Rapt attention

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Careful with That Axe, Eugene

free will

Walter Ruttmann - Lichtspiel


Can you trust a company, or for that matter a President, to be good and not evil because they tell you that they are or are not? A very good question. Could the company Google affect election results if they wanted and had the desire to do so, maybe in a subtle way that could never be detected? Absolutely. Consider the following matter:

Robert Epstein is a psychologist, the former editor in chief at Psychology Today magazine. He got in  a public kerfuffle with Google last year over page rankings and a malicious blog message. You can read the whole story here in the Washington Post but I will try to give it to you in a nutshell.

Epstein decides to create an experiment. He creates a fake search engine called Kadoodle and conducts a series of tests. Participants are shown search entries for a 2010 election in Australia and asked to rank candidates. Roughly 65% of the group favored candidates based on their internet search rankings. Epstein is presenting his research  at the 25th annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, Washington, D.C., May 2013. It it titled Democracy at Risk: Manipulating Search Rankings Can Shift Voting Preferences Substantially Without Voter Awareness. The following is the abstract from the study:
In a controlled experiment, web pages and search engine results from an actual election were presented to three groups of eligible voters. In two of the groups, rankings favored one candidate or the other. Preferences shifted dramatically toward favored candidates,with 75% of subjects showing no awareness of the manipulation. In a second experiment, voter preferences again shifted in the predicted direction,and the proportion of people who were unaware of the manipulation was increased by slightly altering the rankings to mask the favoritism. In a third experiment, a more aggressive mask was used to hide the manipulation, and no subjects appeared to be aware of it, even though voter preferences still shifted in the predicted directions. We conclude (1) that the outcomes of real elections—especially tight races—could conceivably be determined by the strategic manipulation of search engine rankings and (2) that the manipulation could be accomplished without people being aware of it.
Google is denying that they would ever engage in such actions and I have no reason to doubt them. But search rankings are being manipulated and are extremely important to people. Could Google be victimized or manipulated externally?
“Elections are won among low-information voters,” said Eli Pariser, former president of ­MoveOn.org and the author of “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You.” “The ability to raise a negative story about a candidate to a voter . . . could be quite powerful.”
Could Google's search results be manipulated from within, if it was in their economic interest and they had an inclination to do so? I finished the Dan Ariely book yesterday and found the chapter on cheating informative. People do cheat but they tend to cheat only a little bit, because the superego likes to reinforce broader social dictates. Perhaps future leaders of Google will have a slightly different moral composition than today's executives and take a different tack? Can you appreciate the ways that a person or entity could be harmed if they managed to run afoul of Google and let's say for the sake of argument, put on an internal enemies list?  One can only wonder what kind of controls are in place to avert this sort of behavior which can have dramatic impacts on many facets of our lives, not just elections. I am sure that a Google "push" for a consumer item could have a dramatic effect on a marketplace.
"The key lesson may be that search engines are not mere machines spitting out perfectly impartial results. They are driven by decisions, made by people who have biases. This does not necessarily make them evil — merely human.
“The more trust we give to these kinds of tools, the more likely we can be manipulated down the road,” said Panagiotis T. Metaxas, one of the computer science professors at Wellesley College who studied the Massachusetts election. “We need to understand, as people, as citizens, why we believe what we believe.”"
I am taking an online course in behavioral economics. It is interesting but much more work than I had anticipated. I watched a lecture today by Duke researcher Gavan Fitzsimons on psychologic resistance. He says that our ability to defend ourselves against subconscious influence is really quite limited. We humans are not very inclined to make rational decisions, no matter our best intentions.

Of course there are other search engines and other news media outlets that provide information. Although Google is by far the search engine of choice, perhaps we exaggerate their power and dominance. But even still it is easy to see how even a little search rank tweaking could affect not only elections but people's perceptions in general.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Crucifix, San Miguel Mission

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

dash rip rock

Monsanto Protection Act

Judas - Lourdes
Environmentalists and other people concerned not only about our food supply but the pernicious influence of big money in government are up in arms about Obama signing a new bill. This bill comes with a get out of jail free clause inserted for the Monsanto Corporation to protect their genetically modified Frankenseeds.

Section 735 of H.R 933 gives Monsanto this handy out clause, protecting the corporate agri-giant from law suits relating to its mutant seed stock. The sweetheart gift was a last minute addition slipped into the  Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act and normally sober Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski felt like her back was against the wall and evidently flipped. This bill is an unprecedented and blatant insertion of raw corporate power into federal governance.
Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.
The provision was never reviewed by either the Agricultural or Judiciary committees. Many members of congress never knew that the language had been added to the bill, the quarter million signatures from citizens petition demanding that the bill be rescinded falling on the president's deaf ears.


