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The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.

H.L. Mencken


I have been trying to stay away from current events but seeing this morning that the Department of Justice is looking to take over the defense of the president in a defamation lawsuit brought against the president*** by a private citizen over an alleged rape that took place twenty years ago just raises my blood. The fact that we, the people, are now paying for his legal defense and any subsequent settlement for is beyond the pale.

It is just another mile marker on the road to authoritarianism.

Factor in what is happening under the rulers this thing in our white house so much admires and refuses to criticize, often even as they imperil our citizen soldiers. You have the kidnappings of opposition leaders in Belarus. The poisoning of opposition leader and Putin critic Alexei Navalny in Russia, which was, by the way, not the first such occasion under the Putin regime. And then there is the crazy number of Putin critics and journalists who “accidentally” fall from high rise windows or mysteriously get shot with sight of the Kremlin.

Not to mention the brutal killing and dismemberment of a US based journalist by the Saudi regime that he often coos about, an atrocity that is now barely a blip in a radar screen filled with atrocities.

That’s the world to which our creature in charge aspires. And 40% or so of our population thinks, or in the absence of thought, believes that this is just fine and dandy.

I can’t accept that.

I will not succumb to the dark world being forced upon us. Will not keep my mouth shut. Will not close my eyes to the wrongs being perpetrated. Will not turn my head away from the rampant corruption or the many injustices of this regime.

I won’t do it.

And the 40% of us that are his true believers view this as being unpatriotic.

Well, we obviously have different views on patriotism.

I am going to defer to Aristotle on this: “It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.

If being a good citizen requires me to be less than a good man, then I will cease being a good citizen.

Sorry for the spew this morning. Here’s a song that says this much better than my angry words. It’s from way back in 1984 from Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul and his album Voice of America. You might know him better as Miami Steve Van Zandt from Springsteen’s E Street Band or as Silvio, Tony’s lieutenant and the owner of the Bada Bing Club on The Sopranos. Or from his Sirius radio channel Little Steven’s Underground Garage or from his Netflix series, Lilyhammer. He’s a busy, multifaceted guy.

And a patriot by my and Mencken’s definitions. Here’s his I Am a Patriot.

The painting at the top, The Way of the Brave,  is from quite a few years back. It’s a longtime favorite of mine and one that I used when I last played this song here back in 2009. It still fits the song.

Have a good day.

 

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“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my Gallery Talk I spoke about the struggle to go inside myself to create in these crazy days. The outer world and its many problems seems to be keeping me from the inner. It’s a frustration that more or less paralyzes me, requiring me to go put in a lot of extra effort just to get down to work.

I am trying to reconcile this, to somehow get past this feeling.

I came across this snippet above from Emerson and it reminded me that I am the one letting the outer world in. Oh, I know you can’t keep it completely out but I was the one opening the door and inviting it in. I was the one who listened to it as it went on about its problems and thought I could somehow help it out, foolish as that idea seems when I write it out. I went, as Emerson writes, into their confusion.

It also reminds me that I get to choose how I respond to the outer world. And being paralyzed is not a choice. It’s a refusal to choose.

So, I choose to shed the paralysis, to get back to work, to explore those inner paths once more. It’s my choice and what I do.

We all have that power to choose how we react to our own forms of paralysis, fear, anger, frustration and so many other negative aspects of our world. Most likely you don’t need to hear this. You probably know this as well as I. But I know I sometimes fall out of rhythm and have to be reminded once in a while.

The painting at the top is from a few years back and lives now with me in the studio. It’s one of those pieces that really hit high notes personally for me right from the moment it took form on the easel. It’s one of those pieces that surprises me in that it hasn’t yet found a home but also please me because I get to live with it for a bit longer. I thought it echoed with the words of Emerson today. It originally echoed with the words from the Rudyard Kipling poem after which it is named, If.

I was going to include the poem here in print but here’s a fine reading of it by actor John Hurt complete with the words shown. And some powerful black and white images.

Have a good day and choose well.


