Monday, March 28, 2022

In Praise of the Mighty Mellotron

Adapted from my erstwhile Acousticx blog.

Image source: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A good rule of thumb is that if you ever want to grab my attention, go find a piece of music with a prominent Mellotron in it. Chances are I'll stop what I'm doing dead in my tracks.

What is it about this primitive sampling keyboard that has captured the imagination of so many music lovers over the decades? I can't speak for anyone else, but for me it's the eerie, otherworldly quality of its sound, contributing a captivatingly haunting atmosphere to so many of the songs it's been featured on.

What became a staple of progressive-rock bands' keyboard arsenals was originally intended to be a souped-up organ designed for home use. Early models had preset sounds and rhythms built in on the left side of the keyboard, while you could choose an instrument to play on the right side. The idea was that you could have the sound of an entire orchestra at your fingertips.

But the Mellotron proved difficult for the average home user to maintain, and so it eventually became a tool used by gigging musicians who liked having the sounds of an orchestra contained in a mobile box of keys and tapes.

Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues was probably more responsible than anyone else for cementing its popularity among musicians. Having worked in assembly and quality control on the instruments for its original manufacturer, Streetly Electronics, Mike turned The Beatles on to the Mellotron, and they famously used it to create the flute introduction to "Strawberry Fields Forever," giving the 'Tron its first big audience. 

Mike would go on to make the instrument an integral part of The Moody Blues' sound, from 1967's Days of Future Passed until his departure from the band in the late '70s. Other prog-rock bands of the '70s would make the instrument a primary ingredient in their own sounds, most notably Yes and King Crimson.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me explain. The Mellotron was a 35-key instrument that played pre-recorded sounds of various instruments and voices. The sounds came from racks of magnetic tapes inside the keyboard, one tape for each key. So if you wanted to play the sound of a cello in C, for example, you pressed the C key, which would play the tape recording of the cello in that note. You could hold a note for a maximum of eight seconds, at which point the tape ran out. Releasing the key activated a spring that snapped the tape back into place on the rack so you could select it again.

In short, the Mellotron was a big wooden box housing 35 individual tape players, each playing a note corresponding to its place on the keyboard, and a motor to make them all work.

Here's a visual tour.

Nothing was digital. The sounds were those of real instruments played by real people, recorded in a studio, note by note. The master recordings were then transferred to the tapes that made up the Mellotron racks. The slight degeneration of the original sounds on the second-generation rack copies, combined with the peculiarities of the electronics and mechanics involved in playing back the sounds, gave the Mellotron a distinct voice that captivated musicians and listeners alike. It was like hearing real violins and flutes and voices, but through a kind of soupy, disorienting haze, one that was created completely by chance, through a happenstance of organic processes that later digital keyboards could never hope to replicate.

Every rack possessed multiple instruments on each strip of tape, and you could swap out one rack for another if you wanted a different bank of instruments to work from. Which sound you got from the tapes was controlled by an A-B-C switch that would reposition the tape heads under the keys to access the desired sound. Some musicians would set the switch halfway in between two sounds to blend the instruments -- as Tony Banks did on the introduction to Genesis' "Watcher of the Skies," where you can hear Mellotron strings and brass joining forces to create something gothic, majestic, beautiful, and undeniably unique. Have a listen:

Gives me goose bumps after all these years.

I mentioned King Crimson. Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald was responsible for bringing in the Mellotron for the band's 1969 debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, inspired by what The Moody Blues were doing with the instrument. And how fortunate for all of us listeners, because the doomy grandeur of the album's de facto title track, "The Court of the Crimson King," would be absent without it.

Crimson fans would come to associate guitarist Robert Fripp as synonymous with the band itself -- and understandably so, as Fripp kept the band alive after the original lineup fell apart. He also took on Mellotron duties after McDonald's departure, later splitting them with violinist David Cross -- and along the way King Crimson would create many more amazing pieces of music that were heightened by the Mellotron's presence, perhaps none more so than 1974's epic piece "Starless."

So why did Mellotrons fade away? Why are they so strongly associated with popular music of the '70s? Well, in large part, the rise of digital technology would eventually make dialing up a desired sound as easy as pressing a button to select a preset. You could have dozens of sounds at your fingertips without the hassle of swapping out a rack of tapes.

That was part of the Mellotron's decline. The other part is that Mellotrons were notoriously fragile and unreliable. If you're old enough to have ever owned a cassette or 8-track player, you remember how fussy the technology could be. A misalignment of the tape head could cause the sound to wobble. Or the tape might play a little faster or slower than intended -- not a big deal on a home tape deck, but an embarrassment waiting to happen onstage if your A comes out as an A-sharp.

There was more. Play too many notes at once on a Mellotron, and you could bog down the motor, again causing the potential for an unwanted pitch shift. Or tapes could stretch over time -- again, same pitch problem. Some touring musicians found that even the voltage differences between U.S. and European electrical systems would contribute to tuning issues.

Peculiarities like these once caused Fripp to observe that "tuning a Mellotron doesn't." He would know, as the Mellotron was a core part of his band's sound in the '70s.

A handful of musicians and companies tried to improve on the Mellotron and remove some of its inherent limitations. One idea used optical discs in place of magnetic tapes. But by the time the Fairlight sampler came around, followed by other computerized advancements in sampling technology, the Mellotron's fate was more or less sealed.

A few artists continued to use Mellotrons into the '80s and '90s, and Streetly's successor companies (the history of the Mellotron's origins and manufacturers is a convoluted story all to itself) continued to sell replacement parts, refurbish old machines, and release new ones in small numbers. Today, you can even buy a digital Mellotron whose samples are pulled from the original recordings, providing a nearly equivalent sound to the original tape-driven machines without all the hassle and fragility. And you even get 100 different sounds pre-loaded in -- no rack-swapping necessary.

But when prog-rock enjoyed a revival of sorts in the '90s, a few dedicated bands took it upon themselves to revive the symphonic stylings of the genre by using the same instruments you would have heard on your favorite '70s recordings, including vintage Moog synthesizers, Hammond organs, and, yes, old tape-driven Mellotrons. Sweden's Änglagård were the standard-bearers in this regard. Imagine a combination of Yes's bass-heavy compositional complexity, King Crimson's angular and discordant rawness, and the pastoral lilt of Genesis' acoustic guitar and flute passages from their Peter Gabriel days, mix it all with the bleakness of a Scandinavian winter, and you have some idea of what to expect. Most of their music is instrumental, including the opening piece from their 1994 debut album, Hybris.  The tune is called ""Jordrök," which translates to "Earth-smoke." That captures the mood fairly well.

Meanwhile, here's a look at the all-digital Mellotron M4000D. Sounds fantastic, if you ask me.

