Contradictions. Or Contradictions.

There are a limited number of basic and meaningful things that happen in a human being’s life. There is nothing in this world that we can name that is infinite. Excepting perhaps infinity. The only thing that makes life limitless is the fact that it is limited. A relationship can be concurrently both absolute and relative. Herein we will be discussing contradictions, seeming and otherwise, and what they mean to us.

As we mature we find that life is not so complicated as we may imagine it. We are all prone to experience any or all of existence’s aspects, regardless of our particular viewpoint or place in life. These experiences can be felt as individually unique and separate from other people’s perceptions and consciousness. Or they can be known to be individualized, but related, experiences of those finite and essential human flavors. These states of being have infinite permutations. Our first contradiction.

Although not so complicated, life is never totally clear, cut, and dried. In the words of Winston Churchill, people’s and nation’s intentions are often “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Life is full of these irreconcilable contradictions. What may be assumed to be an individual experience can subconsciously be informed by a group narrative and what may be thought of as mutual can in reality be simply an imagined commonality. Both of those points of view originate in obvious flaws, of thought, perceived reality, or ignorance. They can also come from the skewed views of normal unique to one’s family of origin.

A primary subconscious influence that distorts our perceived reality is the concept of privilege. Privilege is nearly always invisible to its owner. Its contradictory nature stems from the fact that it is a reality that distorts their perception of reality. The distortion, oblivious to the owner, all too often leads to the oppression of the unprivileged by the unaware, privileged soul.

People feel their privilege is normal because its subconscious nature is hidden. Its stark dividing of people from what should be shared humanity creates chasms unseen by the oppressor but painfully obvious to the oppressed. Sadly, there is nothing one can do to escape their privilege. And there are numerous kinds of privilege one carries, white, male, cisgender, and others, too many to name here.

Privilege is defined by what we are and not who we are. One cannot talk away or take away what someone is. But through love and education the privileged person can change who they are. There are many different types of ‘who’ that we can be, from artist to attorney, from republican to recluse, from self-conscious to self-aware. And there are many ‘whats’ as well, from British to blind to black to a baby. Anyone can be a ‘who’. An artist or CEO or homeowner can be black, Catholic, rich, poor, Danish. But only a white person can be white. That is a ‘what’. In essence ‘what’ is exclusive, and ‘who’ is inclusive.

Now, one might object, saying that an artist is a ‘what’, and thus exclusive. The taste test here is if others can profess to be artists. If there is the opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘who’. If there is no opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘what’. Only people with blue eyes can have blue eyes. It is an exclusive club. Regardless of who we are or profess to be the only ‘what’ that we all share is being human. Our only universally shared privilege is human privilege. We would do well to understand that human privilege does not guarantee that we will remain at the top of the food chain forever. We are not the end-all and be-all of existence.

As humans we all share many qualities. All humans are born with umbilical cords. Now that I think of it, all humans were born. All humans want to love and be loved. All humans want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. We all think and make decisions and worry and laugh. There are so many things we have in common. They are so basic as to be taken for granted and not considered as things that bind us together, small creatures on a small planet in a small galaxy in a vast multiverse. To awaken to these facts and embrace them is a step in the direction of successful human interaction.

Our differences color our world and allow for the precious contradiction of life itself. Christians tell us all humans are in the body of Christ, many into one. Hindus say that God multiplies himself infinitely, and every individual human is a part of God. We recognize the various colors on a TV screen as being different. But if the screen is entirely red we do not see any differences even though there are thousands of individual pixels. It’s easy to see differences and often difficult to see similarities. One thing for certain, when we are being born we are all the same and as we die we are all the same. What makes us think we are completely separate creatures while we are in between the two? We are all the same yet all different. A most sublime divine paradox. It is this contradiction that is the engine of a life that can contain both mystery and misery, both freedom and boredom. 

Life is not static. It moves. For life to move there must be different places. For there to be different places there must be different spaces and for each individual to exist they must occupy their own particular space. Two of us cannot occupy one physical space at once but any of us can occupy the same mental or spiritual space at any given time. Different and the same. How we can be one and many at the same time is a powerful contradiction, a mystical puzzle we can never solve. It is this paradox of time/space that we strive to answer all our lives, whether we know it or not. 

We all seek out differences to legitimize our own individuality but we also know in our deepest hearts that the things in life that truly matter are the things we all share, like family, and, hunger, and desire. I love being just like you. And I love being just me. Remember, there is a balance to life. If you won’t recognize me, I don’t have to recognize you. If you don’t respect me I won’t have to respect you. I grow weary of spending so much energy disliking people. I already love everybody, but if we are to like each other we must work together. We must love each other.

Love is the Alpha and Omega. If we can recognize and respect the love in each other it will go a long way toward making it acceptable to not like each other. And when it is acceptable to not like each other, because of the presence of divine contradiction, it is much easier to actually discover we do like each other. Regardless of what and who you are, when you occupy space in this world you create the boundaries for a place I can occupy. But it is all one space. And it is ours to enjoy.  

For this I am grateful.

On Each Side of the Equal Sign

It is important to consider the idea of equality as a contested concept with different meanings to different people. It’s just as important to learn the difference between equity and equality.

 Equality does not mean the same thing to different people. I have found that this discrepancy can lead to conflict and confusion when discussing the rights, responsibilities, social standing, opportunities, abilities, etc. of various peoples, both individuals, and certain demographics.

For example, to some, equality means everybody starts at the same starting line and uses their knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, etc. to move ahead in a ‘race’ toward ‘success’. This view of equality is somewhat myopic in that it does not consider the fact that race, religion, sexual orientation, and supremacies based on numerous types of privilege do not, in practice, allow for everyone to start at the same starting line. This effectively negates the idea that everyone has an equal chance to ‘win’ the race.

One might attempt to justify that particular definition by referencing the Declaration of Independence quote “all men are created equal”. However the Constitution made it clear that, in the words of George Orwell, “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. According to our governing document blacks were only considered to be 3/5ths of a person and women were not allowed to vote or own property. Thus the reality of equality is and has always been dependent on evolution.

