Liebster Award

lobster

The always hilarious mind behind The Blog Broad nominated me for this here thing called the Liebster Award.  I highly recommend checking out her page, because she is consistently smart, funny, entertaining and empathetic.  Since the color scheme I chose for my page doesn’t make links very obvious, here it is again: The Blog Broad.  A few months ago, when I still had my shared page with Maryellen, I was also nominated for this here thing called the Liebster Award, but the questions were different so I don’t have the luxury of completing this one with a lazy copy/paste.  I also have to re-explain why I only half-complete the instructions given for accepting said award, and I will do so via editorial comments embedded within the instructions below:

The instructions for accepting the Liebster are:

  • Create a new post thanking the person who nominated you, link their blog and insert the award graphic. Done, done, and no.  I choose my own graphics.  I have aesthetic standards to maintain.
  • Answer the questions provided to you, share a little bit about yourself. Will do.
  • Develop a new set of questions for your nominations to answer. I begrudgingly acquiesce to this part.
  • Nominate 10 others and share your post with them so they see it.   10 others will almost certainly see itIf they so choose, they can pretend I nominated them and answer the questions I devised.  Anarchist that I am, I’m as bad at giving orders as I am at taking them.  Incidentally, this is also the reason I no longer date.

Here are my questions:

  1. If you could travel through time and live in any era, when would you choose?

Year 1 A.D., Bethlehem, Judea.  While those intrepid wise men were trekking across the desert with their antiquated gifts for the newborn messiah, I’d be hiding in some bushes with an Etch-A-Sketch I picked up at the Walmart Superstore just before the time jump.  Biding my time thusly, I would work my magic on the 2 plastic nobs until I had a faithful rendering of 3 Magi carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Moments before their arrival, I’d jump out from behind the shrubbery and present the holy trio of J, M & J with a prescient magnetic dust drawing of the approaching visitors, cementing my Anno Domini legacy as the prophetic angel who presented Christ with his only fun birthday gift.

  1. What was the last good book you read and why would you recommend it to a friend?

Destructive Emotions by Daniel Goleman, H.H. The Dalai Lama, et al.  Every year, the Dalai Lama hosts a conference at his residence in Dharamsala, India attended by some of the world’s most preeminent scientists, biologists, philosophers, physicists and Buddhist scholars.  The theme changes from year to year and this book is an overview of the 2001 interdisciplinary discussions on the topic of destructive emotions, their sources and corresponding activity in the brain, and experimentally tested methods to lessen or overcome their influence in our lives.  I would recommend it to a friend because it is very readable and extremely interesting.  I would recommend it to an enemy because that person probably needs to read it more than the friend.

  1. If you could change one thing you’ve done in the past year, what would it be and why?

I’m certainly not alleging that I haven’t made a ton of regrettable decisions, but this is a tough question to answer because I don’t regret things.  Cause and effect is the perpetual force driving the forward march of time and circumstance and if I am content with the current moment (which I am), then changing any single past event, no matter how terrible it may have been, will find me in an entirely different present moment, perhaps one with which I’m not at all content.

  1. Tell us one of your guilty pleasures.

iCarly.  I never considered this a “guilty” pleasure until a Family Guy episode parodied a commercial for Nickelodeon featuring a way-too-scantily-clad teenage girl and the tagline: “Nickelodeon.  Casually ask your daughter what that actress’ name is, then take your laptop into the bathroom.”

  1. What is the goal of your blog?

To entertain.

  1. When did you start writing?

I think I was around 15 years old when I started writing short stories and poetry.

  1. If you could fight a celebrity in a boxing ring, knowing you’d win, who would it be?

Tom Cruise.

  1. What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Tom Cruise.

  1. What show can you simply, not miss?

Gotta give a two-fer answer on this one:  Broad City and Bob’s Burgers.

  1. What game (Board, card or video) are you best at?

Galaga, Motherfucker.  To be clear, the name of the game was Galaga.  Not Galaga Motherfucker.  Although that would have been far cooler.