I'd love to own one. I'd especially love to own an original tape-driven Mellotron, but they're not cheap, they're hard to find, and they require a lot of maintenance that would most likely be beyond my abilities. Ask anyone who knows me: I am not a handyman.

But I still long to learn an instrument, and I don't think a keyboard is beyond me. At least I can see where all the notes are, as opposed to a guitar that has no visual reference and relies on memorization of hand shapes within given tunings. And I think my lack of dexterity would be suited to an instrument that gives itself over to the playing of elongated, atmospheric notes and chords, rather than fast-moving melody lines. After all, the 'Tron was designed with frustrated musicians in mind, as that musty old 1965 promo video up above attests to.

That's me. Maybe someday I could learn enough doomy Mellotron chords to go around town busking on 50-year-old songs that no one knows. I know I'd enjoy it. Whether anyone else would is, naturally, another question. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Songs That Time Forgot: The Rascals

The Rascals, on some beautiful morning in 1969.
Image source: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Adapted from my erstwhile Acousticx blog.

Today, I want to talk about songs that are fading away and share one of them with you.

As we move further away from an artist's peak period of creative activity, that artist's less popular works begin to fall out of view, until all that remains in the public consciousness are the major successes. (I'm reluctant to call them the "best" works, because as a loyal fan of any artist knows, the big hits aren't always necessarily the best.) The classic-rock station where I used to live frequently featured a "three-fer Thursday," and whenever the DJ announced that there was a trio of songs coming up from Kansas, you knew exactly what they were going to play: "Dust in the Wind," "Point of Know Return," and "Carry on Wayward Son." For all practical purposes, the band's vast repertoire had been boiled down to those three cuts.

Dedicated fans, of course, can always dust off their LPs if they get an itch to listen to that obscure song on Side 2 that Classic Rock Radio has long forgotten about. But as physical media gives way to streaming services and aging fans sell off their old records, tapes, and CDs to the local resale shop, those forgotten gems again run the risk of being lost to time.

That's one reason I still like physical media -- that, and the fact that I'm an old fart. Call me crazy, but I prefer not to hand over the availability of my favorite music, books, and movies to the whims of a Spotify or a Netflix that can, whenever the mood strikes them, cease offering access to that one thing my eyes and ears really, really wanted to feast on.

I thought about this when I was going through a YouTube mix I made and pulled up some fairly obscure music from 1971. That's my birth year (I told you I was old), and it happened to bring the world a lot of good tunes. So a while back, I did my best to come up with an exhaustive list of the popular music released from that year, and after assembling a video collection on YouTube of well over 500 (!) tunes I liked, I intended to enter 2021 running a blog that would feature the wonderful sounds of '71, in celebration of the music's 50th anniversary and my own. I intended to dribble out posts with accompanying songs all throughout the year.

I think I made a single post before I fizzled out. Once I realized how much time would be involved in doing what I intended to do with the blog, I set the project aside and never got back to it. But the YouTube playlist still remains, even as YouTube informs me that a handful of the videos I put there are no longer available. Again, this is why I prefer physical media.

With all that in mind, today I want to talk about The Rascals. These masters of blue-eyed soul had a hot run of hit singles from 1965 through 1968, and more than half a century later, music fans remember the feel-good vibes of songs like "Good Lovin'," "People Got to Be Free," and "Beautiful Morning," reflecting the sunny optimism that hung thick in the air back then.

As the late '60s rolled around, the band decided to shift its focus from putting out singles to becoming an album-oriented act, following in the footsteps of The Beatles and other popular bands that were beginning to think of their songs within the context of a long-playing platter. For The Rascals, the transition resulted in music that was more exploratory and tinged with the psychedelia of the times.

During this period, singing and songwriting duties began to increasingly fall on keyboardist Felix Cavaliere. Singer Eddie Brigati would leave the band at the end of the decade, and under Cavaliere's sole guidance, the band carried on into the early '70s, their music becoming something of a meeting place of rock, soul, and jazz.

Those '70s albums didn't yield any hits for the band, and after the commercial failure of 1972's The Island of Real, The Rascals were no more. But there are some marvelous hidden gems tucked away in the grooves of those forgotten albums. The one that caught my ear was the side-long title track from the 1971 album Peaceful World. It's basically a long two-chord vamp that sounds more like meditative jazz-rock than anything resembling the R&B that made The Rascals famous.

The piece is languid, evocative of a lazy summertime afternoon, in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. Over a foundation of Cavaliere's organ and electric piano and drummer Dino Danelli's insistent and slightly funky shuffle, the piece opens with a long, relaxed flute solo, fluttering around like a butterfly without a care. We move from scene to scene -- a jazzy electric guitar leads the way for a while, giving way to a busy soprano sax that momentarily builds up the intensity of the piece.

A little after the 14-minute mark, we get some cooing freestyle vocalizations from a female voice. As her voice dances around the saxophone in breathy bursts, the feel becomes not unlike the interplay of sax and female vocals that close out the comparatively laid-back "Formentera Lady," the King Crimson track that also greeted the world in 1971.

Soon the words "peaceful world" come in, sung like a gentle, hypnotic mantra, as the piece takes its time quieting down, until finally coming to a rest some 21 minutes after it began.

Add some trumpet, and this piece wouldn't have felt out of place on one of Miles Davis' fusion records from the same era. The mellow happiness it exudes is reflective of the simpler and more hopeful time it was recorded in. Can we ever find our way back to a time like that, where the hope of a peaceful world is in sight? Well, it costs nothing to dream, and songs like this are little treasures that can at least transport our minds to such a place, if even only for a few fleeting moments.

May good old tunes like this never die.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Dancing About Architecture: A Not-So-Short Musical Biography

Adapted from my erstwhile Acousticx blog.

Image source: Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash.
The first album I ever bought with my own money was a used LP copy of Pink Floyd's uber-weird Ummagumma album, which I always figured explains a lot about me.

I couldn't have been more than 8 years old. Our neighbors were running a garage sale, and there was the half-live, half-studio double album looking up at me from the table. I remember being taken in by the trippy Droste effect on the cover (not that I knew the term "Droste effect" at age 8), the lengths of some of the tunes (songs on the radio are four minutes or so, tops; why do some of these go on for 12?), and the incomparably bizarre song titles (e.g., "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict").

I didn't know the first thing about Pink Floyd, but I had to buy the album. If memory serves, it set me back a whopping 50 cents. I took that record home like the treasure it was to me, and I threw it on my crappy little record player in my bedroom.

