Saturday, February 17, 2018

Getting Out Of Dodge

Three days ago we had our eleventh school shooting of 2018, this latest savagery occurring at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Fourteen teenagers and three adults were killed, and in the wake of this carnage President Trump and Republican leaders have been praying, condoling, and calling for greater attention to mentally troubled students.

What they are decidedly not calling for is any limitation on gun ownership.

It leaves me with imaginings of simply getting out of here, "here" being a country hijacked by Congress's coupling with the NRA and dark money.  I still hope that this foulness can be carved out of our political culture, but my hope rests uneasily on three suppositions –– that our courts can gut gerrymandering, that Congress can develop a moral compass, and that our electorate can distinguish between a diseased system and a diseased individual, between an unwell tree and a bad apple.  

Sick systems we can fix; we can make it harder to buy a judge or a senator, we can elect representatives who are not shills for the gun lobby and the NRA, and we can install supports for vulnerable individuals, families and communities.  Sick individuals, however, are always going to live among us; they come with the human territory, they deform under warping pressures, and we co-create them by neglecting those pressures.

There will always be those on the margins of the good life, the socioeconomic good life for sure, but also the good life of a peaceable disposition.  And this doesn't even address those "normals" amongst us who, given certain stressors, become unhinged.  And whether we speak of marginalized persons or ostensibly normal persons, when they blow they blow and it's a sensible idea if they're far from an assault rifle.

It's a comforting fiction to believe in a binary world of good guys with guns set to defend us from bad guys with guns –– a fiction, because good and bad often blur within the same person at different times, and in different situations, and under different stressors.  The bad guy in your life may turn out to be your husband, your child, your congressman, or yourself in your darkest moments.  We can't control the emergence of badness, we can control the tools of its lethality.

So I'm not optimistic, and meanwhile the Canadian maritimes are looking pretty clean.  We're dealing here with advanced rot in our national governance and I'm not sure what "America" means anymore. It's becoming unrecognizable to me, or maybe all too recognizable, or maybe I never properly understood its fault lines in the first place.

Just now, even as I write this, some emails have dinged into my inbox with bouncy promises of Presidents' Day deals.  Good to know ... we're open for business.


As usual, I take solace in music:

It strikes me that as a country America is still quite the frontier town –– yee-haw!  And them savages?  Gotta have savages, right?  Gotta have a them: Injuns, immigrants, varmints, crazies who shoot up schools.

Well boys, it's beginning to look like them is us.  Nobody eats their young like we do.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Some Tigers and Other Big Cats

Note to Visitors: This is a post about tigers and other big cats.  There is
an orange
Tigers and Cats Playlist, opposite.  We believe our science is solid, but what difference should that make anyway?  Should some of our conclusions seem dodgy, we ask that you remember that ours is an age of alternative facts.

One section notes how Ganges Delta foresters ward off tiger attacks from behind, by wearing face masks on the backs of their heads.  This seems a fruitful idea to us.  Todd, Cyril, and I plan to wear our backwards-facing masks for the next four years whenever we're out and about.

Bengal Tiger
There is something about tigers.
Lions are putative jungle kings –– or better, kings of the plains –– but they spend a lot of time catnapping all day.  Social animals, they hunt in packs, and once they've fed on kills they drowsily share war stories with their pride before dozing off.

Now tigers, well tigers are solitary and elusive, more likely to bam-pow their ways into our lives when we're not looking.  Their basic social unit is a mother and her children, but after two years the mother shoos her still-adolescent offspring out of the den.  Fathers, meanwhile, will have taken off long before that, following birth of the cubs.  Except for mating season and when females are carrying their young, the males are scarce. 

So for the most part tigers live unsocial lives.  You'll not find a group of tigers dozing in the shade; you'll seldom find a group of tigers, period. And whereas you've got a "pride" of lions, a "herd" of buffalo, a "troop" of baboons, the collective noun for tigers is an "ambush" or a "streak" –– as if tigers were motional processes more than static aggregates.

People who weigh in on the merits of lions vs. tigers think tigers are the real jungle kings, larger than lions and likely to win in a fight.  They are accustomed to one-on-one brawling, are more agile, have faster paw-strikes, greater muscle density, and stronger bite force.

Opinions split when it comes to the intelligence of lions versus tigers. The solitary lifestyle of tigers and the sociality of lions inform these opinions. 

Some researchers think lions are smarter because intelligence often correlates with the challenges and necessary adaptations that come from living in social groups.  A University of Miami study supports this view (click link for video).  Researchers locked meat in a puzzle box, then exposed the box to different large carnivores, tasked with opening the box.  The animals' finish times in order of fastest to slowest? Hyenas came in first, then lions, then leopards, and finally –– coming in dead last –– tigers.

