each others’ minds. I do think we respect one another. I hope we give each other food for thought. I know it has done so for me.

In any event, the conversation meandered away from the D’Souza’s film (no surprise there) and the insults flew.

K***: I could never get tenure because I’m too politically incorrect.

T***: a radical leftist denied tenure at an university because of his politics… someone notify Ward Churchill…BWAHAHAHAHAHA

K***: Well T***, perhaps if you had read my entire comment you’d see that I am not, in fact, a “radical leftist,” since I criticized the radical left in several specific areas. But then reading doesn’t seem to be your strong area.

Bob: Oh boy. Another house of weak arguments, furnished with innuendos and prejudice, built upon on a foundation of wrongheaded assumptions which rest on footings dug into the quicksand of stereotype. Anyone who takes this at face value is a fool.

T***:I love it when radical leftists suddenly claim to be “centrist” when it becomes convenient…

Bob: Please define your terms T. What is a radical leftist? And and who in this discussion qualifies?

T***: I already have, ad nauseum… “

T*** shared a link to Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change and left the question about who among us was a radical leftist unanswered, though I’m pretty sure he meant K*** and  me.

One of the things I like about discussing politics with this group is that we are well read, intelligent and that we agree on little. In as much as their ideas and insults often infuriate me, I cherish the opportunity to ask how they arrive at their ideas. I have read more far right “literature” in the last year than ever before.

I followed T***’s link and downloaded Goldberg’s book. I know I risk sounding like a Kool-Aid slugging liberal, a characterization which I deny, but Goldberg’s arguments torture the point and in the end do nothing more than inflame people’s prejudices rather than provide a useful way to contemplate differences of opinion.

Let’s say for the sake of our discussion Goldberg’s basic premiss, is true. The word fascism encompasses more than turn of the 20th century meaning. That liberals are self-deluded crypto-fascists (and therefore aligned with the worst actors of the 20th century) because early in the 20th century “liberal thinkers” and policy makers were enamored by European fascism and because some of that thought influenced Progressive/Liberal thought.

So what.

Political ideas are like everything else. They come in and out of fashion. People wear the ideas for a season and move on to the next great thing. What’s more, when it counted, the “liberals” stood up against the Nazis and the Italians and came to view fascism as a fundamentally evil political movement.

Goldberg argues that fascist ideas/ideals permeate the liberal DNA and therefore they are the bad guys. In the time honored propaganda trope, he conflates progressives and liberals with the most evil leaders of western civilization: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Napoleon, and Robespierre.

That some of the ideas persisted from one era to another and from one political ideology to another speaks to the reality that our ideas do not exist in a vacuum, that there is nothing new under the sun. Rather we recycle, deconstruct, reassemble, and repackage as oppose to innovate. We can trace the roots of everything in the present to something from the past.

From what I can tell, LIBERAL FASCISM’s true purpose is to say “I’m rubber, you’re glue, everything you say bounces off of me and sticks on to you,” and in so doing attempts to affix a universally pejorative term, fascism, upon the chest of the so called “left”.

First of all the left/right thing is reductio ad absurdum. Very few people can distill their world views to such find points.

What’s more, I’m still left with lingering questions about the core issues and whether these discussions are anything more than vanilla is better than chocolate. Why? Because I like vanilla better than chocolate. No chocolate is better than vanilla. Why? Because I like chocolate.

Help me understand why anyone has to write a 500 page book calling liberals fascists except as an attempt to demonize them? Help me understand why people have to reduce the world down to such absurdities and then use minute differences to fuel their hatred.

Ann Coulter on Soccer: Part Deux

Ann Coulter on Soccer: Part Deux? C’mon Ann Coulter, Soccer? You really want to waste your valuable print space and attention bandwidth on soccer? Wasn’t la première partie, a/k/a “Part One” one column too many? Right, right, soccer is the front lines in the culture wars between conservatives and liberals. I forgot. What I have not forgotten is that you do not really care about issues. You are polemicist. Your living depends on your ability to instigate fights between “conservatives” and “liberals”.

