Two More Tomorrow

Two more shots of The Men of Tomorrow, courtesy Jarek Steele of Left Bank Books.

 

Men of Tomorrow in concert
Men of Tomorrow in concert
Mood Soloing
Mood Soloing

Might use this last one for some kind of avatar somewhere.

 

The Men of Tomorrow

So, the other night, the 22nd to be exact, I committed Public Performance.  I had help.  Two brave musicians, both of whom are better at their respective instruments than I am at mine, joined me to play jazz-like music at the Mad Art Gallery where Left Bank Books and other St. Louis Independent bookstores celebrated World Book Night.  I mentioned this in a previous post.

The main event of the evening was an on-stage interview conducted by author Curtis Sittenfeld of author  J.R. Moehringer.

Here we see Left Bank’s Shane Mullen introducing them:

Speakeasy

The interview was great.  Lively, informative, and Moehringer is very entertaining.  Afterward came author signings, aimless milling about, imbibing (cash bar) and…us.

 

Men of Tomorrow

This event was the brainchild of Left Bank’s co-owner, Jarek Steele, who approached me one day at work a few months back and said, “Hey, I have an idea…”  I said yes.  Then later, I thought I said yes! Am I out of my mind?

This entailed gathering other musicians, rehearsals, and then renting a keyboard.  I had to learn a few new pieces, Rich and Bill had to figure out how to play along with the bizarre manner in which I play.  I have to admit, our first rehearsal was not promising.  My handicap is that I don’t usually perform with a group.  99% of what I do, I do solo.  That is a very different discipline than ensemble.  I had to overcome some bad habits (a couple of which I failed to overcome, but hey, nobody noticed), and get some chops down better than I’ve done in some time.

A word about the keyboard.  This detail almost ended the project before it began, because my piano is not portable.  Not really.  After calling around, I found MidWest Music.  These folks rent instruments.  Yes, they had a digital piano available.  They told me the model, I checked out a couple of demos, it seemed perfectly suitable.  Donna and I went out to set it up and…

Well, they had a brand new instrument they wanted to showcase, so I got an upgrade to a Roland RD-700nx.  Yes, I’m linking to the demo video so you can see why I had the musical equivalent of a one-night-stand with this.  I likened using this piano for this gig to taking a Ferrari to the supermarket.  It was far more instrument than I needed that night.

We showed up nameless.  I was asked by our events coordinator if we had one.  No.  One night?  A one-off?  A couple of things passed through my head, but…no.

Shane named us.  Suddenly we were “Mark Tiedemann and the Men of Tomorrow.”  After a moment of “Aw, come on!” I started to think, “Hey, that’s not bad. ”  By the time we went on, I decided to ask him if we could keep it.  You know, just in case this ever happens again.

It has been a long time since I played at all seriously in front a room full of people I didn’t know.  It kind of surprised me how nerve-wracking it was.  But…

I always know when I’ve done okay because I come away from the performance with almost no memory of what I did.  Mistakes and just plain bad performances I remember with a clarity that cuts, but if things go more or less well, there’s just a hazy wash of “Yeah, I was there” and not much else.

I want to thank Rich and Bill here for making me sound as good as we did.  Bill is an exceptional drummer.  I can say this because he took the weird and rather undisciplined rhythms I play, made them his own, and glued the performances together.  Rich is an exceptional guitarist.

So that’s how my week started off.  How’s yours going?

Afterimage

I finished the first draft of the new (old) novel, a rewrite of a rather pathetic bit of crime fiction that I just could not give up on.  The chapters are being reviewed as I write this.  I’m taking some time off.  I put in some long days on this and it still isn’t ready for prime time.

Meantime, something somewhat disturbing to keep the reader wondering, “Just where did he go that weekend and who—or what—was he with?”

Alien Detective copy 2To tell you the truth, I’m not sure myself.  I woke up in my own bed, but the room looked too normal.  I stumbled to the bathroom and decided the hat had to go, but it helped, and I’m not sure I can get through what’s to come without it.  I need a shave.