Comparison between greatest 
length of skull and cranial volume
amongst leopard (left on the lower

line), and tiger (on the upper line).  
(Credit: University of Oxford)

Other researchers disagree with the social-intelligence premise.  They believe intelligence is better measured by brain volume than by results from a test.  A 2009 article in Science cites an Oxford University study which found that cranial capacity of tigers was sixteen per cent larger than that of lions, relative to their body sizes.  The unsocial tiger had a larger brain than the communal lion.  (See diagram, opposite.)

What to make of this?  To us it suggests that lions scored well on the puzzle-box test not because they're innately smarter than tigers but because they're good test-takers, used to following orders.  Lions may simply be conformist joiners working off a script, whereas tigers display a supple intellect.

We're not zoologists but we think tigers probably are the more savvy of the two large cats –– because it takes a creative leap by tigers to sidestep the state of play, to think outside the puzzle box and ignore the rules altogether, intentionally confounding the research of academicians.  Meaning: those puzzle-box tigers chose to fail the test so as to remain less scrutable and classifiable.

Ganges Delta Forest Workers
More evidence for tigers' intelligence is that they're sneaky.  They like to hunt at night and ambush prey from behind or the side.  They come by their moniker, an "ambush" of tigers, for a reason. Because of this stealth, workers in mangrove forests of the Ganges Delta began, in the 1980s, to wear masks on the backs of their heads –– which ruse effectively reduced tiger attacks.

This stealthy hunting style loosely resembles guerrilla tactics that Patriots used against the British redcoats at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, when the Patriots crept up on their enemy and fired at them from behind trees, walls, fences.  Related tactics had been earlier employed by Native Americans during colonial wars, notably the French and Indian Wars:

     The manner in which Great Lakes Indians fought provides the
     greatest contrast between Indian and European warfare.  Once
     an Indian war party of any size began an attack, each warrior
     generally fought on his own.  Unlike Europeans, who kept
     soldiers in tight ranks under the supervision of sergeants and
     officers, Indian men fought as individuals.  Like Europeans,
     Indian communities had definite goals for their war parties, but
     once combat started, Indian men sought to gain recognition      
     through personal bravery.  This usually involved killing an enemy
     enemy warrior, and in this fashion Indian men gained reputations
     as great warriors.  In this way, war was a much more personal
     activity for Great Lakes Indians than for Europeans, who called
     Indian tactics a "skulking way of war."  In reality, it was simply a
     different set of tactics.
     (Credit: Milwaukee Public Museum)

Surprise! (1891) (Later title: Tiger in a Tropical Storm)
Henri Rousseau (French)
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Performing Tigers at Ringling
Bros. and Barnum & Bailey 
Circus (Wikimedia Commons)
There are six surviving subspecies of tiger, out of an original eleven.  The Bengal tiger is the most numerous tiger subspecies and the Siberian tiger the largest.  Tigers are an endangered species, and they face significant threats from hunting, poaching and habitat loss.  Moreover, they've sometimes encountered less lethal fates, such as execrable performance acts in circuses and Las Vegas shows.

Tiger Hug
Tigers' solitary nature is occasionly punctuated by documented episodes of companionship.  There are some noteworthy human-tiger bonds, for example. These unions are simple bonds of friendship and are not to be confused with examples of non-reproductive sexual behavior –– in which exigent circumstances prompt different species to seek any port in a storm.

Other atypical companionships involve intra-genus couplings, and these are sexually reproductive.  The genus panthera comprises five sister species: panthera tigris (tigers), panthera leo (lions), panthera onca (jaguars), panthera pardus (leopards), panthera uncia (snow leopards).  Among these species there are rare reproductive unions between male lions and female tigers (producing ligers), and unions between male tigers and female lions (producing tigons).

Then again, nature sometimes reveals pairings far stranger than ligers and tigons –– highly unnatural pairings.  So aberrant that we find ourselves torn between fascination and abhorrence.  In this edgy ambivalent spirit we showcase the following in our very own puzzle-box, highlighting it with an orange border but also wisely sequestering it within that border.  Best to be vigilant here, some things really ought to be walled in.

Tigger Ambushes Eeyore
As an antidote to such disturbing pairings, we'll turn now to our favorite big cat, Tigger, seen here in E.H. Shepard's illustration from A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner (1928).  Those who have read Milne will recall that Tigger bounces and runs round and round irrepressibly in the Hundred Acre Wood, so much so that he occasionally courts trouble (getting stuck in a tree, knocking Eeyore into the river).  He is also jauntily confident, erring delightfully on the side of imaginative possibility –– assuring Roo that he can do everything and do it well: fly, jump, swim, climb trees. 

