Thursday, January 29, 2015

Good Bye Joe

He always seemed to be wearing that same salmon colored sports jacket when he walked down 45th Street in New York.  There was no mistaking that purposeful  aging New Yorker stride or the semi neon jacket of Joe Franklin.
Joe Franklin
I knew who Joe Franklin was long before I knew there was a real person behind the icon.  Billy Crystal used to do a "spot on" impression of Joe in a sketches on Saturday Night Live.  Later when I found myself in New York City watching television late at night, I discovered Joe Franklin.
He was host of a very low budget local talk show appropriately named The Joe Franklin Show. He was a local cult radio/television star who managed to get major celebrities and not so major on his show to promote most anything. Every comic could do an impression of Joe Franklin and there were no end to the stories about him. He was short and spoke in a sort of Jackie Mason staccato cadence.
I remember once after the show (Jay Johnson: The Two and Only) at the Atlantic Theatre off Broadway, they told me that Joe Franklin was in the audience. They said he would like to say hello.  I jumped at the chance to meet him.  I also knew that he could promote the show on radio and television if he liked it.
He was there with three other people much younger than himself.  I could not tell if they were relatives, assistants or keepers.  They seemed to run herd on him and led the introductions.
"Jay, This is Joe Franklin"
"Nice to meet you Mr. Franklin, I am a long time fan."
"Please, Call me Joe."
"Okay, Joe....
Joe focused on me and drew in a breath like he was about to say something really important.
"Jay, I just got back from Atlantic City and have sort of an allergy.  I took an antihistamine just before your show.  I fell asleep and didn't see much.  But I am looking forward to seeing it on Broadway some day."
The others in the group, who had stayed awake,  chimed in and were very kind with their remarks about the show.  I was being as humble as I could when as if hit by a shot of red bull in the veins Joe sparked.  He pointed his finger at me and said,
"The Best Ventriloquist act I ever saw..."
Although I remembered he said he was asleep during my show, a very contrite thank you was just forming on my lips, but Joe barely took a pause.
"The best..... Paul Winchell at the Latin Quarter in 1958"
It was as if he was answering a question on a quiz show and the conversation stopped. He smiled like he won the round, said his goodbyes and left.
That is the last time I actually spoke to Mr. Franklin.  He died this week at the age of 88.  I hope the first thing he did  in heaven was to find Paul Winchell and tell him.
Rest in Peace, Joe
As you were,
Jay

Saturday, January 24, 2015

False Perspective

After the Charlie Hebdo murders two weeks ago the dialogue has morphed slightly from support of free speech to blame.  Even Pope Francis, who has been more in touch than other Popes, seemed to point blame at the cartoonists themselves.  After condemning the violence and murder he said that if someone insulted his mother they should expect to be punched.  That statement by the Pope seems to imply "they had it coming." 
Insults, slander and liable are not covered by freedom of speech. Hate speech and essays that insight violence can in no way be considered a freedom or a right.  But were the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo insults? Were they slander? Or were they humorous satire and parody? Knowing the difference may be what separates us from animals. 
Humor is a uniquely human trait. No other species has developed the concept of humor.  That sound that a hyena makes is not laughter, although to humans it sounds like it, that sound is a call of violence. It signals either danger or dominance, not fun and games. 
Many species as well as humans play when they are young and while playing is similar to humor and  comedy it is not the same. When a pack of cubs begin to play it is not a frivolous game, it is rehearsal in a safe environment for actions they will need to survive later.  They learn working together, hunting, dominance and the social interactions of the pack. They play in preparation for actions they will need in dangerous situations later.

Human children learn from play. In a safe situation they learn that their actions have consequences.  They stretch their conceptual powers and logic through play. They learn where the boundaries are and how to interact with their peers and parents.  Play comes naturally but humor and comedy are very complicated and highly developed traits of communication restricted to humans.  It is one of the last things a developing human being learns and it totally immersed in specific language. 