Questions for those who feel like responding to some quintessential pop music queries:

  1. Do you know the way to San Jose?
  2. Who are you?
  3. Have you ever seen the rain?
  4. How deep is your love?
  5. Where is my mind?
  6. Should I stay or should I go?
  7. What’s love got to do – got to do with it?
  8. Do you really want to hurt me?
  9. Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?  Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful?

hello

Friday Funhouse 6: Rocket Man

kirk

Willkommen! It’s the Autumnal Equinox and that means I can officially bid the summer of 2017 adieu with a prominently extended middle finger. The sweatiest months of the year laid claim to the Old Guard of pets in the Curmudgeon household, several Caribbean islands, one half of Steely Dan, and America’s last shred of dignity. Vaya con Dios.

At the Fat White Lump’s United Nations debut performance this week, he co-opted the term “Rocket Man” for the second time after having beta-tested it on his Twitter minions, and I fear that if he adopts it as another of his tired mantras, the fact that it was a title to a classic Elton John track will be lost on Millennials forever. In the words of The Dude, this cannot stand.

So to put Rocket Man back into its proper pop cultural perspective, here’s William Shatner’s sublime 1978 Saturn Awards performance of Sir Elton’s seminal work. As you’ll see, this was filmed back in the good old days when people weren’t afraid to admit that the only thing cooler than Captain Kirk is Captain Kirk smoking a cigarette in a tuxedo:

 

DIY Protest Soundtrack

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As a kind of addendum to my last post, I want to compile a very short list of “songs for the resistance” that were written prior to the installation of Orangina the Terrible in the Oval Office but which are nonetheless perfectly applicable to our current state of affairs.  These are songs designed to make you angry – very angry.  While most readers of my page know that I do not condone violence or hatred and in fact, spend much of my time talking about their self-defeating futility, even peaceful resistance is a daunting task and often requires the proper motivation.  As John Lydon once caterwauled, “Anger is an energy!”  So here are links to a few superb bursts of angst to get your blood a-boiling.  If none of these songs do it for you, why not get in the DIY spirit and compile yer own protest playlist?  If you do, I’d love to give it a listen.  Here’s mine:

Stars & Stripes of Corruption – Dead Kennedys

Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine

Down Rodeo – Rage Against The Machine

War – Bob Marley & The Wailers

BYOB – System Of A Down

Total Invasion – Killing Joke

Banned In D.C. – Bad Brains

American Skin (41 Shots) – Bruce Springsteen

Fight The Power – Public Enemy

Immigraniada – Gogol Bordello

Bloody Revolutions – Crass

Rio Grande Blood – Ministry

Jesus Entering From the Rear – Feederz

Shut Up, Be Happy – Ice T & Jello Biafra

War Pigs – Black Sabbath

Refuse/Resist – Sepultura

 

Prophets of Rage

rage

Finally! I had been waiting for some protest music — any protest music, quite frankly — in response to the usurpation of the US government by a bona fide fascist regime ever since Election Day, but at long last we have our first proper soundtrack of outrage to motivate us for the long fight ahead. And who better to serve up rousing tunes of righteous militance than Tom Morello and Chuck D? Prophets of Rage are a sort of counterculture super group, consisting of Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford of Rage Against the Machine, Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy, and B Real of Cypress Hill.  Granted, their eponymous debut doesn’t quite pack the same punch as any proper albums released by Rage and Public Enemy in their respective heydays, but considering how necessary an album of unabashed rebellion is for navigating these fucked up times in which we live, this is of little concern to me. Everyone involved is fantastic in his own right, so I’m confident they’ll find their groove in future releases.

When George W. Bush made it clear that he was going to lead us into a war with Iraq under the false pretense of that country being complicit in the 9/11 attacks, for quite some time thereafter, I didn’t hear any musicians aside from the Dixie Chicks even bother to broach the subject. Sure, there were a couple of great underground releases from Killing Joke and Sleater-Kinney that brought the punk rock attitude to bear on the political climate of the time, and Radiohead chimed in with their rather tepid contribution a few months later. But it wasn’t until Green Day released American Idiot that a mainstream band finally dared to give W the radio-friendly middle finger he so deserved.

Never did I think I’d find myself almost nostalgic for the Bush era, but this is America and we suck so much ass that I can’t even anticipate the next mind-bogglingly self-defeating and inhumane shit we may pull for our next trick. I grew up in the 80s when hardcore and punk rock had no mainstream appeal and therefore, hearing bands like the Dead Kennedys, MDC, Reagan Youth, and the Bad Brains eviscerate Ronald Regan on college radio was a sublime experience I never dreamed would become commercialized just one decade later. And, of course, when a genre becomes commercialized, songs of political outrage give way to safer material such as bratty post-breakup temper tantrums a-la Blink 182. An era had ended, never to return.