Immediately, I was entranced by the spacy, and slightly spooky, vibe of "Astronomy Domine," the live performance that will always be the definitive version of the song for me. First impressions and all that. I wasn't prepared for the blood-curdling scream that blasted without warning out of my speakers by the time "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" rolled around -- nor was my mom, who at that point called up the stairs, wondering what on God's green earth I was listening to.

The studio album got even weirder, made up of a combination of proper songs and experimental workouts by the individual members. I remember being especially entranced by drummer Nick Mason's short-circuiting sound effects on "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party." I can't remember if I laughed at the aforementioned "Several Species," a Roger Waters sound collage of sped-up, slowed-down, and rhythmic chanted voices, accompanied at the end by a rant in a thick Scottish brogue. Chances are, I was too dumbfounded to do too much of anything.

The neighbors I bought the record from were farmers, and somehow a blob of white chicken poop had managed to dry itself onto one of the records. I cleaned it off the best I could, but I can still remember the scratchy whoosh, whoosh as the needle cut through the residue with each revolution of the platter. In hindsight, that just added to the strangeness of the whole listening experience.

I wish I knew whatever happened to my old pooped-up garage-sale copy of that album. Not only was it one of the now-hard-to-find original pressings, before the image of the Gigi album got airbrushed off the cover over copyright concerns, but it also began an intense lifelong interest in music for me. I've been fascinated by music for as long as I can remember, but Ummagumma is really where my personal musical journey began.

Which, again, probably says a lot about me. I like things that take chances, question assumptions, and push boundaries, both in music and in just about every other aspect of life. So Ummagumma either set the groundwork or scratched an itch that I didn't even know I had at age 8.

Processing sorrow

Isn't it wonderful that humans are such a deeply irrational species? If we were all coldly logical people, our world would be spared a great deal of the misery that arises from our irrational choices and mindsets. That much is undeniable. But it would also give us a world bereft of music and the rest of the creative arts, which bring so much beauty and passion and meaning to our lives. As is often the case in this imperfect world, it seems, you can't have the good without the bad.

The bad, for me, is that I have lived a profoundly sad life. I don't think I'm alone in this condition, so I'm not seeking pity. I just think some of us manage to paper over our perpetual disappointments and bounce back better than others do. But ultimately, the Buddha was right that life is imbued with suffering. None of us can escape its clutches. We all live in a valley of tears. And that's why we all need things that make life tolerable. Music has long filled that role for me. It's been my reliable friend and companion throughout my life.

I dreamed of being a musician when I was a kid. Later on, I dreamed of being a disc jockey. I pretended to be a DJ in my room, trying to make some witty patter like the jockeys on the local radio stations, as I flipped from one 45 to another on my record player. Those DJs came to be something like disembodied friends, their voices flowing through my speakers day after day, delivering the music that brightened my life.

I looked forward every week to Casey Kasem's countdown. I was excited to see what tunes had moved up the chart, which were descending from their former heights, and what new tunes might show up to tickle my eardrums.

I taped the entire radio simulcast of the Live Aid performance. Then I painted up a little tin with the Live Aid logo and kept all the tapes inside.

These were the little joys of a kid growing up in an otherwise difficult childhood in rural Michigan. I didn't have a lot of other escapes.

When I was around 13 months old, my drug-addled, abusive birth mother gave me up for adoption, no longer wanted, to my maternal grandparents -- and let me tell you, Grandma had her own issues. She controlled people by guilt-tripping them. She treated her husband like dirt, and when he was old, in failing health, and nearly blind, she kicked him while he was down, blaming him for everything that had gone wrong in her own life. My own early childhood abuse, meanwhile, left me afraid of my own shadow. People thought I'd have to go to a "special" school for emotionally troubled children.

But somehow I muddled through, went to "normal" school, and got decent grades. But I was a very awkward kid with few friends, very much aware that I was different. And as kids -- and even adults -- will do, they picked on the one who was different. I was always mocked and bullied. I remember watching other kids play on the playground and pretending to be part of the action as I looked on from a distance. I was denied victory in a spelling bee because the administrators got tired of waiting for one of the last two participants to slip up, so I was given a "miss" on a word I spelled correctly while the other kid, the grandson of a beloved teacher, spelled the word exactly the same and got the victory. If I'd complained, who was going to listen to me?

Even when I did accomplish something, I couldn't enjoy it, like when I won first chair in the percussion section of the school band. I joined the band late, about halfway through sixth grade, and progressed quickly. I was voted the band's "most improved" player after one year, and "most outstanding" after two years. But then came the responsibility of leading the percussion section, which was profoundly nerve-racking for a quiet, self-conscious, socially awkward kid. I didn't like it, and I can still vividly remember a younger percussionist who endlessly needled and bullied me because I struggled with my leadership position. It left my stomach in knots, but I did the best I could to drown out the aching feeling of guilt and failure by focusing my energies on the music our band played.

No one could see the pain that I hid inside. I don't remember ever crying much. My anxiety just kept mounting as I bottled things up and kept my head down. Making a scene would have just made life 10 times worse.

At least I had a good friend who lived down the street and pretty much accepted me for who I was. He had a comparably crappy childhood, so we were sort of on the same wavelength with each other. We spent a lot of time together riding bikes, playing my Atari, and indulging in music. I was always leafing through his mom's stack of mostly old '70s classic rock LPs, and I later bought her collection when she was short on funds. If my buddy and I weren't carrying around a boom box playing a cassette of some of our favorite mid-'80s music, we'd record ourselves trying to make music with our very limited skills, bashing out noises on cheap guitars, drum machines, and keyboards. Most of the stuff we made wasn't the least bit musical, but it served its purpose of being a creative release valve for two kids who badly needed it.

So music kept inserting itself into my existence as a kind of life preserver. It was a drug that, like all drugs, temporarily numbed the pain. But, happily, it's a drug with no side effects -- except, perhaps, for potential hearing loss and the damage to one's bank account. My grandma-turned-mom often reminded me, when I spent my money on music, that "you can't eat or wear CDs," wielding her ubiquitous guilt trips against me just for trying to find some small sliver of happiness in life. But once the music started, not even her perpetual nagging negativity could touch me. All was well in my little world for a few fleeting moments.

"One good thing about music," as the great Bob Marley said, "once it hits you, you feel no pain."

When all else fails, write

My own musical abilities hit a wall in college. Playing a snare drum in high school concert and marching band was one thing, but having to wrangle an entire drum kit challenged the limits of my coordination -- and I dreaded the idea of having to take a solo during our performances. I've tried other instruments over the years, but my hands just refuse to go where they need to go.

