Stupid And Proud Of It


 

 

The first time I was exposed to the idea of “alternative news” was the Police Gazette magazine in our local barbershop. This was in the nineteen-fifties, a time when World War II was not that distant a memory. Every month the headline would concern Hitler found alive in Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay. Flying Saucers were also big on their list, and scantily-clad women in high heels attended secret parties in remote locations visited only by the super-rich.

About ten years later, when I was in college I discovered the National Enquirer, and its deranged cousin the Weekly World News. By this time, I had traveled to Mexico and realized that they had long proudly hosted a national press that catered to the functionally illiterate. You could buy comic books for adults, and books of photographed dramatic scenes that were the printed equivalent of soap operas. All these publications reflected a reality that America had largely bypassed and now downplayed, the division of our populace into varying classes based on education and literacy.

During the 1960’s,  children we would watch Three Stooges films played on television, and there was one episode where Moe played Hitler, and they showed a map of the world. They held on this map for minutes, giving the audience time to read all the funny place names. It took me seconds to read them, but back in the 1940’s, the average Three Stooges viewer needed more time. A lot more time.

Today we have Trump Supporters, the Deplorables, a group of proud anti-intellectuals who ape the Fascist leanings of their Orange leader, the modern-day Mussolini. They sneer at higher education and liberal values,  making 1970’s TV’s Archie Bunker look like Noam Chomsky. They laugh at “snowflakes” and those who expect our nation to be kind to the weak and dispense justice to the poor. The only interest one can be proud to claim is enlightened self-interest. Dick Cheney had it and look at him, now he’s a billionaire!

This will not end well. The deliberate embrace of the stupid, the transparently false, the celebration of belief over fact, the whole-hearted crassness that allows us to treat our allies and enemies alike as inconsequential suckers will turn on us. We will pay for our arrogance and stupidity. Or I suppose I should say, “we will pay for their arrogance and stupidity.” Because we already are.

 

 

here’s is a five-minute recording of the author reading this essay

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THE SEDUCTION OF EVIL


 

 

All the absurdity and stupidity displayed every day on the news, then amplified and echoed on social media, has the ability to distract us from developments more worthy of our attention. Yes, our government is corrupt, surely everyone is aware of this. We could consider the present state of affairs a crisis, or we could simply acknowledge that there are problems for which we will need to find solutions and move on.  To allow ourselves to be absorbed by horror and anxiety serves no one. Maybe this permanent state of emergency is the plan the tyrants had all along. We can immunize ourselves by directing our attention at things that empower us.

 

I’m not talking about limiting ourselves to “happy news.” Being absorbed by the news in general, just like being too rabid a fan of any entertainment, is a large step on the path to powerlessness. What did people do with their free time before the Internet? Lots of different things that are still available to us now, if we can only look away from the fascinating horror that tempts us online.

 

 

 

 

Catholic or Buddhist?


 

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I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.

 

Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a  temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of  monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.

 

There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.

 

Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.

Youth Wasted on the Young


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There was a time when I was better looking and so was everybody with whom I hung around. I could stay up late abusing my body with alcohol, tobacco and drugs and still function the next day. I showed promise. People cut me slack based on that promise, and maybe because they felt I wasn’t evil, just stupid.

 

They were right, I wasn’t evil, just arrogant and self-centered. Blindly egotistical. All the while I simmered with a quiet rage that I hadn’t been given the reward I was due. Why were other people prospering while I wasn’t? Where were my just desserts?

 

Turns out I received just as much acclaim and support as I was due. If I wanted more, I should have worked harder. Simple, really.

 

I don’t even have any advice to give the young, because the world has changed so dramatically that I can’t imagine how any artist, musician or writer can fit in or get ahead in an era where all content is delivered instantly, for free.

 

Good luck, young people. Take care of your taut bodies and enjoy them while you can. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Waking up to who you are


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“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

 

By the time we leave adolescence, most of us have a pretty set idea of who we are. We know our talents, our weaknesses, our proclivities. Other people let us know where we shine and where we don’t.

 

The jobs we’re offered, the feedback we get at work, the attention we get from possible romantic partners, the status we achieve in our community…all these things give us a pretty set and firm idea of who we are. At least we think they do.

 

Who we really are and the possibilities we offer are often not yet expressed. Clark Gable was an impoverished lumberjack as a young man. He had all of his teeth removed by the age of twenty and was wearing an ill-fitting and often painful set of false teeth. He had big ears. If we could zip back in a time machine and ask him to describe himself at that age, I imagine the details he would offer would vary substantially from what he would say a decade later.

 

Elvis at sixteen and Elvis at eighteen would offer the same extremes. These kinds of changes and rapid advances in self-concept and esteem don’t only happen to the young. There are probably more examples of delayed recognition for persistent effort than there are meteoric rises to the top. People who rate themselves as successful often say that continued and constant effort was the key to their success.

 

 

 

Facebook Exile


Time Out for Naughty Posts

 

 

I tried to post two vintage 1920’s pictures of naked women on Facebook and was blocked from using that service for three days for violating their “Community Agreements.” A computer ratted me out, recognizing nipples. In my three day fast, I’ve been prohibited from sharing likes, posting new items, or sharing the posts of others. I feel like a citizens band radio addict who’s had his microphone impounded.

I wish I could say my time-out has fostered a mini-renaissance in writing and reading, but it hasn’t. I guess this proves that what’s left of my attention span is permanently fractured, reduced to fragile shards that cannot be swept up and reassembled. There’s nobody home anymore.

My menagerie of funny photos cries out from my desktop folder, demanding to be shared with the hypothetical thousands of “friends” I have. Since I post too much every day, no one has noticed my absence. This is what it will be like when I finally die. My Facebook feed won’t feel any different to most users, my blog subscribers will simply no longer receive emails about new posts, and it may take several years until anyone notices that I’m no longer at the helm. Pictures I’ve unearthed of silent era starlets and corny 1950’s ads will be discovered long after my ashes have been absorbed by the nearest palm tree here in sunny Thailand.

 

 

An Absurdly Beautiful Day


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the ruined temple next door to our house

 

The weather is perfect. There’s a soft drone of crickets and insects who live in the grass. The Goldfish have already gobbled the food I gave them.  It’s late enough in the morning that the roosters have calmed down. A lone dog barks in the distance. A few cars pass by on the road outside.

 

If I can’t be happy today, when can I be happy? I’m not under criminal investigation. Nobody’s suing me. I don’t owe anybody money. I’m in good health, after a breakfast with friends I’ll probably go swimming and then get a massage.