There’s missing time.  Someone else is missing it, though, I remember every second of it.

I may be in the mood for some alien jazz.  On the other hand, the Fool’s March is drumming in the background and my eye is pulsing in rhythm to the slipped and syncopated beat.  Another day in Memeopolis, no body but the killer must be caught.  It should be up to me, but who’s gonna trust a face like that?  See, the hat it essential.

Whatever happens, I will be played out.  After the last coda and the ink is dry, sleep.  Not a big one, just medium-sized.  There are too many more stories to figure out.

Have a nice world.

Coming Up On…

Every writing project comes to a point when it crowds everything else into smaller and smaller spaces, mainly of time.  Right now I’m 3/4 of the way through what I’m currently working on. As a result, my reading has slowed to a crawl (I’ve been taking far too long to get through an ARC that is really good—review to come) and I’m barely keeping up with everything else.

Donna has spent the weekend in Iowa with her sister, leaving me to wallow in potential bachelor disorder.  But I’ve managed to keep the place not only clean, but straightened out a few things.  I could never get used to her being absent, but occasionally I get more done when I’m alone.

However, the last couple of months have been taken up with another project that’s been demanding as much if not more time than the novel and has me a bit on edge.  I’ve been practicing piano daily in preparation for an actual gig.

World Book Night is coming up.  On April 22, the night before the official event, Left bank Books is doing an event for it—Speakeasy —at the Mad Art Gallery in Soulard.  Come by, it’ll be fun, and…well, I’ll be playing piano, along with two other excellent musicians.  (Not that I’m an excellent musician, but…)

This was the brilliant (read: insane) idea of Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books (and my boss…one of them…), who casually suggested that it would be cool to have a jazz combo at an event called Speakeasy and, for reasons which now escape me, I said “Yeah, that would be.  Maybe I…?”  “Well, of course,” says he, “that’s what I had in mind.  Would you?”

So I’ve been diligent at the keyboard, honing some skills that have been largely left unhoned for too many years.  Much to my surprise, the rehearsals are going okay, and, well…it will be interesting.

But my daily schedule has been torn between the demands of a novel that is swiftly heading for conclusion and needs (demands, pleads, screams for) my attention and the little guilt-gnome in the back of my skull telling me to stop fiddling with that and practice!

Leaves little time for much of anything else.  Like reading.

After the 22nd, and my day of recovery, I’ll get back to, well, Other Things.

On the other hand, who knows?  This might go so well that we three who will be doing this could decide to continue it…

Sigh.  Doubtful, but never say never, right?  So it is with some reservation that I suggest if any of you are in the area and in the least interested, check out the event.  You will want to come out in support of World Book Night anyway, which is a certifiably cool thing to do.  It will be fun.  See you then?

Original Intent

According to recent polls, a growing number of Americans believe that the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights in order to guarantee that our government will not impose any kind of tyranny upon us.  That an armed populace is a bulwark against government oppression.

As far as it goes, there should be no argument over this.  Especially at the time it was adopted.  It was a statement that declared that the authority for military action, domestically, resided with the People.  Even then, however, a group of citizens was not much of a match for a well-trained and equipped military force, and anyone even slightly acquainted with the history of the revolutionary war should be aware that the biggest problem Washington et al had was equipage and training.  The famous instance of the Prussian drill master Baron von Steuben, while part of American myth, nevertheless points up a real problem of the Continental Army—the men didn’t know how to fight.  Washington’s army, to put it mildly, fared poorly in just about every engagement with the British it had.  Just having guns made little difference.

Fast forward to today and the problem is multiplied.  To imagine a gaggle of weekend warriors mounting a successful resistance to a modern military force is absurd.

However, this is becoming mainstream opinion, that because so many Americans have firearms in their possession our government will not engage in dictatorial practices.  It enjoys a certain logic and in the past this has been a not altogether fallacious argument.

