The Archives are Back!

Sometimes I amaze myself. I managed to figure out how to get the archives back. (There’s a big hint in the Blogger help file when it says they’re probably not really gone.) It was something about the path I entered for ftp (that’s File Transfer Protocol for the ungeeky) for archiving. Next, maybe I’ll cure cancer or something.

Ah Who!

First, from a dictionary:

who’s:
Contraction of who is.
Contraction of who has.

whose:
adj.
The possessive form of who.
The possessive form of which.

Just thought I’d clear that up before proceeding.

I’ve been lax this week about posting, mainly because it’s been busier than usual, and I’ve been tired enough that when I wasn’t putting out some fire or other I just didn’t have the juice to write blog stuff. Which is sort of odd because I’ve written two new articles for the funny pages, meaning that my next two weeks are already taken care of, including this week which I just remembered I forgot to post yesterday, so tune in tomorrow and it’ll be there. Whew!

The other reason is that I’m just not especially upset with anything at the moment. There have been some funny things in the news, like the Democratic party celebrating a loss in Pennsylvania. That’s sort of like an accident victim saying it’s great because “I could have died six seconds sooner.” Okay then. Then there’s poor President Bush, who’s (heh heh) (the heh heh is for the ‘who’s’) having to deal with all sorts of criticism, including some who are suggesting that this war in Iraq is a lot like the war in Vietnam. That, of course, is ridiculous, because we were invited into Vietnam by the South Vietnamese. No one from Vietnam ever invited us into Iraq.

Egad! Humor on the blog. This may be getting serious. Or not. Something. But, this is a diary, right? So, then the weather has been humid and cool for Las Vegas. The other day we had the record low high temperature for the day, at 86 degrees. It actually felt chilly in the morning, when it was only about seventy or so. At the same time we’ve had about an inch of rain at our house in the past week, bringing the total for the past twelve months to just a tad over the average annual rainfall for Denver, and bringing allergy attacks like I haven’t had since I left Ohio many a moon ago. Some day I intend to try living in a dry climate.

Also I’ve been painting the house inside, yellow or brick red depending on the wall involved, including texturizing with sand. With the humidity it’s taking a while for the paint to dry, but it does look a heck of a lot better than the death white I’m painting over. By the time we sell the place it will be too nice to leave.

Well, I’ll try to get huffy over something and post later, or tomorrow at the latest. So, until then, so long from la Valle de las Vegas.

Escape from Freedom

Erich Fromm was a Jewish German intellectual who was sensible enough to emigrate to New York City in 1934. He had studied Freud and Marx and their deterministic theories, and added his own third and most important element: freedom. Unlike a Raccoon, which never needs career counseling (it’s going to be a raccoon), humans have the freedom to choose, for example.

He wrote a book, Escape From Freedom, that all entering freshmen were required to read at BGSU in 1967. I suppose that five percent of us did, and being the little wimp that I was I was one of that minority. The discussion group on the book was a waste of time, but the book was fascinating. Fromm points out how in five-hundred years we went from a completely deterministic society (dad’s a serf, so I’m a serf, the Church knows all, etc.) to one where we were held responsible for our own destinies. He postulates that the deterministic society is much easier for most people because there’s nothing to decide and you aren’t at fault if your life goes to hell in a handbasket. This leads people, especially in stressful times, to seek to escape from their freedom into a more structured, deterministic existence. And how do they do this? Glad you asked, because per Fromm this quest for structure (escape from freedom) takes three basic forms.

Authoritarianism, where we try to fuse ourselves with others, so that the “movement” becomes the thing that guides your life, or in some cases by becoming the authority and therefore having all of your followers validating your decisions, which is another way of escaping the consequences of the need for personal responsibility. The insistence that criticizing the government means that you’re not patriotic seems to me to sort of ooze this attitude.

Destructiveness, where one attempts to destroy the world in order to prevent the world from hurting oneself. If you can’t destroy the world you turn it on yourself, not only through suicide but through alcoholism, addictions, even being a couch potato. You may know or know of someone on each of these paths, I’ll bet.

Automaton Authority, or just blind followership, but not necessarily following a particular party or individual or political platform. Consider (says Fromm) the decisions to be made in the morning about what to wear, what to eat, what entertainments to indulge in, and many more. In order to escape from all those decisions it’s only necessary to check the latest fashion and follow it to wherever it leads, be it shaved bodies, underwear on the outside, pierced eyelids, or any other thing. You can’t even pretend to tell me you don’t know someone who blindly follows fashion.

