BOOK REViEW: Stick Control, G L Stone

The first part of today’s post is essentially a version of my old Goodreads and Amazon UK review of Stick Control, only I can update that and expand upon it here.

And because this is my own blog, I can also give more nuanced star ratings. In this instance I give Stick Control the rare and coveted six-stars, which, on my normal 0-5 ratings system, means off the chart brilliant.

The author, looking very, er… well… um…

Anyway, for starters, here’s the augmented Amazon review:

Jazz legend Joe Morello studied with George Lawrence Stone. That alone is recommendation enough! Morello was Stone’s star pupil. And thanks to Morello’s precocious work on Stick Control, we also have Stone’s follow-up, the snappily titled Accents and Rebounds.

I’ve been dipping into this for over two decades now. Although, to my everlasting shame, I’ve not completed it yet.* I use it in my drum teaching all the time. And I tell all my students it’s THE foundation book, ie essential.

A great tool for developing better reading, and – of course – stick control. Starting with such simple building block as singles, doubles, and groupings of three or four, per hand, the numbered exercises take you though a huge variety of combinations, leading with both right and left.

Joe Morello at the practice pad.

Stone says play everything 20 times. And play with a metronome at various different speeds. This is terrific conditioning practice on a pad, and fun to transfer to the snare. Of course one can then take it to the kit, and orchestrate it there in endless ways. All of this makes this book a lifetime investment. In a way, you can never truly ‘finish’ Stick Control!

Used regularly, and with the appropriate doses of discipline, this book can impart strength, stamina, speed, control of dynamics, and much much more. Definitely one of the most essential non-gear (ie not the instrument itself!) bits of kit in the drummer’s training arsenal.

* UPDATE: Since first posting this review, I am, now (summer of ‘22) making a concerted effort – not for the first time, mind you – to complete a continuous run through of the entire book. At the time of updating this, I’m about one third through the whole volume, getting heavily into the flam section!

A much younger G L Stone (from PASIC).

Some further thoughts…

So, that’s my Goodreads and Amazon UK review take on Stone’s classic work. In the latest update to that review I allude to what I’m calling elsewhere my Stick Control Summer Challenge. That’s going pretty well. One week into my summer hols, and I’m already just over a third of the way through the book.

This seems like a good time and place to add a few further thoughts on taking a deeper dive into this aged but illustrious tome.

For starters, having gotten further into the book than formerly – I did occasionally dip into later sections, but I’d only ever systematically done the first five or six pages previously!) – I’m encountering stuff I’ve not tried before. Some of it easy, some very challenging (for me at any rate!).

But there are also more fundamental issues, such as stick motion, and the exact ways to interpret certain notation. This is where a teacher from the Stone-Morello lineage would be very handy. I intend to explore this online, as I’m sure YouTube will provide some answers.

Morello looking very cool as an ambassador for Ludwig.

I won’t get into massive detail here, as this is an area for more exact exploration later/elsewhere. But taking just one aspect of the core subject, ie ‘stick control’, I’ve been practicing the material in this book sat at a practice pad, and using strokes that range from fairly full to ghost or grace note level.

And sometimes I’m leaning more towards French or German grip, but mostly I’m using American grip, somewhere in the middle. Stick height, grip, rebound, all these aspects start to come into focus more as you dive deeper into the book.

Another thing I’m finding myself fascinated by is, again, like much of what comes from studying this work, nuanced and multifaceted, and that’s how these exercises can become like meditative grooves. If one is playing 20 reps of a two bar exercise and then up to 24 or so different sticking variations of essentially the same (or very similar) rhythms, it gets quite hypnotic!

And one starts to hear the music or the groove in even these quite potentially dry exercises. And it’s fascinating how regularly locking in to a metronome pulse for 20-30 minute chunks throughout the day starts to build better time.

And if you set the metronome volume just right, there’ll be moments where you think it’s stoped, so you stop… only to hear the metronome still going. At those moments you’re achieving nigh on perfect time, as you’re covering the metronome so exactly you’re effectively masking it!

A classic shot of Morello in action!*

* The Guardian, rather cruelly, perhaps, used this shot of Joe for his obituary!

That opens the door on an aspect of this kind of study that I’m definitely falling in love with; the routine of regular practice is, it seems, like we’re told physical exercise is, or should be, both pleasurable and perhaps even somewhat addictive.

Now to lean into the ‘nuance’ aspect a little. I’m finding that the exact position of my hands and fingers on the sticks is coming more sharply into focus: if I find the right spot – esp’ noticeable the higher/harder and louder the strokes are – I can locate a zone where I can minimise the ‘shock waves’ that sometimes reverberate along the stick.

