Saturday, June 27, 2015

Silicon Valley: A Review of the HBO series




            Computer geeks are an easy target.  They walk inside a field of self-generated clichés.  Socially awkward, virginal, they gather like packs of bipedal Chihuahuas who speak an arcane scientific language.  Since no one else understands them, they are forced to seek companionship with their own kind.  No matter that they loathe one another.  They're all they've got.
            The comic TV series "Silicon Valley" doesn't so much debunk the myths about geeks as re-bunk them.  We see them as we expect to see them: neurotic, jittery, terrified of women, lost in video games or bongs when they're not working.  We wouldn't be laughing if the clichés were without substance.  There are scenes in this show, especially bits of dialogue, that had me holding my guts with laughter.
            The geeks' Holy Grail, their leprechaun's pot of gold is to invent the Killer App or to create an algorithm that will change the world of computing.   The top tier of their hierarchy is occupied by the tech billionaires.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates cast long shadows but the tech world is about swift change, about change so headlong that a startup company can swing from the euphoria of being "funded" to the disaster of being scooped, of having their intellectual property stolen, hacked, pilfered, betrayed or hamstrung by lawsuit until the "funding" vanishes as swiftly as it appeared.  In the last sentence I have revealed the basic plot structure of a typical episode of "Silicon Valley". 
            The billionaires who have run the gauntlet of these dangers would seem to be settled into their wealth.  Such is not the case.  They are under intense pressure to stay ahead of the curve, to continue to innovate.  They've gone beyond common neurosis into a rarified air of psychosis that is buffered by obscene wealth.  They have enough money to indulge their every eccentricity.  They are occupied with such projects as inventing driverless automobiles that look like women's high heeled shoes.
            "Silicon Valley" is a meditation on the business of Tech, the culture of Tech and the people who operate within this microcosm.  The central character, Richard Hendrix, played by Thomas Middleditch, is an authentic computer genius without a shred of sense.  He has created a blockbuster killer app, a compression algorithm that enables data to be up-and-downloaded at blinding speed.  So far, in the two available seasons of "Silicon Valley", this technology has been stolen several times by competitors and flat-out given away by a witless Richard Hendrix who doesn't realize that he walks in a minefield of ruthless competition. The most innocuous mis-step could explode under his feet and blow his legs into little pieces of adipose tissue.  Instant liposuction, so to speak. 

The characters Richard Hendrix and Erlich Bachman 

            Mike Judge and his co-producers have put their cast into a fictional Palo Alto house that is owned by a tubby, grandiose character named Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller).  Bachman calls this place his "incubator".  He offers shelter to geeks in exchange for stock shares in their future apps and innovations.  Obnoxious as he is, Erlich functions as an ego where there is a debilitating shortage of self-confidence.  The company that is being formed around Richard's algorithm is called Pied Piper.  The cast of characters who live in the house barely combine to form a single functioning person.  In spite of, or because of, this paucity of social and business acumen, the team manages to reinforce one another.  Since most of the responsibilities are on Richard's shoulders, it is Richard who must reach into himself and locate enough courage to face down the most intimidating tech moguls.
            I find myself rooting for Richard.  I find myself angry with him for being so witless as to repeatedly give away his property.  I put my hands to my head and moan "Shut up, Richard, just shut up!  Don't you know you're getting brain-raped?"  Okay, that means I'm emotionally invested.  Good for Mike Judge and cohorts for setting me up to laugh with and to fight for these underdogs.  "Silicon Valley" is a bit of a cartoon, but how could it not be?  Mike Judge is a cartoon maker, having spawned "Beavis And Butthead", "King Of The Hill" and "The Family Guy".  His transition to using live human actors works well enough for me to give it three and a half muskrats.  I would give it four but the cumulative effect of watching several episodes is a case of jitters as if I had overdosed on some allergy medicine loaded with pseudo-ephedrine.

