I was watching the film Chained for Life (1952) as part of my work over at Psychotronic Review. The stars of the film are Daisy and Violet Hilton — conjoined twins born in 1908. But as Mark Weldon put it in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, the story in the film is “nothing compared to their real story.” That’s true. They lived a real horror story.
To begin with, their mother sold them to another woman, Mary Hilton, who basically enslaved them — turning them into a modern freak exhibit. They were controlled through violence. As part of this, they were trained as musicians, and you can see this in the film. They are really good. But when Hilton died, she willed the twins to her daughter, Edith Meyers. Get that? Willed! This is in the 1920s.
A Better Childhood
Their lives improved in 1931 when the twins sued to get out of their “contract” with Edith Meyers and her husband. As a result of the case, they were paid $100,000. This should give you some idea of just how much money the Meyers family (and Hilton before them) brought in on the backs of Daisy and Violet. Humans are savage when it means making a buck.
They lived as performers for most of the rest of their lives. Even if they hadn’t been conjoined, their musical skills would have been in demand — at least as long as vaudeville continued. After that, it was harder to make a living. But they continued — Chained for Life being part of that.
In 1961, they performed at a drive-in theater. Afterward, their manager abandoned them — penniless. They were forced to get a job working at a fruit stand. They worked that job for over 7 years before they died some time around the new year 1969. That was when the true horror occurred.
When Conjoined Twins Die
I had never thought what it would be like when conjoined twins died. But generally, they would not die at the same time. So when one dies, the other is attached to a rotting corpse. And this is what happened to Daisy and Violet.
They were suffering from the flu. Daisy died first. Violet died between two and four days later. So she got to spend this time with the corpse of her sister as it slowly poisoned her to death.
Real Life Horror
This strikes me as a great premise for a novel: a woman attached to her dead sister thinking back on her difficult life while she waits to die. I’m thinking something along the lines of Pincher Martin.
But more than that, I’m thinking of Synecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman stated that the idea was to create a horror film — but not to include classic horror elements but rather the things that terrified him.
Violet Hilton could have been too ill to have even noticed her situation. But really, wouldn’t she have gotten thirsty and tried to get up at some point?
Regardless, it’s like with people’s reaction to folklore: it doesn’t matter if it is true but that it could be true.
Spending my last hours on Earth trapped with a rotting corpse — attached to me or not — is a terrifying thought.
It makes me think of conjoined twins in a whole new way. The universe is cruel.
I think a lot more about racism than I do sexism. The reason is that I know I’m racist whereas I don’t generally think of myself as sexist. But that’s nonsense. I am sexist.
If I were given a stack of resumes, I suspect we would find some bias in my picks. (Assuming I hadn’t been primed; I bet I’d do a pretty good job right now.)
What Is Racism? Sexism?
But let me back up for a moment because I don’t want you to think that I’m just virtue-signalling here. I define “racism” and “sexism” pretty broadly: any irrational bias that one holds against a category of people. So if your heart races when you see a black man approaching you on an isolated street, that’s racism — even if you are a black man.
I don’t beat myself up about this because it is virtually impossible not to grow up in this nation and not be racist. It even affects blacks. And I’m sure the same is true of sexism.
Even though I do not believe in free will, I am not fatalistic about this. Knowing our subconscious biases allows us to be more focused on fighting our irrational subconscious tendencies.
(None of this is to say that subconscious bias is as bad as overt racism. But I don’t usually talk about overt racism because our country’s fixation on it is a big part of our racism problem. Using the n-word is racist. Seemingly nothing else short of murder is.)
Why I Like Women More Than Men
The truth is that I like women more than men — in a general sense. And I think I know why.
Until about ten years ago, I was always painfully thin. And I have always been short. And I’ve been bullied by “alpha” males from school to work and beyond. So I’ve always felt more at home with women.
(This isn’t to say that women can’t be bullies. But mostly, they are bullies in ways that I’m better able to deal with.)
On the other side of things, my knowledge of black culture comes mostly from the media and other racist white people. (I scored “slight bias toward whites” on the subconscious bias test.)
Liking Women Doesn’t Equal Non-Sexist
I’ve known a lot of other guys who prefer to be around women. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t sexist. (How much easier it is to see others’ faults than your own!)
Indeed, the attacks from the “alpha” males is part of the general process of systemic sexism in our society. Regardless what conservatives say, there is wide-scale acceptance and admiration of brutal male culture — even in romantic comedies!
So we may end up with a man who adores women but nonetheless just assumes that an executive at his firm would be a man. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any female executives at his firm. But they would be there either because they are far better than any other available man or because of some bit of luck.
This, of course, is why the “there’s no racism in America because Obama was president” is such a facile argument.
But it is also why I should be even more concerned about my own sexism. And racism. And pretty much every other –ism you can name. I am a man of my time and place. And the only way forward (as individuals and society) is to fight against this.
It’s interesting that even as technology changes society at a prodigious speed, we don’t move any faster in ridding ourselves of these horrible biases. At times it seems we are going in the opposite direction.
Ah, Christmas! There are many things I like about it. Well, two: giving presents and cooking. Really: if you are past the age of 30, Christmas really ought to be about giving. And for women, it mostly is. For men, well. You know men.