This must be the ‘fulcrum’, I guess? And it’s slightly higher up the sticks than I usually hold them. At least on the Vic Firth 2Bs I’m currently favouring for pad work. this actually coincides with another train of thought I’ve been having about modifying (or better yet making my own) sticks. But I’ll save that for another post.

Anyway, the ‘practice what you preach’ aspect of studying Stick Control over this summer is proving to be both pleasurable and beneficial. And the associated YouTube surfing has lad me to discover yet another meister-drummer, so I’m adding some of his stuff to my practice work-outs, such as this doozy:

MuSC: The Bioneer!

‘If you want to do something better, do it more.’

Since adopting a FODMAP diet and embarking on my Stick Control Summer Challenge I’ve felt a more general urge to look into forming better life habits.

And in doing so I’ve discovered a few more YouTubers whose videos I’ve been finding helpful. There are actually quite a few. So I won’t list them all here and now.

I’ve already alluded to Rangan Chatterjee and Matt Walker (and I’ve even ordered a book by the latter, on sleep). But the one I’m talking about in this post is the ripped and fast-talking Bioneer!

His urge to parade his beefy torso is either quite funny, and/or borderline laughable/creepy. I wonder what the female joggers and dog walkers that pepper his videos make of him? I’m not totally sold on the info-dense jargon-saturated dialogue, either, which doesn’t always chime too well with the accompanying video.

But, actually, two things: 1) who cares? And 2) truth be told, I both admire his accomplishment – and he evidently takes pride in it! – and am myself, strangely, as I’m a real introvert, something of a closet naturist/exhibitionist! NB – Although The Bioneer is always taking his top off, he does keep his shorts/trousers on!

Anyway, I’ve watched and enjoyed a number of his videos recently. There are two things he really rates that I do want to incorporate into my daily routines: squats and hanging.

Squats are easy to get started on, as no equipment is required. Indeed, I’m planning to start ASAP. I’ve already tried the 30 for 30 thing (30 mins of squats for 30 days) a few times.

Hanging requires something to hang from. And, relatively recently, I removed a branch from a tree at the end of our garden that might’ve been perfect! But I kind of had to, as that’s where our new (old) shed is going to be.

Oh, and I love the quote at the top. Perfect advice for cultivating the art of practice in the pursuit of self-improvement.

PS – I thought it funny that when I typed ‘Misc’ at the top of this post, it came out as ‘Musc’, so I’ve let that stand. It seemed most apt!

HEALTH & WELLBEiNG: Caffeine & Sleep

Watching a video on YouTube, with Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Matthew Walker about caffeine and it’s effects on sleep.

Caffeine is, as they discuss, a psychoactive drug, and a stimulant. According to Walker caffeine is the second highest traded commodity after oil! I’ve heard it said before that coffee is the drug of capitalism/consumerism. If Walker’s claim is true, nothing could better illustrate the link between this drug and our self-medicating slave-driver culture.

‘Caffeine is a sleep disruptor, there’s no question about that,’ says Chatterjee. Two answers these guys give are de-caff, or, better still, no coffee, or caffeine – tea, inc. green tea, also contains caffeine – after midday. The third and more radical option is to go tee-total, and simply cut caffeine out altogether.

Just ordered a copy of this.

According to the very little skimming of Google I’ve just done on Walker, in light of this YouTube vid and re buying his book, he’s ‘in love’ with sleep. So am I! But I imagine his love for and knowledge about sleep are far healthier than mine!

One reason I love sleep is that it’s an escape from the constant and oppressive demands of waking life. And I suspect that both this basic fact about my love of sleep, not to mention my actual sleep habits themselves, are not as healthy as they ought to be.

Anyway, a very interesting and informative podcast style YouTube video, well worth watching. And I’m looking forward to reading Walker’s book.

MEDiA: Enjoying George Carlin Lambasting Religion

I’ve been aware of George Carlin for many years. And even occasionally watched little bits of his stand-up routines online. But I’d never really bothered to ‘check him out’. And, truth be told, that largely remains the case even now.

That said, I just watched about a half-hour’s worth of him ‘roasting’, as I think they call it these days, religion. When I say religion, really I mean – or rather George Carlin usually means – Christianity, that being the big one in his neighbourhood. And mine too, as it happens.

30 minutes, or thereabouts, is my biggest single dose of Carlin so far. And it was fun. He did allude to other religions a few times, such as when discussing the bewildering array of religious headgear, and rules surrounding it. Or the ‘every country’s army believes it has God on its side’ thing.