We appreciate Tigger’s exuberance.  True, there are times when he might be more careful, might harness his energies, be more socially appropriate and regimented –– more like a lion.  Still, too much caution and he’d no longer be Tigger.  He’d be a tamed cat, not the refreshing counterpart to the priggishly conventional and starchy Rabbit.

When we look at this image of Tigger we are gladdened.  We get a warm feeling; it traces to the stillness of remembered bedtimes and to memories of reading to children and being read to as children; it also contains a contrary sense of devil-may-care giddiness.  Since Tigger is beloved of many, we assume he sparks compelling Hundred Acre Wood memories in others as well, holding their attention and prompting reverie.  A most excellent cat, he deserves inclusion within genus panthera as a separate species, a sixth species-sister within the standard panthera canon.

Tigger's canonization would be no whimsical honorific.  He and other like-spirited Tiggers have a job to do, which is to be themselves, only more so –– to unrestrainedly bounce as never before.  Because right now, in these times, uncomprehending, leaden-eyed fat cats roam the land, the new jungle kings.  It's hard to meet them head on and reason with them; they're deeply programmed and have lockstep, granitic dispositions.  Clever cats in their way, and probably good test takers, these fat cats are surprisingly incurious, with no questing, imaginative intelligence –– their prime directive being to guard territory and preserve their core fat-cat identity.  Other cats, already in or seeking to enter the jungle, are seen by them as interlopers that threaten to sap strength, adulterate identity.

We're not suggesting that Tiggers should ambush the fat cats, knocking them into the river from hidey-holes behind trees, walls, and fences. No, we are hoping instead that the rest of the jungle will applaud the erratic, the off-center, the playful, and will remember that that riot of potentialities is what's most absorbing and colorful about their jungle home.  We further hope that in time, at the jungle ballot box, the rest of the jungle will vote out the monotonals.

Jungle (2013)
Pierre Maxo (Haitian)

(Credit: Galerie Macondo)

We'll close with this useful quote from John Lennon:

     When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing 
     the system's game.  The establishment will irritate you –– pull your 
     beard, flick your face –– to make you fight.  Because once they've
     got you violent, then they know how to handle you.  The only thing 
     they don't know how to handle is non-violence and humor.
     (Credit: The Huffington Post, 1/4/2017)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The "Make America Great Again" Playlist

Note to Visitors: this post presents a "Make America Great Again" playlist along with a timely introduction.  As it gathers speed, the introduction acquires a sermonic tone.  We are unapologetic about this: shady times call for righteousness.  We hope you stay the course.

There is a section that discusses the snake's temptation of Eve in the Book of Genesis.  We examine this archetypal story of trickery from within the logic of its narrative.  We are not suggesting that blind faith in general is a good idea or that becoming knowledgable is a bad one; quite the reverse, in fact.

Some odds and ends: you'll find a video link to Patti Smith's 2016 Nobel Ceremony performance in the appropriate section; we thank our friend Matthew for his song suggestion, "America" by the KBC Band; there is an embedded mystery track in the playlist; an Adam Gopnik article in The New Yorker"The Music Donald Trump Can't Hear," pairs well with this post; copy editor Cyril wants it known that the Devil is a metaphor and that any equation of the Horned One with an actual person is unintentional on our part; layout editor Todd calls your attention to the order of playlist songs –– he says he sequenced songs in thematic units, he says you'll go on a journey.

A technical note on operating the music player.  There are two play-mode icons at the top left of the player, a shuffle icon to the left (two intersecting arrows) and a play-in-sequence icon to its right (a single circular arrow).  Todd recommends you disable the shuffle icon by clicking on it.  You can then hear the songs in order.

Four years ago my editors and I posted a playlist following the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama.  Its songs emphasized hope, in keeping with President Obama's message of "Hope and Change."  This time around we are posting a "Make America Great Again" playlist, consistent with the principal theme of the Republican Party's victorious candidate, Donald J. Trump.
Donald Trump Campaign Cap

Initially we weren't sure which songs to choose.  None of us voted for President Trump and we questioned whether our song-choices would appropriately represent the current Republican ethos. Specifically, we felt our notions of a bygone American greatness would differ from theirs, and that our solutions to regaining greatness would similarly differ.

For us, what's slipping from view is our guiding star: our inclusive, conglomerate American identity.  That star has been with us since the inception of our republic, sometimes radiant, sometimes lambent, sometimes only a pilot light, but there nonetheless.  It is still there, even if bedimmed by the divisive rhetoric of this election season. Our greatness lies in simply remembering it's there, in sustaining our orientation towards fairness and social inclusion, in accepting that there will always be work to be done to realize that fairness.

