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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

CNN Is a Complete Piece of Shit

Sorry for the sugar-coated title to this essay but I like to lure people in before I let them know what I really think. I preach all the time about simply ignoring the vacuous items that clutter up popular culture. If you read enough of this page I think you’ll see that I don’t constantly whine about the stupidity evident in our everyday existence. I concentrate on uncovering the things that are worthwhile.

Spend your time with quality. I’m not the type that says, “Man, Friends is so stupid. I was watching it last night and…” I no longer have bootleg cable and I’m not interested enough in TV to actually pay for it myself (I’m certainly not anti-TV, I’m just cheap). Unfortunately, I get a pretty heavy dose of CNN at my gym where it is on all of the time on all of the televisions.

CNN is notoriously anti-news. Some miserable white-trash woman punches out her kid and the whole country has to watch it over and over and over and over. CNN follows the “story” as the mother goes to court. I have a news flash: One single case of child abuse is not news. The only reason the story is a story is because they have it on video. If CNN is so committed to the well-being of children then why don’t they do an equal number of stories about child abuse? Answer: Because they don’t have cool video for that. That would actually take some REPORTING and somebody would have to string together a series of words. This is called writing.

CNN has more in common with America’s Funniest Home Videos than it does to a news source. The hosts on CNN are more pompous than on the home video shows but the content is about the same. CNN should eliminate all of the talking and replace it with the Benny Hill theme music.

If you want entertainment I suggest Mexican midget wrestling. If it is news you are looking for then look for it in print.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Getting in Touch with You Inner Fool

I’ve always had a soft spot for the tired Hollywood cliché of the two mini-me guys on the shoulder representing the inner devil and angel. Do you ever feel that your little angel called in sick or something? That your bad side has taken control? I sometimes think that the little devil guy took the angel out back, put two in the back of his head, and stuffed his winged corpse into the dumpster. The autopsy report suggests that sodomy was also involved.

Perhaps we all need a personal fool to follow us around and remind us when we are screwing up, like the court jesters in mediaeval times. Like the guys who populate Shakespeare’s plays with the title of fool. In King Lear the fool is a total pain in the ass to Lear and speaks his mind without fear of repercussions. Our personal fools could be invisible to the rest of the world, but I think it would be more fun if they were visible and wore those crazy jester outfits. Their purpose would be to keep us from acting against our own interests. They would remind us that what we are about to do could be harmful.

Some things my personal fool would shout out to me on a regular basis:

“Put down the Ben Affleck movie or I’ll shoot. So help me God. What if somebody you know sees you renting that piece of crap? Why don't you just put up a huge billboard that says you have terrible taste in movies? Have some pride, dude. If you have to see that, at least rent something foreign and put it on top to impress the chicks in line.”

“Pick that up. I’m your fool, not the maid.”

“I’m pretty sure you had pork chops for breakfast. Are you sure you want to order them again for lunch? People your age drop dead from heart attacks every day.”

To which I reply, “Shut up. You don’t fucking own me, man.”

And then a fight breaks out and we are both thrown out of the restaurant. Later that night in a bar, after we have made up, the little shit starts in on me again.

“Be honest, do you really think that you need another Maker’s Manhattan? You’ve already had two, you fucking lush.”

I think that after I’ve had a few drinks some little puke in a joker’s costume isn’t going to be able to talk me out of another cocktail. What I really need in this instance is something a little less subtle to steer me away from temptation. I am thinking that maybe a 190 decibel fog horn or an air raid siren going off in my ear might do the trick. After my ears have stopped bleeding I would simply pay my check and pour myself into a cab.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Homeland Defense: The Urban Apologist

To a lot of Americans the idea of living in the city is filled with a lot of negative connotations. Cities are dirty and crime-ridden. The city represents the rat race while the suburbs represent a bucolic utopia. City life is impersonal and anonymous. People are unfriendly and traffic is hell.

Without any statistics at hand I would guess that perhaps only about five percent of the U.S. populace actually lives in a city. A lot of major metropolitan areas in this country support little in the way of urban living. Cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami come to mind.

More people live in the surrounding sprawl than live in Seattle proper. Fewer still live in the downtown area. I would guess that this is true of most large cities in the U.S. In my own feeble words I will try to draw a picture of what these people are missing. I urge anyone reading this to write about where you live to let me know what I’m missing.