In fact I remember a housemate in college who insisted that he would never wear Dockers and penny loafers (that’s a type of pants and shoes in case you’re one of those free dweeb types) because the Greek society men wore that outfit. Another housemate and I were unable to get him to see that he was in fact still a slave to the fraternity brothers’ fashion, as they were dictating to him what he must wear just as surely as if he were pledging a house. He is an artist, very creative and not prone to avoiding freedom, but still the urge was there.

Fromm says a lot more about how freedom is the “true nature” of humanity and thus these attempts to escape freedom are counter to our inner nature. Okay, but that’s not where I’m going. I’d suggest you check out the book though. It’s still in print, and available as I write this from Amazon.com for as little as $3.84 plus shipping. The title again is Escape from Freedom.

What I want to say now that I’ve said all that about Erich Fromm and his ideas is that I see this phenomenon at work ever day here in the “land of the free.” In fact, “freedom” seems to mean, if you believe some of the escapees, that we’re the home team and home team means freedom. Well, we’re a lot freer than the people in most of the Middle East for sure. But if people aren’t trying to avoid being free (and personal responsibility) then why is it that so many respond to the assertion that criticism of the President is unpatriotic? Can’t you love the country and respect the office and still think that the incumbent is deficient? So far they’ve all been merely human, after all. And why do people use drugs and alcohol to excess? I can tell you from experience that being drunk feels bad, quite bad in fact, but is that feeling better than the fear of messing up when you decide what to do when you grow up? (Don’t you wish you were a raccoon?)And what of guys like Osama Bin Laden and his quest to destroy anything that doesn’t reflect his image of the ideal world? That sounds pretty unfree to me. And slaves to fashion? If you don’t see any around where you live (yeah, I’m sure you don’t) come and visit Las Vegas. If you can’t find a slave to fashion here (or rather a few hundred thousand all in a three mile stretch of one street in one night) you’ll never recognize one when you see it. Look at people who aren’t conformist and consider how we as a society regard them. They’re geeks, dweebs, nerds, weirdos, oddballs, kind of scary, probably can’t be trusted, might say bad things about the Secretary of State to their friends, you can’t be too careful. Am I right? You know I am.

But just this once I’m not being judgmental about people’s escapist attitudes. After all, when I write a film script I’m hoping it provides enough escapist entertainment that every man woman and child on the planet will be willing to plop down ten bucks to see it. I like to think I’m not a conformist, but I work a normal job and pay normal bills and wonder at the weirdos just like everyone else does. But, when I pay attention to what I’m doing, I always try to embrace freedom rather than run from it. After all, a certain amount of conformity just plain makes life easier to live, so why not? So long as you know what you’re doing, it’s probably harmless. But I am concerned at the percentage of my countrymen who seem hell bent on being anything but free.

Freedom doesn’t mean, as many seem to think, that you can do whatever you want and nobody can register a complaint about it. Freedom means that you’ve got to figure out how to best contribute to the world you live in and then make your contribution in the best way possible. You really can do whatever you want, but you have to plan to pay for the consequences of whatever you do. Not because of a law passed by a bunch of old white guys, but because everything you do affects things that affect other things that affect other things and so on more or less forever. At a certain point your specific influence is pretty well diluted by all those intervening steps, but the immediate consequences of our actions are all yours. If you get drunk and drive down a crowded sidewalk at noon some people are probably going to die as a direct result of your actions. So, if you want to get drunk and drive down a crowded sidewalk at noon, just what do you intend to do about those people you kill? What will you tell their loved ones? Driving like that is hardly self-defense or anything else excusable, so how are you planning to think well of yourself ever again? And all that is separate from any legal consequences.

Which brings up an extension of what Fromm says: I think that some people duck into authoritianism or other escapes in order to avoid thinking too much about what they’ve already done. That seems like a bad idea to me, but it also seems to be a popular life stance.

