Sweet Inspiration

Here’s a fascinating and challenging observation by American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

As a longtime composer and songwriter, I hesitate to accept Jim’s point without question, but at the same time I do understand where he’s coming from.

This brings back a conversation I shared with a fellow songwriter many years ago. He insisted that he created his songs, seemingly from thin air; I rebutted that I discovered my songs, from some magical place where all things have existed for eternity. I was merely fortunate to be able to recognize and accept a gift – a snippet of melody, a rhyme or a hook, maybe a chord progression. Then off I would go and make it my own.

Whether music, prose, poetry or software, how do we know when a so-called ‘original work’ is legally a derivation versus just plain stealing? Jim’s point about authenticity versus originality may offer an interesting litmus test.


  1. Nothing is Original – Edible Apple

Losing One’s Marbles

A dear friend forwarded me this story about marbles, which I’ll share in its entirety. The gist is that each of us generally starts with about 3900 of them.

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it’s the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it’s the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the garage with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it:

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know the kind; he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whom-ever he was talking with something about “a thousand marbles.” I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say–

“Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you’re busy with your job. I’m sure they pay you well but it’s a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. It’s too bad you missed your daughter’s “dance recital” he continued.”Let me tell you something that has helped me keep my own priorities.” And that’s when he began to explain his theory of a “thousand marbles.“

“You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years.“

“Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900, which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now, stick with me, Tom, I’m getting to the important part.It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail”, he went on, “and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays.“

“I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy. So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round up 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear.“

“Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away. I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight .“

“Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure that if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.“

“It was nice to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again here on the band. This is a 75 Year old Man, K9NZQ, clear and going QRT, good morning!“

You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter.

Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. “

C’mon honey, I’m taking you and the kids to breakfast.”“What brought this on?” she asked with a smile.

“Oh, nothing special, it’s just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. And hey, can we stop at a toy store while we’re out? I need to buy some marbles.“

Poor, Poor British Petroleum

Sitting U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) today apologized to BP, apparently on behalf of himself, for the $20 billion dollar escrow account that the Administration has just set up for Gulf Coast damages and recovery. In a congressional testimony with BP executives he said:

I’m not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives but myself. But I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown… what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that is unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for the future. [1]

Really? Joe, you’re apologizing to BP?? On behalf of yourself? As an elected politician? Whenever you open your mouth Joe, you speak for your constituency whether you try to sugar coat it or not. You do not speak for me, nor do you speak for thousands of your fellow Texans whose livelihoods may now be ruined, especially if one of those underwater plumes that don’t really exist [2] heads your way.

Okay, so while I am not thrilled with President Obama’s overall handling of this disaster, at least he’s responding to a very difficult situation. And the escrow account is certainly appropriate under the circumstances, regardless of your questionable loyalties Joe.

I’ll give John Boehner (R-OH) some credit for having the decency to publicly distance himself from your ridiculous comments. [3] But others – Barton (R-TX), Price (R-GA), Bachmann (R-MN) and anyone else who is trying to frame the escrow account as a shakedown? Shame. On. You.

Dear reader, before voting this fall, I hope you’ll do some research and remember those who either vote against escrow legislation or worse, publicly smear it. Those people are not acting in your interest, and they do not deserve to hold title as your representatives.


  1. Rep. Barton apologizes to BP for Obama ‘shakedown’
  2. BP CEO: There aren’t any oil plumes
  3. Boehner refuses to endorse Barton’s claim that BP’s escrow fund is a ’shakedown.’

The Black Art of Tea

Here is how the grassroots works. In Maine yesterday, an organized bloc of tea-bagger delegates to their state republican convention overwhelmingly voted to scrap the proposed GOP party platform and replace it with their own version[1], written by a group called the Maine Refounders.

The new platform raises many disturbing issues. Rather than tear into it line-by-line, I encourage you to read it for yourselves.[2] I’ll focus instead on three especially troubling clauses.

First, global warming:

Defeat Cap and Trade, investigate collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth, and prosecute any illegal collusion.

The new platform proposes criminalizing efforts between government and industry to understand the human causes, effects and cures for climate change. While global warming could arguably be anywhere from valid controversy to proven fact, certainly it is no myth. Furthermore, what the tea-baggers call collusion, I call cooperation. We need only look back to McCarthy to understand how easily this distinction can be blurred.

What if I blog about global warming and link to research conducted by peers? Is that considered collusion and if so, must I fear state law enforcement hauling me downtown for a lively interrogation? Remember, this is brought to you by the same party that claims to “adhere to the restrictions outlined in the Constitution to protect the individual from intrusive government”.[2]

Second, religious freedom:

Reassert the principle that “Freedom of Religion” does not mean “freedom from religion”.

