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Author: Steve

I live and work in the Philadelphia area. I am an ETL software tester by profession but I also enjoy writing, tabletop gaming, reading and thinking about history, binge-watching Netflix, and traveling with my BFF. We especially like going to the Big Apple to catch a show.
Boomers Invented the Internet, but…

Boomers Invented the Internet, but…

As we all know, it was a Baby Boomer who invented the Internet. Al Gore, to be precise. Ha ha, I jest. But in all seriousness, it actually was a Boomer who invented the World Wide Web. Well, an Englishman the same age as the American Boomer generation. That was when the Internet skyrocketed into public awareness and use (it had been around for decades already in academia and government) and the Boomer generation was still relatively young, and was involved in the grunt work of technology research and development.

Now it’s younger generations who are on the leading edge of technology development and the Boomer pioneers are for the most part resting on their laurels. Steve Jobs has been deified and Bill Gates is busy spending his billions on humanitarian projects. Meanwhile, the Millennial generation has taken over Internet culture and formed a hivemind that is whimsical and heartwarming (doggy memes, anyone?), and also unforgiving in its enforcement of social norms (fear the hashtag). Generation X has been ghosted, and Boomers? – well, their cultural reputation on the Internet has not survived in very good shape.

For proof of this last assertion, all you have to do is get on Facebook and join “a group where we all pretend to be boomers.” It’s easy to do, trust me – I applied and got accepted right away. Here you will encounter the Millennial stereotype of what a Baby Boomer is – basically an old white Christian who supports President Trump, is hopelessly out of touch with modern values and, on top of that, embarrassingly clueless about how the Internet works. Boomers are always posting “MAGA” and “God bless America,” misinterpreting what they see younger people doing online, and going to church and to potlucks.

As for posting memes, well Boomers probably shouldn’t even try. Their memes are dated in style, atrocious in design, and express antiquated values. They should just stick to GIFs of the minions from Despicable Me, inexplicably a Boomer obsession. The idea of a Boomer meme is something you will also find on the subreddit TheRightCantMeme, where a lame meme by the political right is implicitly associated with the Boomer generation.

This stereotyping, of course, is unfair to the legions of Boomers who are on the political left. Not to mention those who are very savvy to the ways of the Internet. Perhaps these Boomers are not on Facebook so much; my guess is they are on Twitter instead. But this association, by a younger generation, between the Baby Boomers and the reactionary politics of Trump supporters (who are not all Baby Boomers, is my point) clearly marks the Boomer outlook as a fading thing of the past. The Internet – and thank you for it, Mr. Gore – belongs to a new generation.

Silent of the Week: Martin Scorsese

Silent of the Week: Martin Scorsese

As a Gen-X film idolater, my two favorite genres of film are science fiction and crime drama. The latter in particular is something like a hallowed tradition in the field – just think of how many of the great classics are crime movies. It might have something to do with the film industry’s strong ties to the United States of America, a country which has long glorified crime and violence.

So for this week’s Silent in the spotlight, I choose Martin Scorsese (b. 1942), who has directed some of the greatest crime movies that ever entertained my generation. He’s been at it since the 1970s and is still going strong, and I’m just going to focus in this post on his film directing career. You can tell how much he has influenced people my age by this homage, by avant-garde rock band King Missile, to Scorsese and all of his excellent films:

And this is just up until 1993, before Casino! There’s been so much since then, including his contribution to the genre of good Nick Cage movies (Bringing Out the Dead) and his huge list of collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio, which started with Gangs of New York, then continued with The Aviator and his award-winning masterpiece, The Departed.

But wait, that’s just his films from before the Great Financial Crisis! Since then, he has directed all of these excellent films: Shutter Island, Hugo (proving that it’s not all crime and violence with this guy), The Wolf of Wall Street, and Silence.