It’s kind of weird that we can and do live in a world that holds all this mental or psychological dissonance. Weird, and simultaneously totally predictable. One of life’s enduring paradoxes, perhaps?

On the one hand it seems very obvious to me that the irrational thinking promoted by religion, be it the ‘personal revelation’ or the ‘socially coercive’ kinds, or any other, has been – and perhaps still is? – very useful for the surviving and even thriving of both individuals and groups (often to the detriment of other individuals or groups) at times in our evolution.

And perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to shake? And that brings me to the ‘on the other hand’ aspect; it all seems so obviously foolish and ridiculous. I’m with Carlin, every step of the way, on this (and probably other things, see below).

Funny and wise. Great combo’.

Some folk I know are like, why are you so bothered about all this? Well, because I was brought up in it. Or in certain bits of it. And because it’s still such a big force in the world around me.

Anyway, God rest his sceptical Soul! I think I’ll try and watch the documentary picture at the top of this post.

MiSC: Free Speech – Wit, Humour, Quotations, and The Idiot Robots of FB*

* And their compliant human drones.

Oh dear, the humourless idiot machines are winning!

It’s kind of shocking when one learns that films like Idiocracy turn out not to be mere satire, but Über-Nostrodamian prophecies, or even just simple documentaries.

As Iain Overton says, in his book, The Price Of Freedom, and others do elsewhere (for example Sam Harris, in The End of Faith), the responses to perceived threats are sometimes more damaging – usually by dint of curtailing the freedoms of the more docile many in order to supposedly more fully control the errant few – than the threats that supposedly prompt them into existence.

So I can’t make a particular joke, quoting Count Arthur Strong, in a FB group dedicated to him, because a human will do the bidding of a robot that doesn’t understand or can’t differentiate between my innocent humour – and let’s not forget it’s a quote, so it’s not even me saying the allegedly egregious thing – and a genuine incitement to violence.

This is of course utterly ridiculous. Those intent on acting out violence will both do so, and find ways to express themselves, regardless of what anybody else does. And such folk are, thankfully, are a very small minority.

Meanwhile, a much larger and more benign majority have their freedoms curtailed, in a very real way, and to no real benefit. The idea that maybe one day we’ll be the slaves of robots is grotesquely outdoated. We already are!

And, in a tip of the reality had to the apparently ludicrous fantasies of The Matrix series of films – whose overall adolescence of aesthetics rather undercuts the more sinister and prescient ideas about what constitutes reality, and our relationships with technology – we, the soft machines, are already becoming the willing collaborators and enforcers of this joyless, soulless, brainless automaton culture.

My reply to the citing of ‘evidence’ re a former ‘offender’.

It doesn’t bode well for the future of the species!

Little did I expect it to be a flippant and lighthearted response to a Count Arthur themed post, in a Count Arthur based group, that would bring this home so forcefully!

Adopting the CA voice, ‘Well, I mean… is it any wonder we tire of this ceaseless handholding? And you robots, you have to meet us at least halfway. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up!’

MiSC: Musings…

Did dinner here do the dirty on me?

Hmmm!? Laid up, unwell, at home. Ironically due, I think – thinking and knowing are two different things; a theme for this post? – to our 13th wedding anniversary meal, at the above pictured pub, on Monday.

Teresa’s birthday was last week, and the day after was ‘friday the 13th’. She always remarks on being grateful not to be born on the 13th. And I usually reply that it’s only a number.

So next I’m looking for a ‘lucky 13’ image for another blog post. Poss’ even the one that mentions going out for the meal? Anyway, here I am, thursday, having had to come home early yesterday, just over half way through my teaching, due to the diarrhoea I’ve had ever since said anniversary meal on monday.

Next comes the dystopian experience of trying to see a doctor locally. Even just trying to contact the doctor is so thoroughly depressing – the amount of time and effort required, to only eventually be fobbed of with a totally inadequate response – it’s truly appalling.

When I reflect on this train of events, I’m not at all inclined towards superstition. But for some reason I think that puts me in a minority. And not a happy one either. I can’t recall who said it. But someone said the most common element in the universe is not x (carbon, or whatever element from the periodic-table it may be), but stupidity. I’m inclined to agree.

This connects to another long term theme of interest to me. The ‘human condition’. Or, for that matter, the ‘animal condition’, or – why not go the whole hog? – life. What’s it all about, Alfie?

Mr Natural, way ahead of the game scooter-craze wise.