I understand music theory, in theory, so that's not the problem. I can play scales and chords on a piano, albeit slowly and often clumsily. Technically, I can read music. But spending my formative musical years playing rhythms instead of tuned notes, I never really dug down into becoming proficient at translating notation into performance. I have to keep looking back at the key signature, then counting the lines and spaces on the staff, and only then playing the required note, and then repeating the entire process for the next note on the staff. I can't just sit down and play something through at normal speed. I can't explain why. It's just an obstacle that I've never been able to overcome. And thus does a small army of guitars gather dust in my office, unplayed because I just can't seem to push past learning a few basic chords.

I was thinking for a while about getting a hurdy-gurdy built. I love the sound of a hurdy-gurdy. But hurdy-gurdies aren't cheap, and what if I couldn't figure out how to make the thing sound good? My track record with instruments says I'd fail, and I'd just have wasted a couple of thousand dollars.

A Mellotron remains a possibility, at least one of the modern digital re-creations of the fragile analog originals. The haunting sound of the Mellotron is one of the things that attracted me to progressive rock. And most of what's played on a 'Tron is chord-based, slow, textural, atmospheric. That's something I actually might be able to wrap my head -- and my fingers -- around, given some practice.

Bottom line: I just long to make nice sounds come out of an instrument. I envy those who can make art with music, who can coax an instrument to life and fill the air with its beauty. I doubt I'll ever get there, but I'd sure like to keep trying.

If I want to express anything musically, I have to write about it. And I've done so quite often. I wrote record reviews for my college newspaper. I created a site called The Yes Chronicles that tracked the history of my favorite band through long-winded reviews of all their studio albums. I've written several concert reviews for my main blog. As a musician, it turns out I make a decent editor and a passable writer.

But even then, I lack the skill to write in florid language about why music appeals to my senses. I cut my teeth as a journalist. I write factual and analytical things. Flights of verbal fancy don't come naturally to me. And yet this is all I have, so I use it as an outlet. Everyone needs an outlet. My wife writes fiction and paints. My daughter draws. Me, I write stuff that no one reads. But it's all I have, so I work with it. I was once told I have no imagination, and that's probably not terribly off the mark. I just know that things from the imaginations of creative people enliven me, and that those things usually involve the creation of music.

Those who can, play. Those who can't, write.

In fairness, even I, the Great Unimaginative One, wake up in the morning at least once or twice a month with a melody in my head. But I have no way of expressing the melody through an instrument, and by midday it's gone forever. So I leave my ongoing need for music to those who are capable of actually creating music. If I can't create my own art, I'll leave it to those who can.

Either way, writing about music is always going to be a poor substitute for the music itself. "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," as somebody once wisely observed. (No one's quite sure who said it first.) To that end, it's no surprise to me that there's a widespread disdain among many musical artists for music critics. The artists pour their emotions and their creativity into their music, and then along come the writers, sitting on the sidelines with nothing better to do, and pick away at the music, having offered nothing of equivalent creative merit in the process, save for a possibly clever turn of phrase here or there.

But music often brings a ray of sunshine to my life, as I know their art does for many others. Politics and religion inflame and often depress me, but music transports me to a good place. It’s my safe haven in an ever more chaotic world. So as a writer, I endeavor to find the good in music. It's not always possible, but I try.

I try because I need my safe haven. In addition to the depressing state of the world, my personal health sucks. I feel miserable most days. I think it has something to do with a neurological malfunction, but an endless barrage of tests, procedures, and visits to specialist after specialist turned up nothing conclusive. Still, random parts of my body malfunction and then might get better for a while, or they just decide to stop working at all. It all gets worse as I get older. I grin and bear it, because that's all I can do.

That casts an additional veil of sorrow over my life. So I need those flashes of sunlight that break through the clouds to keep me from spiraling into madness. Melancholy songs especially trigger something deep within me, as if they've grasped this sorrowfulness that's my constant companion and molded it into a shape that helps me process it, in a way I would be incapable of expressing on my own. I hear songs like that, and something deep within me says, "Yeah, you get it." They're profoundly cathartic. They're the ones that actually threaten to make my tear ducts function.

See, I identify with the Eeyores and Charlie Browns of the world. The ones who push on despite the enveloping gloom. The ones who always fall short but, perhaps foolishly, keep trying. And people like us need those glimmers of hope to keep trying. Music does that for me. Happy music lifts my spirits. But more importantly, the melancholy music empathizes.

The goal

Music is the one thing I tend not to burn out on in life, and writing about it might help channel my creative (and nervous) energies, so I can quiet some of the eternal chatter in my head and not become despondent over the state of the world.

That said, I'm acutely aware of the inherent challenge in writing anything useful about music. Because music is its own nonverbal language, all we can do with words is attempt to interpret how music makes us feel. Words are admittedly a poor conduit for expressing those feelings. But it's all you have if you're not a musician.

I'm not.

Hence the reason I blog about stuff -- music included.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Woke Religion, Predictable Obedience, and the Death Throes of the West

Over the past few years, I went through a phase of seeking out alternative media. The attempt was largely a failure because even though lots of people complain about the rampant censorship from the Silicon Valley monopolies, few seem willing to do anything about it. They won't try out the alternatives, apparently preferring to stick with FaceGoogTwit and bitch about the ever-increasing attacks on free expression until they themselves are inevitably canceled. Meanwhile, the alt-sites linger in low-use obscurity. (I can't even throw stones, as Eggshells exists on Google's Blogger. I just lack the time and, honestly, the motivation to transfer a decade's worth of posts someplace else.) 

So as I've been closing accounts, seeing what I need to keep open, and consolidating email addresses, I've gotten a passing glimpse of what most people are probably immersed in every day, which is the same stuff I've done my best to tune out over the past couple of years.

In particular, I went to my LinkedIn page, which I barely ever visit. And this place that I thought was supposed to be based around social networking to land a job was inundated with Ukraine supporters, people using pronouns in their usernames, and endless talk about "equity" and "diversity" and "inclusion." 

This followed previous days' glimpses in my everyday life of things like an NCAA TV ad that featured a snippet of a BLM march in a favorable light, and a trip through Walmart that revealed a little rainbow-colored puzzle piece on a T-shirt about boundless love and a new version of Hasbro's game of Life that now includes multicolored game pegs -- because pink and blue for boys and girls were just so retrograde, apparently. And that's not to mention all the TV ads that, as I saw someone else recently quipping, left him thinking that America is 95% black and gay.

This image drives the point home quite vividly:

As does this little meme:

Look, it's not that I even care about what you look like or whom your consensual romantic partners are. It's that I'm constantly told that I have to care, and that I'm a "privileged" bigot if I don't. A political agenda is being forced on us with a fanatical religious zeal, while it simultaneously attempts to demonize segments of society and guilt-trip people into acceptance. It's great that everyone has a seat at the table, but the table ought to be round, with no one at the top and no one subjugated to the bottom. Every civil-rights movement has historically pushed toward that goal, with equal treatment of every human being and equal protection under the law. 