The sad part is you succeed. Shame on your readers (lovers AND haters) for allowing themselves to be baited and manipulated  by a pundit who is far more interested in self-aggrandizement than the real issues.

Here’s my take on a few of your points from your soccer screed:

  • Who cares if you find soccer “excruciatingly boring.”  So, don’t watch.
  • “Soccer is a game for girls.” Because? Girls are less capable than boys? They are weaker? Less interesting to watch? Self-loathing much?
  • “A guy from the Paraguay team (Uruguay? Who cares?) was caught biting an opponent in a match. Not punching. Not a cross-body block. BITING! How long can it be until we see hair-pulling in soccer? “ Way to stereotype. Does that make Mike Tyson a girl? Is that how you fight?
  • So in a 100-minute game, something happened two times and nothing happened 98 times. “ Apparently you have the attention span of the average NFL fan. How long is the average play? 5 to 15 seconds? There’s a total of about 11 minutes of actual “action” in an NFL game. That leaves plenty of time for commercials, gorging yourself on snacks and beer, and sticking your fingers down your throat to purge yourself from those healthy “football snacks.”
  • “I believe we are witnessing the implementation of that favorite rule of soccer moms: ‘Everybody’s a winner!!!'” Even you. Apparently you have never spent a nanosecond on a soccer pitch in a competitive league.
  • “The reason there are so many fights among spectators at soccer games is to compensate for the tedium.” As opposed to NFL, NHL, or MLB fans, who riot and destroy their hometowns whether their teams win or not.
  • “Being in France does expose me to a way of life that illustrates why foreigners like soccer so much.” It must be nice to afford a trip to France. I take it you only eat at McDonalds and other American-style restaurants. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to let all that socialist food sully your All-American taste buds.
  • “Another crucial role of the refs is to stop the games for a “heat rest.” Tell that to NFL players in New Orleans or Miami, where regular-season games have reached temperatures of over 100 degrees” As opposed to approximately 11 minutes of action over three hours, the extended breaks for TV commercials or the fact that NFL plays last frequently last less than five seconds before the players, reset, catch their breath, suck on oxygen on the sidelines, get replaced by substitutes, and do it again.
  • “Among the least obscenity-laced attacks on my soccer column was one written by two twits who work for the Huffington Post, Nick Wing and Paige Lavender.”  In other words, Nick and Paige, please, please be very offended and respond to this screed in print so people will talk about me.

Sheesh Ann Coulter. Why not use your platform, such as it is, to discuss the actual issues? Perhaps that’s because you do not care? It’s abundantly clear the only things that matter to you are instigating fights and people talking about you. So there you go. You accomplished your goal. I’m talking about you. I hope the bad karma will be worth it.

Soccer Critics Are Right, But it’s Time to Zip it and Cheer–not

I agree it’s time to shut up and cheer. However, I’m not sure what there was to complain about in the first place? Why does everything have to boil down to left vs right? Why does every disagreement about matters of taste have to be a fight for the soul of our country?

This constant caviling against soccer, or as it’s known in the rest of the world football, is just plain absurd. It’s not the sport we baby-boomers grew up with. So what.

Ironically the drive to get involved in the sport is pure capitalism. In case you didn’t notice the WHOLE WORLD PLAYS soccer/football. That’s a much bigger market than the U.S. sports markets. Our businesspeople want to get a piece of the pie.

The veneer of amity peels up when Davis goes on to say, “Conservatives in particular have had a great time savaging soccer— from Ann Coulter, who properly taps the brakes on any sport where girls compete alongside boys, [emphasis added] to Marc Thiessen, who crafts a sublime argument that soccer is socialist. ”

Gimmie a break. As the father of an amazing daughter and the husband and son of extremely brilliant women, Mark Davis and Ann Coulter can go jump in a lake.  Who the hell are they to say where women can and can’t compete? The privilege of participating at anything, elite or otherwise, belongs to those with the skill to do it, not to those who have a a dick and balls.