 

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I don’t need to be forgiven
For something I haven’t done
Nor for wanting my family
To find their place in the sun
If you keep this pressure on
Just don’t be surprised
If I can’t summon up my dignity
While you’re roughing up my pride

There will be a reckoning
For the peddlers of hate
Who spread their poison all across this estate
And a reckoning, too, for the politicians who
Left us to this fate
There will be a reckoning

Billy Bragg, There Will Be a Reckoning


Since we’re in the midst of another Labor Day weekend, albeit one certainly not in normal times, I was listening to some Billy Bragg, the British singer who has picked up the mantle of Woody Guthrie to become the voice for workers and the downtrodden. In fact, his Guthrie connection includes the fact that he provided most of the vocals for one of my favorites albums, Mermaid Avenue. It was a collaboration between Bragg and the group Wilco to set to music and record a group of unreleased Woody Guthrie songs that were just lyrics on paper.

The result was what I consider a brilliant album. But that’s one guy’s opinion.

I came across this song from Bragg that has been bouncing around for a while but seems to have relevance for these times. It’s called There Will Be a Reckoning. In different performances Bragg has talked about how since WWII and the defeat of the fascist forces that were threatening to overtake the planet, generations of politicians have neglected to honestly address the big issues that affect the majority of the population on this planet– financial inequality, social injustice and racism, food insecurity and adequate healthcare.

They usually just kick these concerns down the road in acts of expediency.

Expediency is often just another name for cowardice.

As a result, it has created a vacuum in which those with fascist tendencies and objectives can once again begin the rise to power through the division of the population through campaigns of fear and hatred. They see the neglected problems and, though they have no plan on ever correcting the deficits, use it as a prybar to separate the masses and set one group against the other.

And quite often they succeed. And fascism gains a strong toehold and takes power. And this leaves another generation to have someday fight to stop its spread.

Yeah, if it’s not stopped, there will definitely be a reckoning.

Here’s a live version of the song from several years ago. I am playing it to let you hear Bragg’s cockney accent and a few words on the song as he introduces it. The painting at the top is my A Time For Reckoning which is still at the West End Gallery and was part of my recent show there. I think it pairs well with this song and these times.

Have a good day.


 

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“On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?

— Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, 3 September 2020

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There is a new article in The Atlantic from Jeffrey Goldberg that carries the heading Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’ that I urge you to read. It details a host of incidents over the last several years under our current president*** where this creature displayed a total lack of respect for the service and sacrifice of those who have seen duty in our military forces. The reports in this article have been subsequently corroborated and verified by multiple news agencies and their sources.

Without going into all of the details of the article here– again, please read it for yourself– he calls those American troops who were killed overseas and are buried in the military cemeteries in those places ‘losers‘ and ‘suckers.’

It aligns pretty much with his words for the late John McCain who he claimed wasn’t a war hero because he was captured.

There was another incident during talks concerning a potential military parade, one of his fixations, where he asked that the parade not include wounded veterans, particularly amputees, saying, “ Nobody wants to see that.”

This man sees everything as being transactional. You only do something for something in return. The idea of doing anything out of a sense of duty or honor is a foreign concept to this creature. After meeting one high ranking general, he is said to have remarked to aides that this general was a very smart guy and wondered why a guy with that kind of smarts went into the military. To him, if you have the ability to enrich yourself, sacrificing that ability in order to act in service to others is a sucker move.

I was watching The Godfather 2 not too long ago, having not seen it for a number of years. There a scene near the end, a  flashback to most of the members of the Corleone family along with the family attorney (Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen here but think of Michael Cohen, okay?) sitting around the dinner table before a birthday party for patriarch Don Corleone. Future boss Michael ( Al Pacino) reveals that he has enlisted in the Marines in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

The responses from his brother, Sonny, and Hagen were illuminating. People who do something for strangers were ‘saps.’

You only do for yourself and family.

Sound familiar? It has been said that this president*** operates in much this same way as a mob family, right down to the attitude that you only help those who can help you in some way. The others are all saps and suckers and losers.

You might ask why this matters. It is important because it shows that he sees everything around him in terms of how it serves him. The military and its veterans are seen as props and pawns to be used. I believe that if he had to sacrifice dozens or hundreds or even thousands of troops in an action that would help him stay in power.

And this extends to law enforcement, as well. He sees cops as a tool to be employed on his behalf. And even then, he only sees cops who are willing to compromise their oath or break the very laws they are charged to enforce as being capable of helping him. A good cop, someone who entered a dangerous field with relatively little financial return, would fall under the category of sap or sucker. Or even loser if they were to call out the bad cops among them.

You may not care.