The "Monsanto Protection Act" effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified (aka GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future. The courts are not allowed to intervene in the review process, basically giving Monsanto carte blanche and a free pass.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a long time working asset of Monsanto, apparently received the authored provision from the company, one of his largest contributors. It is estimated that he received nearly $350,000 from Monsanto and their industry cohorts, many of the donations apparently designed to appear at arms length. Blunt has consistently made lists for the most corrupt members of congress, ranking in 2006 and getting the coveted "most corrupt" status in 2010. He is also the largest congressional recipient of Monsanto's largesse, the man picked to do the deed.
  • Blunt’s campaign received $110,950   from the Crawford Group, a law firm that deals with issues involving Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa.
  • Blunt’s campaign received $75,150 from Emerson Electric Company, which acquired Fisher Controls from Monsanto in 1992.
  • Blunt’s campaign received $42,758 from Bryan Cave LLC, a law firm which represented Monsanto in its $290 million purchase of Aly Participacoes. Reuben Shelton, senior counsel at Monsanto, serves as president of the Board of Directors of Legal Services for the company, and his daughter, Christian Shelton, is an attorney at the firm.
  • The #1 PAC donation in the most recent election was from “agribusiness” – $51,250 
  • Blunt’s wife, Abigail Perlman, is the in-house lobbyist for Kraft Foods, who donated heavily to battle against mandatory labeling of GMOs. Before this, when the good Baptist Blunt divorced his wife of 30+ years to marry Perlman, she lobbied for Altria/Phillip Morris, where Blunt’s son Andy was also a lobbyist. An article on The Daily Kos pointed out that, “at the time Roy Blunt, the bastion of Missouri values, was helping his lobbyist girlfriend, he was still married to another woman.”
  • Blunt’s son, Matt, was the governor of Missouri from 2005-2009. According to an article on The Nation, “ Matt Blunt was such a champion of Monsanto’s GM products that its CEO presented him with the annual leadership award of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Monsanto-backed group.”

Monsanto has issued a statement and an accompanying PDF. The statement frames them as just one of many concerned farm businesses rather than the major perpetrator. They are just trying to avert litigation and promote "sound science."

Thanks Barack. You did it again. Glad that you are watching out for us.

Gastric Popocatépetl

It's not always easy eating for you people. I hope that you appreciate my intestinal sacrifices if not fortitude.

I was particularly gluttonous yesterday and without getting unduly scatological my stomach ultimately decided to stage a minor rebellion.

I suppose my digestive travails started at lunch. I had a pretty busy morning and finding myself in Bonsall, decided to look for a place where I could both find nourishment and read my newspaper in peace.

I settled on Tekila, the new mexican fusion restaurant, nearly had the place to myself as I was there early. Perfect.

The salsa at Tekila Fusion is damn good as are the flour chips they mix in with the corn and I downed the whole bowl of each.

Lunch was a shredded beef enchilada, rice and beans. Although the shredded beef was great, I prefer it a bit drier and crispier and Manny said that he would put it on the grill for me next time. But it was a really nice, albeit spicy meal.

I have friends from the business in from the Bay Area and made arrangements to hook up with them at the beachfront resort in the afternoon. Another couple from Oakland and their child joined us and we decided to all go out for good "mexican" again. I had told them about La Especial Norte and the chicken soup previously and they were game to try it.

The dealer's wife was pretty funny. She said that the trick for her was figuring out who in my profession was truly broken and and damaged and who was potentially repairable or something like that.

We got to La Especial and after a brief wait were seated. They ordered pozole and mole, tortilla soup, this and that, the whole nine yards. I thought that I should put on a show for the kids and ordered the molcajete. Because the dish is so loud and over the top. While my molcajete at Tekila a few weeks ago was served in a decorative plastic mortero, this baby was served in a giant stone molcajete and arrived sizzling, basically boiling like a simmering volcano. And continued to boil for a good three minutes, at minimum. You could hear the thing approaching from ten yards away. The folks at Tekila said that the health department wouldn't let them cook in stone, La Especial doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

Beef and nopale cactus leaves, whole chile peppers and jack cheese, percolating in a potent mexican witches brew of very high heat. It was an amazing dish but not anything I need to repeat for a while. I do believe I lost stomach lining yesterday. This stuff would certainly take the chrome off the bumper. Wonder what it did to my insides?

I think that my fellow diners enjoyed the meal. I was consumed with my own meal, the entree is huge, couldn't deal with anything else. A wasn't very impressed with the tortilla soup. Chips were stale, lifeless and boring. One of our compatriots is Colombian, he liked the mole but he might have just been making nice. I have had the mole at La Especial and it is a bit overpowering, I prefer it with a slightly lighter touch. The reports were that the pozole was excellent. The flan was frankly terrible, pale, it fell apart, very little creaminess.

It was an okay meal, very decent, pretty inexpensive as well. Company was great. My go to stop when I am sick, the chicken soup is truly wonderful. This morning I didn't feel so good, will spare you.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fairest Lord Jesus

Wishing all of my christian friends and readers the best of Easters.

Ode to a dash

"Small floater, you stay above the fray
a wink at nothing's nod, a raised brow
watching p's and q's, a selfless mote
between I and m, a little horn of plenty
spilling plurals, disdaining the bottom line."

 "Apostrophe to the Apostrophe" by Eric Nelson 

Ken alerted me to something at coffee this morning that I think bears mentioning. Mid Devon, a town in England, has dropped its proposed apostrophe ban. It appears that the little punctuation mark was interfering with the GPS lexicon.

This is most certainly good news to one John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society. It is comforting to know that as we work and sleep and go about our daily business, there are societies like this that work tirelessly to protect us from the general dumbing down.

I must admit that I have been an occasional apostrophe offender in the past. One Jane Milner Mares corrected my use of it's as a possessive several years ago and the pain of the remonstration still faintly lingers. Ditto the use to denote a plural.

The dullards in Birmingham, Britain's second largest city, started the anti apostrophe wave almost sixty years ago, a wave that reached a fever pitch in the last five years until it was finally squelched by the language's defenders.
Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.
"I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do."
Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.
"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."
But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language.
"They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in the English language," said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. "It's always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them."
In her best-selling book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," Lynne Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh Grant-Sandra Bullock comedy "Two Weeks Notice," insisting it should be "Two Weeks' Notice.""Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the apostrophe are missing the point, and the pun is very much intended," she wrote.
Here's a refresher from the society page:

And I have to leave with one of my favorite old sonnets, the bard's ode to bowlegged men; Forsooth, what manner of men are these? Whose bollucks hang 'tween parentheses.

