Mass Shooting

Here we go again. Yet another mass shooting today, at a school in Texas. Not by Muslim terrorists, not by Mexican immigrants, not by Freddy Krueger, the Chupacabra or Big Foot, but seemingly again by pretty average looking good ole American students. What in the world is going on here?

First off, I grew up in a country where there were no guns around, except in the hands of Police and a few criminals. The number of shootings in (at the time) a country of 14 million was shockingly low; well-trained police, who defuse rather than escalate was part of the reason. Still to this day, the amount of killing is much lower there than here in the US. According to Wikipedia per 100,000 people the rates are as follows:

Netherlands  homicide: 0.29   Suicide: 0.28   Guns in possession(per 100): 3.9

United States homicide: 4.62   Suicide:  7.10   Guns in possession(per 100): 101.05

That’s pretty incredible no? So what does it mean?

Most of my liberal friends, American, Dutch or from other places, believe that strong gun regulation is the answer. After living in the US for more than 25 years, I think it’s far from that simple. We’ve heard all the arguments ad nauseum and there’s no denying that guns are a simple way to cause lots of death and destruction. Then again, cars and other vehicles are quite effective too; there are all kinds of ways of making explosives and the easy spread of information through the internet makes proliferation more and more common. Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation and perhaps the MOST gun violence of all. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we SHOULD have strong gun regulation, that allowing anybody to buy one at a gun show without any background check is epically stupid. But, I don’t think we can regulate ourselves of the problem of violence.

That’s the REAL problem, that these kids for instance want to shoot up their classmates to begin with. What in the world does it take for someone to do that? I was kind of an outcast in High School; only had one or two real friends, thought the ‘cool’ kids were full of shit. We all experience the angst of life, the relentless beat-down that is the universe. But how come SO many people just snap in these United States?

In an era of “quick and easy” solutions, a time in which attention spans are shorter and shorter, and efficiency is goal number one, this is an issue of particular complexity. Every time you hear someone say “But, but, but the issue is too wide to be solved in the simple way you’re supposing!” most have checked out of the conversation already. We want quick answers, simple solutions, or bust. Ban the guns! Arm the teachers! Harsher punishments! Kick out the losers!

In my opinion, a huge part of the problem is simply that there are too many here who, justifiably or not, believe they have nothing left to lose. Too many who feel they don’t have a chance at a decent life in this rat race, this cesspool of liars and cheaters, of selfishness perpetrated by the ones in charge, the ones that have. I’ve written before about the dehumanizing jobs we’ve created, the public schools that look like they’re located in Syria, not the richest country in the world. Then there are all of those formerly hard-working folks who fell off the wagon because they got sick; two million (2,000,000) Americans will face bankruptcy directly because of medical expenses this year alone! It’s a nightmare of unimaginable proportions, really.

Amazingly, those who own the wealth here, with there increasingly fancy houses, cars and stuff, are getting more and more upset about all the crime and disaster around them. Large numbers of them would describe themselves as Christians, yet compassion is rarely found there. One of my stupid neighbors said it the other day: “I have no compassion for heroin or meth users!” At least Trump has emboldened these folks enough to let us hear their true feelings, their true intentions. It’s unfortunate that the system of propaganda set up here is slowly but surely leading them down a very, very dangerous path: more prisons, walls, less help for the poor. Chances are it will only lead to more violence….

Sports

Oftentimes when people ask me about some Baseball or Football game, I’ll tell them: “Sorry, there are few things I care less about than sports!” Half the time that answer goes right over their head, evidenced by some detailed response about what happened. For years and years I’ve been of the opinion that professional sports as a whole are a net deficit to society; if only people would spend half the time they spend on examining their leagues and teams of choice , memorizing stats, watching games (and don’t forget the commercials!) on learning what their governments do in their name, what’s really on their tax returns etc, we would have better societies. These days more and more opinions are based on less and less understanding of the issues it seems, and now that some very valuable sources of information like the NY Times have been classified by some of the upper echelon of knuckleheads as “Fake News”, there’s even more of a reason to remain ignorant. Combine that with the fact that a game of which you don’t want to miss a second is the perfect vehicle for creating a textbook captive audience, one ready to swallow whatever propaganda (that’s what commercials are, let’s not kid ourselves) you interrupt it with, and you have a precarious situation.

