Monday, July 30, 2007

Death by Middle Man

My wife and I went to the public library book sale the other week and noticed dozens of people clogging the aisles using Palm Pilots equipped with scanners to scan the bar codes of books. Obviously they are trying to find little gems to sell on eBay at inflated prices. I stopped one guy and he showed me how he would scan a book and his handheld device would tell him if it was valuable or not. We saw another couple work in tandem as the wife cleared every shelf methodically as the husband scanned each and every book right behind her.

As I watched this battle of the book scanners, it hit me: America has become a place for Middle Men to thrive and grow. People, like these scanners, get in between our love for books and inflate the price so they can make a little extra money. So many concepts in our society follow this same pattern, whether it is the housing market or a person just trying to buy a concert ticket, the Middle Man is there to inflate the price so they can get a cut.

This greed leads to inflating prices, such as the current housing market, and it will one day end in doom for us all, but it appears that our society has gained this mindset that we should grab all we can, while we can, and don't bother thinking about what the consequences could be. It is horrifying to see how Middle Men will flock to a newly built condominium and buy the units only to resale them to the average consumer at an inflated price. People have become obsessed with "flipping" houses so they can make a fast buck on the wanting consumer. It has become almost impossible to beat the Middle Man to the punch, and we often find ourselves at their mercy.

Our country has a history of success due to our competitive nature, but it is strange to see that ever since the fall of the U.S.S.R., our uncontested reign as the powerhouse of the world has made America more corrupted and egotistic. The other day Mikael Gorbachev stated his anger in how the United States has handled world situations since becoming the superpower of the Earth and said, "The world is experiencing a period of growing global disarray." This disarray comes directly from our failure to stick to morals and principles we should live by, rather than our descent into letting our greed guide our decisions and attitudes. The seven deadly sins capture the current mode of America today better than the concepts of love and benevolence, which are the ideals we should cherish and live by.

So, as I watched the red lasers scan the books at the library, I saw America in those aisles. A desperate nation trying to get an extra dollar or two by coming between a person and their desires. I saw our future turning into one that resembles a pack of wild dogs fighting over a piece of meat. The countdown clock to our destruction has already begun, and it is only a matter of time until it reaches zero.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Race with No End

I sat in the quietness of the house contemplating the rat-maze-of-a-life I'm trapped in. As the sunlight broke through the morning air, it hit me: we will never win. We live a life where objects become outdated so frequently, and no matter what we do to get ahead and increase our comforts, we are always going to be fighting the decay of our world around us. We think we'll one day beat back death, deconstruction, and entropy, but they are natural occurrences that are vital to the function of the earth. They can never be defeated.

The more we fight to get a little more, the more we separate from one another. It is like we are running a race but yet we don't realize there is no prize at the end, only a long run of futile anguish. If we would make communal societies then the industrial machine that runs us ragged would disappear and interdependence would fill the void in our lives. The world can only become peaceful when we join together to rejoice in a common happiness. Our current competitiveness not only takes us further from harmony, but infects the world with unnecessary murder, pain, and heartache.

We connive and scorn as we fight for that oasis of a perfect life. It will never come and we will never "win" anything. Whether it be retirement, huge salaries, or extravagant properties, there will never be a time that you can quit running the race and declare victory. There will always be another leg added.

Take an extreme example like winning the lottery and imagine what would truly happen. The massive millions can not be immune to inflation and the money, in time, will disappear. So, in essence, these races we fight for every day only offer a mock sense of relief when in actuality they increase our burdens exponentially. Inflation is more than an economic bacteria, it is a tangible representation of our pain and anger toward one another. We want to have more and punish others, and that greed is metamorphosed into inflation.

Happiness is like taking a gorgeous picture you have spent years painting and, after realizing it is a masterpiece, tearing it to shreds. Like the materialism we devour, what other purpose would the picture have other than as a weapon to taunt others?

We know we should abandon our suburban lives and head to the hills to live freely, but we feel it is a joke and, when we get to the countryside with a flower placed nicely behind our ear, we would look back and see the industrial world laugh as it devours all of our "stuff" we left behind. That fright keeps us running on our gerbil wheels.

I haven't ripped the life-support wires out yet either, but, god, how I want to. Maybe it is like jumping off a building: you just have to either do it or not. I have me toes on the ledge and I'm looking down. I am waiting for someone to push me, but it has got to be all me. Just me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Living Life Backwards

I sometimes get scared when I think about being without a job. The losing of our house, cars, and toys can be frightening, but work carries us down a road away from true happiness. Our society is setup to make us move farther from our real spirits more and more each day. We are constantly being wooed toward false realities, especially through our televisions, that we forget who we really are.