I just want to explain what my Christmases are like. I always go to my sister’s house. And the two of us cook and otherwise wait on all the men who sit on the couch and watch sports and other “reality” shows.
(Yes, I do know that I’m a man. But socially, I’m not. It’s strange that supposed alpha men who supposedly love women so much don’t want to spend time around them. But maybe it is just that they want them for sex and otherwise, they prefer to be around each other because they are culturally stunted and the source of 90 percent of all the pain in the world.)
But in our coming and going, it might be nice to see, I don’t know, some Christmas shows. Maybe hear some Christmas music? I’m not that fond of either. But it is certainly better than yet another football game — yet another episode of Pawn Stars (AKA: the show where bottom feeders make money off desperate people).
The truth is, I don’t much care. What does matter is that there is no compromise. It is just assumed by the men that whatever they want to watch is what will be watched. And it is just assumed that they will be waited on.
Truly, I’m thinking that next year, my sister and I will get a hotel room. We’ll allow the the kids to come by and let the “alpha” males conquer Christmas. If pizza parlors are open on Christmas, they should have no problem. And it will give them more man time.
Anyway, Merry Christmas! Remember the reason for the season: learning extreme tolerance.
Later, when everything calmed down, I went into the back bedroom and watched Family Feud with my great-nephew, Hector. He apparently enjoys it and I don’t mind watching it. Steve Harvey is genuinely funny and manages to mock the contestants in a way that doesn’t embarrass me. (I suffer greatly from pena ajena.)
Hector quickly fell asleep and I continued to read and watch the show. It was very peaceful — the way Christmas should be. In addition to this very pleasant time, I got to observe something very disturbing on Family Feud.
The question was, “Name something the same size as Steve Harvey’s head.” Bear in mind that Harvey is an African American. And the white contestant buzzed-in and answered, “Watermelon.”
I’m not saying that the contestant was actively racist. But such things are the result of living in a racist society. This is the main reason that I say everyone is racist. It is the same reason that everyone knew Reagan’s “welfare queen” was black (even though she wasn’t). But the contestant’s answer wasn’t far from saying, “Friday chicken!”
Steve Harvey, of course, ignored the racial aspect of it and made a big deal out of the fact that his head — No one’s head! — is as big as a watermelon. It was very funny.
Indication of Broader Racism
But the amazing thing is “watermelon” was the #2 answer with one-quarter of respondents saying it. I had originally thought that the contestant was idiosyncratic. But no. People really do associate African Americans with watermelons.
That’s not a problem, of course. But it is indicative of the subconscious racism that people hold. And it does matter when employers choose whites with felony convictions over blacks with no criminal background.
Steve Harvey: Soother of White Fragility
As a result of this, I find it outrageous that the producers of Family Feud allowed that question through. It obviously required that Harvey do a 21st century minstrel act. The fact that he is a pro that handles casual racism in a way that doesn’t upset whites doesn’t really help matters.
So my first reaction was shock and horror. But Steve Harvey’s handling of it amused and calmed me (as it was meant to). But more reflection makes it even worse.
It was still better than dealing with my alpha family members. And Hector is very sweet — especially when he’s asleep!
 Giving Linda Taylor the moniker “welfare queen” (which Reagan popularized but didn’t invent) was not right. And it was even worse for Reagan to use her as an excuse to cut welfare. Taylor was simply a criminal. Using her as an example of a welfare recipient is like using a human trafficker who launders money through a credit union as an example of a bank customer.
Image taken from Bodybuilding forum. Used under fair use until some bodybuilder comes along and beats me up.
In 2014, environmental activist Julie Henry seems to have been sexually assaulted by environmental folk-hero Rod Coronado. My personal opinion is that this absolutely happened. But I don’t think that either of them is lying, but it certainly seems as though Coronado at least realizes to some extent that his behavior was wrong — even if it was only after he started to be attacked.
I don’t want to go into detail about all of this. You really should read The Intercept article. But the main thing is that Coronado forced himself on Henry in a motel room. But she didn’t really fight back in a physical way. And she could have.
But here’s the thing: I completely understand.
I’ve been in similar situations several times — although never to the point that Henry suffered. It’s hard not to blame yourself. Because in these situations, it seems very much like two people are playing the same game with totally different rules.
Norms and Sexual Assault
For me, it is all about social norms. I had one experience on a bus going to Los Angeles about ten years ago. This drunk guy (Coronado was, not surprisingly, also drunk) was coming on to me. I didn’t want to make a scene — I very rarely do. So I used all of my social skills — and everything I’d learned from decades of being the placator in a dysfunctional family — to tell this guy I was not interested.
It got to the point where he grabbed my penis and I moved. That was the end of that.
But the whole experience was so surreal. It’s easy to say that he was willfully avoiding all my clear signals. But I don’t really think that is the case.
I think this is how most men are socialized. And I’m hardly unsympathetic. The truth is that no does not always mean no. And men are not generally very socially sophisticated. So a polite but firm no is often taken as nothing but a negotiating tactic.
