Monday, April 30, 2012

Dogen instructed,
Many of the ancient masters have cautioned not to spend one’s time in vain. It has also been said not to pass one’s time wastefully. Students of the Way, value every moment of time. This dew-like life disappears easily; time passes swiftly. For the little while you are alive, do not engage in other affairs. Just devote yourself to learning the Way.  
People today say that they cannot abandon their debt of gratitude to their parents, or they can not disregard the order of their lord, or they cannot part from their wives, children, and relatives. Or they excuse themselves saying that their families would not be able to survive, or that people would slander them. Or, they say they cannot afford monk’s supplies, or they are not capable of enduring the practice of the Way.  
Since they consider the matter with such sentiments, they cannot leave their lords, fathers and mothers; or abandon their wives, children, or relatives. They go on following worldly sentiments and cling to their wealth. Consequently, they spend their whole lifetime in vain and cannot help feeling regret upon departing from this life.  
Sit tranquilly and ponder reality, and promptly determine to arouse bodhi-mind. Neither your lords nor parents can give you enlightenment. Nor can your wives, children, or relatives save you from the suffering of life-and-death. Wealth cannot cut off the cycle of birth-and-death. People in the world cannot give you any help. If you do not practice on the grounds that you are not a vessel of the dharma, when will you be able to attain the Way?  
Just cast aside all affairs and devote yourself to the practice of the Way only. Do not have expectations of any later time to practice (Shobogenzo Zuimonki Book 5, Chapter 8)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"We do not discuss intelligence as superior and stupidity as inferior. Do not choose between clever people and dull ones. If we singlemindedly make effort in zazen, that truly is pursuit of the truth. Practice-and-experience is naturally untainted" (from Fukanzazengi, written by Master Dogen in 1227).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Allo Darlin' and Wave Pictures

"The critically acclaimed Allo Darlin' specializes in catchy tunes that cross sixties pop with eighties rock" (The New Yorker).  Tonight, they play at 529 in Atlanta, Georgia.

One day, when Zen Master Hyakuj┼Ź had asked everyone to work in the fields, a certain monk suddenly held up his rake when he heard the sound of the drummer.  Laughing loudly, he threw down his rake and went straight back to the temple.  The master exclaimed, “What a splendid thing this is! It is the gate of entry into truth.”  
When the master returned to the temple, he called the monk and asked him, “What truth have you seen to make you behave as you did just before?” The monk said, “I was hungry, so when I heard the sound of the drummer I went in for something to eat.”  
The master laughed loudly.
Allo Darlin's second LP, Europe, came out to pretty much across-the-board acclaim. It's a little more melancholy than the band's debut, with a lot less ukulele this time out, but "Elizabeth Morris' songwriting and voice are still in fine form, it's all just a little more 'mature' . . . I'm sure one thing that hasn't changed is Allo Darlin's ability to charm in the live setting" (Brooklyn Vegan).

The song Darren was written for their friend Darren Hayman, who recorded and released one song for every day of January 2011.  In August of 2011, he decided to release 500 copies of two of those songs as a seven-inch single, and to individually hand paint every sleeve with his friends Allo Darlin' and The Wave Pictures.  

The Wave Pictures, who reportedly "rely on prominent rock guitar solos," will be opening.  The band's music "ranges from bluesy and sorrowful to up-tempo and rollicking (The New Yorker again)."  Dave Tattersall of Wave Pictures "spins fascinating, funny stories with a singsong delivery. Most of their albums sound like they were recorded live, but it always comes off a million times more compelling when you actually see them play. Tattersall is also one of the funniest between-song banterers of our age" (Brooklyn Vegan again).

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Worst Thing About Living a Lie Is Just Wondering When They'll Find Out

Oh, look.  Water Dissolves Water's favorite crazy lady, Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-yArDs, has a new video out, starring the kids of Brightworks and the San Francisco Rock Project.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A True Story

Once there was a woodcutter who went into the mountains and lost his way in the snow.  The time was approaching dusk, the snow was deep, and the cold was freezing; the woodcutter would be dead before long. 