We can receive all the materialistic idols we long for, and after we emerge from all the discarded shrink wrap and styrofoam, we will discover that it really isn't that special. We have these great buildups of expectations only to be left in a state of sad realization that harmony and love live only in the simplest things in life, not in the factory-produced piles of trash we numbly accumulate.

To live life is to lose all we have and see life as it has always been and always will be: simple yet pure. We are living life backwards as we teach people to strive for all the "stuff" they want in their lives. We need to show our children that the man or woman that lives under a tree in the park experiences life more than the CEO who is constantly worried about how well their stocks are doing. A materialistic life is an endless well that we can never fill with happiness no matter how hard we try.

We wake up to our carpeted world and stroll the concrete to our cars, then we spend eight hours in a tile-floored building before taking our cars back to our carpeted houses. When is the last time we have actually touched the earth? When is the last time we have felt a blade of grass tickle our backs? Just imagine the percentage of time we spend away from Mother Nature and we can begin to understand why we are so angry and lost. A simple middle-of-the-night excursion to our backyards as we look to the glowing moon in the crisp early morning air can bring us more stabilization to our life than pills, therapy, or toys ever will.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Diary of Jeff Mangum & Neutral Milk Hotel

I had heard of the band Neutral Milk Hotel before, but never owned an album or had an opportunity to listen the music. Recently, as if driven by some force, I traveled to Papa Jazz records in Five Points and sought out a Neutral Milk Hotel album. I purchased On Avery Island. It would be the beginning to a change in my life.

The music, with its clanky aurora, made me take a different approach from the glossy tones of current radio playlists. The poetic, macabre imagery made me tilt my head like a dog trying to understand human language. It was strange, but beautiful.

In the Aeroplane Over the SeaI checked some info on the web about the band and discovered the wave of praise for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea album, so I traveled back to Papa Jazz to buy it. As I listened to the album and its themes of suffering, I found myself mesmerized. The tragic stories of Jeff Mangum's intense but ultimately unattainable love for a girl, Anne Frank, who had died decades before his time, a two-headed boy in a jar of formaldehyde making a radio for the one he loves, and Siamese sisters freezing to death as they await an animal to eat them so they can be warm in its belly were a delicate intertwining of tragedy and hope. It is the most beautiful anthology of music I have ever heard. Each story feeds into the theme of ultimate, true love that lasts even after desolation and death.

In Kim Cooper's book 331/3: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and on internet websites, people talk of Jeff Mangum's openly soulful praise for Jesus in "The King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 &3," but, when I listen to the song, I hear something much different. Rather than using Jesus Christ as a proper noun and stating his love for his religion, I believe Mangum uses "Jesus Christ" as an interjection to state his mournful epiphany of true love toward the one he is anamoured with: "I love you, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, I love you, yes I do." It is more than a simple claim of loving someone, but a heart-wrenching cry of complete devotion. Each character on the album is willing to give their complete selves to the one they adore, even if it means that love will never be allowed to bloom.

Jeff MangumAnne Frank's diary marks a tragic time in history, but does so through a little girl's personal, private paradigm of the world that was never meant for anyone else to see or read. I feel guilty as I read it because the diary's unfiltered pain, love, and despair were meant as a therapeutic way for a young girl to deal with the collapse of the world around her. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is Jeff Mangum's personal diary of dreams and raw emotions. I feel just as guilty as I listen to the words of his intense longing and dismal hopefulness, especially after I realized that the album's sad, tragic characters are really a metaphor for Jeff and the way he feels. Mangum is the two-headed boy trapped in the jar of time trying to make music; Anne Frank's and his souls are the Siamese sisters who can only live as one once they are digested in the bowels of history. Jeff Mangum's love is real, but yet it can only be attained in a celestial place (time machine) where time and death cease to exist and only love thrives with all its power:

"...and in my dreams you're alive
And you're crying
Move your mouth into mine,
Soft and sweet;
Rings of flowers 'round your eyes
And I love you, nineteen-forty and five as we leave.

Brother, see we are one in the same
And you left with your head filled with flames,
And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth.
Push the pieces in place,
Make your smile sweet to see;
Don't you take this away.
I'm still wanting my tongue on your cheek.

And when we break, we wait for a miracle.
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies.
When we break, we'll wait for our miracle.
God is a place where we will wait for the rest of our lives..."

from "Two-Headed Boy Part 2" Jeff Mangum Live @ Jittery Joe's (video below)


It is no surprise that after In the Aeroplane Over the Sea that Jeff Mangum disappeared from the music industry, except as a ghost that shows up here and there. He has exposed himself completely with his last Neutral Milk Hotel album, and how can he ever begin to craft another album once he has laid-bare his soul? It would be like Anne Frank, who always wanted to be a published writer, releasing a novel after the world has read the secrets of her personal diary. Jeff Mangum now lives in a bubble of suspended time as In the Aeroplane Over the sea, an allusion to the vessel carrying their ashes, continues to silently, softly spread like a dandelion clock being blown to the wind.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Proud Americans?