There is a humility in this greatness –– we're never going to achieve, lose, or restore a perfect union, we just keep trying.  America is an ongoing process, generally improving, refining, raising itself up, but periodically doubling back on itself, bogging down.  Notwithstanding reversals and setbacks, we remember what makes us us.  There is an ironic greatness in falling short yet doggedly working on our deficiencies.

Accordingly, our "Make America Great Again" playlist addresses cultural, historical, and ethical themes relevant to our understanding of this ongoing, sometimes muddled American process.  As befits its subject the playlist is huge, one-hundred items huge.  Its first track isn't a song at all but a 1969 Firesign Theater sketch.  Ninety-nine songs follow that sketch, among them an embedded mystery track.  Most songs are by American artists and canny readers will detect the few outliers.

We don't know what a GOP "Make America Great Again" playlist would look like.  However, we think we know the new administration's priorities and we think we can infer what a Republican greatness might look like:

     I have a great love for our country, but it is a country that 
     is in serious trouble.  We have lost the respect of the entire 
     world.  Americans deserve better than what they get from 
     their politicians –– who are all talk and no action!  I have
     built a great company, created thousands of jobs and built 
     a tremendous net worth with some of the finest and most
     prestigious assets in the world –– and very little debt!  All
     Americans deserve the same opportunity.  Our real 
     unemployment rate is staggering while our manufacturing  
     base is eroding on a daily basis.  We must rebuild our  
     infrastructure, control our borders, support local control of
     education, greatly strengthen our military, care for our
     veterans and put Americans back to work!  We must stop
     other countries from totally taking advantage of our          
     representatives who are being out-negotiated at every turn.
     I am the only one who can make America truly great again! 
     (Donald Trump, from 3/18/2015 press release, Donald J. Trump

     for President, Inc.)

We're in sad shape, it seems, outfoxed internationally due to inept trade negotiations, weakened internally by unemployment, educational and military unreadiness, threatened at our borders by invasive outsiders.  We're hardly an ongoing egalitarian process (backslides and all), we're a collapsing process –– the ninety pound weakling on the beach, the wimp in the back of 1950s comics who gets sand kicked in his face.  No wonder we've "lost the respect of the entire world."

We'd best toughen up.  President Trump, he'll be our champion, the man to restore respect, turn our losing streak around.  We'll be winning again –– a favorable trade agreement, say, or a negotiation to keep manufacturing at home.  We'll tell those NAFTA and Pacific Rim leaders what's what, restore our standing by driving a hard bargain and coming out on top.  It's going to be great.
Angry African Elephant
Wikimedia Commons

And even should our strategies stall, we can always look the part –– wear a stern game face, trumpet our presence, act large and in charge.  (Our prototype might come from nature, such as when adolescent male elephants spread ears wide and impressively mock-charge.)

We're not economists here, and for all we know hard bargaining is just what we need.  That said, restoring prosperity won't necessarily restore respect; it may, it may not.  Winning isn't always a respectable activity; some winning Olympians are admirable, some aren't.

It's a truism but how we play the game matters.  In our personal lives we remember the kindness and fairness of those who've gone before us, not whether they were winners in a competitive game of life. Winning is gravy, but it's a topper for something more hearty and nutritious –– which is our sportsmanship, the degree to which we've played the game fairly and good-naturedly. 

Notions of Our American Dream
(Credit: National Park Service,

Ellis Island Photo Gallery)

Hard bargaining, acting large and in charge, these can bring rewards.  But win or lose, it's our largeness of heart that is admirable to the world and locally.  That heart drives our ongoing egalitarian process, keeps our guiding star in view; it isn't arrogant or jingoistic, doesn't reduce complexity to simplicity, doesn't build walls, doesn't create unity by exiling out-groups, doesn't demean, scapegoat, and reject others.  It is our greatness, our most admirable attribute, the thing we least can afford to lose.  It keeps us going, coheres a collection of states into a union, a distinctly American union.

We'll return to these themes but first we want to describe our playlist's content, starting with one particular song: Patti Smith's cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the song she performed at the 2016 Nobel Ceremony.  We chose her cover over Dylan's original because of its striking authenticity.  Patti Smith briefly clutched up during that performance, but we felt that her unvarnished truth and pure presence trumped flawless presentation.

Some news outlets hopped on Smith's mistakes.  The New York Post said she botched it, the Daily News said she bungled it.  Botch and bungle –– sounds like the Post and Daily News saw a winning performance as one with an unblemished surface versus one with an affecting heart.

