Archive for May, 2013

Mean Spirits

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

rangda

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“Unless you become more watchful in your states and check the spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.” Andrew Jackson

Yes, I read the unattractive little slips of paper that come with our monthly PG&E bill, and I have no doubt PG&E hopes most customers will toss these little slips without reading their tiny print. Why? Because most of the little slips announce rate increases for things customers should not have to pay for. There is a government entity called the CPUC, which stands for the California Public Utilities Commission, that is supposed to protect the consumer from unnecessary and unjust rate increases, but the CPUC does not protect us because they are in bed with PG&E, literally, and approve anything and everything that PG&E wants to do.

Last month’s bill contained notices of public hearings at which PG&E customers can express their thoughts and feelings about PG&E’s latest proposed rate increases that will garner the private utility company 1.2 billion dollars by raising our electric bills 5.2 percent and our gas bills 15.3 percent. But wait. Because of the nationwide fracking insanity, America is now exporting vast quantities of natural gas to Japan and elsewhere, so PG&E should be lowering gas bills, not raising them, and that same cheap gas is making the generation of electricity cheaper, too, so our electricity rates should be going down, not up. But that won’t stop the CPUC from approving PG&E’s request for rate increases. And what are we going to do about this crime?

Well, I wrote a letter to the CPUC reminding them that they are supposed to be serving the public, not facilitating PG&E’s thievery, and that the rate increases are outrageous and uncalled for. I also sent a copy of my letter to our governor Jerry Brown and asked him to make a fuss about PG&E’s latest proposed theft. No responses so far, and I won’t hold my breath waiting for any. You can write letters, too, or attend public hearings, but that won’t do any good.

Then with this month’s bill came a notice of Phase Two of PG&E’s proposed rate increases, which seems to say they will raise our electric rates even more than the previously noted 5.2 percent—something more like 8 percent. Why? Because they are greedy and amoral and want more and more money all the time and there is nothing we can do to stop them. In many California communities PG&E has a suffocating monopoly on the delivery of electricity, and in the absence of any sort of help from our government, the public is helpless to resist.

“Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” James Thurber

In related news, my phone line went dead on Friday evening, while Marcia’s phone line remained vibrantly alive. Why me, Lord? In any case, since the blessed line ceased to work on the weekend I had to wait until Monday to report the outage to our friendly local MCN (Mendocino Community Network) through which Marcia and I get our phone and internet service. Within a few hours after my call to MCN, a cordial fellow arrived to check our lines and determine that the problem was not my fault. He said that AT&T, the owner of the telephone lines, would have to fix the problem since it was AT&T’s line that was not hooked up properly.

So a few hours later, a taciturn AT&T guy arrived and I told him which number was dead and which was alive, and he nodded and checked the connections in the box on the side of our house and went away and came back and climbed a pole and went away and came back and spent about two hours doing whatever he was doing. Then he announced there was nothing wrong with Marcia’s line, which we already knew, and that it was my line that was dead.

“Yes,” I said, trying to remain calm. “That is what I told the fellow from MCN, and he confirmed that. And that is what I told you when you arrived.”

“Well,” he said, shrugging, “MCN put in an order for me to check the number I checked, and since you’re not an AT&T client we can’t fix the other line until MCN puts in an order for that other number.”

“But I told you which number was dead and which was live,” I said, doing a little jig of annoyance. “And you acknowledged that information and then spent two hours looking into the situation, so I don’t see why you can’t…”

“Somebody, probably me, will come back tomorrow or the next day,” he said, shrugging. “But since you’re not an AT&T customer, I can’t fix the line until MCN puts in an order for the other number.”

And I thought to myself Herein lies the problem with monopolies and the privatization of essential services, which was followed by the thought I wonder if this some sort of punishment for changing our local service to MCN and not continuing to pay the usurious rates charged by AT&T for that same local service?

The sad truth is that PG&E can triple or quadruple our rates any time they want to, and we would have no choice but to pay them unless we want to live without electricity. Indeed, we recently paid a large initial ransom and continue to pay a monthly penalty for not having a Smart Meter radiating us twenty-four hours a day, and our rates were increased to pay for the Smart Meter program (and our rates did not go down after all the radiation devices were installed.) Remember: PG&E is a private company, not a public utility, and therefore we should not have to finance their infrastructure costs on top of paying our monthly energy bills; but we do.

In the case of telephone service, I doubt that AT&T likes sharing their lines with little locally owned companies that provide excellent service for much less money than AT&T charges for similar service. Sadly, when we dared switch to MCN for our local phone service, AT&T punished us with huge fees for stopping service at our previous residence, transferring service to our new residence, and hooking up with MCN. We had no choice but to pay those entirely arbitrary and exorbitant fees if we wanted to avail ourselves of the much more affordable local and long distance phone service, as well as groovy fast internet, all from MCN.