Protest music, though far less prevalent, is now solely in the hands of intrepid musical elderstatesmen like Tom Morello, Chuck D and Bruce Springsteen. You read that correctly, I said Bruce Springsteen, who has been quietly releasing albums of brutal sociopolitical realism for the past decade, sometimes in collaboration with Mr. Morello. So I tip my hat to Prophets of Rage for this long-awaited and enormously important injection of vital anger into the pop culture zeitgeist. And Trump, you motherfucker, you’d better listen up. Here’s a little taste:

Double Header

flight-of-the-conchords-two-heads

Glimmersofsilver posted this wonderful essay today about the hidden depth in seemingly absurd questions posed by children.  In response, I told her that I would enjoy answering this type of a question with as much genuine thought and seriousness as I could apply to it.  Apparently, she works routinely with kids, and so immediately gave me this one to ponder: What if you had two heads and didn’t like the other head?  Well, let’s see if I can adequately address this query and satisfy a child’s curiosity, shall we?

What if I had two heads and didn’t like the other head?  I’m afraid you’ve taken us into a world of paradox, my young friend!  But that’s okay.  I can work with that.  In fact, you could say it’s a hobby of mine.

Now, if you were here, I would ask for a bit of clarification.  Did I already have my current head and then suddenly found that I had sprouted another one?  Or was I born with the extra noggin?  Since you can’t answer me, I am going to assume that I was born this way: a single-bodied man carrying around two heads on his shoulders, neither of which likes the other one very much.  Or at least one of them doesn’t like the other one very much.   Also, I’m going to guess that the head which feels cranky about its counterpart contains its own brain that gives it its own unique feelings and opinions and memories that aren’t necessarily the same as those of the other head.

This would be a nightmare!  Have you ever watched a dog chase its own tail?  It spins in circles trying to catch something that’s attached to its own body, never thinking about what might happen if it actually caught it one day.  Considering how angry my own dog seems to get when involved in this activity, I’d guess that in the unlikely event he ever caught up with it, he’d end up biting himself very hard on the tuchas and would probably quit playing this game forever after.  So that’s what happens when a dog has a tail and doesn’t like it.  Imagine how much worse life would be for me if I disliked my other head!

My extra head probably disagrees with a lot of things I say.  And it’s quite possible that he considers ME to be the “extra head”.  Now that I think about it, this might be a very common argument between two quarrelsome heads resting on the same body: just who is the main head and who is the extra head?  The answer, of course, would depend on which of the heads you’re asking.

Q:  Who is the main head here?

Head 1:  I am.

Head 2:  Don’t listen to him.  I’m the main head.

Head 1:  I knew you were going to say that.

Head 2:  If you had told the truth in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to say it.

Head 1:  I did tell the truth.  I am the main head.  I’ve always been the main head.

Head 2:  I knew you were going to say that.

Head 1:  If you had told the truth in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to say it.

Q:  I’ll let you guys figure this out while I go grab a burrito.

Now sooner or later, these heads would have to come to a compromise.  All of that bickering is bound to get tiresome, and of course, two heads sharing a body can’t settle their differences by fighting.  The first thing I might do is remind myself that it doesn’t matter which of us is the main head because we can both do everything that heads are supposed to do: see, hear, talk, smell, eat, nod, and whistle a tune.  There isn’t any point in letting my closest neighbor get to me like that.  Since we share a body, me and my other head have probably seen a lot of the same things, met the same people, tasted the same foods, and listened to the same music for as long as we’ve been alive.  Like any two people, this might be a good place to start a conversation that could help us better understand each other.  For instance, “Hey, Other Head, what did you think of that song?”  or “Hey, Other Head, did you see that dog chasing its tail?  What do you think he would do if he caught it?”  Once we got to talking about something other than who is the main head and which head is more annoying than the other, I bet we’d have plenty to discuss.  Think of all the shared experiences we’ve had that we never got to talk about because we were too busy disliking each other!  It might be like meeting a new best friend with whom you instantly hit it off.  And if not, at least it would probably make them much more tolerant of one another going forward.

