Posts Tagged ‘Albert Einstein’

Nuclear Giants

Monday, April 18th, 2016

on a salty day tw

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.

Mowing

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Mowing Two

Mowed Down photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau

A friend called last week to ask if I was aware of the recent carnage wreaked on the Mendocino headlands from Ford House down to the land above Portuguese Beach. She said giant bulldozer mowers had mowed everything, except the very largest shrubs, down to bare earth. I said I would take a look.

“All those lizards and bugs and flowers and grasses just gone,” she said. “The official word from the state park people is they did it to control non-native species, but we know they did it to make sure there’s no place for homeless people to lie down or take a pee. No more privacy, no more wildness. I’ve been crying about it for two days.”

I walked to town the next day to check out the mown headlands. On my way I passed a favorite field that had just been mowed, and my first thought was what a pity the lovely vetch and clover that had been on the rise would now not bloom to feed the bees and bugs and birds. My second thought was how spiffy everything looked—civilized. The house attached to the newly mown field has been empty and for sale for two years, the price steadily dropping from the absurd to the upper reaches of plausible. Did the realtor think mowing the field would make the place more saleable?

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” Albert Einstein.

I love the wildness of the unkempt headlands, as do birds, lizards, snakes, gophers, rabbits, bees, bugs, birds and people who like to pick blackberries in August and September. Seeing the south side of Main Street mowed down to the bare earth was a shock. I’ve written poems and scenes in novels set here among the wild grasses and poppies and renegade callas and wild roses that abound on this particular swath of headlands, or did abound until they were rendered unsequestered carbon by the whirring blades.

Now the place looks like a raggedy golf course or a field waiting to be plowed and planted with Brussels sprouts, kin to the coastal fields north of Santa Cruz. If not for the inconvenient water shortage hereabouts and the headlands being public property, condominiums could be built here with ample parking and lights blazing day and night. Damn that water shortage and the socialist conspiracy known as state parks. Hell, with a big desalinization plant, we could have a casino here. After all, Mendocino was once the site of a Pomo village, so…

 “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” William Shakespeare

Except we like that the only human construction rising on these slaughtered fields will be the music festival tent that comes and goes every July. We like the vetch and mustard and brassica, the poison oak and poppies, the seed birds, the bunnies, the lupine, the blackberries and rambling roses, some of which will come back eventually, now that the mowers are done and gone—assuming they don’t come back for another several years.

We doubt the mowing was done to eradicate non-native species. They mowed everything, native and non-native. I think they mowed to make the place inhospitable to homeless people and people who like to pee outside rather than suffer the slimy stench of the shameful public bathroom bunker, and because they, whoever ordered the mowing, are mean-spirited dummies.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

On the bright side, we now have the opportunity to watch how Nature goes about re-wilding land that humans have trashed. Nature works fast around here, left to her own devices. True, she might reseed the new mown fields with Pampas Grass and Scotch Broom and eucalyptus, invasive non-natives all, but reseed the fields she will. I say lets help her by broadcasting a hundred pounds of wildflower seeds out there. Why not?

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” Frederick Douglass

A stone’s throw west of the scalped fields we come to a multi-acre expanse where all is grasses and mustard and lupine bushes and renegade brassica, with no large shrubs to hide behind—a place where homeless people rarely venture to rest and pee. No, this is acreage upon which valuable turísticos tread to reach the scenic shorelines whereupon photogenic waves crash, and from where whales may be espied spouting. Here in this fairly bland ecosystem (bland compared to the one that just got mowed) a tiny section of the headlands has been cordoned off with flabby orange plastic fencing for the purpose of (so says the sign) Native Habitat Restoration.

This privileged chunk of native habitat seems to be mostly mustard, a few native and non-native grasses, and vetch. What’s really going on is the footpath tracing the edge of a precipitous cliff is about to collapse into the sea, and the aforementioned dummies are hoping to delay a trail collapse resulting in the death of a tourist or two. To call this operation native habitat restoration is plain silly, especially considering the destruction of fifty times as much native habitat right over there.