The building I in live in was built in 1926. It is a five story brick affair that looks as handsome today as it will in another 76 years. There are 54 units in the building--home to about 70 people. This isn’t a huge apartment building but this is still a fairly efficient way to house 70 people.

When you step out of the front entrance of my building you can either turn right or left. Take a left and there is a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound. I love seeing snow all summer long. Every trip I take to the mountains I make a point of hiking or mountain biking up to the snow.

Take a right out of my building and you can see the Space Needle through the trees. If this isn’t Seattle’s most distinctive structure then surely it’s the city’s most easily recognizable one. Every city skyline should have something that sets it apart from every other city. I like the fact that when you take one step out of my doorway it is immediately apparent that you are in Seattle. There are the overcast days when the mountains and the Space Needle are not visible. On those days it will be raining and then you really know that you are in Seattle.

About half of the times that I leave my building I do so carrying one of my bicycles (I’m not much of a walker). From my front door I pedal past the spot where I think I last parked my car, just to make sure that it hasn’t been towed. I don’t bother to lock it. If someone cares to borrow my radio I would rather they not smash a window in the process. Nothing has ever been taken from it and no homeless person has ever tried to sublet the back seat. I rarely lock the door to my apartment either--so much for the crime argument.

What I truly love about where I live is that everything that I need in my life is all contained in an area of about ten blocks. I hope that I am never forced to live in a place where driving an automobile, even for short trips, is a day-to-day necessity. My idea of hell is a place where I have a long car commute. How do people do it?

I hear traffic reports on the radio all the time and I shudder with fear. The voice from the helicopter conjures up images far more terrifying to me than anything Stephen King has created. There was an advertisement for a luxury car some time ago with the caption, “You can live closer to work or own the road in between.” That one is a no-brainer in my opinion. The rat race begins when you get behind the wheel of an automobile. I’ll just listen to it on the radio.

If you want to read a decent book on suburban sprawl check out The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The Kevin Bacon of the Internet


I’m not so arrogant to say that I’m really Kevin Bacon. I’m simply saying that I’m like that character Kevin Bacon played in the movie Footloose. If my memory serves me he had recently moved to some small town somewhere. The town had outlawed dancing but Kevin Bacon was, like, “Fuck that, man, I’m dancing.” As a show of defiance against conventional society he dances all over the place. Bacon relied heavily on Freud’s Society and its Discontents to develop his character.

Then he gets into a car race with some punk from the other high school and…”Oh my GOD! He’s going straight for the cliff! For the love of Christ, will someone please do something!?”

I forget how the movie ended. I hope Kevin Bacon is OK. Anyway, I think the internet is a lot like that small town. Just like that town, the internet is filled with stodgy, stuffy, conservative bores. By the way, I’m talking about the .0001 percent of the internet that isn’t dedicated to porn. Out of this .0001 percent, 99 percent of that is dedicated to work-at-home schemes. I’m talking about the rest of the internet.

Where else on the internet will you find explosive stories about the mistreatment of ‘little people’ in our nation's circuses? At no other source will you find the terrible truth about teen cheerleading accidents. Why did our national right-wing media ignore the Seattle Accordion Festival? Leftbanker is your only news source with the guts to take on the real issues of today.

P.S. I realize that this is a shameless attempt to simply recycle old garbage from my archives but I'm busy with the piano thing these days.

P.P.S. I always get Footloose and Flashdance mixed up. I think I got it right, but if I didn't then my apologies to all concerned parties.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Off to Band Camp


I never went to band camp as a kid, never played an instrument, never much cared. It never occurred to me that making music could be fun and within the range of my abilities. The idea that something could be rewarding was not a concept I readily grasped as a kid.

I started playing piano five years ago this month. I started from scratch. I was a tabula rasa. I’d say that I was an empty staff except I didn’t know what a staff was when I began. I didn’t know a half note from a treble clef. I didn’t know squat about music.

My complete ignorance of music was a shameful secret I carried with me through my life much like some people stumble through life with the horrible burden of being illiterate. The burden of my ignorance became heavier and harder to bear as I expanded my collection of classical music records.

