Monday, August 31, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings about Magic, Music, Madness and Mortality...

It's been a while since I've had time to post and several subjects have been piling up in my head trying to find the way out, so even though I may be biting off more than I can chew in trying to keep this interesting and coherent, here it goes. (I started this 3 days ago but it's taken a while to finish it between all the other things I've had to do in addition to watching the mountains explode into flames not all too far from where I'm sitting.)

Many bloggers use their blogs as daily reports of what they did that day, where they went, what they ate, what they bought, who they screwed, you know, the mundane crap that nobody cares about. I never wanted this blog to sink to that level but this post may send it in that direction. This ones gonna be about where I went the other night, a recent book I've read and some other stuff that got attached to those topics while agitating around in my head.

The first topic for tonight's ramblings is Magic. A few nights ago I took my family to the Magic Castle in Hollywood.. This is a place we have been wanting to go for a long time but it is not open to the general public. You have to be invited by a magician member. One of our musician friends, who also happens to be a great magician, Phil Van Tee, had us as his guests. (For some reason the link feature is not working tonight so please just copy and paste the address into your browser.) Thanks Phil!!! I've never experienced so much magic up close. It really got me thinking about the nature of this universe and the creation of illusion. Well actually I'm always thinkin about that but it sort of intensified my thinkingness for a while there. What do these guys know about the nature of reality that the average guy does not? How much of reality are we actually perceiving or conversely how much of what we perceive is actually real? You look at a guy like Chris Angel and you have to wonder if he's even human! Perhaps a holographic image? I don't know...

Well at least I know Phil is human. If you ever need a magician for anything, hire Phil. You won't be disappointed. Here's a clip of him in action...

Next on the list is music, I'm kinda moving though the "M"s tonight. Actually this is connected to the book I just finished entitled "The Death of a Rebel", the story of Phil Ochs. This is the first book written by Marc Elliot back in 1979, who has gone on to write many books about icons of popular culture such as Springsteen, The Eagles, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. I've always been a fan of Phil Ochs but lately he's been on my mind quite a bit because of all the insanity going on in the world today. I wish he was still around to provide his commentary, but actually many of his songs written some 40 odd years ago are still quite appropriate today. They are just not being heard on the corporate controlled media.
Now I'm gonna slip from music to madness because that is what the book covers, Phil's attempt to ascend to stardom followed by his decent into alcoholism, schizophrenia, leading finally to suicide.

As Phil wrote in the song "Chords of Fame", "God help the troubadour that tries to be a star". Being a star can be a dangerous profession, especially if you say and do things that oppose the system. Actually I believe the music business itself is not what it appears to be. Artists are very easy targets and people with evil intentions designed the business to use and control them for their own benefit and agenda.
A recent book by Michael Walker entitled "Laurel Canyon- The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood" is a great read that tells the story of all of the musicians that happened to come together in the '60s and made Laurel Canyon their home. It focuses on the people and their lifestyles and the music that was created during that magic time and place. But we are expected to believe the idea that all this came together simply as a matter of an amazing number of coincidences along with a healthy heaping of serendipity. For those not so sure about that and who have a more open mind may I suggest " Inside The LC-The Strange but mostly true story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation" by Dave McGowan. This online story is still being written but there are enough chapters already done to completely blow your mind and change the way you look at pop culture and world events. (again, copy and paste into browser. Sorry for the inconvenience.)
So I was talking about Phil Ochs and I seemed to have gotten sidetracked but I really haven't because Phil spent a lot of time in LA and hung out in Laurel Canyon. And he became just another casualty of the star machine. Madness is just another product of that machine and when it leads to the demise of the artist, well then all the better for the business because there is nothing more easily profitable than a dead pop star.
Here is a video of Phil's only network TV appearance. This should be the National Anthem!

Mortality is another subject frequently demanding attention lately. What's up with everybody dying recently. Is it just me, being that I'm getting to the age where I could keel over with no warning, or are any of you noticing that people are checking out at an alarming rate. Famous people, artists, musicians, writers. The latest loss to the music world was Ellie Greenwich, who was a songwriter of many early 60s hits, many recorded by Phil Spector like "Be My Baby" and "Leader of the Pack". She was one of the lucky ones who managed to be successful and avoid the star making meat grinder. Although I was a little too young to be emotionally connected to her music as I am to say, the Beatles, what really caught my attention was that she grew up in Levittown, Long Island, my home town! Her house was on the corner of Springtime and Starlight Lanes. How many times did I ride my bike past there when I was a kid and never knew....

So what is death anyway and why are we so afraid of it? There are a whole lot more people dead than there are alive so can it really be that bad? I'm wondering if it's not just like being in another room in the universe. All us people who think we are alive could actually be locked in a relatively small room totally absorbed in playing like this giant complex video game and we are oblivious to the big festival and feast going on on the other side of the door. In a world so full of lies and deceit, nothing would suprise me.