He advanced into a dense wood whereupon he saw, already there in the wood, a bear whose body color was deep blue and whose eyes were like two torches.  The man was scared half to death, but the bear, upon seeing the woodcutter’s distress and fear, soothed and admonished him, saying, “You need not be afraid.  A father and mother sometimes are treacherous to a child, but I am completely without ill will toward you.”  Then it stepped forward, lifted the woodcutter up, and carried him into a cave to warm his body. After letting him recuperate, it picked various roots and fruits and encouraged him to eat what he liked, and, afraid that the woodcutter’s coldness would not thaw, it hugged and lay with him. 

It thus tenderly nursed him for six days, until, on the seventh day, the weather cleared and the path became visible.  The man then had the strength to return home and the bear, having already recognized this, again picked sweet fruits and served them to the man until he was satisfied.  The bear then escorted the man out of the woods and politely bade him farewell.  

The man dropped to his knees and said in thanks, “How can I repay your kindness?”  

The bear said, “I want no reward.  I only hope that just as I have protected you, you would act likewise toward my life.”  

The man respectfully assented and, carrying his wood, he descended the mountain.  On his way down, he met two hunters, who asked him, “What kinds of creatures have you seen in the mountains?”  

The woodcutter replied, “I have not seen any other beast at all; I have only seen one bear.”  

The hunters begged him, “Can you lead us to him?”  

The woodcutter answered, “If you can give me a share of two-thirds, I will show you.”  The hunters thereupon agreed and together they set off.  

At length they slew the bear and divided its flesh into three. As the woodcutter, with both hands, went to take the bear meat, through the force of his bad karma both of his arms dropped off—like pearls on a string that is cut, or like chopped lotus roots.  The hunters were alarmed by this and in astonishment they asked the reason for it.  The woodcutter, ashamed, related the plot in detail.  

These two hunters berated the woodcutter, saying, “The bear showed you this great benevolence!  How could you have responded with such evil treachery?  It is a wonder that your body has not rotted!”  At this, the woodcutter and the hunters together took the meat to donate to a monastery. 

There, an elder among the monks entered into the immovable state of zazen and reflected upon what kind of meat had been offered.  He realized that it was the flesh of a great bodhisattva who had produced benefit and joy for all living beings.  At length, he left the immovable state and told the monks of this matter.  The monks were shocked to hear it.  Together, they gathered fragrant firewood to cremate the flesh, collected the remaining bones, prepared a memorial, performed prostrations, and served offerings. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sharon Van Etten

Tonight, Brooklyn's Sharon Van Etten and Baltimore's Flock of Dimes perform at The Earl.  Here's Ms. Van Etten earlier this year performing at New York's Mercury Lounge:

According to Atlanta's Creative Loafing newspaper, Ms. Van Etten's music "finds honesty in the equivocal, love amidst gloom. Like Brooklynite Lucinda Williams, Van Etten's bold vocal tones suggest a depth of being formed by a young lifetime of hard-won triumphs."

It will be my third time watching Ms. Van Etten perform, having seen her last year at Bumbershoot and the year before that (2010) opening for Junip at The Earl. For those of you interested, her February 26, 2012 set at the Bowery Ballroom is available for free download over at NYC Taper.


Meanwhile, way back during last year's Rocktober, I mentioned that I would love to hear Wye Oak play a smaller club like The Earl some day.  While that wish hasn't yet been fulfilled, I do get to hear Flock of Dimes, "a sample-heavy project weighted by Wye Oak frontwoman Jenn Wasner's deliriously wonderful songwriting" (the Loaf again) at The Earl tonight.

icy by Flock of Dimes

glaze by Flock of Dimes

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hospitality & Eleanor Friedberger at The Basement, Atlanta, March 21

As promised/threatened, here are the pictures of Eleanor Friedberger performing at The Basement at Graveyard Tavern in Atlanta last Saturday night..  Before her set, though, Brooklyn's Hospitality opened.  

By my count, Friends of Friends was the fourth song in their set.

I was sufficiently impressed that I bought a copy of their eponymous debut CD, autographed by frontwoman Amber Popini.

Eleanor Friedberger started her set with an extended instrumental intro to My Mistakes, and kept the energy level up from there on in.

It was actually my first time inside The Basement.  Last Rocktober, I was in line to see TuneYards perform  at The Basement but the show sold out while I was a mere two persons from the front door and admittance,  and I learned a practical lesson about buying tickets in advance.

The Basement's a small, intimate club.  I thought at first that the bar was too close to the stage and was disappointed that the stage was not visible from much of the club.  All this is true, but everyone who cared got great sight lines of the bands, and the sound was superb.  It's actually a pretty good place to listened to and watch a performance.