The problem, of course, is that "equity" is not about equality. It’s about overweighting minorities -- often vanishingly small ones -- to the exclusion of the majority, which just creates a perverse kind of apartheid, a caste system based on personal values and immutable characteristics where small, aggrieved groups dictate the terms to the majority. The only thing this achieves, of course, is to turn old discriminations on their head while perversely calling it progress and justice. 

And you obviously can't have progress and justice when you're trying to push an entire group of people to the back of the bus. If your idea of justice is to turn old discriminations on their head, you've achieved nothing. You're moving us backwards. You haven't brought anyone together. You've done just the opposite. You've subdivided us into infinitely smaller micro-groups that, as the Oppression Olympics of intersectional politics has demonstrated time and again, will inevitably put us at each other's throats. 

This approach also teaches that your value comes from what makes you different, rather than encouraging us to look for the things that transcend our differences and unite us as human beings. It is an inherently divisive approach to life. It is a view of the world in which we focus on the narcissism of small differences to discover meaning in our lives. It is, ultimately, a way of life in which old unifying social, cultural, and religious consensuses have given way to a secular religion, in which certain "chosen" groups are glorified over others. 

Just look around if you doubt me. In our current environment, blacks, gays, transgendered people, and Ukrainians are holy people. Saints, practically. Meanwhile, COVID is the devil, Vlad Putin is the face of evil, and white males are original sin incarnate. Am I wrong?

Moreover, with the old God fading into the rearview mirror of our dying civilization, we are all "liberated" to be our own individual gods now, able to reinvent ourselves in our own image -- since "male" and "female" are, after all, just so many interchangeable costumes and states of mind. But you are also a Latinx womxn, because to live out this emperor-has-no-clothes fantasy, you have to eliminate real-life categories that conflict with the dogma. Biological women's spaces be damned, and never mind the linguistic imperialism of de-gendering a gendered language. That's how the Woke White Saviors roll. They know better. From the days of handing out Bibles to the Indians to now, they've always known better. 

Also, please note with great care everyone's skin color and their sex partners, but simultaneously ignore whether they're obviously men or women. But please do note if a child doesn't want to be his or her birth sex anymore, so we can irreversibly fill that poor kid's developing body full of hormones. Only in an environment like this could a TV commercial from a major corporation feature a mom helping her daughter put on a chest binder and act like it’s something praiseworthy, rather than a glorification of a sickness, a dissociation from self, that calls for healing rather than encouragement. It's as absurd, and as potentially dangerous, as telling the mentally ill that yes, we also hear the voices telling you to harm yourself, or telling anorexics that, yes, they really are fat, and that we support their right to purge.   

In this way does this warped mindset always, always, without fail, end up celebrating deviance. Stability, tradition, normality -- all bad. But deviance and depravity of of every kind is to be endlessly praised and glorified.

Every major institution of power has been hijacked by this insane philosophy, and it showed when I unfortunately looked at my LinkedIn feed. It was all an endless stream of virtue signaling, all look at how different I am, all look at how wonderful I am for pointing out how different these people are -- but almost nothing at all about actual work skills and qualifications. It’s as if having some special niche identity, or virtue-signaling in support of those identities, is the skill and qualification now, such that how woke you are supersedes what you can actually do in the working world.

It’s like I don’t even live in the same universe with these people. 

And seriously, when you take a good, hard look at the political philosophy these people live by, it's really not all that different from a fanatical Jim Jones-style cult. It's just a really big cult -- one that happens to have taken over the entire institutional Western mind. It's a result of years of societal indoctrination that seeped out from the universities and made its way into the mainstream, once the indoctrinated college grads rose to positions of authority in entertainment, education, information, and the C-suites of the most powerful corporations. Now the high priests of the media feed the dogma to the average people, and the Woke Virus spreads further and further among those most incapable of independent thought -- leading us to where we are today. 

This explains why the same people who became fanatics over a virus with a 2% mortality rate have now so easily become transformed into war hawks, to the point of wanting a no-fly zone in Ukraine that would potentially spark a nuclear war. In their wild-eyed zealotry, they lack the ability to think through what they've been told to support and believe in. Even if the U.S. just gets a long-term war out of this -- which is what we seem to want, both to justify our massive military budget and to prop up Western hegemony over the planet, and we'll pin a false flag on the Russians if necessary to achieve our goal -- those in power will surely still be satisfied that they were able to fool so many people, for so long, over and over again, predictably, like clockwork. The state and the media, indeed, are Pavlov, and the masses are the dogs drooling at the dinner bell. It's furthermore safe to say that Milgram's obedience-to-authority experiments were a sad microcosm of how most human beings act. 

For the mind held captive by a religious cult, there's always the need to glorify the good in the face of great evil. In short, you must resist the devil. That's how we end up with these simplistic narratives couched in simple black and white terms. Never mind that Putin's invasion actually wasn't "unprovoked," in the face of thousands of Russians killed in eastern Ukraine. Never mind that our own government has done what Putin did many times over, on even flimsier pretexts. Never mind that what's happening in Ukraine is also happening in places like Yemen, Palestine, and China. 

(Ukraine figures accurate as of around March 10.)

We support the Israelis and the Saudis, respective aggressors in Palestine and Yemen, so pay no attention to those ongoing human tragedies. And we rely too much on cheap Chinese labor to draw attention to the Uyghur genocide. But Russia? Well, Putin won't bend the knee to the West, and he's attacking a U.S client state with a puppet government we helped install. So the Ukrainians are helpless bystanders, martyrs in their fight against the devil himself. And because Putin is the devil incarnate, the same "anti-racist," "anti-fascist," "compassionate," "tolerant" woke leftists have now decreed that it's OK to engage in hate speech against Russian soldiers and post death threats against Devil Putin -- and that you can lavish praise on Ukraine's Azov neo-Nazi battalion. (As we saw recently when the media proved that doxxing someone is bad unless you're doxxing supporters of the Canadian convoy, if these hypocrites didn't have self-serving double standards, they wouldn't have any at all.)

Only people in the grips of a mass psychosis -- or unrestrained religious zeal -- could think like this. After all, who would oppose hate speech against the literal devil?  

And so we end up in a place reminiscent of the 9/11 antiwar protests that were really more about being anti-Bush, as evidenced by the fact that the antiwar movement vanished when Obama took the White House but his foreign policy didn't change from the status quo. Now in 2022, support for Ukraine similarly isn't really so much about Ukraine but about the simple but alluring idea of siding with good over evil, resisting the devil -- just like an indoctrinated religious person would do. Why would you even think of disobeying what the high priests tell us? Are you a tool of the devil?