Breaking the ice

A full concert from one of my blues favorites, Albert Collins. I have never seen the footage before, it's roughly an hour long so you may not want to get sucked in, just let it play in the background so the boss doesn't get pissed off. The little yellow dots are commercials that youtube is now insidiously sticking in so you will have to forward past them.

Tracklisting: 01 Listen Here 02 If Trouble Was Money 03 Skatin' 04 The Highway Is Like A Woman 05 Brick 06 The Things I Used To Do 07 I Got That Feeling 08 Frosty

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Test

I am currently enrolled in Dan Ariely's online course on Behavioral Irrationality. This is from Duke University, through Coursera. Check it out. It brought me to this link. Today I learned about the concept of choice architecture, how a particular environment influences the choices we make and also delved into the concept of defaults and the illusion of free agency.

Blind Faith

Visionary Vine

Last week I was tooling around my wife's Facebook page when I saw this TED talk with Graham Hancock. While Leslie liked the talk, I happened to abhor it.

One of the most difficult things that a person can do in our culture today is to discuss psychedelics and altered states of consciousness. Seventy plus years after Albert Hoffman's fateful bicycle ride, those pyschonauts who have chosen to explore these realms are branded as foaming at the mouth heathens heading for a straitjacket at the insane asylum. Ready for my jacket, Mr. Demille.

I should be clear at the outset that I have taken the plunge a time or two in my trip around the sun. It has been many years but you never really forget how to ride Albert's bike. Be that as it may, it has been a very long time.

Graham Hancock has had his talk expunged from the TED channel as has had one of my favorites, Rupert Sheldrake. Something about peer review and unsubstantiation. I wonder if this whole talk of altered consciousness is still too much of a hot potato for some people. Society as a whole accepts one type of altered consciousness and that's drunk. The other stuff is still taboo.

In any case I have problems with Hancock myself. He goes down to Peru, takes ayahuasca and now wants to teach us all the secret of life. He starts out by saying that the cave paintings are pretty much messages from people in altered states of consciousness. Well great, how do you know that? I remember reading 5000 year old cuneiform messages at the museum in Jerusalem that sent Moishe out for a carton of milk and a dozen bialys.

Hancock cured a long standing pot habit sampling the psychedelic brew. Wonderful. But he thinks that the substances should never be used recreationally, better leave them for the experts and more serious devotees. Serious people working for humanity. He believes that the Ayahuasca rangers are here to save the world. Hallelujah!

There was an encapsulation of this kind of conflict in the 1960's when the Californian Merry Pranksters went to Millbrook in New York, rich boy Billy Hitchcock's palatial psychedelic estate. The learned Richard Alpert, Leary, Art Kleps types wanted to intellectualize the sacrament, Kesey and co. just wanted to have fun. I believe that fun won out, at least in that early round. Foolish to leave these sort of things in the hands of the academics.

Hancock sounds like McKenna. Do a bunch of DMT or yahe and make contact with the strange nonhuman entity, who will tell mankind how bad he has been fucking up. Thank you Don Juan. I have heard this song before and pardon me for thinking that he has been caught in some kind of cerebral trap. Not thinking clearly, could certainly lighten up. Not the kind of guy I ever wanted to trip with.

Things get psychedelic when they get psychedelic but people can not function with those circuits permanently in the on position. Sky isn't falling, no need to be so doomsday prophetic and shrill.


The FBI wants to listen to all of your communications.
The FBI’s "top priority" in 2013 is to modernize surveillance law so authorities can monitor in real time the Web activities of Americans suspected of committing crimes, the FBI’s general counsel said.
At a luncheon for the American Bar Association in Washington last week, Andrew Weissman said that a 1994 federal law designed to help law enforcement conduct lawful surveillance was not keeping up with modern forms of communication.
The law, known as the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, applies to telecommunications companies, but does not fully apply to Web-based companies. Weissman said this distinction has prevented law enforcement from conducting surveillance on Web-based services such as Google’s Gmail service, Google Voice or the file-sharing service DropBox. He referred to law enforcement’s inability to monitor such communications as "going dark" and said it was preventing the FBI from fighting crime.
"We're making the ability to intercept communications with a court order increasingly obsolete," he said. "Those communications are being used for criminal conversations."
He added: “This huge legal apparatus…to prevent crimes, prevent terrorist acts is becoming increasingly hampered and increasingly marginalized the more we have technology that is not covered by CALEA, because we don’t have the ability to just go to the court and say 'You know what, they just have to do it.'"
Weissman said it was the FBI’s “top priority this year” to create a proposal that modernizes the law to allow law enforcement to obtain such data with a court order. 
Heaven forbid that the government doesn't have a way of snooping on our private conversations. At what point in time did we cede them this power? Crime is apparently so bad that Americans have decided to give up their privacy and civil liberties?

From Huffpo - 3/21/13
NEW YORK -- The CIA's chief technology officer outlined the agency's endless appetite for data in a far-ranging speech on Wednesday.
Speaking before a crowd of tech geeks at GigaOM's Structure:Data conference in New York City, CTO Ira "Gus" Hunt said that the world is increasingly awash in information from text messages, tweets, and videos -- and that the agency wants all of it.
"The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time," Hunt said. "Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever."

Feds accused of hiding Stingray surveillance from judges.
A Justice Department document obtained by the ACLU suggests that federal agents in California were using a so-called “Stingray” cellphone surveillance device without “explicit” approval. Stingray is the generic term used to describe a portable spy gadget that has been covertly used by the authorities for almost two decades to trick phones within a targeted area into hopping onto a fake network. The FBI says it uses them to help track the movements of suspects, not to intercept communications. However, by design the devices collaterally gather data on all people in a specific location—not just the suspects. That’s why rights groups claim Stingrays could be used to violate the privacy of “thousands of people.”