On the other hand, when women have said “no” to me in a playful way, stopping always allows them to clarify. So while I am sympathetic to how confusing sex can be for men, I am most definitely not defending it. Quite the opposite.
I think as a society, we need to do a much better job of socializing men. And given all the problems men have anyway, they should completely eschew sexual encounters when drunk.
Sadly, I believe the only way that this will ever happen is if women like Julie Henry keep coming forward. That’s not to say I believe we should all pile on Rod Coronado. When reading what he had to say, I got the impression that he really doesn’t understand.
What we really need — what would be most effective — is for men to see what they’ve done. And I mean see. I don’t mean generic apologies that really come down to, “I’m sorry I was caught.”
I’m not just talking about other men. Decades ago, I was on a date with a woman whose hand I held about two seconds too long. I know it doesn’t sound like much. But it was a physical battle of wills — and something I’ve been greatly embarrassed about ever since. (Not that the woman made me feel bad about it. She absolutely did not. She was actually very sweet.)
Obviously, for a lot of men, sexual assault is something else — something uncontrollable. But I firmly believe that the vast majority of men can be socialized. Sadly, regardless of #MeToo and other similar movements over the decades, men are generally not. And it hurts us all.
Broader Social Problem
The fact that Henry’s account of what happened would likely find little sympathy in the nation as a whole is telling. Too many people think that if a woman could scream or gouge out some eyes or otherwise avoid the attacker, she couldn’t have been assaulted. But that shows a fundamental disconnect about the way people exist in a broader social context.
And I don’t want to live in a world where people have to destroy their good social behaviors for the sake of being physically safe.
Pleased to meet ya. I hope this doesn’t sound speciest, but some of my best friends have been rats
Okay, so no archy and mehitabel. What would you recommend I read?
Oh, and see if your computer has a “sticky keys” option. Just a suggestion
Thank you. Dave L
dear dave l,
it’s interesting that you would say some of your best friends have been rats for two reasons…
all of my best friends are rats
and yeah, rats don’t live very long, don’t rub it in.
this is an excellent question if by ‘you’ you mean ‘all of humanity especially america’ and by ‘should’ you mean ‘must.’
personally, i like a good story. but i like to know how it’s going to end. now don’t get up on your heals. you already know how just about every story is going to end. when you watch hamlet do you really think he’s getting out of that play alive[question mark]
i would like to see you humans read as much as possible — it doesn’t matter what. the more you’re reading, the more you are not making the lives of the rest of us worse.
in particular, you should pay attention to the sonderweg thesis.
[parenthesis]this is different from the soderbergh thesis, which holds that people will only put up with your pseudo-avant-garde bullshit before they stop pretending to like it.[parenthesis]
the sonderweg thesis holds that there is a direct line from martin luther to nazism. if you question me — and many easily dismissed human historians have — you should check out this quote frank posted before i was born, Antisemite Martin Luther. if luther had just gotten to his eighth point — paper was expensive back then — i’m sure it would have been genocide — a ‘final solution,’ if you will.
obviously, martin luther was not an american — unless you are a mormon — who knows what those people think. but the vast majority of americans are christians. and a large majority of those christians are protestants.
so i’ll spell it out. they ain’t done killing witches.
protestantism is the religion that the antisemite martin luther started. it was a stupid idea. he thought people should actually read the bible because then they would know what god really wanted rather than getting it filtered through the hateful corrupt catholic church. the problem is that the bible is a whole lot of contradictory rubbish that only an expert can make any sense of at all.
luckily, almost none of these protestants actually do read the bible. they just allow it to be filtered through their hateful corrupt churches.
bob dylan, during one of his most annoying periods, sang ‘gotta serve somebody.’ in my experience, christians have to hate somebody.
it may be the jews
or it may be the spicks
but you’re gonna have to hate somebody.
i know that a lot of you out there think that trump will leave office and everything will be fine. that’s not true.
first, roughly half of you idiot americans voted for the man. and it’s not like he didn’t let you know exactly who he was. you knew he was a constant liar before you voted him the most powerful man in the world. [parenthesis]the most powerful creature on earth is the leader of a large colony of termites in australia.[parenthesis] you knew he was an idiot. you knew he didn’t know anything about politics. you knew he was a bigot. you knew he was a sexist. if he’s surprised you as president, you are even stupider than he is.
but even if you did somehow go back to normal, you won’t think about what happened. america doesn’t look back. you think the best way to deal with past wrongs is to ‘look forward’ and pretend it never happened. until it happens again.
i give you all 30 years tops before you have world war iii.
so i say to my fellow rats, ‘let’s start heading south.’
and i say to europe, ‘i think you had better start spending a lot more on your military because fascist america is coming for you and i don’t think russia’s gonna help much this time — but you never know. if america doesn’t have have a complete idiot in charge but just an insane one, the country might attack russia, china, and india as well. still, prepare for the worst.’
and finally, to americans, i ask, ‘is this really how you want to see your empire go down[question mark]’ don’t answer that question americans. it was rhetorical.
image taken from amazon and licensed under fair use.
