For The Love of Music

I am not a particularly emotional guy. Naturally, some movies tug at the heart and are produced to evoke an emotional response in nearly everyone. Yeah—they can get to me too. Most of us are susceptible to the power of a tear-jerker. Those bastards in Hollywood know their craft!

Not as many of us cry at concerts or sitting alone listening to a piece of music. I consider myself very fortunate to have been blessed with a deep love of music. But, like all forms of love, it can lift or break your heart. I just had one of those experiences.

One of my favorite live performances is of Sheryl Crow performing her song “Safe and Sound” in Chicago in 2003. Her live performance was so astonishing that I did not recall ever hearing the song before. Tonight, however, I put my Sheryl Crow playlist on the computer to sooth me while taking care of some business. My favorite album by Sheryl (by far) is “C’mon C’mon” from 2002. I was pleased to hear the three great signature rock ‘n roll tracks that open the album — “Steve McQueen”, “Soak Up The Sun”, “You’re An Original”. Those are great songs. Then the fourth song started playing. It was “Safe and Sound”. I must not have liked the recorded track that much and had eliminated it from my Crow mixes. So, I completely forgot that it was on my favorite Crow album. I had been so taken by the live performance that I never even searched my music library to see if I had the song in my collection.

Okay, I’m not a pussy… but I started to cry like a baby. The original recording is totally surpassed by the live performance. Some songs are just that way. For example, I prefer almost everything Arcade Fire has performed live to their recordings. On the CD, the song “Wake Up” is good, but not great. Add a music festival mob to the mix, and that song is a hundred times better.

But my reaction to “Safe and Sound” tonight was different. When I accidentally “discovered” that the song was on my favorite Crow album, a rush of thoughts and emotions hit me. The album had been released in 2002 and the performance was in 2003. I no longer follow Sheryl’s music because it has never been as good (to me) as in 2002. Her voice remains powerful, but it was incredible around 2003. Her composing was also remarkably good in the early 2000s (again, according to my opinion). It occurred to me that almost every artist hits a peak of their talent and then slowly declines. They may still be good, but artists seem to hit a period when their talents fire on all cylinders for my tastes and appreciation, and few ever recapture that magical time again. I cried because I am so grateful for those peaks of genius and talent. I cried because the magic rarely lasts for very long. I cried for the love of music and those blessed with the talent to create it.

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Project 51

Project 51 is an effort to get Republicans to the polls this November to elect a GOP majority in the Senate. That is, 51 seats. Newt Gingrich wants me to contribute $$ to the effort, but I declined. I would prefer a Republican majority over the Democrats, but I also know it will not make much of a difference. Sure, the domestic threat of government to our individual liberties might loom a little less large, but people like McCain will be hellbent on sending our children to foreign wars at the slightest provocation to “American interests” abroad.

I have come to believe that “American interests” are the interests of multinational corporations who happen to be officially American companies. This notion that corporations are entities and that they are then American entities is a superficial con job on everyone. They are entities aiming to make their shareholders wealthier. That is the root of the free market. However, to sell more goods at higher prices and keep costs low (the veritable equation for profit), they simply have to take jobs and prosperity away from the United States and locate operations in cheaper locales. If they even wanted to be patriotic and save American jobs in quantity, their foreign competitors would eat their lunch. Nationalism has never been part of the earning equation, and it won’t be until humans stop shopping for the best deals. Consumers drive jobs offshore, effectively.

Neither party turns its back on these mega-sources for campaign funds. Both parties wind up beholding to multinational economic interests. The public has been brainwashed by media propaganda to identify the Republicans with corporate fat cats. But the media has also deceived its public into believing that the Democrats are not controlled by multinational money. Wall Street gives more to Democrats than Republicans, and in exchange for their support, the Democrats ensure that Wall Street leaders do not go to prison where they belong.

“The economy, stupid” is always the mantra of every presidential candidate, not just Bill Clinton. And our economy changed on December 7, 1941. We came out of a depression because FDR was the beneficiary of a war economy, not because of his socialist programs. When the war ended, political leaders suddenly realized that without war or a military buildup, our economy could no longer thrive. Eisenhower’s “Military Industrial Complex” was and is a vital part of our economy. It is the one industry that must be strictly America-oriented (with a generous amount of sales of non-strategic products to allied nations). There are too many jobs and people making money off the D.O.D. to let those companies fall sallow. These industries and multinational financial interests run this country — not the puppet Democrats and Republicans they get elected. Even some noble idealist who may steal an election here or there will quickly find out that the only way to keep “the little people” employed and happy is to deal with these mega-employers. When the economy goes south, only the little people suffer the most. Idealistic politicians (rare as they truly are) are forced to submit like everyone else to the will of economic powers.

So, parties don’t matter. One will be corrupted by interests in “green energy”, the other will be quick to line the pockets of defense contractors by taking on yet another illegal and undeclared war and slaughtering our children in the name of crony capitalism. They are simply two species of slime mold, so choose your poison.