Thomas Middleditch





Friday, June 26, 2015

A Poem About The Changing Language Called Engrish


FWIW
June 26, 2015


FWIW
ROTFL
is a bigger LOL,
AFAIK
the language has been twittered,
texted amputated, but
IMHO
there is hope, what with all the
extra syllables, "impotency", when
did that come along? "Competency"?
What was wrong with "competence"?
it's like saying "Nukular" marks you
as a moron; let's get "orientated", OK?
I like the acronyms better than the extra "cy"s and
while Webster's gives them full status, Oxford tiptoes around the issue, so FWIW
when the nukular thingy goes off in your home town
it will be just a dream, a nightmare scream. LGBT saves just enough time to
get gay, and I've heard, FYI, that Lezbos and Queers are immune
to radiation.  AAMOF they have other powers too, so don't be too quick to judge those who are different, AAFCS.
As Any Fool Can See.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Oprah And The Selling of Dream Fulfillment Technology






Oprah and The Selling of Dream Fulfillment Technology

            Every time I go to the supermarket I see "O" magazine displayed at the checkout stand and every issue of "O" magazine has a photo of Oprah Winfrey on its cover.  There is something disturbing about a person who puts herself on the cover of her own magazine month after month.  She can do what she wants with it, but we know what Oprah looks like by now and I feel a little embarrassed for her.  She could give us inspiring landscape photos or images of other worthy people.  Instead, we get a simple complacent message:"Look at me!  I'm Oprah.  I'm still young, slim and beautiful."  Even though she's not.
            If it's wisdom that I seek from the pages of "O" magazine, I would as soon discuss life with a REAL funky old black broad than with this promoter of the so-called Ideal Life.
            It takes only a brief glimpse at the titles of the articles to make me feel utterly shitty about myself.  I'm not losing weight.  I'm not making more money. I'm not getting younger.  My libido is vanishing.  My dreams haven't been fulfilled.  
            This last item, about dream fulfillment, is an arrow pointing into the center of Oprah's empire.  This uber-wealthy celebrity is selling what I call DREAM FULFILLMENT TECHNOLOGY.  She has become  rich and powerful peddling this stuff and the irony of it is this: there is no such thing as DREAM FULFILLMENT TECHNOLOGY.  There are various tools to help us cope better with life's stresses.  There are psychotherapy, meditation, exercise, nutrition and a raft of spiritual practices.  None of these, however, guarantees that dreams will come true.  Only a very few people, lucky or possessing a certain kind of karma, get to live their dreams.  The rest of us must accept the lives we have been dealt.  Life is sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes a nightmare and occasionally a dream.
            The problem with dreams is that  one can dream the wrong dream.  Watch any episode of "American Idol" to witness inept dreamers.  The depth of people's belief in themselves is shockingly at odds with their lack of talent.  Dreams are, by their nature, elusive.  If people are willing to commit decades of their lives to pursuing a goal, it might be wise to let the process of pursuit become the defining reality.  If you do a thing and you love doing it, stay with that love and don't be distracted by some end point called Success.  That way, when dreams fail to materialize, the disappointment does not become bitterness.  If a dream IS fulfilled, then there must be a new dream, and yet another in an infinite progression of dreams.  Such is the stuff of being alive.  The world itself is a dream.
            Oprah is but one of many thousands of merchants of Fulfillment.  They thrive in hard times and these are hard times.  I want to go "tut tut" and say "Shame on you for exploiting the frustration and gullibility of your clients."              
          It seems to me that the big-time sellers of Dream Fulfillment Technology are making a lot more money than their customers. That's why the cover of "O" magazine gives me the creeps.
        I realize that Oprah has supported many great causes, given a host of writers their defining break and has represented a general movement towards positive awareness.  It's the cult of personality that bothers me.  I wouldn't be surprised at the establishment of a Dalai-lama style lineage so that in a thousand years we may be addressing the Fourteenth Oprah as she descends from her hover-carpet to bless the multitudes.  I hope that she will be a crotchety old black broad with a whip-sharp tongue and no patience for fools.