I can’t help but notice Ann Coulter does not shuffle  around the house in a dirty blue duster dragging a train of children on her hem.

And, Mark Theissen, socialist sport? Really? Why because they do not pretend one score = six points + 1 for a kick or organize the game around commercials?

Click here to view original web page at townhall.com

The conspiracy theory movement has grown

An FB friend opined that the conspiracy theory movement has grown along with the Internet. I’m not sure the conspiracy movement has been growing so much as people have found soapboxes. It occurs to me the Internet has provided a venue for people to feel safe expressing thoughts they would otherwise never say out loud or face-to-face.

It’s like we’ve suddenly been given backstage passes into people’s minds and have been forced to share the formerly unexpressed thoughts of anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s scary really. Now we know the empty, vapid, and cruel thoughts behind everyone’s smiles. We can no longer deny just how cluttered and dysfunctional they are.

For that reason, among many, I would never want to be part of a hive-mind. As it is, the signal to noise ratio has driven me to distraction.

An open letter to Apple Computer

I recently experienced a hard disk failure on my 2008 iMac. There’s nothing surprising about that. Hard disks don’t last forever. Leaving aside the epic rigamarole necessary to replace an iMac hard disks, I installed the new one and needed to do a restore from Time Machine.

Apple markets Time Machine as a simple and easy way to recover from a catastrophic disk failure.  Loading your data is supposed to be a trivial operation–unless you’ve lost your Snow Leopard disks and upgraded to Mavericks on-line.

After exhausting my own knowledge on the matter, I broke down and called Apple Tech Support. The guy I talked to was very nice. He suggested I press the Option key while selecting the Leopard DVD as the boot device. It did. The installer recognized the external disk with the back up and seemed to restore my system–only it didn’t. That led to several hours of chasing my tail and a second call to Apple Tech Support.

Tech support guy number two informed me I’d been misinformed. He told me “you” can’t restore a Mavericks Time Machine back up with the Leopard install disk.  His advice was to buy a copy of Snow Leopard in order to upgrade to the “free” Mavericks, thus requiring a $20 expense and a wait for shipping.

I own and have paid  for every OS X update from Panther through Mountain Lion and had Mavericks installed on the old hard disk. I also told the guy I had another computer with Mavericks loaded on it. The last disk-based copy of OS X I have is Leopard. Honestly I can’t remember but either I threw out Snow Leopard, which I doubt, or did the upgrade (and all subsequent upgrades) as an Internet install.

Apple Tech guy number two’s advice, though technically not incorrect, was hardly optimal. After some Google research and an “ah ha” moment, I subsequently figured out that all I needed was a Mavericks boot flash drive. That led to a bit more research. I found a third-party tool called Disk Maker X and using one of my other Maverick installs. I was ultimately successful in restoring my old system, lock, stock, and barrel.

Yesterday, I received a follow up email from Apple inquiring about my recent experience with Tech Support. I’m not sure why I bothered but I clicked on the link and filled out the survey form.

At the bottom of the form was a space for comments. There I explained the situation and wrote that I have been a loyal Apple customer for many years and have owned many Apple products but find myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with the company’s attitude toward its customers. Lately it seems that ALL tech support roads, whether at the Apple Genius bar, at the Apple Store or Apple phone support lead to spending more money at the Apple store.

My experiences this year, including this one, have torn a rift in my technology universe. For the first time ever I’ve started thinking of Apple in the same way I used to think of Micro$oft. Going forward. As my Apple products age, need replacement, I have resolved to look for alternatives.

I doubt anyone reads those surveys. And if they do, I doubt anyone will do anything to restore my good will. But on the off chance that somebody from Apple Computer remembers how they built their fiercely loyal customer base, I challenge Apple Computer to contact me and make a sincere effort to revisit how they do business and to restore my good will. Apple became popular because it was the “cool” company that actually cared about its customers. Now? Not so much. At least in my experience.