For those who might possibly care, it was my second time seeing Ms. Friedberger (after last years MFNW, where she opened for The Kills), and only her second time in Atlanta (she previously performed as a part of the Portlandia road show, even though she's from Brooklyn by way of Chicago).  It was also Hospitality's second time in Atlanta, following last month's performance at The Earl opening for the band Tennis.  I didn't go to that one, as I was at Vinyl that night, watching the British band Fanfarlo.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dogen instructed,

There is an old saying which goes, “Although the power of a wise man exceeds that of an ox, he does not fight with the ox.

Now, students, even if you think that your wisdom and knowledge is superior to others, you should not be fond of arguing with them. Moreover, you should not abuse others with violent words, or glare at others angrily. Despite having been given great wealth and receiving the favors of some person, people in this age would definitely have negative feelings if the donor were to display anger and slander them with harsh words. 

Once, Zen Master Shinjo told his students, 
In former times, I practiced together with Seppo. Once Seppo was discussing the dharma loudly with another student in the monk’s dormitory. Eventually, they began to argue using harsh words, and in the end, wound up quarreling with each other. After the argument was over, Seppo said to me, “You and I are close friends practicing together with one mind. Our friendship is not shallow. Why didn’t you help me when I was arguing with that man?” At the time, I could do nothing but feel small folding my hands and bowing my head.  
Later, Seppo became an eminent master, and I too, am now an abbot. What I thought at the time was that Seppo’s discussion of the dharma was ultimately meaningless. Needless to say, quarreling was wrong. Since I thought it was useless to fight, I kept silent.
Students of the Way, you also should consider this thoroughly. As long as you aspire to make diligent effort in learning the Way, you must be begrudging with your time. When do you have time to argue with others? Ultimately, it brings about no benefit to you or to others. This is so even in the case of arguing about the dharma, much more about worldly affairs. Even though the power of a wise man is stronger than that of an ox, he does not fight with the ox. Even if you think that you understand the dharma more deeply than others, do not argue, criticize, or try to defeat them.
“If there is a sincere student who asks you about the dharma, you should not begrudge telling him about it. You should explain it to him. However, even in such a case, before responding wait until you have been asked three times. Neither speaks too much nor talks about meaningless matters.” 
After reading these words of Shinjo, I thought that I myself had this fault, and that he was admonishing me. I have subsequently never argued about the dharma with others.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

Atlanta, Georgia, April 22, 2012:  Sunny, with a high of 69, low of 43.  Humidity at 37%.  Winds NW at 17 mph.  A perfect day, and a perfect day for a festival in Candler Park.  The last time I was here was for something called the Midsummer Music Festival back on a muggy day in June, and pouring rain broke out and soaked the entire audience.  There was no chance of that happening today.

The proceedings were part of something called the SweetWater 420 Fest, a three-day festival that is in part a promotional event by the brewing company and in part a neighborhood party.  Admission was free, but you had to pay $5 for a wristband if you wanted to buy beer.  There was music, there were vendors and food trucks, there was lots of beer, and there were a large number of parents pushing strollers.

The string band on the stage played earnest and proficient Appalachian bluegrass with some Grateful Dead covers thrown in for the laid-back crowd.

The band on the other stage played a funkier brand of Americana roots rock, with an emphasis on soul and R&B.

Like last summer's Music Festival, there was no available parking anywhere in the residential neighborhood surrounding the park.  But unlike last summer, MARTA, in its wisdom, closed the parking lot for the nearby Candler Park station, the nearest public parking facility.  After cruising the neighborhood behind a long line of similar cruisers, I eventually found a place in front of someone's house just barely large enough to parallel park my little coupe (several SUVs in front of me paused to consider the spot, and wisely decided to move on).  Squeezing into the tight space was made no easier by the resident coming out to watch me from the sidewalk the entire time to make sure that I didn't nick her car.