I would enthusiastically support Project Zero — the project to unseat every party-affiliated politician in this country and replace them with independents. No more career politicians. Term limits of 12 years, maximum. Average compensation and benefits. Only those who truly want to serve the public need run. Campaign finance reform. So much important work to do, but our leaders grip the status quo and hold on for dear life!

“Change has come to America” when the person who repeats that phrase is not part of either corrupt partisan machine that has destroyed the dream of real individual liberty and freedom. The original system has to be restored, and new safeguards have to be added that prevent organized political parties from dominating government. George Washington pleaded to his contemporaries to resist partisanship, but I suspect even Washington knew that tyranny would eventually resurface in his new nation. The Founding Fathers understood human nature and often wrote to each other about their own private fears about the citizenry’s motivations and lack of understanding about governance. The Democratic Republic would ultimately self-destruct as the instruments of power became the tools of clever tyrants. The tipping point has already occurred and an ignorant and misinformed populace cries for the demise of freedom without even realizing what they are doing. The fears of Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Washington are all but realized.

They were smart men, but not smart enough to outwit human nature.

 

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Configuring a Mac for Music

Mac or Windows?

Okay. So you like to make music on your computer. Eventually, you are going to be in a position to drop some significant money into your computer rig. The first decision is Windows or Mac. For me, the key factor was how much time I would spend doing things that the operating system requires. Like installing and maintaining anti-malware software. Or re-installing every six months or so to refresh a system that has bogged itself down with cruft. Or dealing with BSODs and crashes all the time. These are NOT ways I want to spend my time! I want to spend my time making and promoting my music.

Of course, even today with the Mac rising in popularity, there is still more available on the Windows platform than on the Mac. But is it better or even as good? Increasingly, software developers are porting their products to the Mac platform, so this difference is diminishing. And while business users have largely preferred the Windows platform (for many good reasons), creative professionals have always embraced the Mac. Have you ever wondered why? Some just think artists are crazy and oddly elitist when it comes to their personal choices. Well… there might be some truth to that, but the truth is more rational. Those who write the best creative software prefer the Mac. It is just designed on the inside to do graphics, music and all the related math better. So creatives always lust after the latest great thing that shows up in the Mac catalog and largely ignore the wonderful world of Windows.

But I went with Mac for the simple reason that it just works. This is not as true today as in the past based on my recent experiences with the Mavericks OS and the new Logic Pro X DAW, but it is still a far cry from the tortures the Windows platform inflicts. So, unless you are deeply invested in Windows-based hardware and software, I say go with a Mac. For a capably equipped computer, you are going to spend about the same amount on either platform, but if you value your time (as you should), the small premium you may pay for a Mac will more than pay for itself.

But then you have to decide how to configure your Mac optimally for music production. I made some mistakes, and so I hope my mistakes will at least create benefits for anyone who happens upon this blog post. Configuring a MacBook Pro, an iMac or (lucky you) a Mac Pro means spending precious money on capabilities. You may be like 99% of us and have to decide how to get the most bang for your precious bucks. There are many tradeoffs to consider when configuring a computer for music production. Spend money to upgrade the CPU or the memory? Installing an SSD or Fusion Drive when your music software may include hundreds of gigabytes of sample data? Fast (and expensive) Thunderbolt add-ons or USB3?

CPU vs. RAM

This is the mistake I made. I bought and installed maximum RAM (memory) on my iMac 27″and bought the unit with the Intel Core i5 CPU. I would have been smarter to buy the Core i7 processor than the RAM. At 32GB of RAM, my software never even puts a little stress on memory. I have more than enough… even a surplus of unused memory. In the meantime, the software does not seem to make great use of this memory and there is no way I have found to make the software exploit the speed of abundant memory. Instead, the programs are constantly writing recovery versions to disk, and operations seem to be what we used to call “I/O Bound”. So memory does not add much of an advantage.

Most processing of music requires massive computational capability… that is, the ability to do math! My older MacBook Pro has an i7 CPU and is faster than my iMac when doing things in Logic Pro! It makes sense since the number-crunching is served better by the faster processor and memory has nothing to do with that. So, processing power is more important than memory when producing music.

Screen Size and Resolution

You can buy MacBook Pros with beautiful “retina displays” with high resolution. That’s great if you are doing photography or video, but really adds mostly cost to someone only doing music. What you will  enjoy is a larger screen! You will spend hours and hours looking at rows of MIDI and audio tracks and still need space for various plug-ins and editing windows. This is tough to accomplish on a 15-inch screen. Bigger is definitely better when you can afford it. So, instead of high-resolution, consider getting a nice big external monitor (30 inches is great!) and enjoy the luxury of all that screen real estate. You will fill it up instantly. You should spend your money on size at standard resolution rather than on smaller screens at higher resolution. This is most applicable to MacBook Pro laptop users.

Disk space: Volume or Speed?