Netiquette for squares

Netiquette advice usually focuses on affectations and proscriptions considered vital to your success in the digital village by well-meaning web hipsters. They offer advice like: DON’T USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS that’s shouting. You will needlessly provoke your readers and they will RESPOND IN KIND, or like an unapologetic capital-boy I know from the great state of Missouri, become the butt of jokes and an object of derision  Do not top-post. In other words, remove the text from the previous email when you hit the reply button unless your response necessitates context. This is a practice that can keep you out of trouble when you gossip. I know of several government officials from my days as an elected official who regretted the habit. If quote you must, keep it to a minimum or risk being labeled a profligate waster of precious bandwidth. Along the lines of saving bandwidth, do use common short cuts like lol (laugh out loud) or btw (by the way) or my personal favorite WTF. Doing so also saves precious bytes of data and identifies you as a member of the cognoscenti. 😉 Do use emoticons like the one preceding this sentence, which is my way of telling you that I’m being (playfully) ironic. Emoticons are a sub-genre of common short cuts used to express nuances of tone. On-line writing is utterly bereft of non-verbal communication cues. Remember people who divide their attention into nanoseconds (millionths of a second) read it. They type faster than you too. Slip up and you’ll find yourself embroiled in a “flame-war” (a cyber-steel-cage death match). Before you know it, the world has suffered yet another catastrophic loss of bonhomie. lol, ;-), rofl, %-), etc.

The on-line world has produced a new sub-culture with its own folkways but ultimately, there are only two substantive differences between analog and electronic communications: the medium upon which the thoughts are recorded and the speed at which the message can be delivered. Beyond that, the same rules apply to both. If you don’t follow the usual rules for writing and civil conversation in the “real world,” you are extremely unlikely to find greater success in the digital village.

Writing on-line: The purpose of written communication is to convey ideas between people and the basic act is media-agnostic. Therefore, the tried and true rules apply. Failing to write clearly and succinctly invites confusion. Failing to respect your readers’ feelings and intelligence creates barriers between your words and your message. Forgetting that once you write it, readers own the meaning,will result in sloppy writing.  If you’re not careful all you end up doing is assembling a collection of words no one will read.

For me, netiquette means thinking about what I’m going to say before I say it. It means giving the same care to electronic communications that I give to something I would submit for publication or to a teacher or a boss. It means keeping it short and sweet. This is all the more so important when you consider the average person spends less than 10 seconds on a web page before hitting the back button. That reminds me of another rule, if you need to write more than three lines in an email, set up a meeting or pick up the phone. That way, there’s no permanent record of the conversation–especially if you’re a bomb thrower like me.

Meanwhile back at the ranch . . .

About a week ago I was admitted to the hospital for severe blockages in two of my coronary arteries. The doctors inserted three stents in my heart in two separate procedures. The surgeon told my wife “it was the real deal.” He said I was a time bomb, armed and ready to blow. Those cautionary words notwithstanding, my prognosis is great. So long as I take care of myself (you know the litany, exercise, lose weight, lower my blood pressure, and avoid fatty foods), I will live to be an old man.

On the way to Brigham and Women's Shapiro Cardiac Center
On the way to Brigham and Women’s Shapiro Cardiac Center

I felt awful for the entire summer but didn’t go to the doctor because we did not have health insurance (that’s the subject of another story). Back in late May my son asked to plant a garden. We hadn’t done that in a long time, so I said, sure. He and I measured out an area in our back yard and set to work. When healthy, it would have taken me maybe two or three hours of to turn over the soil. I found I couldn’t turn the shovel more than two or three times without feeling sick. Sessions lasted 10 or 15 minutes and ended on the couch with the air conditioner on full blast. My promise kept me at it but that project took over a month to finish.

IMG_1346
Some visual irony: Watch your step.