Every coin has two sides though, so there must be benefits to all of us, aren’t there? Of course there are! Humans are inherently tribal, and have a need to belong to one. Rooting for the same team can bring cities or countries together; for a short time, people from all walks of life, from minimum wagers to lawyers, black, brown or white, the mundane to the crazy can all feel like their on the same side. If it weren’t for the insane (IMHO) commercial interruptions, it can create a way to develop an attention span longer than the typical 30 seconds we’re getting used to. It creates a framework for learning how to deal with winning and losing, how to learn about patience and working towards a long-term goal in a world of short-term thinking.

Now there’s one more thing, and it’s something I don’t write about lightly. These days, more than ever before during my lifetime anyway, it seems one is not allowed to call people dumb anymore. “Everyone is smart in his or her own way” seems to be the predominant narrative, but that means nothing in my opinion. Just like a school system in which everyone passes every test, no matter the actual performance, it just devalues the label. So let’s define what smart means in what I’m getting at. Wikipedia has a great entry about it and it shows the wide variety of meanings the term carries; let’s go with this:

“It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context.”

In this light, it would be impossible to say everyone is equally intelligent, is it? There just are some that are much quicker and better at dealing with complex information and use it to adapt to unknown situations. Intelligence is not being good at remembering batting averages for your favorite team; it’s about solving problems you’ve never seen before, using things you learned from others situations! It’s about listening to a long complex story and quickly distilling the important parts and filing them in your mental toolbox. Having said that, in my opinion, it’s not something you can learn, it’s more like a talent your born with. You can develop it, you can hone it, but sorry, some of us are just born with less of it, just like physical abilities or traits.  Exactly like with every other human trait, our population spans the gamut, from Einstein to those who can do barely more than stuff their face and run real fast and that’s OK. As a matter of fact, it’s what makes humans so powerful as a group; diversity is the ultimate recipe for resilience and that’s a great topic for another day. So, why am I bringing all of this up? Well, of course not every sports fan is ‘dumb’, but for some of us, there’s tremendous value in a ‘universe’ which we can completely understand. Let me explain what I mean.

As our world becomes more and more complex, it becomes harder and harder to comprehend and lack of understanding creates uncertainty. Religion is so powerful for exactly that reason: it provides a mechanism for providing “the complete story” even when you don’t get all the individual parts. In the end, there will be heaven or hell and that’s that. When you can define the theory of everything, it gives certainty, which leads to acceptance which leads to peace of mind. The universe is a big place and no one, not even the smartest 1000 people that every lived put together can even pretend to get the whole picture. Some of us are totally fine with that, but ironically the more you know the more you know that you don’t know shit! It’s one of the reasons I couldn’t get myself to continue my course in electrical engineering; theories built upon theories, conclusions we knew were wrong, but the best estimation we have, stated as the absolute truth. Don’t even get me started about Economics! The certainty with which some spout their theories….. The truth is that the system is too complex for anyone to comprehend and I don’t blame people for wanting to check out of the discussion.

And that’s the beauty of sports! It’s like a limited universe, a rather large world of winners and losers, of strategies and outcomes, of hard work and luck, that’s relatively easy to get. It allows just about anyone to get it, to see the big picture, to have the ability to contribute to a conversation with a relevant statement. It’s a microcosm in which traditional ‘intelligence’ is of very limited value, where talent, and dedication and hard work are 99% of the value, but there still is enough diversity and complexity to be ever-changing and ‘interesting’ for anyone’s lifetime. The older I get, the more I see the value in it (even though it still doesn’t really interest me very much at all) to the point where I’ve changed my mind about the net value proposition.

Death by machine

So, it happened. A self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian. If I had a dollar for every person I ever discussed this tech with that said “one death, lawsuits will shut it down…..”, I’d be able to pay the families legal fees. Except that’s not what’s gonna happen. You see, these machines record every single detail all the time; if that’s not admissible evidence,  I don’t know what is.

Already police have said it seems the woman jumped out of the shadows onto a dark road,  away from a legal crosswalk, and that a human driver likely could not have prevented hitting her. These cars have 360 degree vision, radar, lidar and who knows what else. Their reaction time is a fraction of the fastest human’s; they don’t get tired, or distracted. I’m not saying they’re flawless, of course not, but every machine of a particular brand has all the knowledge of all the ones that came before it! Every human that has to learn how to drive has to start over. Just think about that for a second..

