Monday, February 28, 2011

Fool Me Twice

Rancho Del Cielo, Santa Ynez Mountains

No home improvements?

Ronald Reagan's death and his recent "100th birthday" have predictably gotten his fan base all in a twist about amping up the spin and mythmaking that he was such a master of. They've been successful in naming everything they can find after him and are working on putting his mug somewhere on our currency. But so much of his story during his lifetime and continuing on to what looks like an eternal half-life is hidden, or untrue.
Not in the least willing to let go of their rich socialite circle of friends and the ego-reinforcing limelight when their movie careers shriveled in the Fifties, "Nancy" (actually born Anne Frances Robbins) kept the rigid social schedule going while Ronald supplemented his television income with being corporate shill for G.E. in the Fifties and the American Medical Association in the Sixties. They bought the beautiful 688-acre ranch in upper Santa Barbara County for $527,000 in 1974 -- the last time they would actually pay for something themselves, a concept Nancy loathed. The point of having a billionaire social/political circle is to use them pay for your extravagant digs and lifestyle, while they think they are using you. Until 2008, no one lost out on holding then reselling good-looking California real estate; Nancy got $4.5 million for it by selling to the conservative grooming academy Young America's Foundation. And the friends circle put them in a suburban estate during the Governor years since Nancy also loathed the Victorian state-owned mansion. The best deal they swung, though, was upon leaving the presidency and returning to California: 666 St. Cloud St. in Bel Air, all 7,192 square feet of it, was purchased in 1987 for $2.5 million by 20 friends organized into an entity called Wall Management Services (it's worth $6.2 million now). The "666" address and the fact that Ronnie's first, middle and last names are six letters each spooked Nancy so much that the address was quickly changed to 668. Scooping up the sweet deals was nothing new; the Reagans got G.E. to equip their previous 1950s home in Los Angeles with $100,000 worth of electronic goodies, gratis.
While in the White House, our aged show girl accepted free clothing and furnishings, even including her weekly hair dye jobs, worth a total of about $3 million. Being consistent in their anti-government stand, of course, they did not report any of this to the IRS, which objected but did nothing.
Image is all in Hollywood and politics; lying about the details is standard in both also. Ron claimed he never had plastic surgery or dyed his hair, but the great mane was indeed dyed from 1968 on: when his head was shaved for surgery, it grew back gray. He looked quite old in 1975 but remarkably smoother and younger beginning with the 1976 presidential primary effort.
Many have noted that RR, that master storyteller, spun yarns of his WWII service based not on the facts but on plot points of movies he had been in. He had actually spent those years as an officer narrating Army Air Force training films in Culver City and going home each night. Ironic that the taxpayers paid to train the Great Communicator so well.
He even faked turning on the switch to light the National Christmas Tree from the White House; a hidden park ranger did it! It's all about the photo op -- like Dubya buying a ranch after he decided to run for President, so he could be photographed wearing a cowboy hat and cutting brush just like Ron. It worked, too.
Surpassed in ugliness by all this opportunism and chicanery was his campaign for the American Medical Association against "socialized medicine" (i.e., Medicare or any semblance of it). His 10-minute stump speech was recorded on LP in 1961 to be played to groups and to stimulate a letter-writing campaign to Congress. Not so much that he was paid to front for yet another wealthy corporate squid, what smells about this is that the content is all lies -- which are still being repeated endlessly, from the usual "it will curtail freedom" to a claim that the government will dictate what your employment will be and that you will have no choices. A completely false quote attributed to early 20th century socialist Norman Thomas is a nice touch. Like the twisted spin heard on Fox News years later, just make it up! When challenged in the 1980 presidential debates about it, Ron lied about opposing Medicare and Social Security. Mr. Reagan's expertise in the intersection of medicine, insurance and government was further demonstrated when he was governor and closed all the state mental hospitals, promoting local treatment centers instead. As he knew, the state legislature never funded these and the thousands turned out created the now epidemic homeless problem that did not exist before his brilliant move.
"Authority is just a method of control; it has no inherent wisdom." -- Joe Strummer