Things got worse from there. Come July exertion became increasingly more difficult. The slightest activity left me feeling like I’d just finished running 10 miles in 90 degree heat with a hangover. Walking like a New Yorker gave way to a more Southern pace, which gave way to “slow down I don’t feel well.” By the summer’s end I broke out into a sweat just shuffling to the mailbox.

All that ended last week thanks to my wife. She found us healthcare. Thanks also go to the big guy in the sky who invited me back for a second act.

There I admitted it. Please don’t run away screaming cliché and complaining that yet another guy has a brush with mortality and finds God.

God found me. The idea that there’s some guy in the sky with a grand plan pisses me off on many levels.  Without resorting to the bullshit faith arguments, I want someone to explain to me how  a supreme being can possibly have enough bandwidth to keep the sun shining and the planets spinning and then pick and choose the joyful and tragic moments in everyone’s life, every day, and every year since creation?   And why me?  How the do I fit into the divine plan? Why waste single byte of bandwidth on me when there are countless humans tragically suffering every moment of every day?  Why did I survive coronary heart disease when my father, his brothers, his father, and countless Cohens from the days of yore all dropped dead young?

I Had a Dream

God got mixed up in the narrative against my will. Dr. Martin Luther King isn’t the only one who had a dream. Just prior to the hospitalization, I dreamed about a conversation with my imaginary literary adviser about an equally imaginary novel. We talked about story arc and themes and the like. When the question arose about what to name my protagonist, the man across the table said, call him Tolah. He spelled it out slowly and repeatedly to make sure I would remember when I woke up.

Tolah, what’s a tolah? I opened my eyes the next morning to the Google search form and t-o-l-a-h spilling from my fingertips. It means worm. Not just any worm, cue the reverb and dramatic music, the crimson worm.

The Crimson Worm

Ancient cloth makers crushed the shells to dye priestly garments red. When it lays its eggs, the mother creates a red shell around itself. After the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the mother’s living body until they are strong enough to break out of the shell. The word worm appears numerous times in the BIBLE but tolah only in “Psalm 22”  ‘But I am a worm, [emphasis added] and no man; /A reproach of men, and despised by the people.'” (ll. 6-7).

What’s more, religious scholars consider this poem the bridge between the New and Old Testaments and Judaism and Christianity.  It foreshadows Jesus Christ. According to Matthew and Mark, JC utters the very same words upon his death on the cross.

This did not (and still does not) rest easily on my mind. I turned away from God and organized religion a long time ago. Too many unanswered question and too much unassuaged human suffering for me to believe in a supreme being who knows all, sees all, has a plan he won’t share, and who refuses to give a prime time interview with Barbara Walters to establish his bona fides.

Psalm 22

The research pointed to “Psalm 22” so I couldn’t ignore it. Something inexplicable happened when I read it. The narrator of the poem begins with  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? /Why are you so far from helping Me.” (ll 1-2).

I cried from the first sentence to the last. A profound watershed of relief, a phenomenon I think some people call grace, passed through my being. “Psalm 22” was an ancient blues written at the dawn of the Abrahamic religions. Like all blues its words gave shape to the amorphous and seemingly unending suffering of the last five years and in so doing robbed it of its power.

Indeed, I could have written “Psalm 22.” I have cursed God many times since my wife was wrongly and cruelly bullied out of her job of 22 years as the executive director of a legal non-profit organization by former president. He is an unrepentant and  sociopathic lawyer from Washington, DC who had a reputation within the non-profit legal world as cruel person who enjoyed ruining executive directors.  Upon taking the reigns of the organization’s board, he systematically destroyed her life’s work.

We all hear those stories about bystanders who stand around watching as some hapless victim suffers at the hands of an antagonist. That same thing happened. some 20 directors watched him do it and failed to lift a finger to help. That alone would have been difficult enough but it was only the beginning of what can be described as a first-world hell on earth. So much of what we worked hard to accomplish unraveled.