When two chimps meet in the jungle and feel threatened they show their teeth and make loud noises. If one is not immediately submissive they fight, sometimes to the death. Humans have risen above this ritual because we have humor, comedy, parody and satire.  Unless the threat is physical we use humor to deal with our differences. We show our teeth but perceive it as a smile and make noises which we accept as laughter. 
Sigmund Freud did a cursory look at humor and found every joke had an element of hostility embedded in it.  Comedy writers will tell you that if you can not think of something funny, think of something that is irritating or makes you mad... then turn that into humor.  
Humor, satire and parody help us look at a divisive situation in third person.  We objectify the issue or problem in an absurd way and laugh at it.  In that way we  deal with it on an impersonal level. In a perfect human world we defuse hostility by laughing at the issue rather than fighting to the death as chimps do in the jungle.  

So back to Charlie Hebdo and their capitol crimes against Islam. If seen through the eyes of rationality it might be observed that  Charlie was not insulting the religion of Islam. They were not berating the beliefs of the religion, they were pointing out the absurdity of dogma. Dogma is the foe of any religion.  Dogma is someone in power telling you "What" to think rather than "how" to think; dogma is a suppression of  the chance to think for yourself.   Charlie Hebdo cartoonists pointed out with humor, satire and parody the absurdity of certain dogmas that even Muslims agree are not part of the religion or the Koran.  They have done the same with Christianity, and Judaism.  And not just religion, they were the court jesters of government, politics and any other repression of freedom that is forced on a group of people.    

So by killing the cartoonist the extremist prove they are more animal than human.  Jihadists are soldiers of Dogma and Jihadist exist in every religion.  I offer the Westboro Baptist Church, the bombing of abortion clinics, the killing of abortion doctors, the Klu Klux Klan, the Inquisition and the Crusades as proof.  I'm sure I have missed a few examples. 
I regret that I am not talented enough to make this post humorous.  There will be those who take offense either way, but if I could have made you laugh about this situation even once, it would be perceived in the way I intended.  
I was unfriended by several people when I posted "Je Suis Charlie" a week ago.  That is fine with me. If Facebook friends do not know who I am and what I stand for,  how could they think they were my friend.  

"AmGod" spelled backwards is "Dogma". Going backwards is the death of all philosophy and is the devil in religion. 
As you were,
Jay

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Missing Instructions

I am beginning to think that everything that I"ve learned about life up until now is wrong. To give myself a break, the things I have learned are not necessarily wrong, maybe just irrelevant now.
Life does not stay the same and changes in an expential way.  What we had to deal with growing up was 10 times greater than our parents and our kids are facing things that are changing a hundred times faster.  It is the nature of existence to change.  If we do not change with it we become irrelevant.  I can bury my head in the sand and refuse to admit the change or try and  keep up.

When I was in college I took a Basic computer programing class. It was the first time North Texas University had even offered such a course. It was a beginning class and the language was called Basic. A  Basic program that would add two and two required a dozen punch cards.  These cards would be typed by hand on a punch card machine and delivered to the computer center. It was the time before personal computers and there was only one computer on campus. During the day the computer was used by the math and science departments; they would run the student programs at night.  The next day I would get the results. Unless it was perfect the first time, I would get a printed page of error messages.  I would then have to correct the errors by punching new cards, submitting them again and waiting 24 hours.  My program to add two plus two took me a week using this arcane procedure.  That method exists only in the dark ages of technology today.

However, there is one thing I learned that is still part of computer programing even today. It involves how the computer makes a decision.  It is called the "If then else loop".  Simply put, when the computer encounters a fork in the programing road it relies on the "if then else loop".

If a programer wants the computer to find a specific sequence out of a group of data the programer instructs the computer to look at the information presented.  "IF" it is the information wanted "THEN" that information is used in a specific way.   If it is not the information wanted, "THEN" it proceeds to "ELSE" which is another direction to repeat looking or perform some other function. It becomes complex when "if then else loops" are imbedded within other "if then else loops". Like a sail boat sailing into the wind, the imbedded "if then else loops"  keep changing the direction of the function in a zig zag path to the final result.  There is an interesting lesson to this type of decision making that humans can learn from.

When a human brain wants to make a decision the path is usually not so clear.  Instead of the "If Then Else" loop, humans tend to go with a "What if" loop. At the juncture of a decision the human brain tends to analyze what "Might" happen "IF" the path is taken.  What if it doesn't work out? What if I don't have all the information? What if I take the wrong path? What if... What if.  There is a never ending list of "what if" possibilities standing in the way of most human decisions. As the human imagination comes into play the "what if"  list can stop the decision cold because there are too many options to consider.