We prefer Patti Smith's own take on it:

     The opening chords of the song were introduced, and I heard 
     myself singing.  The first verse was passable, a bit shaky, but  
     I was certain I would settle.  But instead I was struck with a 
     plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I 
     was unable to negotiate them.  From the corner of my eye, I 
     could see the huge boom stand of the television camera, and 
     all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond.
     Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was 
     unable to continue.  I hadn't forgotten the words that were now
     a part of me.  I was simply unable to draw them out.

     This strange phenomenon did not diminish or pass but stayed
     cruelly with me.  I was obliged to stop and ask pardon and then
     attempt again while in this state and sang with all my being, yet
     still stumbling.  It was not lost on me that the narrative of the    
     song begins with the words "stumbled alongside of twelve misty
     mountains," and ends with the line "And I'll know my song well
     before I start singing."  As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating
     sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow
     entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.

     (from "How Does It Feel," The New Yorker, December 14, 2016)

Smith's lucid, unguarded explanation requires nothing further from us. But as a coda to this kerfuffle, we'll argue that you'll find more honesty, humility, courage in Patti Smith's performance and mea culpa than you'll find in the last eight years of GOP congressional proceedings.

Moving from the particular to the general, here is an overview of our "Make America Great Again" playlist. 

Its songs are a mixed bag but a populist tone prevails, a unifying "we're on this train together" tone, with economic, environmental, civil liberties issues predominating.  Despite some rock outliers, most of our playlist songs come from folk and Americana genres, genres which give exemplary voice to populism.

Populism is an intricate subject, which we'll not discuss here save for a bare-bones summary.  By "populist" we mean the progressive left-wing populism of a Bernie Sanders, not the right-wing populism of a Donald Trump.  Both populisms unite the "people" in a war against the "elites," and both have an impassioned "us versus them" rhetorical style which promotes unity.  But there are differences.  Left-wing populism unites an aggregate of diverse types by stressing commonalities in their histories, responsibilities, and yearnings.  Its rhetoric emphasizes inclusion, and the "us" in "us versus them" is variegated.  Right-wing populism unites a more homogeneous "us," one that can feel beleaguered by Huns at the gate, one held together through its opposition to those Huns.  This rightward rhetoric tilts towards ginning up anger at demonized out-groups, and it can sound authoritarian and demagogic.  It would astound us to hear Bernie Sanders, passionate as he is, declare that he is "the only one who can make America truly great again."

There is also a decidedly ethical tone.  While only a handful of song-choices are outrightly preachy, most have ethical implications.  This is unavoidable since greed, inequality, intolerance have been with us since the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, the dialectic underbelly of our charity, equality, and openness.

The recent presidential campaign has exposed this underbelly rudely. Never before have we seen such guile and disingenuousness, nor felt so dismayed when dishonesty took root.  Richard Nixon's "dirty tricks" pale in contrast to the foulness of today's fake news.  Never before have we felt the America of "All men are created equal" redefined into something smaller, meaner, and frankly evil. 

Evil?  That's a strong word, but we don't use it idly.  And we'll shortly be linking it to another strong word, "diabolic."  Stick with us.

Throughout this 2016 election there has been a sulphurous smell in the air, a miasma of political expediency and carny-barker yammer.  An evil purpose has attended this rhetoric –– which is to divide what is supposedly indivisible, our union. 

Masks Still Life III (1911)
Emil Nolde (German-Danish)
Evil is an adjective worth unpacking.
We usually think of it as a synonym for wicked or malevolent, and we leave it at that.  But evil is a resonant adjective, with evocations of history, religion, and literature.  So resonant that it carries us back to its founding ancestor, the Devil. Now the Devil, he's an interesting character.  While he has many masks, his work always follows the same blueprint.  A unitary whole is targeted for dis-integration; lies are told about selected components of this whole; these lies create fear, doubt, discord and division; the union is broken apart.

Our best example of evil is its foundational archetype, the vignette from Genesis: Chapter 3 about the snake's temptation of Eve.

In the Garden of Eden, the snake tricks Eve by instilling doubt as to God's intentions, fostering in her a skeptical apartness from God.  The snake misrepresents and slanders God, persuades Eve that God isn't the protective provider she assumes him to be. 

How does the snake do this? 