Somebody Got to Help Me

As Sonny Boy Williamson, a/k/a Rice Miller sang “Ya got to help me, I can’t do it all by myself.” Shortly after that dream, my wife, who’d basically given up on MassHealth, found one last burst of resolve. That led to a nameless state employee who waved an administrative magic wand and approved the application on the spot. The insurance cards arrived in in days and very shortly after that, I was lying in a room at Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center recovering from life saving surgery.

It was a fucking miracle. Everything about me changed. The color of my skin changed. I felt more alert. I literally wanted to dance an Irish jig on hospital room floor with the tubes and electronic leads dangling from my body.

IMG_1354Looking at me this minute, you would never guess that a week ago, I was one strenuous step, one blood-vessel-dialating emotional outburst, one moment away from dying. Don’t get me wrong. I feel blessed. Once the wounds in wrist heal, I’m free to take off my seat belt an move about the cabin. I will see my kids grow up. I still have an opportunity to accomplish some of my unfinished goals.

Yet at the same time I am confused. There is no lengthy and rigorous convalescence, no crucible of pain to make me appreciate the gift of life. The transformation has been so complete and the absence of any perceptible insult to my body from surgery so minimal that I am having a lot of difficulty reconciling what could have been with what is. Never mind the people who will hear me say, I almost died of coronary heart disease and I have three stents in my heart.” They will never connect their perception with the truth.

Chaplain, My Chaplain

Before leaving the hospital I called the Brigham and Women’s chaplain service. God wouldn’t exit the stage. He stood there demanding acknowledgment. Imagine that? The bastard wanted credit.

That sucked because I’d I already devised an intellectually plausible explanation. To wit, I must have heard the tolah story at some point in my life. My mind simply pulled the engram out of deep storage at the right moment. It was Bobbi’s perseverance led to finding the right person at MassHealth. Having studied the heart disease, I knew the signs and symptoms and listened to the warning signs. I was smart enough to go to the doctor and just plain lucky it wasn’t too late.

Hoisted by my own petard, intellectual honesty demanded I hear from the other side. As evidence goes that explanation is based on guesses. The worst part is they stand on equal footing with divine intervention. At least they do for those who are willing to look with an open mind. Therefore, I called the Brigham and Women’s chaplain service.

20 minutes later, a charming and nattily dressed man named Enos Gardnier, Bishop Gardnier, as he named himself arrived in my hospital room.

After establishing myself as a non-judgmental atheist, I shared the story of my dream and caught him up on all that had happened. He listened. He laughed heartily at my jokes. When I concluded my monologue, he said simply, and I’m paraphrasing, you’ve been given a gift and it doesn’t matter why or from whom?

Then he said something that really made me think. God doesn’t always save people for themselves but for others. He asked me what I planned to with my gift. How will I live my life going forward?  I’m thinking to myself gift? Whaddya mean gift? When I come home from the hospital, all those problems will still be there.

He talked about God a bit, in a gentle way. In particular he told me about Abraham, whom he said lived as a pagan but received God’s grace nevertheless because he lived life according to a clear set of principles. God rewarded him for the effort. But mostly Bishop Gardnier returned to the themes of gift and service to others.

I thanked him and promised to read about Abraham in the BIBLE, with an open mind, which, thanks to a great iPad app, I’ve been doing.  So far, it’s been taxing to keep my mind open but I’m trying.

Post hoc

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a Latin phrase which means, “After this, therefore because of this.” In rhetoric it’s an informal logical fallacy used to refute poorly researched and understood points. In other words, the dog barked right before I fell off my stepladder and broke my leg, therefore dogs must be bad luck. People draw this conclusion all the time.

I really don’t know what to make of this series of events. Here are the facts: My life has sucked 90-year-old-man-saggy-balls for the last five years. I was sick. I had a dream with a symbol that led me to a bible passage that made me feel good and also made me feel hopeful for the future. Immediately following that I got health insurance in the nick of time, which prevented my untimely death from coronary artery disease.