The process gets complex when the human brain embeds "What If" loops within "what if loops". For example, "What if this job goes well and they want me to move. What if this new place is somewhere that I don't want to live."  "What if I lose my job before this loan is paid back, what if I go broke and have to live in the street." The truth is 99.9% of the "what if" possibilities a human might consider will never, ever happen.

The advantage a computer has over a human brain is the ability to deal with a single decision only when it is presented and use only the data it is given.  The computer doesn't make a decision based upon all the things that might happen. The computer only looks at the information presented at the moment a decision is needed. When looking for a data sequence the computer doesn't think... What if the data is not even in this stack? What if I don't have the programing to use that information when I find it?  Instead, the computer simply knows, If this is the condition "Then" proceed until instructed to perform some other function.

The truth is we are not individual finite brains trying to make our way through an infinite sea of possibilities.  We are infinite Mind with an individual course through a sea of infinite expression. If we keep to that truth there are no wrong decisions.  Like a computer, when we get to the fork in the road, the infinite programer will provide us the path. What if it is a zig zag course and we seem to be going the wrong way for a moment? The next decision will correct the course. Because we are programed by infinite Mind.  We should never have to worry with "What If" thinking.  In the realm of the one infinite Mind it is always "If then Else."

Computing power has come a long way since the days of IBM punch cards. The average smart phone has one hundred thousand times more power than they used to send Americans to the moon. The Cray Super Computer at NASA in 1969 filled two rooms and had only 80 megabytes of storage.  Today the Facebook app on an iPhone requires 219 megabytes of storage. We rely on this instantaneous simulated intelligence almost every second of the day to make trillions of decisions on our behalf. Unfortunately we have not come very far in the use our spiritual infinite Mind intelligence which created this computing power to begin with.

Relying on the One Infinite Mind should be no more difficult than trusting our vacation to the GPS in our car.  Step by step the GPS is processing a continuing set of "IF THEN ELSE" loops eventually getting us to the place we want to go.  "IF" we make a wrong turn "THEN" the programing will tell us what to do next.

Infinite Mind can be relied upon as surely as  electrons racing around a silicon chip. Mind also never crashes nor needs to be recharged and the upgrades are seamless and ever evolving. And like the computer we don't have to fully understand how it works to receive the guidance and benefits of infinite Mind. All we need to do is rely on the fact that it IS and let IT show us the path.  

At the next moment of decision in your life don't waste time on imagining "what if". Rely on the GPS of infinite Mind. Know that you are programed by infinite intelligence and listen to that voice from the heart. Then...proceed knowing that it is the right moment to act. There is never a dead end to this guidance only the next path which will lead to the next when it is time. WHAT IF it was that easy?  IF... THEN we should use that incredible resource at every moment of our lives.
As you were,
Jay


Thursday, January 08, 2015

A God who sanctions Murder?


I remember seeing a cartoon of Jesus standing in a crowd looking at a woman accused of adultery,  who had been pushed to the ground.  He says "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  The next panel shows a rock hurling through the crowd and hitting the woman squarely in the face.  The third panel is Jesus looking at the crowd in disgust saying, "Mother will you just stay out of this."   It is comedy, it is satire, it is parody. The worst one could say about it is that it isn't funny.  Substitute Mohammad for Jesus and you have a crime against Islam punishable by death?