The Johnny Otis Show - The Watts Breakaway

Seems like a mighty long time

From the third duet album of The Supremes & The Four Tops entitled "Dynamite" from 1971. 


Yesterday was one of those whirlwind days. Ken invited me to accompany him to the War photography exhibition at the Annenberg in Century City and then on to the monthly dinner and meeting of his photography group, Clickers and Flickers in Burbank.

I raced over to get a haircut in the morning so that I could meet the big city looking somewhat tapered. We drove up in my car, since Ken has had recent rotator cuff surgery. Ken was checking the traffic on his ipad and the ex pilot expertly navigated us to the 105 North. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign for Watts Towers and quickly pulled off the highway. I had never been to Simon Rodia's masterpiece and neither had Ken.

I actually really enjoyed driving around the visually rich neighborhood of Watts. We stopped and took a few pictures of the towers, which were locked yesterday. Looked at all the plaques of famous Watts residents and their contributions to our culture.

We got back on the road and headed for our next destination, lunch. Road soldiers must have sustenance. I suggested Nate and Al's, probably my favorite Los Angeles deli.

Ken and his wife enjoy seeing celebrities and Nate and Al's usually has its share of them, not to mention excellent whitefish. We wended our way through the heavy lunch traffic and found a parking spot.

The older black woman at the menu station grabbed the two oversized maroon folders and escorted us back to our table. I glanced around and did a double take. "I can't sit here Ken. Look." He looked at the occupants of the next table and quickly understood. After a brief conversation with the server we were located at a table on the other side of the restaurant. She looked at me in the eye and said, "I understand completely."

You see as fate would have it, we were initially positioned right next to the man who has successfully swindled my father out of our family fortune, a sum of close to twelve million dollars. I would have been eating at a table right next to him, our elbows nearly touching.

I have often dreamed of the darkest fate ever imaginable visiting this man. I had a brief and temporary vision of seeing my salad fork sproin-n-g in a reverberating motion as it penetrated his chest and plunged into his corroded heart muscle.

"Do you want to go to another restaurant?" Ken asked. "No, this is fine." The universe, with its great and twisted sense of humor, had for some strange reason posited me right next to the man I hated the most of all creatures in this world, the man who put my family in the poor house and caused my father so much agony.  

Ken had a corned beef, I had the corned beef and tongue fresser with russian dressing. I don't know if it was the presence of the villain but the lunch wasn't really up to snuff. Rye bread didn't taste as good as usual, maybe I was no longer in the mood to eat. Actually felt a little sick to my stomach.

When I got up to pay, the man followed me, stood right next to me, not recognizing me or realizing that I hated him more than I have ever hated anyone in my whole life for what he did to my family. Was tempted to say something to him but did not. I held my tongue, he left, a pathetic creature none the wiser.

The photography exhibit is titled War/Photography - Images of Armed Conflict and its aftermath. It is free, opened at the Annenberg Space for Photography on March 23 and runs through June 2, 2013. Over 170 print images of conflict from 1887 to present, it features all of the war images from your vietnam and World War II data bank, the napalm girl, the vietnam pistol execution, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima.

There is a war photography documentary that was made for the exhibit that was most disturbing. Coupled with my tsuris from the recent murder I found that I had to leave the building once or twice for air. Too much death. Death everywhere.The exhibition is so powerful and gruesome, yet also worth seeing. Especially the film.

The most intense picture for me was the wedding picture of a girl with a marine who had been burned and now no longer had features that approximated human form as we know it. The pain in her scared eyes was so tangible, her future now cast in stone.


We drove to Burbank. Ken's shoulder was hurting so we stopped to buy some tylenol. I saw Western Bagels and decided to buy a half dozen to take home. We drove up the steep hill to the Castaways. In the interest of science and fully exploring the depth of my alcohol allergy I decided to test it with vodka and grapefruit, with decent results. Watched as the Bulls took down the Heat, breaking their streak.

Saw some slide presentations, the guest speaker was Laurent Martes, "Capturing the essence of the Southwest Landscape." Martes was a personable frenchman who has written and published a passel of books on the photography of the southwest, Oregon and California. Learned a few new techniques.

We had some very interesting folks at our table including a doctor who sculpts prosthetic faces for people, a lighting designer and a police photographer. Lots of film and industry people there as well. Got home a bit before one in the morning, totally exhausted.

Distaff Trembles

Did anybody see this one from the Los Angeles Times? Study says that almost half of American women fear becoming bag ladies.
...almost half of American women fear becoming bag ladies, even many of those earning six-figure salaries, according to a new survey.
Six in 10 women describe themselves as the primary breadwinners in their households, and 54% manage the family finances, according to the poll by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.
Even so, 49% fear becoming a bag lady -- a homeless woman who wanders the streets of a city lugging her meager belongings in a shopping bag.
Most surprising, 27% of women earning more than $200,000 a year said they fear falling into such destitution.
An interesting study but it leaves a few things out. Like men. Why not ask about our level of fear about the future? While we have zero potential for becoming bag ladies, maybe we are just as worried about ending up on a busy intersection offering to clean people's windshields for a quarter.

How do we know there is any less trepidation among males? Would love to see the contrast. I got news for you, we are all scared. I sent the article to a few women I know and got this note back from Carrie; And here I thought you were talking about the bags under my eyes.

