Category Archives: Uncategorized

Can White NFL Players Please Step Up?

I had something on my mind this morning and I’m purging it now.

Feel free to not read this or to disagree with it, that is your call.

And this is my call.

I’d like to see more white NFL players, preferably all of them, joining the black players who kneel during the anthem. The “it’s not the right place for that” argument is such a 1950’s style restrictive, conformist shout-down in my view… while I don’t think it’s racist to say “it’s not the right place” it IS, by definition, restrictive. Unfairly restrictive in my view.

I view an NFL game as the perfect place for protest in a society that worships celebrities and athletes, and banishes those who dare take a stand on social injustice… Who decides where the right and the wrong places are for these protests anyway?… What’s the criteria again?… Who can answer that objectively?… What I wonder is, what if Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or JJ Watt or Carson Wentz or Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger or Andrew Luck were to start kneeling?… What would happen then? If even just one of those guys kneeled?

These guys could help move the needle but they won’t. I can’t blame them.

What if the entire league kept kneeling at every game until communities get more serious about solving the problem of unarmed black people getting gunned down by police?

I bet it’d save a lot of lives.

But too many people value money more than they value lives. Let’s face it, no one wants to get “Kaepernicked” – and I can’t blame them even if it is disappointing. But to tell the few players courageous enough to be willing to take a stand that they’re doing it in the wrong place, to shut the hell up and go to work, entertain us right now —  is just morally wrong.

It’s dismissive, reductive and dehumanizing. And if you’re saying that what is being protested is the flag then you’re not paying close attention.

Purging complete.

Ozark: A Study in Character and Social Darwinism

“Magnanimity is the proper estimation of one’s own worth in relation to the highest honors.” – Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

There is something special about the new Netflix show, OZARK. In this age of exponentially increasing demand for new, fresh stories, Ozark delivers in a great way. Without dropping spoilers on you, I’d like to describe why, at this time, Ozark is more than a television show: it is, at its root, a meditation and commentary on American Social Darwinism, and how once a person’s ethics are breached, the truest test of that person’s character begins. In the end, the existential question posed by the show (not too dissimilar from BREAKING BAD) is, once a person starts down an unethical path, can they ever get back to equilibrium?

Marty Byrde is a father, first; a financial planner, second; and, a husband, third. That, in and of itself, is all too common with upper middle-class white American males these days. What’s uncommon about Marty though is, mostly due to ennui, naivete, and a dash of hubris, he agrees to launder cash for some pretty unsavory people, with the idea in mind that his skill with money management is so superior that he’ll be able to insure his family will be “set for life, for generations.” And even in his illegal dealings, Marty displays a level-headed adherence to a code of ethics even when most everyone around him is making choices based solely on emotion. He remains magnanimous in the face of ever-increasing stakes — he’s truly a phenomenally intriguing American hero, on par with Walter White and Tony Soprano. Jason Bateman’s portrayal of this man is spot on and should land him many awards, not to mention way more artistic cred. Also, it should be noted that Bateman’s direction on the first few episodes is nothing short of masterful.

There are two types of smart people in this world – those who make the simple seem complex, and those who make the complex seem simple. Marty Byrde is that second type of smart person. This alone makes me root for him. Combine that with the fact that this man does not betray people, even his shady employers, while most everyone around Marty at some point or another betrays him, is commendable. That Marty does not act out against those who’d do him harm, he even empowers them, and that he even is willing to sacrifice himself for the seemingly innocent, makes him a surprisingly relatable American everyman. In the end, he’s not motivated by greed, he’s motivated by a desire to survive, which is accentuated by the idea that he truly believes he can make things right, for everybody involved.

If only the people in Marty’s life acted rationally! Instead, they act on instinct and emotion. How rational can human beings be, when we are, essentially, animals, whether we like to believe that or not? Our prime directive is self-preservation and survival, no matter how much we may try to divorce ourselves from that truth. A truly fascinating motif employed throughout Ozark has to do with the cold, brutal naturalism of our existence. There are constant allusions to this; from the mere fact that the family surname is Byrde, to Marty’s son’s constant fascination with the animal kingdom, to even the fact that Marty’s cell phone ring is the sound of crickets, the show makers have made the deliberate choice of making animals a part of the show, and laid the foundation that this show is allegory of Darwinism (ironically set in an area of the country where the majority of people shun evolutionary theory.) The visual and the sonic language of the show are just meticulous and brilliantly conceived.