 When James Egan Holmes walked into a Colorado Theatre and opened fire on the crowd he was not doing it in the name of Allah. He was not looking for the 13 people he killed by name. He was not trying to set things right with Mohammad, he did not yell "God is Great" when he was finished. I'm not even sure Holmes can spell the word religion. He is just a homicidal, deranged mass murdering- Fuck.  
So, as outraged as I am that artists doing parody, comedy and satire were targeted and killed in the name of Islam,   I do realize that "deranged mass murdering fucks" exist in all religions. Timothy McVeigh was a card carrying Christian. Since there is no amateur video of him blowing up the Oklahoma Federal building, we don't know if he yelled "Thank You Jesus" as he lit the fuse. And it doesn't matter since he was not convicted for being an over zealous idiot; he was executed because he was a mass murdering fuck.  
I know the least about Islam of any religion.  I have never read the Koran, attended a Mosque nor do I even know which way Mecca is from Encino.  All I know is the propaganda and bullet points about the belief that follow crimes linked to Islamic extremist.  ie, "Muslims hate Jews and Christians and want all infidels dead."  or "In Islam you go directly to paradise if you kill in the name of Mohammad." I don't know if any of that is truly in the Koran or part of the actual practice of Islam.  
This is what I do know. No human concept of God is correct.  Any religion that portrays God as illogical, wrathful, vengeful or less than omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is not  the Truth.  God is not a Christian, nor a Muslim, Jew, Rastafarian, Pentecostal, Morman or Frisbeetarian. God doesn't care if you wear beanies, burkas, prayer shawls, lipstick or special Mormon underware.  
God doesn't care if you dance, sing, do magic tricks, make puppets talk or draw funny cartoons. God doesn't care how you acknowledge Deity, be it, prayer, prose, preaching, kneeling, standing, rocking, bowing or yelling.  The relationship is individual and unique between you and God.  Like snowflakes no two expressions are the same.  
Perhaps the only hard and fast rule to Universal Deity is this:  Leave everyone to their own relationship with God.  If a religion requires followers to "convert" anyone else to "a way" or "save" them from another philosophy then that God is not God. Why would the omnipotent and omniscient need humans to correct the path of its own creation?  
How ever you experience it or acknowledge your own Spirituality do that. Make sure your own life is living up to your own belief system.  If the guy next door has a different way, and it does not impede your own study...leave him or her alone.  The only way you can effect another person is to live in such a way as to be an example of goodness.  
If your religion is telling you that you must do something about, or something to, those who do not believe the same, it is not a religion it is tyranny.   
God is good if anything. God is expression if anything.  God is freedom if anything, therefore God is Freedom of Expression.  Any sect, race, religion, government, state or gang that would restrict or kill the freedom to express can not be good. 
Keep drawing.... keep challenging... keep expressing art in whatever way you are called to express it. Keep your faith..... but keep it to yourself.  Human intelligence is not great enough to decide who is right or wrong. 
Je suis Charlie,
Jay

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

No Mental Majority

Pen and Ink sketch © Jay Johnson - 2011
I believe Mid-century Warner Brothers animated cartoons to be metaphors for life. Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson are the prophets of a philosophy I like to call,  LooneyToonism. There is no church of Toonism but if there was I would probably attend.
My high school and early college afternoons were spent watching local television stations fill time with vintage Warner Brothers Cartoons.  They were vintage then, they are ancient history now. To some this might seem like a waste of study time.  But those cartoons taught me some important lessons in life.
Although cartoon characters are not bound by the laws of physics these acts are not considered miracles.  In most cases the law of physics are voided by ignorance.  If a cartoon character does not know he has run off the edge of a cliff, he will remain suspended in air until the realization that he is floating is totally comprehended.  Depending on the character it may take looking at the camera with a double take of fear and the disgust  before gravity acts. At this point the cartoon character will fall.
This taught me the metaphysics of mental mind practice.  As long as I do not contemplate the reality of negativity I will remain unaffected by it.  More later on that chestnut.  
Another Toonism Tennant is how decisions are made.  Unseen, except to the person struggling with a decision, is a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other.  Each miniature cartoon argues for their way of dealing with the situation, whispering in each of the "decider's" ears.  Although the devil will attempt violence and humiliation to win, the angel only has the most righteous of motives.  
This taught me that the struggle between good and evil is not always a fair fight.  The devil wears a brighter color and speaks with more  street wisdom than the pale and profane angel.  Doing the wrong thing is usually more attractive, less risky and certainly seems like more fun.  In Toonism however, it is a 50/50 choice, with clearly different and distinctive paths.  
Because of what I do for a living there are more voices involved in my decisions than just good and evil.  For me there is a committee of voices each expressing a different opinion on the situation.   None of them professes to be good nor evil.  None is dressed in a white gown and halo and none is dressed in a red suit with horns.  Any one of them can express the highest or lowest values of outcome, and they can change positions with each new decision.  It makes the reality of these decisions much more difficult than Toonism teaches in this metaphor.
I suspect this is the way with most people. It would be a lot easier if decisions were just an matter of good and evil and we could clearly distinguish the two.  For me I have to listen to all the voices plead their cases and find a path.  It is also not a matter of taking a vote and the majority wins; it is a matter of coming to the best compromise. I am the one listening to this distraction.  I am the decider and the only one who will suffer the consequences or gain the benefit from the choice.  
But like all philosophies perhaps Toonism lessons do not stand alone.  It would be like taking one passage from the Bible or Koran or Book of Mormon and expect that to be all you need.  The lessons are interactive, cross-connected and must be taken as a total teaching not a random lesson.
Perhaps finding yourself at a point of decision in also like finding yourself standing off the edge of a cliff in Toonism.  The moment we start to contemplate the negative,  other forces take over... like gravity does. The trick would be to sort out the negative feelings and give them no reality.  If you are holding to the positive then it doesn't matter how many forms the negative takes nor how loud they yell.  
A child was asked by her Grandmother to weed the tomato plants.  "But" the child said, "there are so many kinds of weeds I won't know them all."  The Grandmother said, "All you need to know is what a tomato plant looks like and pull out all the others."
The Grandmother I am sure was a devout LooneyToonist.  
"Thu thee tha thi...the tha.... that's all folks"
As you were,
Jay