Given all that, I can see how people would want to be anything but free. Freedom requires entirely too much thinking, especially about your own contribution to your situation and to the world. Since I’m committed to real freedom, though, I try to keep myself focused on my own actions and how t
hey’re affecting me and the people around me. Those trials at the end of World War Two were quite correct: following orders does not excuse doing the wrong thing. And, worse, the right thing isn’t always what’s been written down. However, there are some things you can do to keep close to doing the right thing, and without resorting to the words of a long dead white guy either.

You can be honest. I don’t mean you have to always tell the truth, but you have to always know the truth, and that requires you to be honest. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and don’t lie just to cover your butt or to defraud people. I hold with Mark Twain that it’s okay to lie in order to spare others distress. You can read his works for more on that topic. If you start lying all the time for no good reason you’ll soon be unable to remember what really happened. It’s pretty hard to make good choices when you have bad data, which is why I advocate honesty in all of your dealings.

You can remember that you’re trying to make a contribution to the world. It doesn’t have to be big or glamorous. I’m truly grateful to the guys who remove my trash twice a week, for example. Not a job to make E! or Inside Edition, but a damned important job just the same. They’re contributing by helping the rest of us. That’s what you need to do: help other people. And choosing how is easier than you’d think. Here’s the secret: do what you like to do because you can make a living doing absolutely anything. (Dave Letterman has a woman on every week who makes a living hula-hooping, and another who makes her living by grinding on her metal breastplate with a hand-held grinding wheel. If they can do that, just think what you could make your living doing.) And that’s really it: be honest, and make a contribution doing what you can. Rocket science? Only if you love rockets. That, and treat people the way you want to be treated. What? You think Hilel and Jesus of Nazareth pulled that out of their ears?

This has gotten long enough. Maybe too long, eh? But I’d take it as a personal favor if you, gentle reader, would commit to being free, and also do what you can to limit the damage cause by those who would escape. Come on now, you can do it!

Another One Bites (its way out of) The Dust

I finished a script yesterday. No title yet. It’s about a hapless woman who gets entangled with a group of people whose* job it is to interfere with the free flow of traffic. It’s based on a short story I wrote a while back called “Greasing the Wheels.” The tricky part was developing an actual plot to go along with the hook, but I think I’ve got one. You’ll just have to go see the movie to find out exactly how it goes, but I will say that she gets her guy in the end, her friend loses her man, and the group is still in business when the lights come up.

Well, must go. Warren Zevon is singing Werewolves of London on the Internet radio.

*corrected 8/13/2005

Creation Stories

Every culture has at least one story of how we all came to be. Some cultures have several. In Hinduism, there are as many creation stories as there Hindus, or so it seems. For a very very quick introduction to Hindu creationism, click this link. The Hopi and Navajo both have some interesting stories about our origins. Since I’m a bit familiar with both, I like to recommend them to anyone interested in creationism. For a glimpse of Hopi creation stories, click this Hopi link. For a quick introduction to the basics of Navajo creation stories, click this Navajo link.
The astute observer will notice a few similarities between the Navajo and Hopi stories. All I have to say about that is that the Hopi were there first, but that both peoples live in more or less the same place on the Colorado Plateau. They call the land “beautiful” and they’re certainly right.

Another culture with multiple creation stories is the Judeo-Christian tradition, with one story in the first chapter of Genesis and another story in the second chapter of the same book. Not only two different stories, but right next to each other where they’re easy to spot.

The point of this is to lend my endorsement of teaching creationism in public schools. Not only should we include the Hindu, Hopi, Navajo, and Jewish traditions, we should go further and include all of the creation stories we can find. I’ll bet that if we taught our children to analyze the similarities and differences between the various versions of how it all came to be, they’d learn to appreciate each other and maybe see some of the common threads that tie us even to our enemies.

That has to be what the advocates of teaching creationism in school have in mind, isn’t it?

The Archives

I just discovered that there are no pages under the archives links any more. No doube some idiot whose name rhymes with “Steve” did something wrong. (This blog is housed on my usual server so I can do that if I’m not careful.) Sad as it is to think of all that wisdom lost, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t check any archives earlier than August 2005 ever again. Sniff sniff.

The Blues

I read the results of a survey today indicating that a majority of Americans don’t think that Bush is honest. Hmmm. Also they believe that he did the wrong thing in leading us into the Iraq conflict, and that he failed to plan for the consequences. Hmmm.