Alas, we do not have an MCN equivalent to provide us with greener and less expensive electricity than PG&E provides, and that is because PG&E and Southern California Edison spend many millions of our dollars every year influencing legislators and running entirely false ad campaigns to make sure alternatives to their monopolies have little chance of succeeding, and they do so with the collusion of the CPUC and the legislature and our governor. Can you say corporate oligarchy? Or if that is too abstract, how about a king and his vassals plundering the peasants whenever they feel like plundering?

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” Ralph Nader

In my most recent yet-to-be-published novel, one of the main characters is the co-founder of a worker-owned cooperative that installs solar panels on the rooftops of a very sunny California town at no cost to the rooftop owners. When we meet our hero, he and his cohorts at Sky Blue Solar Farms have installed state-of-the-art solar panels on nearly all the rooftops of the medium-sized town. The profit split for the sale of the surplus solar electricity back to the grid is 50% for the homeowner, 30% for the township, and 20% for Sky Blue Solar Farms; and the township has grown so rich from the sale of surplus electricity that they now provide the citizenry with fabulous free public transportation, a superb and absolutely free community college, a vast community farm growing superb organic fruits and vegetables and grains, excellent free health clinics, and, of course, a booming economy—all of this made possible by simply changing the laws governing the production and sale of electricity that currently hold sway in California and do not allow such wonderful fictional things to come true.

But such fiction would swiftly become reality if we could change the current laws that serve the greedy few and penalize the rest of us. That, I think, is the most frustrating thing about so many of the obstacles to a transformative technological and societal and ecological revolution: the solutions are readily available but the kings and their vassals are loathe to relinquish their mean-spirited monopolies.

War On Global Warming

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

War Warm

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Winston Churchill

You have no doubt heard the sobering news that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, a concentration last seen on earth three million years ago. This means that widespread climatic disasters of heretofore unimaginable magnitude are now a virtual certainty and there is little hope of keeping global temperatures from rising to deathly levels, and soon. Indeed, many scientists think there is no hope of keeping earthly temperatures below those deathly heights.

But if there is any hope of turning things around, only a concerted global effort will do the trick, with everyone on earth doing his and her part to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. However, as of this writing most people and governments and corporations have shown little or no interest in working to reduce the production of greenhouse gases by swiftly and dramatically reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, which entirely underpin our systems of energy production and transportation and agriculture and manufacturing and just about everything that goes on in the so-called civilized world.

Why not? Why aren’t people and governments and corporations working day and night to turn things around when our very existence depends on such a turnaround? I think it is because the imminent threat to our very existence has not been made clear in terms we, all of us, both understand and resonate with. Saying that some invisible gas has reached 400 parts per million doesn’t mean anything to most people, just as saying the bankers and Wall Street crooks recently stole trillions of dollars from the American people doesn’t mean anything to most people. Parts per million of what? How could people steal trillions of dollars and not get caught?

“Western civilization is a loaded gun pointed at the head of this planet.” Terence McKenna

As a watcher of movie trailers on my computer, I have noticed over the last few years that nearly all the new huge budget movies are about people with super powers or super weaponry fighting super dark forces threatening to destroy the earth. In Harry Potter, Star Trek, Avatar, Star Wars, Oblivion, After Earth, Superman, Iron Man, Spider Man, Thor, The Avengers, Transformers, GI Joe, on and on, the super violent good guys battle super violent bad guys, with the fate of earth literally hanging in the balance. I have zero interest in seeing these movies, but isn’t it fascinating that they are by far the most popular movies of our time? I visited a web site that ranks the most successful movies ever made, and with few exceptions the top one hundred movies are all about super people fighting super forces of evil.

I was complaining to my brother about the virtual non-existence of any American movie made in the last many years that I care to see (not counting documentaries) and in my complaint I mentioned the overwhelming redundancy of these good versus evil super hero war movies. To which my brother replied, “Well, that’s the dominant myth that has been running the world, so to speak, for thousands of years—wars of good versus evil fought by larger-than-life male heroes and anti-heroes. We have been entrained for thousands of years to look at everything through the mythic lens of war, which is why we are so easily manipulated into supporting the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, the War on…”

And then it hit me: the way to get people to actively participate in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to declare a War on Global Warming. We must change the terminology, anthropomorphize global warming and climate change and make them our enemies. Remember the millions of victory gardens Americans planted to help win World War II? Why not revive the victory garden concept and add to it victory solar power cooperatives, victory car pools, victory mass transit, victory city planning, victory insulation, victory everything. The War on Global Warming could be the next big thing in American and global politics.