You might think it couldn’t get any better, but now he’s coming out with what might be the perfect crime movie. Showing that his generation is always keeping up with the latest trends, he is teaming up with streaming giant Netflix to produce The Irishman. It features a cast of cream of the crop crime movie actors, and covers one of the most well-known stories in the history of the mafia – the disappearance of teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. It’s like the 1970s will never die – certainly not as long as the Silent Generation is still around.

Subreddit of the week: wholesomememes

Subreddit of the week: wholesomememes

In this social era one of the roles of young adult Millennials is to clean up the culture after a long period of decadence and degradation called the Unraveling (I’m talking “turnings” theory here). I submit that an excellent example of this phenomenon is the subreddit wholesomememes. Here you will find only happy and affirming thoughts, positivity and love. It’s the Internet’s biggest safe space.

I also submit that the subreddit acts as a forging ground of an emerging values consensus for the new order of the ages. If it fits into this subreddit, its acceptable values. That means that inclusivity is in, and religious moralism is out. All the weird culture that our society has generated over the past decades is in – as long as it serves to boost the esteem of others and bring us all together.

They have it on Twitter, too, if you like that.

Entering a New Political Era

Entering a New Political Era

I’m reading the Federalist on my old timey Kindle. 😀

I’ve been reading the Federalist papers and while I certainly agree that they are an intellectual treasure and a great achievement of the American generation of the Revolutionary period, I often find the arguments weak. Hamilton in particular is prone to argument from incredulity (“nobody could possibly believe that…”) and a special brand of argumentum ad populum (“any intelligent person could see that…”). Now obviously there’s considerable risk in establishing a Constitution more or less from scratch, and despite the best efforts of the founders to find precedents they had to make important choices about the structure of the government without being able to predict the eventual consequences. As Machiavelli put it, there is nothing more difficult to plan than the creation of a new system. In their pamphlets, Hamilton et alia were just trying to pummel their opponents into submission with repeated assertions that their system was as good as it could get – as anyone could plainly see.

One of the most important trains of argument in the Federalist papers relates to separation of powers and checks and balances. These are foundational principles of government going back to the classical ancients whom the founders admired so much, as articulated by the influential Enlightenment era philosophe Montesquieu. One such check, of course, is the legislature’s power of impeachment – hugely important for restraining the much feared threat of a tyrannical executive. As ancient Republican Rome had rejected Kings, so would the new American Republic.

The other great fear expressed in the Federalist papers is that of faction – the natural tendency of men to form groups based on mutual interest and then, in Hamilton’s phrase, use “cabal and intrigue” to manipulate the system in their favor. Vesting the power of choosing representation in the people would – as anyone could plainly see – prevent such factions from working against the interests of the public, at least for very long.

So you can imagine that reading the Federalist in these times has been painful, as I’ve watched the chief executive abuse his powers, enabled by partisanship within a party that has lost its integrity, but nonetheless has popular support despite its many policies that work against the people. A chief executive who is, apparently, untouchable. Hamilton, I imagine, would be flabbergasted. No one could possibly believe that the legislature would tolerate a charlatan in the highest executive office who intrigues with foreign powers, he might have written. Yet here we are.

Or have been, I add, hopefully. With the House finally opening an impeachment inquiry into the President, I can see that there’s still life left in this old Constitution of ours. The fact that the Senate voted unanimously for the release of the whisteblower complaint means that Congress has at least a little integrity left. So maybe, just maybe, we have entered a new chapter in the saga of our ongoing Constitutional crisis – a turning point which will decide if We the People still retain our sovereignty.

What I Learned About The Constitution

What I Learned About The Constitution

They handed these out to the audience members.

Last weekend I went to Washington D.C. and saw the show What the Constitution Means to Me. That’s where I got this pocket copy of the Constitution of the United States of America, which I have been carrying around. The show was amazing, funny and sad, and thought provoking.

The play is kind of a stand-up routine, and kind of a biographical monologue, and kind of a lecture on political philosophy, and kind of a lot more. It ties in playwright Heidi Schreck‘s experience debating the Constitution in high school with the further evolution of her thinking about it, in light of later life experience and developments in jurisprudence.