Actually, you will need a bit of both, but volume is most important. The data transfer speeds of a USB drive usually are limited by the read/write speed of a hard drive. So, rather than buying a very expensive Thunderbolt drive (like I did), buy a 7200 RPM USB3 drive for a fraction of the price. You will find that bouncing out uncompressed 24-bit resolution music files at a 92Kbs sample rate will fill up that 1TB drive much faster than you’d imagined. And, if you want your music to sound the best it can, this is the standard resolution for storing professional grade music. Some are even sampling at 192K to achieve even cleaner and more detailed digital recordings. So, you need disk capacity. Lots of it. If you are on a budget, don’t blow it on a 256GB SSD drive that will fill up before you know it. And certainly don’t waste your money on Thunderbolt drives for music. The incremental speed you might realize is not worth it for music. Even with its astounding I/O speeds, that Thunderbolt-enabled hard drive is only going to spin at 7200 RPM and never even approach getting the benefit of all that bandwidth and speed. Video production is another matter, but we are configuring for music production. While demanding, music production is not in the same universe as the demands video puts on data transfer rates. If you want to spend some real money, take up video production!

SSD is usefully fast when you store your samples and music libraries on a solid state drive. If you wind up using a sampler like Native Instruments’ Kontakt, you will save time waiting for the massive sample libraries to load into your project. Since Logic is I/O bound with its constant writing to disk, installing and running it on an SSD would make a big difference in your system’s responsiveness. But, SSD is expensive and not the most practical expenditure for producing music when you have so many other things to buy. Especially when you need a minimum 512GB SSD to house your sample libraries and music software!

Apple’s Fusion Drive is a great concept that is theoretically appealing to music producers, but it apparently is not ready for primetime if you read the horror stories from musicians who have made these drives part of their system. Eventually Apple will get all the bugs worked out. My advice? Just wait for that to happen.

So, to avoid making some of my mistakes:

1. Favor spending money on a faster CPU (like the Core i7) over spending money on tons of RAM. In music production, I have never seen a situation where even 16GB gets fully used.

2. Expect to buy a big monitor and avoid sinking money into smaller high-resolution displays (unless, of course, you are also doing video, photography or graphics work on the same machine).

3. Buy high-capacity USB3 drives instead of wasting money on more expensive Thunderbolt drives. (Eventually the price of Thunderbolt equipment will fall. When that happens, this advice could change as well.)

4. Buy an SSD drive if you can afford it and populate it with your I/O bound software and sample libraries.

5. Hold off on the Fusion Drive. It is not yet your friend.

The whole idea of creating music is to try whatever you want and not be constrained by your lack of system capabilities. Install all those plug-ins and libraries and then use them. Bounce out your music at high resolution so you can really evaluate how it is shaping up. Go ahead and spread your arrangement over 40 tracks or more without worrying whether your system can handle it. It will all add up to an embarrassing amount of money spent, but spending less might be the bigger mistake.

And, if you can afford to buy a Mac Pro, why the hell are you reading this?! Just enjoy your good fortune and buy whatever you like (ya bastards).

 

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Letter to Apple

To the good folks at Apple…

Yes, I have been a fanboy for a long time. My faith is diminishing of late. People have said much about what makes Apple special — their excellent system architecture, the attention to detail, the design, the quality, and the reliability of its products. Some refer to the “reality distortion field” and bemoan the style of marketing Apple employs. But they are just haters who are incapable of “getting” Apple. Fine. I’m not one of them.

For me, I have invested more money in Apple gear than I care to tally or contemplate. I have put up with the constant shifting of technical directions from SCSI to Firewire to Thunderbolt, even though every one of these moves transforms my costly equipment into bricks. I tolerate these maddening changes in direction for one simple reason: Apple’s stuff just works. I left Apple and returned to Windows for a time in the 1990s, but dealing with Microsoft’s platform was time-consuming and irritating beyond reason. I understand the platform and can figure it out better than most because I have spent my career in IT development. I have developed systems architectures and coded system-level routines in assembly language. But I value my time and Microsoft just seemed intent on abusing it. So, when Jobs returned to Apple, so did I. It’s been a happy 15 years or so, but I am less happy now than I’ve been.

Apple no longer “just works”. I produce music using Logic Pro X on an iMac running the Mavericks OS. I want to spend my time composing, recording, arranging, mixing and mastering music. But lately I have spent almost 30% of my time recovering from crashes. This is such a departure from the recent past, it shocks me. Logic Pro X is a great DAW, but it is definitely prone to crash more often than its predecessors. If you actually use some of its new features like Flex Time, look out! If you do a lot of flex-time edits, your project will become unusable and you have start over after days of work. Music production relies on the processing of sound, and for the Mac that means Core Audio. I have to force-quit Core Audio at least two or three times a day because the sound degrades when interfacing through Firewire (as I do). But that’s better than having to reboot the iMac when Logic crashes. When you produce music, you need a lot of memory and I have 32GB of memory in my production iMac. That means a reboot can take 10 minutes as the computer has to crawl through all that memory. Further, Mavericks has been a step backward in system efficiency. I have a MacBook Pro that is still on Mountain Lion and it screams since I back-graded from Mavericks to its predecessor. I am disappointed that Apple seems to give inordinate attention to the UI and so little attention to the vital organs behind it. Thin fonts are fine, but only if they are part of a wrapper around a great piece of candy. A turd wrapped in gold foil is not a luscious bit of chocolate no matter how beautiful and enticing the wrapper. Screw the wrapper — I’m after the candy! A Godiva truffle could be wrapped in a piece of burlap and still taste as good. There is nothing wrong with gold foil until it is used to try to pass feces off as fine chocolate. I feel like you might inadvertently be heading in this direction.

