Archive for April, 2016

Staunch Democrats

Monday, April 25th, 2016

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Sometimes, It’s A Circus, Isn’t It? painting by Nolan Winkler

Most humans, alas, are easily swayed by clever liars who pray on our fears, and such swaying will almost surely cause the human experiment to devolve into global chaos—possibly quite soon.

I’ve been pondering the end of quasi-viable human society in the wake of Hillary Clinton winning the New York Democratic Primary over Bernie Sanders and because a reader recently wrote:  “I, too, am a Bernie supporter but my entire family—four siblings, and a mother—are all voting for Hillary. They are all wonderful people, yet staunch Democrats. I would love to read something by you about staunch Democrats. They are mostly a fine bunch of people who believe in social justice, equality and all the good stuff. They are far better than their party, and they continue to believe their party can provide the changes that would make the world a more just place.”

In my opinion, the big block of staunch Democrats voting for Hillary represents the single greatest obstacle to positive change in our society, and I think it would be more accurate to call such people Fundamentalist Democrats because of their unswerving devotion to people and doctrine serving the ruling elite and screwing everybody else.

I have friends who are staunch Democrats, and when I present them with clear proof of Hillary’s many crimes, their response never varies. They reflexively shake their heads and say things like, “That can’t be true.” Or “Hillary will unite the party.” Or “Hillary has a better chance of winning.” Or “You’re just saying that because you like that socialist guy.” Or “You have to admit she’s better than Trump.”

As The Bible is infallible to Fundamentalist Christians so The Party and Hillary are infallible to staunch Democrats. Sit down with a Hillary supporter and carefully prove beyond all doubt that Ms. Clinton is a rabid servant of the big banks and the super wealthy, a proponent of endless war, racism, big pharma, fracking, and corporate dominance at the expense of the American people, and the response will never vary because Fundamentalist Democrats cannot, will not, hear the truth.

For some years I thought these people suffered from IDD (Intelligence Deficit Disorder) but now I think they are captives of a deeply ingrained delusion nurtured by the ruling elite. To wit: change is bad and the status quo, however rotten and amoral, is preferable to the unknown. Bernie Sanders wants to change things, and change is bad. Hillary promises to keep the stock market Ponzi scheme going, to keep robbing the bottom ninety per cent to fatten the upper ten, to keep students in debt, to keep wages low, to keep the healthcare debacle in full flower—and staunch Democrats not yet starving will support her sickening agenda over anything else.

In related news, speaking of the upper ten per cent, some anonymous person recently gave us a subscription to Sunset Magazine. I hadn’t seen Sunset in thirty years, and if you remember this magazine from the 1950s and 1960s, the only thing about the new Sunset you will recognize is the name. Gone are the articles on how to make dolls from empty toilet paper rolls, how to make papie-mâché piñatas, how to make gerbil cages from old fruit crates. Gone are articles on how to plant, harvest, and cook string beans. Gone are ads for garden tools and inexpensive armchairs.

The new Sunset is exclusively for rich people. Imagine Vanity Fair meets Gourmet meets Travel For the Super Rich. Celebrities grace many a cover and are featured inside modeling expensive togs whilst lounging by waterfalls adjacent to their mansions. Every month brings us a list of The Top Ten Most Expensive Getaways In North America and glimpses into the kitchens of new restaurants so expensive only Hillary can afford to dine there, not Bernie.

In news related to that related news, you won’t read an article in Sunset about the shocking and cataclysmic disappearance of the kelp forests along our coast from San Francisco to Oregon and the simultaneous population explosion of purple sea urchins, devourers of kelp.

Scientists are blaming the disappearance of the kelp and the rise of the urchin barrens on several factors: a mysterious “disease” in 2013 that wiped out nearly all the millions of starfish on the west coast of North America (starfish being big eaters of sea urchins), an absence of sea otters, also voracious eaters of sea urchins, the huge warm water blob off the coast that appeared in 2014 and the El Niño of 2015 that further warmed the ocean and deprived the coastal waters of the upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water that helps kelp grow as much as 10 inches in a day.

Without starfish to keep them in check, purple urchins on the North Coast are now sixty times more plentiful than five years ago, and these urchins are extremely hungry. Thus any kelp that starts to grow in their midst is quickly gobbled. Abalone feeds on kelp, too, and without kelp, abalone are shrinking and dying, and abalone may soon disappear from the local coastal scene.

I remember those reports of virtually all the starfish along the west coast of North America suddenly dissolving in 2013, and a few writers daring to suggest there might be a connection to this unprecedented disaster and the billions of gallons of radioactive water that have been continuously flowing into the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan since 2011. These suggestions of a connection between that ongoing river of radioactivity pouring into the Pacific and the vanishing starfish were quickly dismissed by the scientific community because, well, staunch scientists are never eager to entertain the possibility that the failed nuclear power industry might play even a little part in the ruination of the ecosystem of the west coast of North America and beyond.