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” Gary Snyder

My fellow Americans, I am here to tell you that the enemies of the American way of life, of life itself, need carbon to fuel their anti-life forces and super heat the planet to kill us all. But if we can cut off their carbon supply, they are doomed. Don’t you see? Those evil forces feed on carbon. If we deny them their food, they will be powerless against us. And if you elect me to Congress, I will make sure that the War on Global Warming is fully funded. Heck, we spent at least six trillion dollars fighting useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The least we can do is spend that much to defeat the anti-life forces threatening our existence today.

How much is a trillion dollars in terms of our War on Global Warming? For a trillion dollars we could put twenty-thousand-dollar solar energy systems on fifty million houses, and for three trillion dollars we could solarize the entire nation and reduce the cost of electricity to such a low level that electric vehicles and electric transportation systems and electric heating and cooling systems would render the use of fossil fuels obsolete in America. We gave the too-big-to-fail banks several trillion dollars to bail them out in 2008-2009, so don’t tell me we can’t find the do-re-mi to solarize the nation and completely revolutionize the economy.

“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Henry David Thoreau

I pitched my War on Global Warming idea to my savvy friend Rico and he said, “Several problems. First, in all those popular super hero war movies and in all media driven real wars we see our enemies. Your global warming anti-life forces are invisible. That’s a big problem. Second, in all those movies and in real wars, the main thing we do is kill each other. That’s what excites people, men especially. Men love weaponry, firepower, jets, tanks, explosions; and all those things require fossil fuels that cause global warming. Hate to burst your bubble, pal, but solar panels and car pools and vegetable gardens and walking to town and riding bikes and insulation and recycling and buying less and buying local just aren’t very sexy. Know what I mean?”

“I do. But what if we characterize the anti-life forces as carbon-sucking vampires? Young people would love that.”

“Can we see the carbon-sucking vampires? Can they kill us directly or only by sucking on our tailpipes and furnaces? Can they be killed with some sort of death ray or light saber or by muscular men blowing things to smithereens?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Then it won’t work. People need to see the enemy, or think they see them. And they need simple solutions. Kill bad guys before bad guys kill us.”

“So how do you think we can make the War on Global Warming work?”

“It has to be sexy,” said Rico. “And in America sexy means lucrative. Can people strike it rich fighting global warming?”

“Well, in Germany the government makes it easy for regular people to sell surplus solar energy for nice profits, and some solar and wind cooperatives…”

“I’m yawning,” said Rico. “This is not sexy. I’m losing interest.”

“What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.” Jim Morrison

I still think it’s a good idea, the War on Global Warming, but perhaps women will have to take the lead on this one. Remember how in Lysistrata the heroine convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers until the men agree to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the big war raging at that time? Perhaps if we could persuade millions of American and Chinese and European women not to have sex with their husbands or lovers unless those men take an active role in the war on global warming and…

But the problem there is that women consume as much energy as men and are just as reluctant as men to make changes in their lifestyles and to actively work to reverse…

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly

How about this? What if we create a volunteer army of people dedicated to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases? An army of global coolers with a motto—It’s so cool to be a Cooler—displayed on T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, and featured in the catchy chorus of the Global Coolers theme song. Weekly meetings and educational forums and potlucks and tree plantings and solar barbecues and acoustic dances and parades and solar panel installation work parties will be held to making cooling the planet enjoyable and exciting, and to bring Coolers up to speed on the latest technological, political and economic strategies available to accelerate both personal and societal actions to combat global warming.

And here’s the really cool part about this volunteer army: members will wear totally cool turquoise and burgundy pants and long-sleeved shirts and windbreakers, and totally groovy sun hats with fabulous insignias that identify wearers of such clothing as Coolers, soldiers in the local national global army dedicated to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases pronto. The army will be funded by every Cooler and Cooler-friendly business tithing ten per cent of his or her or their income to the cause, along with generous grants from Google, Microsoft, Oracle, myriad movie stars, groovy billionaires, and eventually the governments of the world.

Indeed, being an active Cooler will be so sexy that women will feel silly being with any man who is not a Cooler, and men will feel weird being with any woman who is not a Cooler. And, of course, nobody in his or her right mind is going to run for elected office if he or she isn’t a renowned and heroic Cooler with the requisite groovy clothes and hat, a totally solar home, an electric car or no car, and so on. Thus the Coolers will take over local state national and global governments, enact appropriate legislation and…voila, just like that we turn things around.