A different definition of equality allows for the fact that people have differing abilities, backgrounds, educations, etc. and it is reasonable to expect ‘the rat race’ does not lead to the same outcomes for everyone. This definition sees equality as equal opportunity, not with all other things being equal but with equity of opportunity based on accounting for the presence of societal roadblocks, many of which originate in privilege and supremacy. This gives us a hint at why equity is not the same as equality. But I digress.

This definition takes into consideration that while we are all equal in the sense that we are all born with umbilical cords we are not all born into situations that give us an equal chance to thrive. Poverty, racism, sexism, and other isms prevent many people from beginning at that hypothetical equal starting line. This definition sees us trying to balance these inequities (another hint) by making an effort to compensate for negative societal realities.

Both of these disparate definitions are based on a degree of wishful thinking. Certainly, when people start a discussion with different definitions of the same concept the situation is ripe for misunderstanding and argument. So when someone challenges your understanding of a concept, be it equality or freedom or security or any other, take a moment to listen to the other person’s arguments and see if you can determine if the disconnect originates in a contested concept with opposing definitions of terms. In formal debate, agreement on fundamental definitions of terms is very important. In informal debate perhaps even more so.

This brings us to the difference between equality and equity and the misunderstandings that can arise from it. These words are different in meaning, as much as some of us like to use them to mean the same thing. Words have power. Concepts that are in reality contested but assumed to have only one definition turn that power into power failure. Those false assumptions lead us into deep and murky waters in which agreement can easily drown. 

Simply put equality is about state of being and equity is about fairness. For example, equality is that the 100-yard dash is the same distance for anyone. Equity is the fact that there is a Paralympics that gives elite athletes with disabilities a fair chance to compete. Equality in golf is everyone teeing off from the same marker. Equity in golf is your handicap.

So when someone speaks about equity and someone else answers with a statement about equality they immediately are talking about two different things. The conversation then begins to deteriorate and an argument ensues where a discussion should live. These misunderstandings, based in language and syntax as they are, point to an almost desperate need for the pursuit of understanding among peoples, as a starting point toward good relationships, political or otherwise.

Understanding doesn’t require much more than calm patience, humble listening, and self-respect. That may be hard work but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Oh, and one more thing, Privilege is about what you are and not who you are. Therefore you can’t talk away or take away one’s privilege but through understanding you can change who the privileged person is. That’s a conversation for another time.

Carbon: Boon and Bane

This is a (very) long essay written in 2009 about carbon, what it is, why it makes for such a usable and abundant energy source, and what that means for the health of the planet. It was originally intended as a chapter in a long-abandoned book. Frankly, it is a bit scattered but I don’t have the time or patience to make it flow better. Bad, bad, Will.

Some editing was done to repair the ravages of my poor writing skills, and to fix numerous mistakes in spelling, syntax, and grammar, not that it did any good.  I have lots of this sort of essay in my quiver. Since I rarely have useful new ideas I suspect I will be going to the well of my previous prolificity more often, as I attempt to make this blog more relevant. Here we go.

 

Carbon is element number 6 on the periodic table of elements. It has an atomic weight of 12. This means that it consists of a nucleus consisting of 6 protons and 6 neutrons.  So that it is chemically and electrically stable it is surrounded by 6 electrons, which balance the electric charge of the 6 protons. These electrons are configured in two levels, the first with 2 electrons and the second with 4 electrons. Most of us are aware, from high school chemistry, that the first electron level has room for 2 electrons and the second electron level has room for 8 electrons. Therefore, because carbon has four electrons in the second level it is considered tetravalent, which means it has four spaces on the second electron level that can be filled by electrons from other elements when combining to form the molecules of a compound.

Carbon is the smallest atom which is tetravalent. This is significant when we consider that any tetravalent atom, such as carbon, with it’s four available spaces on the second electron level, is likely to form any number of diverse, yet very stable compounds. Reality shows us that this is true, as the millions of carbon compounds that exist on earth form a large number of the compounds known to science. These compounds are diverse because the available spaces for electrons allow for a great number of possible atomic combinations. They are stable electrically because on the second electron level there are an equal number of electrons from carbon as there are from the other atoms. This factor creates a very stable electron field in the outermost electron layers of any carbon compound, where most of the fluctuations and recombining take place.

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is a vital component of the carbon-nitrogen cycle, which is the means stars use to convert hydrogen into helium. This cycle is the most basic and largest source of energy in the universe. So we can see that carbon and energy production are involved together at the most basic level. Carbon has perhaps the widest diversity of physical properties of any element. In its pure state, it exists both as graphite, one of the softest and most opaque substances and diamond, one of the hardest and most transparent of substances.

Carbon is one of the most essential elements required for life as we know it. All entities we know of as living contain carbon. It is the second most abundant element in the human body next to oxygen. It has the highest melting point of any element and its compounds are so stable that it requires very high temperatures for them to react with oxygen.

Carbon does a dance with hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen in a cycle of life on earth. All life forms on earth are made up of these same elements that dominate the earth and its atmosphere. Both plant and animal life are involved in complex chemical cycles that are essential to life on earth, but the most telling part of these cycles is that organic life on earth, in both life and death, contains tremendous amounts of carbon. 

I have mentioned these properties of carbon, and it’s vital intertwining with life on earth, to reveal the reasons why carbon compounds are perfectly suited to be used as fuels. They point to why the use of carbon fuels is so prevalent on our planet. All chemical reactions involve the application of energy, which is often manifest in the form of heat. Most chemical reactions are exothermic, which means they give off more energy, in the form of heat, than they use up. We have seen, through thermonuclear reactions, which, breaking up the word, is thermo, or heat, and nuclear, concerning the nucleus, that there is a tremendous amount of energy involved in the combining relationships between atoms, elements, molecules, and compounds. This huge amount of energy liberates equally huge amounts of heat.

Because carbon is tetravalent its compounds tend to be very stable. This means that the bonds created by the chemical reactions that create these compounds are held together by tremendous energy. Although it takes great energy to get carbon compounds to burn or react with oxygen, the act of burning breaks down those powerful bonds, releasing the incredible amount of energy that holds them together, in exothermic reactions. Exothermic reactions are accompanied by the release of heat. These properties reveal carbon compounds to be ideally suited to use as fuels.

