Archive for November, 2014

Nonsense

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

andmischief

Mr. and Mrs. Magician and their son Mischief painting by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2014)

“Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.” Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

The most successful music of the last twenty years is music that garnered the most views of videos in which that music served as background. The music business is now a wholly subsumed subsidiary of the video business. Original melodies have become so rare in this era of image-conveyed quasi-musical rhythm tracks, that melody, in commercial terms, is essentially irrelevant. Indeed, commercially speaking, to bring out a new album of tunes today without simultaneously bringing out several titillating videos accompanied by those tunes is almost unheard of.

“Where every something, being blent together turns to a wild of nothing.” William Shakespeare

According to new research by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the richest one-hundredth of one percent of Americans now hold eleven per cent of the nation’s total wealth. That is a higher share than the top .01 percent held in 1929, just prior to the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. And keep in mind we are speaking of the reported wealth of the top .01 percent, which is very likely a small fraction of the wealth they have secreted offshore.Put another way, 16,000 people are worth 110 million dollars each. That is to say, each of those 16,000 people is worth 110 million dollars, which is 1200 times wealthier than the average American.

“Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense.” Robert Frost

Have you mailed anything through the Post Office recently? Quixotic is the kindest adjective I can muster to describe the reliability of postal service since the forces of privatization in Congress began their vicious attack on what was once a strong and reliable component of our social fabric. This is the time of year when I mail packages hither and yon to those daring darlings who purchase my books and music directly from me, and packages sent Media Mail today take many days longer to reach their destinations than packages sent to those same places a year ago. Rates have increased dramatically, dozens of postal hubs have been closed, and thousands of postal employees let go, supposedly to save the system while in effect destroying it.

Several of my customers now insist I use UPS or Fed X to ship their goodies despite the higher costs because they no longer trust the post office to deliver their packages safe and sound and in good time. This is precisely what those Cruel People With Small Brains hoped would happen when they began their scurrilous attack on our beloved PO, a fundamental social service for the majority of Americans that Congress says America can no longer afford to subsidize.

Last week, however, the President of the United States announced he was sending 1500 more troops to help fight the Islamist army in Iraq and Syria known as ISIS, at an initial cost of seven billion dollars. That seven billion is, of course, in addition to the hundreds of billions the United States annually contributes to the coffers of corporations and client states messing around in the quagmire created by American foreign policy in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan.

“The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.” Carl Jung

Twenty-five-year-old Giancarlo Stanton just signed a 325-million-dollar contract to continue playing baseball for the Miami Marlins. That may seem like a great deal of money, but the contract is for thirteen years, which comes to only 25 million a year. A paltry sum. Assuming Giancarlo pays a little income tax (perhaps an erroneous assumption) and his agents and managers take their cuts, and he spends some of the money on this and that over the years, he very likely won’t end up among those 16,000 super rich people at the top of the American heap. But at least he’ll have a chance to get there.

“Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable.” C.S. Lewis

An acquaintance recently loaned me a bestselling novel she thought I might enjoy. My head began to ache midway through the first paragraph, a seven-sentence construct devoid of grace in which the word it figures prominently but is never defined. By the end of paragraph two, when a bottle of beer asks a woman if it can buy her a drink (because the man I assumed was drinking the beer was grammatically left out of the action), I could read no further.

However, before I threw the execrable thing across the room, I flipped to the back to see if there was an About The Author paragraph that might shed some light on how this so-called writer had succeeded so famously despite his formidable inability to write anything readable, and I came upon a page entitled Questions and Topics for Discussion. My blood ran cold. I had heard of these kinds of pages but had never opened a book published recently enough and popular enough to warrant the addition of such vomitous bilge. What else to call these questions? Insults to the reader’s intelligence? The codification of stupidity? The death of original thinking?

I only read #1 before thrusting the poisonous volume into the woodstove and spared myself further horrors. Yet though I acted quickly, #1 is still, days later, reverberating in my mind and troubling my sleep. Here it is.

1. Did you like Jack or Sharon? Did you find yourself picking a side? Do you think the author wants us to like them? Why or why not?

“There’s a lot of mediocrity being celebrated, and a lot of wonderful stuff being ignored or discouraged.” Sean Penn

Or as Arthur Conan Doyle put it, “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

Topics For Discussion: Do you have the capacity to distinguish something mediocre from something excellent? How do you know you have that capacity? Who told you? When was that? Why would someone say something like that to you? Are you feeling defensive about the kinds of books you like to read? Why or why not?