Roots & Eggs

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

eggs & roots

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet.” Will Holt

Lemon trees growing near the kitchen. What a wonderful idea. So we chose the perfect spots on the south side of the house for two goodly Meyers, the warmest and sunniest place on our property, only to discover that one of those perfect spots was home to the root mass, still very much alive, of a gargantuan shrub I removed nine months ago. Thus a Herculean task awaited me, one I would postpone until I brought the lemon trees home and their presence inspired me to extricate the massive tangle.

And so on a sunny Saturday, homeward bound after pruning a gorgeous green-leafed Japanese maple, a crab apple, and a plum, I stopped at the admirable Hare Creek Nursery on the south side of Fort Bragg and bought two little Meyer lemon trees. The friendly folks there cautioned me not to plant the lemon trees in the ground, but to grow them in tubs. However, Marcia and I are not after bonsais; we’re aiming for large trees festooned with hundreds of delectable yellow orbs, and I figure with global warming proceeding apace, the Mendocino climate should henceforth be perfect for growing citrus in the ground.

With the little beauties sitting nearby and crying for release from their plastic pots, I began digging around the root mass and confirmed that my nemesis was gigantic, well connected, tenacious, and uncooperative. To borrow from Bogart, I have met a lot of root masses in my time, but this one was really something special. After an hour of heavy labor using shovel, mattock, pick, trowel, axe and crowbar, the mass remained unmoving, as if I had done nothing. This depressed me, so I took a break, had some water and a handful of almonds and tried not to take the root mass’s indifference personally.

“The sensitivity of men to small matters, and their indifference to great ones, indicates a strange inversion.” Blaise Pascal

When I lived in Berkeley, and before I discovered a secret post office where I never had to wait, I frequently stood in long lines to mail packages and buy stamps. And on many such occasions, people in line with me would take it personally that they had to wait more than a few minutes to do their postal business, and they would say things like, “This is an outrage,” or “No wonder they’re going out of business,” as if the postal clerks were intentionally taking as long as they possibly could with each transaction.

Having made a careful multi-year study of the service in Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, and El Cerrito post offices, I have no doubt that the real cause of the slowness of service was the alarming number of befuddled and dimwitted customers who would, upon their arrival at the counter, act as if they had no idea how they came to be there or where on their persons they had secreted their wallets or how they wanted to mail whatever it was they wished to mail. The postal clerks would patiently explain the various shipping choices and how much each choice would cost, and the befuddled dimwits would stand in frozen dismay for minutes on end pondering such deep philosophical questions as “Priority or Media?”, “Would you like to insure that?” and “For how much?”

One day at the Albany post office, a man several places behind me in line shouted at the two harried postal clerks, “Has today’s mail been delivered into the boxes yet?”

The clerks had their hands full helping befuddled dimwits, so neither replied to the shouting man.

Their indifference enraged the man and he screamed, “Has today’s mail been put in the boxes? Don’t pretend you can’t hear me!”

One of the clerks said wearily, “Yes, the mail has been put in the boxes today.”

“Bullshit!” screamed the man. “I know a letter arrived for me today and you are intentionally keeping it from me. I demand that you give me my letter or I’ll call the police!”

The two clerks exchanged glances and one of them said, “Go right ahead, sir. Call the police.”

“Fascists!” screamed the man. “Thieves!”

Then the poor fellow ran out of the post office and the woman behind me murmured, “Thank God he didn’t have a gun.”

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Returning to the root mass, I resumed my digging and picking and chopping and clawing, and soon enough the mass began to move when prodded, which lifted my spirits and gave me hope of eventual success. After another hour of digging and chopping, there remained but one fat root connecting the root mass to the earth. I rose from my knees, took hold of my axe, positioned myself above my target, and was about to swing the axe high, when I felt a pang of empathy for the root mass and decided to wait a moment before severing that last life-giving tendril.

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” Kahlil Gibran

Speaking of roots, I was thinking about homegrown carrots the other day as I was making pancake batter using eggs we got from our neighbors Elias and Emily, who also provide us with exceptionally yummy goat cheese. Emily and Elias’s eggs come from their herd of happy-go-lucky free-ranging chickens whose eggs are so delicious they make the best organic mass produced eggs seem tasteless and tawdry in comparison. Indeed, these Emily and Elias chicken eggs make my gluten-free pancake batter so rich and tasty I dread the day when I have to resort to store bought eggs again. But why did Emily and Elias’s grandiloquent eggs make me think about homegrown carrots?