Not that I'm planning on checking out anytime soon but I wanted to put together a list of songs that I'd like to be played at my funeral. Really, it's ok, they can be played anytime, you don't have to wait for me to croak to listen to them. I've got most of them on my IPOD. These are a group of songs that I consider important and believe should be heard and listened to, because they reflect wisdom and insight and sometimes the sense of humor of the artist who created them. If I could figure out how to put a player on my blog I would load them all in there so that anyone who wishes to could hear them. But I haven't figured that out yet so I'm just going to put them up one at a time in whatever form I can post them. So to bring this long, rambling blog entry to a close, I'll leave you with this, which just coincidentally happens to come from someone who is dead. Go figure...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Movie Night

I don't feel that I really need to comment on what's going on in the world right now. It's so bizarre, absurd and obscene that it really defies comment. No sense in contributing to the noise. Let's all just go to the movies, shall we?

In fact we don't even have to "go" to the movies, I'll just bring them here. Tonight's picks are rather short so I'm gonna make it a double feature. The first selection is a short,happy little tale of animal love.

This second selection explains in 9 minutes the reason behind why the world is as it is right now and has an optimistic outlook for the future. You can find more short and informative videos at this authors website.

Enjoy! Oh and by the way, don't eat the popcorn. It's most likely genetically modified.

Life Inc. The Movie from Douglas Rushkoff on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Speaking with Integrity

I am posting this video of a speech given by Larken Rose on July 4th in front of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. His words will make many uncomfortable, but the truth often is.

I personally do not endorse using guns or violence as a way to sort out disagreements and nor do I believe does he. It is especially not a good idea to use such a tactic when you are in a disagreement with a government, since nobody has at their disposal more guns or violence than they do. But it is precisely because of the willingness of the government to use guns and violence that the disagreements continue. When a man can get thrown in jail for expressing his disagreements with the government and pleading with them to simply clarify some questions of law, then you have to wonder where this country is headed. When speaking and asking questions becomes a crime, there are only two choices left, submit to your "masters" or fight back. I believe in the power of ideas and free communication. But it is a question of numbers. If it's just Larken rabble rousing, then he can easily be ostracized and ignored and if he squeaks too loudly, he can be thrown back in a cage. Single targets are easily picked off. But if more people can be made aware of the issues that are affecting their freedom day by day, and millions become willing to speak up and not always, simply doing unquestioningly as they are told, then perhaps a peaceful revolution is possible.

Love him or hate him, agree or disagree, it's nevertheless refreshing to see a man speak from the heart, with integrity and with out the aid of a teleprompter!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Repeating Mistakes

This is an excerpt from a new book by Lester R. Brown that is available for download. Certainly something we need to consider as we watch our world crumble around us. In the past when civilizations failed it was a more isolated problem. The natives of other continents were not affected. Today however our civilization has spread like a cancer throughout the world and as we fall, so goes the planet.

Earth Policy Institute
Plan B 3.0 Book Byte
July 29, 2009


http://www.earthpol Seg/PB3ch01_ ss3.htm

Lester R. Brown

To understand our current environmental dilemma, it helps to look at earlier civilizations that also got into environmental trouble. Our early twenty-first century civilization is not the first to face the prospect of environmentally induced economic decline. The question is how we will respond.

As Jared Diamond points out in his book Collapse, some of the early societies that were in environmental trouble were able to change their ways in time to avoid decline and collapse. Six centuries ago, for example, Icelanders realized that overgrazing on their grass-covered highlands was leading to extensive soil loss from the inherently thin soils of the region. Rather than lose the grasslands and face economic decline, farmers joined together to determine how many sheep the highlands could sustain and then allocated quotas among themselves, thus preserving their grasslands. Their wool production and woolen goods industry continue to thrive today.

Not all societies have fared as well as the Icelanders. The early Sumerian civilization of the fourth millennium BC had advanced far beyond any that had existed before. Its carefully engineered irrigation system gave rise to a highly productive agriculture, one that enabled farmers to produce a food surplus, supporting formation of the first cities and the first written language, cuneiform.

By any measure it was an extraordinary civilization, but there was an environmental flaw in the design of its irrigation system, one that would eventually undermine its food supply. The water that backed up behind dams built across the Euphrates was diverted onto the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. As with most irrigation systems, some irrigation water percolated downward. In this region, where underground drainage was weak, this slowly raised the water table. As the water climbed to within inches of the surface, it began to evaporate into the atmosphere, leaving behind salt. Over time, the accumulation of salt on the soil surface lowered the land's productivity.