When new releases appear, they focus primarily on integration issues with the iOS platform. I get it. That’s where the future and profits are to be found. But I think Apple has meandered into the dangerous territory they so successfully avoided for decades — having too many products to support. And this post-Jobs regime keeps hinting at new categories (although none have materialized). I think Apple has to stop worrying about the pressure to innovate for a few years and stabilize what they’ve got. The software products are getting a little shabby and nothing even close to insanely great.

The cold reality is that I am left with no practical alternatives to making my investment in Apple gear work. Windows? You must be on crack! Linux? You must be in a DMT-induced delusion! No. It’s still Apple and only Apple for me. However, Microsoft lost me and so could you. You are trending in that direction, old friends.

Apple products should do just what Steve Jobs envisioned: they should just work! You seem to be straying from the light of obliquity. Your profits exist because your stuff just works. When working with your products starts feeling more like the self-flagellating experience of being on the Windows platform, your profits will go the way of the rest of the PC industry. You will be reduced to competing on price, because you will no longer be able to command your premiums.

Beware, Apple. Fame and glory are indeed fleeting. Get back to the basics before you scurry off into “new categories”. I worry about you. Please don’t let the world down again. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! That kind of hubris is reserved for the long list of failures that precede you and those who refuse to learn from their mistakes. Respect the unique insight of your tyrannical founder and perfect a few insanely great products before expanding your product ambitions. You seem to be building up to the same kind of folly that Steve eradicated in 1997. A bloated product matrix will take its toll on your future, Apple. Don’t go there! Steve can’t come back to spank you again. Think of how ugly it would have been for Apple Computer if he hadn’t drawn that matrix with only four squares in it. You would only be a memory now of a company who had a robust number of products that gradually diminished in quality and gave up its business almost completely to a company selling inferior technology (Microsoft). History is oft repeated. Please don’t be another one of those epic failures!

Insanely great products that just work.

For the love of God, don’t forget where that kind of simple wisdom has brought you!

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How To Measure Luxury

Wallace knew how to measure luxury.

Luxury is defined by society to mean an extraordinary quality of things, services, and experiences requiring inordinate sums of money to enjoy – a luxurious house, a luxury car or yacht, a private jet, etc. Luxury is need-fulfillment at the highest level—at a level much higher than most people can afford (or, in fact, truly need). Luxury is measured in monetary amounts, such as Dollars, Euros and Pounds.

I beg to differ.

To me, luxury is measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades. The greatest luxury in life is the freedom to use the finite time allotted to you as you please. Money can ultimately help buy freedom from having to spend your time earning money, provided you use the savings to fund your freedom wisely. A lack of money can restrict the number of ways you can use the time you once purchased, but an appreciation of and gratitude for each breath, each heartbeat costs nothing.

The greatest luxury a human being can possess and enjoy is true individual liberty, and that commodity is measured in units of time, not in units of money. If someone needs a lot of money to enjoy their time, I would suggest that they may live a truly impoverished life. That verdict is shared by the greatest religious figures and sages of history, too.

My father spent his whole life working toward a retirement that he dreaded. Most of his money went to satisfy his wife’s constant pressure to buy luxurious things, but he managed to establish retirement income that was adequate for his needs. Once forced to retire, he pursued the one thing he really loved – playing golf. Golfing on a decent course every day requires a club membership and is by no means inexpensive. He played almost every day and once confided in me that he had been foolish not to retire sooner. He realized that he had forfeited his own passions to… what? He admitted his own answers were not very satisfying. He enjoyed his passion for a couple of years and then cancer put an end to his golf and his life. He could shoot his age at 72.

I learned much from his experience, and am trying to honor his memory by applying what I learned. Life is too short to spend it fulfilling society’s perverse demands without ever experiencing personal liberty. I see too many slaves all around me and take great joy in knowing that I am neither a slave nor a taskmaster anymore. I will do everything in my power to remain truly free until the “powers that be” try to take it away. Until that time, I use my freedom to create music, photography and other little fragrances that might linger after I have finished this incarnation. My talents may be meager, but at least I enjoy using my remaining time to create as best I can.

And, yes, “Braveheart” remains one of my favorite films. Freedom! Wallace cried. What will you have if you don’t have your freedom?

Damn right. What a luxury freedom is!

Posted in Faith and Philosophy, Provocations | 1 Comment

Movie Review: “Neurons To Nirvana”

Watch trailer.

I just watched a documentary called Neurons To Nirvana on Amazon Prime video. The documentary explores the therapeutic value of five psychedelic substances — LSD, Psilocybin (“Magic Mushrooms”), MDMA (“Ecstasy”), Ayahuasca (DMT) and Cannabis. Of course, cannabis is not in the same league as the other substances, but it does provide a timely framework for discussing prohibited “Schedule 1” substances.

