Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1 Corinthians 2

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I watched part of a familiar movie yesterday, “The Absent-Minded Professor”, an old B&W Disney affair. You may know the plot. Fred McMurray plays the title character, Prof. Brainard, a science professor at a small college that is in danger of folding who has invented an anti-gravity substance. The villain, Alonzo P. Hawk, played by Keenan Wynn, is a tycoon that sees dollar signs in this invention, flubber. When Hawk discovers the invention, he implores Brainard to partner with him to make millions as contractors to the government. Hawk essentially steals the invention to prevent the patriotic Brainard giving it gratis to the Pentagon. There are a few other angles in the movie, including a love triangle with a woman, Brainard, and an extroverted English professor from the competing and not struggling college. I distinctly remember the Hawk character recurring in Herbie the Love Bug movies. He is always a rapacious capitalist, threatening to destroy whatever is good and, essentially public sector. I pondered at how this movie could not be made now. I think it would be seen as “socialist”, unkind to the “job-creators”, etc. Moreover, this was a G-rated family movie. It just shows how things have changed. We have embraced the Hawks of the world, and now the professors are the villains. That was another really neat thing about the movie. Everybody knew who the professors were and they had a place of respect in the community. Um, not s’much anymore, I think.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dem Dems?

I've got to get to the music and religion a little more, but here's something I wrote to a friend this morning:

I have to say that I am feeling deeply disillusioned about the democratic party right now. I have been for a long time, but I felt pretty hopeful in '08. I have never seen such an opportunity squandered as I have with the Obama administration and the dems control of the executive and legislative branches at the beginning of his presidency. I guess I'm pretty far to the left of the spectrum right now, but the federal dems seem to be doing not much more than saying we're not quite as bad as the republicans, rather than denouncing the palpable evil that seems to be possessing that party, and their plans to destroy all of the civic and cultural institutions that we have built over the last century. But, as we found in 2000, our system does not accomodate 3rd parties very well. So I'm a reluctant supporter, with hopes and prayers that a new day will dawn...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Civic Nihilism/Parasitic Vines

This civic nihilism that we call libertarianism is like a parasitic vine that we have allowed to creep up and eventually cover and kill the tree. Rather than robustly respond and destroy it, we have, in a sense, nurtured it.
The tree becomes nothing more than food for the vine, and eventually dies and is subsumed by the vine.
We are now (and have been) to the point where, instead of working on how to improve and refine the elements of our society, as we did in the past, we are dismantling and destroying all that generations have built up.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

To: To the Best of Our Knowledge re: Does the Soul Matter

The existence of the soul to my mind is a universal idea throughout cultures societies and religions until modern European culture. Most still have a traditional belief in an inner person that is separate from the physical body. Moreover, the materialist impulse has a profoundly bad track record. Why not, then, have a guest that does believe in an actual soul? To those of us in the arts, materialism explains such a small subset of reality. In a way, the lack of a traditional perspective might feed into the idea that NPR represents a small band of thinking.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

To Diane Rehm re: Obama Discussion

Note to Diane Rehm, 21 April 2011:

I have always admired your ability and courage to call people out and keep them honest, but I have to say I was really disappointed with the disconnect between the eloquent and heartfelt comments from listeners and the predictable, dismissive, tired, and ultimately connected and insider responses from the panelists (with a few exceptions). The impression one gets is of a group of people who are overly invested in the status quo and who marginalize anyone who challenges it, even if they are slightly different flavors of whatever the "center" happens to be at a particular moment. Those of us who are branded "liberal", or "far left" right now are part of the intelligentsia of this country that has been responsible for much of the change throughout history that has made a life of dignity and prosperity for the human species that we now enjoy. The establishment currently has found success in marginalizing us as fringe, or outright branding us as dangerous. Those who are less intellectual in inclination have been marginalized, manipulated and distracted into ineffectiveness.
I realize NPR is struggling for federal dollars with a hostile right wing, but if a call-in show is not open to ideas from its listeners, and if NPR in general is not representing truth and resisting phony binaries (left/right, fringe/center, etc.) it is giving up what makes it worth the federal dollars.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Note to Schumer

I just got your message re: republicans voting to end medicare. The republicans have just handed you the '12 election on a silver platter. For heavens sake, don't blow this one. The republicans are fundamentally bullies and are pushing for very bad things. Please, please, stop giving in and conceding to them anything. The only way to get them to act for the public interest is to stand up to them. And at this point, it means defeating them soundly. If democrats don't do it, who will?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coming up: Secularism

Don't worry. I have plenty to go around.