Taking this as a basis for rejecting any kind of control over the manufacture and dissemination of firearms for the purposes of community safety is taking original intent out of context and ignoring basic realities.  This isn’t a frontier nation anymore and the phrasing of the Second Amendment itself suggests it was never intended as a guarantee that John Q. Smith, esquire, would be absolutely free of constraint.

We have no rules that absolutely free us of constraints of one kind or another.

My own personal pick for absolutist appraisal is the First Amendment, but we have many rules regarding use of language and freedom of speech.  (I would hazard a guess that many of the same people arguing for complete freedom from even the hint of constraint on their Second Amendment rights have no problem with constraints on Speech, as indicated by support of various forms of censorship from pornography to flag burning.  Cherry picking “rights” is a great American tradition.)  We have such rules in order to maintain a civil society, a goal the Founders fully endorsed.  Barring the capacity of individuals to self-police personal conduct, we have laws to control misuses.  We get along quite well (usually) with said laws and in some instances wish these laws were stronger, all in the name of maintaining the kind of society with the types of security we wish to enjoy.

I personally have mixed feelings about all possession laws.  Telling people it is a crime to simply possess something, to my mind, is a pernicious act of intrusiveness that is fraught with the potential for abuse.  Just having something it is against the law to have invites fraud, entrapment, and a loss of other freedoms.  I can well understand the civic interest in not allowing individuals to have something, but beyond removing it once found, criminalizing possession is a road to hell many people who have been set up on false drug possession charges know all about.  It ceases then to be about public safety and becomes a contest of will between people and authority.  It’s fair to say that the Drug War has become less about drugs than about the power of agencies to enforce their will.  The purpose of the original laws is lost in the subsequent political and legal struggles between two ideologically opposed factions.  (If it weren’t, then spending money on treatment would not be in the least controversial.  At its simplest, this is about conformity, not safety.)  I also have little optimism that any kind of confiscatory rules would do anything other than create another drug war type conflict and again, safety would take a back seat to ideology.

As it is anyway.

For the record, I do not own a gun.  Not because I am opposed to them, but because I believe one should not own something one is not prepared to treat with diligence and respect by taking proper training, keeping responsible track of it, and maintaining it properly.  No one should treat a firearm like the old clunker that keeps failing inspection but gets driven anyway. I have neither the time nor inclination just now to qualify at a range and stay qualified.  Furthermore, I do not live in such a way that it would be useful to me.  That could change, I admit.  As a child, I grew up with firearms.  Hunting with my dad was a regular thing, something we gave up when apparently part of the necessary equipment among far too many hunters became a cooler chest loaded with beer.  Safety, dammit!

That said, there are a couple of items both sides should be more aware of in this, because the debate is heading toward another national deadlock, and just now we don’t need another divisive issue based on nonsense.

Deaths by firearms are decreasing.  Have been for some time.  You can check the FBI crime stats for this.  A growing fraction of gun deaths is suicide.  It may well be argued that if these people did not have ready access to a firearm, their self-inflicted deaths might be delayed or prevented.  The salient factor here is mental health, something we as a nation seem loathe to address.  There is a stigma attached to mental health problems which we stupidly maintain and people who need help fail to get it, often with calamitous results.  PTSD among returning veterans has been shining a light on this, but the fact is it remains a problem for the general population, one which for whatever reason we want to deny.  (Of course, we also don’t want to spend any more money on health care, which is another matter.)

The dramatic, Rambo-esque shootings that have spotlighted gun violence in the last several years are exceptions.  Tragic as they are, they do not represent the vast majority of either gun deaths or American gun owners.  In almost all of these instances, other factors have been primary in the incidents, involving mental health issues.  In a way, such events are like earthquakes.  Unpredictable, horrible, lamentable.  Unlike earthquakes, we have the tools to do something about them before they happen, but again this involves attitudes about mental health, and since the rhetoric surrounding this issue has acquired as part of its machinery a rejection of government intrusion into our personal lives, we are stuck in a quandary.