Hydrocarbons, as the name suggests, are compounds containing hydrogen and carbon. The simplest hydrocarbon is methane, consisting of four hydrogen atoms to one carbon. In this compound the four hydrogen electrons bond with the four available electrons on the carbon atom. The chemical symbol for methane is therefore CH4. 

Oxidation is the combining of any element, molecule or compound, with oxygen. There is slow oxidation, such as the formation of rust on iron, and rapid oxidation, which we call burning. Oxidation is slow when a substance is exposed to oxygen over time. It does not require the application of external energy and the resulting oxidation is slow. Rapid oxidation requires the application of external energy. We know that carbon requires a large amount of energy to rapidly oxidize, i.e. burn. We also know that the burning of carbon releases large amounts of heat. As long as there is oxygen present the heat generated by the burning will burn more of the carbon until there is no longer any carbon or oxygen present. This cycle of burning not only consumes the available carbon but it liberates great amounts of heat.

We can more simply understand this process by thinking of a campfire. We gather an amount of wood, which is made of carbon, and we apply fire to it until it also begins to burn. Once it is burning it keeps burning until we stop putting wood on the fire and all the carbon in the remaining wood is oxidized. The heat liberated by burning the wood warms our nose and toes and will even cook the marshmallows we hold over it.

But back to methane. Because methane is the simplest hydrocarbon, burning methane is the simplest and cleanest method of obtaining energy from carbon. The burning of one methane molecule results in one molecule of carbon dioxide, two water molecules, and released energy. In this rapid oxidation process, under the application of heat,  the two oxygen molecules, consisting of four oxygen atoms, pull the hydrogen atoms away from the carbon atom, combining to form two water molecules, released as steam, one carbon dioxide molecule, and additional heat.

The equation for this reaction is CH4 + 2 O2 = CO2 + 2 H2O + 802 megajoules of energy per mole of methane. A mole is a compound’s atomic weight expressed in grams. A mole of methane is 16 grams, 12 for the carbon and one for each of the four hydrogens. From this equation, we can determine the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and energy released by burning any amount of methane. 

Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the burning of all hydrocarbons, even methane, the simplest of hydrocarbon molecules. The burning of methane, which makes up well over 90% of what we call natural gas, creates the highest percentage of heat energy in relation to carbon dioxide formation of any hydrocarbon. More CO2 is created when larger hydrocarbon molecules are burned, in relation to the amount of heat energy liberated. This is why natural gas, which easily transported and burns purely, is the most used heat source in the average home environment. Unfortunately, there is not enough methane available for all our energy needs.

We have been aware that burning carbon-based sources liberated heat for a very long time. Thousands of years ago, primitive man used dry wood and coal stone to make fires that warmed them on cold nights and cooked their food. This energy helped them survive and hydrocarbon energy sources were widely sought out for use as fuels by the most primitive of humans. We continue to depend on carbon-based substances for fuel to this day almost exclusively, even with the development of modern, noncarbon-based energy sources.

Because there is so much carbon in the bodies of living creatures, much of it in the form of proteins, sugars and fats, many of the worlds available hydrocarbons come from organic sources. These organic compounds are made up primarily of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. As the bodies of living organisms break down and decompose after death the resulting compounds contain many hydrocarbons. After many years plant decomposition generally leads to the formation of coal deposits,  and animal decomposition can lead to the creation of oil.   

Methane comes from any number of carbon sources, both organic and inorganic, and is found in numerous places on earth, from our oceans and lakes to the permafrost of the Arctic and most places in between. Methane, in its form of natural gas, plus the coal and oil created from thousands of years of the decomposition of living organisms, are the 3 hydrocarbons most used as fuels in modern society. 

All of these hydrocarbons, when burned, release large amounts of energy, plus CO2 and water vapor into the ecosystem. It is this release of carbon dioxide which accompanies the release of energy that concerns those who care about the overall ecological health of the planet and it’s future survival.

Why are we concerned about the chemical properties of burning hydrocarbons and why did we spend all of this chapter so far on a high school chemistry lesson? It is because the burning of hydrocarbons was largely responsible for the creation of the machines that ushered in the Industrial Age in the mid to late 18th Century CE.

The use of hydrocarbon burning machines and machines that depend on them has grown exponentially since that time until the burning of hydrocarbons has become the basis for the entire industrial output of the world. This has come about largely because the alternatives to the use of carbon fuels to create energy have either been shown to be as or more dangerous to the environment as carbon or have proven to be more costly at their current level of development. The unique combination of the large amount of power produced per volume of fuel and the cost-effectiveness of their use has made the burning of hydrocarbons the primary method of obtaining energy on the planet.

It has only been recently that alternatives such as wind and solar energy to drive turbines, tapping geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings and the use of other chemical reactions to generate power have become viable as alternatives to the use of hydrocarbons as fuel. However, as the level of investment of energy producers in methods and machines using hydrocarbons is so great, they are very reluctant to take the necessary steps to convert their facilities to technologies that have yet to be proven to deliver the same amount of energy for the same or less cost. New and emerging alternative energy businesses have difficulty finding the resources to build production plants, either from political obfuscation “fueled” by corporate lobbying or the lack of venture capital for “unproven” profit sources.

So the use of carbon-based fuels continues, even in the face of science that tells us that the carbon dioxide byproduct of the combustion of these fuels is definitively damaging the Earth and its atmosphere, possibly irreversibly. Most of the so-called science that refutes this position has been directly commissioned by the very energy producers that have such a vested interest in the continued use of hydrocarbons as fuel. They spend a great deal of money trying to convince us that we are causing no serious damage to our world by our continued use of carbon fuels. They even try to tell us there are miracle carbon fuels out there, such as clean coal, when in fact there are none.

When the industrial revolution began, steam was the motive force used to drive the engines, dynamos, and turbines that created the energy necessary to power the large metal objects that did industrial work, and to move them from place to place. The energy needed to create steam through the boiling of water was supplied by carbon-based fuels, first wood then later the more efficient coal. Later, as the internal combustion engine was developed and perfected, smaller machines that burned liquid hydrocarbons such as kerosene and the gasoline that was refined from the newly significant fuel of oil made many tasks much easier. These small machines liberated both industry and the public from work that previously took large numbers of men and animals to accomplish. They were seen as great technological advancements that would relieve mankind from the type of laborious, backbreaking work that had been the norm. They were miracles that changed life as we know it forever.