Most humans are freaked at the possibility of being knocked off their perch. Probably always have been. We have all seen how quickly it can happen. You get the money thing solved and something else rises up and bites you on the ass. Little certainty in this life of ours. The ones that think they can seal themselves off get their own comeuppance.

I talked about the study and women's fear with the accent mark at lunch. I have to consider that women might have a much higher fear index than men. She says that it might be because women have only lived independent lives for a relatively short time on the planet, heretofore being totally dependent on the y gender. So it could be residual old school conditioning facing the new paradigm shift.

Speaking of women, I have noticed something recently. I have asked three women their age in the last couple weeks as an experiment. I believe that these women were all roughly my age but not one would spill the beans. "Well around..."one says to me. "None of my business," says another. I asked three men their age and got my answer answered instantly and I believe truthfully with no hesitation.

While I admit that my query is limited in nature let us assume it to be true. I would assume that there are perfectly good explanations for the gender split on fessing or not fessing up to our age. Women are judged in our society by their looks in ways that men are not. Age might be an indices of sexual vitality and perhaps theirs is a fear that entering the dreaded "crone" phase chronologically would make them somehow disposable. A woman's worth has long been measured by her utility to men. Odd the double standard. Probably an atavistic response rooted in our most ancient genetics.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Quick descent.

I could almost feel the black cloud before I ever laid eyes on the man himself. He had some old ship paintings, probably from England, could I drive by and take a look? Evidently a neighbor had already bought a couple things.

I looked the man over once, couldn't help but smell the strong odor of booze at the rather early afternoon hour.

I tried to do an assessment of what he might have, perform the appropriate antique triage before I drove on out to the old place. I get calls every day like this, earlier this afternoon it was ceramic giraffes and that market is unfortunately on a sad decline. We all need to economize our steps these days. But you never know...

He pulled out a beautiful locket, an 18th century portrait of a Scottish navy man, an ancestral fore bearer.  A swath of hair lay in back of the heirloom. Couldn't bear the thought of prying such an item from a man, no matter how desperate.

We have to move quick, he said. I arched an eyebrow. The cops are coming. I asked for an explanation.

It's a long story. The family comes from South America. I married the wrong woman, an eastern european. Now she's gone. I had to drive back from the eastern seaboard because the game is almost up. I am losing the house to foreclosure and they are going to lock me out. Can you come today?

I made a dreadful and insensitive remark about it always seeming darkest before the shit really hits the fan.  I quickly got a sense that he was in no mood. He needed to duck out and try to get some food stamps. This guy was really on the skids.

Twenty minutes later I found his driveway, a nice part of town but a home quite gone to seed, the unkempt weeds threatening to capture and hide any semblance of civilization. I rang and rang and got no answer at the gate. Finally I called him on the phone number he gave me, almost expecting it to be suddenly disconnected.

Push the gate open. But don't let the dog out. He's old. I wound my way up the driveway, noticing the beautiful granite beds to the east, a perfect place for morteros. He met me at the car. Oh ya, there's plenty of them, walk right over.

I decided to inspect the contents of the house first. The wife was definitely gone, the place had the feel of a restless, single man. One who was in serious trouble.

The paintings of ships turned out to be near worthless colored etchings of ships, some auction company had picked most of the other bones clean. A few interesting books, nothing outstanding. His hand sifted through a pile of old foreign coins on the table, nothing looked promising.The Russian wife had left quite a few icons but nothing of any age or real merit.

I noticed some pretty posters on the wall, from the forties. That's my mother. I told him that she was very beautiful and she was. Started to make a crack about the child of such a woman surely needing therapy but thought better of it.

If you don't mind me asking, what exactly is your vocation sir, I asked?

I'd rather not answer. Let me just say international trade. I shut up and stopped the line of inquiry. Immediately thought of spycraft but quickly quelled the thought, what agency would ever consider employing a man that would allow himself to become this broken?

I noticed the big book from alcoholics anonymous on the shelf, right past the large budweiser bottle in my line of sight. Guess this one couldn't take the cure.

I didn't really know what to say. Promised to look up a few things. The reality is that he is already over the falls and beyond my help in saving. Don't think I can help this one.

I casually offered that as bad as it all seemed it would probably look great someday in his book.

He looked at me darkly.

I'm not writing a book.


I posted a Tommy Bolin clip a while back and got a response from Kerry about Bolin's band Zephyr. I don't know much about Bolin except that he was a wild partier and a scorching guitar player. Finnigan knew Bolin.

I was listening to Deep Tracks this morning when a nice Zephyr track came up. Pretty female vocalist who like Tommy came to a tragic end. Both were founding members of the pioneer Colorado band, The Legendary 4Nikators. One of the later Zephyr bass players, Otis Taylor, is friends with  friends, have met him a few times.

Kerry sent this over today:

Back in 1969 I was going to visit my parents in Pacific Northwest. I was pretty much living on the streets in Laguna Beach. I remember the night before I was to drive to Oregon I was at a party in LA and it rained all night. I had a classic 1948 Chevy panel truck, which I was living in at the time. I crashed right in front of the house where the party was at. But I spent the night tripping on acid so I didn't get much sleep. I got up at dawn with only a couple hours of sleep I started my journey to Oregon. In contrast to the night before it was a nice clear day. It had rained so much the night before that the Kern River was overflowing and they were talking about closing the bridge over it, but I made it through.
I drove all day through the Central Valley.