Then as now, we even get to dehumanize the "bad guys." Remember when the Obama administration killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American citizen, with a drone bomb? He was given no due process. He was just a kid whose dad happened to be on the administration's terrorist hit list. When asked how the administration justified killing an innocent child, Obama advisor Robert Gibbs glibly stated that the kid should have had better parents.

Fast-forward to 2022, and a former U.S. ambassador to Russia declares that ordinary Russians are just as guilty as Putin and so deserve to suffer from the West's economic terrorism.

This is no different from when Osama bin Laden justified the 9/11 attacks by saying the American people deserved to be attacked because they chose their leaders. But yeah, we're the good guys here.

All this helps explains why, if the actual truth contradicts the empire-promoting propaganda narrative, it has to be "fact-checked" away, just like it was with all of the C-19 spin over the past two years. (Kind of like how the Trump-Russia story turned out to be a massive hoax, while the Hunter Biden laptop was "Russian disinformation" -- until it wasn't. And we're supposed to believe this same media when it said the 2020 election wasn't rigged? The extent to which they silenced skepticism about the whole thing really tells you all you need to know.) 

You see, the official narrative, regardless of its relationship to the actual truth, is religious dogma that must not be opposed at any cost, because opposing the narrative threatens to undermine the power of those promoting it. And because most people uncritically lap up what authority figures tell them, the narrative neatly stands in for "the truth," and anyone who opposes it is a demon there to tempt us into sin and evil. Even if the actual truth is right there staring you in the face, you can’t accept it because it challenges what the high priests have told you. It becomes your woke dogma. And you end up no different from a fundamentalist Christian who denies the reality of evolution because the Bible and your preacher told you that evolution is a demonic lie.

In minds like these, censorship is no longer even controversial. It’s just what you do to preserve the narrative-slash-dogma. Suppressing inconvenient truths is "fact-checking" against "misinformation," while promoting propaganda, misinformation, and outright lies is "truth." This is why the "free speech" West has bent over backwards to censor any and all Russian media -- we can't dare let people ponder another point of view that might make them question what the high priests feed them. Moreover, "hate" is any opinion that doesn't comply with woke dogma. Say a man can't become a woman and you get kicked off social media, but hurl actual death threats at Russian soldiers and leaders while glorifying Ukrainian neo-Nazis, and you're good to go.

In China, the censorship comes from the top down, with not only assaults on free expression but also social penalties for those who oppose the state. Justin Trudeau's authoritarian attacks on Canadian truckers were something like a trial balloon for a similar social-credit system in the West, and the global corporate isolation of Russia, complete with freezing bank accounts and seizing private assets, shows just how powerful such a system can be, and how it could be used against anyone defying the narrative. We don't need gulags anymore to silence dissent; big businesses in collusion with the government can just starve you and your family until you comply.  

All this just goes to show that most people are irrational beings and will always find a religious belief of some kind to rally behind. Even the most hardcore atheists quite often make "anti-religion" their religion. Some white people revert to overt racism in the midst of all the prevailing madness, but that's also just another kind of religion. At best, it's a tribalistic cult built around pigmentation -- which is essentially just wokeness in reverse.  

To the Woke, objective truths, like 2+2=4, are now white supremacy. There is no way to reason with people whose minds have been captured by such extreme religious dogma. And they're compelled to believe what they do precisely because their cult demands that they reject objective truth. Otherwise, the whole thing would unravel. 

Russian culture, to its credit, has endeavored to resist this insane cult. Putin in particular has warned against the corrosive effects of wokeness, comparing it to what happened in Russia during the 1917 revolution. For all the man's faults, we would do well to listen to someone whose own nation has tragically gone down this road. 

I don’t like what the West has become, and so my sympathies learn toward all those who want to resist the bullying and the corrupting influences of the decadent West and preserve the old ways -- because they are human ways, grounded in decency and reality and mutual respect. The pre-Woke world had its flaws, to be sure, but the Woke solutions to our problems are a thousand times worse, in a thousand different ways. That's not to suggest I'm a fan of Putin, who is no friend to human freedom, but I'll wager that Russia will come out of this current mess all the better in the long run for having shaken off Western influences.

Russia has survived worse than this all-out assault from the West, and its people are tough and resilient. It'll be fine in the long run. In the short term, its alliances with China are deepening -- an alliance that may well break the back of the West, given the extent to which our short-sighted greed has made us almost completely dependent on China. The Biden administration can bellow and bray all it wants about threatening China for aligning with Russia, but China knows better. It holds all the cards in this relationship.   

For now, we all get our officially sanctioned Two Minutes Hate against Russia, while Wokeness reminds us that some people are more equal than others. Orwell's dystopian literature was supposed to be a warning, not a handbook -- and yet here we are. 

And if you think you're not part of the problem, I'll tell you this. If you put pronouns in your profile, or your social-media picture includes you in a mask, a frame telling everyone you got a shot like a good obedient little dog, or a Ukrainian flag, then I know everything I need to know about you. You do what you're told. Your mind is not your own. You're one of Milgram's test subjects. You signal your religion every bit as much as somebody wearing a hijab or a crucifix does. You are sleepwalking through life. 

I would tell you that you need to wake the hell up, but I don't think it even matters anymore, because I don't see any way back for the West at this point. The rot is too deep, the infection too widespread. I doubt I'll have much more to say about any of it. I'll just look on and shake my head, while focusing on family, work, and hobbies. I can't change what's happening. I feel terrible for what my daughter will have to live through, but the only thing I can do is look after her and my wife in the short term. In the larger world, I'm massively outnumbered, by people with lots of influence and money, who in turn brainwash the masses into compliance. I'm powerless. I've tried to fight with words and have done so for decades, and the world just gets worse and worse.

There's really not much more to say, is there? The West has lost what made it the West. It's only a matter of time until the body draws its last breath and gives up the ghost. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The One Thing I've Learned in 10 Years of Blogging

You have to be really dedicated or really stupid to keep writing a blog for 10 years that virtually no one reads. Yet here we are, on the 10-year anniversary of Eggshells.

This blog is technically a combination of at least three different ones I've started over the years. But the content has largely been the same, so to save a lot of hassle, they eventually got collapsed into this one. 

I enjoy writing. I always have. But I write about things that have limited audiences, like progressive rock, and outside-the-box politics and religion. I pour my heart into my writing, and I think I do a pretty good job of organizing my ideas and taking thoughtful stands on things that don't just parrot mainstream views. In that regard, I've always been an outsider looking in. So I can't really expect more than a tiny handful of readers, I suppose.  

The only thing I've written that's ever even gone semi-viral is a post reminiscing about my hometown. In sharing some history and some personal anecdotes, I got quite a few people thanking me for sending them down memory lane. 

