Category Archives: Robert Goddard

Hot Air: Torture & Tyranny, Happy Monday!

Two things, today. First:

Stuck

Back when I was a kid, I’d heard of Sérgio Mendes and Basil ’66. It was a small combo featuring a pair of female singers that produced a few bossa nova/jazz/funk singles and some LPs that the kind of self-identified sophisticates who read Playboy had on their hi-fi’s.

I didn’t pay much attention to the group because I was too busy listening to the Beatles and the Stones and even the Turtles. Or, I should say, especially the Turtles.

The Turtles, the Coolest Geeks Around.

Over the ensuing decades, my musical tastes have broadened and I’ve become extremely partial to the Brazilian sounds of samba and its stepchild, bossa nova. I delve regularly into the recordings of Joāo Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Walter Wanderley, Elis Regina, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa, among many others.

So, the other night, I was surfing through YouTube looking for new songs and came upon something called “Pretty World” by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66. Hmm, I thought, let’s give it a spin. I did and the thing turned out to be the biggest earworm I’ve experienced in years.

It’s the most insipid tune imaginable, in terms of lyrics, melody, and arrangement. Here’s a sampling of the words:

Why don’t we take a little piece of summer sky,

Hang it on a tree.

For that’s the way to start to make a pretty world,

For you and me.

And for the sun we’ll take a lemon bright balloon, You can hold the string.

Oh, can’t you see that little world of ours will be,

The prettiest thing.

I want to scream!

Later, the two female singers harmonize that in this prettiest of worlds, “Nothing must be made but breakfast and love.”

I want to break things!

There’s a little one-measure keyboard bridge, repeated twice, that’s about as musically vapid and inane as the tinny canned calliope in a carnival merry-go-round.

I’ve got to control myself!

Turns out Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66 churned out a kind of Disney-version of South American music. It’s sort of like the real thing but, all in all, it’s not really. That’s no sin. All I have to do is not listen to it — and I haven’t.

That is, I haven’t clicked the play button on my laptop. But the damned song has been playing over and over and over and over and over in my head for the last week! It’s insane, I tell you.

Get out! Get out! Get out!

Earworms are torture. It’s no wonder the US Army used blaring music to drive Manuel Noriega out of his compound back in January, 1990. Apparently George Orwell never thought of it, preferring his character O’Brien to torture Winston Smith to the point of madness via a face-cage containing a rat rather than, say, playing for poor Smith over and over and over again something like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me).”

I believe I’ll survive this bout of psychosis. “Pretty World,” one day, hopefully soon — very soon, dear god please! — will be forgotten. But, honestly, what a bizarre thing it is for us to flagellate ourselves so.

At least nine noted researchers and psychologists have studied and written about earworms, Oliver Sacks among them. There’s even a formal medical term for the phenomenon: Involuntary Musical Imagery, or INMI. Some 98 percent of people experience earworms. A study sponsored by the American Psychological Association actually found that the most common earworm among those polled was Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” I’ve never heard the song, thank goodness.

One group of scientists suggested in a paper doing anagrams or Sudoku puzzles can break the cycle or even reduce the occurrence of earworms. Another group actually advises sufferers to chew gum.

I’ll try anything.

Second:

Baby Steps

All great advances come incrementally. The electric lightbulb wasn’t invented without the discovery and understanding of electricity, the means to generate electric power, the ability to create a vacuum inside the glass bulb, the resilience and brilliance of a charged tungsten filament, etc. The automobile depended on the discovery and refinement of petroleum, the interworking design of pistons, rods and the camshaft, the transfer of torque energy though the drive shaft to the wheels, etc. That is, is if you consider the age of the automobile an advancement. As the planet warms and species die off and the weather becomes a horror show, we really have to reconsider whether it was all worth it for every-damned-body to have an SUV so they can go four blocks to the Kroger for fifty-five pounds of steaks and ground beef, which itself is destroying millions of acres of rainforest and arable land that might otherwise produce a healthy grain or two.

Whatever. Countless seemingly insignificant inventions and developments precede any great achievement. Nothing happens like magic, like a miracle, popping into existence so suddenly, so unexpectedly that people gasp in shock. Yeah, they may gasp in awe at, say, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module landing on the Moon in July, 1969, but no one was surprised because humankind had been toying with rockets for warfare and fun for the previous half century.

Robert Goddard and the First Liquid-Fueled Rocket, 1914.

Same goes for horrible happenings. Hitler didn’t climb out from a cave. Wars don’t start in the snap of a finger. And, of course, climate catastrophe has been racing toward a climax ever since the first internal combustion engine was built.

This year, today, the President of the United States is refusing to acknowledge that he lost the general election, both by popular vote and in the Electoral College. He’s tweeting and pouting and raging and suing everybody in sight. His federal administrator in charge of presidential transition is refusing to get to work. He’s moaning about voter fraud without producing any evidence. He’s shrieking about some huge, vague conspiracy involving the Democratic Party and the mainstream media and everybody else up to and including the Mexicans, BLM advocates, and Tom Hanks.

His gambit is not going to work. He will vacate the White House at noon, January 20th. We’ll say, Hurrah, democracy works!

But Li’l Duce, as he has in countless ways since he won the presidency on a technicality in 2016, has moved the bar, lowered the standard, muddied the waters. Pick a metaphor; it doesn’t matter. What does is the next guy who comes along and thinks himself greater than the nation, greater than the very idea of democracy itself, will stand on Pres. Gag’s shoulders and bring us even closer to authoritarianism, to tyranny than the outgoing president. He may very well push us over the edge.

So, yeah, cheer nine and a half weeks from today when Joe Biden swears out the oath. But don’t think we’re home free. The term of the disgraceful 45th President of the United States very well may be merely an incremental step toward a glum and alarming development.

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