Five years ago I decided to change my life for the better. I bought an inexpensive electric keyboard (I soon got a piano—keyboards suck!). I started to teach myself how to read music. Musical notation is an incredibly easy affair but without a teacher it was more difficult than it should have been. Now I could teach anyone how to read music in 30 minutes, guaranteed. I still have my first piano book, More Easy Classical Themes arranged by Alexander Cole. The first arrangement in the book is Bach’s choral piece Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. I had to write on the page where C was on the staff. It has been all uphill since then.

I have decided that I will devote the next six weeks of my life to the piano. I will play every day for at least an hour. I will learn new pieces and relearn old ones that I have neglected. I am going to make the piano the biggest priority in my life.

I have practiced a lot on and off before but this will be my most heroic effort at raising my level of proficiency. Six weeks isn’t a very long time to alter the course of my life. I want to become a much better musician. I want to be able to some day master some of Bach’s fugues. Wish me luck.

Friday, September 13, 2002

The Morning After


Yesterday afternoon I had a spare hour and decided to sit outside and read. As is my custom, I pedaled the two blocks over to the Seattle Center and sat down on a park bench in the sun.

A large memorial had been set up and a crowd of people ambled past. No less than four news vans were here to cover this “story.” As I read Joseph Stiglitz’s article in the October Atlantic Monthly on the disastrous economic history of the past decade, I couldn’t help but feel contempt for the fluff being reported daily by TV networks and passed off as news.

How many Americans understand even the rudiments of how corporations have fleeced shareholders during the past decade? Why are the news agencies so shy in reporting economic news, news that has a tremendous impact on all of our lives every day? Perhaps the TV news people simply need a little help with finding stories that really matter to the people of this country. What they do well is cover non-issues like a runaway Ford Bronco driven by a murderous superannuated athlete and fourth-rate movie actor. They are experts at covering bullshit celebrity news. They try to make us believe that a fifty-year-old civil war in Israel/Palestine is of vital importance to the American citizenry.

How about more stories on the plight of the American worker? American workers in 1950 toiled the fewest hours yearly compared to workers in Japan, France, Germany, and Britain but today work more hours than workers from any of those countries.

In 1982, 49 percent of employees in the bottom 10 percent had health insurance as opposed to only 26 percent who did in 1996.

The ratio of pay of CEOs to the hourly wages of production workers soared from 93 times that of workers in 1988 to 419 in 1999.

Perhaps the “liberal media” (I choke when I hear that phrase) could explain how the current rate of income inequality and wealth stratification in this country could possibly be a good thing. The income share of the top 1% in this country has risen from 9.5 % in 1981 to 15.8 % in 1997.

How about a story on how family income growth for the lowest fifth has seen a decline of 16% since 1977 while the top 1% has seen an increase of 72%? How can this be a good thing?

Why don’t TV reporters make an effort to explain the current crisis engulfing many corporations? Why haven't they explained the balooning CEO compensations that have wrecked company after company?

I know the answer to these questions. TV news will never adequately cover economic news because they lack the interest to pursue these difficult stories. It is up to the voters of this country to become educated on these subjects which means turning off the TV and reading. A great place to begin would be Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips. Get started and don’t forget to vote.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

King of the Hill

“The game’s on in ten minutes. Want to watch it at Floyd’s?”

“Uh, that’s at the bottom of the hill. Why don’t you ride up to Hoyt’s? After the game all you have to do is coast down the hill.”

The game was the Mariners against the Texas Rangers, Hoyt’s is a bar, and the hill is the brutally steep Queen Anne hill. The guy riding up it would be me.

It rarely ever occurs to me to drive my car for short distances like this around town. Parking is a nightmare where I live and doesn’t improve around town. Anyway, it isn’t like I’m afraid to ride up a steep hill, that’s what I do for fun.

I had seven minutes before the first pitch and I wanted to watch Ichiro lead off. I just about blew out a lung huffing up Queen Anne. I passed two guys walking their bikes up the hill. It always seems like more work to walk your bike than ride but I wouldn’t think less of anyone bailing out on this particular hill. Looking up this hill from the bottom strikes terror into the hearts of even some hard-core cyclists. At one point the grade is 18%. Ay caramba.

I locked my bike in the rack in front of Hoyt’s and ran, panting, up to the bar. Too late, Ichiro has lead off with a home run and was followed by another by Desi Relaford. An auspicious beginning to a game in the clutch of play-off hopes.