As a Buddhist who practices meditation, I was intrigued by this title until I saw its second part — “Understanding Psychedelic Medicines”. After I saw that, I almost didn’t watch it. I have seen other documentaries that promote the use of these and other substances to engage in the mysteries of one’s own mind. Through effort and continual practice, I have learned that the mind can be explored naturally through meditation without the use of any drugs at all. I know that psychedelic experiences and insights can be gained through dedicated Vipassana meditation, and my view of psychotropic substances is not positive. Too many lives have been ruined by their abuse. However, that is not to say that these substances do not have therapeutic potential when administered in a controlled manner.

Neurons To Nirvana is an excellent documentary. I recommend that everyone should watch it if they can. It is not like other films that promote mysticism or insight through the use of psychoactive drugs. It merely cites that bonafide medical research has indicated that many of these substances have promise in clinical therapeutic use and that further research is warranted. I finally can say that my prejudice against this kind of documentary has been overcome.

As someone who came of age in the 1960s, I am very suspicious of anyone who promotes “turning on” to drugs. People like Timothy Leary did terrible damage to the real potential of LSD and other substances by encouraging immature young people to take the drug as a way to discover truth and gain insight. The hippie culture of the 60s may have started out with altruistic intentions, but it soon revealed itself to be a cult of hedonistic escapism that served no real purpose. They abused LSD and other substances and did not have the maturity to see that they were merely addicts to a new method of self-medication. People were consuming drugs without knowing for sure what they were consuming, and many people died or were seriously maimed by their addiction. The founder of the band Pink Floyd — Syd Barrett — comes to mind. Due to his chronic exploration into drug-induced experiences (dominated by LSD use), he became psychotic and useless.

I am not condemning limited experimentation, provided that it is done with proper motivation and with experienced supervision. In fact, I experimented with LSD, peyote and psilocybin myself during my younger years. I am not a big fan of losing control over my own mental process, so I quickly turned away from all drugs (aside from a very occasional use of marijuana). I have known too many people who use these drugs to excess and have seen their abilities as functioning humans deteriorate over time as a result. So, I am skeptical when I hear anyone start expounding on the virtues of these or any drugs.

The government is notoriously against any substance that may cause intoxication. As control freaks, politicians and bureaucrats crave the opportunity to restrict any behavior that does not benefit them or their financial backers. Of course, they claim to be protecting their citizens from causing themselves any harm. This is often referred to as the “Nanny State” syndrome. They are especially harsh when the use of psychotropic drugs leads people to question the wisdom and authority of the ruling powers. These substances do actually cause people to question conventional mainstream wisdom because the drug-induced experiences expose the mind to alternate views of what seems to be more true than the dysfunctional society being promoted by those who benefit from that dysfunction. And the film hit this issue “square in the puss” (a quote from Richard Nixon to his aid Bob Haldeman in a rant about drug abuse in America).

“If we can’t patent it, we should prohibit its use.”

The government is not anti-drug at all. They permit the use of alcohol and tobacco, and these substances are tremendously harmful. In fact, the government is on the side of so-called “safe use” drugs and the pharmaceutical industry that produces them. The use of drugs that produce some of the same effects of these “illicit” substances makes billions for the huge multination corporations that patent and sell them. In fact, they patent and sell enormous quantities of drugs that are “watered down” synthesized compounds that are based on these non-patentable psychedelic plants and extracts. DMT (ayuhuasca bark), psilocybin (mushrooms), mescaline (peyote cactus) and synthetic substances whose patents have expired — LSD, MDMA (“ecstasy”) and amphetamines are all models for the patented psychotropic drugs available by prescription — Prozac, Zoloft and scores of others used to treat psychiatric disorders. The substances in focus in this movie are mostly natural plant derivatives that function in much the same way the pharmaceuticals function — as MAO inhibitors or SSRIs. (These are classes of chemical compounds that change how psychoactive substances like serotonin and dopamine are made available from normal body chemistry to the synapses of the brain.) Some more cynical conspiracy theorists believe that the government is pro-drug and encourages widespread use of prescription drugs that either sedate people or make them more compliant. Plus, legal patented drugs make higher profit margins and help fill the tax coffers at the same time. Illegal drugs are not taxable, but they do provide an excuse to establish paramilitary operations to “protect the public” against criminal cartels. The prohibition of natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals is a comprehensible goal of both government and the pharmaceutical industries, and efforts to prohibit what is not patentable is likely to continue.

Due to the danger of abuse, I am not a staunch advocate of legalization of all “scheduled” substances. However, I am outraged by how the government refuses to allow legitimate academic and medical research into the therapeutic value of these substances. These plants have been used for genuine medicinal purposes for thousands of years and deserve to be considered as potentially valuable treatments for medical and psychiatric conditions. The negative side effects of these plants and extracts are usually far fewer than the dangers of similar pharmaceuticals when applied in controlled clinical conditions.