Old Nick, the Devil (c. 1936)
Florian Rokita (American)
(National Gallery of Art)
By insinuating that God was only role-playing a protector when first he warned Adam not to eat fruit of the wisdom tree. True enough, admits the snake, God doesn't want Adam and Eve to eat that fruit, but not because he's a good egg looking out for their best interests.  And that scary talk about death-dealing fruit?  Why, nothing to worry about, the snake assures Eve –– she'll not die because she learns about what's good and what's not, about worldly choices. No, argues the snake, what God's really up to is keeping that knowledge-fruit to himself.  That's all he's got, that fruit; and omniscience, that's his specialty. He's neither caring nor trustworthy, he just wants control over the secret recipes.

Eve and the Serpent (2004-2005)
Henri Rousseau (French)
(Credit: The
Eve thinks on it: that fruit certainly looks appealing, and it does sound nice to be wise, and the snake's reasoning is persuasive.  She buys into that reasoning, eats the fruit, and the rest is History. (See Genesis 3: 1-6 KJV.)

A History marked by toil, trouble, and as God indicated, mortality.  And a History marked by lesser deaths that also spring from knowledge of worldly choices –– the tyranny of shoulds and shouldn'ts, the second-guessing of urges and behaviors, the ambivalence about or inhibition of initiatives.  Where once we had freedom to toddle about innocently, we now have ankle bracelets.  Where once we had an uncomplicated continuousness of paradisal being, we now have disjunctions, adversities, discontinuities. There are consequences to wrong choices, sometimes irreversible ones.  We recall that God places a flaming sword east of Eden to bar the way back in.

Importantly, Eve couldn't have known any of this.  The snake left out parts of the story and fabricated others: a persuasive pitch trumped the whole story.  Nor could Eve have known that what the snake accuses God of doing precisely mirrors what the snake itself is doing –– lying with a straight face and a hidden agenda.  This goes beyond hypocrisy, it's a projective offloading of serpentine entitlement onto God, an offloading that transforms identities.  God now becomes the lying viper while the lying viper becomes the helpful advisor.  It's all backwards. The snake successfully swift-boats God.

The Genesis story doesn't tell us what the snake got out of this smoke and mirrors.  Maybe it envied Adam and Eve their status as gardener and gardener's helper in God's garden.  And maybe it decided to drag them down, get them disgraced and exiled –– achieving this by instilling doubt in Eve about God's intentions.  If the snake wasn't to be God's special assistant, Adam and Eve were not to have those jobs either.

Or maybe it's simpler than that.  Perhaps the snake felt a visceral pleasure in being a puppet master, in pulling Eve's strings and dishing out poison.  Perhaps the snake was our first fraudulent marketer, pulling off the first con.  Not so much driven by envy as by the satisfaction to be had in being manipulative, in treating people as objects.

1971 Eve Cigarettes Ad
The Devil, we are told, has a forked tongue, that disarming combination of straight face and hidden agenda that causes doubt, unravels ties, pits neighbor against neighbor.  He can be a demagogue, easily whipping up a crowd, inciting partisan intensities and a bunker mentality, sparking others to act out his dark designs.  He can also assume milder, more commonplace forms of forked persuasion, such as unprincipled advertising which markets a harmful product.  In 1971, Eve cigarettes rejiggered a carcinogen as a fashion accessory, walling consumers off from their common sense.

In a 2011 post we detailed the many forms of this deviltry: slander, libel, malicious gossip, fraud, various misrepresentations and falsehoods.  In that post we discussed not only forms of the diabolic but also its driving process: the cherry-picking of data to present (or misrepresent) parts as if they are wholes.

Consider this Rollo May citation from that 2011 post:

     Satan, or the devil, comes from the Greek word diabolos;
     "diabolic" is the term in contemporary English.  Diabolos
     interestingly enough, literally means "to tear apart” 
     (dia-bollein).  Now it is fascinating to note that the diabolic 
     is the antonym to "symbolic."  The latter comes from 
     sym-bollein, and means "to throw together,” to unite. 
     There lie in these words tremendous implications with
     respect to an ontology of good and evil.  The symbolic is
     that which draws together, ties, integrates the individual in
     himself and with his group; the diabolic, in contrast, is that
     which disintegrates and tears apart.  

     (Rollo May [1969]Love and Will, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p. 138)
Please may this quote hang in your minds a while, let it steep.  The diabolic is evil, we know that, but it is also the machinery of evil, the way evil intent is actualized –– the process of taking things apart (speeches, biographies, histories, descriptions of persons and groups), then recombining those parts into misarrangements which resemble apparent wholes. 

We've heard much of this recombinant rhetoric in 2016.  It rankles us when facts get dragged into a social-media slipstream, then diffused in a tide of lies, distractions, evasions, vacuous allegations, posturing. There has always been dishonest expression but we are startled when words so regularly fail to mean what they say, when language no longer reliably signifies.  Ditch those source books, folks, we can make up stuff as we go along, be our own gods.  We'll not be needing those pesky dictionaries, history books, and bibles any more, won't be worrying over whether our word is our bond.

