Sunday, March 26, 2017

A New Music Manifesto: Humanist Music - A declaration of principles

Although I have almost no ability to draw, paint or sculpt, I do appreciate art and often visit art museums with the family.  One of things that I have noticed is that I appreciate a wide variety of art ranging from artistic styles as disparate as classical to the surreal and the many genres in-between.  I am not a fan of the many specific genres of art; I like "good" art and don't appreciate "bad" art.  The specific genre is not that important to me.  (What is "good" art and what is "bad" art?  We'll get to that later...)

No, I am an not a visual artist, but I am (or pretend to be) a musician, or at least I identify as a musician in part, having written two rock operas, and having performed on stage numerous times over the years.  But one thing I have noticed is that while there are numerous art manifestos that attempt to define what art is "supposed" to be, in contrast there are few, if any, music manifestos that attempt to define musical art.  I'm going to rectify that in my own small way.

Humanist Music - A  Declaration of Principles

1) Humanist music is music that is not bounded by any musical condition except for one; it sounds "good."  If you want to make Humanist music, make it sound good.  Music that sounds "bad" is not  Humanist music although it may serve some other purpose.

2) Additionally, Humanist music should not cause harm or lessen the well being of those who hear it or are affected by it.  Optimally, it should increase well being.  Music that serves as a call to an action that would lead to misery or promotes ideas that one could reasonably conclude would lead to misery is most certainly not Humanist music.

Defining what is good and bad in music may seem impossibly subjective.  I certainly cannot offer the exact parameters that can be used to measure definitively whether a given piece of music is good or bad, but it is apparent that there is often wide consensus on what good music is and wide consensus on what is not.  Do not underestimate the collective genius of humanity when it comes to coming to an objective value judgment based on consensus.  I would venture the opinion that it is clear that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is "good" and that "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas, is "not good".  (To be sure, there are a number of quite good Black Eyed Peas tunes; "My Humps" was not one of them, and they stopped performing it in 2011 because of their own lack of belief in the song.)

Good music stands the test of time; it crosses cultural boundaries and age groups.  It appeals even to those who may not be familiar with that style of music.  The reach and expanse of what I am calling humanist music can be incredibly wide stylistically.  Classical music, raga, reggae, blues, jazz, rap and rock are all eligible.  Does a particular work sound  good; does it harm well being or lift us up?  That is all you need to ask.

That is why India's Ravi Shankar, America's Louis Armstrong, England's Beatles, Europe's Mozart, and Jamaica's Bob Marley, as a handful of examples, can be safely described as "good."  Their appeal goes far beyond any culturalism or parochialism.  Their "goodness" is not simply a "social construct." We have not simply been conditioned to consider their music as "good."  Whether any particular piece of music by any of these artists is "humanist music" would depend on whether any message contained therein was "harmful" or not.  I might add that there is great leeway for a tune that allows for a "questionable" message if the message was appropriate from the point of view of the "character" singing the lyric and that the intent by the artist was to illuminate the listener to a certain point of view.  Sometimes it is good to know about something that is bad; expanding our knowledge of life through art is an important attribute of "'good" art.

It is clear that, by and large, humanity, generally, has an innate sense of what sounds good an what does not and it has decided that "Fur Elise" sounds good, and that fingernails scratching a blackboard sounds not good.  Yes, the culture we live in will greatly affect our musical tastes, no doubt.  That is how "My Humps" actually became popular - for a while.  However, in the long run good music appeals to our innate sense of musical taste just as many foods appeal to us while dog manure generally does not.  The odor of a skunk is not disgusting because of a social construction and the scent of a flower is not pleasant because of a social construction.  To some large degree our tastes in food and odor are innate (even though there is great variation in innate individual tastes.)  Why should our musical tastes be so different?  Why shouldn't there be qualities in music that have wide appeal?

Once again, there is no denying we can be conditioned to some degree and that we are individuals as well; this defines the larger challenge; how do we escape our lifelong social conditioning to break through to a real appreciation of what is good in life and what is not for each of us individually?  I do not offer an answer here, and in fact I acknowledge the difficulty.  But I suspect that appreciating what is good and bad to each of us individually while being mindful of the conditioning we are all subject to would lead to a deeper appreciation of good music, good art and in fact, what is good in life itself and what in life is to be avoided.

Yes, it's hard to be free, and it's hard to truly know yourself - but it's probably worth the effort to be free; you may be happier and society may be healthier.  Humanist Music is a piece of the puzzle of freedom and enjoying life.

The next assault on the First Amendment

This blog entry was delayed because I sent it to Newsday as a letter to the editor which they eventually published in an edited form.