Watch Ozark.

 

Dr. Gonzo (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Unplugged)

A principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrines to be instilled in the target audience should NOT be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse.” – Noam Chomsky, “Third World, First Threat” 1993.

I was hired by the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper to be a writer in 1993, and I worked in the sports section and also in the entertainment section. I saw a wave coming early on when our chief competition, the San Jose Mercury, launched the Mercury Center via AOL. It was the beginning of the end of the print news business, even if most of us, even the most forward thinking of us, didn’t really know it.

In those days, we got a lot of our stories off of the Associated Press (AP) or United Press International (UPI) newswires, which were kind of like telegram cables. The quality of the content of the news had to be high. There were professional standards that must be adhered to. And, as my editors were quick to point out, the people who are in positions of power are our adversary, pure and simple. The media acted as a check in the grand scheme of governmental checks and balances: the executive and the legislative and the judicial branches ALL must be held to account by the media. My favorite practitioner of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, threw in his own style of literary flair to hit on truths bigger than What, Where, When, How and Why. For example, is it not right, or true, or in keeping with the duty of media, to call Ronald Reagan a stinking swine when he blabbed to People Magazine in 1986 that “This generation will likely have to face Armageddon,” or to say, quite simply, that Nixon was a bad drunk?

Yes, Hunter was a lot of things. But, I have to say, Hunter was authentic.

Few writers could boil down the essence of a campaign, a candidate, like Hunter S. Thompson

Few writers capture the essence of a campaign or candidate like Hunter S. Thompson

We were duty-bound and truths like the ones he’d write were important and informative.

Unfortunately, we were doomed. Time and technological advances made the public fall victim to rapidly accelerating media saturation…  and as such, the media’s relevance faded, and it’s duty was no longer to serve people with unbiased and direct information regarding our elected and unelected government officials.

Rather, media became propaganda for whoever paid the best. As such, media became a bad salesman, pitching a broken down lemon of a healthy, thriving, functioning society. And yet, the pitch is effective and accepted as truth.

Here's Donald being contrite for inferring this woman was on her period when she asked him a question he didn't like. Then she, like so many in the media, dutifully played her part in the fake ass show.

Here’s “The Donald” being contrite for inferring that this woman was on her period when she asked him a question he didn’t like. Then she, like so many in the media, dutifully played her part in the propagandist, fake ass show.

The media do not say things like: “The United States ALWAYS supports democracy, NEVER aggresses against other nations, and always ALWAYS opposes terrorists.” Nor do advertisers explicitly say that the key to happiness and the good life is the unceasing and ever-expanding consumption of purchasable products.

But the message still comes through, loud and clear, as a presupposed truth.

We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning. Contemporary society is dominated by computers and algorithms. There’s hardly a second that we’re not plugged in, in this “civilized” world. As mankind races toward achieving seamless virtual realities and artificial intelligence, it stands to make me wonder whether or not a simulation of reality is actually our new normal, now, and far beyond anyone’s control.

Most of us spend almost all of our time in highly artificial environments, far removed from nature. We move about, from one building to another. We travel in little bubbles: cars, trains, airplanes. Even while we’re in route we’re buried in our mobile, wireless phones, connecting to all of the information out there. Ours is a world of steel, brick, cement and glass, not that of mountain, meadow, tree, and stream.

The last Presidential primaries/general election have concluded, and what struck me most about that crazy show was that Dr. Gonzo is dead. So dead.

The evidence was in the unprecedented dominance of public relations and advertising in media, resulting in disinformation and propaganda, and, most importantly, increasingly brazen strong-arm tactics to make sure, absolutely sure, no matter what, that Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton would face Donald Jackass Trump. It didn’t matter who won. Not to the rich people who determine these things. Neither of them were a threat to current of the $currency$, the status quo would be preserved.

People scream that Russia “influenced” our election via hacks on the DNC (the contents from those hacks has never been disputed, only who actually hacked & leaked that info.) People freak out because Russia propagandized and misinformed voters via trolls on Facebook and Twitter? But if you learn history and don’t ask yourself if America’s track record is any better, then you’re not thinking critically enough.