Using the vehicle of a recreation of her high school debates, Schreck specifically discusses the 9th amendment, and section 1 of the 14th amendment. The 9th amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, and basically says that the Constitution is not making claims about the limits of anyone’s rights; it’s not saying, “we’ve listed these rights, and that’s all you get.” So there is room in the future to define more rights of the people and limitations of the government in infringing upon them.

The 14th amendment was part of the Reconstruction era, and an important followup to the 13th amendment which banned slavery. Section 1 of the 14th amendment is clarifying that all States within the Union are bound to the laws of the United States; it is explicitly binding the States to the Federal system which is the genius of the government of the United States. For in the U.S., you are a citizen both of the State in which you reside and of the United States as a whole. And the government of your State of residence cannot deny you rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

That is why a gay couple can get married today, even in a State where the government in charge would like to deny them that right. And that is why, in my opinion, secession or splitting the country up would be a terrible, terrible idea. It would leave too many disadvantaged people without essential legal protection. I’ve thought about that before, and this play helped fix that belief in my mind.

Now Schreck is mainly concerned with the issues of reproductive rights and of violence against women. In discussing this, she pulls her family history into the narrative, going back to her mother’s experience growing up in a troubled household. As she relates this to the story of women’s rights under constitutional law, a depressing picture emerges in which women are underprivileged, lower-class citizens. Just consider that women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.

The stark truth is that the law is in the hands of those who interpret it and enforce it, and these tend not to be women. Schreck’s disappointment at this state of affairs becomes the overarching theme of her play. And this raises some compelling questions – is the Constitution still working? Is it reformable? The show shifts formats at the end to address these questions in a fun and exciting way.

If you feel that the Constitution doesn’t work for you, well, you may well be in the majority, considering that many people today have tuned out of the democratic process. I mean, technically our President should be a dotted outline, considering how many people didn’t vote in 2016. But if the government is so corrupt or ineffective, does that really mean we should give up on it?

Heidi Schreck’s play doesn’t answer that question for you, but it will make you think about it. It sure did for me, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it. I hope you will, too. It is probably too late to see it in D.C., but it should be touring in numerous American cities next year.

Silents of the Week: the Cast of Grace and Frankie

Silents of the Week: the Cast of Grace and Frankie

Undoubtedly, the Silent Generation has made a huge impact in the field of arts and entertainment. Their careers go back to the Golden Age of film and to the dawn of the TV era. For my generation, which was weaned on television, they were the young actors of the sit coms and dramas to which we were first addicted as children.

So it is amazing to me today, after we have evolved past the convergence of TV and the Internet and into the streaming era, that their generation still has its own television show. That’s right, I’m talking about Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Every one of the four actors in the roles of the two comically disordered couples is from the Silent Generation: that would be Martin Sheen (b. 1940), Sam Waterston (b. 1940), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939), and Jane Fonda (b. 1937).

Now, it’s true that the show is produced by Boomers and the lead characters are probably meant to be parodies of Boomers, but the Silent personality still comes out. The characters are neurotic and confused, the tone warm and humane. The show is about elders opening up, pushing boundaries, and staying hip with the latest social trends and language – in the 2010s!

Grace and Frankie is the swan song of a generation that has managed to keep itself relevant through over half a century of social change. It is a reminder of the long-reaching effects of the transformative time of their youth – embodied in part in the family dynamic with the main characters’ quirky Gen-X adult children. The plot may be contrived, the writing clichéd and predictable, but the show is always fun.

We’re in the middle of the fifth season and we like the show almost as much as these guys do:

Love at the Center

Love at the Center

I discovered the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore by listening to the music CD A Gift of Love II. This is the second of a pair of albums by New Age author Deepak Chopra which put to music love poetry read by an ensemble of notable guest speakers (the first album uses the poetry of Rumi and is just as good). Tagore is considered to be a national treasure by the people of India, and from the great wisdom of his very quotable sayings it is easy to see why.