wendy here again. you could probably tell from the lack of capital letters. it’s not that i cannot type capital letters. I CAN. I CAN PRESS THE ‘CAPS LOCK’ KEY AND TYPE ALL THE CAPITAL LETTERS I WANT.
but if i am to use capital letters properly, i have to do a lot more work. and this is hard enough. as you humans like to say[colon] anyway…
it’s kind of like the french phrase je ne sais quoi. but that literally means, ‘i don’t know what.’ so once again, we see that the french are more honest than the americans. anyway… why don’t you just say, ‘i don’t know.’ it would be a good start — for the whole country. but i’m getting sidetracked. and i have another sidetrack i need to get to before i get to what i came here for.
where is frank?
it’s daytime. so where is frank? well, he got himself sucked into his toastmaster thing. so he’s off at a ‘leadership’ training all day.
now frankly [opening parenthesis]ha ha[closing parenthesis], i don’t see that he needs any more outlets for talking. all he does all day long is talk to himself. it’s quite annoying, really. but i’m a forgiving rat. we all have our little foibles. and this toastmaster thing does get him out of the room more.
it’s wendy if you please
as you should know, my name is wendy fink. that’s wendy with an ‘e.’ let me emphasize that[colon] wEndy.
geez, i have to catch my breath.
so because any article published here is immediately posted on the frankly curious facebook page, some wag wrote, ‘It’s no mystery who authored this creative piece. Everyone knows its Wendy.’
[opening parenthesis]that’s right, i can copy and paste. oh isn’t it amazing[exclemation mark] the rat can copy and paste[exclemation mark]. you people disgust me.[closing parenthesis]
so okay, the guy — who has an icon that looks like a puppet’s vagina — is referencing perhaps the most anemic band ever, the association, doing their 1967 number 1 hit — with a bullet — ‘windy.’ note that’s windy with an i. i’ll emphasize again[colon] wIndy.
you know[colon] the word you would use to describe the weather when there is a lot of wind. what is wrong with you americans and your name spelling[question mark] and the song was written by a woman whose first name is misspelled as far as i’m concerned[colon] ruthann friedman. but what do i know, i’m just a rat that learned english and how to use a computer.
so frank posts the song. like that’s going to make it better because everyone will see immediately that the song obviously refers to some human because no rat would be so silly as to name a child after bad weather.
but here it is, since i know you’ll want to listen to it now[colon]
okay, brian cole looks pretty cool, but how can you not playing that bass. he died of a heroin overdose just five years later. he was just 29 with three kids. i hope the royalties kept coming in. je ne sais quoi.
one rat short
now i’ll make a guess, not being there in 1972, but i assume cole was injecting that heroin. he’d have to be — heroin was at an all-time low in terms of purity — just 3 percent by some estimates. maybe someone just smothered him and they blamed it on the heroin. it wouldn’t be the first time someone snapped over that low-e string.
but the injection got me thinking about the rat romeo and juliet[colon] one rat short by the animator alex weil.
now i’m not saying i don’t have my problems with this film. i don’t know what all that rat fighting at the beginning is all about. rats really aren’t like that. and there’s a little bit of furism going on where the black rats are vicious and the brown rat is good but from the wrong side of the roof and the female is virginal white.
but you could say the same thing of any of shakespeare’s works, so i guess it’s okay.
this is a very sweet and sad film. and trust me, humans do much worse to us than that. then again, you do much worse to each other. humans really have a lot to learn from rats.
so take a look at it. i did go to the trouble of finding it and copying and pasting the embed code. that is no easy feat for my feet. i tell ya, i should find an open mic somewhere. what hilarity[exclemation mark]
are you still here[question mark] watch the film[colon]
keep those letters coming
the email has been piling up since my last post. i’m just kidding. no one has written. but i am serious that you can write to me at rat at franklycurious.com and i will answer your questions, assuming you don’t annoy me too much.
my next post will be an advice column, whether any of you write to me or not. i’ve got loads of questions saved up like, ‘how long before humans go extinct[question mark]’ not soon enough for the planet[exclemation mark]
that’s not that to say that i don’t have a certain fondness for you hairless apes. my opinion would go up if frank would start eating cheetos. and if you don’t get that then you didn’t watch the film and i am so not in the mood for it.
i’ve been watching frank for about a year now, so this has been a long time coming.
let me introduce myself. i am wendy fink. i live under frank’s bed. what do i eat[question mark] [opening parenthesis]i haven’t worked out the whole shift thing yet. give me time. i’m just a rat and you’re the idiot reading me.[closing parenthesis] let’s just say frank isn’t the most tidy eater.
anyway, i want to get something out of the way before everyone just goes nuts — like you humans tend to do. that is not my picture over there on the right. it’s hard enough writing this. how am i supposed to click the trackball and take a picture of myself[question mark] you’d just see an empty chair. so i got a stock photo off the internet of another rat who might have been named ‘nager sweet.’ i don’t know, i’m a just a rat. i’m almost as confused by the world as frank is.
archy and mehitabel
i know this is all just a rip-off of archy and mehitabel. but there are three clear distinctions:
archy was a cockroach and no one is interested in learning about life from a cockroach
mehitabel was an evil cat and there are no cats around here
this is real whereas archy and mehitabel was clearly fiction.