These small machines liberated both industry and the public from work that previously took large numbers of men and animals to accomplish. They were seen as great technological advancements that would relieve mankind from the type of laborious, backbreaking work that had been the norm. They were miracles that changed life as we know it forever.

Concurrently, as electrical devices grew in number and sophistication, overall electrical needs skyrocketed. Turning dynamos was how electricity was generated and the energy needed to turn those dynamos was required in greater and greater quantities. Dynamos require some type of kinetic energy to work. The rushing currents of our nation’s rivers seemed a likely source of this kinetic energy. Large dams were built to harness the power of the rushing waters, turning dynamos to generate electricity. Electricity became more plentiful causing an even greater demand for power as rural electrification became a reality and even more electrical devices were made and put into use. Hydroelectric power seemed to be the answer to America’s ever-expanding energy needs. However, it soon became apparent that the damage done to the ecosystems of our rivers by the construction of so many dams was counterproductive. It wasn’t long before it was widely accepted that further development of hydroelectric power was not possible without extensive damage to large areas of arable and otherwise useful land.

The splitting of the atom was the next source of power thought to be the answer to our energy needs. The otherworldly power of the atom could, if the reactions were controlled, provide all the power we would ever need. As scientists harnessed the means to create atomic power scores of atomic reactor power stations were built. Once again the flush of excitement over this new energy source turned to doubt and fear as our understanding of the deleterious effects of radiation on human health matured. Atomic energy had a radioactive byproduct and this waste had to be kept somewhere. Originally it was thought that these wastes could be safely sequestered away from populated areas, but research began to show that these wastes, with their extremely long life of radioactivity, posed a great threat to life wherever they were hidden. America stopped building nuclear reactors for power.

In the face of the potential damage caused by further development of hydroelectric and atomic power and in answer to ever-increasing demand America turned to coal, a fuel that was both plentiful and seemingly much more innocuous than those other energy sources. Over the last 50 years, coal has increased as a source of energy around the world. Approximately 70% of China’s energy comes from the burning of coal. Even as the world supply of easily accessible oil is diminishing there remain vast supplies of coal and natural gas. 

This coal and gas was previously to costly to obtain. But new, if more damaging, methods of extraction have made them profitable for the energy companies to invest in. America, especially, has great amounts of these newly available energy sources. They have made the USA a total energy exporter rather than importer, changing our energy policy and solidifying the continued use of carbon-based energy sources.  

As we have moved into the 21st century, coal and other hydrocarbons account for a predominance of the world’s energy consumption. Many still see hydrocarbons as the most cost-efficient source of energy production moving well into the future.

We have accepted the burning of newly abundant hydrocarbons as the primary means of providing power to the entire planet, both on a macro scale in our power plants and on a micro scale in our cars, trains, planes, boats, lawnmowers, snowmobiles and other small engine products. As we increase our use of hydrocarbons we increase the emissions the burning of these fuels release into the atmosphere.

Our atmosphere is largely responsible for the ability of our earth to sustain life as we know it. The delicate balance of all the factors that go into this sustenance is difficult for us mere mortals to understand. The earth is so big and the atmosphere so vast that it is hard to get our heads around just how delicately the juxtaposition of forces that can dramatically affect life are aligned. The atmosphere supports life in many ways. 

First, it contains almost exactly the right proportion of gases to keep us alive. Our atmosphere contains approximately 21% oxygen. Humans require an atmosphere of at least 18% oxygen to survive. Complex interactions between plants and animals, plus atmospheric interactions of gases maintain this level of oxygen. As more oxygen is bound up in carbon dioxide from the burning of hydrocarbons and the destruction of massive areas of plant life in the Amazon jungle, our greatest source of oxygen, increases, the percentage of available oxygen in our air could decrease enough to make life uncomfortable, if not untenable, in a relatively short time.

Second, the layering of various levels of our atmosphere and their composition keep toxic atmospheric gases away from the surface. More importantly, they filter out and shield us from the more damaging frequencies of the sun’s energy emissions and guards us against the life-threatening effects of “cosmic rays”, emissions from deep space. Both of these forms of energy can radically alter human DNA, cause many cancers, and could burn us alive were we to be subjected to them over long periods of time.

Third and perhaps most important, the atmosphere keeps the surface temperature on the earth at a level that can support human life. Humans have a relatively small window of temperature in which they can thrive. Our atmosphere accomplishes maintaining this slim margin of acceptable surface heat through a complex and extremely delicate process whereby certain gases at certain levels in the atmosphere hold a certain amount of heat on the surface and allow a certain amount to escape. Through this process, the earth does not get too hot during warm periods nor too cold during cool periods. As the earth is tilted on an axis it moves closer and farther away from the sun as it revolves around it, causing the change in seasons. Without the atmosphere to temper the effects of heat and cold, life on earth would not exist. Dramatic changes to the composition of our atmosphere can affect the balance required to maintain the temperature within acceptable limits. The process is so delicate that though we see the atmosphere as vast, even small changes can have large effects.

As the earth is tilted on an axis it moves closer and farther away from the sun as it revolves around it, causing the change in seasons. Without the atmosphere to temper the effects of heat and cold, life on earth would not exist. Dramatic changes to the composition of our atmosphere can affect the balance required to maintain the temperature within acceptable limits. The process is so delicate that though we see the atmosphere as vast, even small changes can have large effects.

Even the most basic burning of hydrocarbons releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have been burning hydrocarbons for fuel ever since the first wood fires. All living things contain carbon. Plant life has formed coal and animal life has formed oil. These are the two main forms of hydrocarbons used in energy creation today. In essence, man has been cannibalizing the lives of plants and animals, over millions of years, in just the last hundred years or so of the industrial age. Anyone with a soul can see we can’t go on like this. We must seek out other natural sources of energy such as the activity of the sun and the motion of the energy it creates, such as wind, ocean waves and biological processes, to further fuel our great need for energy. If not we will go the way of those who came before us to provide the coal and fuel we now use and life as we know it will cease to exist.

Anyone with a soul can see we can’t go on like this. We must seek out other natural sources of energy such as the activity of the sun and the motion of the energy it creates, such as wind, ocean waves and biological processes, to further fuel our great need for energy. If not we will go the way of those who came before us to provide the coal and fuel we now use and life as we know it will cease to exist.