What about American propagandizing via social, alternative AND mainstream media? Not only in MANY other countries, but even in our own?

I could go through a million examples to show this was all orchestrated, pre-decided, pre-destined, but I refuse to list more than a few, because if you haven’t been paying attention, it’s your own damn fault. The most glaring example, to me, was the June 7, 2016, Associated Press story and photo, written and photographed by, you guessed it, the Hillary Clinton campaign several days beforehand and then submitted to… the AP editorial team!… for publication.

Team Hillary, created the image and words that the AP dutifully reported / sold to the public on their behalf.

Team Hillary, created the image and wrote the story that the AP dutifully regurgitated / sold to the public on their behalf, 3 days prior to publication… and when did publication happen? One day before the California Primary.

Or how about this one, from the Hillary email vault:

“I just received confirmation from 60 Minutes that a piece on Julian Assange will air Sunday night,” Philip Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, wrote to Clinton in 2011. “He will be the only person featured. We had made a number of suggestions for outside experts and former diplomats to interview to ‘balance’ the piece. 60 Minutes assures me that they raised a number of questions and concerns we planted with them during the course of the interview. We will be prepared to respond to the narrative Assange presents during the program.” 

Her reply: “Too bad they’re showcasing him. See you tomorrow when we try making lemonade out of some pretty sour lemons!”

I’m left with three questions:

Do interviews even matter, other than being vessels for public relations?

Does the media matter AT ALL?

Is all the world but a stage?

Every time I unplug, I realize, more and more, that the entire world’s perception of what’s truly important and meaningful is getting more and more skewed by what all this media are selling.

I thank God for my nieces and nephew, for reminding me that the future is worth fighting for, as I don’t want them to inhabit a poisoned world with a shallow artifice.

I’ll never give up on that.

My niece is at Camp Hammer in Big Basin Redwoods State Park right now, experiencing things that I hope are truly meaningful.

My niece is at Camp Hammer in Big Basin Redwoods State Park right now, experiencing things that I hope are truly meaningful.

Every time I unplug, I realize, more and more, that I’m a storyteller, and if I’m going to keep telling good stories, I have to be authentic. In order to be authentic, I have to detach, more and more, from the real truth (that people are the victims of deception and exploitation on a massive scale) AND the artificial reality construct of the media, used to control and enslave people.

I have to be free.

And how will I be that which I am?

I think I’ve got to leave the big city, walk amongst the free creatures and plants of this Earth, and remember to self-program, to decide for myself what sort of things I want, and what sort of person I will become.

 

 

Life is Serious. Life is Feast. And The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

When I was 19 years old my friend Matt Workman committed suicide.

We were best friends since the day we met in kindergarten.

Please keep reading. Because the reason that I wrote those last two sentences was not to bum you out. I wrote them to remind you, me, everyone, that, in a time of great fear and potential upheaval, this life – you know, the thing that ALL of us are doing? This life: that is ALL that it is – and it is only just that.

It’s only life.

This guy lived both seriously, fully and fearlessly

This guy lived seriously, fully & fearlessly

To err is human and MAN am I human! So I try my best not to render judgments, either on people I know, or on the homeless dude asking for change, or on people in positions of power, or celebrities, or people in completely different cultures, because I’ll never know why/how they’re in the position they are in. I’m a man now. A real man. I know who I am and what I’ve done. One could make an argument that these are the only two things that I do KNOW.

I value my time, I do not suffer fools, I love my friends and family with all my heart, and I try to do the best I can with my art and my career.

Do I have opinions? Damn right. Do I make judgments? Of course. I already told you, I’m human as fuck. Do I sometimes indulge, either in myself, or in the illicit, or in the taboo? Yup – I’m not just human as fuck, I’m a writer! A writer with a chip on his shoulder and an almost animalistic type of determination to confront the reality of experience, to do things before the bell is rung, compelling the great scorekeeper in the sky to make a tally on the sum of the life of Jefferson Rich.

A German friend once told me: “Ernst ist das leben.” Translated: life is serious. Very German, yes? I misunderstood him at first, I’d thought he said, “Ernst ist das laben.” Translated: life is feast. Very American, yes? This launched us into a great philosophical debate on the banks of the Spree in Berlin.