Around the third inning the bartender turned on the Monday Night Football game and turned the volume up all over the bar. The Mariners’ game was still playing on one of the TV’s but the football broadcast was annoying. I should have noticed that the bartender was a football fan. All of the signs were obvious: protruding forehead, hairy hands, a slight bend in his posture, and the inability to master fire.

“Check, please.”

Between innings we rode over to an incongruously located blue-collar bar my friend calls Moe’s Tavern (for those of you from another planet Moe's Tavern is where Homer Simpson gets drunk). Moe’s is a vestigial part of Queen Anne’s former status as a modest neighborhood of working-class families. Now this neighborhood is strictly yuppie-ville and Moe’s is as out of place as it is unfashionable. Moe’s has a TV and beer so we sit down next to the other chain-smoking remnants from Queen Anne’s past to watch the last few innings.

The last few innings are a disaster for the Mariners’ and their hopes of playing in the post season. I leave after Alex Rodriguez’s second three-run home run. It is getting dark early these days (8pm) and riding in the dark is something I try to avoid unless it is really late and there is no traffic.

Moe’s lies a few blocks on the back of Queen Anne hill. I am racing against the failing light on this beautifully clear evening. People are out walking their dogs. The lights are starting to come on in the gorgeous Victorian homes that have all been restored to their former glory and then soome by the Seattle elite and those lucky enough to have bought into this neighborhood before it became fashionable and horribly expensive. No matter how much of a hurry I am in I can always find the time to ride past Kerry Park. Perched on the top of the hill, Kerry Park looks over the Seattle skyline with views of the Sound and Mount Rainier when weather permits. Weather on this evening is very much permitting. It doesn’t permit any better than this.

There is a crowd in this small patch of grass watching as the skyline lights up and the sun sets. The dormant volcano has only an apostrophe of a cloud above it. Camera shutters sound as I coast along the walk-way in the park. The view from Kerry Park on a clear late-summer evening is worth a stop--even if I have to ride home in the dark.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

More Reality, Less Virtual

This weekend Seattle’s answer to Woodstock, called Bumpershoot, was held across the street from where I live next to the Seattle Center. A modest $12 admission price allowed you access to wander around the multi-acre Seattle Center complex and listen to scores of rock bands and a few assorted jazz acts. It is horrifically crowded and the only refuge from the masses can be found inside of one of the many beer gardens. On a nice day there are far worse ways you could spend your time.

I had planned to attend at least one day just to say that I actually did something over the weekend but my lack of interest in rock and my laziness conspired to keep me out. Rock is sort of like tequila: You reach a certain age and you just can’t stomach it any longer.

Instead of attending the rock festival I impersonated a shut-in. I decided to spend a few minutes cleaning my apartment and chose for musical accompaniment a CD that came with a book of sheet music of Chopin’s easier pieces for piano. I already play a couple songs from this collection of mostly dances: Waltzes, Polonaises, and mazurkas.

I have struggled with the notion of hiring someone to do housework for me. I have considered hiring a maid for quite some time. I certainly could afford to have a cleaning person and there are lots of people who need the money and are perfectly willing to do this sort of work for $25-30 and hour. My time could be better spent practicing the piano or working. Maybe my logic is flawed on this issue but I have decided that everyone should clean their own fucking toilet and wash their own dishes (unless you have kids in which case you should make those ungrateful little shits do the dirty work around the house). This tie to our mundane lives tends to keep things in perspective. Maybe you are a big, famous rock star but you are still a filthy little animal like the rest of us so clean up your own mess. A servant class doesn't sit well with my idea of democracy.

After finishing the cleaning, after listening repeatedly to the Chopin CD, I am still no closer to motivating myself to walk across the street to Woodstock. Instead I pull out the Chopin sheet music and start pecking away at his Mazurka in A minor Op. 67, No. 4. As I learn a new piece it is as if I can’t hear what it is I am playing, at least at first. The notes are too far apart to tie them together as music but as I learn the piece it gradually comes into focus. A simple piece like this will take me a few days of practice before it sounds anything like what Chopin had intended.

I love to listen to someone practice an instrument, especially if they don’t realize anyone is listening. It is like you are watching someone think. I find that since taking up the piano five years ago I spend only a fraction of the time actually listening to music that I did before I played. These days, most of my listening consists of these sorts of house-cleaning exploratory ventures into piano literature, as I seek things that I like that are also suitable to my skill level. In music, and cleaning, there is a certain satisfaction in doing things yourself.