Because there are few things in the world as delicious as a well-grown carrot in its prime just pulled from the friable earth of a wholly natural garden. Indeed, so sweet and delicious is a just-pulled homegrown carrot, that the very best organic carrots money can buy are but pale imitations of the homegrown variety. Just-pulled is a large part of the answer to why homegrown carrots are so superior to even the best store or farmers’ market-bought carrots; the delectable sugar in just-pulled carrots has yet to turn to starch. Ergo, Emily and Elias’s eggs are to eggs what just-pulled homegrown carrots are to carrots.

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” John F. Kennedy

The roots of our culture nourished by art. Society setting artists free to follow their visions wherever those visions may take them. Can you imagine such a society?  Kennedy spoke those words on October 26, 1963, less than a month before he was assassinated, and I’ve often thought his words were prophetic of what was to come and ever after be called The Sixties, a brief era when more artists freely followed their visions than ever before. And it took the overlords of our society a good decade to get control of the situation and put a stop to most of that status-quo-threatening socialistic vision following.

“My ancestors wandered lost in the wilderness for forty years because even in biblical times, men would not stop to ask for directions.” Elayne Boosler

Who are your chosen ancestors? What are the roots of the decisions you make that direct the course of your life? The root mass got me thinking about roots, the ones we spring from and the ones we create for ourselves. Some root masses are inescapable, some allow for the intrusion of new roots, and sometimes we have to excise the present root mass to make room for the new.

I know I was emboldened by the poets Philip Whalen and David Meltzer and Lew Welch, the example of my uncle David, the movies The Horse’s Mouth and Zorba the Greek, and the powerful societal ferment roiling northern California in the 1960’s to drop out of college and follow my visions, much to the chagrin of my parents, speaking of root masses. My father and mother strove mightily to convince me to change my mind and return to the straight and narrow and safe, but I would not change my mind.

After two exciting, challenging and exhausting years of vagabonding, I found myself with a terrible cold, a worse cough, and barely surviving on rice and lentils in a badly insulated room in Ashland, Oregon. I was in the throes of writing my first novel and loving the work, but I was so lonely and sad and tired of being poor that I was sorely tempted to throw in the towel and return to the ease and comfort of college. And then at the absolute nadir of my despair, I received a letter from my father, the gist of which so surprised me I had to read the letter three times before I could even begin to believe what he had written.

My father wrote in black ink on light orange stationery that he was both jealous and proud of me for doing what he had always longed to do but never had the courage to attempt—to leave the straight and narrow and go a’ wandering with pack on his back, following only the whims of his heart and intuition—those words from my greatest critic providing the inspiration I needed to continue my uncharted course.

Some years later, I mentioned this remarkable letter to my father, and he snorted and said, “Don’t be ridiculous. I would never have written such a thing to you because I have never for a minute been jealous of you and I am not proud of you pissing your life away on your delusional infantile fantasies.”

“Oh, but you did write that, Dad,” I said, not at all surprised he didn’t remember writing such words to me. “And you sent the letter, too, along with a twenty-dollar bill that bought me chicken and eggs and almonds and cheese and cookies and a wonderfully warm jacket from the Salvation Army.”

“There you go again,” he said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head and filling his wine glass yet again, “making shit up to fit your fantasies.”

“Great talents are the most lovely and often the most dangerous fruits on the tree of humanity. They hang upon the most slender twigs that are easily snapped off.” Carl Jung

Now the little lemon trees are planted in the good earth and sending forth their new roots—the gargantuan root mass gone. Emily and Elias’s chickens are foraging in the meadow, their just-laid eggs awaiting discovery in the coop. Carrot seedlings are emerging in my carrot patch, and soon I will thin the rows of promising babies, only one in a dozen to be spared to grow beyond the first culling.

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com

How Stupid?

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Simon

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.” William Stafford

A recent phone conversation with a friend caused me to comment, “How could they have been so stupid not to know that?”

Our conversation was about a film my friend is working on, a documentary extolling the virtues of a pilot program in California called Pre-Kindergarten. I know what you’re thinking, and I thought the same thing. Isn’t pre-kindergarten just another name for pre-school or nursery school? No. Because kindergarten in America is no longer what kindergarten used to be. Why? Because Bill Clinton and George Bush and now Barack Obama have overseen a demolition of education in America that has damned an entire generation of students to ignorance and semi-literacy, and that demolition includes a tragic transformation of kindergarten.

To make a long horror story short, beginning some twenty years ago the morons (evil ones?) in charge of dispensing federal education dollars to the public schools of our fifty states, declared that America was falling behind the rest of the world because of low test scores in our public schools. The thinking of these evil ones (morons?) who had somehow gotten into positions of power in our government went something like this: “Well, heck, if low test scores is the problem let’s just bring those test scores up by making the kids memorize a bunch of useless crap so they score higher on the dang tests. Yeah. Sure. That should do the trick.”