Friday, February 11, 2011

Static in the Reception

Janus was the Roman god of gateways, beginnings and endings; time itself. Looking at this image, though, I see humankind with, on one side, a dark face contorted with inchoate emotion, passions and beliefs, lost in the irrational, and the other with a shining brow enjoying the positive outlook of cognition and the skills of a scientific mind.
Based on our cultural and chemical inheritances and environment, our perception, how we see ourselves and others in the context of the known world, varies are much as the species of living creatures.
"The difference between Europeans and Americans is that Europeans think
that 100 miles is a long distance, and Americans think 100 years is a long time."
This telling aphorism is from John Michael Green's The Long Descent, which opens with him standing on a hill overlooking Caernarfon in Wales; he sees the whole human history of that "corner of the world" spread out clearly before him:
First, the earthworks of a Celtic hill fort of 2500 years ago
On low hills to the left, the outline of a Roman fort
Edward I's great castle (meet the new boss)
Brick Victorian homes neatly lined up
RAF jets streaking across the sky
A gaudy sign and parking lot of the American-style supermarket...
Five empires in succession, the latest headed toward its fate just as the others were.
A human's life may just be too short and caught up in ODTAA (one damn thing after another) to develop the ancient sage's ability to see backward, forward and inward with clarity.
Rather, we are hobbled and blinkered to a very sorry extent; just as our physical vision is limited, our mental processing has psychological threshholds to be breached. Some we may become aware of, but even then we might not find a work-around. Denial is prevalent; we'd much rather avoid a migraine than admit the existence of and carefully consider a problem. We are immersed in the status quo and things are obvious, to most, only after the fact. Perception trumps reality; we are so full of ourselves to think that reality is what we say it is. Prisoners of our beliefs, we persist in folly: empires, one after another, going to their deaths in Central Asia; people reproducing mindlessly in Haiti, Bangladesh, Somalia and Utah in full denial of the obvious horrible consequences of overpopulation.
Perspective, in cognition (rather than in art) is the reference from which to sense, categorize, measure or codify experiences, to cohesively form a coherent truth. Data, patterns, system, conclusion: the old scientific method. Why do so many ignore it and it seems increasingly, why do so many vilify it? Are only a minority born with the ability to use, not be used by, their perception?
Machiavelli, with dark humor, said that there are three kinds of people: one who thinks for himself, one who is able to understand the thinking of others, and that one who can do neither.
People then were thought to be governed by four "humors," as codified by Hippocrates:
Choleric: the doers and dominators; ambitious
Melancholic: thoughtful and creative
Phlegmatic: content and stable
Sanguine: extroverted and social
Not a bad start to understanding what our qualities and limitations are; on the other hand you have the religious and supernatural explanations of what we are.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator posits 16 personality types, expressed in four-letter codes. After many questions are answered, the one that best describes you is clear. I've taken about three of these tests without being let in on the results, which is irrirating, but I've figured it out on my own. You must know thyself, after all, or just be a ball in someone else's game.
The most common personality types seem to be ISFJ (friendly, committed, loyal), ESFJ (cooperative, conscientious), and ISTJ (responsible, quiet, thorough, a "trustee").
What I want to find out is what makes up a denier and what makes up a seer.
Your type code is whether you are an E or an I; an N or an S; a T or an F; a J or a P(E=extraversion, I=introversion, N=intuition, S=sensing, T=thinking, F=feeling, J=judging, P=perceiving).
The very abbreviated descriptions here of the three most common personality types do not seem to explain why most people are conservative, traditional believers and beholden to the status quo. There are Myers-Briggs scholars and full-time practicioners who know the theory better than I ever will, but I think the F, S and J are conservative traits, and you can see they are all over the three dominant personality types. With the hopeful exception of the ISTJ, more thoughtful (vs. feeling) than the other two, we can see why most people can't get past the human limitations and psychological roadblocks to a rational perception of reality.
In Ideology and Utopia, Karl Mannheim explained how the conversative way of looking at things is inherently irrational. It's walking backwards toward the future with eyes fixed on a mythologized past, feelings and beliefs providing comfort as they reinforce each other.
We don't and we can't know everything; the information is always incomplete and the complexities are often unthinkable. If we can remove some shackles, though, why wouldn't we?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fur Farm Fun