Stockholm Syndrome

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

merlin

Merlin pen and ink by Todd

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2014)

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” James Madison

In the days following the latest American election, I found myself musing about why so many people voted for so many cruel, stupid, shortsighted representatives and approved propositions designed to destroy our environment and our healthcare system? Why would millions of people elect the kinds of representatives who have done nothing but wreck our society for the past fifty years? Can we chock this up to mass stupidity? I used to think we could, but this election caused me to seek a slightly more sophisticated explanation, and though I may be wrong, here is what I came up with. America suffers from a severe case of the Oslo Syndrome.

What is the Oslo syndrome? The Oslo syndrome is a corollary of the Stockholm syndrome. Also known as capture-bonding, the Stockholm syndrome is the psychological phenomenon of a hostage or battered wife or terrified military recruit or a victim of fraternity hazing, empathizing and sympathizing with his or her captors in order to enhance his or her chances of survival, even going so far as defending those captors and ultimately identifying with them. The Oslo Syndrome occurs when an entire people is afflicted with the Stockholm syndrome.

How else to explain the majority of voters voluntarily electing representatives who have ruined and promise to continue ruining our society? How else to explain millions of women voting for men who pass laws denying those women access to adequate family planning, birth control, and abortion? How else to explain the majority of voters electing representatives who gladly spend trillions of dollars on war, eagerly cut taxes for the rich, happily fund the annihilation of our environment, and viciously gut our educational system, while gleefully denying a large and fast-growing portion of the American population basic human rights and the necessities of life?

“The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.” H.L. Mencken

Bookmarked on my computer is a photography website called Lenscratch featuring the work of a different photographer every day. A few days ago, while looking at a photo essay on Lenscratch of people in contemporary Japan, I was struck by how many people in the photos were clutching cell phones while eating, walking, shopping, visiting with friends, and working at various tasks. The photo essay was about every day life in Japan, but might have been about people clutching cell phones.

While walking on the beach a few days ago, nearly everyone I saw was clutching a cell phone, including a woman walking her dog, two young men playing Frisbee, three girls walking side by side in the shallows, and a gaggle of parents sitting on beach chairs while their kids played in the sand. I felt I was observing a conquered people submitting to an electronic system of control, many of the conquered choosing to clutch phones rather than wear electronic ankle bracelets sending coordinates of their whereabouts to the authorities.

“A politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I use a large desktop computer for my work as a writer, editor, and seller of things on my web site—books, musical recordings, and note cards. I also use my computer for reading articles, sending and receiving mail, watching sports highlights, movie trailers, and episodes of George Burns & Gracie Allen. Being keenly aware of my compulsive and addictive tendencies, any extensions of my desktop computer are verboten to me, and that includes laptop computers, computer pads, and cell phones. My connection to the Internet and the worldwide web is limited to my use of the not-portable computer on my desk in my office. When I’m in the living room or kitchen or bedroom or outside hauling firewood or gardening, and when I go to the village and beyond, I am not reachable by phone or through the digital ethers. My sanity and functionality and happiness depend on not being connected to the digital-electronic matrix most of the hours of my life.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

When the sun is shining in Mendocino, even in the depths of winter, my favorite place to write is Big River Beach. Nowadays I write with a fine-tipped black ink pen in a composition book of blue-lined paper, nine inches by seven inches. The wildness of Big River Beach, the ambient roar of the waves, the unceasing drama of the swiftly flowing river bashing into the onrushing sea, the dance of the ever-circling gulls and ravens, the fantastic cloudscapes and the absence of anything electrical, are ingredients in an atmospheric recipe that rarely fails to free my imagination.

What I find most tragic about the pandemic of phone clutching is that the phone-clutching person’s imagination cannot be free so long as he or she is tethered to an electronic digital matrix designed to commandeer brain lobes we might otherwise use to think and feel deeply as we interact with the real and glorious world.

Geese

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

hawk

Hawk pen and ink by Todd

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2014)

“Bird flying high, you know how I feel.” Anthony Newley

Every day this week, walking to town, working in the garden, sitting on a bench overlooking Big River Bay, the honking of zealous geese caused me to look up and search the sky until I found the lines of honkers, visible to my naked eyes only because there were dozens of the mighty birds in large formations winging southward.