Robert Crumb’s Mr Natural is apt here: ‘Mr Natural! What does it all mean?’ ‘Don’t mean sheeit!’ Or, coming at it all rather differently, this one:

What’s the point of the pursuit of truth or greater awareness if the truth is unpleasant and greater awareness just leaves one depressed? This is obviously why the human mind/brain favours encouraging or reassuring (or in some other way utilitarian) nonsense.

But, to get back to Nr Natural, and his frequent partner, Flakey Foont, for a moment… there’s also this’n:

Oh how I love R Crumb!

I’m 50 now. And without kids. For most of humanity’s brief existence on this planet I’d be unlikely to have lived so long. And what have I done? If I was anything like Crumb, I might be far more candid than I’m going to be. But unlike Crumb I haven’t turned confessionals into a form of self-therapy livelihood. So I’ll keep schtum!

But, just as with my life writ large, this post lacks focus. To try and tether it to earth and bring it back; I was motivated to post it very largely due to the dissatisfactions of certain aspects of modern life. And in particular the gulf between the whole ‘promise of fulfilment’ that the cyber-domain so powerfully exerts, and the reality of social isolation and disappointment that it all too often actually delivers.

But try as I might, I cannae help but digress (although I do feel my wanderings are all connected!)… As I move through life I see that some folk appear much better integrated into things than others. But that still leaves a great many less so. And appearances can be deceptive. One might be even worse off if compelled to appear to fit in happily if it’s just a front.

Such lines of thought are totally normal for me. And possibly just habitual. Maybe they’re even/also not useful or productive? But I seem unwilling or unable to wean myself off of them. For better or worse such thinking seems to have become my nature.

And then I think about folk I know, eg, some friends and/or some family, who appear to go at life differently. I’m thinking now of the religious believer folk. To me their belief seems like a form of madness or mental illness. It seems to totally fly in the face of easily and daily observed reality.

But I can see, sort of, why they might behave as they do. It might be – I believe it’s clearly the case – that humanity has evolved such that in order to function we need to be capable of believing utter nonsense. That in fact we might function – possibly both individually and collectively – better, or even at our best, only by labouring under delusions that bear no real scrutiny.

I have to confess I find such thoughts rather scary and depressing. But then again I also find quite a lot of life scary and depressing.

And, rather strangely, given my stance on religion in general and Christianity in particular, it makes the Biblical myth around the tree of knowledge, in which awareness/consciousness is a curse on humanity, a very apt and powerful if disturbing insight.

But then again, having said all this, maybe, as Shakespeare (and many other writers) was occasionally wont to do, I can attribute all this dark foreboding to impaired digestion? It’s certainly true, in my experience, that physical ill health is a breeding ground for the toxic germs that also feed into mental ill health.

All this rambling discursive cogitating seems to me to eternally run circles around the plethora of thoughts that teem, inchoate (I love that word!), on one’s mind!

Another prompt for this post was the state of public healthcare in the UK these days. I’ve already alluded to this above. And a similar thread, but possibly even worse, could be spun regarding dental health, as well. But that’s another story for another post.

Rather serendipitously, whilst typing this, during a quick Facebook fix, I saw a post from a fellow drummer, on a drummer’s FB Group. That post concerned the ‘black dog’. And I wanted to chip in with my ha’porth. But I decided not to. ‘Cause, although I’m a lot better (I think?) than I once was, I felt the overall current state and my ‘outcome’ might not be helpful to the OP.

Is one of the reasons I’m happier these days due to my having more or less abandoned my musical dreams? If one is continually barking up the wrong tree, at what point does one concede this and adjust, rather than battering one’s fragile ego against a hard unrelenting reality?

And – uh-oh, getting ‘deep’ – what is reality? The great thinkers and the more subtle philosophies all converge around ideas of our perception of reality as an illusion. And yet, deep down, we all know, intuitively, that, to use the parlance of the street, ‘this shit is real’.

And so my post comes full circle. From wildly discursive digressions back to my bowels! And I can’t escape the reality that right now my digestive system is screwed. And I can also see how it’s been affecting me psychologically. As well as being washed out and queasy, I’m pissed off and angry!”

Sometimes life really is shit!

MEDiA: Waterwalker, 1984

Wow! I do love YouTube, for giving us all the chance to stumble across gems such as this. Thanks also to the NFB, or National Film Board of Canada.

Bill Mason, who made this film, and ‘stars’ in it, is Canadian. I have Canadian family and ancestry, on my dad’s side. So these facts set up something of a sympathetic resonance for me.

Then there’s Bill Mason himself, the man: he is, or rather was, an outdoorsman and artist, who made, I’ve subsequently discovered, numerous utterly gorgeous and fascinating films, of which this is one of the best.