 

A cookie of your own dough

Here we go again: yet another musicians needs money, had a stroke, crowdfunding started. But wait, didn’t he just buy a brand new Samsung Galaxy S8? More importantly, he has not been shy about supporting Trump, and that means every man for himself right? Safety net? NO: personal responsibility is the Republican mantra, right? On top of that, this guy was always boasting that he didn’t pay taxes, never paid taxes. He couldn’t sign up for the evil Obamacare because he didn’t pay taxes. So, he chose to give a big fuck you to all around him, from my perspective, chose to think only about himself and now he’s fucked. Should there not be a consequence for that?

It’s a very very hard situation; at what point does that kind of mentality and condition become an illness? We can’t hold a crazy person responsible for not fitting in to society, can we? Collectively we’ve created the system, but nobody signed up to live in it. This is exactly why modern humans have designed and created a social safety net. The guy in question  does have some family, but what if you don’t? A compassionate person believes in not letting people become homeless, in my opinion. Even someone like the guy in question, who’s so fat he can barely stand anymore, has not taken care of himself, and has proven to be quite selfish in his view of the world; even though he probably didn’t vote, he’s responsible for helping spread the nonsense about Hillary, in order to promote the Donald he likes, directly resulting in breaking down the relatively small safety net this country has. In a literal translation from on old Dutch saying: he got a cookie of his own dough.

Southern California

The following is a true story; one that I have a hard time believing could happen in most places on this big planet of ours, as common as the situation in which it took place is.

Just like I do most days when I’m not working, I came to the same Starbucks here in my hometown of Sherman Oaks, the one where all the baristas know my name! There are three types of seating here: low tables with seats, high tables with stools, and a big ‘community’ table with seating for 8. During busy times, like today, I have no problems sitting at the latter. Today, right across from me is an older gentleman with a computer making phone calls in an appropriately subdued tone, right next to me a little girl with her mom, who are joined a little later by a little boy with who I assume is the dad. The girl is playing with a phone with the sound off for a little while, then turns it on, a cartoon screaming through the tiny speaker. I let it go for 5 minutes, try to give the mom a look like “hey, will you please….?” but she’s completely uninterested in anyone around her. These are obviously pretty well off people, iPhones, nice clothes from the mall; you know, typical Southern California upper middle class. I give it another 5 minutes, trying to tune it out, but the kid starts yelling “I can’t hear it! I can’t hear it!”, to which the dad says “it’s loud in here!”. At this point I turn to him and ask if he can please turn the sound off, or give the kid some headphones. Immediately the war is ON.

I kid you not, the guy gives me a look like he’s gonna kill me. At this point I don’t even realize the girl is about to start screaming and crying! Mind you, I did NOT talk to the child, didn’t even look at her, I’m smart enough to address the parent, but the dad isn’t having it. He ask why I’m complaining when there are already so many sounds going on. I try to reason with him, explaining that it’s exactly because there are already so many different sources of sound, but before I can get to the point that others talking is one thing, Muzak in the background another, but a tiny cellphone speaker screaming kids’ cartoons something else, the girl erupts. “You’re an asshole” the guy says to me, “Winning!” the mom says like a fucking Kardashian as she picks up her out-of-control spawn. “See what you did?”….. you’ve got to be kidding me!

At this point, the family is getting up, and the dude is still talking to me. He says we can go outside to discuss this further, I kid you not. He’s tall, but a giant pussy, apparently used to bullying others around, but he’s lucky I’m a pacifist. And here it comes, again this is 100% a TRUE story: he calls me a CHILD MOLESTER! Again, I never talked to the child, didn’t look at it, I addressed only its parents! He said it so loudly that after they split, other customers asked me if he really said that!

Newport Beach

“You’re gonna love playing with us!” the drummer I just met says. He assures me he’s studied all styles, starts doing the Indian rhythmic solfege thing: “Taka taka da taka da du di”…. he keeps going and going, I just stand there. “You know, when I play I really make it sound like a full band” he explains; my buddy Freddy, whose gig it is, plays mostly by himself with loopers and tracks, but here at La Vida Cantina in Newport Beach, CA, he added this guy.  I had already sat in at this place and didn’t care for it very much. Nobody gives a flying hoot about the music, every single chick has the exact same hairstyle and the word “like” is used at a frequency that makes the space-time continuum bend. When I explain to the drummer I came to listen and have some food, he doesn’t want to believe me; “Trust me, you’re gonna love it!”