Now you don’t. Now you see it.

We always knew it was a good album. We had worked hard, rehearsing and playing a few gigs at popular venues. We had a small but loyal following. It was unfortunate, but as many artists, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not so much a place to live, we all loved it here. But the wrong place and time to ply our trade. We were a power pop group complete with almost Brill Building like songs, three-part harmonies, a clean, 80’s white boy look and no niche in the area scene.

Our city was in the national spotlight. There was a funk and beyond superstar here and several loud sloppy nationally influential pre-grunge rock bands with great songwriters and au courant images. Pretty much all the local groups affected one of these styles or the other. That was allegedly what the big left coast labels were looking for, the next this or that, and several coattail groups did see the national stage.

We didn’t begrudge these guys their success. (Back then performing musicians were over 95% male.) Lots of them were our friends and it was great to see acts from our flyover hometown getting some props. Sure we wanted to be successful. We weren’t so driven as needing to play arenas to consider ourselves successful. But it would have been nice to tour and play mid-sized venues and have a few people know the words.

We recorded what we knew to be a really good album of its genre. And we got some airplay here and there. Nothing went viral. (They didn’t use that word back then.) The album was released on vinyl, barely ahead of the CD revolution. Folks everywhere were putting their turntables in mothballs, captivated by the convenience of the smaller software and quantum leap in dBs of signal to noise ratio. Not that many people even knew what a dB was, but the change was noticeable. Vinyl quickly fell out of favor.

We had some face cards stacked against us. But I for one was proud to have three songs, of my composition, recorded and released on a real, albeit smallish record label. It had been a goal of mine for many years and it was satisfying to have accomplished it. I wasn’t too concerned about it making a big splash. Our style of music was not only a little out of phase with our local scene. It was considered mostly the turf of British groups and few American bands sounded like that. I didn’t expect much.

Now, as usual, my lengthy explanation of things has left me hopelessly far away from what I really want to say. And it will undoubtedly take even longer to get there. One is supposed to reveal their main topic in the first paragraph, often repeating it as many as several times in different ways. Gotta grab those readers by the ____.

But….

To make a short story long the owner of our ancient but nascent record label, thinking of new and unique ways to make a little money off his catalog, began shopping the label’s music to brokers, who placed music in films and television shows.

After a time several of the songs were given slots in shows. Our band had a song placed in an episode of a middling, streaming service series. No big deal but we all thought it was pretty cool and the songwriter splashed down some of his royalty money on wings and beer for the band. We hadn’t all been in the same place for a while. A good time was had by all.

Time marched on and the fun was pretty much forgotten when I got an email from the label owner stating that we had a song placed in a series called Stranger Things. I nearly fell out of my chair. Although no one else involved knew anything about the Netflix production, I, as a sci-fi fan, was very aware, I knew that it was one of the most anticipated series releases of the fall and had a huge, fanatical following.

I told the rest of the guys, who seemed to be underwhelmed but intrigued. I am subject to hyperbole and everyone knows it. I wasn’t swift to tell the world, although I knew this was very cool. These things can be, as Mike, the songwriter said, the equivalent of an audio walk-on.  I knew about this, having once spent 8 hours on a movie set in full costume and make-up only to be onscreen for 5 seconds with several hundred other aspiring actors. I didn’t expect much.

Yes, I was excited. No, I wasn’t looking for anything substantial. I’m Bi-Polar and as such need to stay away from manic highs. I tried to keep an even keel. Eventually, as the release of the second season grew nearer and promotion ramped up I decided I had to tell people. I was proud of my past work, and it seemed kind of miraculous that this was happening. I posted on social media and got quite a response. My daughter lost it and told everyone she knew. It was fulfilling to hear her say she was proud of me.

Lest my friends and family, and even a few people I didn’t know, would be disappointed I made certain that people knew our song might only be on for a few seconds. But Stranger Things has a reputation for featuring a who’s who of 80s music and there are nearly as many aficionados of the series music as there are of the series itself. I hadn’t really considered that fact, all the while expecting a very short appearance on the show.

Of course, I was right about the song. It was onscreen for less than ten seconds, in the background under dialogue. I apologized to my posse. (It isn’t really a posse, more of a curious few.) I received some encouragement. “It was still pretty cool” etc.. I felt kind of foolish at building up folk’s expectations. But the horse was out of the barn and obviously, I couldn’t change things.

Well, I hadn’t considered the music mania. More than a few websites published all the music from every episode, regardless of how long it was onscreen. There were links to all of the songs and often blurbs about the performers. We were always called an obscure unknown band. I didn’t mind. One blurb I particularly liked was from a British magazine which said we hadn’t bothered to visit the UK charts. But the song itself got a lot of praise. I was amazed. I mean come on, we were on a Spotify playlist with Motley Crüe, Duran Duran, and Ted Nugent.

Counting various streaming services, Youtube channels and a cool public access video shot in 1986 we’ve had over 125,000 streams and counting. We were featured on local network news, the largest local newspaper, and the top local alt radio station. We are featured on more than a few private Youtube playlists. We have been added to regular rotation on both internet and broadcast rock radio stations, some with international audiences of over a million listeners.

Are you kidding me? It’s kind of surreal. Really though, it doesn’t make me feel all that special. I mean everyone has something they do very very well. Would that they were widely recognized for it. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. But it brings me to the thing that I have been reminded of by this whole crazy experience, the thing I hope to leave you with if you have read this far.

All art is a real expression of someone’s soul. And all art is beautiful, even art most people consider ugly. There is always someone somewhere who appreciates it.  There is also very beautiful art and exceptionally beautiful art. Some of this art is recognized as exceptional in its time. Some is not seen as remarkable until after its time. And some is never recognized as great.

Yet, art is created beautiful and remains beautiful. It retains its beauty regardless of any other factor. And for the creator of the art, it is enough to know their art is beautiful, even if appears not to be.

Perhaps they depend on their art to make a living and can be disappointed it isn’t selling well enough to support themselves. They can become despondent that their art is not appreciated. They can abandon their art for whatever reason.