The chief charms of this are simple yet kaleidoscopically rich, like the environment in which the film is set, on and around Lake Superior.

One of the things Bill addresses, a vexed issue for me, is spirituality. This was the only note struck in this otherwise perfect reverie of sound and vision, nature and culture, that – if not necessarily jarring – gave me pause for some (Indian!?) reservations.

But I’d like to take this post as an opportunity to consider a few things, and there are many, that this film either touches upon directly, or stirred in me by association.

First there are the ‘renaissance man’ and self-reliance aspects. Bill, who formerly worked as a ‘commercial artist’, was a conservationist, famed canoeist, artist, writer, family man, and all sorts. I love all of that! I have my own aspirations to living a multi-faceted life. Richer, one hopes -not fiscally perhaps, but in other better more important ways – than the monomaniac furrows our society drills us into pursuing.

So, there are many things Bill’s example encourages: to spend more time in, and pay more attention to, nature, and indeed all our environments. Art, get up, and out, and make some. Buy or build a canoe; get out and start messing about in the water!

It was also interesting to learn that Bill’s health wasn’t terrific. A sickly child, he has severe asthma all his life. And yet he didn’t allow this to stop him from adventuring. Maybe his derring-do contributed to his early demise? But then again, maybe not? And at least he lived a rich and inspiring life while he lived.

Some might laugh reading this next bit. And it may indeed sound facile. But I truly couldn’t care less! And that’s the fact that I like his style. And I’ve gone as far as to add elements of it – some were already there, others just a little tweak in already beloved themes – to my own sartorial repertoire.

I already had the neckerchiefs (though mine are too small!), and brown leather walking boots, and many a checked shirt. But the red outdoorsman socks are new! And so too is the very particular red and black check ‘lumberjack’ shirt!

Bill’s particular style of art – he favours palette knives over brushes, and cites J. M. W. Turner as his chief inspiration and influence – is terrific, albeit not entirely to my normal tastes. But that he does it all, is inspiration. It was interesting to see that he, like myself and several artists I’ve known personally, is highly self-critical bout his work, and often destroys what others. Might regard as decent work, because he’s unhappy with it.

Then there’s music. In other Mason films he strums guitar or plays harmonica. It amazingly, one might add. And his family aren’t exactly fulsome in their appreciation (does this remind any of us of our own domestic musical life? Or is it just me!?). But for Waterwalker, the music is supplied by (?) and (?). (?) is a star in his own right. And the music totally suits the subject!

Some of it, such as the actual ‘theme tune’, might induce cringing amongst some listeners. I’d understand why. It has a ‘new agey’ earnestness. But I love it.

Another facet of the whole thing that some might find they react to differently than I do, is the whole tenor of it all. It’s definitely dreamy, romantic, and perhaps even somewhat solipsistic? And it’s no surprise such movies helped created a cult of Bill Mason. But as a ‘fellow traveller’, and sympathetic romantic introvert soul-mate, I love it all. As did critics, numerous of his films, inc’ this one, winning a variety of awards and accolades.

Also interesting to me, is how stuff like this leaches into other areas. For example, I noticed, whilst watching a recent Jack Stratton ‘Holy Trinity’ episode, on YouTube, that he had created a logo and a whole invented Vulf Films thing suspiciously akin to the Canadian NFB (National Film Board) doodad.

Just as Bill Mason’s film is simultaneously about following one’s own individual and sometimes lonely paths, it’s also about connections. Be they to nature, or each other, immediate or indirect. Love it!

MiSC/MEDiA: Why I Loathe TV Advertising With Such Abiding Passion

The restaurant scene from Brazil superbly captures the gulf between products as advertised and as actually delivered.

This isn’t my first post on this topic. I doubt it’ll be my last. Why return to such a theme? This time it was prompted by a silly FB post by a friend about which David Bowie number, of four he specified, ‘would you rather’… etc.

Pointless silliness, perhaps? Well, yes. I.e. totally suited to and at home on FB. As, indeed, is the constant harassment of advertising. But it so happened that the most popular choice was Heroes. Admittedly an excellent song. But, for me at least, tarnished by its heavy usage in adverts.

I also recall the pride with which several drummers on a FB drummer’s forum related that they had been in that recent ad’ for a gambling sports sponsor that features hordes of drummers. I’m glad to say I can’t recall exactly which such parasitic body it was.

I’d love the exposure that might bring (well, perhaps for a few of the more ‘featured’ of the many hundreds of otherwise anonymous players). And I’m sure the nuts and bolts of actually filming it might also be fun. Did all these drummers get get paid, I wonder?

