A Measure of Sad Times

He is very sensitive to all kinds of external stimuli, which he internalizes and, after profound reflection, synthesizes and sometimes grasps an idle lie.  And he loves music, he considers it the primordial language, the most effective language, one speaking directly to the soul.  But for some reason, of late, he has not wanted to heed it.  An affirmative wanting not to listen to it.  And he is perplexed, he doesn’t understand the why of it.  But, then again, there are so many things he just can’t comprehend.

Perhaps it has something to do with the state of the world.  With the current dearth of truth and omnipresence of vitriol and violence. 

Music, without words, he has long believed, rarely lies, except perhaps for martial music.  In that case, it’s as though music was forced to perform, like a beautiful woman being ravished.  Beauty turned inside out and violated.  National anthems tend to follow that pattern, at least frequently.  Unfortunately, he’s come to feel that, like a virus, that pattern seems to be spreading.  Marketing “jingles” of course almost always lie, as do their political variants.  And they’ve overtaken beautiful instrumentals, symphonies and boleros and gipsy inspired variants of flamencos.

Words can apparently pervert anything, and he wonders at the folk wisdom that claims speech evolved to facilitate deception, and thus, of course, the legal profession, and journalism, and politics. But then, what of poetry?

It has dawned on him that truth is not always beautiful and that beauty is all too frequently dishonest.  Even, he guesses, where music is involved.  Perhaps it’s that epiphany that has him down.  Perhaps it is reflections such as these that are muddling and blocking his instinctive love, indeed his need, for music. 

A measure of sad times. 

Perhaps that’s what Don McLean once sensed when he wrote his epic and second best song (Vincent was the very best), without realizing it.

“A long, long time, ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me smile ….”
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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.

Of Happy Days, Intellectual Property and Real Choices

As we watch endless reruns on cable, I wonder how they’re selected.  The choices get worse every year.  For some time, television for me has been pretty much limited to news and sports, well, what passes for “news” and after the recent NFL Pro Bowl, something all too similar is happening to sports.  Perhaps this is how “dark ages” start.

Of course, our travails with entertainment are the least of our problems.  Today’s problems seem not only existentially dangerous but seemingly irresolvable.  Plato thought pretty much the same two and a half millennia ago.  “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, but do they have to?  Let’s start on a light and superficial note, but one that illustrates our quandary.

To many of us, today’s television programs and movies are insipid, politically motivated, politically correct drivel, but, omnipresent insipid, politically motivated, politically correct drivel.  Choice, other than abstention, is pretty much non-existent despite the vast quantities of great material produced during the second half of the 20th century.  How many of us would love to binge watch “All in the Family” or “Sanford & Son” or “Welcome Back Kotter” or “Different Strokes” or “Happy Days” or “Whats Happening” or “WKRP in Cincinnati” or “The Jeffersons” or “Night Court” or “Julia” or “The Wonder Years” or “The Jamie Fox Show” or “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” or “Martin”?  And going back even further, “The Ozzie and Harriet Show” or “I love Lucy” or “Amos and Andy” or “Father Knows Best” or “My Three Sons”.  The examples are legion!

Admittedly, sitcoms are not a high art form but the programs cited and many others were entertaining and a relief from the stress of daily life rather than superficially disguised demands that we criticize ourselves and our ancestors into oblivion for not having been born perfect.  Damn Eve and her apples (hmmm, that may be resundant)!  We enjoyed those old sitcoms and would enjoy them still, if we could, if they were available.  But as in politics, our choices are all too few; filtered for us for incomprehensible purposes other than that perhaps, entertainment is not about our own preferences but an effective behavioral means of manipulation.  Initially to sell products but now, for social control.