He introduces me to his buddy sitting at a table next to where they’re setting up: “He’s the mayor!” The dude is obviously an alcoholic, prolly in his late fifties, with a lot of miles on him. Born and raised in Newport Beach it turns out; never lived anywhere else! Blah blah blah, “money is not my God” he says, only to proceed to talk of nothing but material possessions and fine things. “I cut my monthly nut by $10,000!” he brags; it’s nice to live cheaply I respond. “Oh no! It’s not cheap he says!”,  renting this place in San Juan Capistrano that costs $850,000, but would cost 5 million in Newport! There’s a picture of him with a Lamborghini, shots with supposedly important folks I’ve never heard of. It goes on and on and on. In the beginning I ask some questions, like a civilized person does, but he never asks any back, just keeps going.

In the meantime I’m trying to get a server’s attention, without success. The girl who Freddy had in mind to take my order had no room in her section on this busy Taco Tuesday. I ask two different employees whizzing by to get someone to take my order. Nobody comes. All the while the dude keeps bragging….blah blah blah…..and then there it is: he has a question for me! “So….are you married?” I tell him no, and that’s it! He waits about 2 minutes, probably for me to ask him if he is, so he can proceed to talk for another 20 about his ex(es), but I’m not going to! And there he goes, he’s gone. At this point the table next to me has has finished, and the people left; a bus boy is cleaning up the table. I ask him if he could get a server, and he literally laughs out loud in my face, doesn’t say a word. I’m not sure if he even speaks English, but it was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. Time to leave Newport Beach……

Politics and friendship

What carnage has taken place on FB! Just about every person in the US has ‘unfriended’ several, pruning the unacceptable from the ranks, mostly acquaintances if we’re honest, right? Somehow, it’s not considered ‘right’ to break off relations with someone over his or her political views. To some extent, that’s probably a good custom; only befriending others who completely agree with you on everything is not smart, and likely boring as hell too. Dismissing a close friend over opinions about governmental monetary policy, or legalization of pot, is not useful. At the same time, there has to be a limit, doesn’t there? I mean, if a buddy would vote for Adolf Hitler I would immediately choose to not associate with him anymore, and few would find that problematic.

That brings us to the Orange One; first off, let me say I don’t think he’s as bad as Hitler, but I do find him a real problem. Not only for the world and the country I live in, but also directly for me personally. His election over Hillary will most likely mean that my health insurance rates will go WAY up. You see, I was one of those much helped by Obamacare, now paying a fifth of what I was before. So to me, the election of Trump, and in its process the ridiculous putting down of Hillary, is a big “Fuck You”, and I generally don’t hang out with people who talk to me that way. Before the election I told my stupid neighbor who was talking shit about Clinton that he’s partially responsible if Donald wins. The fact that because we’re in Cali his vote ‘doesn’t matter anyway’, is nonsense. You see, the shit-talking about Hillary was a national bandwagon, and every single person participating has a responsibility.

So….NO, I don’t want to hang out with you right now if you didn’t vote for Hillary…..sorry………I guess time will tell who was right, but right now I choose to surround myself with people who believe in togetherness, in helping the weak and the poor, who realize the LAST thing we need is tax cuts for the rich, people who are done with the US bullying the world, bombing the world. I don’t mean you any harm, wish you all the best, hope I’m wrong about Trump……

Flat

Honestly, I thought it wasn’t possible, that a person of normal intelligence, in a normal job, could truly believe the earth is flat. How wrong I was….. unfortunately, this post is not a joke in any way. Here’s a pretty smart dude, smart enough to buy CPUs and build gaming systems for high FPS. Nice guy, always trying to lift the mood. Knew he has a knack for conspiracy theories, but I just found out he’s gone all in. “Bet you believe in evolution right? OK, so you’re on that side of the spectrum!”….. “How come NASA only ever shows the exact same side of the earth from space?”…that one seemed easy enough to disprove, but the myriad of photos on Nasa.GOV where no match for the Kool-Aid: “check out Nasabait…….”…..WOW……..he actually believes the earth is flat….as a pancake….I ask him if he’s ever flown..”Don’t you see it?”…nope, it’s flat…..”millions of dollars”……”How come the earth fits exactly in an eclipse?”………….I ….am…….speechless……

Against your own best interest

“I have to talk to you” he said; according to the others, he was an established musician, seasoned keyboardist for many artist over the span of his career. He was in the middle of integrating a computer into his live rig to have access to the incredible sonic world of virtual synths and plugins.  I was on break from playing in the house band for a Jam session, while others where sitting in, so it was loud. I quickly explained my setup: Dell XPS 18, Zoom UAC-2, Korg Kronos. No laptop stand necessary (as a matter of fact, because the Dell is basically a big tablet, I can wedge it right on my ultimate stand or use the sheet music stand I always bring anyway to put it on. He’s duly impressed.