Staunch scientists are like staunch Democrats voting for Hillary. Confronted with unpleasant truths that should cause them to question their failed notions of reality, they reflexively shake their heads and say, “That can’t be true.”

Nuclear Giants

Monday, April 18th, 2016

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On A Salty Day painting by Nolan Winkler

“Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water.” Albert Einstein

Listening to the Giants bombard the Dodgers last week, I decided to pay a couple bills. This year, so far, for the first time since I was a kid listening to Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges doing the radio broadcasts, the boys are winning games with strong hitting rather than great pitching. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Alou were a scary battery for any pitcher to face in the 1960s, and today we’ve got Panik, Posey, Pence, Belt, Duffy and Crawford smacking the ball around the park, not to mention our ace Madison Bumgarner taking the loathsome Clayton Kershaw deep in their first meeting of the year.

So I opened our PG&E bill and found two notices of requests for rate increases. PG&E wasn’t asking for my approval of these proposed increases, they were informing me that they have asked the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) to allow them to jack up our rates again. These announcements always strike me as disingenuous since PG&E is not a public utility, though it should be, and the CPUC approves everything PG&E wants as a matter of course, though they shouldn’t.

Both rate increases are to gouge us for hundreds of millions more dollars to pay for PG&E’s ongoing nuclear power debacle, otherwise known as Fukushima Waiting To Happen Here. One of the increases will pay for seismic studies. You would think such studies were done long before they built the stupid Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, but apparently PG&E needs to confirm they built the idiotic thing on an active earthquake fault and in range of a tsunami because, I dunno, maybe they forgot. But since when does a seismic study cost a hundred million dollars?

The other rate increase is supposedly to help accrue the countless billions of dollars they will need to decommission (tear down) the nuclear power plant once they admit they never should have built the poisonous thing in the first place. It is one thing to shut down a nuclear power plant, and quite another to dismantle the massive radioactive structure and safely remove all the nuclear fuel rods that will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, no one has ever successfully dismantled a nuclear power plant and safely disposed of the remains, because the only way to successfully dispose of nuclear waste is to send the deathly stuff to the original nuclear mass, our sun. And that’s not happening any time soon. So for now let’s just put the nuclear waste, um, over there somewhere. You know. Way over there.

Meanwhile, the exploded melted down Fukushima reactors in Japan continue to pour radioactive matter into the Pacific Ocean, there to accumulate in the flesh of fish born and growing and caught in that now-toxic sea—for your dining pleasure.

Baseball makes sense. Nuclear power does not make sense. Baseball is the perfect combination of explosive physicality and pleasing ritual. Nuclear power is a horrible combination of danger and stupidity.

My choice for President of the United States, Bernie Sanders, has long opposed nuclear power, whereas his rival for the nomination, the odious Hillary, has been a cheerleader for nuclear power her entire political career. This alone should convince anyone of even moderate intelligence to vote for Bernie over Hillary, but I still know people who seem to be moderately intelligent who say they support Hillary because they feel she won’t change things too much, and they are deathly afraid of change, even it turns out to be good change.

I would not be surprised if nearly all Giants fans are for Bernie and most Dodger fans are for Hillary. When I listen to the games between the Dodgers and the Giants, I imagine the Giants are playing for Bernie and the Dodgers are playing for Hillary, that Giants fans are advocates of solar power and Medicare For All and an end to war, and Dodger fans think nuclear power is fine and they like amoral health insurance companies and they adore weapons of mass destruction.

So we took three out of our first four games from the Dodgers, and three of the four games were day games, so I weeded and gardened and chopped wood while I listened, and took my little radio to town with me on my errands. Life is good when the Giants are beating the Dodgers and Jon Miller is waxing poetic and the sun is shining down on the little town of Mendocino and the Bernie Sanders mobile headquarters is parked outside the GoodLife Bakery and people, young and old, are stopping to chat with the folks manning the mobile headquarters, selling T-shirts and informing people about how they can help Bernie keep winning.

Recent polls indicate that among Democrats, Hillary’s largest support comes from frightened shortsighted people over sixty-five, rich people, and people easily duped by slick dishonest advertising. Bernie is supported by brave, optimistic, intelligent people of all ages with good senses of humor and a deep appreciation for the irony and majesty of life. Where do you fall among these demographics?

Yes, it’s a long season and the Giants’ stellar start is certainly not predictive of the final outcome, but we have reason to be hopeful. I know baseball is a distraction from the ongoing horrors, but I do not separate baseball from the rest of life. When Brandon Crawford comes to the plate, he is batting for me and Bernie and an equitable tax structure. When Angel Pagan makes a diving catch to rob the Dodgers of a run, he is taxing the super rich to pay for healthcare services for low-income folks and inspiring millions of people to send Bernie twenty dollars.