I've also done some concert reviews along the way, and I salvaged from the Internet archives the pages of The Yes Chronicles, a website of Yes album reviews that I wrote close to a quarter-century ago. But mostly, I talk religion and politics. Lately, the religion has overshadowed the politics because I got burned out on politics, as the world got more woke and our leaders used a virus to exert tyrannical control over the entire planet.

Now, as I write this, the world is in the grips of anti-Russian hysteria, seething with wild-eyed fundamentalist rage. The global hive mind that's developed around this situation, and the ease with which it came about, is absolutely horrifying. It certainly doesn't say much for the future of free, critical thought -- but it does say a whole lot about how well propaganda continues to work.

I admit to being a longtime Russophile, so I find this mindless idiocy especially irksome. I have an affinity for the literature and music of Russia. I'm fond of Russian Orthodoxy and wear a gold pendant every day depicting the Holy Protection of the Theotokos, with a Russian inscription on the back. I used to run a page called Siberian Mind, indicative of a mind in exile, which is how I've always felt in the world -- now being one of those times. I like a lot of Russian foods. And I'm a copious consumer of White Russians and Moscow Mules -- fully aware that neither one has any actual Russian connection. (Not that that's stopping some people from renaming both drinks, Freedom Fries-style.) 

As for Russia's current leader? I can't say I have any strong opinion on him one way or another. But as the world turns him into another Saddam Hussein, it seems likely that the ex-KGB strongman is just looking out for his own nation's interests. For years, the Western media and leftist politicians have been trying to cement in Americans' minds a correlation between Republicans, conservatives, and Putin's Russia. And I think that's why there's so much unbridled hysteria over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's as if the masses who've suffered from Trump Derangement Syndrome over the past five or so years now have a place to channel their woke cancel-culture outrage. 

Certainly, the reaction we're seeing is not rational in the slightest, but a typically emotional response to media and government propaganda that predictably turns up in times of war. Any thinking person, after all, understands that the idea that Putin just decided to wake up one day and invade Ukraine for no reason whatsoever is patently absurd. And yet the narrative of the "unprovoked invasion" is being fed nonstop to the people, and most of them appear to be uncritically lapping it right up. 

You'd think that after two years of politicizing a virus to control world populations, regulate behavior and free movement, and disguise narrative control as "misinformation fact-checking," the masses wouldn't so easily fall in line again. But they've gone and done just that. Ukraine good, Russia bad. People in power say so, so it must be true. (And of course, deliberate misinformation is perfectly OK if it promotes a pro-Ukraine narrative. No fact-checks for bald-faced lies, only for inconvenient facts.) 

Of course, what this is really about is propping up Western economic and military interests, in the pursuit of maintaining American and EU hegemony around the globe. Russia is a threat to Western domination, and therefore it has to be neutralized. That's really what this all boils down to. Because why else would you be told to care about it so intensely, especially when there are so many other horrors going on around the world? Hundreds of thousands, including thousands of children, have died as a result of the U.S.-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen. Where is the media-manufactured outcry for its dead children? Where is the outrage over the political imprisonment, forced labor, forced sterilization, and religious and cultural suppression of the Uyghurs in China? Is anyone clearing out made-in-China goods from the shelves of their local Walmarts? (Of course not, because there would be nothing left.) I could go on, about the Palestinians, or about the plight of Syria, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, and more. 

So again, why does everyone care about this one particular situation in Ukraine and no others? Because they've been told to. And what is it that makes this situation supposedly so much worse? Well, you tell me. Never mind that the United States has a long and sad history of launching unprovoked invasions of other nations. No, we won't think about that. Nor can we point out China's human-rights abuses, because we rely too much on China's cheap labor, which corporate greed outsourced to the Communist nation decades ago, leaving our own manufacturing base decimated. And of course we can't point out what's happening in Yemen because of our role in facilitating it. The West is always killing someone, somewhere. But it's OK when we do it. 

So pay no attention to any of that. Russia bad. Putin bad. 

Let's not even consider the fact that the leaders of Ukraine are essentially puppets of the West, installed in 2014 with American financial support. (As ever, America's reckless, meddlesome, self-serving foreign policy of lesser-evilism creates a monster abroad, leaving others to clean up the mess.) No, let's not consider that Ukraine has a literal neo-Nazi battalion in its military ranks, and that those forces have both burned protesters alive and contributed to the death of scores of Russians in the eastern part of the country. (Little wonder that Ukraine was one of only two nations to refuse a UN proposal to denounce fascism. And yes, the facts on the ground prove it is obviously possible for a Jewish president to have Nazis in his own military.) Let's also not consider that Putin doesn't want Ukraine to join NATO, which would leave hostile military forces on Russia's doorstep. 

No, no. Russia bad. Putin bad.

It is entirely possible for there to really be no good guys in this situation -- and that includes the United States, in all its arrogance and naked hypocrisy, pissed off because Putin won't bend the knee to us and has the balls to attack America's puppet government in Ukraine. 

On the other hand, you could just as easily see this conflict as a matter of Russia's attempt to defend its own national interests, as it finds its own people being killed by a foreign military and it faces something not unlike our own Cuban Missile Crisis. But the Western corporate media only wants you to see its spin. In fact, it's going out of its way to silence any dissenting opinions -- just as it's been doing for two years of virus fearmongering. We know that masks don't do much of anything; we know that the experimental vaccines prevent neither illness nor transmission; we know that cheaper but effective drugs don't line the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry and so have to be villainized; we know that the vast majority of the population isn't at risk of death and that all the vaccine passports have therefore been a hysterical overreaction, creating an apartheid society and causing people to lose their livelihoods. And after years of being "fact-checked" into oblivion, those of us who never masked and never got jabbed are standing back and saying "I told you so" as mandates start to magically disappear, now that there's a new crisis to fixate people's minds on. You may now take off your masks and pick up your Ukrainian flags. 

But what's not going away is the control over people's lives. It's as if COVID was the dry run for what's going to follow. Consider how Justin Trudeau responded to a peaceful trucker protest in Ottawa. He suspended civil liberties under an emergency edict that conscripted towing companies to haul the big rigs away, allowed police to arrest peaceful protesters, and authorized the freezing of bank accounts of not just the protesters but anyone who so much as donated to them. This is the kind of social control that China exercises on its people for disobeying the government, and it's exactly what makes people like Trudeau, Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer, and so many other leftist control freaks so dangerous to liberty. 

And yet where was the U.S. media coverage of Trudeau's dictatorial behavior? Well, what little coverage it got was mostly framed to characterize the truckers as wild-eyed "fascists" who use "freedom" as a buzzword for their "hateful white supremacy." 