Meanwhile, the myriad creatures displaced by the mowing, those that weren’t killed, are adjusting to the new reality. Earthworms continue doing their thing, snakes and lizards and rabbits have moved to safer ground and keep up their relentless search for sustenance. Ditto bees and butterflies. Gophers carry on as if nothing has happened. The homeless and the desperate pee elsewhere for now. Locals continue to walk their dogs here, and their dogs continue to sniff and pee and poop and bark.

Seeds, native and non-native, are already germinating in the scarified soil. Life, such as it is, goes on.

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.

Tenuous Grip

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Desert Dance Nolan WInkler mix med

Desert Dance by Nolan Winkler

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

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” Lewis Carroll

Have you ever had a day when you heard the same out-of-the-ordinary word or phrase over and over again from a variety of seemingly unconnected sources? Long ago when I lived in Sacramento, I wrote a piece for the Sacramento News & Review entitled Recurrence of Ninja, a true story of a single day in which I encountered the word ninja several times in a variety of contexts, spoken and written. Why ninja so many times on that particular day? I came to no conclusions, but I felt certain the unfathomable universe was trying to tell me something.

I was reminded of that day of many ninjas by what happened yesterday. I woke early (for me), had toast slathered with sesame butter accompanied by a banana-kale-flax seed-chia seed-apple juice-rice milk smoothie with Marcia, she the smoothie engineer, I the toaster, my bread free of gluten, her bread infested with the stuff. Then I answered a few emails, posted my Anderson Valley Advertiser article on my blog (I like to wait until the piece is in newsprint before I send the words into the ethers, silly me), worked for two hours on my new novel, and then set out on my walk to town—the day windy and cool.

Not far from home, I came upon a man in a bathrobe standing in front of his house and frowning at the sky. I said hello as I walked by and he replied, “I have a tenuous grip on reality today.”

I might have taken his self-assessment as an invitation to engage in conversation, but I did not. In the past, more often than not, I would have inquired further, but of late I am less drawn to strangers professing emotional fragility than I used to be. So I walked on and did not look back.

“Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.” Voltaire

The wind off the ocean was fierce and the air was full of smoke from a number of burn piles unwisely lit on such a blustery day. I crossed Highway One, the road blanketed with smoke, and said hello to a tall bearded man standing on the corner gazing into a cell phone.

He frowned at me and proclaimed, “They chose a very bad day to burn.”

“Yes,” I said. “Ill-advised.”

“Because they have a tenuous grip on reality,” he said, lighting a large hand-rolled cigarette and taking a prodigious drag.

“Indeed,” I said, so amazed by his choice of words that I almost told him I had just heard someone else use the very same expression. But because I had seen this tall bearded man on previous occasions lecturing loudly to companions invisible to me, I was not greatly tempted to enter into a lengthy discussion with him.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein

At the post office, I mailed two small packages and was heartened to find a few actual letters in our post office box along with the latest AVA. As I was sorting out our real mail from the junk, I overheard two women talking on the front porch of the post office, one of them saying, “So I said, ‘Rick, you gotta get a grip,’ and he said he was hanging by a thread and…”

There it was again, not the exact phrase, but the word grip and the implication that Rick’s grip was tenuous.

“Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” Tupac Shakur

In Corners, buying several fundamental comestibles, the lovely woman at the cash register made a few unforced errors (as they call them in tennis), laughingly corrected her mistakes and explained, “I’m still kind of…not all here today. Stayed up way too late last night. Haven’t had my coffee yet.”

“A somewhat tenuous grip on reality?” I ventured.

“Exactly,” she said, nodding. “Life is but a dream.”

 “For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity.” Jean Dubuffet

Walking home from town, the recurrence of the phrase tenuous grip on reality put me in mind of my eleven years in Berkeley where I enjoyed life without a car and patched together a minimalist living as a writer, editor, ghost writer, arborist, and babysitter. I was single for many of those eleven years and on the few occasions I found myself mixing it up, so to speak, with women more affluent than I, there always came a time, usually around the fourth date, when the question of my economic viability became the focal point of conversation and I was recurrently judged to fall far short of what was minimally acceptable to these attractive pragmatists.