I do, however, believe that these substances need to be controlled as prescription medicines. Sadly, too many people will abuse them, otherwise. This abuse leads to more medical issues, costs to society and potential behaviors that harm others. I am a libertarian, and I have few issues if someone wants to drug themselves into stupor or death. The problem is that along the way to their graves, these addicts wind up harming more people than themselves. So, controlling these substances seems to be in the best interest of everyone concerned.

As prescription medicine, a patient has more assurances about the purity and dosage of whatever substance they are ingesting. With street drugs, the user never knows for sure what they are taking. All they know for sure is that they bought it from a criminal, and that is not terribly reassuring. Few drug dealers conform to a high standard for moral and ethical conduct, and cheap toxins can produce similar effects and be sold at premium prices as allegedly authentic and pure substances. It is very dangerous to fuel the enterprise of criminally minded sociopaths. Ask Mexico how much the drug cartels have affected their society and economic stability! The issue of legalization or prohibition of drugs is an enormously complex public policy decision and debate.

However, the issue of prohibiting medical research into and development of these substances should require no debate at all. The government has become the purveyor of its own religious fervor to protect its power and control over as many facets of life as it possibly can. Its interest is not in the public welfare but in its own lust to grow its power over the populace. This issue of disallowing research into these substances is a clear demonstration of how much the U.S. government acts more like the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition every day. If someone wants to perform research that does not align with the government’s strategy to preserve and expand its own power, then they simply declare it to be illegal and prevent it. That is about the extent of how facts affect their decisions and actions. The government has become a new religion and acts like one. Woe be to all the Galileo’s that are trying to make real progress in human knowledge and understanding!

Anyway… watch the movie. It’s worth your time. You will probably not be as provoked into a rant as I was.

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The Milky Sea of Perfection

Here I am at last: free of my body. Without it, I remain aware—more aware and perceptive than I had ever been while trapped in that slowly rotting vessel. The light is ahead, just as I had heard that it would be. It radiates a warm invitation to approach and enter its domain. I gladly do so. I pass within.

It seems like I am drifting on a milky sea. It is warm and I wonder how I know of its warmth without the senses of my body. Can something without form or substance be regarded as buoyant and floating? I see more clearly without my eyes than with them, but sight is meaningless here at any rate. A featureless sky of white stretches out to every horizon, and no line demarcates where the satin sky touches the milky sea. The air is thick and rich. Somehow, even without my lungs, I breathe it in and out. In and out. I can vividly recall the feeling and sound of breathing. The illusion of slow respiration calms and intoxicates me. The heavy air no longer brings any sound to my new senses, but carries a pleasing fragrance. The aroma is completely unfamiliar and intensely pleasant. I feel my nothingness manifest what would once have been a smile.

I sense now that much time has passed—minutes or hours; centuries or millennia—I have no means to know. Nothing has changed in this unending reverie. I say ʻreverieʼ because that is what it is. I have come to realize that the perfection of paradise is indistinguishable from an empty and featureless void. Only my memories keep me aware now. I believe that without them I would simply melt into the sea or evaporate into the fragrant air. I know of Whiteʼs purity and perfection only because I can recall Black and the infinite army of Grays that march between them. I appreciate the fragrance more when I recall the stench of prior realities. I am bathed in loving kindness, and know its comfort due to the brutality and revulsion I witnessed and possessed. The perfect silence is not what I first came to realize as part of this state of existence. After passing into perfection, there were subtle ringing tones that would waft across the sea to my lingering perceptions. There were times when the perfect music filled me with a feeling similar to one I remember when adrenaline would flood my body. But this was a flood of pure joy. Still, I do rely on the memories of the cacophony of primitive music from my prior incarnations. I know hope because I remember despair; I know goodness because I have experienced the corruptions of evil. I know all of the opposites of this reality because we had created these abominations to give the bland purity of our home the special meaning it deserves. Perfection invented imperfection only to know itself by defining what it is not.

As my memories grow ancient and dim, I feel my self-awareness fading with them. I am confronting the irreversible eternal decision: to merge with the void of perfection and lose all identity, or to return to imperfection and preserve my awareness. I sense that I am less solid now than when I arrived, and I feel myself spreading out and becoming thin, transparent and ill-defined. Shall I allow myself to dissolve into the infinite perfection?

No. I have confronted this decision countless times and have always chosen to persist. I still wish to remain aware, and therefore I must re-stock my memories by once again enduring the experiences of imperfection. So, I choose to return to a dimension with contrast. To a dimension we manifested to simply define and preserve our own ability to know that we are. Once again, I will reassert my own reality by employing the illusions of impurity—immersion into a finite life within a physical universe.

My consciousness has left the milky sea and speeds across the galaxies. These early moments in the physical construct are always the finest as our acute awareness travels unfettered by notions of time or space. With the full faculties of infinite mind I perceive what an artful balance of beauty and terror we have manifested! Soon, my infinite mind will be asleep and I will be confined to the limits of the life illusion.