Shifting from wheat to barley, a more salt-tolerant plant, postponed Sumer's decline, but it was treating the symptoms, not the cause, of their falling crop yields. As salt concentrations continued to build, the yields of barley eventually declined also. The resultant shrinkage of the food supply undermined this once-great civilization. As land productivity declined, so did the civilization.

The New World counterpart to Sumer is the Mayan civilization that developed in the lowlands of what is now Guatemala. It flourished from AD 250 until its collapse around AD 900. Like the Sumerians, the Mayans had developed a sophisticated, highly productive agriculture, this one based on raised plots of earth surrounded by canals that supplied water.

As with Sumer, the Mayan demise was apparently linked to a failing food supply. For this New World civilization, it was deforestation and soil erosion, likely on top of a series of droughts, that undermined agriculture. Food shortages apparently triggered civil conflict among various Mayan cities as they competed for something to eat. Today this region is covered by jungle, reclaimed by nature.

The Icelanders crossed a political tipping point that enabled them to come together and limit grazing before grassland deterioration reached the point of no return. The Sumerians and Mayans failed to do so. Time ran out.

Today, our successes and problems flow from the extraordinary growth in the world economy over the last century. The economy's annual growth, once measured in billions of dollars, is now measured in the trillions. Indeed, just the annual growth in the output of goods and services in recent years exceeded the total output of the world economy in 1900.

While the economy is growing exponentially, the earth's natural capacities, such as its ability to supply fresh water, forest products, and seafood, have not increased. Humanity's collective demands first surpassed the earth's regenerative capacity around 1980. Today, global demands on natural systems exceed their sustainable yield capacity by nearly 30 percent. We are meeting current demands by consuming the earth's natural assets, setting the stage for decline and collapse.

In our modern high-tech civilization, it is easy to forget that the economy, indeed our existence, is wholly dependent on the earth's natural systems and resources. We depend, for example, on the earth's climate system for an environment hospitable to agriculture, on the hydrological cycle to provide us with fresh water, and on long-term geological processes to convert rocks into the soil that has made the earth such a biologically productive planet.

There are now so many of us placing such heavy demands on the earth that we are overwhelming its natural capacities to meet our needs. Forests are shrinking. Each year overgrazing converts vast areas of grassland into desert. The pumping of underground water exceeds natural recharge in countries containing half the world's people, leaving many without adequate water.

Each of us depends on the products and services provided by the earth's ecosystems, ranging from forest to wetlands, from coral reefs to grasslands. Among the services these ecosystems provide are water purification, pollination, carbon sequestration, flood control, and soil conservation. A four-year study of the world's ecosystems by 1,360 scientists, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, reported that 15 of 24 primary ecosystem services are being degraded or pushed beyond their limits. For example, three quarters of oceanic fisheries, a major source of protein in the human diet, are being fished at or beyond their limits, and many are headed toward collapse.

Tropical rainforests are another ecosystem under severe stress, including the vast Amazon rainforest. Thus far roughly 20 percent of the rainforest has been cleared either for cattle ranching or soybean farming. Another 22 percent has been weakened by logging and road building, letting sunlight reach the forest floor, drying it out, and turning it into kindling. When it reaches this point, the rainforest loses its resistance to fire and begins to burn when ignited by lightning strikes. Scientists believe that if half the Amazon is cleared or weakened, this may be the tipping point, the threshold beyond which the rainforest cannot be saved. Daniel Nepstad, an Amazon-based senior scientist from the Woods Hole Research Center, sees a future of "megafires" sweeping through the drying jungle. He notes that the carbon stored in the Amazon's trees equals roughly 15 years of human-induced carbon emissions in the atmosphere. If we reach this tipping point we will have triggered a major climate feedback, another step that could help seal our fate as a civilization.

The excessive pressures on a given resource typically begin in a few countries and then slowly spread to others. Nigeria and the Philippines, once net exporters of forest products, are now importers. Thailand, now largely deforested, has banned logging. So has China, which is turning to Siberia and to the few remaining forested countries in Southeast Asia, such as Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, for the logs it needs.

As wells go dry, as grasslands are converted into desert, as fisheries are depleted, and as soils erode, people are forced to migrate elsewhere, either within their country or across national boundaries. As the earth's natural capacities at the local level are exceeded, the declining economic possibilities generate a flow of environmental refugees.

Countries today are facing several negative environmental trends simultaneously, some of which reinforce each other. The earlier civilizations such as the Sumerians and Mayans were often local, rising and falling in isolation from the rest of the world. In contrast, we will either mobilize together to save our global civilization, or we will all be potential victims of its disintegration.

# # #

Adapted from Chapter 1, "Entering a New World," in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), available for free downloading and purchase at www.earthpolicy. org/Books/ PB3/index. htm.

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