Yesterday I counted one V composed of seventy birds, though there may have been a few more or less—a distant consortium moving swiftly in the sun-drenched sky. Among the largest birds we’ll ever see in California, these geese were flying so high they appeared to be the size of tiny gnats, and their great altitude suggested they intended to travel many miles beyond Mendocino before coming down to earth.

“Remember the music, the food, the dope, the cheap gas and junk cars, friendship, love, moonlight, firelight, cold water, geese, wine, poetry, liberty, happiness, when we were still too far from the end to see it turn to history.” Quinton Duval

In 1969, a few months after dropping out of college and shortly before turning twenty, I drove around America and Canada in a school-bus-yellow 1962 GMC panel truck with my pal Dick Mead. We had no set itinerary and chose our roads because we liked the names of towns those roads went to or because there were mountains and rivers on the map that called to us. We were not seasoned travelers when we embarked, and we were perhaps in too much of a hurry, being young and unaware of the illusory nature of time and space, but all in all it was a good way for me to learn how not to be in school.

One day in August, on the eastern side of the Cascades north of Walla Walla, we found ourselves on a narrow two-lane road so little used that we drove for two hours at forty-miles-per-hour without seeing another car or person—only a few badly battered farm houses standing along our way. In that treeless land, dry and dusty cattle land (though we saw no cattle) the road curved around the bases of round-topped hills we found impossible to gauge the size of, an impossibility that made us feel disoriented and verging on crazy.

Finally I said to Dick, “Let’s hike to the top of one of these hills and see what we can see.”

So we parked at the bottom of a likely hill and stepped out of our truck into a fabulous silence that was only occasionally broken by a gust of wind or a cawing crow. And though the top of the hill seemed quite close—I guessed we would be on top in fifteen minutes—we decided to carry full canteens, chunks of cheese, chocolate bars and bananas, and we were glad we did. The slope of that hill turned out to be incredibly steep and it took us an hour of hard scrambling to reach the top—the views in every direction showing us endless ranks of treeless hills marching away to the horizons.

Had we not been so young and unaware of the illusory nature of time and space, we might have camped there until our water ran out, imbibing the strange otherness of that promontory in a sea of hills—not another human being within a hundred miles of us. Instead, we stayed up there for an hour or so, gobbling our food, drinking our precious water, playing Frisbee in a fickle wind, and gazing down at the wisp of a highway beside which stood our school-bus-yellow panel truck that appeared to be the size of a very small gnat.

“Thank you for the sea, for what the river discovers at its end, what waits for all of us to come calling.” Quinton Duval

There is something deeply reassuring to me about those high-flying wild geese winging swiftly southward at the beginning of another November in Mendocino. They and their predecessors have been heading south to warmer climes for millions of years, and when I hear their honking and see their undulating formations in the sky, the longevity of the life cycle of their species resonates in my bones and I am filled with hope for the continuance of life on our unique and bountiful earth.

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle

There is a clump of plant life I pass every day on my way down to the village, a tangle of ivy and blackberry brambles engulfing an eight-foot-long fragment of old fence that stands ten feet from the edge of Little Lake Road—a favorite roost for dozens of little birds, seed-eaters most of them. Every time I walk by that green clump on my way to the village, several little birds, often dozens of them, finches and sparrows and chickadees, come flying from near and far to perch on the extremities of the clump and chatter at me—and I chatter back. When I have passed by, the little birds fly away and resume whatever they were doing before I walked by.

Now here is a curious thing. When I pass the clump on the homeward leg of my journey (I walk on the same side of the road going and returning) the little birds do not come to greet me. However, if I ascend fifty yards beyond the clump and then turn around and head back toward the village, the birds will come speeding to the clump and give me what for.

I wonder what I am to those little birds. And why do they only take notice of me when I’m heading west and downhill? A most pleasing puzzlement.

American Exceptionalism

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Shakespeare PC Map (todd)

A Shakespearean Map of the U.S.A. courtesy of David Jouris

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2014)

“There are no exceptions to the rule that everybody likes to be an exception to the rule.” Charles Osgood

Recently listening to fascinating interviews with Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange, I was struck by their repeated use of the expression American Exceptionalism. The expression as they used it had geo-political connotations, but I think American Exceptionalism also captures the essence of the most popular operating system of the individual American psyche.