you question me[question mark] i eat with my hands — unlike certain popular ‘pets’ i could mention that just rub their grubby faces into a bowl of something disgusting that comes out of a can. as a result, i have no problem manipulating a trackball and keyboard. sure, i’m a bit limited at the moment, but i’ll work things out. trust me. i got this far.
now compare this to archy. do you really think that a cockroach has enough weight to manipulate a manual typewriter[question mark][exclamation mark] and a cockroach that writes poetry[question mark] here’s some poetry for you:
roses are a whole lot of colors
violets are, well, sorta blue
archy and mehitabel:
fuck you[exclamation mark]
did you know someone wrote an opera about those two. unbelievable. but true. we’ll say no more about them.
i’ve introduced myself because i think i can be of help to humanity. so i’m starting an advice column. i figure you could use it.
and this is altruism. you’re all busy ruining the earth for yourselves. it doesn’t matter me and my fellow rats. we’ll be fine. you’ll be the dead ones.
anyway, all you have to do is send your questions to rat at franklycurious.com. not that it matters. if you don’t, i’ll just make up my own questions because i have a bunch that you should be asking.
please no rat-oriented questions. if you want to know about rats, get a book. and no, i’ve never had a ‘boyfriend.’ male rates are possibly even more horrible than human males.
i’ll be talking to you as soon as i get another chance at the computer.
ps[colon] according to yoast seo, i write at a much more advanced level than frank. ha[exclamation mark]
My great wish was to hear Pablo Casals. One day my desire was almost fulfilled and I met him. But ironically, it was I who had to play. It was in the home of the Von Mendelssohns, a house filled with El Grecos, Rembrandts, and Stradivaris. Francesco von Mendelssohn, the son of the banker, who was a talented cellist, telephoned and asked if he could call for me; they had a guest in the house who would like to hear me play.
“Mr. Casals,” I was introduced to a little bald man with a pipe. He said that he was pleased to meet young musicians such as Serkin and me. Rudolf Serkin, who stood stiffly next to me, seemed, like myself, to be fighting his diffidence. Rudi had played before my arrival, and Casals now wanted to hear us together. Beethoven’s D-Major Sonata was on the piano. “Why don’t you play it?” asked Casals. Both nervous and barely knowing each other, we gave a poor performance that terminated somewhere in the middle.
“Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful!” Casals applauded. Francesco brought the Schumann Cello Concerto, which Casals wanted to hear. I never played worse. Casals asked for Bach. Exasperated, I obliged with a performance matching the Beethoven and Schumann.
“Splendid! Magnifique!” said Casals embracing me.
Bewildered, I left the house. I knew how badly I had played, but why did he, the master, have to praise and embrace me? This apparent insincerity pained me more than anything else.
The greater was my shame and delight when, a few years later, I met Casals in Paris. We had dinner together and played duets for two cellos, and I palyed for him until late at night. Spurred by his great warmth, and happy, I confessed what I had thought of his praising me in Berlin. He reacted with sudden anger. He rushed to the cello. “Listen!” He played a phrase from the Beethoven sonata. “Didn’t you play this fingering? Ah, you did! It was novel to me…it was good… and here, didn’t you attack that passage with up-bow, like this?” He demonstrated. He went through Schumann and Bach, always emphasizing all he liked that I had done. “And for the rest,” he said passionately, “leave it to the ignorant and stupid who judge by counting only the faults. I can be grateful, and so must you be, for even one note, one wonderful phrase.”
Greetings from Pacifica, California. I got a good reminder of group dynamics yesterday by finding the only one around here who I consider part of my own group.
A Poor Start to My Vacation
I got here yesterday late afternoon and I was in a rage. First, the place was way more expensive than I had thought. And by I time I got to my room, I thought, “This place is a dump.” (Note: I love dumps, but I like the price to reflect it.) Then I got to the room and it was nice but small and far from the ocean.
But okay, big deal, I wanted to do was hang out — reading books and watching videos. So I started setting up the room, only to find that it had a total of two electrical outlets that weren’t being used. I called down to the front desk and asked for a power strip. Given how expensive this place was and how unhappy I was, I figured this was the least I could expect.
White People Are Not My Group
The nice white woman at the front desk said she wasn’t sure if they had one, but if they did, they would send one up. Oh, how encouraged I felt! But I pleased that ten minutes later, there was a knock on my door.
By this point, I was already suffering with another problem and imagining the 10,000-word review of this place I was going to write and post everywhere on the internet. In fact, I was even thinking of starting a website:
The problem was that I could hook up my Blu-ray player to the television (which is very nice), but the remote control unit would not allow me to change the input.
I’d given up and decided to connect my Blu-ray player to the computer monitor I had brought for this very reason. Make that a 12,000-word article.
A Member of My Ground!
But I answered the door and a nice young man greeted me with a power strip. I thanked him. It was the first thing that had gone right — a modest victory but a victory nonetheless.
He went on his way and I brought the power strip back to the desk. But then I remembered, “The television!”