One of the women, bless her heart, who I had theretofore thought to be a wild and crazy gal in the best sense of those words, interviewed me as if I was applying for a house loan. At the end of the interview, she opined, “The only difference between you and a homeless person is that you currently rent a house and don’t walk around pushing a shopping cart.”

“I beg to differ,” I replied. “I am gainfully employed, I…”

“You’re very nice,” she said, rising to go, “and we get along wonderfully well, if you know what I mean, but you’re poor and I’m not about to jeopardize my life savings by hooking up with some medical crisis waiting to happen. Better to end things now before I like you too much.”

The last of the women I dated who was more affluent than I, a successful psychotherapist who sure seemed to like me, terminated our connection after the recurrent financial disclosure date by telling me that my lifestyle choices were, well, indicative of someone with a tenuous grip on reality, though she didn’t use those exact words. She said that someone as intelligent and personable as I, with so many marketable skills, who chose to live without a car or health insurance or a viable retirement strategy, must be at least somewhat delusional and possibly a borderline personality. Ouch.

I remember replying that as far as I was concerned anyone who judged other people solely on the basis of their economic status was either insane or a member of Congress, which I knew was redundant, but I was trying for a bit of levity as she ran out the door.

Thereafter the few women I did get involved with beyond the fourth date were as financially deficient as I and didn’t worry about their nest eggs because they didn’t have nest eggs. And, yes, those sweet paupers did at times seem to have a somewhat tenuous grip on reality, but who doesn’t now and then?

Yesterday’s just a memory, tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be.” Bob Dylan

As I thought about the recurrence of the expression tenuous grip on reality I found myself wondering: is the universe asking me to examine the current state of my grip on reality? And what came to mind was a night when I was thirteen and attending a ballroom dancing class with forty other boys and forty girls, an ordeal my mother insisted I undergo once a month for the two years preceding high school. To attend the class we were forced to wear a suit and tie, which meant I had to learn to tie a tie, which I did, and I had to wear shoes that required polishing, which I also did.

Upon our arrival at the country club where the ordeal took place, the boys would stay away from the girls, who were wearing long frilly dresses, and the girls would stay away from the boys. Then our instructors, a champion ballroom dancing couple, would somehow get the boys paired up with the girls and try to teach us how to fox trot, waltz, cha-cha, and swing. After an hour or so of rigorous practice with a variety of assigned partners, the ordeal would conclude with a half-hour of dancing without instruction. Boys were supposed to ask girls to dance, not the other way around, unless one of the champions announced that the next dance was a Sadie Hawkins (role reversal) dance. For those boys too fearful to ask girls to dance, our adult overseers would arbitrarily pair such boys with those unlucky girls remaining to be asked.

And one night, when the four or five girls I knew from school (so they were not terrifying to me) were paired up with other boys, and I was just about to make a break for the bathroom where I hoped to remain undetected for several minutes, a gorgeous young woman (as opposed to a girl) named Luisa Hernandez asked me to dance with her, though it was not a Sadie Hawkins dance! Luisa was by far the best female dancer in our mob and was often called upon to dance with one of the better male dancers to demonstrate a fox trot variation or a cha-cha turn or whatever those things are called that our champion instructors wanted us to see done well.

“I have two left feet,” I said, anxiously. “I’m no Fred Astaire.”

“You move beautifully,” said Luisa, looking deep into my eyes. “You just need a good partner.”

So we danced the next several dances together, and I can truly say that until I danced with Luisa I had never really danced with someone. I had gone through the motions with others and simulated dancing, and even had a little fun going through those motions, but with Luisa I danced, and our dancing was divine. And what I learned from her was that dancing with someone didn’t have to be about gripping the other person or being gripped by them, but was a way for two people to move together in harmonious time. Holding each other facilitated fueling off each other while enjoying the synchronous flow—the dancing never about trying to control the other—and so our physical connection was light and sure and flexible and tender.