But what about taking a principled stand against the cancerous blight on our society that is gambling? Or even advertising as a whole? Or, better still, advertising as a hole… specifically, an arsehole’!

Talkin’ ass: the allure of the ad’ (Renault Megane).
The anti-climax super-unsexy reality!

That’s r-r-r-r-right f-f-f-f-folks, I’m talkin’ ass! Now I felt this way long before I saw Bill Hicks do his anti-advertising schtick. Indeed, a loathing for advertising – and a contempt for gambling – was something I learned at home, mostly (I believe?) from my father.

But in order to keep things relatively short and ‘sweet’ here and now, let’s wrap this up with a short consideration of ‘the asshole in contemporary culture’ (sounds like a topic on a college degree syllabus!).

It turns out that some of the ugliest ideas of the worst types of racists and those dearest to many a ruling elite converge, for differing reasons, around a certain nexus of ideas. As mentioned above, I don’t intend to go into great detail on the subject(s) here. Perhaps another time?

What I will say is that there’s a culture of brashly aggressive ugliness, massively on the increase, from the politics of Trump, to the shouted egotism in rap, or the gurgling screams of extreme metal. It’s also manifest in the strident upbeat chirpiness, and even – I contend – the zombie-smiling lockstep of Nuremberg-rally style formation dancing.

The massive and very visible rise of the latter, especially obvious in advertising, had me baffled for a little while? Why the sudden effusion of such stuff? And then it struck me; we now have loads of educational institutions, pumping out hordes of glassy eyed dreamers, who have become production line product, trained in dance and/or drama.

And what’s the glorious acme of their profession most might earn a buck or two from? Depressingly, it’s advertising. I suppose some might get Butlin’s style gigs. Some might go on to teach more aspiring dreamers. But, as with Fine Arts and Music, most will have to eke out a living by other means.

Dammit! I’m still skirting around my chief focus… the omnipresent asshole! So, let’s get to it, let’s really get stuck into the fundament/als! Thar’ she blows…

Basically it boils down to this; would you be happy inviting the kind of hectoring, patronising, wheedling, insinuating assholes that one hears in advertising in off the street to harangue you in your home? ‘Cause that’s what we’re all doing, when we tolerate advertising.

Again, rather depressingly, that’s what a great deal of what I’m increasingly thinking of as contemporary serf-culture trains us to do. If you like a lot of modern pop music, which includes supposedly ‘underground’ or counterculture (but in reality totally commercially co-opted) genres like rap or metal, you’re already being inoculated in the required ‘herd immunity’ to such internalised or even self-inflicted bullying.

Anyway, enough ranting, or sounding off, or whatever it may be. For now! my thoughts on all this are fairly clear, if not, perhaps, terribly well formed. But they may change, with time, and further consideration or information. For the time being, however, I remain resolute in my disavowal of the pollution that is most TV advertising.

HEALTH & WELLBEiNG: Being Happy!

Chester helps me smile!

This is a funny old post for me to be making.

For a long time I was pretty severely depressed. For many reasons. From Robert Crumb like ‘troubles with women’, in my teens’, to struggling to adjust socially on leaving home, and dealing (badly) with health issues like psoriasis and later a related form of arthritis.

But now, and for a quite a considerable and growing length of time, I have been happy. I almost feel I shouldn’t say anything about it, as I don’t want to ‘jinx’ myself! But I’m not surreptitious, as Count Arthur Strong puts it!

I think it’s partly down to having bought our own home. Which we did about five years ago. It’s also due to a work life balance that is about as good as it’s ever been; I work three days a week, teaching drums, and the rest of the week is mine to spend as I see fit.

Simple pleasures! Making this drum for one of Teresa’s clients was great.
Nature and culture nourish; a tree and buildings at Ely Cathedral.

But I think the two chief reasons are my stable and happy relationship with Teresa, and modern medicine. The former has brought me a cosy nested feeling. A sense of belonging in the world, and being accepted as I am. Better yet, being appreciated, even treasured, for what I am. What a balm for the soul/psyche that is!

The role of medicine is not to be sniffed at either. I take anti-depressants daily. And unlike many others I’ve known who’ve wound up in such a position, my regime seems to work very well. But even more important, I have a medication that quashes both my psoriasis and the related arthritis. If I wasn’t physically ’better’, I’d certainly still be properly depressed.

And being both mentally and physically successfully medicated, I feel like a fairly normal human being. Whatever that is. I’ve even been able to cope with remaining childless, despite spending pretty large sums on unsuccessful IVF.