In geo-political terms, American Exceptionalism refers to the belief of those currently ruling America, that America can and should do things militarily, politically and economically on the world stage that America will not tolerate any other country doing. In terms of the individual American psyche, American Exceptionalism manifests in countless ways. For example:

Arriving at Big River Beach a few days ago, hoping to enjoy a stroll on the sand, I was confronted by a large growling unleashed dog. When the dog’s owner—a woman in her thirties wearing a Sierra Club sweatshirt—came to my rescue, I informed her that dogs are supposed to be leashed on Big River Beach. She bristled and said, “My dog won’t hurt anyone.”

A young man we know who recently received a Master’s degree in Environmental Science because he “wants to educate people about the dire need for humans, en masse, to shift our energy consumption habits,” recently flew to Paris from San Francisco “just for fun” and has trips planned for next year to Chile, Thailand and Australia because, “I have so many frequent flier miles.”

This same wannabe world saver turned down a lovely apartment an easy walk from the private high school where he teaches classes in Environmental Awareness and chose to live “in a hipper part of the Bay Area,” necessitating a ninety-minute car commute to his job. That’s ninety minutes both ways.

Is this intelligent young man unaware of the hypocrisy of his behavior in light of his professed beliefs? I think so. I think he is a quintessential American Exceptionalist. In his mind, everyone else needs to stop driving so much and flying everywhere, but not he. Why not he? He’s an American.

“There are two reasons why a man does anything. There’s a good reason and there’s the real reason.” J.P. Morgan

A few months ago, Marcia and I watched the very good and creepy (to me) movie Her about a bright personable man with intimacy issues—played by Joaquin Phoenix—who falls in love with an incredibly sophisticated computer operating system possessed of clairvoyant artificial intelligence. At a crucial moment in the movie, the operating system, voiced with sweetly sexy allure by Scarlett Johansson, informs our hero that she is simultaneously carrying on “intimate” relationships with hundreds of other users. Crushed to the core by this news, Joaquin nonetheless soldiers on with his relationship with the operating system, though things can never be as wonderful as they once were because She was supposed to be his and his alone. It would have been fine for him to have another relationship while maintaining his relationship with Her, but that was unacceptable for Her.

When Her was made (a couple years ago) the movie was intended to be futuristic. By the time we saw the film, we could discern almost no difference between the reality depicted on the screen and the lives of millions of urban computer peeps of today. Indeed, we just saw an excellent French movie, shot in Manhattan a year ago, Chinese Puzzle, and the constant use of computers and mobile phones as key factors in the lives of the characters in Chinese Puzzle made Her seem like a period piece set in the recent past.

“From the naturalistic point of view, all men are equal. There are only two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots.” Mikhail Bakunin

The Ebola epidemic, verging on a pandemic, has clarified (for anyone willing to face the truth) the extreme interconnectedness of the global community. Powerful idiots, led by Ted Cruz and other mega-morons, are urging travel bans to and from afflicted areas, thereby impeding the crucial flow of medical personnel and medical aid to those countries where the epidemic must be fought if there is any hope of containing the disease. Ted Cruz and other People Of Little Brains seem to personify American Exceptionalism to an insane degree. What do they imagine will happen if the airline industry suddenly and dramatically contracts? The major airlines would quickly go bankrupt, the stock market would collapse, and the ensuing global economic disaster would then make the spread of Ebola into all nations a sure thing instead of highly probable.

The Ebola epidemic reveals American Exceptionalism to be what it actually is—a cancerous blood clot in the main artery of what might otherwise be an effective, functional, egalitarian global community. All the nations of the world will have to become highly cooperative with each other in order to defeat Ebola, and the sooner everyone realizes this the better our chances of not only defeating Ebola, but of establishing new modalities for dealing with the many other threats to the biosphere.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw

I came out of the post office yesterday just as a man in a humongous pickup truck pulled into two and a half parking spots—his truck effectively blocking one of the two lanes of the little street—and left his gargantuan engine running as he climbed down from his cab and sauntered into the post office. The sticker on his front bumper said SEVEN FUCKING MILES PER GALLON. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

The sticker on his back bumper said I EAT STEAK EVERY FUCKING MEAL. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

I walked home imagining scenes in which I engaged this fellow in discussions about global warming and fossil fuels and gigantic trucks and American Exceptionalism, and in every scene he got out his gun and mowed me down.