You may not give a shit ( excuse me for my plain language here) about his constant lies and deceptions. Or maybe you don’t give a crow’s fart for his total refusal to accept any responsibility whatsoever for the citizens that he is supposed to represent during a worldwide pandemic. You may not give a tinker’s damn for the 190,000 dead from covid19 and find these numbers, no matter how high they climb, somehow ‘acceptable.’ You may not care about the damage being done to our future economies by his fiscal policies. You may not care about weakened position in the world, one that makes the world much more dangerous for all.

You just might not care. You got your stupid red hats and your confederate flags and Fox News. And your own beliefs, however misguided and misinformed they might be.

But make no mistake about it, this creature is the ultimate looter and he’ll burn down this whole shitshow to stay in power and to keep from ever being held accountable. If you or me or a million other saps, suckers, and losers have to die, it won’t bother him one damn bit.

And unless enough of us stand up now and vote him out in numbers too large to be disputed, I believe that is exactly what he will do.

So check your voter registration. Vote early.

And vote like your life depends on it because this might be the one time in our lives when that is actually true.

In the meantime, read the article in The Atlantic. And, here’s that scene from The Godfather 2. See if it sounds familiar to you, as well.

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2 + 2

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In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.

George Orwell, 1984

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Two plus two still adds up to four.

But just barely.

There is ample evidence that there are some out there right now who are most likely thinking, “Why shouldn’t 2 plus 2 equal 5? If our great leader say that it is 5 and I feel that it is 5, who has the right to tell me that I am wrong?

Based on what I have seen over the past four nights from DC, the world of George Orwell‘s 1984 is just a little too close for comfort.

There is already the embrace of its concept of Doublethink. That’s where one holds two contradictory beliefs to be true at the same time. For example, there are people out there who believe that it was our government who actually flew the planes into the World Trade Center in 2001. Or they might also believe that the current pandemic is the result of a huge Deep State conspiracy.

These same people believe at the same time that this same government, one that is capable of a huge, complicated conspiracy that would require the silence and complicity of literally thousands of accomplices, is totally inept, too stupid and flawed, to do anything well.

We have become people who believe what they hear so long as it doesn’t involve critical thinking and aligns with what they want to believe. But because there is no critical thinking, most don’t even truly know what they want to believe.

They wait for The Word from some elevated other to tell them that.

The Word shall be whatever strokes their egos and stokes their fears.

It is a scary time, one that is not normal in any sense of the word, and we are rapidly descending down a very slippery slope right now. Who knows where we will be when this plummet ends?

Or if it will end.

As Orwell asks: For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?

Use your mind. Think critically. Speak out. When they say 2 plus 2 is 5, tell them they are wrong. Our world is depending on it at this moment.

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From his own words and actions, we now know with a pretty high degree of certainty why the current thing that is leaving a stain on the walls and carpets of our white house wants to sabotage and destroy our United States Postal Service. It has little to do with the smokescreen of the profitability of the USPS and almost everything to do with the suppression of voting via the mail, which has taken on greater importance during the current pandemic. He has demonstrated that he will do anything and everything to protect himself at this point including the destruction of a vital part of our national infrastructure that has been around since 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was our first Postmaster General.

And it’s all simply because he knows that if more people vote, his odds of staying in (and staining) the office go dramatically down. In fact, the only chance he and his cronies have to remain in power is if they can force people to have to vote in person then reduce the number of of voting locations, shorten the hours of voting and purge voter rolls to keep the numbers as low as possible.

Create roadblocks to voting, in other words.

Despite his warnings of vast voter fraud, I have yet to hear a cogent argument why mail in voting should not be expanded especially in a time of pandemic. I have not seen an iota of evidence that voter fraud via the mail is a real problem. In fact, most arguments point to it being more reliable and less prone to manipulation when administered with proper precautions.

And if you think about it, voter fraud via the mail or even in person voting is so much less efficient that voting machine fraud, where a simple software tweak can alter the vote totals of each machine, that it would be a ridiculous risk for the return.

The USPS is often maligned but they are still a wonder of efficiency in my eyes. Throw a letter in an envelope, jot down an address and add a stamp and stick it in the box at the end of the driveway. A person picks it up and a day or two later it is delivered anywhere in this country for 55 cents. The people who complain about this are the same people who bitch that gas doesn’t cost thirty cents a gallon anymore. To me, accessing the infrastructure that can do such a thing for less than buck is perhaps the best bargain around.