It was at this exact place where I came to a profound realization: it's only life.

It was at this exact place where I came to a realization: it’s only life.

My friend made the case for “leben”, or serious. I think his argument was rooted in the newest German generation’s unbound feeling of remorse, guilt, anger, and sadness about the Holocaust. Life is all about what you are doing, he argued – you must see something for what it is, and if it is wrong, you must stand up against it. You must, because if you just passively observe, if you just live only for yourself, terrible, unthinkable things can happen.

I couldn’t dismiss what he’d just said. I thought on my friend Matt Workman, and how, he’d ascended from 15 year old high school partier in Santa Cruz to 19 year old major promoter in the rave/underground party scene with massive celebrity connections and making constant trips to LA, traveling all around the world. But he was only 19. And I saw my boy slipping. I’d ask, “are you okay?” He’d answer, “Yeah.” And then I’d let it go. I didn’t want to be his dad, or judge him, but inside, I knew he was dying and today, I do wish I’d just called him on out on his shit, and told him that he was lying to himself. But I knew it was his life to live… and, even though he never slept, he was seriously struggling with his drug use (back then, we called it X) and one day, he cracked, I knew deep inside, that there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent it.

So life is “laben”, or feast, I argued. And judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. Here I am, thousands of miles from my home, in a city that is an artist’s lucid dream, having a beer and a conversation that is incredible – a conversation that would not be happening if I didn’t believe life is feast, I said. It’s when people become purist, with their uninformed notions of good and evil, right and wrong, I continued, THIS is when life starts to become devalued. It is the puritanical, very serious people I said, that hold life in very low regard, unless it’s life that they can agree with. Look at our countries, I said.

But you just made my point for me! he countered, because people are so flighty with their sense of morality and are so passive, assholes like the Nazis could slaughter millions in the past. And, he said, ominously, something new will assuredly come in the future, most likely in America, because America’s sense of culture and morality was going into the toilet.

My friend warned me that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

My friend warns that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

WHOA! I said, that’s just plain looney, I countered. In a place where liberty reigns, where everyone’s ideas are considered, where self-determination and freedom of expression are held in high regard, yeah, you get your reality show garbage but you also get stuff like Space X, or Obama, and-

-Yeah that’s all naive bullshit, he interrupted. You really think you have liberty? You really think people in your country know how to think critically? Show self-determination? If you have no control over what you want – if you are unable or unwilling to discern what you value – you are a slave to someone else’s passions and you can’t act freely! You think you have any privacy at all? Even with what you think? (Important contextual note: this conversation took place pre-Snowden.) Wake up man. A war is being waged on the American people, and if you, a person who I consider to be one of the greatest, smartest artists in America, if you of all people can’t see it, then we’re ALL in real trouble. Seriously.

I held tight to the crux of my argument. Look, when people get so damn pure, so damn righteous, THAT is when people start rendering judgments about how other people live. And when that happens, what’s next? I mean, what’s so enlightened about that? For example, the white man came to America, used slaves to build up the country, slaughtered Native Americans, because of Manifest Destiny. America has never even started to deal with our addiction to our idea of our own purity, and you see it as we expand our empire. Hell, American soldiers have been in the Middle East for two decades (it was 2010 when we had our conversation) and will remain for God knows how long, all based on this myth of America knows best because America is right and you Muslims, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and we can’t leave you to your own devices, because you’re just going to come kill us. So before talking to you, you ALL must submit, you must bow, and surrender everything you are to us. (Another important contextual note: Isis did not exist when this conversation took place.) America had turned the entire world into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because of our pure, just, American way.

Why wouldn't the entire world want to be as American as a bikini clad babe at a bbq scarfing down a juicy, thick, long... hot dog?

Why wouldn’t the entire world want to be as American  as a bikini clad babe at a bbq opening wide…for that juicy… thick… long… American dream?

Fuck that, we need to live as if life is feast I said, because we never know when it’s going to end. We need to embrace each other, and each others ideas, and refrain from judgment, because as I said, judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. We need to love each other. We need to talk to each other and we need to listen to each other, no matter who you are and DO NOT JUDGE IT!!