Saturday, January 03, 2015

What Matters?

On almost every level of society we are divided these days.  Congress has been crippled from doing anything of substance  due to a polarization of "us" verses "them".  Religions preach a separation of our God vs. Their God, our beliefs from their beliefs. It appears that we are not trying to become inclusive but we are looking for ways to separate ourselves from others.  The biggest separation is between those who have power and those who don't.  Those who don't have it want to be part of the group that does have power.  Those in power certainly don't want to give away their power or even share it. 
Those in authority stay in authority by using their power over those who have neither power nor authority.  If the saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" is true, then any slight abuse of power corrupts proportionally.  The latest version of "us vs. them" is being played out between local police departments and young black men. 

This is not a new problem but a very old one that has become acute in the last year.  I lived through the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.  It was caused by a Los Angeles police department totally out of control and a group of people unrepresented, marginalized and oppressed to the breaking point.  Both groups over reacted with the wrong approach so there was anarchy and total failure of the system.  It was a very scary time in Southern California.  There was mass looting, fires in every part of the city and even shots fired at airplanes landing at LAX.  The oppressed group figured out the power structure could be overloaded and crippled by sheer numbers of incidents. The same tipping point  is happening in cities all over the country, only now we have instant social media to spread a movement like a grass fire.  The potential now is greater for a much bigger rebellion in today's world.


We have over worked police departments who have been armed with combat style equipment, but little training on how to defuse a situation without violence.  Police don't seem to know how to apportion violence. They seem to lack knowledge of what actions are appropriate and what actions are excessively violent.  When a child with a toy gun is shot multiple times by police two seconds after arrival at the scene, that is excessive violence.  A profession that allows excessive violence without impunity will surely attract the bullies of society. Cops claim that if people would just respect the uniform and comply with orders no one will get hurt.  At the same time they turn their backs in disrespect on their symbol of authority in New York City.  To get respect you have to know what it means.  

On the other side we have a gap between those who can afford legal representation and those who can't.  This inequity is divided absolutely along economic lines. If people believe they will be denied justice in a court of law, they will take the law into their own hands.   It is the recipe for revolution and violence.  What I am seeing now is people joining one side or the other, even dawning uniforms. 
Take for example these tee shirts appearing at rallies. It seems on the surface to be nothing but an over use of adjectives.  One side wants to remind us that Black Lives matter.  The "other side" wants to remind us that blue lives matter.  
Only adjectives separate us.  Take them away and you have a universal truth that everyone can agree on.  "Lives Matter", the truth is condition-less, no adjectives needed,  all lives matter.
 Human beings will always be more alike than they are different.  The differences are so superficial that they should not separate us but free us to be individuals with unique perspectives.  But as long as we see a black man, or a police man, or a hit man and not first the man with no adjectives, there will always be a division.  
When both sides start wearing Lives Matter tee shirts we will be at the beginning of a solution to this division.  Treat others the way you want to be treated regardless of any adjectives and we might just get through this life time.
As you were,
Jay

Happy New Year. Make it a good one.  