My Google+ Profile

Monday, June 1, 2015

Saving Grace: A Review of the TV Series

This image beautifully captures the character of Detective Grace Hanadarko

  Holly Hunter has never been on my radar before I saw her in the role of detective Grace Hanadarko in the series, "Saving Grace".  
          The cop show genre is tired. There are so many redundant procedurals about catching bad guys.  Do we need another one?  "Saving Grace" is distinctive because its premise is hewn out of a metaphysical absurdity.  It takes this crazy premise and carries it with gusto through three seasons.  That's an achievement worth noting.
            The premise, (we can even call it a gimmick) is simple enough.  Detective Hanadarko is driving drunk, speeding in her unwashed Porsche 911 down a dark deserted street when she hits and kills a man who has appeared as if from nowhere.
            She leans over the body and wails, "Oh God, Oh God, what have I done?  Please help me!"
            Suddenly the man is gone, there's no blood on the concrete, no damage to her car.  It's as if it never happened.
            Grace has experienced an intervention.  The agent of this intervention is an Angel, literally an Angel, with retractable wings, shaggy grey hair and a weathered face that is full of kindness.  His name is Earl and his function is to serve as a "Last Chance Angel".  Does Grace believe this?  Of course not.  Earl whisks her to a promontory at the Grand Canyon, performs a few other casual miracles and returns her to the site of the accident. 
            Saving Grace is set in Oklahoma City.  We are never allowed to forget that the bombing of The Murrah Building is for Oklahomans an equivalent to 9/11 for most other Americans.  Everyone in the The Violent Crimes Unit  lost a loved one or a friend in that heinous crime and it is still very much alive in  Oklahoma culture.  
          The Violent Crimes Unit is filled with unruly cops, all of whom are either having sex with Grace, will have sex with Grace, or want to have sex with Grace.  For Hunter this is a great role, a vehicle for her acting chops and she inhabits the character effortlessly and with total conviction. She has  a distinctive way of speaking, as if she is whistling through the side of her mouth.  I don't think this is an affectation.  It may be more of a symptom, but that's none of my business.  It doesn't harm Hunter's effectiveness.
            Hunter is a tiny person.  She is like a petite thoroughbred race horse, every muscle rippling with purpose.  She moves with sexy arrogance, tossing her mane of hair with a trademark twitch, striding through the world in her hippie clothes and cowboy boots.  As Grace she is a very naughty girl, a sex addict, an alcoholic, a disturber-of-shit.  It's amazing that she hasn't been fired but she's always teetering on the brink of disaster with Internal Affairs.  Her raunchy provocation keeps the cops in her unit in a pheromone ferment.  She's having an affair with her partner/cop.  This is flirting with personal and professional suicide.  Cop/Partner/Boyfriend is jealous of every other cop who might have been or will be involved with Grace, hence the constant outbreak of boyish fistfights in the squad's office.  Fortunately for Grace, the unit is commanded by a loyal friend, Captain Kate Perry, played with assurance by Lorraine Toussaint.
            The series begins with an adequate episode. It works well enough to keep me around to see more.  It gains momentum and the characters emerge in ways that are appealing.   The Violent Crimes Unit is a family.  It behaves dysfunctionally but one thing can be said: these are not corrupt cops.  They may be drunk, jealous, their personal lives in chaos, but these cops aren't dirty.  They are very good at their jobs. In spite of their screwy milieu, they solve crimes.
            Leon Rippy, playing Earl, The Last Chance Angel, is a pillar in the structure of the story arc.  He pushes no religious agenda, he's strictly non-denominational. 
            It's easy to see that the cast and crew of "Saving Grace" had a wonderful time working on the project.  When such chemistry evolves in a film or TV series, it's palpable and it makes the viewing that much more rewarding.  I enjoyed "Saving Grace" for its sense of family, for the obvious devotion that the characters had for one another, for Earl's angelic mischief.  There's a lot of good stuff here. 