My friend laughed at me. Discernment, judgment, THAT IS THE WAY to enlightenment my friend, he countered. If you don’t have discernment, you know what you get? Velveeta instead of Petit Basque, Night Train instead of aged Burgundy, Ghost Dad instead of Ghost, Real Housewives of Wherever instead of The Wire, ugly, stupid, brutal porn instead of stimulating, sexy eroticism.

Okay, that’s a provocative point, but the world goes round based on both sides of the coin. And you NEED both, otherwise, you get that damn purist thing I’m talking about.

Check this out – when we were boys, my friend Matt and I, we would steal copies of his dad’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues, his Playboy and Penthouse magazines, and we stashed them in the woods, where no one else was around. We would look at the pictures (and NEVER read the articles) and we would talk about how we’d make love to each of the women contained inside. What moves we’d do. Which women looked like they were great lovers, compared with which looked like they were just okay. We both knew that we wanted to be great lovers when we reached manhood, and we knew we’d need practice in order to become great. But we were young and didn’t have girlfriends yet, you know? So we would eventually go home, with the vision of whichever woman we’d either seen in the photographs, or girls at school, or teachers, or whoever, we’d use those old Casio digital wrist watches, and we’d use the timer to find out how long we could masterbate before we’d ejaculate, and how long it would take us (if at all) to regain our erections, and sometimes we’d make a competition of who could ejaculate the most times in a night. Then, the next time we’d meet up, we’d report back our results. We kept pushing each other to go longer, to go more times. I even made a game for myself, to see how close to a certain time I could get, like 20 minutes, because I wanted to have the ability to control EXACTLY when I would ejaculate. And our drive in doing this was all in the name of the dream that when the day came, and we were with a woman, she would remember regard us as the greatest lover she ever had, every time.

Without discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

Sans discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

So, I said to my friend, was what we did wrong? Was it perverted? Was it evil? Because there are a lot of people who would think that if I told them what we did. Should I have been feeling shame for what we were doing? I didn’t. Why didn’t other people do what we did? Because they judged. And if I’d judged it, I would not have done what I did. Would I have become a great lover? It’s the people who listen to those people who say masturbating is a sin, that say that homosexuality is an abomination, that marriage is only a man and a woman… they’re the ones who are all fucked up, make other people fucked up, and have depraved senses of what’s sexy and erotic… because… why?

Because my friend was right – the big, huge, serious, very serious crimes against humanity keep popping up here, in America, and our moral decay is for real.

AND because I was right – we are more and more convinced of our pure, American ideals.

And it’s this purism that is sweeping the American body politic, our policy decisions, and our voting public that has me so deeply concerned. Whether it’s supporters of Delusional Donald, or Crazy Bernie, or Crooked Hillary, America is forging it’s way into a more pure, extremist, shaky land, ruled by fear, of either the candyass narcissistic billionaire who’d rather live in a gold tower with a Napoleonic complex and authoritarian aspirations, or the well-meaning septuagenarian socialist or a duplicitous, dishonest, equivocating, smart, but entitled pragmatist who shuns accountability and rarely demonstrates empathy.

I am concerned because the noise around our country is sending off vibrations of tumultuous conflict…a great disturbance in The Force…so much fear… so many stories of Mexican people getting shipped away… so many stories of a harsher and harsher American dogma… so much fear… a fear that I’ve not felt….since…

Days after Matt had died. I had a lucid dream, and to this day I think he was responsible. I think he pulled me into Nirvana, or heaven, or whatever. I was Neo before The Matrix existed, flying over greenery as far as the eye could see, being told by angelic types that I would be okay, that the pain of living through the loss of my friend would eventually subside, and the dream ended with a reminder of those old digital Casio wristwatches, and how, when we were little kids, we’d used those watches for a far more innocent use – we’d compete as to who could press the stopwatch buttons the fastest – DEE-DEET… .11 of a second… DE-DEET… .08 of a second…

DE-DEET… That would be my lifetime on Earth compared to the age of my soul. And my fear, ever since, has been pretty easy to check.

Life is serious. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

Life is feast. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

And the only thing we have to fear…

is losing our connection to what it means to be alive.

We have one world, and if there is but one way, and one right...

We’ve one world & if there is but one way & one right…

...it is that we must all love each other, despite the spite, with all of our might.

…it is that we all have the right to love each other, despite the fights and the spite… with all of our might.