So with that in mind, I have a question for you.  What if a planet had 7.5 billion heads and none of them liked the others?  The answer might be surprisingly simple.  Just ask the guy whose two heads finally made friends with each other.  If they can do it, I think it’s safe to say that everyone can if they just try to be a little more patient and tolerant and understanding of all the different heads with which it shares a habitat.

But I still can’t stand my other head’s taste in hats.  I mean, really, a pom-pom?

 

 

A Mind Experiment – Conclusion

ACC-amygdala-hippocampus-prefrontal-cortex

The time has come to release the findings of the mind experiment I attempted to conduct over the past week or so. Somewhat surprisingly, the field of brain science — specifically, mapping regions of the brain and observing their functions in the generation of intellect and emotion — only emerged as a serious pursuit within the scientific community over the past 3 decades. Prior to this shift in focus and study, psychiatry was the only pursuit devoted to the exploration of the human emotional spectrum and since this field is not concerned with the specific functions of neurons, it tends to rely on the ideas of nature (a person’s predetermined genetic makeup) versus nurture (the effect of experience on emotion) to arrive at its conclusions. Because neuroscience is still in its infancy, modern therapeutic models don’t yet consider physiological and chemical factors in their execution, although increased knowledge of these factors is undoubtedly responsible for the marked improvement in the efficacy of psychiatric medications. I have a suspicion that when these two fields inevitably merge, it will open many possibilities in the treatment and management of psychological disorders.

Perhaps the best place to start in presenting the results of my pseudo-experiment is to explain how I initially came to the decision to conduct it. The night before I posted part 1 of the experiment, I was — surprise, surprise — laying in bed staring at cartoons on TV. A scene from an episode of Family Guy showed Peter settling in to watch a rerun of the 1980s sitcom Family Ties until he realized that the episode was going to center around the fictional family’s youngest daughter, played by a non-descript young actress named Tina Yothers. Upon realizing this, he turns off the television and says, “And I will check in with the Keaton family next week.” The joke, for those old enough to get it, wasn’t so much the acknowledgment of her questionable acting skills but the very fact that she was even mentioned at all. For some reason, poor Ms. Yothers is a sterling example of an intrinsicly forgettable quasi-celebrity. Yet, those of us who were old enough to get the joke obviously have a long-standing and indestructible memory of the existence of Tina Yothers — a memory that only tends to come to the surface of consciousness at hearing her name or seeing her image (no offense intended if there truly are any actual Yothers fans out there…and if there are, please identify yourself so that I can further probe your fascinatingly weird mind).

Upon being reminded of her existence, something was activated in my hippocampus — the region of the brain believed to be responsible for long-term memory storage. This extracted memory, in turn, activated neurons in my pre-frontal lobe that are responsible for the generation of short-term memory and others in the same region of the pre-frontal cortex that are responsible for the higher and distinctly human functions of planning and the weighing of options in the performance of a task. So upon hearing the reference to Tina Yothers, the activation of the long-dormant memory associated with her caused me to laugh at the randomness of the subject matter injected into my waking consciousness. Maybe I should have just behaved like a normal person and left it at that — a funny joke was made and I laughed at it. But I don’t tend to operate that way. When the humor exhausted itself, I immediately began wondering why such an obscure and unimportant piece of data has managed to survive with the ability to be recalled in an instant after the passage of so much time. We are a species that routinely does things like tear the house apart looking for a hat that happens to be right on top of our head. I, like most people, have also found myself in a certain room of my apartment wondering what the hell motivated me to go there, frustratingly unable to recall a decision that was made mere moments ago. And yet, if someone mentions Tina Yothers, my brain effortlessly remembers this profoundly incidental and insignificant piece of information. This made me wonder whether that place where our emotional and intellectual lives merge — the place, in other words, that drives all human psychology — is so susceptible to the influence of random data and suggestion that perhaps we have far less control over the content of our lives than we seem to think.