A primary tool for the exercise of social as well as economic and political control is the abuse of intellectual property rights.  The concept of intellectual property is sound (albeit ironically totally contrary to capitalist theory).  Its purported goal is to reward creators for their efforts and thus incentivize innovation.  Of course, the “benefits generally go to investors and corporate executives rather than to creators.  In any event, the “warehousing” of intellectual property, whether in the field of entertainment or other fields (such as technology, energy, transportation, etc.) has exactly the opposite effect.  Indeed, the abuse of intellectual property rights forces consumers to acquire inferior products at inflated prices, all too frequently designed for accelerated obsolescence.

How can something so antisocial exist in a democracy?

Well, the truth is that it couldn’t, and there’s the rub. 

The concept of democracy (like the concept of capitalism where the market purportedly makes the decisions) is a ruse and exists in name only.  It is no more than a way to placate us and to fool us into thinking that we have control over our own lives when, to an objective observer, it would be obvious that we don’t.  Just as government supported monopolies deprive us of choice in all markets, political parties (political monopolies) filter out the leaders we deserve and would chose if given the chance at least as efficiently as do autocratic dictatorships, something a student in a Comparative Politics class I taught once pointed out to me when we were covering governance in contemporary Iran.  Constitutions should be the vehicles that resolve the tensions between liberty, democracy and minority rights but instead, they create the organic anomalies that protect the ability of elites to govern us all, as though they possessed Sauron’s One Ring. 

Perhaps they do.  I can almost hear the echoes of “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them; in the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”

How is it that nowhere (other than perhaps tiny Iceland and once upon a short time ago, some of the Nordic countries) is there a country where the citizenry takes its political obligations (not political rights) seriously enough to have a serious shot at attaining (rather than fruitlessly pursuing) happiness?  How is it that being able to control the right of others to make their own decisions became a higher priority for us collectively than enjoying our individual autonomy?  Is there no way out of the incoherent social mess we’ve permitted others to force us to endure?

Strange that the foregoing is so aptly illustrated by the entertainment we watch, not having a viable option to enjoy the entertainment we would prefer, had we the option.  The reality is that there are numerous answers to all the socioeconomic problems that we face: to inequity, inequality, injustice, impunity, poverty, etc., had we the collective will to demand their selection and to participate in their implementation.  Instead, we seemingly live in a world as controlled and manipulated as the one presented in the Matrix series of movies; and most of us know it, at least most of the time.  Unfortunately we tend to forget all semblance of reality during electoral cycles when most of us apparently lose our collective minds under an avalanche of electoral posters, electoral ads and dire warnings of existentially greater evils.  And we do so time after time after time, ad nauseaum

If only the fury and disdain for our political, social and economic leaders that we feel during the years in which elections are not held could be preserved, then we could make make a difference, ….

We do have effective options, elections may be one, although there are serious doubts as to whether legitimate elections are still a viable option, but there are always mass boycotts.  Boycotts of all products sold directly and indirectly by mass media advertisers, whether in print, through social media, on television, etc.  Interestingly, in response to a question from a former student as to how to identify corrupt politicians during an electoral cycle I replied that those with the most posters and most commercials were in all likely hood, the most corrupt.  The same seems true of most advertisers.  How much more productive would it be for us, and for our communities if we prioritized local purchasing from family businesses?

Ahhh …. Oh Happy Days!
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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

Grumbles from the Grave and Cats that Walk through Walls

Robert Heinlein was one of the most famous artists in the genre we call science fiction, fading at times into the realm of fantasy, but also a somewhat avant guard social philosopher with a taboo busting Freudian perspective.  His principle characters tended to be cantankerous and overly affectionate but perpetually bickering libertarians.  One of his novels, “Stranger in a Strange Land” spawned a religion, albeit an extremely liberal religion.

I enjoyed him a great deal before I started to write myself and then, well I came to find his dialogue (my weak point I’ll admit), stifling and petty and suffocatingly cloying, like drowning in molasses.  Still, conceptually on a number of levels he was brilliant and from time to time, spewed out real gems.  Actually, not just from time to time but frequently.  He is gone but, as one expects of masters in their fields, if not always in their crafts, his legacy lives on.