Well, making kids memorize a bunch of useless crap without also teaching them to read and write and think and understand didn’t do the trick. In fact, it did the opposite of the trick because memorizing is not learning. Hence most Americans graduating from high school today can barely read, cannot write worth a damn, and they don’t know how to reason or think critically and creatively, nor can they speak in complete sentences, nor do they know anything about anything except what’s on television. Thus no one wants to hire them for anything except the most menial of jobs.

There are currently, right this minute, many thousands of internet technology and bio-technology job openings in the Bay Area and other techno-hubs across America that are simply off limits to most Americans because most Americans looking for work today are not even minimally qualified for such jobs or even qualified to be trained for such jobs; and so American companies continue to bring in jet loads of men and women from China and India and Russia and Pakistan to fill these positions because for some reason China and India and Russia and Pakistan have no trouble producing jet loads of literate and well-educated people.

So…back to the evil ones (morons) continuing to pursue the disastrous No Child Left Educated programs that currently hold sway in America. Confronted by the failure of trying to make uneducated children memorize useless data in order to attain higher test scores, these cretins (devils) decided: “Hey. You know what? Maybe the problem is we’re not forcing these slaves, er, children to memorize useless crap when they’re really young. How about we start the usual idiotic First Grade training in Kindergarten? You know, get those teeny kids learning their ABC’s and adding and subtracting while being forced to sit at desks and act like drones right after they learn to walk and talk so they can start memorizing useless crap pronto. Yeah. That should do the trick.”

Well…guess what? Aborting children’s natural creativity and curiosity while they try to learn to read and write and add and subtract and sit quietly at desks before their brains and bodies are organically ready to learn those kinds of things, is the surest way to produce an epidemic of dyslexia and learning disorders and behavioral problems that qualify nearly all children subjected to such insanity for, you guessed it…Special Ed!

Faced with this disastrous tidal wave of seriously fucked up children, and confronting the formidable power of the evil morons, a few brave educators and educational bureaucrats in California said, “May we make a suggestion? How about we try a little something before kindergarten, not nursery school or pre-school, but pre-kindergarten to see if that little something we want to try improves the kids’ learning abilities and better prepares them for actual kindergarten and First Grade and beyond.”

“You mean start them memorizing useless crap even earlier than we were already making them do that?” asked the evil morons, liking that idea, of course.

“Well, no,” said the brave educators. “That doesn’t seem to be producing very good results. We thought we’d try something else. Just to see. Okay?”

Though the vagueness of the educators’ plan perplexed the evil morons, they gave the California educators the go ahead to operate a number of pre-kindergarten pilot programs wherein the kids sang and danced and finger-painted and went on nature walks and listened to teachers read stories and, you know, kind of exactly like good old kindergarten used to be, and by golly those kids did do much better in the new moronic kindergarten and idiotic First Grade classes than the kids who didn’t go to pre-kindergarten.

And that is what prompted me to say, “How could we have been so stupid not to know that?”

One of the answers to my question is that over the last twenty years (and before that, too) tens of millions of people, those that could afford to, removed their precious children from the ass backward public schools, and so those millions of people were too busy earning money to pay for private schools to join in any sort of meaningful fight against the evil morons destroying our public educational system with the blessings of our evil moron presidents. Another answer is that most people, smart or stupid, don’t question how their children are being educated but get mighty upset when their children graduate from high school and can’t read or write or get a job.

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” Somerset Maugham

I became interested in dyslexia some forty years ago when I was working in a day care center and three of my little friends insisted on signing their drawings and finger paintings, though none of the other three and four-year-olds attending our center knew how to write their names. Each of the three precocious scribes had well-meaning parents who thought if they could make their children learn to read and write when they were only three and four-years-old that their kiddies would have a competitive advantage over their classmates.

One of the three children who had been pushed prematurely to learn to write his name would labor for several minutes to sign SIMON upside down and backwards. Another of the children always misspelled her name with oddly incomplete letters, and the third child made a line of various-sized rectangles she insisted spelled SUSIE. What especially concerned me about these three children was that they all exhibited extreme anxiety about making mistakes, no matter what the activity, even when they were just finger painting or drawing with crayons or building towers with blocks.

Concerned for my kids, I began reading articles about learning disorders, including dyslexia, and was heartened to find that a number of comprehensive studies had proven conclusively that most cases of dyslexia and many other learning disorders, too, could be traced directly to children being forced to try to learn to read and write and do mathematics before their brains were ready to learn these things.