Therefore?

  • God spoke directly to me through that dream?
  • I experienced his grace?
  • The ball sucking, which by the way isn’t over yet, was all part of his master plan for me and is almost over?
  • My unconscious mind rescued me in a time of need?
  • I’m one lucky son of bitch?

I don’t know? The only thing about which I’m positive is that I am one lucky son of a bitch.

Music reviews coming soon

Music reviews. I’m itching to write about music again. If you want your music project reviewed or maybe a profile of your band, send me your press kit and links to your music via the contact form.

I’ve written a fair number of CD reviews for national and regional publications over the years, including ROLLING STONE , THE BOSTON HERALD, and THE BOSTON PHOENIX.

While I’m especially interested in Blues, Jazz, and Roots music, I am always looking for interesting work in any genre. I love music that blurs lines and challenges expectations.

So I woke up with the word Tolah on my mind

So I woke up with the word tolah on my mind and googled it.

  • It’s a Vedic unit of measurement equal to +/- 11.6 grams or  3/8 of a troy ounce.
  • It’s a family name.
  • It’s a red grub-like worm used by makers of religious garments in biblical times to dye cloth . In particular it was used by the makers of various Jewish religious garments.
  • The word appears  several times in THE BIBLE and seems to be a nexus between the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS.

How’d that get there? It came in a dream. This man and I sat at a table in a library talking about the difficulties I was having with my writing. I told him I was tired and afraid I’d never get it together, and that I felt out of ideas, and that I was despairing that my lazy bum, no goodnick first novel was never going to get out the door and that I was worried whether I would ever get my writing career moving.

He listened with a reassuring smile. Then we turned to my next project. I didn’t know I had a next project. He knew the story. He enveloped my hands in his and said, “Name the protagonist Tolah. He spelled it out several times slowly T-o-l-a-h like he was talking to a slow learner.

I woke up with a compulsion to google.

For the record, I have no conscious recollections of the word tolah, or of its various meanings and associations.

The biblical associations piqued my interest. The word “tolah” (as in worm) is used in several biblical passages–in particular “Psalm” 22:6, “But I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people”

I looked up “Psalm 22.” Not to sound melodramatic but I could have written that poem this morning. It speaks directly to my current condition and state of mind.  My wife and I have been struggling with the aftermath of  having her career and health ravaged by the president of her board of directors. He was a workplace bully who assaulted her, emotionally tortured her and concocted a web of lies that resulted in turning the entire board of directors and all her colleagues against her.

There was nothing I could do to help. And because I was a stay-at-home dad, I couldn’t bridge the financial gap. Most of the time I feel alone, afraid, miserable, and beset from every conceivable angle by the troubles of the world.

We’ve struggled to keep our house and to pay our bills. We’ve struggled to provide for our kids. We’ve struggled to understand why this happened even though we’d done all the right things. We’ve searched in vain for a path through these difficulties that leads us to firmer ground.

To paraphrase the psalm, “But I am a worm,”  22:6 “I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent” 22:2 “For trouble is near; for there is none to help” 22:11 “My strength is dried up . . . and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” 22:15

“But” there’s always a but, even though the narrator complains that God abandoned him, he begs, “be not thou far from me, O Lord, O my strength, haste thee to help me.” 22.19  And the text goes on to say those who seek God’s strength will not only endure they will flourish, “The meek shall eat and be satisfied” 22:26, to which the atheist in me says, bullshit.

So on the one hand,  “Psalm 22” is a woe-is-me complaint about how God abandoned the narrator to his earthly troubles. On the other, apparently God is the only solution to the problem.

Likewise, many people regard “Psalm 22” which begins with the words “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?”as a foreshadowing of the moment of Jesus Christ’s death during which Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 say he cries the very same words just before dying.

In that moment, Jesus passes in pain and torment with doubt and disappointment on his lips and yet that supposedly saved humanity from perdition.