As evening came I approached the Bay Area. I Somehow knew of a concert that Love and Zephyr were having at the Avalon Ballroom that night. I was by myself and a little bit scared of going into the City alone. But I decided to go for it and jumped on the Bay Bridge. Love was always one of my favorite groups, I had grown up listening to them and I had met Arthur Lee in LA. When I got close to the Avalon Ballroom I remembered that there was virtually no parking in all of downtown San Francisco and it was going to be hard to find a place to park my truck, let alone, find a safe place to park. But as I neared the Avalon I saw a empty parking place only a block away!

The next thing I knew I was inside the Avalon Ballroom. It was pretty much the same place it had been a few years earlier but with a little less energy. Somehow you could feel it. The Haight Ashbury days were winding down. From the outside it looked like any office building in the Van Ness St. business area, but as you walked up the stairs you entered the most classic place in the whole world to see a concert. It was the most psychedelic of all the concert halls. It was small, but not too small and it had retained its ballroom look from years past with big chandeliers and velveteen curtains. No bad seats in this place, in fact the only seats in it were a few upstair balcony seats, if you were lucky enough to find one.

I cannot remember much about the concert. I do remember Zephyr and Candy Givens, a powerful singer who was pegged to be the next Janis Joplin, and the great guitarist Tommy Bolin. I somehow thought it was a summer night (ed. It was March) because it was a real warm night in San Francisco and I vaguely remember Love, who were in a latter phase of the band, probably not one of the best concerts I saw of them. Cannot even remember the other group Mad River (although the next day I drove across the Mad River near Eureka, on my way to Oregon)

When the concert was over it was about two in morning. I hung out in the front of Avalon with a large group of stoned hippies that were like me wishing that the concert would never end. The fog was gently rolling in and it was a magical way to end the night.  At the top of the steps was singer songwriter Dino Valente who looked so cool in his leather gambler's hat and turquoise jewelry. He was sermonizing to any stray female to continue the party. I think that I all of a sudden panicked that my truck wouldn't be there and where was I going to sleep tonight?

I got back to my good ole panel truck found my way through the city and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I ended up pulling in to Jack London State Park in Napa around four in morning. I slept for about two hours and got up early to avoid paying for a campsite... Abbie Hoffman would of been proud of me! Where did I get all that energy? I was young, dumb, stoned, and happy as a lark....on the road. 

Tarkio Road

Jerry G. played on this album, not sure about this track.

Paul Carrack

Adam and Ernie

I think that gay marriages are something that should be between a man and a woman. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

In the beginning was the word, or so we are told in Genesis. While it is not my intention to wander into realms of theological "pilpul" for the purposes of this discussion, the effect of language on homo sapiens should not be overestimated. I always like to recommend the written works of the late Dr. Leonard Shlain, in this case The Alphabet and the Goddess where he explores the concept with considerable depth and scholarship.
200,000 - 90,000 years ago
    Language develops.
    Homo Sapiens differentiate away from hominids.
    Language requires complete rewiring of human brains.
    Over 90% of language modules placed in the left hemisphere of right handed    humans who comprise 92% of the population.
    Split Brain phenomenon becomes highly exaggerated only in humans.
    Most hunting and killing strategies placed in left hemisphere.
    Most nurturing and gathering strategies placed in the right side.

5,000 - 3,000 years ago
    Writing invented.

    Left hemispheric modes of perception, the hunting/killing side, reinforced.

    Literacy depends on linear, sequential, abstract and reductionist ways of thinking - the same as hunting and killing.

    Early forms of cuneiform and hieroglyphics difficult to master.

    Less than 2% literate.

    Scribes become priests and new religions emerge in which the god begins to supersede the goddess.
Today the Supreme Court, as arbiter of the land, is grappling with the difficult question of gay marriage. I guess that I should say difficult for some, I don't have personal problems with it. But many do and the argument is a distillation of some other cultural divisions that have us at loggerheads, not only in this country but internationally in places like France or in Africa where homosexual behavior can be punishable by death in places like Uganda.

So in order to talk about gay marriage, we must first talk about marriage itself. It certainly has different meanings for different people. To the biblically inclined it means a consecration of a coupling by the divine power, let's call he or she god for the sake of this discussion.

Here is Merriam Webster's take on the marriage matter;  

a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
b : the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock
c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage 

While the national differences on gay marriage are certainly thought provoking, I think that the rifts and thinking regarding our thoughts on hetero marriage is equally interesting.

Last week a representative of the Family Research Council said that the adoption of children by Chief Justice Roberts was the second best way to have children. Because marriage is now framed as principally a tool for species propagation, an easy way to keep same sex couples out of the equation, non child bearing couples like my wife and I as well as couples that adopt are now given second class status.

The argument was reduced even more absurdly today in the supreme court oral arguments.
Justice Elena Kagan drew laughter in the courtroom when she pressed attorney Charles Cooper to explain why the government should deny marriage to same-sex couples. Cooper, who represents the sponsor of Prop. 8, said marriage was about “responsible procreation.”
That cannot be the only reason for marriage, Kagan said. What about two 55-years old—a man and a woman—who decide to marry?
Cooper pressed ahead, arguing that the man could still be fertile.
Kagan countered that it was not likely that couple would produce many children.
“Lots of people who get married can’t have children,” added Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
I think that what this ludicrous reasoning points out is the weakness of the argument and the need to keep religion out of government. Do we really want a system that places a hierarchal value on the validity of an older person's marriage versus a younger couple's? Or the nonfertile?