Secondly, we have already seen that “assault rifle” bans do very little in terms of actual decreases in gun violence.  Most, the vast majority, of shootings are done with handguns.  The “ban” is little more than an æsthetic statement.  High capacity magazines may be another matter, but the fact is we’re talking about banning something because of the way it looks more than anything else.

That said, we really need to stop pretending æsthetics don’t matter.  We know personality changes under certain circumstances, and as ridiculous as it may sound, we also know it is true.  Fashion would not be the industry it is if people did not experience modifications in self-image and, subsequently, behavior by wearing different kinds of clothing.  Consider the changes in demeanor involved with motorcycles.  A person can be one way and then, donning leathers and climbing aboard a Harley, he or she can for a short while be very different.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, these changes are mild, short-lived, and fun, but they are real.  And for a fraction of people, they go beyond manageable.

When you look at the mass shootings and the types of weapons involved, it seems obvious that, within whatever passes for conscious decision-making with these people, they are playing a role, one which involves some sort of para-militarism.  They are assaulting positions, enacting retribution, fighting a war no one else around them seems aware of, and they have equipped themselves accordingly.  While most of us play act from time to time, we keep it within our control and within the bounds of social convention.  Again, we’re talking about people who seem to have a less solid grasp on the reality the rest of us share.

A reality which is getting holes punched in it by the extreme rhetoric of political posturing and the paranoia that emerges out of responding to claims that our rights are under threat.

Two things about that, related to each other.

When President Obama says that talk of government tyranny is absurd, because here we are the government, he is correct at least in an ideal sense.  We The People are supposed to be in charge.  That we don’t seem to be is the direct result of the consistent and traditional lack of involvement in politics by average citizens.

Nevertheless, there is a confusion in this stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding of the term The People.

I’ve grown up listening to the dinner table dissections of the Second Amendment and what the Founders meant.  Separating out one clause from another, that “militia” is something distinct from “the people” because of a problematically placed comma.  It took some time before I realized that they were all missing the point.

The Founders, if nothing else, were world class grammarians and rhetoricians.  They knew the meaning of words, the intent of phrases, and used them very precisely.  When they said The People they were not talking about Joe Whatsisname down the block, they were talking about a political aggregate.  The People is us as a polity.

You can tell because when they meant something to apply to individuals, they used Person.  Read the other amendments.  The People was not a catch-all term that stood in for Me and You as isolated individuals.  It meant the community from which government, in this place, derives its authority.

The British were not marching on Lexington and Concord to bust down private doors and confiscate fowling pieces, they were marching to seize the local armory—which was there for the local militia—which was made up of local people, many of whom did not own their own weapons (they were bloody expensive!)

We have separated these things in our communities since WWII, true, so we no longer have the reality of a local militia anymore.  We mistake the National Guard as one, but it’s not, really.  Militias were vital when we as a nation eschewed large standing armies and had to rely on the availability of a ready pool of volunteers who had, presumably, trained through local militia organizations.  We needed them especially when we have a frontier.

But the idea that we have a right to take up arms against the government is false.  This country never allowed for that.  Shays Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Civil War…in each instance, the response has been to put the rebellion down and strengthen the adherence to the federal constitution and government, because what we are building here is not a haven for quasi-libertarian laissez-faire self empowerment at the expense of community.

Rights are not settled outside the idealized confines of academic discourse.  They are living things, constantly tested and argued, limited and expanded, revisited and revised.  My right to swing my arm ends when the end of my arm touches the end of your nose.  Sounds reasonable, but in reality we are always trying to determine both where the end of my arm actually is and how far out you can stick your nose.  The dance of negotiation and compromise is what has built this country, despite the misapprehension that it is absolute individualism that did it.  The community is the seed bed in which the flower of constructive individualism grows.  They need each other, but the relationship is symbiotic.