Last night, as I drove home from Greenville, I searched the van's radio dial to hear the last moments of USC's Liberty Bowl effort. I happened to stop on a station that had a caller describing how he was going to stay up all night so he doesn't miss the Saddam Hussein execution. He tried to rationalize his fervor for the hanging by saying he had a personal interest in it because he was a soldier or something like that.

There is never a reason to murder another person. Even if they did kill hundreds of people like Hussein or, as in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, tried to make zombies and eat some pieces of the people he slaughtered, we should never celebrate murder. Most pro-capital punishment zealots are Christians who ignore everything that the bible preaches to them and vote to have their states maintain capital punishment laws. Just last week California and Florida had to put a moratorium on death sentences because they were botching lethal injections and missing the veins of prisoners, therefore causing long, painful deaths. I wonder how many people responded with, "Those murderers deserved to die slowly and painfully!" and had no idea why any of those people were on death row in the first place?

What kind of society do we live in where people laugh and joke of another person's death but yet still claim to be devoted to what ever religious philosophies they carry with them on a daily basis? It's strange how the European people try to save us and call out for us to think before we act, like with the Iraq invasion. Our response to help? Ignore and bully on. Remember "Freedom Fries"? Now we see how childish we acted when the world said how irrational it would be to bomb Baghdad. They cried out again about the execution of Hussein, but did we listen? No. I wake up this morning and see pictures of Saddam Hussein wrapped in a white shroud and bloody splotches around his neck. I should be proud of that?

"Thou shall not murder" is a commandment, but we try to alter it to, "Thou shall not murder, unless someone murders your loved ones, or if you just don't like the person accused." I look at it in a different way: "An eye for an eye makes everyone blind."

I had an art teacher in high school who said she was going to turn off all her lights and electricity that evening because Pee Wee Gaskins was going to be executed in the electric chair. I asked why, and she responded that she wanted him to get a little extra juice. Seeing that kind of mentality for blood is frightening and sickening. I remember watching a 9/11 tribute for the city of New York days after the catastrophe and Richard Gere came out and told the audience of firefighters, police officers, and rescue workers that we have to learn to forgive even if it is not that most popular sentiment at the time. They booed him and then said they would boycott his movies. Forgiveness, the same thing talked about in the bible and many religious texts, is the essence to living a life of morality, but we scorn it and take it for weakness. Jesus died for our sins, but our sins are much worse today than the ones he sacrificed himself for 2,005 years ago.

It doesn't take much imagination to think of what Jesus Christ's response to the Hussein execution, or to any execution for that matter, would be if he were alive today. However, if he did live today the way he would be treated would be horrendous. Our society would shun him for befriending Mary, a so-called prostitute, and tell him to shut up as we looped the noose around Hussein's neck just like we did to the religious leaders around the world today who tried to tell us what we were doing was wrong. Our historical record is shaping up to be one of bloodshed, egotism, and animal-like responsiveness as each day brings more to be sad and embarrassed about.

A few months ago a man went into a small Amish schoolhouse and took several young girls hostage. When the Amish men stormed the school to save their children, the man began shooting as many young Amish girls as he could. Several little, innocent souls were killed, and then the gunman killed himself. The Amish community was devastated and eventually tore down the little schoolhouse. Through all the anguish and sadness the Amish community then found it in their hearts to forgive the gunman.

Religious leaders ranked the Amish display of forgiveness after the schoolhouse shooting in Pennsylvania as the top story of the year.

"I believe the Amish people have practiced what their religious belief has dictated," said Imam Abdul Barghouti, president of Northern Nevada Muslim Community in Sparks. "I hope that the religious communities have learned from them that regardless how horrible the crime may be there is always space for forgiveness, knowing that god can only render absolute justice."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The First Part Last

The other day I read a part from a book that was amazingly beautiful. It made me stop and experience a wonderful epiphany of life and truth that still lingers with me today. It is from the first chapter of Angela Johnson's The First Part Last:

"So last week when it looked like Feather probably wasn't ever going to sleep through the night, I lay her on my stomach and breathed her in. My daughter is eleven days old.

And that sweet new baby smell...The smell of baby shampoo, formula, and my mom's perfume. It made me cry like I hadn't since I was a little kid.

It scared the hell out of me. Then, when Feather moved on my stomach like one of those mechanical dolls in the store windows at Christmas, the tears dried up. Like that.

Things have to change.

I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks at me, I already know there's change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end.

Then everybody could end their life on their momma or daddy's stomach in a warm room, waiting for the soft morning light."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Unnatural

Our culture has become unnatural.