Here's the Link

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Wow. This is an amazing article, one that I've been waiting for for a *long* time. I honestly don't know how evangelicalism has done as well as it has, dominating politics, culture, etc. I wasn't long on my mission before I realized that evangelicalism was (in addition to being morbidly anti-mormon) to religion what professional wrestling is to sports. But the movement has taken such a profoundly dark turn since then. It really does seem at times to be the Church of the Devil (or the "Great and Abominable") described in the Book of Mormon. At various times we thought it was the catholic church, or soviet communism. These definitely had their moments. But the dominant force for evil right now in America has to be some weird combination of anti-sermon-on-the-mount evangelicalism and populist Nietzschism as embodied by the Grover Norquists/Newt Gingriches and their ilk. Inasmuch as peace is possible, it is being held back by these greedy rascals.

I happen to love Jesus. I can't get enough of Him. Of course I believe He is the Savior and that his atonement makes immortality and eternal life possible. I believe that through some miracle, meditation on his person brings joy and light, even though I have no recollection of meeting or seeing Him. But I also believe just as much in his challenging and transcendent teachings in the sermon on the mount. I am in no way better than anyone I know at living them. But I steadfastly believe that there is some efficacy in acknowledging how much I fall short and accepting the challenge of these teachings even if it takes an eternity to measure up to them. I don't quite understand what one gets out of twisting these pure teachings to justify one's hypocrisy. Why not just acknowledge that we have a ways to go?

Let's look at the basis of evangelicalism as it was explained to me by countless adherents on my mission:
People were created by God.
People are bad.
We need to be saved by "accepting" Jesus into our heart. By doing so, we get several things:
a. we become "Christians" (Mormons don't understand why they say we aren't Christians. The problem is, Mormons don't understand that evangelicals have a very specific definition as to what it means to be a Christian. It has nothing to do with adherence to an ethical formula or a belief in the divinity of the individual, Jesus).
b. we are forgiven of our sins (past, present and future)
c. we are guaranteed a place in heaven
d. we are not responsible for either our good works or our sins. Our good works are simply God working within us. Our sins are simply the leftover effects of our sinful nature and are already forgiven anyway. The worst thing we can do is to think that we can "work our way to heaven", i.e. that our good works have anything to do with our eternal reward. This is presumptive and arrogant. This is described by evangelicals as the main problem with Mormons. (I do think this is somewhat problematic to a lesser degree with my people).

This is an important ingredient to the understanding of why evangelicals hate Christianity (the ethical system Jesus taught).

On my mission evangelicals mocked our testimonies of the Book of Mormon. In mormonism, we derive our religious commitment from a transcendent experience, a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the miraculous manner in which it was brought forth. Millions of people will attest to this witness and will make great sacrifices based on it. Once you experience direct communication from the Holy Ghost, you realize that nothing else, including the 5 senses, can be as certain. The pioneers staked everything on it. When they left Missouri and Illinois, it was with the knowledge that at any time they could renounce their witness and they would be left alone. I was told by evangelicals that my spiritual witness was some kind of brainwashing, or some other such nonsense. It really put them in a difficult position vis-a-vis their own shaky faith grounds. I would then ask two questions, which would driven them berserk:
1. How do you know the Bible is true?
2. Why did God create us?
The second question is really problematic if you believe that we are naturally bad and can only have any value if we go through an empty ritual of assent to a completely weird and abstract concept. What kind of God would play such a cruel joke on his creations? Is He so desperate for praise that he made a bunch of beings who can't achieve anything on their own, and that the only thing they can do worth doing is "getting saved"? This God sounds a lot more like the Satan of my theology, the one that wants nothing more than naked and empty obeisance and hates nothing more than freedom and agency. And regarding question 1, if you don't believe in spiritual witnesses, then what hope do you have that the Bible isn't an empty collection of stories and traditions?

I'm sorry to be so hard on this religion. I have met some wonderful, and, yes, very Christian evangelicals, who serve others, who are kind, and who really do embody Jesus' teachings. But the movement has had such a baleful effect on our society as a whole since 1980 that I feel it needs to be called out. Part of me thinks that, in some diabolical irony, evangelicalism will bring out the very tribulation that it purports to be preparing for.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Corrosive composition careerism

The following is from a very interesting email discussion with LDS composers about funding, grants, etc. of new music:

I have to admit, this has been one of my least favorite subjects of late. I think our art form has become infected with a depressing careerism which has crowded out the things that got us into this in the first place, which I guess would be the love of sounds. Clearly the support for the arts, and all other superstructure, has been on the wane in this country steadily since 1980 and this trend shows no sign of changing. Clearly there has been a steady philistinization of our culture. There are fewer resources to go around so it is natural that the competition gets stiffer.
Moreover, the music "industry" has been in a freefall for a few years now.