A strong loving relationship is conducive to happiness.

This – being happy- is a theme I’ll return to. But for now that’s all f-f-f-f-folks!

MiSC: The Unabomber Manifesto

‘Never forget that the human race with technology is just like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine.’ Ted Kaczynski

Several print versions are available.
This is an original manuscript.

I really like the quote at the top of this post. It’s from Ted Kraczyinki’s Industrial Society & Its Future, aka The Unabomber Manifesto. I like it because I think it captures extremely succinctly and very powerfully a very real trait of contemporary humanity, our addiction to technology.

Only the other day the latest copy of The Idler plopped through our letterbox, and the cover feature is an interview with Microsoft employee and tech guru Jaron Lanier (I’d never heard of him before!), and is about how the internet has enslaved us. At least according to the ‘strap line’!

I’m someone who doesn’t shy away from some of the darker rabbit holes of history. For example, my interest in WWII has lead me to read numerous biographies of Churchill, Stalin and Hitler.

Nothing too controversial so far, perhaps? I mean, Churchill is regularly described as one of the greatest of Britons. Hitler and. Stalin, tho’? I will admit I felt slightly grubby or suspect, even, purchasing Mein Kampf, which I’m part way through reading at present (it’s a pretty stodgy read, before one even addresses the author’s ideas).

If one fears polluting one’s mind with dangerous ideas, ought one to even contemplate reading what might be the demented ravings of, say, a serial murderer, like Anders Brevik, or the Unabomber? [1]

Several modern serial killers have published ‘manifestos’. I don’t know this for sure, not having read much in that line, but normally, from what I’ve gathered about those by folk like Brevik and Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch (NZ) Mosque shooter, they’re like the worst kind of school essays, composed from cut and paste plagiarism. Never mind the drivel that passes for content.

Anyway, as I’m clearing steering this from the less obviously or overtly threatening arena of biog’s of the ‘great men’ of history (great in terms of historical impact, as opposed to great as a friend/human being!), to the writings of convicted serial killers, one might reasonably ask, is this really to slide rapidly downhill into a moral cesspool? Hitler, Stalin, even Churchill, all sent vastly larger numbers to premature graves, even if they admittedly didn’t personally perform any/many lethal acts themselves.

But enough prevarication! In this post I am talking about the ideas of a convicted serial murderer. A man frequently dismissed as insane; note the ‘brilliant madman’s essay’ bit in the pic at the top of this post. So, having just read Industrial Society & Its Future, this post aims to ask, is anything Kaczynski says true, interesting, valid, or worth pursuing further?

The young mathematics genius.
The older ‘lone wolf’ outsider.

Throughout the 35,000 word document Kaczynski repeatedly refers to himself as we, or FC (this latter purportedly standing for Freedom Club), and on one occasion he even alludes to the fact that, without his having killed, he wouldn’t have attained his goal of getting his thoughts published and – he hoped – widely read.

Interestingly, having already waged a long lethal campaign of terror, successfully evading detection, he used the threat of deadly violence in two ways in relation to his manifesto. Violence had got him attention, and now it was to be both carrot and stick, when he approached parts of the US media with the aim of getting his thoughts published.

On the one hand, the carrot, he promised to cease and desist from his bombing campaign, if his manifesto was printed. But on the other, the stick, he threatened to kill again if his writings appeared in Playboy, preferring instead the more high brow NY Times and Washington Post!

A facsimile of one of Kaczynski’s bombs.
Hugh Scrutton, one of Kaczynski’s fatal victims.

I read somewhere online – I can’t recall where – that Kaczynski claimed his killing of computer store owner Hugh Scrutton (pictured above) was ‘humane’, and the victim ‘probably didn’t feel anything’. Other and more reliable/plausible sources of information suggest Scrutton remained conscious and took about 30 minutes to die. Obviously such a gap between the perpetrators’ perception of his actions and the real consequences doesn’t cast the Unabomber in a good light.

But stepping back momentarily from the messy and personal nitty gritty of individual lives, deaths, maiming, etc, what at first appears mind-bogglingly awful – killing another person to get your views across – is in fact, historically, relatively normal human behaviour, albeit that this is not something readily or happily admitted to nowadays. And by and large society seeks to quell this aspect of our natures.

But governments, and even corporations, continue to do it all the time. When governments do so, it’s called foreign policy. When individuals outside of the traditional power politics frameworks act in this way, depending on their targets/motivations, it’s generally going to be labelled either freedom fighting or terrorism, depending also where the relative parties (and observers/commentators) stand.