But what about my cousin Ward? He learned to read when he was two! He used to dazzle us by reading the dictionary aloud, no word too big for him to pronounce. I know this may come as a shock to the evil morons, but exhaustive research has proven that every human brain is unique, and each unique person attains his or her optimal brain state for learning to read and write at a unique moment in his or her life. Shocking but true: some people’s brains click into readiness, so to speak, to learn to read at two, three, four, five, six, on up to twelve-years-old. And if someone’s brain is not ready to learn to read and write, and that someone is forced to try to learn, there is a strong probability they will develop some form of dyslexia or learning disability.

What’s more, this cause of learning disorders and dyslexia has been common knowledge among educators for forty years. Yet our public education system has done virtually nothing to accommodate this incredibly important truth about how we learn. Waldorf education, you may know, makes individual brain readiness a centerpiece of their learning system, but our public schools and charter schools and even most private schools…well, how could they have been so stupid not to know what precipitates learning disorders?

“One cannot wage war under present conditions without the support of public opinion, which is tremendously molded by the press and other forms of propaganda.” Douglas MacArthur

The recent news that our overlords are trundling out the same old Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction ruse to pave the way for the United States to start bombing and/or invading Syria, made me snicker at first, until I realized that a population of semi-literate tweeters will believe anything if that anything is presented to them as the truth because they were never taught to think critically or logically or even just minimally for themselves. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it certainly appears that the overlords have engineered a perfect system for creating mass stupidity to serve their needs in the short run, and short runs are all they care about.

$1.50

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

1.50

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“Once, during prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” W.C. Fields

This just in: Ben Affleck, the movie star, is going to try to survive for five days spending only one dollar and fifty cents per day on food. He is lending his celebrity to the Live Below the Line Campaign to bring attention to the plight of millions of people in America and hundreds of millions of people around the world who try to survive on a dollar-fifty or less for food every day of their lives. Several celebrities I’ve never heard of (I’m old and don’t watch television) are joining Affleck along with twenty thousand other Americans voluntarily partaking of the five-day ordeal. The organizers of the event recommend that anyone wishing to attempt this amazing feat spend their entire budget of $7.50 at the start of the five days by purchasing “pasta, lentils, rice, bread, vegetables, potatoes and oats.”

Clearly, these folks don’t shop where we shop. Pasta? Forget it. Largely empty calories and too expensive. Bread? Are you kidding? At nearly six dollars for a decent loaf? Vegetables? Maybe a few carrots won’t bust the budget. Potatoes? Perhaps a russet or two. Oats? No way. Much ado about nothing. Rice? Brown rice. Yes. A big yes. Lentils? Sure, but be prepared for profound farting, and in lieu of lentils, how about pinto beans with that same fart disclaimer.

Eating for $1.50 a day would be a much more meaningful exercise if the well-fed Affleck tried to live on that amount per day for five weeks or five months, but I salute him for helping illuminate the plight of so many of our fellow earthlings. I mentioned to Marcia that Ben was going to be making this incredible sacrifice for five whole days, and she, too, reasoned that rice and beans were the way to go if Ben wants sufficient sustenance for so little money. In surmising how we would try to survive on such a small food allowance, Marcia and I are limited in our thinking by our adherence to buying organic produce, so our $1.50 purchases almost nothing. Yesterday, for instance, I bought three navel oranges, six big leaves of kale, and a little bag of millet flour, and my bill was eight bucks. So…

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw

When I lived in Berkeley, I worked for a wonderful woman named Helen Gustafson who was, among many other things, the tea buyer at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famous eatery. I was Helen’s part-time editor and secretary for several years until her death in 2003, her obituary in the New York Times proclaiming Helen to be the tea pioneer most responsible for fine green and black tea being served in the many good restaurants in America now serving such tea.

Helen had carte blanche at Chez Panisse and took me to lunch and supper there on numerous occasions. I would never have taken myself to Chez Panisse because a simple meal in that groovy joint cost as much as I spent on two-weeks-worth of groceries, and if my meal included a glass of wine and dessert, make that three-weeks-worth. Because everything was free to us at Chez Panisse, Helen ordered lavishly and encouraged me to do so, too, but I couldn’t. Knowing that the diminutive ultra-delicious goat cheese salad cost as much as a belly-busting three-course meal at nearby Vegi Food (Chinese) made it impossible for me to order much at all, so Helen would order several appetizers, two or three salads and two or more entrees, and then delight in watching me eat my fill.