This is a direct endorsement for allowing religion to walk the halls of government to inform the work of honorable lawmakers. Um okay, whose religion? Do Christians in the new-and-improved Maine GOP really accept that they may be subject to other, non-Christian expressions of faith? I recall one big right-wing stink when a judge ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from Alabama’s state judicial building[3], then another when a newly elected Muslim congressman from Minnesota carried a Koran to his swearing-in ceremony.[4]

On the slippery slope of neo-fascist politics, when will this principle be re-written as “Freedom of my Religion does not mean your freedom from my religion”?

Finally, Austrian Economics:

Return to the principles of Austrian Economics, and redirect the economy back to one of incentives to save and invest.[2]

What exactly does this mean? For starters, its roots lie in 15th century economic law as espoused by disciples of St. Thomas Aquinas. So you guessed it, the tea-baggers are advocating strong moral theology and natural law – in other words god – to guide economic policy.

Ludwig von Mises’s rule says: “the first job of an economist is to tell governments what they cannot do.”[5]

Does this stance by the Austrian School make economists and the private sector effectively god?

  • If so, it would explain why, in the face of America’s crushing economic meltdown, congressional republicans do not support meaningful financial reform to reign in corrupt business practices.
  • It would explain why, as oil from the equivalent of multiple Exxon Valdezes floats ominously below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, BP execs continue to play the shell game with damage estimates and delayed video footage from the seabed.[6]
  • It would explain why, in the face of this likely worst-ever environmental disaster, the revised Maine GOP platform nonetheless promotes “energy independence aggressively by removing the obstacles created by government to allow private development of our resources; natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power.”[2]

Note the deliberate exclusion of innovative, clean, future-thinking, job-creating energy sources like wind, solar or even simple conservation? The new Maine GOP platform is not a rational document. It is jihad – based on one group’s own narrow interpretation of natural law.

Maine, I want to scream at the top of my lungs that “you’re all out of your bleeping minds!” But I don’t believe that. I’m confident that nearly every moderate, democratic and independent Maine citizen who’s witnessed this travesty is pretty ticked off, and hopefully mobilized come November.

But yes, I am saddened once again by how good republicans through apathy have enabled a relative few truly misguided people to hijack your party. In Maine, the tea-baggers have just stolen your brand. Maybe it’s time for you to either fight back with trademark lawyers or start over with a fresh identity. Either way, I hope you’ll do what’s best for our nation and world.


  1. Maine Republicans Adopt Tea Party Platform | Maine Politics
  2. 2010 Maine GOP Platform – Maine Refounders / Tea Party
  3. On Ten Commandments bill, Christian Right has it wrong – CSMonitor.com
  4. At swearing in, congressman wants to carry Koran – CSMonitor.com
  5. What is Austrian Economics – Free classics from the Mises Institute
  6. Oil Flow Rate Questioned as BP Tries 2nd Fix – CBS News

Faces of Journalism

Twitter Journalism

With all this talk about old news outlets giving way to social media, here is a story to consider.

This morning I dialed into 5-0 Radio Pro, an iPhone app that’s a quite capable police-fire-emergency radio scanner. After making the rounds of my regular channels, I checked out the current Top 100 and noted Nashville Fire and EMS in the #1 slot with 257 people listening. That’s odd because perennial #1, Los Angeles Police Department, was in the #2 spot with 81 listeners. “Something is going on in Nashville”, I thought.

I openeded the Thomson Reuters news app and scanned the headlines. Bomb scare in Manhattan… oil slick… Kentucky Derby results on a sloppy day… and nothing about Nashville. Perhaps Nashville in nearby Tennessee was having a sloppy day of its own? I checked the AP app, and sure enough found one story about foul weather and a few deaths in Tennessee and Mississippi.

So on to Twitter. A quick search of trending topics yielded “Nashville”. Upon selecting this, I was bombarded by realtime reports from countless people on the ground of an unfolding disaster. If you consider every 140-character tweet to be a headline, here are just a few of the headlines:

“Wow. Nashville is underwater right now. My prayers go out to all the families in need.”

“If you have disaster needs, plz call 6152504300. The Red Cross has shelters set up across Middle TN.”

“So flight from Tampa to Nashville is now canceled. We are getting on a flight to Birmingham, going to attempt driving home from there.”

“http://twitvid.com/RZMZM – Our backyard Nashville, TN Flood, West Meade Nashville | just wow!”

“#nashvilleflood Slideshow: Heavy Rains Douse Tenn. – Vol. 9: Click inside to look at some of the (cont) http://tl.gd/14dddu”

RT @StormTrack9: A large amount of flights are canceled to and form Nashville. Please call ahead for your flights

This is what journalism in 2010 looks like, and it is us. My heart goes out to everyone in the Tennessee / Mississippi region.