The infrastructure to do this is incredible, a force of 600,000 employees ( this includes a huge number of veterans) who have been the lifeline for many for most of the time we have been a nation. Some say that most of our messaging can be done via the web now or through private carriers such as UPS or FedEx. Of course, there is a profit necessary in order to accomplish it with private companies. FedEx would certainly never be able to deliver a letter for 55 cents and deliver to every household across the nation on a daily basis. If any private company could do what the USPS does and turn a profit they would have attempted to do so by now.

For them to compete with the USPS, the prices would have to go up drastically. Any increase in the price of doing such would be a de facto tax on you, the US citizen.

Some of this is from a post written earlier this year when the white house stain first began to attack the USPS in earnest. I am pretty passionate about the post office and am one of those people who have always loved the idea of mail. In fact, it has played a part in several of my paintings, including the piece at the top, No Mail, which hangs in my studio.

The mail has always been an important part of my life, a first life line to the outside world when I was child living in the relative isolation of our rural home. I have friends that I still write to overseas that I befriended through the mail. While we now email more, the hand written letters and notes that I still receive mean so much more to me than an electronic message read on a screen. The fact that the sender wrote it, put it in the envelope and addressed it then a different person picked it up and inserted it into this incredible system to get to me makes it a small miracle. Well, at least, a wonder.

The USPS can easily be saved. Of course, the forces that be and their wealthy friends see it as a cash cow to be exploited or a vehicle for suppressing the vote. Whether we let that happen is up to us. Call– or better yet, write– your representatives in congress and tell them to keep their hands off the post office.

So, for this Sunday Morning Music I thought we should have some mail related song. There are a lot of great choices. There’s Fats Waller‘s classic I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter which has been covered by almost every major vocalist or Please Mr. Postman from either the Marvelettes or the Beatles. Or Johny Cash’s Tear Stained Letter. Take a Letter Maria from RB Greaves. Elvis and Return to Sender.

But today I am going with the Box Tops and their song The Letter from 1967. It features the late great Alex Chilton on vocals and is always a great tune to get your blood moving. This song would have sucked if it said she wrote me an email

So, have a good day and protect our USPS.

 

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He was a king or a shah, an ahkoond or rajah,
the head man of the country,
and he commanded the learned men of the books
they must put all their books in one,
which they did,
and this one book into a single page,
which they did.
“Suppose next,” said the head man, who was
either a king or shah, an ahkoond or rajah,
“Suppose now you give my people
  the history of the world and its peoples
  in three words— come, go to work!”
And the learned men sat long into the night
and confabulated over their ponderings
and brought back three words:
  “Born,
   troubled,
   died. “

This was their history of Everyman.

”Give me next for my people,’ spoke the head man,
“in one word the inside kernel of all you know,
  the knowledge of your ten thousand books
  with a forecast of what will happen next—
  this for my people in one word.”
And again they sat into the peep of dawn
and the arguments raged
and the glass prisms of the chandeliers shook
and at last they came to a unanimous verdict
and brought the head man one word:
   “Maybe “

–A fragment of #49 from The People, Yes from poet Carl Sandburg

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Born-Troubled-Died.

It may not have the breathtaking poetic sweep of Person-Woman-Man-Camera-TV but the addition of that one word condensed from all the gathered knowledge of man, that simple Maybe, is a sign of hope. A sign that despite the worst efforts of kings and would-be kings, the people will overcome.

Maybe.

 

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“From a Distance”– Currently at the West End Gallery

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The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Yesterday, for the first time in many moons, I felt a sensation that seemed distinctly out of place for the feelings that have been swirling around inside me lately. It was a twinge, a pang, a fleeting pulse of optimism.

I think it was the announcement of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden‘s running mate that did it. I had been expecting– and hoping– that she would be the pick. The daughter of immigrants, she’s smart, tough, and forward looking but also warm and engaging. What’s not to like?

But even expecting it, I was surprised at my own reaction to the announcement. It made me happy in a way that I haven’t felt in some time.

Optimistic.

It took a while to recognize this long lost feeling, this optimism. It’s been gone so it seems almost foreign and I have found myself more apt to use words like pessimism and cynicism to describe my feelings about the future.

But the truth be told, I kind of like it.