Attali suggests that the economy of music-making is a harbinger of economic trends in the culture at large. Does that mean that our society is in for complete economic collapse in the future?

Well, maybe music should be modeling something better, more sustainable.

I lived in Seattle in the '90s during which time I had a chamber opera company that did some unusual and really interesting events. They were all completely funded by ticket prices except the last one. There were three composers, a writer and some singers that came together simply to create some musical works and present them to audiences. We discovered that it was quite easy to rent a small theater and to make a simple arrangement for percentage of ticket sales for each participant in the productions. We were all invested in the success of each other. We always managed, even with all the expenses, to pay everybody involved, albeit modestly.
For the last show I was involved in, we applied for and received a grant from King County, but that piece was the most difficult to produce and the most problematic (maybe partially as a result). I think it was quite good, but the funding had many strings attached and added a kind of weight to the whole thing. The previous shows were much more fun.

I went to a conference of university music professors recently where a well-known composer gave the keynote address. The gist of it was that, it doesn't matter how good your music is if you don't know how to "get it out there", or "sell it", and that this is what we should be conveying to our students. It was kind of a depressing talk. I thought, why not talk about music, or sound, or harmony, or timbre. That's what I'm interested in. If I have to spend more time thinking/talking/teaching about self-promotion than this transcendent art form, then I want out, and I don't want to recommend the activity to my students. It all has to start with the work. What I would like to call sharing of this work can only occur when there is something of value to share.

Excessive self-promotion and grantwriting can be harmful to the imagination and spirit in my experience because you are forced to focus so much on yourself. Plus you end up trying to second-guess other people, and thus begin to self-censor your work. I guess this is where I think collectives that are run by composers (like Salty Cricket, and, I think, Seattle Experimental Opera) are quite good. You minimize the red-tape and help/support/nurture other artists. It's so much better than competing, trying to beat other artists in zero-sum-gain situations. If you create a performance situation using the same level of creativity that you bring to your composing and promote fellow artists' work in the process, then you get away from the kind of self-centered thing that I think is so corrosive.

I'm not against grants or applying for them, but I think we need to get our values straight and put music-making first. If fighting tooth and nail for a few dollars and trying to beat out the other guy crowds out the time, energy, attention and joy of imagining, making and sharing sounds (not to mention family, religion and other pursuits), then maybe we need to find other ways of making music.

Choose or find some sounds to make
Find/choose a time and place to share these sounds
Find people to make and hear these sounds

Do this a lot. After doing your best, working hard and listening to inspiration, don't worry too much about:
1. If people like it
2. If you'll become rich and famous
3. If it will lead to more "opportunities"
4. If it's any good
These are all by-products of inspired, diligent and joyous work. The rewards should be in the work itself, not so much in the byproducts, because they are unpredictable.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Man's Dominion

I encountered this by Hugh Nibley that appeared in the 1972 New Era. It almost doesn't seem possible that that magazine published such things at one time. I'm not sure what combination of things have changed. Check it out:

Monday, February 14, 2011


The events in Egypt were wonderful and, at the same time, revealed some serious disconnects in our policy, and our beliefs. For decades we have propped up local dictators in order to stop international conspiracies, specifically communism and Islamic fundamentalism. This just doesn’t look so smart anymore and, in fact, the United States, which has in some ways, been the most benign imperial power, comes off looking really bad in the third world. It is looking more and more like the “Do what is right, let the consequence follow” is the way to go. I am reminded of ol’ King Benjamin’s words:

it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

If W. had anything right, it was that he maintained through much skepticism that people of Arab decent and the Muslim religion are just as capable and deserving of democracy as anyone. His mistake was, of course, trying to weirdly “impose” it on someone. I continue to hear euro-American pundits and smarty-pants people generally assert that “jacksonian democracy” or whatever they like to call it will take a long time to take root among people with “thousands of years”, or “many generations” of supposed “tribal” traditions, etc. that are supposedly against it. These are, however learnedly couched, little more than racial stereotypes.

I believe that all people are endowed by their creator (not by anyone else – they are gifts, birthrights) with certain inalienable rights. And among these(!) are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If anyone does not enjoy these rights on this earth, it is because some other person has stolen them. In the immortal words of reggae master, Carlton (of the Shoes), whom I have quoted elsewhere on this site, “God made man and he gave them all an equal share of blessings. Some men want to take it all and keep the rest of the world in bondage and oppression. But the Father, he’s not sleeping. He’ll set his people free. Better days are coming. Better days for you and for me.”