          I give it four muskrats.  It's really a three and a half muskrat series but I'll throw in another half because there's so much worthless crap around.  And there's Laura SanGiacomo. She plays the most adorable forensic coroner working in the TV/Cop world.
Leon Rippy as Earl, The Last Chance Angel

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Review of My Soon-to-be Published Novel

John Coltrane

I began writing CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN thirty years ago.  I acquired a high profile literary agent named Scott Meredith, thanks to the sale of a short story to Playboy Magazine.  The story won Playboy's Best Story Award for the year.  It seemed that I was shot out of a rocket; my career was launched and I had editors at Meredith's agency helping me with CONFESSIONS etc. In spite of this stroke of amazing fortune, that was not my best year.  It was almost my worst.  I had big problems, personal problems.  The editor helped me with the book, but I was not yet mature as a writer.  The book required that I trace the lives of characters across fifty years.  I was barely over twenty years old. Then Scott Meredith passed away and so did my opportunity.

I continued writing and finished CONFESSIONS and other projects.  When I started passing CONFESSIONS around to literary agents the landscape of publishing had changed.  The era of vampires and tycoon-erotica had taken hold.  I heard this phrase hundreds of times: "While your writing is excellent, I find that I haven't fallen in love with your book and I'm afraid I'll have to pass."

There are so many people writing so many books these days that it's difficult to get ANYONE to read my manuscript.  I don't blame people for giving me the swish n' pass treatment.  In spite of so many obstacles, I'm stubborn and I believe in what I'm doing.  Now, thanks to my "excellent writing", there are people willing to read me, and not only read me but fall in love with my work.

Lin Ross is an email acquaintance.  I don't know the gentleman; he's  a fine novelist and we have a good online rapport. I decided to send him the manuscript of CONFESSIONS.  Yesterday I received this review of CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN, written by novelist/poet/musician/artist Lin Ross. I thank Lin from the depths of my heart.  He is nurturing and unselfish, a rare bird indeed.  To read the first two chapters, click this link:Confessions Of An Honest Man




"Confessions of An Honest Man"  a Novel by Art Rosch
 Reviewed by Lin Ross




What happens when the desires we think we want for the majority of our lives dangle there, within our grasp?   What happens when those special almost golden people who loomed as heroes prove to be not gods, but flawed and human?   "Confessions of an Honest Man," by Art Rosch , answers those intriguing questions, and sheds new light upon an era, a cultural explosion and an art-form too often romanticized, but rarely given the life, breath, and rhythms it truly deserves.  I speak here of the world of jazz and its players.  


Author Art Rosch masterfully takes our hand and leads us through the life of  his protagonist, Aaron Kantro from the  age of nine into adulthood where he meets his idol, the jazz legend "Zoot Prestige." In Rosch's world there is black and white (in the complexion of his characters, in society, and in metaphor), but there are also sweeping portions and broad strokes of gray. That gray is far more fascinating for it is there that the realities of these often harsh and sometimes painfully beautiful dualities exist.  


Is this the story a lost boy seeking a father figure? Yes... to a degree, perhaps. Between the pages, lurking there inside the lines, this is so much more. This is about life and how, in a moment, it can show us its most dazzlingly wonderful face, and then in the blink of an eye, its most hideous, ass-ugly underside.


There is a certain genius in the storytelling and when young Aaron makes it to 1960s New York City, the sound, fury and poignancy of jazz embraces you like a cool cerulean blue spot of neon. You are lost and found inside the grooves of these talented musicians: you are a blues traveler walking beside the cool bop of their struts and frets.  