But I am certain that on their deathbed, should they be cogent, they look back lovingly on their creative process, their joy in giving something unique to the world. Something that is beautiful in their eyes and in their soul. Something that will always be beautiful.

It is their legacy and they are proud of pouring their being into it.

It is enough.

And we must remember.

It is something that is always available, to be revered.

 

It’s Black Turkey Day!!!!!!

Jesus, it’s Thanksgiving! I should post something on Facebook about what I’m grateful for. Really I should. This is the extent of the original intent and essence of this dying holiday expressed by many people.

What happened? Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Even considering the fabricated nature and false origin story of the holiday the “author’s message” is a noble and visionary one. Although mythological, it’s message of American cooperation and diversity is to be admired. But that message has effectively disappeared from the celebratory landscape of this uniquely American philosophic contribution to the world politic.

A festive gathering of “others”, supping together in a testament to the unity of all peoples, a symbol of our embrace of diversity as strength and love as a primary character trait, has been reduced to gluttony and argument immediately followed by greed.

As Target is the geographically closest alleged discount store to me I use it as a thermometer to measure our nation’s commercial temperature. The retail monster that is Christmas continue’s to usurp more and more of the shopping year. It has devoured Thanksgiving and were it not for the occult appeal and “only this one day of the year” deference to childhood excess it would engulf Halloween as well. This year, Christmas tree lights, the first harbinger of the commercial onslaught, were out on the shelves BeFoRe Halloween. This phenomenon has been creeping toward this inevitability for years, a few more days every year.

Candy displays, which mark the official changeover of holiday, er merchandising, seasons now switch immediately from Halloween’s pumpkin-shaped Reese’s and black cats and witches hats on the packages to Christmas jingle bells, snowflakes and Santa-shaped chocolates of infinite variety. Not that Thanksgiving has a unique candy footprint. But come on man, can’t we have three weeks of normal colored M&Ms. Please.

If there is a token acknowledgment of Thanksgiving in modern American consciousness it is wrapped up in the form of the Turkey. Not the fierce and proud Wild Turkey (I’ll have a double) but the domesticated, cage-raised, breast augmented turkey. Each year the current President pardons this year’s Barabbas from certain slaughter, signaling the start of the barbaric genocide of this year’s “crop” of fattened calves, err birds, for the sacrificial pleasure of the unapologetic masses.

The Thanksgiving meal, once a legendary, semiotic standard of our generous and egalitarian natures has now become a no man’s land battleground for any and all partisan issues. Nothing is out of bounds; every nicety graciously observed the rest of the year flies out the window. The gloves come off. Every indignation, resentment and outright hateful feeling that blackens our hearts are bared right there amid the cranberry sauce and cornbread stuffing. With jabbing forks jabbing we challenge each other to prove our worldview is righteous and good and yours is perverse and damning.

Then the Tryptophan kicks in, we relax and acquiesce, all of us, to watching the NFL and discussing the family’s divorces, babies, and surgical procedures. The day’s battle settled, halftimes bring the patriarch’s mandated Thanksgiving speech followed by each singled out family member’s obligatory declaration of “what I’m thankful for”. This is where children learn that adherence to the respect of the origins of the Thanksgiving ideal lies only in this one obligatory sentence. Our elders reveal that a wide berth of veracity is allowed in this ritualistic reality of the modern Thanksgiving experience. As long as you are thankful for something, no matter how meaningless and insignificant, you have fulfilled your familial, and thus your nationalist duty.

Could it be that I am caustically cynical about how we as a society have desecrated this manufactured attempt by our ancestors to remind us of the nobility of our nation’s origins and respect for non-white peoples?  You’re damn right I am. Frankly, I’ve been pulling my punches. There were way more expletives in my first draft. Have we no shame? We can’t even honor a national holiday based on a falsehood.

And I haven’t even gotten to the whole unholy Black Friday thing. Just as the tree lights have crept onto shelves earlier and earlier so has the other gluttony of the day. We used to have a few hours respite, a chance to digest both the food and the sparring before we arose like vampires at midnight. Once upon a time the retailers actually waited until Friday. This year my Target credit card authorized me to get doorbuster prices on Wednesday. Emails from a week or more before the holiday teased me with “Black Friday prices”.  I’m pretty sure you were offered “Black Friday in July” pricing this summer. Dinners now start at halftime in order to get in line by 5 for the 6 PM Walmart opening. It’s let’s throw the dishes in the dishwasher and time’s a wastin’.

Armed with our family battle plan, forged out of intense research and study of the three-inch thick Thanksgiving Thursday newspaper, we attack the vast array of local big box stores in a multi-front, coordinated frenzy of credit card maxing out.

I’ll run interference while you grab the last deep discounted ultra high def flat screen smart TV at 70% off MSRP. This is why we watch football earlier in the day, to get some ideas for blocking schemes, to keep the other family’s linebackers away from our designated grabbers. It’s every gang for themselves, may the best shopper win.

Some folks skip the meal entirely and go directly to the self-propelled vacuum cleaner at pennies on the dollar. Why not? It’s damn hard to roast a turkey. And to avoid going 12 rounds every year with Uncle Harold over gay abortion is a great idea. In fact, why don’t we just do away with Thanksgiving altogether? I mean really, who is really thankful for anything these days, without reservations or exceptions or objections or consequences.

Am I still caustic, full of vitriol, toxic in my disdain? Of course, you betcha. I just can’t understand why we insist on allowing one of our most positive, meaningful traditions to deteriorate into disrepair, unredeemable and sadly, distinctly unamerican. Even if it wasn’t true it still represents something. What are we thinking?

So what am I thankful for, as an American on this day of flying cartoon characters and too dry turkey and football and deep discounts? To what do I owe gratitude on this disappearing tribute to an imagined America of tolerance and shared abundance?

I am thankful that I am still free to write these words and express my anger without fear.

I am thankful that America has always been great, if only for simple freedoms and always keeping a space available for love.

I am thankful that America has always been great for allowing dreams the opportunity to become reality.

I am thankful that America has always been great in its vision beyond the horizon, its foresight in the face of hindrance, hope in the face of despair, life in the face of violence.

Please don’t think I am chastizing everyone. Millions and millions of us know love of neighbor in their hearts and are thankful for their good fortune, health for them and their families, joy, and respect.