Overall, though, it was refreshing to breathe some unseasonably cool fresh air and to get a little sun after an evening of rock music in The Basement (pictures soon), and a nice conclusion to the weekend (which even included a Friday night puppet show that I didn't even get a chance to talk about yet!).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hospitality and Eleanor Friedberger

Back on September 8 of last year at MusicFest NorthWest (MFNW), I had the opportunity to see Eleanor Friedberger, formerly of The Fiery Furnaces, perform at the hot and sweaty Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon.  Sandwiched in between a band called Mini Mansions and London's The Kills, she performed a memorable set of "pop songs full of countrified melodies (The New Yorker)" and I've been anticipating her coming to Atlanta ever since.  Tonight, she performs at The Basement. 

More good news:  newcomers Hospitality, who I missed when they played Atlanta just last month (March  10, opening for Tennis at The Earl) are already back in town again, this time opening for Ms. Friedberger.  Front woman Amber Papini "sings hook-laden, British-inflected pop songs" (The New Yorker again)."  A couple of those songs have somehow managed to surface on my iPod, but I'm going to the show tonight almost solely on the basis of their song Friends of Friends. Zen Master Dogen who once said, "Consider the moment when a close friend meets a close friend - her being your close friend is your being her close friend." 

 The central irony in the Hospitality video is that all of the "New York" scenes are obviously shot in LA, and all of the "LA" scenes are obviously from New York.  Zen Master Baso once asked, “Just what is right, here and now?” While those words look like a question about only one specific place, they are actually asking about rightness here and now at every place. “Just what is right, here and now,” is the direct manifestation of both sides at once.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Well, as long as I'm posting long, vaguely political rants, I might as well get all of this off of my chest as well.

There was a time in Western history when a subjugated people in Europe had fallen under a feudal socio-economic system wherein all property belonged to competing royalties, and the workers were allowed to farm the land or to work their trade only at the pleasure of the king, baron or lord who ruled over them.  In exchange for some modicum of protection from the ravages of the competing kingdoms, the people labored away in the fields, sweated over a blacksmith's stove, or charged off to war, while worshiping in the manner prescribed by the ruling monarchs who owned all that they could control.  To put it in Marxist terms, the means of production were owned by the monarchy.

However, just before the time of the Renaissance, several intellectual and economic factors began to give rise to the emergence of a merchant class in Europe that traded freely among the different kingdoms and was not necessarily beholden to any one ruler.  The merchants had to be careful to obey the law of the land they were on and to pay the required tribute when it was demanded, but they were otherwise free relative to the serfs and soldiers.  This idea caught on and as the medieval age ended, the means of production increasingly came to be shared by not only the merchants, but by the farmers and laborers as well.  The nobles and the aristocrats still demanded tribute and felt entitled to be supported by the people, and the people at least for a while went along with this notion, but this new system evolved into something like capitalism as we would recognize it today.

The American Revolution wasn't fought, as some would have you believe, merely to avoid having to pay taxes, but was fought more essentially to free the people from the tyranny of foreign kings and monarchs.  The founding fathers recognized that all people are created equal and this egalitarian spirit still defines much of the American character.  For the first time in modern history, a Western people were free from the yoke of a royal aristocracy, the means of production were owned by individuals and not by kings or lords, and free-market capitalism was allowed to flourish. I'm not sure if, had they existed at the time, the founding fathers wouldn't have turned their revolutionary furor against a moneyed elite after they had rid themselves of a monarchy.  I suspect the founding fathers would have been more sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement than to the modern Tea Party.  

As it turns out, unimpeded capitalism is a winner-takes-all system, and those who have acquired some wealth are in an advantageous position to acquire still more.  Within a half-century or so of the revolution, the means of production, the farms and the factories, the railroads and the phone lines, were essentially owned by a millionaire elite.  The workers were free to sell their labor to the factory owners for wages, but the owners got to set the rules, establish the hours and the wages, and maintain the working conditions.  Farmers could pay to work the fields and try to turn a profit, but the markets were fixed.  The system was still essentially capitalistic, but most of the population, the workers, the farmers, and the merchants, found themselves back in a position similar to that of the Old World.  It's particularly telling that the new millionaire elite were often given titles like "Steel Barons" "Rail Barons," and "Land Barons," or "Lords of Industry" and "Lords of Wall Street."  In the absence of regulation, the royalty were back.

In order to level the playing field again and return to an egalitarian norm, it was necessary for the government to intervene and break up the monopolies that had formed.  Trust-busting and regulation of commerce became an essential function of the government, keeping the marketplace healthy and continuing to allow equal opportunity for all.  This governmental regulation can be termed "socialism," but instead of being the opposite of capitalism, socialism is actually the antidote to the accumulation of too much wealth in the hands of too few.  It is the necessary medicine that keeps the free market free.