President Trump’s claim made on February 2, 2017, at a prayer service, that that churches and their leaders are not allowed to speak freely due to the “Johnson Amendment” is another one of those “alternative facts” that the current administration is so fond of.  Religious institutions and church leaders are, of course, already free to say anything they want.  What the religious institutions are NOT entitled to at the same time they engage in politics are to receive the tax exemptions which would then subsidize their political activities at the expense of other taxpayers.  This tax privilege would not be available to non-religious institutions.  In an objective society and judicial system, this privilege would be judged unconstitutional.

As is typical, President Trump either has not thought this through or is merely pandering to a myopic and narrow Christian base of supporters.  Would they object if a Muslim religious organization accepted donations and used them for a blatantly political campaign aimed to defeat Donald Trump?  Would they care if the donors to the Muslim religious institution received tax deductions for their contributions and the Muslim religious institutions remained tax exempt while politicking successfully against the President?  This is the Pandora’s Box that President Trump is foolishly trying to open.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fixing Obamacare for Real!

The current debate, dominated by the Republicans since they are 100% in power in Congress and the Executive branch, has avoided at all costs any discussion of far more simple, fair and MORAL fixes to Obamacare.  Everyone knows what the possible fixes are:

1) The Public Option

2) Single Payer/Medicare for All

3) Allowing the Federal Government to negotiate on price for pharmaceuticals and medical device equipment

I will not take any credit for any of these ideas, of course; they have been around for a long time.  The primary reason that these common sense and real solutions are not implemented are twofold: a) the health care industry is the largest lobbyist in the country, larger than the military-industrial complex, and b) ideology prevents many, including most Republicans and Conservatives, from even considering this solution even though Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are highly successful and popular programs that spring from the same ideology of the government providing a social safety net for all Americans.

Learn about these solutions here:

Here is an actual piece of legislation proposed by the Democrats and scored by the CBO:
https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/261

A quick explanation of the public option:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_health_insurance_option#cite_note-16

A news article from January 2013 when Obama was President:
http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/277505-house-dems-push-again-for-creation-of-government-run-health-insurance-option

A news article before the ACA was passed:
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32718713/ns/politics-white_house/#.WNahRsDyvIU

Politifact confirms it is true that the Federal Governmentis prohibited from negotiating on prices:
http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/jan/17/tammy-baldwin/tammy-baldwin-federal-government-prohibited-negoti/

An article this year about Trump considering Federal Gov't. negotiating drug prices:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/health/the-fight-trump-faces-over-drug-prices.html?_r=0

Friday, March 17, 2017

Budget losers; environment, children, poor, elderly; winners; wealthy, defense industry

To summarize the proposed budget of the so-called President; if you are poor or middle income, elderly, a child, a student, or someone who cares about the environment or the arts and humanities you're a loser.  If you're a defense contractor or wealthy, you're a winner.

"When you start looking at the places that will reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was 'Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?' And the answer was no,” said Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a Thursday morning interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

"What programs?" you might ask?  A summary is below.

But while we have you here, Mr. Mulvaney, what will NOT get cut, but in fact, increased?  Basically, the answer is "defense spending."  Yes, I'm sure the single mom and the coal miner will be thrilled. Keep in mind that the programs summarized below are getting cut altogether for the most part. Defense is already well-funded in excess of any possible full use of our defense capabilities without destroying the world in the process.  And against what threat are we dramatically increasing our defensive capabilities?  North Korea?  Iran?  ISIS?  China? Russia?

True, the aforementioned countries, entities are dangerous and enemies of our country but truly only North Korea presents a real threat and that real threat is to our allies, South Korea and Japan in the immediate future.  Still, we could grant that North Korea poses a real threat that may require at some point, military action.  Are we not now capable of handling them militarily right now at current funding levels if diplomacy proves hopeless?

Of the other threats to the U.S., the only country that is be likely to be both problematic and difficult to handle militarily would be - Russia, headed by the so-called President's "pal", Vladimir Putin.  Russia is the only country the President has not criticized severely, allies included.  Mr. Coal Miner, who needs that Appalachian Regional Commission and Ms. Single Mom, who needs that after school program?  We need to spend lots of extra money so that we can defend ourselves against the evil Russians headed by the very smart guy, Vlad Putin who helped get the so-called President elected.

There is more math here, however.  The cuts to the programs below will pay for about 6% of the increase in defense spending.  Yes, if the increases in defense were just 6% less, no cuts would be necessary.

And we have not even figured out how to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthy within the Republican Health Care plan, "TrumpDontCare," or the tax cuts for the wealthy in the revenues of the budget which has been deliberately been segregated from the discussion of cutting social programs for the poor and elderly.  The Administration's logic is that these social programs are intolerable to pay for but that tax cuts for the wealthy as a reason to repeal Obamacare is just fine and further tax cuts for the wealthy for no particular reason is even finer.  But we must increase spending on a military buildup even if we have to sacrifice some meals for old poor folks.