In “The Cat Who Walks through Walls”, one of his final novels, he gathers together most of the more famous characters in his adult novels (as well as those of some of his most famous predecessors) and, on page 359 of its first (1985) edition, he defines an “intellectual” as “a highly educated man [I think today he would also stipulate woman, or transgender person, or non-gender person or optional gender person] who can’t do arithmetic with his shoes on, and is proud of his lack”.  Obviously not a flattering caricature but one that seems all too accurate in today’s world.

“Purported” intellectuals are not in high regard nowadays given the current irrelevancy of truth or facts, the inflation in academic titles and the disdain with which “purported” intellectuals treat others.  While many “purported” intellectuals are certainly superficially adept in their fields (and may well handle arithmetic adequately), the spirit of Heinlein’s description certainly seems apt.  Indeed, it applies not only to “purported” intellectuals but to the new purportedly savant class of internet educated “experts”, purported experts without any real experience in living, in real work or in struggling to raise a family on limited resources and with limited time.  Too often, people meeting that description stare back at us from our own mirrors as we, the easily manipulated and totally polarized modern men, women (and transitionally-gendered), ride the current whirlpool of social suicide into seas of apparent perdition.  Authors of dystopian novels certainly seem prescient and while Heinlein’s work are much too optimistic to fall into that literary genus, he seems prescient and depressingly wise as well.

The author of “Grumbles from the Grave” clearly saw where we were heading but was perhaps exaggeratedly positive concerning the ability of some among us to save our bacon.  Of course, that may have been the fantasy side of his vision speaking.  None of his heroes though would seem to derive from our current self-anointed “intelligentsia”.  And we are desperately in need of real heroes, real role models rather than the pretentious crop of cartoonish would be leaders with which we are cursed.

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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

Reflections on “Shalimar the Clown” during a Cold Day in Early Spring

A quote from Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown seems to me to capture the political reality under which we live.  Perhaps the reality under which we’ve always lived; at least those of us deluded into thinking we’ve lived in a democracy:

…in this occult soil the seeds of the future are being planted, and the time of the invisible world will come, the time of the altered dialectic, the time of the dialectic gone underground, when anonymous spectral armies will fight in secret over the fate of the earth.

It involves an observation set in 1968, that magical year when everything seemed possible and we were set on changing the world for the better, when we profoundly believed that in our time, the phrase “idealistic utopian” would cease to be a pejorative; the time before the 70s and then the 80s when most of us were tamed by the traditional responsibilities of family life and children and all that that entails and we unexpectedly and suddenly became our parents and grandparents and other things less positive, the things against which we once thought we fought.

Perhaps, based on his own all too interesting life, Rushdie may have been reflecting on that unstructured structure that constantly strives, as do memeplexes of diverse flavors, to survive and grow and amalgamate everything around it, and, as around becomes grander, perhaps merely everything.  Perhaps, even unbeknown to himself, that is what he felt when he published Shalimar the Clown in 2006.  During that 2006 when a deep state within a state within many states, ironically already feeling itself all powerful, or at least more powerful than ever (after the convenient events of September 11, 2001), still concealed, was extending its tendrils through shadows and echoes and deep, dark smog. 

Shalimar the Clown focuses on a paradise gang raped and despoiled by rising powers but mirrored in other places today.  It tastes and smells of divided India invading the body of divided Kashmir and there planting its seed of mixed Jewish and French and American chromosomes in a metaphorically paradisiacal womb generating a disturbing progeny, kin to disturbing progenies planted in too many elsewheres.  Too many times.

As in all of Rushdie’s books, it is rife in sensorial splendor with sights and sounds mixed with flavors and aromas and caresses and blows in a stew of historical facts and philosophical speculations spiced with peppers and in this case, Himalayan salt.  A book in which to lose oneself and wake wiser.

A book certainly worth reading and rereading and rereading again, as I’ve done, as are all of Rushdie’s gifts to us.
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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.