But setting aside how Krazynski got his platform, do the key ideas in Industrial Society & Its Future have any useful insights or merit? I don’t really know why this suddenly became interesting to me. But it did [2]. And for this reason I wanted to read it. So I did a little ‘googling’, and soon found it, archived via the papers that originally (and with state/security forces backing) published it.

It’s a very long essay, in numbered paragraphs with quite a few footnotes. Some of Kaczynski’s former life as a student/academic/professor, clearly lives on! This said, structurally and in terms of content, and despite the author’s obvious intelligence, it is also quite rambling, and perhaps lacking in coherent structure.

Ted at his cabin.

Worse still, like many critiques of modern society, wherever they might originate from, left/right, anarchist, whatever – oh, and America as a whole, and Kaczynski along with her, has serious issues with the whole idea of ‘leftism’! – it’s strong on critique and weak on solutions.

Anyway, I suppose now is the time/place to précis the contents. I, like Kaczynski, am fond of endless digressions, and feel a compelling need to qualify anything I might be thinking or saying to the nth degree. I’ll try and spare you that now! As simply and as brutally as I can, I’ll synopsise FC’s diatribe.

Rather bizarrely, the whole thing is bookended, fore and aft, with his railing against ‘leftism’. For now I’m simply leaving that issue at that, i.e. duly noted. What’s much more interesting, to me at any rate, is his expatiating on modern society and our seemingly exponentially increasing dependency on technology.

To cut a long story short, I think he’s essentially correct in his analysis: in essence modern or post-industrial-revolution society is a vast and brutal ‘super organism’. And one that has gathered its own momentum, in which the human species has now been almost completely reduced to an enabling agent. Cogs in the machine, the grease that keeks the wheels spinning.

The consequences for individuals, in terms of the loss of personal freedom, have been very radical indeed, and are, by and large, a fairly recent loss. The damage is not wrought on the psyches of individuals alone either, but also on the ‘natural world’, or our environment. This is something Kaczynski feels keenly. As indeed do many nowadays, a lot of whom might be shocked to learn that Kaczynski is, in this respect, a ‘fellow traveler’.

Surreal… Ted’s cabin on the move!

There were times as I read this that I thought to myself, ‘Ah, but Ted, you’ve missed such and such’. For example he likes to say ‘The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.’ And he frequently harks back to the 19thC in particular, on this theme. But he does also, if only in passing, allude to the fact that humanity’s ability to affect nature may have deeper roots.

I recently read Against The Grain, in which James C. Scott goes much, much, much further back, placing humanity’s domestication of fire as the start of our leaving a discernible imprint on the planet. But Scott also makes the point that most of humanity remained living mostly outside of state control until very recently. And in this respect, despite differing in details, the essence of their sweeping vision remains much the same; only very recently has humanity become enslaved by the super-organism that is modern society.

The major issue, obviously, is what, if anything, can be done? And with Kaczynski, the lone wolf, that translates to ‘what can one do’, individually, about this new evolutionary context we find ourselves seemingly inescapably enmeshed in? Kaczynski’s answer is to seek to destroy it. That’s where he and I part company.

Some might say ‘why bother to read the ravings of a nutjob?’ Well, we might say Kaczynski’s nuts. But I’m interested in what sends folk over the edge. Maybe our society is in need of change, and maybe not all who oppose the status quo are de facto insane. Maybe even those driven to the most overtly shocking or barbaric acts can still teach us all something about ourselves?

I found Kaczynski’s ‘manifesto’ interesting, it didn’t seem to me like the ravings of a lunatic. His issues with leftism are things you can hear people say very frequently, both here in the UK and the US. Many of them could equally well be said of aspects of ‘the right’ (I hate the whole left/right binary thing, it’s so limiting in scope!). But as I said above, I’m not going down that rabbit hole in this post. His grievances with ‘Industrial Society’ seem genuine and, for the most part, understandable.

Ted’s cabin wound up in the ‘Newseum’.

What I take away from having dared to read the ravings of a lunatic, so to speak, is that our society does indeed face many serious issues, and that the answers are far from simple.

If you’re interested enough to want to read it, the text of the manifesto can be found here.


[1] My mum, bless her, was worried when I bought a WWII German tanker’s cap, at a ‘40s show (I also bought some British uniform gear), lest putting it on my noggin might somehow transmit evil Nazi brainwaves from cloth to psyche! I reassured her that it was a repro’ item, and not a genuine WWII piece.

[2] Possibly it came to mind around the 9/11 anniversary? At times like that we sometimes wonder – as well as mourning the passing of the victims of terrorism – what motivates the terrorist.