I mention that because I think it illustrates a point for those of us who live in what are called the “Red States” that voted Republican last time. That is that the people in the “Blue States” are not always wrong, and perhaps on occasion even those living in (gasp!) California may have some idea of what they’re talking about. Just as it’s not fair when the dreaded “liberals” categorize Midwesterners as out of touch hicks, it’s also not fair to categorize those on either coast as out of touch with American values. In fact, since every one of them is American, that’s pretty much of a ridiculous thing to say.

I also noticed that people still feel Bush is a good leader and likeable. Okay, I’ll grant you the likeable because that’s taste, but what sort of good leader makes those sorts of mistakes and refuses to own up to them? Oh, well, huh? On the other hand, he gets a lot of people to follow him off of his latest cliff, so maybe he is a good leader at that. If he was a good leader with a brain, that would be better, but I guess we’ll take what we can get.

Boomers

When I was a little kid I heard that I was a “baby boom” baby. There’s a demographic “baby boom” that started just after World War II and went on through about nineteen sixty-five. Just ask anyone born after nineteen sixty if they’re a “boomer” though and be prepared for an energetic denial. I think, and this isn’t my original idea, that if you feel like you belong to a generation, then you do. The cultural “boomers” actually started getting born in the early 1940’s and the last of them began breathing the air in 1960. This is based on a cyclical theory of history as put forth most succinctly by a couple of Boomers named Strauss and Howe in a book titled Generations. There’s my credit, now back to my rant, I mean thesis.
There are a couple of large groups of Boomers loose in the world. The first group, to which I belong, is less pathological than the younger and larger group that followed us. Unfortunately, the whole world seems to judge my generation by that second group. As an example, when I attended my high school reunion a while back, the disk jockey played tons of seventies music. Boomer stuff, right? Well, no. We graduated in nineteen sixty-seven. There was a lot of music around in the sixties, most of it nothing like what people think of as sixties music. There were dozens of “British Invasion” bands, for instance, besides the Beatles and Stones. There was folk music, Dean Martin, Tennessee Ernie Ford, just all sorts of stuff that the larger Boomer group, who can be identified by their actually liking seventies music, has no idea ever existed. If you’d like an accurate look at the sixties, check out the Tom Hanks movie That Thing You Do. It was so accurate I thought maybe he’d invented a time machine and actually filmed the thing in nineteen sixty-five.
So, about those younger Boomers. Every generation starts out relatively benign and gets more pathological as it goes along (in birth order I mean.) This is the theory, and my generation seems to bear it out. For example, several years after I graduated the campus demonstration business was booming (no pun intended.) One such demonstration was held in Bowling Green Ohio when a gang of students decided to protest something or other, eventually breaking the glass on a door at the Administration Building. A friend of mine asked the group, after they’d congregated in front of his house, which was across from the courthouse, where the organizer was. The reply was that he couldn’t be here because he might get busted. (?!?) Ghandi went out and tried to get arrested, as did the freedom marchers, and quite a few antiwar demonstrators in the earlier days of the movement. These guys, these younger boomers, were playing at a demonstration. Heck, you wouldn’t want to get arrested: that might mess with your scheduled toga party.
Now, I wondered at first how our current Administration got away with selling the apparently unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Well, the answer is simple: most of his base of support is within those same younger boomers, who leapt at the chance to play at fighting a war. Well, goody for them, except of course they’re no more fighting this war than they did Vietnam (only two percent of my generation ever saw the place, and most of them were in my older group.) These, not to put too fine a point on it, idiots who disrespected the very idea of public action for social reform were more than happy to put their weight behind this wonderful new thing! Boy, you just gotta love ’em, dontcha, because otherwise you’d have to try to kill them all, and there are just too many of them for you to pull it off.
That seventies music I mentioned? With notable exceptions, it tends to be derivative and not terribly creative. Boomer politics? Pretty much the same thing. In the words of a popular figure from the sixties, “Wunnerful, wunnerful, wunnerful!”