Is It Worth It?

One accident. 11 missing (now presumed dead). More critically injured. 600 square miles and growing. 210,000 gallons a day. Four state coastlines. Crab, oysters, shrimp and other fisheries at risk. Thousands facing economic ruin. Hundreds of species threatened. How will the accountants tally all that as part of the true cost of oil extraction?


Buy Low, Sell High

Apparently the U.S. Treasury investment in Citigroup has generated $8 billion in profit for us taxpayers: [1]

This kind of reframes the discussion about the cost of bailing out the banks, no? I still have mixed feelings about this, but at least in this case it’s no longer a cost issue. [2]


  1. Government could net $8 billion on Citigroup
  2. Bachmann’s Latest Whopper: ‘The Federal Government Literally Owns Banks’

Patriotic Purchases


On Craigslist, in the for sale / wanted / musical instruments section, someone posts the following plea:

Do not buy anything being made in China… Do not buy any equipment made in foreign countries. Support the country and only buy american. All of those amps made overseas are crap. Save your money and buy either american or england. Here is the list of 5 amps that you should get or save up for.

The writer recommends a handful of boutique and vintage electric guitar amps of apparent US / UK origin.

I appreciate the sentiment, but unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here’s an example. I can buy a Chinese-made Epiphone hollow-body electric guitar for around $350 (give or take), or the same genuine Gibson guitar for around $3500. The Chinese version looks gorgeous and plays reasonably well, plus for a few hundred dollars I can hot-rod it and still have a sub-$1000 guitar that rivals its Nashville-built counterpart.

That’s an obvious economic rationale for buying from China. But now on top of this, consider that in 2009, Gibson was voted by its own employees as the #1 worst employer in America. It takes a lot of questionable practices to achieve a result like this, and gives pause to which actually is more un-American – giving money to China or supporting a domestic company whose employees seem to deeply dislike.

I don’t have an answer to this, except to note that as fast as American companies race to the bottom in how they outsource, compensate and otherwise treat their staff, they are doubling down on why it’s so easy to buy imported products these days.

I will fiercely support any business that cares for its employees and customers; and offers full-time salaries, healthcare and opportunities for advancement. But when a domestic company behaves more like its overseas counterpart at ten times the price, my purchase decision becomes a bit blurry.


Gibson atop worst-places-to-work list (NashvillePost.com)


Morrow Bay
Photo: dinosaur footprints in
Goseong, South Korea ©2006

287 is a lot of miles
if you’re not going anywhere
$21.60 tops the gas tank
a liquid dinosaur in the gas tank
a dinosaur exhausted
an exhausted dinosaur
going up in smoke
abstracted from its own imprint
below concrete

surf punk imprints the pedal
abstracted from his essence
as blonde as naugahyde
and a fair surfer
and a punk

manta ray traces the synapse
between dinosaurs and punks
cuts a parallel swath
above a wave
a dinosaur exhausted
a punk
below a wave
a manta ray
a dinosaur’s imprint

$41.60 tops the gas tank
1029 is a lot of miles
if you’re going nowhere

Random Sparks
10 April 2000
(from the archives)


Goseong Dinosaur Museum, South Korea

People who live in Dome Houses

I first caught the geodesic-dome bug back in the 1970s, for no reason other than my ongoing fascination with unique dwellings.

While there are many alternatives, domes in particular have some important and practical advantages over the rectangular boxes that most of us live in. From the Tiny House Blog: [1]

  • The sphere is nature’s most efficient shape, and a dome covers the most living area with the least amount of surface area. When compared with a similar-sized rectangular-shaped house, a dome home will have 30% less surface area and use at least 1/3 less lumber.
  • As domes have less surface area, they reduce the amount of energy required to heat or cool the interior space; less heat is transferred to and from its surroundings.
  • Though a dome uses less material, it is unquestionably stronger than a rectangular-shaped house using stick-frame manufacturing. Dome structures have unparalleled strength and a natural ability to withstand immense earthquake, hurricane and snow load forces.
  • A dome’s more compact footprint saves perimeter shell and foundation materials.

One can infer that domes are relatively inexpensive to build and maintain, and more planet friendly. Quakes, hurricanes and nasty blizzards? No problem.

Probably the biggest threat to the dome is from Homeowners and Builders Associations who for various reasons lobby in favor of the status quo. If you’re fully invested in a McMansion, I suppose having an upstart, commie geodesic dome pop up next door like some mushroom can be disconcerting.

But curved walls and surfaces can be aesthetically beautiful, which I think is among its strongest advantages.


  1. Curved by Design | Tiny House Blog
  2. Curved by Design, Inc.