Fucking religion and its paradoxes!.

This why I jokingly call myself an Ivory Soap atheist, which is to say I’m 99 and 44/100ths sure there’s no God.

How does God work? Why didn’t he save Jesus? Why does he abandon “Psalm 22’s” narrator to despair?  How can he countenance the evils done by the people who organize in his name?  I do not understand how he allows all this suffering. I do not  know why he won’t speak more plainly to us. That’s why I stopped going to church and why I’m a  Zen Buddhist. There’s nothing to believe except what is really there.

Fucking religion. Just when I think I have it all figured out, last night’s dream comes along with an answer I don’t like.

There’s no reason why I should wake up this morning with the word T-o-l-a-h on my mind. I suppose one could argue having read various bits and pieces of THE BIBLE and having been to church many times in my life, my unconsciousness mind grabbed that word out of  deep storage and gave me a mystery to solve to help me find strength in trying times.

But there’s always a “but.” It doesn’t feel that way. What if God came to me last night and said, in effect, “I know things suck. I know you’re mad at me but, trust me, everything is going to be all right.”

What the hell am I supposed to do with this?

Alex Rodriguez Is expected to play while appealing suspension

Alex Rodriguez is expected to play while appealing suspension. I have mixed feelings about A-Rod’s legacy but Major League Baseball needs to look in the mirror when it comes to performance enhancing drugs and  let him finish out his career. Rodriguez played during the steroid era and used performance enhancing drugs during the don’t ask, don’t tell days of the late 90s and early 2ks. He was one of the hitters who super-charged the offensive game and in so doing rewarded the owners with packed stadiums and increased TV viewership.

The Game of Baseball, which is to say the business of baseball, reaped untold benefit$ from A-rod’s performances, from the Mark McGuire/Sammy Sosa home run race , from Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron’s career home run total, and from the many steroid era hitters who swung their way into the record books.

Now the party’s over. Baseball woke up hungover in a strange bed and decided to chew off an arm to slip away quietly instead having morning sex with the very questionable hookup nuzzled under its arm. Baseball drove down Soi Cowboy on the way to the airport in an attempt to relive the sex tour before heading home and realized without the booze and neon, it’s just a filthy street full of dive bars and hookers in a third world country. The Great and Powerful Oz turned out to be a guy behind the curtain with a syringe in his buttock.

Pick your cliche’d (or mixed) metaphor. Fans have complicated feelings about high performance and feel cheated. When we bite into that grilled sausage and pepper on a roll or hot dog at the park, we don’t want to know how it was made. We just want to experience the sensation of flavor.

P.E.D.s have always been about the money. When the sluggers were putting butts in seats,  Baseball embraced unprincipled drug policies that rewarded their use with huge contracts and adoring fans. Now it worries whether the steroid hangover will translate into lost revenue, so it pretends to be outraged about P.E.D. use and to prove it is persecuting Alex Rodriguez.

Maybe MLB can learn something about fan behavior from my own experiences as an, uh . . .  ebullient youth, no matter how badly I felt while curled up next to the toilet wondering whether to stick my face or my ass into the bowl, I still went out the next night and did it all over again.

Major League Baseball needs to own its role in encouraging P.E.D.s. Instead of scapegoating Alex Rodriguez. I’d like to see MLB set up an Aparthied-style truth and reconciliation commission which offers immunity in exchange for the truth.

History regards witch hunts unkindly. The persecutors almost always end up looking bad. Truth and context will help the game more than show trials.

Without the truth we’ll never fully understand the extent to which performance enhancing drugs were used, which will cast a darker pall on the game than an asterisk next to a player’s name indicating he took performance enhancing drugs.

Only then can Baseball create a forward-looking and sensible regulatory structure to deal with subsequent use.

So I say Free Alex Rodriguez. Let they guy finish out his career in peace and let history judge him instead of the hypocritical owners of Major League Baseball.