Years ago, I didn't like the idea of having a pet too much, just because of the hair shedding, litterpan duty and care required while the peeps are on the road to somewhere. I was right, for those very practical reasons, but wrong. When we met, Nancy had an elegant female feline named Moonshadow, who changed that. She was a sealpoint Himalayan, sure of herself and proud of her breeding and looks. During my initial interview as a possible keeper (or not), Moonshadow changed everything by hopping up on my lap, settling in, and giving me some affectionate licks. What I didn't know until later was that Ms. Shadow was very good at sizing situations and people up, and if she hadn't cottoned to me that would have been that. I owed her, and tried to take good care of her for the rest of her years.
Of course, everyone's children and pets are above average, but, honestly, some really stand out in the crowd. And that's what ensnares you; the great ones have irresistible quirks, personalities, and antics that make you glad to see them everyday. Moonshadow would only go around the perimeter of a room, never crossing in the open. She would disappear for a day or two into places only she could find, like through an opening in the attic floor (you'd hear her above the living room ceiling). There is a canned food named "Variety Platter" which was her favorite -- and we still use that term for a buffet or spread of snacks.
Missing the animal presence after she died, Zach and Nancy came home with a little dwarf rabbit he named Fluffy, which had the same coloration Ms. Shadow did. Little did I know that years of multiple rabbit infestation in our home would follow. I learned not to feed them dandelions from the yard (I thought it was clever recycling); diarrhea was the unfortunate result. And eventually I realized that they were not as particular about litter as cats, and now use junk mail paper run through the shredder, which goes into the compost bin after B.B. Bunny, the last of the long line, has made his considerable contributions.
B.B., in his almost ten years of life, has never been to the vet since his, ah, gender was altered. We've never had rabbits or cats outdoors; it's easier and cheaper, but the worms, fleas, ticks and weather stress is too hard on them. It may cost more to do the right thing, but you can't throw away your responsibility.
She didn't live long enough (female rabbits regularly fall prey to cancer), but Floppy, an all-black mini-lop, was very intelligent and had a bad-girl attitude you couldn't resist. We took her on rides into town when we had the convertible, and I'd sit on a bench along the main street with her ("nice rabbit!"). In summer, we'd take her to a big hill which she loved to scamper up, resting on the top finally, quite proud of herself. When I spied grandchildren around, I'd take her over and the children really enjoyed it. She loved the attention and gave them kisses.
Floppy and I would watch The X-Files together every Sunday night. I swear she was paying close attention. When she was done with that, she'd lean over and give my right thigh a bite. Every pair of pants, shorts and pajamas from those years has multiple holes in the right leg.
We got back into the cat business when two stray kittens showed up out back, six years apart. Gilligan, the senior one, has the longest white whiskers I've ever seen; he's reserved, polite and very well-behaved.
Coal-black Blackberry, seven months old now, is another story. I've had to move all the plants to the top of the entertainment center, the only place he can't get to. Several have gone on to their ultimate reward, whatever that is, due to his uncurbed enthusiasm. The months before he was old enough to have the front claws removed were not pleasant for either Gilligan's nose or my arms and legs. I went through a lot of stain remover to get the blood out of clothes.
He's calming down, and last week came up with a new antic that is not destructive but, rather, charming. At bedtime he curls up on the top of my head and starts the purr machine. His higher body temperature, silky fur and cat music are very soothing. He earns his keep just for that.
I have the time now to keep up with the vacuuming and litter pan maintenance, so the four of us spend the day together, falling into a comfortable routine. When a new bag or box shows up, it's exciting and must always be investigated and sniffed (no, not by me; haven't gone that crazy yet). I have no idea how they know exactly when 4:30, dinnertime, is; but they do have everything figured out.
Past, future and present are all the same for them; they enjoy whatever comes their way; they know that watching birds and jumping to catch bugs is real good fun. B.B. never tires of the same fare every day -- having consumed about 3600 carrots in his lifetime, he always looks forward to today's. As Zach perceptively observed about little Fluffy, "You gotta be your own bunny."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It Was a Mad World

It had to happen. Just as many other popular-culture icons have been examined academically, a book about a television series already in cult status, Mad Men and Philosophy, has just come out. The essays are "written by Mad Men fans for Mad Men fans who can't help but think about the characters, events and issues long after they turn off the television." Like Star Trek and Twin Peaks, I think the AMC series will have a loyal following for some time to come.
You can't take a snack break while this dense program is on; you'll miss one or more subtle plot points. As with a carefully crafted Hitchcock story, you will discover new clues when you re-watch episodes that explain events (and give you a delicious "aha!" moment) much further on.
The essays include "Problems of Knowledge and Freedom" (point: we're blinkered by our time and place), and "What Fools We Were: Hindsight." These explore those shocking examples of racism, sexism and homophobia that hit the contemporary viewer right between the eyes. And what is the source of the all-ecompassing oral fixation which drove our early '60s society to nonstop smoking and drinking?
I see the skinny ties and pencil skirts relecting the repression and smothering conformity of the era -- and I remember it well from everyday life back then. A principle of totalitarianism that I heard later explained what it felt like: That which is not specifically permitted is prohibited. The Madison Avenue masters of the universe were at the other end of the telescope from us, of course: an adults-only swingin' WASP world that wasn't going to be so splendidly self-contained for very much longer. Those kids that weren't on their radar would find their voice, and they liked Volkswagens, not Oldsmobiles, thank you very much.
They were also watching Route 66 from 1960 to 1964, not Uncle Miltie. Buz and Tod, knocked off the path to the American Dream, were expanding their known world through authentic experience, and they were, as un-American as it seemed to the elite, socially conscious.
" 'The Ethics of Advertising' -- a contradiction in terms!"