By busting up trusts and monopolies, socialism encourages competition in the market.  There was a time not too long ago when there was essentially only one nationwide telephone company.  Long-distance calling was prohibitively expensive, and there was no incentive for any real innovation. If the government hadn't intervened and broken up Bell Telephone, we wouldn't have the cell phones, iPhones, and smart phones of today.  We wouldn't have had cheap transmission of voices and data.  We probably wouldn't have had an internet, at least as we know it now.  Breaking up one monolithic company into separate entities fosters competition and fosters innovation, and is what made America the technological leader that it is.

Not that the moneyed elite all saw it that way.  Those without competition do not necessarily welcome the opportunity to compete.  Much of the century between roughly 1850 and 1950 was marked by violent labor disputes wherein the rich hired Pinkertons to beat up Wobblies, by political cronyism and corruption, and by well-orchestrated propaganda campaigns to frighten voters away from socialist policies and candidates supportive of socialist agendas.  In fact, the latter was so effective, that the very term "socialism" is now almost exclusively used in a derogatory sense, and in may circles an idea can be pretty effectively dismissed merely by labeling it as "socialist."  But this way of thinking is not really pro-capitalist when one looks at the big picture, it's the desperate attempt of the moneyed elite to keep the means of production in the hands of the new aristocracy. It's a return to feudalism.

In some countries where socialism wasn't applied to the economy, it was decided that a better path might be to put the means of production directly into the hands of the collective people, "The People" represented in this case by the government.  Under this system, communism, the means of production are owned by the government.  The obvious lesson from history is that under communism, the government simply became the new monarchy, and worse, had complete control of the military and police to enforce its will (totalitarianism).

My point is this:  in order to maintain a system of free markets and equal opportunity for all, to escape the feudal system of medieval times, it's necessary and appropriate to apply some degree of socialist measures to the economy.  Without socialism, capitalism reverts back to feudal rule by moneyed aristocracies.  In this way of thinking, communism is not an extreme form of socialism, it's just another variety of feudalism, the same problem from which capitalism emerged as the solution.  In this way of thinking, "capitalism" is merely the ideal that the means of production should be in the hands of as many individuals as possible, while "socialism" and "deregulation" are twin tools to be applied to capitalism to keep it functioning.

Deregulation can be seen in this light as the healthy and necessary response to too much government intervention.  At some point, it has to be recognized that farmers know how to grow crops and manage the fields better than bureaucrats, and that the market needs some room and relief from pressure to grow organically.  When looked at this way, much of the political debate over the past half-century or so can be seen as opposing ideologies of socialism and deregulation, but both in the interest of promoting capitalism.  When there's too much concentration of wealth, a little socialism is necessary.  When there's too much interference in the market by the government, a little deregulation is necessary.  

This way of thinking makes the current shrillness in the political debate appear most unnecessary.  The tension is not between "real Americans" yearning to be free of excessive over-regulation and "vile, anti-American" forces trying to impose a Marxist-Leninist system of government, its closer to the equivalent of one group wanting to apply the brakes while another wants to step on the gas, but all in agreement that the vehicle needs to be driven (I'll let you decide which side is which in that analogy).  But the hostility and divisiveness in the debate is threatening to run the vehicle off a cliff, if you will.

In my humble opinion, the economic data is pretty compelling that more wealth is now in fewer hands than at any time in recent history, and that we need the government to engage in some trust-busting and opening up of the market for some more competition and innovation. The push-back seems to be coming from the moneyed elite who happen to like owning the concentration of wealth.  But I also recognize that the economy is also large and complex enough that there are also and at the same time some segments of the market right now that can benefit from a little deregulation.  

Not that I expect anyone to see things my way, but I would welcome a discussion in these terms.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gun Week

It seems that wherever I look this week, I see guns, news about guns, discussions about guns, documentaries about guns.  I should check my calendar to see if this is National Gun Week.  On top of the on-going Trayvon Martin controversy (1 dead), Friday will be the 13th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School (13 dead), and Monday was the 5-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech (32 dead).  Over lunch today, I read an excellent article by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker about the history of gun regulation in America, and immediately after I finished, I watched Barbara Koppel's documentary Gun Fight, covering much the same subject matter.  Then I see the news on line today that the president of a county chamber of commerce just got arrested with a handgun in his luggage at a security checkpoint in the Atlanta Airport, the 27th firearm incident at the airport so far this year.  According to the TSA, he had one clip with six rounds in the handgun (none chambered) and another clip with six rounds in the bag, 

Approximately 32 Americans die from guns each day.  In an average year, roughly 100,000 Americans are killed or wounded with guns.  