Any young person reading this impressively inclusive novel might want to leave the warm yet stifling cocoon of home to venture out into the vast unknown, join a band, be hungry, and then be fed by the art of of creation. However, be forewarned, there are cautionary tales around almost every bend, and sometimes getting what we THINK we want might end up breaking our hearts in the process.  


This is one of those rare books filled with the liveliness of characters, dialogue, lessons, and such lushly vivid storytelling that the reader is haunted long after the final page is closed. Such is the poignancy and the precision of Rosch's pen.  


I look forward to more work from this author, because Art Rosch is a singular and deeply unique presence in the writing world: a truth-teller, an intrepid reporter of the streets and a chronicler of the human heart. This is an Artist who truly understands The Blues Condition and it is reflected so intriguingly here. 


BRAVO, Mr. Rosch! BRAVO!




Saturday, March 28, 2015

Addiction And Redemption



March 28, 2015


            Addiction is a way of postponing suicide.  I know what I'm talking about, because I've wrestled with addiction at various periods in my life.  I realized that being an addict was a means of dividing my inner torment into manageable packets.  Without this strategy I might have been overwhelmed by my pain.  These manageable packets were all the individual doses of my comfort-drug of the moment.  Aside from the usual substance abuse, I also regard most of my consumer obsessions as addictions.  When I became enamored with photography I didn't buy equipment as a mature adult.  I bought all my gear compulsively.  I was crazy with wanting gizmos.  I built up such formidable debt that I watched my income dribble away in un-manageable packets, flowing into the pockets of credit card banks.
            I can talk about my poor abused childhood, the family violence I endured, but I'm not keen on rehashing that old stuff.  Everyone has their story.  I'm more concerned with the way our entire culture has become a society of addicts.  Not only is addiction pervasive but it's encouraged.  If I could count certain products advertised on TV I would likely discover that smart phones, automobiles and fast food are the most touted items, and that their marketing is designed to increase their addictive potential.
            If I came from a remote galaxy and watched a recording that consisted ONLY of commercials I would conclude that earth people (or Americans, at least) are infantile morons, gullible yokels who respond to glittering things that promise fulfillment.  That promise is delivered in a silly cajoling voice that I wouldn't use to coax my dog to take his medicine.  Who IS this lady in the white medical scrubs with the blue lettering in a white room full of boxes?  Why is she escorting ordinary citizens on a tour of her product line, a line that promises SAFETY, SECURITY, REDUCED RISK AT A FANTASTIC PRICE?  Why does she look like an  android?  Her name is Flo.  Flow?  Go With The Flow?  Should we trust this Flo with our insurance needs or should we trust the funny little lizard who is so personable and harmless?  I would trust the lizard because he speaks with an English accent. Everyone knows that Englishmen are stalwart folk with stiff upper lips who know how to cope with life's emergencies.
            Addicts.  Every one of us.  The question is simple.  Why are we in such pain that in order to survive we must subdivide our lives into manageable packets of agony?


            Hmmm, let me see: our planet is being poisoned, our most beautiful animal companions are being poached to extinction, our families and support structures have vaporized.  We are the loneliest people in history.  Expressing our emotions is amazingly difficult because we fear judgment and rejection.  We have forgotten how to FEEL emotion much less express it because we are so occupied with managing the insane complexities of daily life.  That takes a lot of mental energy, daily life.  Who has the time to stop, reflect and feel?  And if we could feel, we might be driven towards a sense of empathy for those who are afflicted by war, tyranny, famine and homelessness.  Who wants to feel that sad?
            No no no no no!  If I felt that sad I might want to kill myself.  But if I could look at my human companions on this earth and if we could admit to one another that we feel terribly sad and lonely, that might help me.  That might alleviate my sense of isolation.  I might even make new friends.   I might let go of my fear of judgment and rejection when I discover that everyone has the same woes, the same addictions, the same thwarted needs for simple humanity.
            What do you think?  Is it possible to create a new paradigm based on authenticity and compassion?