For a good answer of the programs being eliminated go to USA Today;  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/03/16/what-does-trump-budget-eliminate/99223182/

Here's a quick summary:

*State Criminal Alien Assistance Program ($210 million): Four states receive the bulk of the funding from this program, which reimburses states for the cost of incarcerating criminal immigrants.
*Senior Community Service Employment Program ($434 million): SCSEP is a job training program for low-income people 55 and older that the White House says is "ineffective."
*Occupational Safety and Health Administration training grants ($11 million)
*The Global Climate Change Initiative ($1.3 billion) was an Obama administration proposal to support the Paris climate agreement. It includes the Green Climate Fund ($250 million), the Strategic *Climate Fund ($60 million) and the Clean Technology Fund ($171 million).
*Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund ($70 million): The account allows the president to "provide humanitarian assistance for unexpected and urgent refugee and migration needs worldwide," but Trump said the mission is best left to international and non-governmental relief organizations.
*The East-West Center ($16 million): Chartered by Congress as the Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange Between East and West, the Honolulu-based nonprofit has a mission of strengthening relations among Pacific Rim countries.
*The Essential Air Service program ($175 million) provides federal subsidies for commercial air service at rural airports.
*Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants ($499 million).
Community Development Financial Institutions grants ($210 million).
*Geographic watershed programs ($427 million) like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative ($40 million) and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Initiative ($14 million): The Trump budget would turn over responsibility for those efforts to state and regional governments.
*Fifty other EPA programs ($347 million) including Energy Star, Targeted Airshed Grants, the *Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and the Mexico border.
*Office of Education ($115 million), which the Trump budget says duplicates efforts by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.
*African Development Foundation ($26 million): An independent foreign aid agency focusing on economic development in Africa.
*Appalachian Regional Commission ($119 million): A 52-year-old agency focused on economic growth in 420 counties.
*Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board ($11 million): The agency was created by the Clean Air Act of 1990 and investigates chemical accidents.
*Corporation for National and Community Service ($771 million): The agency is best known for its Americorps community service program.
*Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($485 million): Supports public television and radio stations, including the PBS television network and, indirectly, National Public Radio.
*Delta Regional Authority ($45 million): An economic development agency for the eight-state Mississippi Delta region.
*Denali Commission ($14 million): A state and federal economic development agency for Alaska.
*Institute of Museum and Library Services ($231 million): Provides money to the nation's 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.
*Inter-American Foundation ($23 million): Promotes "citizen-led grassroots development" in Latin America and the Caribbean.
*U.S. Trade and Development Agency ($66 million): Promotes U.S. exports in energy, transportation, and telecommunications.
*Legal Services Corp. ($366 million): A 43-year-old congressionally chartered organization that helps provide free civil legal advice to poor people.
*National Endowment for the Arts ($152 million): Encourages participation in the arts.
*National Endowment for the Humanities ($155 million): Supports scholarship into literature and culture.
*Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. ($175 million): Better known as Neighborworks America, the organization supports local affordable housing programs.
*Northern Border Regional Commission ($7 million): A regional economic development agency serving parts of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
*Overseas Private Investment Corp.($63 million): Encourages U.S. private investment in the developing world.
*U.S. Institute of Peace ($40 million): Government-run think tank focusing on conflict prevention.
*U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness ($4 million): An independent agency coordinating the federal government's efforts to reduce homelessness.
*Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ($11 million): A program to provide scholarships and fellowships in social sciences and humanities.

Surely, some of the above programs may have run their course.  Others may not justify the expenses.  But the block grants to the states in which resides programs such as "Meals on Wheels"?  The Climate Change Initiative?  Americorps?  The Arts? PBS?  The Institutes of Peace?

Friday, March 10, 2017

STOP THE PRESSES! SPICER ADMITS TRUMP IS A HYPOCRITE! AND LAUGHS!

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump would regularly call the Labor Department's unemployment rate a "phony" number, primarily because it had improved vastly under President Obama.  When the rate inched down to under 5% about a year ago, signifying near full employment, Trump claimed, at different times the "real" unemployment rate was from 19% to up to 42%!!

Now he is the so-called President and the first Labor Department unemployment rate under his presidency came out yesterday and the rate was 4.7%. Of course, this rate has nothing to do with anything he's done since he has not had any laws passed and his executive orders have had either nothing to do with jobs nor had enough time to take effect in any way.  The economy is still Obama's economy and will be until about mid-year when new laws, executive actions and budgets start to take effect.  That is the way it is with all new administrations.

But of course the so-called President did what a reasonable person would expect him to do; take complete credit and proclaim the unemployment number no longer phony.  It is now "real."

At his daily press conference, press secretary Sean Spicer said, "I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote them very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now,” prompting laughter from reporters in the room.  Go to https://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/sean-spicer-admitted-trump-lied-about-phony-job-numbers-and-reporters-laughed-it-off-now-people-are-furious/ .  Also http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/white-house-job-totals-were-phony-theyre-very-real-now  .