Now there are lies and there are lies, and not all lies are diabolic.  The assertion that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump is a lie but not a diabolical one.  The assertion that President Obama isn't an American citizen, now that is a diabolical lie.  Why?  Because it takes bits of Obama's history (a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, African and Indonesian relatives) and spins a revised history out of them.  The new narrative is a miscreation.  It transforms Obama's international background into ambiguous foreign exotica, it gives off a whiff of suspect otherness.  It then edits out disconfirming biographical data, throws in made-up elements, scrambles it all up and serves this fetid mash as the whole truth.  It does this intentionally.

Since the new miscreation is not the whole truth, it packs a wallop.  It's easier to get riled up over a partial allegation ("Listen up, Obama may be a Kenyan!") than it is when we have all the data.

How the lie is delivered matters as well.  Often it's pitched as a certainty, as if unquestionably true.  As often it takes a softer form of innuendo and hearsay ("Well it's hard to pin down, of course, and we're still checking, but we can't rule out that ... ").  Either delivery system will work, but it's critical that the lie be repeated incessantly, sown in the media breeze until –– in the manner of a Johnny Turdseed –– it successfully propagates its foulness.

Cover of 1888 Edition of
Goody Two-Shoes
Once the new lie has disseminated, a practiced Devil doesn't let his guard down.  Should some Goody Two-Shoes come along and cry, "Hey, that's a lie," the dutiful Devil will promptly fire back, "Well, hey yourself, little girl, what a poor sport you are, ya big crybaby –– just can't accept that I won this round, can you?"  As the stunned Goody stumbles to mount a response, the Devil will serenely add, "Oh, and by the way, shouldn't this be an occasion for unity? a moment we draw upon our better angels, rise above our squabbles, work together for the common good?"

By the time Goody gets over her confusion, Old Nick will have left town.

We want to pair the Rollo May quotation with William Butler Yeats' 1919 poem, "The Second Coming":
     Turning and turning in the widening gyre
     The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
     Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
     The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
     The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
     The best lack all conviction, while the worst
     Are full of passionate intensity.

     Surely some revelation is at hand;
     Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
     The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
     When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi  
     Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
     A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
     A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
     Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
     Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
     The darkness drops again; but now I know
     That twenty centuries of stony sleep
     Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
     And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
     Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

     (William Butler Yeats [1919], The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats,
     Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, p. 187)

Readers, please let this poem hang in your mind next to that Rollo May passage.  We know this isn't English class but the humanities can sometimes depict movements of national and civic life in arresting ways, and in this instance Yeats resonates. 

Are we worried here at One Hand On The Radio that some "rough beast" with a "gaze blank and pitiless" shambles our way?  Why, yes we are.  Are we rattled by the "passionate intensity" of the fake-news crowd?  That too, yes.  Are we alarmed at the tendency of media outlets to "lack all conviction"? –– to not treat lies as lies, to not label crackpot ideas as crackpot ideas.  You bet we are.  (Dear Media: By all means report campaign assertions and representations, but when they are lies call them lies, then do the harder work of explaining how deviltry works.  Inform us, make us better citizens.)

All this fakery and misinformation unnerves us, we worry that it "disintegrates and tears apart" the connective tissue of our nation, our large inclusive heart.

We are equally concerned with the apparent receptivity of many Americans to being lied to.  They can't all be racists and white supremacists, primed to accept that Muslims were dancing in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11.  Nor can they all be instrumental types who regard campaign lies as expectable, permissible hype in pursuit of winning the deal.  We have to assume that a majority of President Trump's supporters are genuinely hopeful for a better turn of fortune's wheel, that they see in him a potential champion –– a plain-spoken "outsider" who speaks their language.  And if their champion sometimes says over-the-top stuff, well haven't we all?

We confess we're trying to grasp something here that we can't really fathom.  We appreciate the primary need to feel that we matter, that our issues matter, that someone is listening, that we're visible.  At the same time, we haven't the confidence in our new president that others have.   We just don't, we'd have to be credulous Eves to feel otherwise.  We also confess that we are perhaps moralistic relics from another time, still wed to the idea that dishonesty should summarily disqualify a candidate from the race.

In any event, we've a suggestion –– likely unwanted –– about how to better evaluate information which comes our way, so that we can then differentiate news from propaganda.  We've a hunch this technique is not widely taught in elementary and secondary education.