The intensity of every visitation to physical reality varies. Those who have longer and more intense life illusions are well-refreshed for a more sustaining return home. The more challenging the life experience, the greater the reward when the underlying infinite awareness blends again into its native perfection. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I find myself being drawn to a planet and dutifully yield to the life plan I have been given. My awareness descends and the journey into darkness is complete as I anchor myself to a dividing cell. The cell will grow into a complex living being and my infinite consciousness is almost immediately overwhelmed by the anesthesia of the life illusion. This is the way we designed the transit, and I have no choice but to surrender to the rules of the illusion. My last fully conscious thought drifts out of my anesthetized awareness — Iʼm back.

_____________________________

This story is my attempt to describe a recent experience I had while in a deep vipassana meditative state. I lack the confidence in my insights to assert the reality of this vision. I still feel that is more akin to a dream than a glimpse at hidden realities. However, even if it was a hallucination fabricated in my mind, it felt like a memory. With the workings of our brains and minds, it is presently impossible for me to distinguish the truth of these insights from the arrogant notions of my human mind. Perhaps nibhana is simply a decision to fade away into the void. The Buddha taught the concept of not-self — the relinquishing of any and all desires. Perhaps that is what it takes to never return to life and one just blissfully fades into the infinite without feeling compelled to return to life’s compulsions to cling to what is most likely an illusion. I am not prepared to make that decision yet, and so I suspect I will come back many many more times. The fear of what seems like non-existence is too strong in me to decide otherwise. Maybe one day — perhaps a million years from now — I will decide otherwise and merge with the infinite without fear or regret for abandoning my clinging to self-awareness.

 

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Perspectives on Buddhism

I began a serious investigation of Buddhism in 2010. Now, I call myself a Buddhist.

It started with the BuddhaNet website. I started reading the teachings of the Buddha and quickly identified Theravada Buddhism as the branch that appeals to me most. It is the oldest form of Buddhism and adheres most closely to the teachings of the Buddha. Other branches (such as the Zen form) have added too much to the simple truths taught by the Buddha.

For the most part, the Buddha’s teachings are incredibly humble and pragmatic. I find myself smiling as I read the foundational wisdom he taught. I respond to Buddhist scriptures with nods and smiles — something I never did very much when reading the Bible as a Christian. I have not blogged about my newfound Buddhist faith because I felt too ignorant to do the teachings justice. But now, after four years of study and practice, I finally feel I should describe (NOT evangelize) my perspectives on Buddhism.

I will do so over many posts and will keep my verbiage to a minimum length.

One of the most important aspects of Buddhist practice is meditation. I understood the theoretical value of meditation, but I was not very good at it. I never sought out a teacher and was arrogantly trying to re-invent the practice based on a few texts and guided meditation recordings. Then I saw a film called The Dhamma Brothers. The documentary tells the story of how Vipassana meditation was taken into a brutal Alabama prison as an experiment to see if it might be of therapeutic value to the hardcore prisoners who were incarcerated there. See the movie, but it worked.

This movie inspired me to step up my meditative practice and attend a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat offered by the non-profit Vipassana worldwide organization founded by an Indian layperson named S.N. Goenka. It was the same course given to the prison inmates. The experience was profound, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about themselves.

This meditation practice is one of the most important things I have ever discovered for myself. The experiences and insights one derives from intense Vipassana meditation are so profound that describing them in truth would only strain credulity. The only way to know the benefits of it is to experience it yourself.

I decided to add this post because I was introduced to the concept of “secular Buddhism” tonight. I fully understand how this new Buddhist sect has come into existence. The Buddha spoke about the strange vestiges of the Hindu faith from which the Buddha had come. He did not dispute the existence of many Gods and Goddesses nor the existence of evil demons. The story of the Buddha’s own enlightenment is punctuated by the threats and temptations of the demon called Mara. But these stories are tangential at best to the teaching of the Buddha.

What is not tangential is the importance of reincarnation as a fundamental motivator of the Buddhist eightfold path. Mostly, the Buddha was much more like a scientific investigator and professor than a religious prophet. But, the existence of Samsara — the cycle of birth – death – rebirth —is central to the whole Buddhist thesis. One respected Bhikkhu, Ajahn Brahm, spoke eloquently and humorously on this controversial (to some) topic. While some scientific proof of reincarnation has been submitted as scholarly work (and quickly rejected), many people see the more mystical elements of Buddhism as requiring faith in unseen, unknowable claims. Buddhism is not a theistic faith — some call it atheistic but I prefer to think of it as agnostic. Supernatural beings, whether they exist or not, simply have no influence on the attainment of the Buddhist version of “Heaven” called Nibhana (Nirvana). Enlightenment is strictly based on developing a pure selfless lifestyle free of desire and the attainment of wisdom through meditation. The Buddha never taught people to pray nor engage in any kind of religious rituals. Of course, unenlightened Buddhist monks and laypersons introduced the seemingly unavoidable religious dogmas into various Buddhist sects as the centuries passed along. [ASIDE: I personally define "Religion" as the human corruption of faith in divine truths."]

I was very touched to learn at least one Theravada Bhikkhu — Ajahn Brahmali — confronted these issues of the rejection of Secular Buddhists of all mystical principles with tolerance and wisdom, as the Buddha taught.