In the end, Bernie will either win or lose, the Giants will win the World Series or not, and life will go on. But as Bruce Bochy implies during every post-game interview: Yes we love to win, but more importantly we love to play the game with passion and joy and integrity.

Bernie Brigades

Monday, April 11th, 2016

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Calligraphic Bones painting by Nolan Winkler

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.” Mario Savio

So I’m driving home from my acupuncture treatment and I come to the stoplight at the south end of Fort Bragg and here are a dozen people on the west side of the highway with signs saying Honk For Bernie, Volunteer for Bernie, Learn About Bernie, and I’m honking my little old horn, and the people are smiling and waving, and the excellent effects of my acupuncture treatment are amplified by a release of endorphins as I imagine Bernie Sanders becoming President of the Unites States and millions of people, old and young, black and brown and white, who have been disenfranchised for their entire lives finally having someone leading the country who wants to help them.

These people holding signs and many of their compadres have been coming out to this spot on the highway for months now, and you can see by their smiles and their confidence that they are not cowed by the lying corporate media saying Bernie doesn’t have a chance. Bernie recently won the Wisconsin primary by a huge margin, though you might not have heard much about that in the mainstream press. But the Bernie Brigades know. They know and they are empowered.

The odds are still not good Bernie will prevail over the entrenched rich and greedy corporate villains supporting his opponent for the nomination, a person of no apparent morals, zero compassion, and a mean streak as wide and long as the Mississippi, but don’t tell that to the thousands of Bernie Brigades all over America. The Bernie Brigades are bursting with true believers, and Bernie keeps winning to confirm their faith in him.

The corporate media still barely mentions Bernie, even when he trounces Hillary in primary after primary, and those same media louts continue to say Bernie only wins primaries in states with mostly white people, which is hogwash. Minority support for Hillary is collapsing because the message is finally getting through to everyone: Bernie Will Be Good For Everyone, Hillary Bad For Everyone except her obscenely wealthy friends.

You think I’m being overly optimistic? Consider where I’m coming from. I haven’t seen a grassroots movement like the Bernie Brigades since the early 1970s. That’s almost fifty years ago. I was young and idealistic and had lots of hair on top of my head in those days. As a young teen, I participated in protests to speed the integration of our local schools, and by golly the schools were integrated. As a young man, I joined the ferocious protests against the Vietnam War, and by golly that war ended.

Yes, the damn warmongers started up more insane wars, but millions of us remember a time when organizing and boycotting and getting out on the street and protesting and making good noise made a difference. Activism worked.

That is what the Bernie Brigades remind me of: the civil rights and anti-war movements of the Sixties and Seventies. And the millions of young people involved in the Bernie Brigades and organizing on college campuses and canvasing neighborhoods for Bernie remind me of that exciting era, too.

We stopped buying grapes and lettuce at Safeway, millions of us did, and the United Farm Workers were victorious because of that successful boycott. Yes, Hillary’s despicable husband undermined much of that progress by pushing through NAFTA and other trade agreements that undermined American labor and rendered our economy moribund for the bottom sixty per cent of the population, but millions of us still remember when our economy was not moribund, still remember a time when our actions had an impact on our so-called elected representatives, and so we hold signs for Bernie, give him money, call our friends and urge them to support the good guy against the rotten sellout.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media couldn’t resist giving the movie star Susan Sarandon a little time in the limelight recently, though she is a staunch supporter of Bernie and artfully calls Hillary a liar and a Monsanto lackey and a hedge funder’s wet dream. I imagine Hillary raging around her castle shouting, “Who let that bitch get on national television? It’s one thing for me to go up against a dumpy white-haired guy with a Brooklyn accent. But Sarandon is regal and charismatic and…argh!”

Yes, for the next few weeks anyway, we Bernie believers can wallow in the possibility that despite everything against him, Bernie will prevail. My more cynical friends like to ask me, “What will you do if Bernie loses?”

“I will go on with my life. Somehow.”

“And you won’t vote for Hillary against the evil Republicans?”

“I will not.”

“Even if Bernie asks you to?”

“I am not voting for Bernie to tell me what to do. I’m voting for Bernie because he might actually beat the monsters and start spending money to help everyone instead of just a few of Hillary’s fat cat friends. Why would I turn around and vote for the monsters if Bernie loses?”

The media dopes asked Susan Sarandon the same thing. “If Bernie loses, will you vote for Hillary in the general election?”

And she said, “I don’t know. Maybe not.”

This flummoxed the “liberal” pundits who are so far right of what used to be called liberal, the term is now essentially meaningless.

What You Can Do To Help?