When I contemplate his many teachings, I find that I truly believe what the master says about love – that it is the ultimate meaning of life. For when the unity of consciousness, which is the ground of all being, separates into the duality of subjective observer and experienced world, it creates a yearning for reunion. This desire propels the Universal Will as it seeks higher and higher forms of expression within consciousness. Thus, love is the very reason for existence.

When you love, you are extending your conception of what you are, what belongs to you, outward into the world. You are expanding your ego-identity. Love is seated in the 4th chakra – anahata – which manages emotions, the confluence of your mental and vital nature. In other words, the meaning of your life. Anahata is the central chakra, and so love is central to your being. It radiates out from you in every worshipful act.

Keep that in mind, and love.

Millennials Rock

Millennials Rock

One thing I love about Vampire Weekend is that the two leads who formed the band are Jewish (Ezra Koenig), and of Iranian descent (Rostam Batmanglij). It’s like they represent the great hope of America – that people of all origins, even countries which are geopolitical enemies, are recognized for their common humanity and given equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. And what more American way to pursue happiness than to form an indie rock band?

If you haven’t heard them, you should check them out. They’re one of the best of the rock bands that the Millennial generation has produced. And considering how many generations of rock and roll there have been, they have a lot to live up to – I mean, all the great classic rockers are from a few generations before. Now, Rostam has recently left Vampire Weekend – on friendly terms – which means he wasn’t there when we got to see them last week.

Yes. that’s right, I was really just posting this to humblebrag about attending a hip indie rock concert with my BFF and her son. It was at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, and the crowd was huge, and energetic, and twenty to thirty years younger than us. We paid $10 for cans of beer and stood up and danced and were up way past our bedtime.

The opening act was the very talented blues guitarist Kingfish. He played old school rock with virtuosity, like a reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. I actually felt like I had been transported back in time to Woodstock. This guy is only 20 years old, so he is a prodigy.

When the main attraction came out, the crowd leaped to its feet. The band kept the energy going through a long set, which included old and new material, as well as a couple of covers.

I must have looked foolish – a fiftysomething man bouncing around like he thought it was 1989 and he was at a Grateful Dead concert – but I didn’t care. For the encore, the band took requests, and the crew threw a couple of big inflated balls into the audience for us to toss around. It was so much fun.

As for the music, well, the way we see it, the songs of Vampire Weekend are all Millennial anthems. They perfectly capture the zeitgeist of their generation – anxious, questioning, dissatisfied with adult life after being raised with high expectations.

The chorus from their latest hit says it all, I think. When I hear it, I hear the Millennial generation’s disappointment in the corruption of the institutions run by their elders. They long to make the world a better place. But for now, all they can do is sing.

And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness
Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight
Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified
I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die

Vampire Weekend, Harmony Hall
Fine Art Time

Fine Art Time

I’ve been getting into art lately – painting, mainly – and wanted to share a recent experience. My BFF and I did one of those “paint and sips” where you sit with a group of people and all work on the same painting, while enjoying some wine or other such beverage. It’s a business model; you pay a little money, an instructor guides you through the process, there’s other people there, and you have a good time.

In this case the brand was “Painting with a Twist,” at a location near my apartment. We were going to be drawing a castle, and it was also “Wizard Trivia Night.” Meaning Harry Potter trivia night, though they didn’t call it that. It was BYOB, so we packed up some snacks and a bottle of red wine, with three wine glasses, since we were meeting a friend. Everything was all set up when we got there, and the canvasses had the castle (Hogwarts?) already drawn on it. We were among the first to arrive, but it wasn’t long before the space filled up.

What was interesting to me, no surprise, was the demographic breakdown of the participants. I counted 24 artists total, of whom 5 were male and 19 female. Almost everyone was from the Millennial generation, the exceptions being my BFF and me, possibly a couple of Gen-X moms, and one Boomer grandmother with her Homelander grandson. The three Millennial men present all appeared to be on dates (with women). The instructor and her assistant – a black man and the only non-white person present – were both Millennial.