Just think if we lived outside of the chaotic industrial machine that enslaves most Americans now. Our lives would be spent with the ones we love, doing the things we love to do, and our minds would be free from the industrialization which imprisons our creativity. Screw the electronics that populate our lives; they are merely dangling carrots that enchant and distract us from the real hell our lives are becoming.

Creativity is needed now more than ever, but we are being conned into the cookie-cutter, shiny-plastic realm of fantasy life. If you are reading these words, then you are trapped too.

Let's plan our escape...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tortured Turkeys

(A Thanksgiving Triolet)

Turkeys were never a part of Thanksgiving Day
Until farmers concocted a deadly campaign.
"Turkeys go with Thanksgiving!" they began to say.
Turkeys were never a part of Thanksgiving Day

Their cruel torture and slaughter is unforgiving;
Pumped up with steroids, their legs crack under the strain.
Turkeys were never a part of Thanksgiving Day
Until farmers concocted a deadly campaign.

(Buy Tofurky Instead)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Experience & Beauty of Wayne Coyne

Wayne CoyneAs we grow older we gain valuable insights from the pain we experience, but our society looks down upon age as a repugnant disease. America celebrates the untalented spirit of youth and tries to silence those who they deem “older”. If we allow the creative spirit to thrive and continue, we see the results in heart-stopping fashion. Artists, musicians, writers, and athletes tend to reach a zenith as they grow older, but often our society tries to dissuade such efforts and inject the situation with a bland neophyte.

Wayne Coyne is a perfect example. When he first started the band The Flaming Lips, their songs were at times wobbly and contained uninspired lyrics, but after dealing with the chaos of success and the heartbreak of disaster, Coyne found a voice that resonated with unbridled truth and honesty in albums like The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and At War with the Mystics. Songs like “Do You Realize?”, “The Spark that Bled”, and “The Sound of Failure” contain ideas that resonate with me greatly because Coyne has passed through the stage of trying to impress people for attention, and has now settled into the comfortable role of producing great art.

It becomes hilarious to watch as the new talents enter the world of art and our society celebrates them because of their youthfulness, but yet they lack that magical inhibition that they will soon gain with experience. Think of all the silly love songs that teenage musicians wail on pop radio and then compare such trite products to the powerful edicts of people like Roger Waters and Neil Peart, who write a powerful truth that can alter your ideals in a single sentence. I don't think anyone can claim such a powerful epiphany with a tune like “Hit Me Baby One More Time”.

Creativity is like a peach. When you pick it too early it can be tart and unenjoyable, but if given time, it can produce some of the most joyuous nectar ever known to man.

“Do You Realize?” by The Flaming Lips
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize we're floating in space?
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast;
It's hard to make the good things last.
You realize the sun doesn't go down,
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.




“Mr. Ambulance Driver” by The Flaming Lips
Waiting for the ambulance to come.
Hoping that it doesn't come too late.
Hearing the sirens in the distance,
“Hold on! Help is on the way!”

Mr. Ambulance Driver, I'm right here beside her,
And, though I'll live, somehow I've found,
Mr. Ambulance Driver, I'm not a real survivor
'Cause I'm wishing that I was the one that
Wasn't gonna be here anymore.

Oh, we can't trade places.
Our lives are strangely our own.
Mr. Ambulance Driver, tell me
For everyone that dies, someone new is born?


"Lies, Lies, Lies Ye-ah"

America is choking on its own vomit of lies. Our culture has become obsessed with getting what they want at any expense that we don't understand the consequences of such behavior. Newton proved that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that applies to our own actions and spirits. The whole mindset of this country has become “grab what you can and run”; it is causing the rapid decay of all we know: drug companies assigning medicine to patients who don't need it, inflated insurance costs (what is insurance but a way to just make money anyway?), gas heights when there is no shortage, and on and on and on.

As Americans we eat everything thrown our way (literally and realistically). Watch any commercials on TV and everyone is a lie. Children are being taught to lie, or at least deny, even if they don't have to. Lawyers can always find “an expert” to challenge another “expert's” findings in court cases. We hear on the news how we are finding new ways to help save the human race, but later find those same “innovations” are actually killing us.

The state of America reminds me of the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard controls this intimading machine to scare people into being obedient, but behind the curtain is a powerless old white man whose only power is the use of fear and deception. The rest on the world has found this curtain, just like Toto did in the film, and they see the frail, true nature of our country: a false idealism that has been created to trick people into compliance.

We need to learn to live through a paradigm of love, and shed this desire to out do everyone through unneeded competition. The people of this country have beautiful ideas, but they are constanly being stifled by the continuous sea of lies that tell us that we are not smart enough, not beautiful enough, and not successful enough. We need to charge through the Wizard's curtain and kick his ass. Our ideals are supposed to be embedded through democracy, but, if the current accpeting totalitarianism continues, our freedoms will continue to rot until we are left in a state of regretful enlightenment.