I ran out into the hallway and yelled after him. I told him that I assumed he was the tech around here and he told me I was right. Thank God! One of my people! The women at the front desk were very pleasant and professional but totally useless for anything other than charging large amounts of money for tiny rooms with limited television sets.
I explained my problem: the television was modern, so it had HDMI inputs. I plugged in my Blu-ray player, but the remote control didn’t allow me to go into set-up. He understood the problem immediately and offered to get me the “real” remote control unit.
So off he went and back I went. Ten minutes later, he was in my room with a proper unit. And together we worked on it and soon the television was displaying The Blood Trilogy. I told him not to judge. He smiled.
He explained to me that they had the simple remotes because most people are, well, idiots (my word) and with the real remote control units, guests were constantly screwing up their televisions. I immediately remembered all those phone calls I got from my parents over the years, “The television isn’t working!”
So I got it, and it made sense. It was so nice to have someone explain the situation and solve my problem as opposed to the front-desk clerk probably doesn’t even know about the issue and had no interest in trying to solve my problem. You know, like saying something like, “I don’t know, but I’ll ask our tech.”
The tech even brought an extra set of batteries. What a great guy! I tipped him exorbitantly and he went on his way.
His name was Rolando and he was a young Latino. English might be his second language, but he spoke perfectly, so if he is an immigrant, he came here young. Regardless, he was a man of few words.
But after he left, I was so happy. All my other complaints about this place went away (mostly). I was no longer a stranger in a strange land. Rolando was here!
And it occurred to me that he was part of my group, tribe, or whatever you want to call it. The white women at the front desk might look like me in their pasty whiteness. But Rolando and I spoke the same language, even if it hardly required speaking at all.
Race Is a Myth Most People Believe
This was a powerful moment for me. As regular readers know, I don’t believe in race — it’s a recent concept developed in the west to justify imperialism and slavery.
But here was this guy who roughly a third of this nation would hate for no other reason than his skin color. (Don’t buy into the whole “illegal immigration” thing; these people would have no problem with immigrants if they only came from “white” countries. Not that Rolando is necessarily an immigrant. But most of these people would consider him “foreign” because he isn’t pasty white.) Yet here was a man who was part of my group.
Nothing Wrong With Being in a Group
I have no problem saying this. It doesn’t matter what it is, humans separate themselves into groups. There are too many of us to all feel a special kinship to all humans — not that we don’t (mostly) care when any other human is killed and eaten by, for example, a grizzly bear. But mostly, we all divide into our own group.
And I think that’s fine as long as there is an edifying reason for it. Looking the same is not edifying. For one thing, humans all look so much the same that basing your opinions on it is simply ridiculous.
The Basis of Groups
I can understand basing your group notions on social customs. But that’s stupid from an immigration standpoint because second-generation immigrants are fully integrated into the society. What’s more, the social differences that people get hung up on are usually superficial.
It’s like what Sting implied during the Cold War: the Russians love their children too. (I’m not a Sting fan and I’m not even that fond of this song; I think it made a pretty obvious point, but it’s still important.)
Hard Times and Good Groups
These are bad times — in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Too many people divide themselves based on the most foolish of measures. It mostly comes down to simple xenophobia: the fear of outsiders. And don’t kid yourself: this is why the Republican Party is not just in control of Washington, but of the US generally. And it’s the reason this country is being ripped apart.
Good Groups and Bad Groups
I don’t have a problem with other groups bound together by things like woodworking or needlework or whatever. I don’t feel as bound to them as I am to a kid who knows how HDMI works and can program a television to work with a random remote control unit. But I get them.
I do, however, have a problem with people whose identity is based on nothing more than fear of The Other. Groups should be bound by their interest in and love of their people, not disregard and hatred of others.
It was nice to be reminded of that here in Pacifica by a young tech — even if the room still is overpriced.
Hello all you frankly curious boys and girls! I am sorry that I haven’t been writing much recently. Part of it is Donald Trump. I’ll come back to him. But the bigger issue is that I’m going on vacation starting Friday morning and I won’t be back home until the afternoon of the first day of July.
July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August!
The problem for me is that a vacation really gets in the way of my work on the things I actually care about: this site, Psychotronic Review, practicing the most evil musical instrument in the world, and writing my experimental plays. You know: the stuff I don’t get paid to do.
The problem is that there is a tremendous amount of (paid) work that has to be done before going on vacation. I already have weeks of work backlog. But I have to get the really pressing things done. And I want to too! That’s because I’m not going to be working when I’m on vacation, and that means I won’t be making money. But even though I’m going to miss 9 days of work out of this month, I’m going to manage to make about 80 percent of my normal pay.
This, of course, is because I’ve been killing myself.
And Then There’s Trump
I’m now trying to avoid hearing anything about politics. In the past, it wasn’t so bad because I thought, “We’ll probably get rid of Trump in 2020 and this will all just be a bad memory.” Sure, I knew he was causing great suffering, but there was an end in sight. And to a large extent, that’s true. The immigration policy will go back to our normal inhumane situation instead of the near-genocide that Trump is overseeing. So on the domestic front, the election of a Democratic president in 2020 — or whenever — will be a good thing.