To borrow a 1942 Fritz Perls metaphor from Ego, Hunger and Aggression, the nub of critical mental-filtering is our ability to use our teeth and chew –– the ability to pause before straightaway swallowing something, and during that pause chew that thing over, taste it, grind it so finely that we assimilate it, making it so thoroughly our own that we neither prematurely act on it nor prematurely spit it back out into the world.

The Mob Hunts For The Monster
Frankenstein (1931): Photobucket
Absent this ability, we are prone to drink the Kool-Aid and sicken ourselves, and prone in turn to spread our disease via gossip, rumor, true-believer sharings.  This is glaringly viral when the poison evokes or exacerbates bigotry, when we precipitously grab our torches, join the mob and set out after the monster.  It is viral as well when it evokes or exacerbates wishful thinking, when we precipitously rejoice in illusory expectations of a chicken-in-every-pot salvation

A few words about chickens in pots.  In 1589, King Henry IV of France stated, "If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in his pot every Sunday!"  King Henry was apparently a decent guy and we're willing to believe his chicken statement came from the heart.  Beyond that we know little of his intent or his statement's impact.  Centuries later, the 1928 Republican campaign committee of Herbert Hoover tried a similar chicken gambit, promising "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."  Hoover won that 1928 election but eight months later ran into Black Tuesday, the October 29th start of the Wall Street Crash and ensuing Great Depression.

Our hope is that four years hence all Americans will have chickens in their pots and garages with cars.  Alternatively, we worry that four years hence we'll have a slew of red caps and few satisfied minds.

We live in unsettling times.  Could our multiform American weave be rent, our center not hold?  We love that weave, we love its elastic inclusivity, we think it defines us.  And it's not that long ago that we had a Trail of Tears, a Civil War, lynchings, successive waves of reviled immigrants, internment camps, a Red Scare.  And we persist today in scapegoating out-groups and undesirables.

This is a suitable place to quote Michelle Obama, during her last public appearance as first lady:

     Our glorious diversity –– our diversities of faiths, and
     colors, and creeds –– that is not a threat to who we are;

     it makes us who we are ... .
     (New York Times, January 7, 2017, A9)

We've never had doubts like these before, not even during the protests and riots of the Vietnam era.  Our ship of state always had an inherent and unifying ballast to provide stability, a ballast we perhaps took for granted.  These days our ship feels less stable, not tippy exactly but not right either, altered somehow.

This post and its playlist are our attempts to sort out and focus our flutterings, and in this particular cultural moment nothing pulls us together like righteous indignation.

Depiction of Jeremiah 
Sistine Chapel ceiling (1505 – 1512)
Michelangelo (Italian)
Todd, Cyril and I become biblical when information is tainted, when offal gets peddled as food, when citizens eat that food.  The Devil has a forked tongue to be sure.  The Devil has, we are further told, a silver tongue.  To give him his due, he needs that glinting lure since at heart he's a salesman.  Not only that, he's always been an outsider in the competitive recruitment market, up against the endorsed God and the angel choir.  Oh, he's a charmer alright, Old Scratch, and we can't really begrudge him his silver tongue.  But try to imagine where that tongue's been.

What to do about cajolery masked as candor?  After draining the swamp, we're going to need to get rid of it.  We can do this by removing the dark recesses in which lobbyists, careerists, invisible money men, glad-handing shapeshifters thrive –– chiefly by illuminating their murky chambers.  Old-school investigative journalism might help, but we've also a civic duty to become educated consumers, learn habits of better and mindful eating.

The Witch offers Snow White the
poisoned apple.  (The DisneyWiki)
There are usually two ways we learn such valuable life-lessons –– first, from direct experience, such as when someone offers us a magic red apple which then puts us in a coma, or we discover that we're still lacking chickens in our pots; second, from vicarious experience, such as when schooling in history, literature, religion, Snow White, makes us empathically wary of shiny apples, makes us pause before taking a bite.  (Consumer tip: in supermarkets, the shiny apples look appetizing but are typically covered with shellac or Carnuba wax preservatives, resins said to be food-grade but which can seal in pesticide residue.)

OK, that's enough of the jeremiad section of this introduction.  Onward now to the music.  We know our emphasis on social inclusion won't echo priorities of the new administration, and that a Republican "Make America Great Again" playlist would likely have a different emphasis –– perhaps an America-first boosterism, or a cheapened populism along the lines of that Dodge Ram tagline: "Guts. Glory. Ram."  Still, given the complexity of American history, we feel we've done a workmanlike job with this compilation.  Its songs will appeal to some more than others, but that's always true.  We also see no reason why President Trump's populist supporters won't find many of these songs congenial. 

Time to end this preamble.  2016 had its way with us and we're tuckered.  The music can take over.