I am also reminded of Gandhi’s immortal and hopeful words:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS.”

The Egyptians have proven that it is very difficult to govern the vast majority of a people for very long without their consent. Not only do they have people power behind them, I think they have a little bit of divine power. I have, in my adult life, watched the Berlin Wall and the iron curtain fall, something that very few anticipated. (Think of all the “sovietologists”.) I have also seen almost every Latin American country go from military junta to democracy in a very short period of time. I see no reason to expect repressive regimes that deny civic and religious freedom to continue in the Middle East, all the fossil fuel in the world notwithstanding. Things will change despite our bumbling (at best) efforts, not because of them. The march of freedom will continue until it rings “from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, until all of God's children - black men and white men, Jews, [Muslims) and Gentiles, Catholics, [Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, Animists, Secularists, Mormons,] and Protestants - will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Budget appeasement

I wish I could put more positive posts up here, but I just heard a story on NPR about the budget and the defect, etc. What a sick bunch of people are running this place, tripping over each other to prove how nasty and heartless they can be to the poor. The democrats, including Obama are almost the worst, because nobody is making a case for why "social programs" exist and why the republicans are so bloodthirsty to get rid of them. Actually, I don't hear anybody talking about this.

I'll make an attempt. The libertarian view that has kind of taken over our public discourse is that people should fend for themselves and that when they get help from the government, they lose their will and their creativity. There is a feeling that anyone can just "go out and get" a living somewhere. This may have been true earlier in our country's history in the days of homesteading, when there were abundant free natural resources. ONce you have an industrial society, you have to run things differently. Most of us can't grow our own food, cloth, and forage for building materials and fuel. We're way past that now. We already cooperate and specialize whether we like it or not. And industrial societies make extended family networks unviable. People have to move around to work among other things. So a government that facilitates a safety net is essential in an industrial or post-industrial society.

Moreover, libertarianism only accounts for the able-bodied adults. It doesn't make any sense for anyone else, for children and adults that are disabled or victimized.

Nobody is talking about making cuts in the bloated military, which, by some accounts spends as much as the entire militaries of the rest of the world combined. This is a result of the persistent jingoism and fear-mongering that we experienced in the Bush years. It just feels like collective insanity.

Nobody is even talking about the fact that Clinton balanced the budget, an accomplishment that was viewed as impossible. Bush created the deficit by means of tax cuts for the filthy, obscenely rich and war. If a republican were in the white house, all you'd hear about was how the previous administration messed everything up.

Maybe what it all comes down to is that democrats spend so much time trying to convince republicans that they are not too liberal instead of trying to convince everybody of the tenets of liberalism, or even just basic civic decency.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Advise the Advisor

Response to David Plouffe's email requesting feedback on the subject of "innovation," specifically answering
* How is American innovation affecting your community?
* What are the obstacles to innovation that you see in
your community? And what steps can be taken to remove them?

My Answer:
Job prospects are poor and watered down versions of libertarian principles will not create career jobs with living wages. It used to be that the government set an example and raised the bar by providing decent jobs.

The way to remove barriers is to stop trying to appease or please republicans and start representing a sane and compassionate vision for our shared society. Put it on the table at least. Speak truth to power. The widening gap between rich and poor and the scandalous level of wealth enjoyed by some are ugly unsustainable.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Civil Servants

At the superbowl they recognized Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since 'Nam. I always feel a sense of gratitude when I see members of the military and was predictably teary. I had to make sure my family didn't notice my sappiness. I started thinking about the many souls who serve us in non-military capacities, the people we used to call "civil servants". Surely they deserve some recognition for the things they have done for our society, the postal carriers, the government workers, the people that try to keep our food and water safe, even the IRS auditors. Yet, these people are kind of vilified right now, since "the government" is supposedly "the problem". In a strange moral inversion, it now it seems the most morally suspect among us, those that fleece themselves on the labors of others are the fabulous "job creators" and the people who quietly take care of things that need to be done are viewed almost as parasites who must face up to the "hard choices" that our supposedly broke society must make. It is very sad to be old enough to watch this moral inversion take place.

"Government jobs" used to be viewed as stable, but boring sort of dead ends that nonetheless provided decent compensation and excellent benefits. They also had a very beneficial effect on the labor market, pushing wages and benefits up a bit, setting a good example for the public sector. After a 3-decade process of layoffs, reductions in pay and benefits, and replacing salaried positions with contractors in the public sector, I think we are left with a very bleak and unfriendly employment environment. What a sad devil's bargain.