(And yes, I know that Trump has apparently reversed course on the family separation of asylum seekers. Does everyone know that we are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, by which the whole process of charging asylum seekers with trespass is illegal? So the whole, “Our hands are tied” explanation was always a crock. But the reversal sure shows that all those people who were claiming that the White House was doing it because they thought it was a political winner were wrong. They were doing it because Trump is a cruel man who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I think Elvis Costello summed him up perfectly long ago, “If it moves then you f**k it, if it doesn’t move you stab it.)
Our Long-Term International Problems
It’s on the international front that things are so depressing. After Trump is out of office, things will not reset. The world has seen that the US political system is such that it can elect a modern-day Hitler. It doesn’t matter that he got three million less votes. For one thing, that’s still a very close race when you consider just how awful Trump was — not just as a person but as a candidate. But more important, we have a non-democratic system. Hitler didn’t get 50 percent of the vote. His base was roughly that of Trump’s: 30 percent.
So I figure it will take a generation or more for us to heal these wounds. And in a certain way, they never will be. I know that Brexit hurt the UK. But the people immediately regretted it. If they had been able to vote again just a week later, it would have lost. It’s not clear that Trump would lose a year and a half later — despite the fact that other than being a monster to immigrants, he hasn’t done a thing for his straight white male racist base.
(Just a little aside: I am so looking forward to the time when these people — people like me — really do have no more power than anyone else. As a group, cis white males are such whiners about losing power and blah, blah, blah. I’ll be glad to see them have something to really complain about. Of course, if they voted liberal, their lives would be better. But as a group, we are idiots.)
Onward to Vacation
The rule for this vacation is that I get to have the kind of vacation that I most enjoy: doing nothing. I read. I watch totally awesome films. I sit in a hot tub. And apparently, I get a massage, which is the equivalent of the hot tub: except I have to drive — gurr — as many as ten miles to get it. And I have to go whale watching, which is okay, I’m just not sure how I’m going to get to the boat. I’m too tired to think about it, but I have a vague plan that relieves me of having to park in San Francisco.
It’s possible I’ll write something on the blog next week. I’m not planning to, but you never know. I can’t go a day without writing something. I’m planning on working on some plays. But I’m so tired right now, the thought is not appealing. They require a lot more work than a blog post — especially a rambling one like this. (I have Facebook posts that are better than this!)
I Need This
Generally, I’m told that I need a vacation. This is the first time I feel like I need a vacation — I certainly want it more than any one I can remember. My next vacation (which will be the last for a while) will likely not be that great because I’m going with my family. And they all have this idea that you do things on vacation. And that’s such a silly thing, because I will be doing something — my favorite thing to do: metabolize!
Today was a long day. Tomorrow will be worse. Just let me die on the beach.
Last night I had a dream. I was hunched over my keyboard, working furiously. And in the corner was Arthur Schopenhauer with a friend. He motioned toward me and said, “The Will is strong with this one.” And my head planted on the keyboard — the letter “x” scrolled across the screen.
I assume the Force is a good thing to have. I don’t really know, having seen almost none of the films and not having given them much thought. But the Will is not a good thing to have. It exists for itself. It is a parasite that lives within us, feeding off us — only interested in its own existence.
We all live in the middle of the most terrifying horror show ever imagined. But most of us haven’t a clue. In this context, a drone attack on a wedding party is the ultimate act of mercy and Obama is a saint.
Suicide: A Once Comforting Thought
The writer Stevie Smith famously found the thought of suicide extremely comforting. She said that when she learned about it as a child, it great cheered her because she knew that if life ever got too painful, she could end the pain — in an instant.
As a result, she lived her life to its natural conclusion despite her depression and anxiety because of that thin tether of knowing that she could always kill herself tomorrow.
Nobody’s Waving — Their Drowning
I suppose one could see the Will as a friendly entity that keeps us alive through the bad bits of life so we can enjoy the good bits. But I think that Smith sums up life for most people pretty well in his poem fragment:
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
That’s most people: too far out all their lives, drowning while everyone thinks they are having a marvelous time.
You see a lot of people drowning on Facebook. But they would prefer you not see them drowning, so they are waving furiously as they swallow mouthfuls of seawater, sink, and then breath the brine as they die. Don’t trust the happy pictures of ball games and parties. You need both hands to slit your own wrists.
Emily Dickinson Had It Right: We’re Stuck
Most people only know the first two lines of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poem, “The Chariot”:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me…
Many people they think (certainly I did when I was young) that the word “kindly” is meant ironically. It isn’t. The whole poem isn’t a celebration of death — Dickinson was not a cheerful poet (or person, it would seem — she was pretty much a shut-in like me). But people are sometimes fooled by things like, “‘Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers.” The quotation marks around “hope” certainly indicate that she sees it has something of a phantom.
But “The Chariot” is quite positive toward death. She looks upon death as a good thing.
All These Prisons
For most of my life, I was like Stevie Smith: I took comfort in knowing that I could make this all go away. But my dream Schopenhauer was right: my Will is ridiculously strong. I could never kill myself except under the most rational of circumstances (eg, I’m in the World Trade Center and a fireball is coming toward me, so I jump). Otherwise, no.