            I do.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Global Alchemy


I guess you would call this a still life.  My thanks to Flaming Pear Software for their Flood plug-in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Let's Switch Lives!



March 15, 2015



            Sometimes I wish that I could live someone else's life.  If I were given a choice and I could magically flip into that other life, yet retain my memories of this current life....wouldn't that be great?  Or even if I couldn't retain my memories....
            There's a little voice inside me that says, "Uh oh, that way lies trouble.  The very concept of wanting to escape your life says so much about your pain."
            I can safely say that today I do not want anyone else's life. 
            There have been parts of this year that I would have jumped into the life of people I see on television.  Oh my god!  I would live the life of a fictional character!  Or even the life of a commercial!
            Essentially, the desire to live someone else's life is a form of suicide.  That's how bad it got!  I would have traded places just to live in a nice house.  I would have traded places just to have a group of friends.  I would even have traded places to drive a nice car. 
            Pathetic.  Sad.  I've been plagued by a sense that I wrecked my life by making a couple of epic bad decisions whose consequences have rebounded down the years until they combined to put me in a prison of my own making.
            Fortunately that depression lifted.  I'm functioning better and I'm mobilizing a bit of drive to put me back on track towards achieving some of my dreams.
            There's a lot of talk about dreams these days.  There's a lot of guilt attached to failure.  If you haven't achieved your dreams, why....you're a loser!  You didn't work hard enough.  You didn't focus, you didn't "seize the day" and now you're just another wannabe standing in the food stamp line.
            I'm suspicious of The Dream Machine.  I wrote an essay about Oprah and her sales juggernaut  of "Dream Fulfillment Technology". You can read it here:  Dream Fulfillment Tech
            Dream fulfillment is so quintessentially American.  Do you think that a  hundred years ago people invested so much thought and energy into the concept of personal dreams?  I think The Dream Machine is a marketing construct, a broad distracting drama to remove our attention from the impact on each of our lives by our current historical context.  We live in disturbing times.  We live at a moment in history when theft is being committed on an institutional scale, when our oceans are being filled with toxic sludge, when our forests are being expunged.  How do we respond to that as individuals?  Let's indulge in a metaphor: the Earth is a body and the oceans contain the planet's reservoir of blood.  The Earth's circulatory system is fed by the ocean to the rivers and lakes and those veins and arteries feed back into the ocean in a vast system of pumps and valves.  Our planet is metaphorically like a human body.  Its condition is felt by each of us and we know, however subliminally, that things are not right.  Ask any fisherman.  The big fish are almost gone.  The great schools and the worldwide migrations have been disrupted by the sludge in the Gulf Of Mexico, the toxins in The China Sea.   

            If we're not sometimes depressed then we are numb.  That's worse.  Much worse.  So..I may be depressed by my individual circumstances but I am also a citizen of this planet and I am directly impacted by the world-wide crimes against nature that are being committed by faceless men in suits or young greedy people who drink too much Red Bull and are obsessed with being the "winners" in...in what...is life a contest?  Is it a game show?  That's not how I view life.  I view life as a sacred activity.  I view life as a mystery that we are not yet equipped to penetrate.
Living in my own life is important because I have responsibilities of which I am not fully aware.  I just know I have them.  No matter the suffering I endure, I'd be an idiot to switch lives with anyone!  This is the life I got.  This is the life whose problems I must solve.  I feel a vast untapped potential in myself.  I don't give a shit about winners and losers.  I just want to feel as if I belong with myself, in my place and time and that I'm doing something, however small, about fighting the evil people who wear expensive clothes and think about how much money they have and how much more they can make if they replace Worker X with Worker Y because Worker Y will accept lower pay out of desperation to feed  his or her family.
            I rambled a bit but I think I stayed somewhere near the point: don't live anyone else's life.  You got yours for a reason.  You don't even need to know the reason.  Just be loyal to your own life and do your everyday work as if it really counts. 
            It does.  It really counts.