I support same sex marriage for several reasons. Number one, the children I know of gay couples are as well balanced if not more so than their straight parent counterparts. They shouldn't grow up with the stigma of being second class citizens. Two, the rights of survivorship are horrible for civil unions. Gay couples are denied the right to file a joint tax return, something that costs them money.
Another major tax issue at stake in the DOMA case is the estate tax. Currently, surviving spouses in federally-recognized marriages don't have to pay taxes on their deceased spouse's estate, while same-sex widows pay a 35 percent estate tax on anything in excess of a $5 million exemption.
The case challenging DOMA was filed by New Yorker Edith Windsor, who sued to get back the $363,000 in estate taxes she paid when her partner of more than 40 years died.
This is just plain awful to me. Totally unfair. Somebody at coffee said we should leave it to the states. Well. We tried that with slavery and it didn't work. Without federalism, not to mention the Civil War, we might still have slavery in this country.

If you are of a religious mind that says that marriage is a consecration by god that is best left to the church and synagogue, I appreciate your argument. I would say that if we go down that road we need to redefine our legal and tax code and make all permanent coupling a legal matter and a civil union. De-classify marriage and let that be the provinces of religious institutions but do not let it carry any legal weight whatsoever.

Genesis © Robert Crumb

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dogwhistle, anybody?

National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre said Sunday that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) is trying to “buy America” by spending millions of his personal fortune to urge key senators to vote for gun control.
“He can’t spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public,” LaPierre said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They don’t want him in their restaurants, they don’t want him in their homes, they don’t want him telling what food to eat. They sure don’t want him telling what self-defense firearms to own. He can’t buy America.”

Gee, a guy named Bloomberg - trying to "buy" america. What popular myth about "you-know-who" and their control of the media and monetary system do you suppose La Pierre is trying to reinforce?

Pissed Off 2 A.M.


Phil Dyke Smudging - San Bernardino Museum 
Leslie and I woke up and fresh from a matzoh brie breakfast, left for Pasadena yesterday. We headed for Descanso Gardens near La Cañada for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

The line to get in was a half mile long and we quickly made a gyroscopic change of plans, a few lefts and a right dropping us off at La Cabanita in Montose where we had lunch, my favorite Mexican restaurant in the world. We mentioned to the people who were sitting next to us at the bar that we drove from San Diego county and they apparently have friends that drive from Arizona.

I started with a special taco picadillo, the fat corn tortilla hand made, the rich barbacoa filling mixed with walnuts and raisins. Leslie had a single chuleta con pasilla, I countered with a chicken sope. We washed it down with their coffee, which is my favorite anywhere, maybe it is the delicious sweet roll?

Afterwards we drove to the Pasadena Museum of California Art to hear curator Gordon McLelland's lecture on the current California scene painting show. The Phil Dike painting above, of his ancestral victorian home that sat in a Redlands orange grove, hit me the hardest. I smudged groves myself until about 20 years ago. A large, beautiful canvas. The picture is from the S.B. museum and not well taken so you will have to excuse me. Reminded me of a John Sloan.

There is a great Phil Paradise painting of Los Angeles Night Court that evoked Bellows. Gordon says that the California scene painters were concurrent if not earlier than their ash can and regionalist counterparts. Many worked for Disney and the studios. These were simply the best painters around. They had a fascination with movement and distilled and twisted the prevailing classical trends.

There was a particular painting by Lee Blair of his wife on a Palos Verdes bluff top that was striking. Again I apologize for the poor image which I lifted from the web. McLelland explained how the artists would use the sophisticated trick of raising the horizon line in order to flatten the image. The chroma is simplified in a cubist manner as well as is excessive definition. Lights and darks are oft exaggerated for dramatic tension.

Gordon actually made a lot of very interesting and thought provoking points in the lecture, which I am very happy that I attended. I believe that it runs through July.

If you get a chance, check out the modernist exhibition of the sculptures that look like distended ventricles, specifically the curator speak on the wall describing the work. Priceless in its intellectual palaver, they wouldn't let me take a picture.

After the show, which was very well attended, we hit Zankou chicken for dinner. Armenian chicken with garlic paste, huumus, picked turnips and pita. So damn good.

Josef Albers

Denis Wheary sent this great video interview with Victor Moscoso and cohorts. He makes a short homage to color genius Josef Albers.

"You learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes."
Victor Moscoso

     In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is- as it physically is.  This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.

    In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually.  To this end the beginning is not a study of color systems.

    First, it should be learned that one and the same color evokes innumerable readings.  Instead of mechanically applying or merely implying laws and rules of color harmony, distinct color effects are produced- through recognition of the interaction of color- by making for instance 2 very different colors look alike, or nearly alike.  
Josef Albers

After we drove home, we had a little time to waste before the vigil and we popped by the nearest indian casino. Full House, then a straight. Leslie and I made about a grand together in less than 40 minutes and headed on down the road.


Dust Breeding, 1920, printed ca. 1967
Man Ray (American, 1890–1976)
Gelatin silver print
Jon sent me the photo. Man Ray collected a year's worth of dust for a photograph.

Many of my friends and acquaintances consider me a bit of a word nazi. I am always correcting somebody's spelling, syntax, pronunciation and the like. I don't know where the personal obsession stems from but I come from a very literate family and my mother was a book editor in New York. As a young man I often had to proof galleys for her.

I say this because I was busted by some friends the other night on the way to or from dinner, I don't recall which. Hoisted on my own linguistic petard, as it were.

We were talking about something and I said that I had been cognitating on something. After a long pause, (I believe it was my wife but I suppose it could have been R) well, one of them said, "Is that really a word?" "No," I said, rather sheepishly, "But it should be."

the act or process of knowing; perception.
the product of such a process; something thus known, perceived, etc.
1375–1425; late Middle English cognicioun  < Latin cognitiōn-  (stem of cognitiō ), equivalent to cognit ( us ), past participle of cognōscere  ( co- co- + gni-,  variant stem of gnōscere, nōscere,  to learn (see know1 ) + -tus  past participle suffix) + -iōn- -ion

Related forms
cog·ni·tion·al, adjective
non·cog·ni·tion, noun
self-cog·ni·tion, noun

Now follow me here. What exactly is the inherent verb in the cognition process? The act or process of knowing has no verb? Preposterous. There has to be one or cognition can not take place. It certainly isn't cogitate, although that is closer it is a slightly different concept. Similar but not the exact latin root and the former 100 years older.