Because I know most guys around here swear by Apple, in order to not waste any time, I explain to the guy that I don’t deal with Mac, that it’s unnecessarily limiting in so many ways. His face turns: “What do you mean? Everyone uses Mac!” Here we go again, I’m not in the mood, I’m working, I tell him unfortunately I can’t help him. He won’t let it go! “What do you mean it’s limiting, the guy from so-and-so and the guy from so-and-so……” I tell him it’s too loud to explaing right now, but if we go to the back I’ll tell him what I mean. He takes me up on it…

So, I explain to him that first of all, Apple doesn’t make a Tablet even close to the size of the XPS18, which has literally twice the screen surface of the iPad Pro. It means you can see TWO pages instead of one, which makes more difference than you can imagine and all those Apple freaks know it. Now imagine that that wonderful tablet not only takes the place of the iPad you already bring to the gig, but also of the Macbook you bring that runs the sounds and Ableton. Now realize that you don’t need a special table or laptop stand, you just put it on a music stand! If you have a Kronos, all you do is run 1 USB cable and Windows uses it as a sound card. That means Ableton’s output comes out of the Kronos mains! Now realize that the XPS18 costs less than an iPad pro and the picture is pretty clear…..

At this point, his head is spinning, but his mouth keeps saying no! “I’ve already gone the Mac route….”, “the guys from so-and-so’s band……”. I tell him, if you’re touring you don’t want to mess with any of this, you build a rack mountable, dual computer, system, fixable with parts from any computer store. “We’re talking about a rig you bring yourself to local gigs, right?” I ask him. He doesn’t even quite answer. One last time I tell him, of course the Mac thing works, but you’re limiting yourself, making it more complicated, not too mention, making it WAY more expensive. All he can say anymore is: “I disagree”. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad, and all I can think about are all those poor folks who voted for Trump who, even though it’s now becoming more and more obvious how much they will be disadvantaged by the Orange one, still support him and believe he’s best for them……

Another thing: Microsoft is incredible good a laying frameworks for the future and because of that older software continues to run. When my old friend Rodney Lee, possibly the best B3 player I’ve ever worked with saw that I can still use the Native Instruments B4, which he agrees with me on is the BEST B3 emu ever made, he realized how his Mac habit is costing him. You see, on the MacOS side of things, it hasn’t worked in many years, thanks to the Fruit’s habit of breaking compatibility with every new release. So Apple users are now stuck using NI’s new organ plug, which isn’t nearly as good, or some of the other options out there, none of which have the soul and grit of the B4.

Obamacare 1 – Trumpcare 0

And just like that, it disappears! That’s right, after dozens of symbolic votes to repeal Obamacare and 7 years to come up with a worthy replacement, Republicans’ first version of a law to do so has failed spectacularly. As a a matter of fact, support was so low that it didn’t even come to a vote. Paul Ryan lost some credibility, but the most amazing thing is that Trump has expressed intent to just move on to the next thing. Wait… what? It kinda makes sense: he might just turn this whole administration the most dysfunctional attempt at government we’ve seen in modern times.

You can say what you want about the ignorance of the people, and there were some stupid votes for the Orange one, from folks who hated Obamacare but loved the ACA for instance, but everything is out there for everyone to see. Along with all the alternative facts and fake news, are all the real facts and news. What’s important is to make sure we keep all of it so we can examine it at a later date.

For instance: Bannon has vowed to keep up a daily fight for the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. Make no mistake, he means that and in my opinion will use and sacrifice Trump whenever necessary. Donald is WAY out of his league on this one, and it’s starting to show on his face. I just hope the citizens of this country stay calm and let the institutions and other protections built in to the system do their jobs. In the meantime, unfortunately we’re about to experience some chaotic times I’m afraid….