The rhetoric of armed resistance has one other major shortfall, and it’s fatal.  Power does not work here through the barrel of a gun, it works through the ballot box and the willingness of the population to accept the determination derived from the vote.  We do not collapse into sectarian violence here because we have a long tradition of viewing elections as the final word, at least until the next election.  When it’s done, we go home, we do not tear down city hall.  The day enough people decide they must take up arms to get their way, all that ends, and we will pay dearly to put it back together again.  Likely the thing being defended will be sacrificed in the initial exchange of fire, and for my part I sincerely doubt we have the collective wisdom in sufficient degree to revive the experiment.

Common sense should tell us that there are some people who simply should not have access to firearms.  We have to figure out how to address that reality.  All or nothing approaches which ignore this will end up at best irrelevant and at worst destructive of the nerves that allow us to be a country.

Wrong Is Right: Political Absurdity Incarnate

Eleven North Carolina state representatives are attempting to do something which has been illegal in this country since the ratification of the Constitution.  Namely, establish a State Religion.

Here’s what they’re trying to pass:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

This resolution flies in the face of two centuries of settled law.  Furthermore, it also takes a run at the decision which was settled by the Civil War.  I think it’s fair to say that there is more than a smidgen of secessionist sentiment and some borderline treason there.

Need I add that the eleven representatives in question are all Republicans?

If the Bill of Rights was not clear enough about the intent of what America meant by “freedom of religion” and the quite tangible rejection of such meddling of government into the arena of religious expression, the Fourteenth Amendment made clear just which set of laws held the upper hand.  (For those not paying attention, there has been a steady tremor of right wing rhetoric in the last year or several directed at repealing the Fourteenth Amendment, for exactly this sort of purpose, to return to states the sole right to dictate to their citizens how they should conduct themselves as Americans, at least in the view of a given state.)

Why this should need to be rehearsed again and again I do not understand, but it’s been obvious for some time that the advocates for religious establishment—North Carolina House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes and his ten colleagues, for instance—are not interested in embracing religious liberty.  The only purpose of establishing a state religion—and please, while I realize there is no phrase in the two clauses quoted above that expressly state that North Carolina is establishing said religion, it takes little reasoning to realize that the only utility in claiming a right to make law concerning religion is in order to do exactly that—is to (a) enforce not only public conformity but private as well and (b) deny equal rights to religions that do not meet a given criteria.  One does not, under these conditions, even have to overtly pass a proscriptive law to seriously erode the ability of non-sanctioned religions to operate.  All one needs to do is deny recognition in favor of a preferred denomination.

The hue and cry of hyper-sensitives for the last couple of decades who claim religion—their religion, specifically—is under assault and requires extraordinary protective measures is at its base disingenuous.  (I could remark that, unlike certain institutions that must put up with mobs of sign-wielding and often aggressive picketers trying to block access, there are no widespread attempts to block people from attending church.  And unlike those other institutions, if someone tried that, no one would argue much at all if the police hauled them away.)  No one has passed any laws forbidding prayer—no, there are no laws banning private prayer, only public practices in certain places, which is not the same thing— nor has anyone successfully mounted legislation to rescind the tax exempt status of religious institutions across the board.  Christianity enjoys pride of place among all other religions in this country, so much so that it is virtually impossible to be elected to public office unless one prescribes to one denomination or another.  The president publicly announces prayer breakfasts, Congress opens with a prayer, and successful attempts to block zoning advantages churches have are rare.

This is about nothing but intolerance and a desire to make laws about how people conduct their private affairs. (Conformism to religion is about as personally invasive as you can get.)  One of the manifest ironies of all this is how many of the people who think this is a good idea also claim Libertarian values and do not see the contradiction inherent in their position.

Or don’t care.

But this North Carolina proposition has gone a few steps farther and it will be interesting to see what happens if it gets out of committee and onto the floor.  If it actually passes, the federal response will be fascinating to observe.  Religion aside, this is a state claiming the right to ignore national law.