[koj-i-teyt]  verb, cog·i·tat·ed, cog·i·tat·ing.
verb (used without object)
to think hard; ponder; meditate: to cogitate about a problem.
verb (used with object)
to think about; devise: to cogitate a scheme.
1555–65;  < Latin cōgitātus  (past participle of cōgitāre ), equivalent to co- co- + agitātus;  see agitate

Related forms
cog·i·tat·ing·ly, adverb
cog·i·ta·tor, noun
pre·cog·i·tate, verb, pre·cog·i·tat·ed, pre·cog·i·tat·ing.

1. deliberate, reflect. 2. weigh.

I think that it is safe to assume that cognition takes place after one takes part in cognitive thinking. Can we call the person in which this satori realization takes place a cognite? Science fiction and writers of the paranormal have long referred to people with prescient awareness of future events pre cogs. If that is acceptable, is the term "cog" equally acceptable?

Of course this whole line of inquiry would not be fully mined if we did not at least briefly visit another cog word, cogent. The latins evidently spent a lot of time splitting semantical hairs on this root.

Appealing to the intellect or powers of reasoning; convincing: a cogent argument.
compelling belief or assent; forcefully convincing
[from Latin cōgent-, cōgēns, driving together, from cōgere, from co- together + agere to drive]
cogency  n
cogently  adv

Am I crazy or is it merely a matter of having too much time on my brain? Doesn't it seem to you like there is a big gap between cognition and cognitional, or the cognitive, a serious need for an active verb or force of doing? I will even accept the verb cognit if it is okay with the rest of you. Why is it perfectly acceptable to cogitate but if one attempts to cognitate they are only met with scorn and disdain? I believe that somebody needs to fix this, pronto.

Linguistically yours,


Johnny's Garden

Happy trails, friend

The community is still reeling from Larry Robinson's murder. Everywhere I go, people are just shell shocked. I have never seen anything like it in my thirty four years in town. Maybe because it was so senseless. Mostly because everybody that knew the guy loved him.

Leslie and I joined the candlelight vigil last night. Many hundreds of people, the largest outpouring I have ever seen for such an event since maybe John Lennon. Pulled people out of the woodwork, many I hadn't seen for a long time, many I didn't know at all. Debbie Ramsey said something this morning that was very true; Larry was sort of an unusual character in our area because he had a base in both Temecula and Fallbrook and that is rare around these parts. Never noticed that he worked right next to the Dorado restaurant before...

I wasn't going to necessarily write about this tragedy again but Brent sent along this link to raise donations for the family. I don't know the family's financial position but I imagine they could use a little help.

We all know that life is cheap but until it hits home we never reflect on exactly how cheap. You hear about people being murdered for a pack of cigarettes. Larry Robinson met his fate for a cheap Gibson Les Paul worth about seven hundred bucks and some neon guitar strings, or so I was told.

As a guitar player I couldn't imagine holding such an instrument, this instrument of death. Perhaps it was quickly sold so that somebody could obtain a fix? Who knows? We can only hope that the perpetrator of the crime finds swift justice. But it is hard to imagine that a guy could murder a stranger for a cheap Les Paul. May it never play in tune...

I wasn't in Larry's inner circle but counted him as a friend. It is so common, almost trite to talk about those that have passed as kind, generous, loving and humble. Yet this man was genuinely all those things and more.

I think that Larry may have been born into the wrong age. I can envision him as a crooner, singing ballads and sea shanty's, cowboy songs around his campfire in more noble times. He was that close to making it big but the window got small at the wrong time. He carved out a pretty good life and worked his ass off as a musician. He loved his wife, family and music. Pete said that Larry was a believer at the vigil last night but we never discussed such matters.

It was such a joy for me to watch him perform with his son and daughter at the Women's Club a few years ago. He was rightfully proud of them.

We have to honor his memory. The pain runs deep for many.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ring of Fire


Vigil for Larry Robinson at Pete's Music in Temecula tonight at 8:00.

Funky Revelation

If he was murdered it had to be by somebody who had never met the man. The guy I knew never had an enemy. Had to be some random predator who couldn't see beyond his own selfish tunnel; who dropped in to a foreign and gentle universe and turned the lights off in a most gruesome way without realizing the precious nature of the beautiful man and unwitting victim.

We will miss his impish grin, his throaty baritone, or was it a tenor? I always get confused.

He read the blog regularly, always had a kind word, loved the music, was a voice of encouragement to me in my music making and otherwise.

This was an awful, barbarous act, and I am sure totally unnecessary. May his spirit find instant peace and sanctuary, he lifted our own hearts and spirits with his playing and singing countless times.

Our hearts fall into darkness with your absence Larry. You will be sorely missed. You were just a beautiful cat, in the very best sense of the word.

You stupid fucks, you have to knock off a lousy music store. You couldn't fucking rob a bank, you fucking fucks.

Maharajah of the Bayou

Jonathan Hill sent me a trailer for this new documentary that delves into the life of the late New Orleans pianist, James Booker.

Doctor John called  him"the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced." The movie premieres this month and is titled Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker. I am not that familiar with the artist but the trailer clip looks (and sounds) really intriguing.