The Left: Workers of the world unite!

Also the Left: Not like that!

The following illustration really drives it home, as the cartoonist evidently perceives free speech as an existential threat to democracy -- signaling far more about himself than about the truckers.

This is literally how our institutions of power are characterizing people who stand up for individual freedom in the face of government overreach. The freedom-loving truckers are the fascists, not the psychopaths in power who are micromanaging our lives. 

Remember, these are the people currently feeding the Russia-Ukraine narrative to you.

People at the beginning of the COVID drama were saying that the powers-that-be would program the masses to think of defending their freedoms as selfish. And as we can see, that's exactly what has happened. "Freedom" is now a dirty word. "Safety" and control will be enforced by any and all means necessary. The U.S. trucker convoy will predictably be conflated with the so-called "insurrectionists" at the Capitol as being enemies of America. And by demonizing Putin, with whom the Left has worked tirelessly to associate with the American Right, they can all be smeared and marginalized in one fell swoop. Don't like your government? What are you, some kind of traitorous Putin lover? That's already happening. Rolling Stone, for one, couldn't wait to jump on the bandwagon after the invasion of Ukraine to point out the conservatives who weren't being properly loyal to the narrative -- which somehow, in the woke minds of Rolling Stone's editorial department, made them Putin loyalists.

It's always the "tolerant" "liberals" who pull this crap. They now have their Woke War, with an Evil White Guy as their villain, and they're enlisting everyone in their cause -- and doing pretty well so far. Senator Mark Warner, ever an enemy of liberty, has done his part by writing to the big social-media outlets and telling them to silence Russian "propaganda" -- proving, as I've said for years, that the government simply uses its corporate masters to engage in censorship by proxy. If the government is limited by the Constitution, then it'll just do a corporate end-run around the First Amendment. This is why massive multibillion-dollar corporations are as much of a danger to human liberty as governments are, and why the endless argument that "private companies can do whatever they want" is completely irresponsible and short-sighted. 

Funny, isn't it, how much censorship we need in the fight for "freedom" in Ukraine?  

With all the ongoing effects of cancel culture in mind, think about all the sanctions on Russia that are piling up. (Sanctions only ever hurt ordinary people who have nothing to do with their government's actions, but I guess that's beside the point.) Think in particular about all the major corporations that are lining up to refuse to do business with Russia. Think, too, of all the banks freezing Russia out of international commerce. And think of how the U.S.-led media narrative is creating a worldwide ostracization of one nation. Then stop to think about this: If they can do all this to a nation, what's to stop them from doing it to you if you step out of line? Trudeau has already shown how this cancel-culture-gone-wild orgy can be applied to ordinary people. Disobey and we'll freeze your bank accounts, get you fired, maybe even seize your assets. We'll starve you. Obey us or die.

"The myth about the inviolability of private property on which the legal system of the United States and the EU rests upon has been ruined," Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Vodin says. "Properties, bank accounts, and prepaid goods are confiscated on account of nationality." He's not wrong. The situation is deeply alarming in its ramifications for the future of freedom of thought. What good is the First Amendment, after all, if governments can use their corporate allies to compel you to obey by canceling your ability to function in society?

This is why it's so crucially important for people to think for themselves, and to actively defend the right to do so. Don't let your elected leaders, a political party, motivational speakers, talking heads on TV, your favorite celebrities or athletes, your favored religious authorities, or your crazy uncle do your thinking for you. Moreover, don't think it's OK if someone else is being canceled, because eventually the cancellers will come for you. So do your research, think for yourself, and resist in whatever way you can. This is the most crucial thing in the world, if you ever expect the world to get better. I know I'm probably shouting into the wind, but it needs to be said.

When I started this blog a decade ago, on my 41st birthday, I could never have imagined things would ever get this bad when I turned 51. We're living in a real-life dystopia, and human liberty hangs by a thread. Yes, people were just as irrational during the 1991 Gulf War and in the aftermath of 9/11. I remember well. The difference between then and now is the extent to which the Woke Left has taken over every major institution of power. And we know that the Woke Left will use its power to cancel anyone with an unorthodox point of view. The technological advancements between then and now also give them almost complete power to control narratives and ruin lives. (And rig elections in broad daylight, but rampant corporate censorship doesn't allow us to talk about that.)

And what I've learned from 10 years of blogging is this: Human beings are depressingly predictable. They are tribal animals who will always fall in line and obey, especially when provoked by fear or majority opinion. They are, for the most part, mindless sheep. People are very easily propagandized, and I have to think this is something genetic within most of us, something embedded deep within the primitive human psyche. Perhaps it goes back to the day when being booted out of the tribe meant you were left to fend for yourself against the wild animals, with no protection from the tribe. Today, that takes the form of being cancelled, leaving yourself no support network and no job with which to support yourself and your family. It's a shame that we can't move past this mindset, that people who oppose those in power won't stand up, realize that we outnumber those in power, and unite, despite our differences, and demand to take back control over our own lives. 

But that requires engaging in critical thought, and it involves risking a lot, personally, socially, financially. And that's why it doesn't happen. 

And so the misfits like me look on, shaking our heads, as the masses dutifully wave their blue and yellow flags, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they're being manipulated into backing the very same powers that will exert more and more control over their lives. And one day they might wake up and realize that maybe the people who were speaking out about the creeping loss of human liberties weren't dangerous right-wing neo-Nazi white supremacist extremists after all, but just people who put freedom and critical thought over the illusion of security and the institutional demand for conformity of thought. 

But probably not. If this blog is still around a decade from now, I dread to think of what the world will look like then. I'm just amazed this blog has lasted as long as it has. Had I ever had any significant audience, I have no doubt it would have been canceled long ago. 

When I was 18, the Berlin Wall came down and a single man took on a Chinese tank in Tiananmen Square. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed. The spirit of human freedom was in the air as I ventured into adulthood. Three decades on, the government orders masks and vaccinations over a virus with a 2% mortality rate, being white makes you racist, protesting for freedom makes you a fascist, and challenging the institutional narrative will cause you to lose your livelihood. And now a slowly expiring empire expects everyone to fall in line with its pathetic attempt to hold on to its fading power, even as doing so will push Russia into the arms of the Chinese, on whose manufacturing base we have become completely dependent in our shortsighted greed. The West is like a dying bully, trying one more time with all its might to exert its will on the rest of the world with a final gasp of air. One day it will all be over, and so much will have been squandered away. The Great American Experiment has traded individual liberty for money, power, and control. America has become the empire it once threw off. And like all empires, it will crumble and die, leaving much misery in its wake. That hour is not far away. I lament that my daughter will live to see it.

We never seem to learn. Maybe humans are simply incapable of doing otherwise.