What I keep hearing over and over from gun advocates is that, despite these statistics, they have a right to defend themselves, their families, and their home, "to be their own policemen" as Ms. Lepore puts it.  The somewhat confusing language in the US Constitution cited as the basis for that right was considered to be ambiguous at best until 2008, when the Supreme Court weighted in on the matter for the very first time, ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment "protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia."  So now it's the law of the land, and there is absolutely no legislation or litigation on the horizon likely to change it any time soon.

Further, the right to defend one's home has been broadened by "Stand Your Ground" laws to assert that a citizen also has the right to defend themselves beyond the home (some would say anywhere) and to carry a concealed weapon for that purpose, if necessary. This is how armed civilians have come to be patrolling the streets of Florida. "This is not how civilians live," Ms. Lepore writes in The New Yorker.  "When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left."

The Buddha would have seen all this as the inevitable consequence of American materialism. The Buddha saw all things as arising from conditions, and noted that if any link in a chain of conditions could be broken, the end result would not come into existence.  For example, the Buddha  recognized that when some people possessed wealth, other people wished to steal it.  The desire to steal was a condition that arose from the cause of possession of wealth.  Further, out of concern that others might want to steal their wealth, people will try to protect it.  Anger arises from trying to protect wealth, and eventually the anger escalates into conflict and fighting.  Insert a handgun into this chain of events, and somebody dies.

The Buddha would have considered it unnecessary to regulate guns, but would have instead advised giving up material wealth.  Break the first link in the chain, possession of wealth, and the whole chain collapses on itself without requiring messy gun-control legislation.

To give up material wealth, there's no need for a Marxist "redistribution of assets" - "giving up material wealth" means abandonment of the longing for or clinging to riches, a Gandhi-like personal renunciation of the desire to be wealthy.  When the Japanese poet Ryokan found a thief robbing his home, he approached him warmly, shook his hand, and said, "You must have come a long way to visit me, and you shouldn't leave empty-handed. Please, take my clothes as a gift."  The thief was too astonished to say anything, so he silently snuck out into the night. Alone, Ryokan gazed at the full moon through the window, and said, "Poor fellow, I wish I could have given him the moon."

Of course, I would never expect Americans to rise to that level of non-attachment, and in fact, I don't realistically anticipate that the first link in this chain of causation will be broken by very many any time soon.  But there's another link in the chain that leads from possessing wealth to armed civilians patrolling the streets that should also be considered.

In order to take the life of another human, once has to look at the victim as an outsider, as someone different, as an "other."  In Gun Fight, Ms. Koppel documents how the NRA constantly imagines new threats and creates new enemies to rally its followers to its side (and to donate money).  During their annual convention, the speakers keep calling the attendees "the real Americans," implying that those who aren't there at the convention with them, or aren't at least there in spirit, are somehow less patriotic and less of an American than the NRA membership.  They're "those people," "the others."  I'm not saying that the NRA does this to encourage violence and murder, but to scare its followers into renewing their annual memberships and into donating.  But there are consequences to this divisiveness, and those consequences include killing.

This country is now divided between natives and non-natives, the latter of whom can be further divided into  legitimate, green card-carrying immigrants and the illegals.  We're divided along party and race lines and by language barriers.  We're divided between the haves and the have-nots, the 1% and the 99.   We're divided by gender.  We're divided by region.  We're divided by religion.  The President of the NRA even told Ms. Lepore that "We live in a society now that's Balkanized."  With little or no empathy for those different  entities, it's a small step to considering them outsiders and even enemies, and increasingly, armed outsiders and enemies, each with their own incompatible self-interests.  From there, it's no surprise that violence occurs.