Yes everyone laughed, but this is no joking matter.  The so-called President is so comfortable that his base of support will not question his obvious lies that he and his staff can laugh openly about his hypocrisy along with those who have not drunk the Kool-Aid.  We all know the so-called President is a liar and a hypocrite and that his words mean nothing and that his followers are so blind and willfully ignorant that THEY, the so-called President's people, can openly joke about his lying and hypocrisy.  There will be no repercussions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Breitbart, The Blaze and others spread fake news? I'm Shocked!

Here is the Breitbart Headline: "Democrats in Congress refused to stand while a Navy SEAL’s widow was acknowledged by President Trump in his speech before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night."  They followed this headline with the following accusation:  "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), among others, remained firmly seated and did not applaud at all while the rest of the room gave Carryn Owens a standing ovation, IJR reported."

Notice the weasel phrase, "IJR reported."  This is a tactic used by fake news outlets to report a story that they could easily verify or debunk but would prefer not to because the story, as it stands, supports their world view.  So instead of reporting it themselves which they could have done, or discrediting it altogether, they merely repeat the unverified story because it hurts - the Democrats.

But of course, the story was false.

Snopes investigated and found the video, on the White House web site that showed Democrats standing and applauding.  The fake news outlets used photos of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Keith Ellison from other unrelated parts of the so-called President's speech to the  joint session of Congress.  Go to http://www.snopes.com/democrats-stand-seal-widow/.

For the fake news, take a look at http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/03/01/democrats-refuse-stand-navy-seals-widow-received-standing-ovation-trump-speech/ or http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/03/01/meet-the-democrats-who-refused-to-stand-and-applaud-the-widow-of-a-fallen-navy-seal/  .


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On "States Rights" and "We're Just Enforcing the Law"

There are weasel words and there are weasel phrases.  Today's news events bring to mind the weasel phrases  "State's Rights" and "We're Just Enforcing the Law".

The Civil War and Jim Crow bring to mind the weasel phrase "State's Rights."  The weasel concept of "State's Rights" was used to defend slavery and later on racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws that were used to deny the civil rights of minorities.  This excuse was used because tide of history was working against these last racist holdouts so they invoked the magical rights of "States" to deny the real-life rights of actual living breathing human beings.

The rights of actual living breathing human beings  should never be subordinated to the rights of states and particularly  never because of the irrational, ideologically or religiously based dogmatic beliefs of people who, finding themselves in a minority, seek to reduce their sphere of influence to a level where they finally find themselves in a majority.  Quite often, this is a State.  If they have to go down to the level of a county or city or even neighborhood, they would do so if it allowed them to deny those human rights to others.  There really is no reason why "County Rights" is illegitimate while "States Rights" is legitimate; the truth is that neither is legitimate when it comes to limiting human rights.  Human rights should not disappear when you cross state or county or city lines.

Today, 2/22/17, citing "States Rights," the Trump administration at the behest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will now allow States to force transgender children to use the restroom that the state demands that they use, if that is what the State chooses to do while exercising their rights.  Yes, transgender children who present as male but who were born with a body typical of a female will be forced to use the girls rooms in some states, while children who present and identify as female but were born with the body of male will be forced to use the boys room.

Transgender persons have a suicide attempt rate of over 40% in some studies while the rest of the population has a rate in the low single digits.  However, when a transgender has the support of their family and community and are able to have the associated surgeries if they so desire, their suicide rate plunges to near the population average.  Apparently, in my opinion, this does not concern the likes of Jeff Sessions.  Go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/us/politics/devos-sessions-transgender-students-rights.html .  This is the kind of thing that "States Rights" is typically used for.

The other "weasel phrase" for today is "We're Just Enforcing the Law".  The Trump Administration has changed the guidelines for enforcing immigration laws.  They New York Times does a good job of describing the changes:  "President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes...  Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.

The new enforcement policies put into practice language that Mr. Trump used on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.

Despite those assertions in the new documents, research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans." Go to https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/21/us/politics/dhs-immigration-trump.html .

Now of course, everyone supports the deportation of those here illegally if they are criminals.  Who needs them?  But is it really in the nation's best interest to go after even those who have not committed crimes? The government does not go after every infraction unmercifully after all.  What if the government punished every person who ever smoked pot?  Or punished every person who violated any archaic law regarding sexual relations (not including child abusers of course)?  Or every jaywalker?  Or every copyright violator?  Or any lawbreaker of  any law, period?  Who'd be left?  No one!  It is hard to never go over 55MPH on any highway, or 65MPH where it is allowed.  Who'd be left?  No one!!

And that is why guidelines are so important.  But never mind that; they'll just say, "We're Just Enforcing the Law."  Weasels.