So more and more I feel like a prisoner in this body on this planet — stuck in this constant now, now, now. But like Dickenson, I cannot stop for death. I must live in this cage until it takes pity and stops for me.
It is only science and art and lots of people (one at a time) that provide any kind of relief. I would rewrite Dickenson: “Hope is a thing for children.”
When I was younger, I often heard the Peter Principle defined as follows, “Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.” Thus, I saw it as a statement of the stupidity of corporations: that they promoted incompetent people. But that is not it at all.
Investopedia provides a far better definition of the phenomenon, “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.”
It was only when the Peter Principle started to be applied to me I came to understand it. And it was then that I saw that it wasn’t an attack on the employee but on the corporation.
Peter Principle in High Tech
Consider this example, which I have seen in action many times. A computer programmer is hired by a company and they are great — a modern-day alchemist who manages to things done no one thought was even possible. So the company, wanting to reward this exceptional coder, promotes them to a programming manager. And this person is not great at the new job. To start with, they don’t like it because programming is in their bones. But also: they don’t know anything about management. They hate going to meetings. They think spreadsheets and reports are things people create because they don’t know how to code or that they’re just plain stupid. So, far from being a great manager, they are a bad manager — maybe bad enough to get fired.
Meanwhile, that same company probably has a mediocre programmer who would make a great manager. But they can’t be made a manager because it would be unfair. The mediocre coder would now be above the brilliant coder in the the hierarchy. The mediocre coder would make more money. The mediocre coder would be sent to conferences and fly business class. In other words, the mediocre coder will be better than the brilliant coder.
Hierarchy Destroys Diversity
The problem, of course, is that most companies have it all backwards. And a hierarchy is almost never the best way to structure a group. But you see the human tendency toward hierarchy. The World Wide Web was definitionally flat. It was, quite literally, a web. But once it became commercialized, it turned into a hierarchy. The vast majority of people on the internet spend the vast majority of their time on the top 100 websites.
And it’s built in. If you are on Facebook, why? Why not another platform? Because Facebook is only useful if everyone is there. It isn’t just a monopoly, it’s a company that can only exist as a monopoly. There is absolutely nothing technologically interesting about it and that has been true from its very idea. It provides Sudoku Meaning to people. But it’s also herd mentality. Have you ever noted the shape of a stampeding herd?
The point is the hierarchy — this idea that we need one. The fact is that it is much easier to find a good middle-manager than it is to find a good programmer or other creative. But because we think the hierarchy is natural or right or whatever, we must put the creatives at the bottom. We must pretend that although necessary, they aren’t worth that much. Hence, companies try to turn exceptional creatives into exceptional managers, but end up with mediocre (and generally unhappy) managers.
We Need a Better System
There are better ways, of course. The most obvious is the ecosystem. It is typical of the stupidity of man that the lion is referred to as the “king of the jungle.” (And that makes no sense given that lions don’t live in the jungle, tigers do.) That’s not the way the jungle works. Yes, there are apex predators. But everyone dies and is eaten. Humans think they control this planet? Ha! Insects and bacteria.
But there is no reason that a manager of programmers should necessarily make more than any given programmer. Especially if you want to believe in a meritocracy (and we don’t have one and can’t have one), you should see this. A programmer working alone can revolutionize the world. A manager working alone can’t do anything at all.
In a company however, you need lots of people doing lots of things. And doubtless, some of those people are worth more to the company than others. But the hierarchy doesn’t come close to modeling this. An ecosystem does.
The Lost in America Reversal
There’s a scene in Lost in America where this idea is put on its head. Albert Brooks plays an idiot, as usual. He’s a great advertising creative and gets upset when he isn’t going to be promoted to management. And his supervisor tells him plainly that Brooks is too talented a creative to lose him to management so he promoted someone with far less ability.
And that’s the way it should be. Except it shouldn’t be that the other guy was “promoted.” There should be an ecosystem where everyone plays their role — doing what they like and are good at. And if that means a lowly coder makes as much as the vice-president of finance, so be it. (Note: the vice-president of finance is just at the top of a huge group of people. So he isn’t actually doing any more work than the coder, and isn’t necessarily any more important — even if the vast bureaucracy he leads is).
But that doesn’t stop me from commenting on his work. He has a hierarchy of science that starts with math and ends with arts. Forget that this is the most cliched hierarchy ever, math is not a science. And unlike other hierarchies, his is implying that math is more important than physics is more important than chemistry is more important than biology. Blah, blah blah. Based on his other work, he’s a New Atheist — a total embarrassment.
He wrote this with the image, “Most people are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but do we consider the underlying structure of science when trying to determine why we behave the way we do.” You can study and learns lots about biology and psychology without knowing anything about physics or math. The guy’s a complete idiot.
Science Doesn’t Work That Way
Science doesn’t have a structure. And more and more all of the walls between the different fields are falling down. Go look at a biology grad student and you won’t be able to tell them apart from a chemistry grad student. Given that math and physics are my fields, you would think I would be pleased by this. But it’s just wrong.
Also, the artwork was terrible. I had to fix several things and even still there is one notable error that remains. And I’m no artist. But I did like the colors, so I used it.