The wine I drank at Chez Panisse, the only white wine I have ever liked, cost twenty-seven dollars a glass and induced in me a state of well being akin to swimming in a high Sierra lake after a long hot hike. I am allergic to alcohol, more than a sip of wine usually makes me ill, but my allergy did not manifest when I drank that particular French wine, the name of which I intentionally chose not to remember.

I liked to walk home after dining with Helen at Chez Panisse, the downhill jaunt to the house I rented in the Berkeley flats enhanced by my mild hallucinatory state courtesy of that particular French wine and the delectable comestibles combusting so agreeably in my organically bloated tummy. Helen always insisted I take home the sizeable amount of food (and several handmade chocolate truffles) we had not consumed in the course of our feasting, and it became my habit to invite my neighbors over to partake of the Chez Panisse leftovers that they, too, would never buy for themselves.

Thus there was secondary feasting on the fabulous fare, minus the magic wine, with much oohing and ahing and marveling at the culinary delights usually reserved for the wealthy. One of my neighbors, a great amateur chef who volunteered to cook several meals a month at a homeless shelter, savored each little bite he took of the Chez Panisse ambrosia, attempting to discern the spices and secret ingredients that went into making such delicacies.

“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.” Franz Kafka

In 1970, in Mexico and Guatemala, almost every day for six months, my traveling companions and I encountered people who did not have enough food. When it was safe and feasible to do so, we shared our food with these people and gave them a little money, but on a number of occasions we found ourselves in villages where everyone was desperately hungry, and the fact that we had a little food and the villagers had no food made it necessary for us to skedaddle pronto.

One day we arrived in a remote village in Mexico adjacent to some Zapotec ruins we hoped to explore, and were greeted by a group of men who were so hungry their growling bellies sounded like a chorus of bullfrogs. Their leader demanded we pay him a large sum if we wanted to see the ruins. “We are starving,” he said to me, murder in his eyes. “The government promised to send food, but no food has come. We thought your van was the government truck.” I apologized, gave him the equivalent of ten dollars, and we sped away before the angry men could surround the van and keep us from leaving.

I was forever changed by those six months among so many desperately hungry people. Today I know several people who spend their winters in Mexico and Central America, enjoying the warmth and inexpensive food and lodging, but I would not feel right doing that because I know too well that my government’s agricultural and economic and political policies are largely responsible for the massive suffering in those countries. I am also no longer comfortable with culinary extravagance, which always reminds me of the hungry little boys who followed me everywhere in Mexico and Guatemala, starving children hoping I would buy them some bread.

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” Calvin Trillin

My housemate for two of my eleven years in Berkeley was a cook at a popular restaurant. She was unquestionably the finest cook I have ever had the pleasure of cleaning up after. Though she gave me no formal training, I learned many things about cooking from watching her perform in our kitchen. She was an extremely private person and we spoke very little in the two years we lived together, though we shared hundreds of exquisite meals she prepared, mostly late morning breakfasts and late evening suppers. She concocted her dishes using whatever she found in the larder, some of which she bought, some of which she got from the restaurant where she worked, but most of which I purchased. And though she rarely told me what to buy, I knew that if I kept our cupboards and refrigerator stocked with promising ingredients, especially fresh vegetables, she couldn’t help but produce the most delectable meals.

She was a bold improviser and an absolute wizard with spices. She had four frying pans—seven, eight, ten, and twelve inches in diameter—and often employed all four in the making of a dish or dishes to go with the brown rice I cooked. She said I made good rice, and because I considered her a culinary master, her assessment of my rice made me feel talented and worthwhile.

One evening I came into the kitchen and saw that in her smallest pan she was browning almond slivers, in her other small pan she was sautéing diced onions and garlic in sesame oil, in her medium-sized pan she was simmering cauliflower in a red wine sauce, and in the large pan she was fast-frying a great mass of spinach leaves in olive oil and water, all this to be combined with eggs and other ingredients to create a stupendous frittata-like thing. And I remember thinking as I watched her cook: she never hurries and she is entirely free of doubt and fear.

“A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.” W.C. Fields

I hope Ben Affleck is positively transformed by his experience of eating for five days on $1.50 a day. If I could speak to Ben before he begins his five-day experience of Spartan eating, I would say, “Simmer a few cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil and pour that over your brown rice. Don’t forget cumin and ginger and turmeric to make your rice and beans more interesting. And while you’re counting the hours before you go back to dropping two hundred bucks on dinner for two, watch the movies Big Night and Mostly Martha. With luck and skill and inspiration, maybe one day you’ll make a great food movie that is more than a food movie and uses food to open our minds and hearts to the fantastic powers of compassion and creativity.”