People seem to resist the lessons of the prophets of truth and divinity and replace them with their own mundane ignorance. That is how religions always start and then deviate from the original lessons and intentions of the founding figure. Christian and Muslim faiths are prime examples of such deviations from the words and lessons taught by Jesus and Mohammed, respectively. Buddhism has not been immune from such travesty, either. Many modern Buddhists actually pray to the Buddha, as if he were listening from a heaven he said did not exist. People are hopelessly ignorant by nature and deserve sympathy and compassion for their innocent lack of understanding. Most wind up being manipulated by those whose intentions are anything but righteous and enlightened.

That’s enough for tonight. More later.

 

 

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Introducing TRUTH IN THEORY

I have been writing music since 1972. I have never done a thing with my compositions beyond occasionally performing them for family and friends (and mostly for my own amusement and enjoyment). Over the years I have invested considerably in music equipment and software—again, mostly for my own pleasure. I recently exceeded 300 compositions in my catalog of songs.  Secretly, I have always wanted the world to hear my music, and I had always wished I could write soundtracks for film and TV. Those who have heard my music always are surpassed by how much they like my music. And, they always say the same thing, “I can easily imagine your music in a movie or on TV.” In fact, my music is featured in an independent feature-length movie, but the film has not been released yet.

Well, enough about wishing and keeping my music locked up. I decided to form a music publishing company and an artist project called “TRUTH IN THEORY“. I have joined ASCAP and have released my first album — Tales From Patmos. It is a sonic interpretation of the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

On Saturday, April 5, 2014, my second album — FADE OUT —will be released. This is a double-album of meditation music that I developed for my own use.

I hope anyone reading my blog will consider supporting my musical endeavors by buying my CDs on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3 or Google Play. Thank you for your support!

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Selling To Artists

Companies like M-Audio treat their customers like garbage because, I suppose, they feel they can. In fact, I would have to say that a majority of companies who sell equipment to musicians do not feel they have to take them seriously. Certain divisions of Yamaha, Avid, Alesis, and… well the list is too long to complete here… are wholly unresponsive to customer service requests and complaints. They are slow to update their hardware and software to current standards, if they do so at all. Instead, they focus on their own peculiar proprietary interests and offer only new tools when the old tools are completely fixable. For example, Yamaha buys Steinberg and then almost completely stops integrating their hardware with the most widely used DAW platforms like Logic and Pro Tools. Instead, they myopically focus on their own CuBase platform as if the others did not exist. They seem to plan obsolescence with greater conviction to stranding their customers without support for their costly equipment than just about any other industry. Finding a customer-responsive supplier in the music business is rare. I suppose that is the case because most musicians are—well—rather laid-back. And, we see these companies disappear from the market quickly. Most say it is because it is too small a market and not very lucrative. I think it is because these companies hold their customers in such low esteem that the laws of karma catch up to them.

And, while I am griping… photography suppliers can exhibit the same disdain for their customers. Nikon makes some of the best photo and optical equipment on the planet, and they exhibit the kind of arrogance that may unfortunately accompany such preeminence. And, while I am on a roll, they still often develop for Windows platforms as if the Macintosh did not exist. Excuse me… but talk to artists everywhere and you will find they have an incredible preference for Apple. But, these outfits who supply software to artistic markets act is if the 90% market share of non-Apple systems is all that matters. They are the poster children for the kind of “MBA greed” that only looks at numbers. Argh!

I am used to giving and receiving outstanding customer/client services as a matter of course. I grew up in the twilight of a disappearing business culture that emphatically proclaimed that “the customer is always right.” But most businesses today would  laugh at such Pollyanna notions and, in fact, almost bristle at customer assertions. Customers, too, have changed as a result. In so many cases a customer sees his or her relationship with a vendor as naturally adversarial.

Did something happen recently to make me write this? Sure. I have spent days trying to get all my music equipment and software to work together after major updates to several pieces of the puzzle have occurred. I have been on five major websites and countless forums for M-Audio, Yamaha, PreSonus, Native Instruments and Apple to get answers. I have called two of the companies and chatted online with the other two. The official answer is always the same: “We are aware of the problems and will fix them in an upcoming release.” When is the fabled “next release”? Soon. Always soon. But these problems are now at least six months old, which means the vendors have been aware of the issues for much longer (having received updates as suppliers in advance). I admit to being impatient, but I also feel that the generous amount of money I have spent on these products entitles me to have them work!

What has really piqued my ire is the company-sponsored support forums. My questions have been asked repeatedly on these forums by similarly frustrated users. In most cases, the suppliers have not even bothered to respond at all. If they do, they simply say they are working on it but cannot project a delivery date. Fortunately, other users have developed work-around solutions, so we all limp through the dysfunctional period depending on each other instead of the people who actually get paid to fix problems. I am sick of this shit.

So, artists everywhere beware. The people who sell you the tools you use to create your art are, with rare exceptions, simply assholes who do not respect you. I just needed to get it off my chest. Unfortunately, these rants are not as cathartic as one would wish.

 

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