I’ll never give up on Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful I can.

Is Once Always?

If we use the Jimmy Carter definition of having lust in your heart as tantamount to adultery then 110% of men are disgusting pigs and not worthy to carry out the garbage or rake the leaves. Sexually we live in the dark ages. If the criteria for holding office were to never have made a sexist, disparaging remark to another man about a woman passing by not only would the halls of Congress be nearly empty but also all levels of government right down to the proverbial dog catcher. Perhaps all of us old white men should just resign en masse and hope to avoid the damage to everything that dragging us all through the mud would entail.

We can replace us all with young lesbian women of color. Or we could just let everything slide and maintain the status quo.

Of course to do either of those things would be absurd and all levels of bad. But I have heard both of those solutions expressed, although not always in so many words. In the face of lancing the boil of traditional toxic male dominant sexualist behavior, and as the flood waters continuously and rightfully rise up and engulf more public figures daily, we must make, as a society, some difficult and historic decisions about how to go about ending the cycle of male dominance and it’s favored child, sexual predation, that has plagued humanity since before we walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Addressing this festering issue in the world of politics and the American entertainment machine is a start but only represents the tip of the iceberg. There is no more pervasive and perverse commonly accepted American norm that I know of. And now that this ship of state has sailed there will soon be no ships of any kind anchored in any port, in any harbor, and rightfully so. The scourge of authority’s use of omnipresent sexual dominance is now coming under attack from many sides, with varying levels of disgust, anger, and determination but also with a previously diffuse display of the real power that has always been there.

So how would we deal with the massive power vacuum created at the top of the food chain? How would we deal with the temporary but vast and immediate collapse of society as it unfolds before us? The system has been meticulously set up to protect the good old boys. To destroy it out of hand would unlock a chaos and anarchy many would find frightening. Will we let accusations come out slowly and let each individual case fry in the flames of outrage? Do we just get it over with and rid ourselves of the lot of them all at once, comfortable in our knowledge that they are, all of them, guilty.?

Now, wait just a darn minute. Why am I saying the observer’s them? Them is me. I have been a full and willing participant in not imagined harassment throughout much of my life. And not in the distant past. Frankly, virtually no male of my generation (and others) hasn’t transgressed in some way.  Add to that a number of women as well. Do we have to throw out this old fart along with the ocean of bathwater needed for all the other deviants? There must be a more nuanced way of dealing with this. And as always, the devil is in the details.

There remain giant, wooly mammoth in the room, questions to be answered. Are there different levels of assault and harassment and can do we differentiate between the two to start with? How do we determine levels of intent or levels of contrition? What consequences equivocate with the crimes and are appropriate in their severity, a severity which is another metric we must measure? Who adjudicates right from wrong, a big deal from not a big deal. Can we adequately quantify psychic and emotional pain and do we want to? What are the long-term costs of spiritual despair? Is it impossible to make a plausible apology? We have so little accumulated “case law and precedent” to guide us. For centuries the issue never got to the yes this happened stage much less the #me too. Now we have to carry it to its end.

Frankly, anyone over the age of middle school, gender notwithstanding, is lost to any cure, if there is one. For them, there is only treatment for the symptoms. Because this problem will only be adequately addressed, this malignancy excised, by changing the way we raise our children. Not so much by teaching them different things or differently, but through changing the societal norms we unconsciously pass on to them. This will never be easy. America’s white, male, Western European, capitalist society makes many deeply flawed and even deeper subconscious assumptions about behavior, paramount among them that men have dominion over women and all other inferior peoples, and that violence is our preferred means of conflict resolution. Make no mistake; sexual abuse is more about power and violence and less about sex.

There is a moral hierarchy pyramid in America that places white men at the top in unchallenged dominance. At our evolutionary level, we have yet to unlearn millennia of fight or flight mechanisms married to the false morality of might makes right. Male sexual dominance was originally a basic biological imperative which guaranteed that our animal-like ancestors would reproduce. Violence was the means of enforcing that imperative. The superiority of male physical power served that violence. We have left that animal nature behind us in our imaginations only. In reality, the imperative will always be there and although we claim to be civilized and human we have not significantly changed our way of fulfilling it since the neanderthal.

Not all evolution happens slowly at the biological level. We evolve mentally and spiritually as well. And these less dense evolutions happen much much faster. If we allow our lizard brains to continue controlling our sexual natures this problem won’t be changed until perhaps star date 3257, if then. We must make a concerted and conscious effort to evolve, rapidly, our mental and spiritual understanding of the biological imperative we slave under. And do something about changing it.

This change will only happen when we, as Americans, live in accord of thought, word, and deed. We must dig deep into those ancient twitch areas of our brains and become mentally clear about our goals. We must express those goals and our intentions to achieve them unequivocally. We must then follow up with right action. We cannot leave any nook or cranny of our minds unexamined. We must set up and enforce public accountability. And we must vigorously self-regulate.

The consequences must be commensurate with the crime. Given the severity of the issue, those consequences must be meaningful, enforceable, but with some level of recompense. With the realities of society as they are this, unfortunately, must needs be a slow, arduous process and to be honest will require years of culling the herd of sexist, predatory dinosaurs such as myself. Few now alive will be able to change. Some will, but this will not get better without a substantial dying off and a significant level of pain, involving all parties. I hope against hope that I am wrong.

To not embark on a swift, agitating, and yes, a risky path would be a travesty in its own right. As we get closer to unearthing the real issues facing sentient beings on this our only planet the stakes get higher and the risks greater. Surgeries to remove lies are only beginnings. To not act now and decisively is not only unacceptable but untenable. We as a race cannot afford to leave any stone unturned in our pursuit of a better world and the evolved beings that must inhabit it.

I admit to not knowing where to the draw the lines to be crossed, place the tops to go over, establish the points of no return or determine what is beyond the pale. I feel naked and powerless without a concrete suggestion of how to act in this moment. There are so many variables, lines of demarcation and if/thens that my mind boggles. I feel inept writing down these words of judgment without having any small sort of answer for them. I can only say my piece and surrender to the will of the time, who is a young woman of color with gender options, and the allies that stand beside and behind her.

And it starts with raising our sons to the surety that they no longer stand in front and decide for her.