It looked to me like most people did not bring food or drink. There was one other group that brought a bottle of wine, and a did see a couple of craft beers on the table, but it seems that people came for the art. Which was a lot of fun to do, and definitely easier with the help of our hostess. She was lively, as much MC as art instructor, and kept up a party atmosphere with jokes, a few fun games, and the trivia contest.

The prizes for the games and contest were either a pick off a table of painted bottles, or a $5 off coupon for another painting night. Because this was a business, after all. I think that combining the painting with a themed trivia contest helped draw in customers; it was almost a full house. That the clientele was majority Millennial is in keeping with the idea that their generation is more interested in acquiring experiences than material goods. Or perhaps it is more that this is the level of experience that young Millennials can afford.

We certainly had fun and would do it again. Check out our finished artwork below.

You may or may not be able to find me in this group of happy painters.
Movie Review: The Love Witch

Movie Review: The Love Witch

Last month my BFF and I were at The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s actually where I picked up this book that I reviewed a few posts ago. The proprietor of the museum recommended a movie called The Love Witch, which I duly put in my Netflix queue*, and which we just got around to watching a couple of nights ago.

We weren’t sure what to expect. Since the film is not rated, we decided to watch it without the boys. That’s probably for the best, since there was quite a bit of nudity and sexual content. The film was a great compliment to the aforementioned book, which is an autobiographical romp through the decadence of the 1960s.

The Love Witch stars Samantha Robinson and was written and directed by Anna Biller. And as it started, it seemed like it might also be set in the 1960s. It was filmed in vibrant technicolor and featured stilted dialog and acting. Visually it was stunning, especially with the costuming and the setting choices, but the writing wasn’t so good. We were actually wondering if we had stumbled upon the female equivalent of The Room.

The story revolved around the titular character, a young woman practicing witchcraft for the purpose of finding the perfect man. As she cast her spell on a succession of lovers, she found that none of them were strong enough to withstand the intensity of her love – though they certainly enjoyed the sex. The lovers came to bad ends, and the movie revealed itself to be a sexual psychodrama horror film. Eventually a chisel-jawed police detective got drawn into the plot, and – no spoilers – you can just imagine what happened with him.

Again, the movie came across as set in the late 60s or early 70s in its style and fashion choices, and with its slow and awkward exposition and stiff acting it imitated the film of that era. My BFF even said that sometimes it felt like we were watching an old Star Trek episode. But then there were some jarring moments when it was obvious this film was set in modern times (it was released in 2016). Were these clumsy errors, or was the director toying with us? Was this a luridly compelling B-movie, or brilliant satire? I will say that The Love Witch kept us watching, and stimulated some discussion when it was done, so it must have had merit. Right?

So here’s what I got out of it. The Love Witch satirizes gender roles and the romantic ideal of heterosexual relations. Men are egotistical and hyper-rational, women manipulative and hyper-emotional. But as the saying goes, vive la différence! When done right, heterosexual relationships strike a balance between the needs of men and women and fulfill them both. This is discussed by one of the witches in the movie, in a scene at a bar where a burlesque is being performed.

Unfortunately, the witch protagonist’s quest for fulfillment is selfish, and she uses magick irresponsibly, taking her gender role too far. She is portrayed as bafflingly naive, apparently so obsessed that she is blind to the consequences of her actions. The male victims of her spells are helpless and weak, overcome by supernatural powers beyond their ability to resist. When a man with a strong enough ego finally does come along, the witch’s next logical step proves disastrous.

This could all be allegorical, in which case we must face the truth that love has power and must be wielded with care. Most of us have experienced love triangles, even though not as lurid and bloody and occult as those that involve the Love Witch. But the pain is just as real, and the responsibility is as much ours to bear. For even ordinary heartbreak is tragic, and even ordinary deception in love is a crime against the heart.

That was my impression of this strangely enticing film. If you want to form your own, you’ll have to find a copy and watch it yourself.

*I still get Netflix DVDs by snail mail. I find it to be an excellent way to watch indie films and classic films, which are often hard to find on streaming services.