So in part 1, I created an expectation in the reader of a reasonably serious investigation into brain function. I did so by essentially asserting that this is what I was doing followed by a short series of instructions based on very basic pre-meditative techniques. In other words, that was a direct and overt bit of manipulating what functions and their corresponding regions of the brain would be most prominently employed in the minds of the readers. And then I displayed the name and face of one Tina Yothers to people who were, it was hoped, expecting this type of stimuli even less than I was when I heard her name in the cartoon. In the space of about a minute, I attempted to activate three regions of the brain in rapid succession – the pre-frontal lobe upon taking in the premise in the first few paragraphs (short term memory), the wider functions of the pre-frontal cortex in performing the pre-meditative tasks as instructed (planning and analysis), and of course, the hippocampus that was forced to retrieve the obscure Tina Yothers memory. It was the unexpected interaction of these three functions that I hoped to explore further.

Both the short video in part 2 of the Manson girls singing a lullaby to a backdrop of random images alternating between pleasant and unsettling, and the obvious subliminal image contained in the Fight Club .gif in part 3 were included to reactivate the same three brain centers but with slightly different emotional pulls. The more signficant aspect of part 2 was my asking the reader to pay attention for any seemingly random memories that might arise in their minds over the course of the next day or two. I’m guessing it was fairly obvious that I was trying to see if the unexpected suggestions created by the images and sounds I employed would influence someone’s thought processes when he or she had stopped actively paying attention to what was contained in the blog posts. Quick mini-conclusion: they didn’t, at least not in any way that I could discern.

Now I’ll talk a little more about the answers I received to the five questions I posed in part 3. I’m not going to repeat all of the responses here because they were too disparate to support a comparative analysis of each reply to the same question, but if you’re interested in seeing the responses just as they were presented, you can find them in the comments section of part 3. In total, eight readers answered the questions. Four of the respondents answered the first question regarding randomly activated memories in the affirmative. Three of those readers indicated that they experienced an image or feeling related to someone from their past who they had not thought about in years, which seems to correspond with the sudden recollection of an inconsequential actress. Another reader indicated immediately after part 1 that the mention of Tina Yothers caused him to think of another somewhat recent example of a cartoon (South Park) mentioning her for the same desired effect of humor arising from the oddly random reference. That was an example of the hippocampus performing a dual function of pulling up the initial memory created by her small degree of fame in the 1980s and then relating it to a more recent but still long-term memory of a similar after-the-fact mention. What happened in the brain of this reader is farily easy to see from the perspective of neuroscience. But what about the 3 responders who answered the first question in the affirmative? Would they have had these sudden memory flashes without the suggestion created by the query posed in the blog post? Again, the pool of subjects responding this way is too small to make any definitive jumps to a conclusion. It seems equally plausible that they would have had these same sudden thoughts if they hadn’t read my blog and were therefore uninfluenced by the small amount of manipulation implicit in the question.

The answers tendered in response to my question about whether there is any greater significance to synchronicities than just mere coincidence were as varied as the responders. The median view on this seems to reside somewhere dead center of a higher significance and pure chance. And those who leaned toward the notion of significance varied greatly in just how high of a degree of it they see in such synchronistic events. In other words, if the only information utilized in the exploration of this question is that volunteered by random subjects, there are really no strong conclusions that can be reached.

If conclusive results were what I had anticipated from this endeavor, then the little experiment would have been doomed to failure from the start. But I embarked upon it with that knowledge firmly in mind and was therefore just hoping to extract responses that would form the basis of my own future studies into brain function experiments conducted by people far brighter and more scientifically disciplined than I. And in that respect, it was quite fruitful. I have printed out all the responses I received and intend to revisit them in light of any new neuroscientific knowledge I obtain.

But there is one final fascinating result yielded by this experiment with which I would like to conclude. This was entirely unexpected and its implications are enormous in both the realms of psychology and metaphysics. It might just alter your entire outlook on consciousness forever after. As such, I’m going to humbly pass the baton to one of the greatest minds of the 20th century for its elucidation: THE SECRET OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Solidarity

uhuru

Some blog posts just lend themselves to a soundtrack.  Thus, I am taking it upon myself to provide one for this excellent plea for universality written by Tom of the aptly named TomBeingTom.

If you’re feeling discouraged by the ever-increasing inhumanity of the world, please read Tom’s post and then listen to this great roots reggae throwback by the mighty Black Uhuru (or even better, do these two things simultaneously).  In this fucked up climate we find ourselves in, I think we could all use an occasional reminder of our common human bonds.