Friday, December 26, 2014

Of Course... it is NO PROBLEM

The Broadmoor Hotel and Resort in Colorado Springs is beautiful.  It is warm and traditional while being modern and efficient.  It is also among the friendliest hotels I have ever been too, Five star service with a friendly smile. The term "family" is used a lot, not just because that's the way they make you feel, but because so many employees have been there long enough to be considered family.  One generally gets the feeling that every member of the Broadmoor family is glad you are their guest.  There was, however, one thing that was  completely missing during my stay.
I have issues with the term "No Problem" used by service providers.  You ask a waitress if you can order a cup of coffee and a bagel, she says "No Problem".  You ask if you could get just a little cream, "No Problem."  Excuse me but could I get the check? "NO PROBLEM". It becomes a meaningless sound that no one listens to. Mostly it sends the wrong message to a person who is at that moment your client.  
Doing our job should never be just no problem. We should be glad someone is paying us to do it.  If it is a problem, find something else to do that is not a pain in the ass and do that.  The client is giving us money for our service. Why do we respond by saying that it is "no Problem".  Are we saying it's no problem for me to take money from you?  If the phrase has become meaningless that is all the more reason to stop using it.  I actually paid a restaurant bill in cash once.  The waiter said, "Do you need some change?"  I said, "No the rest is for you."  His response?  "NO PROBLEM".  
That was what was missing at the Broadmoor... "No Problem" I did not hear it even once.  When you asked for something the response was, "Of Course" or "absolutely".
"Could I order a cup of coffee and a bagel?"  the response was, "OF COURSE". Of course I can, that is what they serve and it is why the waiter is there.  It was charming and more linguistically correct. It just made me feel like family.
The Broadmoor is also a very dog friendly hotel.  I was occasionally shocked to see an owner and their dog walking the halls or through the gorgeous lobby. I got used to it quickly and engaged dog owners in conversation about my dog Boo.  Most of the dog owners were under the impression that they owned the greatest dog in the world; it was my job to correct them with the fact that the distinction goes to my dog Boo.  
On the last day of our trip all the friendliness became a habit with me as well.  I was coming out of the coffee shop, with a cup of coffee, "Of Course."  Just outside the shop in the lobby was a large black standard poodle sitting next to a window display of fine jewelery.   It was a beautiful dog extremely well groomed but not cut in that fruity poodle way that is so clownish.  I looked down at the dog and said, "You are absolutely gorgeous."  The owner of the dog saw me looking and nodded a "thank you".  
I looked up just in time to make eye contact with a very pretty young lady who turned on her heels from looking in the jewelry store window. She assumed for a moment I was referring to her.  She was trying to process the idea of some "older" gentlemen coming on to her in the lobby of a grand hotel.   I was completely speechless but shot a glance to the dog and shrugged.  She sorted out what had happened and her face lit up with a smile as she played along and said, "Why Thank you."  
It was pleasant enough until a 6 foot 2 guy just within ear shot of this exchange turns on his heels.  He is the young lady's husband or boyfriend or maybe even body guard.  He did not see the dog that started the whole thing,  he simple saw the two of us smiling and exchanging a moment.  He frowned at me with a look that said, "Do I kill you now or wait till we are outside."  Like in so many other moments of stress, my mouth takes over with a babbling cadence.  It went something like, "Ha, Ha, I was talking to the dog... not your wife. Ha Ha" By this moment the dog and the owner were no where to be seen.  "Oh, not that I don't think your wife is also attractive. You see.... but  I would never...." babble babble ending with, "Well, I guess I have to take this coffee to my wife, she is right over there.. Merry Christmas." 
As I walked away I was hoping I would hear the sound of laughter.  I didn't care if they were laughing at me or with me.  But there was only silence, of course.  That is one time when the phrase "no problem" would be appropriate and welcomed.
Have a Happy Last Week of December.  May 2015 be more than you could dream of in every way.
As you were,
Jay