Compromising Positions

Bill Frist has shaken up his conservative friends by endorsing liberalizing stem cell research. I’m tempted to just say “bully for Bill Frist” and let it go at that, but I think his doing so may point to a broader blossoming of what has seemed anathema to so many: the fine art of compromising.
I don’t know if Mr. Frist is willing to go so far as to compromise on a lot of things, but the fact that he “compromised” his principles on this one point at least lets us know that he’s not the rigid ideologue that some of his (possibly former) supporters seem to be. I’ve been reading some stories in the news in the past few days (my three day weekend) to the effect that the administration is getting its agenda passed by involving Democrats in the process, and that the result, while not entirely what anyone wanted, nevertheless seems to be a move in the direction sought in the first place.
My, there’s a concept: everyone gives a little, everyone gets a little. That’s how the government in this country has always worked, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting a return to the normal ways of congress. (I’m going to refrain from quoting John Adams just this once.) The problem has been that people of several political persuasions have been so unyielding in their positions that no such compromise has been possible. I wondered all through the first Bush Jr. Administration where this “uniter” we’d been promised was hiding. Well, I don’t know, maybe he’s finally waking up. Maybe being a four-year lame duck has let Junior realize that he can do his own thing for a change instead of kowtowing to the special interests. Maybe we’re just lucky and congress got tired of the fight. Whatever, it’s better to have some compromise than world war three on Capitol Hill. I think. (In some ways a government that can’t do anything is sort of nice, you know?)
My point is that we seem to be moving toward a more normal (for the USA) form of legislative action, one where nobody gets what they want, but everybody agrees in the end that it’s what needed to be done.
Maybe even boomers can learn after a time, unlikely as that seems.
(See my next rant, er, post for more on them.)

Quarter Blackjack and Other Diversions

I work at Wynn Las Vegas, which is a very nice hotel with many amenities, some of which are to be found no where else. For instance, it has the only golf course on the Las Vegas strip. You must be a guest to use the course, and the greens fees are $500.00. Per round. On the other hand, good tee times are always available. There are a lot of diversions at Wynn Las Vegas, including thirty retail shops, twenty some restaurants, a unique front feature involving a waterfall and a talking face projected on a stone head. There is a Baccarat room where the minimum bet is the same as a round of golf. I have no idea how to play Baccarat, but at those prices I truly don’t care. (It’s an odd game, though, as the players are allowed to destroy their cards, and many do.) There is poker from a buck to no limit, and one heck of a collection of tables with roulette, blackjack, pai gow poker and craps.

Craps, now that must be fun. You should hear people shout with glee while they play. I never have played, though, so I can’t vouch for the entertainment value. The players are loud, though, I’ll grant them that. There are also hundreds of slot machines, including the ever popular Wheel of Fortune (that shout almost made me offer to buy the machine at the airport once just so I could throw it away and shut it up.) There are also two, soon to be three, theaters (Avenue Q opens shortly, Spamalot is coming next year, and there’s a strange show called “Le Reve.”) I see the performers for “Le Reve” frequently. They’re theater all the way, which is to say effusive and over the top but basically kind and always entertaining. If you want to see them you’ll need to fork over about $130.00. Go ahead, I dare you.

Well, as I said, I don’t play Baccarat, and my poker experience is strictly nickel dime with friends because I’m lousy at it. But I do like video poker and blackjack. Two reasons: played well, both are pretty much break-even propositions over the long term. (So are craps and roulette, but I don’t really care for screaming in my ears so I don’t play them.) I’m told there are $5 blackjack tables in the casino, but I’ve never seen one for less than $15. Luckily, there is a bank of video blackjack machines that can be played for as little as a quarter a bet. I think a quarter is the minimum for video poker here, too, although you can find penny machines in lots of casinos these days. (Just don’t hit maximum bet because it’s 100 coins, and you might as well just play a dollar machine if that’s what you want to do.)

I’m just rambling about all these things because yesterday morning after work, at 8AM, I went down to the casino looking for video poker when I came across the blackjack machines. Much like the video poker at Wynn, the blackjack machines are very generous. I put $3 into one and came away with $5 ten minutes later. Not a lot of cash, but a heck of a percentage gain. The machine kept giving me blackjacks (which don’t have to be black or even a jack; I have no idea where the name comes from) and twenty-one if not blackjack, and once a six card win. They added up to nineteen. The dealer had twenty, but because I had six cards without busting I won anyway. Most places it takes seven cards to win that way. Not bad. I think that the next time I feel like spending some actual money gambling I’ll play one of Wynn’s machines for five bucks a line.

The upshot is that the place I work is a really nice place to visit and play at, or to see a play at. If only I could afford it.