Give Bernie money. Even ten bucks will help. Call your friends, especially in states with upcoming primaries, and convince them to vote for Bernie. Organize a Bernie Brigade and let your neighbors know Bernie is determined to institute Medicare For All and spend money on America instead of on foreign wars. Hold signs for Bernie at a busy intersection. However you can, spread the word that Bernie will help usher in a new age of equality and fairness and positive change—before it’s too late.

Favorites

Monday, April 4th, 2016

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Sunstruck painting by Nolan Winkler

“The diamond-bright dawn woke men and crows and bullocks together. Kim sat up and yawned, shook himself, and thrilled with delight. This was seeing the world in real truth; this was life as he would have it—bustling and shouting, the buckling of belts, and beating of bullocks and creaking of wheels, lighting of fires and cooking of food, and new sights at every turn of the approving eye. The morning mist swept off in a whorl of silver, the parrots shot away to some distant river in shrieking green hosts: all the well-wheels within earshot went to work.” Rudyard Kipling

Reading Kim by Rudyard Kipling for the tenth time in the last twenty-five years, I’ve been thinking about why this novel and no other of the thousands I’ve read calls to me again and again, and why, again and again, I am enthralled from first word to last.

There are books I loved in my teens and twenties I revisited in middle age—Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ, Parnassus On Wheels—and a handful of other novels I’ve read a second or third time over the years; but Kim is the only novel I am eager to read again every few years.

This is not a recommendation, however. There was a time when I urged my friends to read Kim and quickly learned that women, for the most part, do not like this book, and some women loathe it. A few men I touted on the book enjoyed the tale, but I was repeatedly cautioned that Kim was out of date, racist, misogynist, and juvenile. Never mind that the writing is exquisite, those charges against the book—none of which I agree with—are prevalent today, so I do not recommend Kim.

One friend suggested I love the book because the character of Kim resonates with some vision of who I imagine I am in relation to the larger world. Perhaps. But I think the greater draw for me is the relationship between Kim and the lama with whom he travels, and through whom he discovers the spiritual side of life. Also, Kim is beloved and revered by not one but four fascinating older men, something I did not experience with my own father or any older man, and I longed for that in my life.

The words in Kim sing to me—glorious prose poetry—else I would not return so often to those pages.

Kim got me thinking about movies I have watched multiple times, as in more than three times, and one movie jumps out before any other: The Horse’s Mouth starring Alec Guinness. I saw the movie when I was eight, eighteen, twenty-five, thirty-seven, thirty-nine, forty-eight, fifty-three, and sixty. And I was enthralled from first frame to last, moved to tears, and greatly inspired each time.

Again, not a recommendation. Having touted this film to many people, I know The Horse’s Mouth is not to everyone’s taste and many women find the movie sexist. Be that as it may, The Horse’s Mouth is still the best film I’ve ever seen about what it is to be an artist of the kind Guinness portrays—a person for whom making art takes precedence over everything else in life. Everything. And the movie is screamingly funny in parts, as well as profoundly moving.

Another film I have seen four times and would gladly watch again tomorrow is Mostly Martha, the German film about a hyper-controlling German chef who is melted out of her emotional isolation by unexpectedly becoming mother to her sister’s young daughter, while having to share her high-end restaurant kitchen with her emotional opposite, a sensual funny guy chef from Italy.

The other food-related film I love and have watched multiple times is The Big Night.

Then there is Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. I have seen this movie at least ten times, from when I was a boy until a couple years ago when I couldn’t resist renting it again. I love everything about this movie. Never gets old for me.

In that same vein: Young Frankenstein.

I once knew a man named Jack who used a particular film as a preliminary test for establishing friendships and relationships. If the man or woman being tested did not like the French film Toto le Hero, Jack would have nothing more to do with the person. If the person being tested had not seen the film, which was usually the case, Jack would screen it for them and judge them according to their reaction.

As it happened, I loved Toto le Hero, but made the mistake of raving about it to many of my friends, and with few exceptions they hated the movie. I did not hold this against them, so some of them remained my friends, whereas Jack had almost no friends. But I understood why he felt as he did. When a movie or book or work of art is precious to us, there is undoubtedly something in the work representative of our feelings and spirit, and so another’s rejection of our favorite can feel like a rejection of us.

I’ve been struggling with this very thing regarding Bernie Sanders. I love Bernie Sanders. Yes, I know. He has this flaw and that flaw and he voted wrong on this and that, and he should be better than he is, but I love him. I have never in my life liked a candidate for President of the United States remotely as much as I like Bernie, and I have a hard time feeling friendly toward people who do not share my love for him. For me, Bernie is the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his opponent the female embodiment of the plutocracy.

Yet some of my favorite people do not love Kim, do not love The Horse’s Mouth, would rather do anything than watch The Court Jester, and do not think Bernie has a chance in hell of unseating the reigning overlords.

But one of the important things I’ve learned from reading Kim ten times is that it is far better to rejoice with others who share our enthusiasms than to waste our precious time feeling bitterly toward those who do not.