I like the idea that there are responsible adults stepping up to face the multitude of problems facing us at this time. As daunting as the situation, this little bit of newfound optimism makes me think we can find solutions going into the future.

It’s like the torch on the Statue of Liberty has been dark for the past four years– it sure feels that way and there’s talk that it might be set ablaze again. Eyes look up again.

Like I said, I like this feeling but it still makes me a bit nervous. I fear that others who feel the same thing will think that this optimism somehow replaces the need for hard work and attention to detail in the coming months.

Pay attention. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s, people. Make sure you’re registered and vote even if it means standing in line for hour upon hour.

This is the most critical election of our lives. That is not hyperbole.

We are still down in a dark pit but at least our eyes are looking up a bit now. And there is light up there.

Like the great Curtis Mayfield song they used after introducing Biden and Kamala’s partnership, let’s Move On Up.

Have a good day and keep your eyes up.

PS: The quote at the top is from Dietrich Bonhoefer, who wrote an essay that I used in a blog post, On Stupidity, which is easily my most visited post.

 

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“Graveyard Shift” Coma Hut Edition

Lately, I feel like I am just stuck at a single intersection on the grid of the space time continuum. I am not moving forward or backward, up or down, through time or space. Just sitting there, waiting for something to come along that releases me. What that something is, I have no idea except that in some of my imagined versions of it I see it as being horrific while in others, a relieved unburdening.

It’s an awful sense of just waiting, the kind of feeling a little kid has while eagerly anticipating Christmas morning. Or the dread they have while waiting to be punished. Just sitting with anxious butterflies in the stomach, not knowing whether its Christmas morning or the Principal’s Office.

Been thinking that I should be using this time to work on a plan for a new business. Maybe we could set up a franchise where we put people into induced comas for set periods of time?

People could head down to the local Coma Hut (trademark pending) where we would put them into some sort of chemical suspended animation and store them in sanitary ( and virus free!) stainless steels pods for whatever time frame they desire. At the end, we open the pod and revive them, refreshed and relieved of having to actually live through the time period that has passed.

Right now, I would use it. Set the clock for the end of January in 2021, say the 21st, wake me up and tell me what has happened. Then depending on the outcome, I will either happily go out into that brave new world or sign up for another, and much longer, session in my coma pod.

I think it would be a huge success. One on every corner like Starbucks. We’d have a hard time keeping up with the demand and keeping those stainless steel pods in stock.

This would be our theme song for our video ads. It’s a version of the old Ramones classic from Tim Timebomb AKA Tim Armstrong along with Lindi Ortega. I played it here last year but it feels like its time is now, with me, stuck here on the space time continuum.

Here’s I Wanna Be Sedated. Have a good day and book your Pod Time™ down at your local Coma Hut™ now to beat the rush. Spaces are going fast!

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“Bold Run”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

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Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee:

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What is real freedom?

I can’t say for sure. Wish I could.

Lately, I have been thinking about the 1941 book from Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom. In it, Fromm writes about that we actually have a fear of freedom.  Real freedom requires personal responsibility for our decisions and actions and creates an almost unbearable anxiety in man. Real freedom means living without a safety net, where we decide who and what we are, what we want from life, where we are held accountable for each decision we make.

Put that way, freedom sounds much more perilous.

As a result, we have fostered a desire to be told what we should be and what we should do. Fromm makes the point that we want someone to make the decisions that guide our lives while maintaining the illusion that we have freely made them.

“Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”

A life of real freedom is scary and difficult so it is always tempting to just fit in, to accept a bit of comfort and security in exchange for losing a large degree of that freedom. Doing this make us susceptible to falling prey to those with less than honorable intentions.

“Escape from Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

The concept of this book seems to be playing out in real time lately.

I don’t know that we, myself included, understand the concept of real freedom. I have tried to shape and live a free life but have I succeeded?

I don’t know.

I will continue to look for an answer but in the meantime, here’s this week’s Sunday Morning Music. It’s I Want to Be Free, an old Leiber and Stoller hit first sung by Elvis Presley in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock. While Elvis does a fine job with the song, I much prefer this version from Robert Gordon who had a nice run as a rockabilly artist with several memorable albums in the 1980s. Here, I think he fills in the blanks that Elvis left in his version.

Give a listen and have a good day. And take a minute to think about what you think real freedom is.

 

 

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