Tragically, those stuck in this mind-set cannot stop drawing imaginary lines separating them from others.  I'm convinced that if any one such group were able to somehow completely eliminate all of the others, they would immediately start noticing differences among themselves and subdivide into separate camps, and the members of each of those separate camps would eventually start noticing subtle differences between each other, and so on until eventually only one solitary self would remain.  At that point, it would be interesting to observe whether that one last remaining solitary self would then start subdividing into separate, schizophrenic selves at war with one other, or at least recognize differences between, say, "happy me" and "sad me," between "contented me" and "restless me" ("restless me" hates "contented me").

If there were a way to erase the lines dividing all of these groups, to harmonize these petty differences, we might see a different society.  I take little comfort in the knowledge that it will probably take some other, external enemy to make us forget about our internal differences and reunite as Americans, as had happened after the attack on Pearl Harbor, or briefly following 9/11.

As you can obviously tell, I disagree with the direction the nation's heading with respect to a lack of even the most reasonable of restrictions on guns.  But at the same time, I respect the will of the people and accept the law of the land, even though I may disagree with it.  Meanwhile, the democratic process allows me to vote for Congressmen who may change the laws or for a President who might get a chance to appoint Supreme Court judges who could eventually reverse D.C. v Heller, but in the meantime, I have to respect and abide by the law and the will of the majority of the people.

What's probably most upsetting to me, though, is that the will of the majority of the people cannot always overcome the will of moneyed interest groups and of lobbyists.  While a great majority of Congressmen across both political parties verbally agreed with a Statement of Principles recently proposed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, not one Congressman was willing to put their signature on the document, out of fear of being targeted by the NRA and losing campaign contributors.  To put it another way, a majority of the people freely elected persons with certain principles, but the politics of campaign financing and powerful lobbying groups prevents those persons from acting on those principles.

Further, there is a lunatic fringe that talks openly of overthrowing that democratically elected government altogether, of killing politicians and elected officials simply because they can't tolerate any government intrusion into their lives or abide even the most minuscule of challenges to unfettered gun rights.  President Obama, who to date has done absolutely  nothing to reinstate the ban on assault weapons or to close the so-called gun-show loophole in buying weapons without background checks, still leads a “vile, evil, America-hating administration” according to a certain celebrity rifle spokeman, and will somehow turn the country into "a suburb of Indonesia" by next year if re-elected.  When he hinted that if a majority of the American people saw things differently and do re-elect Obama, he might have to take matters into his own hands and do something illegal and possibly even suicidal, the Secret Service finally got paid up with their Columbian chicas and stepped in, allegedly scheduling "a conversation" with the right-wing analberry for tomorrow.

But, see?, I've already drawn a line and fallen into the partisan divisiveness myself.  At least I'm unarmed,  though, except for my rapier-like tongue, so you can sleep easily tonight, America.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bowerbirds - The Earl, Atlanta, April 15, 2012

As previously reported, last Sunday night, Bowerbirds played at The Earl.  Raleigh's Mandolin Orange opened with a folksy set of sad-core country ballads, and even a waltz or two.

Mandolin Orange manged to keep the crowd surprisingly quiet for an acoustic folk band, and they even got a call for an encore (which, being the warm-up act, they couldn't oblige) from the possibly partisan crowd.  I suspect that a large contingent had came down to Atlanta from the Tarheel State to see the two North Carolina bands.  

Bowerbirds took the stage around 10 and started strong, playing In Your Talons for their second song and Tuck the Darkness In fourth.

The set remained strong, with the musicians frequently changing instruments and places on the stage.  Guitars, bass guitars, keyboards, violins, accordions, cellos, drums, shakers, and even a triangle, one of the more underutilized instruments in rock music, were played at various points during the set (no cowbell).

Speaking of birds, Zen Master Dogen once said, "When birds fly through the sky, however they fly, there is no end to the sky. When fish move through water, however they move, there is no end to the water. At the same time, birds and fish have never, since antiquity, left the sky or the water.  But if a bird were to leave the sky it would die at once, and if a fish were to leave the water it would die at once. So we can understand that water is life and can understand that sky is life. Birds are life, and fish are life. It may be that life is birds and that life is fish. The existence of their practice-and-experience, and the existence of their lifetime and their life, are like this."  I challenge you to find a better explanation of Bowerbirds' video for Tuck the Darkness In.

The encore:

Wonderful, thought-provoking music for a Sunday evening, and I even got home in time to catch the webcast of Beirut live at Coachella, and then to watch Game of Thrones.