And in the Red Corner, Liberty​

It has come to my attention, evidently moving from one side of my brain to the other, that the words freedom and liberty, used both often and liberally, have many different perceived meanings; which are then debated, argued and fought over. To a more conservative minded person, freedom and liberty may have very different meanings than to a liberal minded person. Not to mention the fact that there is also significant disagreement inside both conservative and liberal circles over what these words mean. (I hate the term “not to mention” because invariably, directly after saying it one mentions what is allegedly not to be mentioned.)  Not to mention the fact that these terms are constantly used to describe and define essential elements of American democracy. Sad.

When people use these words, freedom and liberty, they assume they are universal concepts universally understood; they feel certain everybody knows what they mean. But in reality, it’s only what that particular person thinks they mean. It’s the “everybody knows” mistake. Everybody does not know. Not everybody sees liberty and freedom just like you do. It is contradictions like this that gets us into loads of trouble from a societal standpoint. Misinterpretations lead to misgivings.

When we talk about freedom or liberty, and we assume we are all talking about the same thing, we go a little crazy when the other guy says something that clearly shows we are not talking about the same thing. We either think they are stupid idiots or they are trying to subvert and undermine what we are saying. Neither of those things is likely to be true and neither do they lead to anything good.

It’s hella frustrating.

So, in discussions about freedom and liberty, I think it wise to start off by explaining our definition of terms. Rather than creating discord and argument on the backside, it’s a good idea to define terms on the front side, as in a formal debate. When you talk about freedom and liberty, tell people upfront what you mean by these words. For example, don’t say:

“I think people need to be free, but when xyz does abc they are preventing 123 from being 456 and that takes away their freedom”

What does being 456 have to do with freedom exactly? Depends on what you think freedom is.

instead, you could say:

“Freedom means 789 to me and when xyz does abc it stops 123 from having 789 and that takes away their freedom to be 456”

Then at least you know they think 789 has something to do with being 456 and to them that has something to do with freedom.

You may need to read that bit over again.

Anyway, starting a conversation about freedom or liberty with what you mean by freedom or liberty gives the other person a reference point to engage in a respectful, meaningful discussion, rather than reacting negatively to something they think they heard that they think they know which may or may not be true or at all relevant. Unfortunately, when definitions aren’t made clear, contested concepts like liberty and freedom can spark the kind of needless arguments that plague civil discourse and turn a legitimate debate into angry violence, emotional and/or physical.

The contested nature of many contested concepts is not always naturally occurring. Entities with agendas actively foment misunderstanding and will intentionally muddy the waters by promoting their opposing definitions of certain terms. If they feel the use of a certain word doesn’t serve their agenda they will work to subvert the meaning of that word by constantly repeating their alternate definition, constantly repeating it in as many ways as they can to as many people as possible. They will constantly repeat it over and over, by constantly repeating it, over and over. When constantly repeated, over and over, over time their definition will come to be accepted by enough people so that in a discussion there will be contention over the meaning of terms. A strong contention that can engender anger and fighting, spiritual, emotional, mental and often physical.

Therefore, it is crucial that we listen closely to how people use words and to hear their words contextually. We can then discover what they really mean when they use a word, especially when it means something different to us.

We need to listen for agendas. We can’t live in a bubble. If we accept and understand conflicting meanings and find where they originate, then knowing why people define their terms as they do we have a much better chance of reconciling our contentious, gridlocked issues.

Words and their meanings are so important.

I can’t emphasize that enough.

OK, I need to get back to freedom and liberty.

I believe in working with these words it can be valuable to recognize the subtle differences in their natures. I would say that a majority of people use them interchangeably. But freedom and liberty are not quite the same things. If you look closely at the concepts these words describe you will see that freedom is about what, and liberty is about who. Freedom is about being, and liberty is about doing. That is, what is being versus who is doing.

For example, looking at slavery in America, emancipation made slaves FREE to no longer BE slaves, but as things turned out they did not always have the LIBERTY to DO what they wanted. This was the essence of issues faced by freed slaves in the Jim Crow era. They were freed by law from being owned, but the dominant white power structure took away their liberty to do as they desired. Freedom gives us the opportunity to BE a banker if we so choose. But it is in the choice to DO so where the liberty lives. When people talk about freedom, look for WHAT they want to BE FREE from. And when they talk about liberty, look for WHO claims they have the LIBERTY to DO something.

We should remember that freedom is a more concrete word than liberty. Not having a freedom is a clearer concept than not having liberty. It could be why freedom normally trumps liberty in contested situations. And why there is nearly always indignation arising out of those victories.

Looking at it from the standpoint of rights, freedom relates more to a constitutional right and liberty to an inalienable right. Freedom is an earned right and liberty is a birthright. We have freedom from something but have the liberty to do something. Freedom is granted by government and liberty is granted by God. Frankly, although the words mean nearly the same exact thing, the difference is substantial enough that there will always be a battle between that which is given by Caesar and that which is given by God.

A good example of this esoteric struggle is the clash between Cliven Bundy and the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Essentially Bundy claimed that he had the God-given right, the liberty, to graze his cattle on federal land, simply because he could. And the BLM said no, that’s the government’s land and your cattle aren’t free to graze there.  The disagreement originated in a clash between claims of liberty and assignments of freedom. And in the end government and its bestowed freedom triumphed over Bundy and his claimed liberty. And much indignation arose out of the government’s victory.

As an aside, but relevant, I also see the irony inherent in this relationship of freedom juxtaposed with liberty as the basis for a meaningful contradiction of spirit. It is a contradiction displayed by people who want to supplant civil law with biblical laws, all the while fearing that sharia law will supplant civil law.

As we see, the differences between the concepts of freedom and liberty are subtle and do nothing to help us avoid contention. In this time, sadly, the words are used interchangeably but are understood to mean many and often vastly different things. Yet in a disagreement, yea an argument, understanding those differences just might give you the subtle edge that allows you to establish your definitions, create some movement of hearts, and perhaps change a mind or two. At the very least, understanding that freedom and liberty are contested concepts and the guy on the next barstool over might not hear them the same way you do gives us all a better understanding of how difficult it will be to bridge the gulf of partisanship we now so sadly live with.

Words make a difference.

A big difference.