Big Data

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2012)

“Mathematics are well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose.” Albert Einstein

A wintry April day—rain, cold, our two woodstoves hard at work translating matter into energy so we may carry on in comfort. Yesterday we celebrated the idea of spring, if not the reality, with the delivery of four cords of firewood from Frank’s Firewood of Boonville, so now several days of stacking wood are upon us. I am graduating from my seventh Mendocino winter, and Frank’s fantastic firewood has kept me snug and warm through every one of them. Thank you, Frank!

Yesterday also brought an email from a friend with the subject heading Data Plague, with a link to an article from the New York Times about Big Data, a hot topic in the world of computer science and technology. Big Data is the incomprehensibly large amount of raw data piling up from all electronic activities that leave digital traces, including scientific research and social media. For instance, every minute of every day some forty-eight hours of video are uploaded to YouTube: the equivalent of eight years of content each day.

According to the Big Data article, many people in government and academia and private industry are interested in mining this rapidly growing data universe, and President Obama has earmarked 200 million dollars for his Big Data Research and Development Initiative. And just last month the National Science Foundation awarded 10 million dollars to Berkeley’s A.M.P. Expedition, which stands for “algorithms machines people,” a team of U.C. Berkeley professors and graduate students working to advance Big Data analysis.

As usual, no one asked my opinion about any of this, but here are my thoughts on the intrinsic and extrinsic value of Big Data. Once upon a time there was this emperor, see, and he wasn’t actually wearing any clothes, but because he was the emperor everyone had to pretend he was wearing clothes even though he wasn’t.

“The man ignorant of mathematics will be increasingly limited in his grasp of the main forces of civilization.” John Kemeny

Stacking firewood, one might surmise, is something like trying to make sense of Big Data. There on the driveway (in cyber space) is a huge jumble of firewood (pile of data) composed of many separate pieces of wood (bits of data). Over time, I will get all that wood neatly organized in eight or nine stacks in the woodshed, and over more time I will burn those stacks to heat our home. Meanwhile, the Big Data geeks will try to organize their ever-expanding pile of data bits (measured in petabytes, one million gigabytes, and exabytes, one billion gigabytes) and then…and then nothing.

Still more astonishing is that world of rigorous fantasy we call mathematics.” Gregory Bateson

Eight years of Youtube video uploaded every day? That’s 240 years per month! Joe points his phone camera out the bus window as we make our way through Chinatown. Okay. Cool. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Here are Margaret and Binny eating ice cream. Good. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Ralph’s three-legged cat named Popsicle is eating a mouse. Ew! Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Becky’s Great Dane Buffy rolls on something dead. Hardee har har. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Here are millions of videos of people looking into their cameras and making silly faces. Yes! Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. And here is Zigmund Olafson, pulling down two hundred grand a year (of taxpayers’ money) as Permanently Visiting Professor of Theoretical Cyber Whatever at U.C. Berkeley running 1700 centuries of such stuff through a super computer in the basement of ADE (Algorithms Digest Emptiness) and after nine months of data digestion and crunching and analysis discovering that…kittens and puppies are cuter than heck!

“We’ll judge our success by whether we build a new paradigm of data.” Michael Franklin, director of A.M.P. Expedition.

A new paradigm of data? Puh-leez. How about a new paradigm of excellent and affordable healthcare for everybody? How about a new paradigm of equitable taxation? How about a new paradigm of funding our parks and schools? How about a new paradigm of peaceful resolution of conflicts? How about a new paradigm of closing all the insanely dangerous nuclear power plants and insulating our homes and solarizing every viable rooftop? How about a new paradigm of generosity and love? Oh, no. What we need is a new paradigm of data. And just what might that new paradigm of data look like? We have absolutely no idea, but we’ll let you know if we think we’re successful in building that paradigm after we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars, you know, feeding digital stuff into really fast computers. Okay? Cool. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube.

“I don’t agree with mathematics; the sum total of zeros is a frightening figure.” Stanislaw J. Lec

Of my many unhappy experiences with publishers, one of the saddest had to do with a chunk of data that followed me around like the Hound of the Baskervilles and is no doubt following me still. This chunk of data suggests that my second, third, fourth, and fifth novels did not sell many copies. Never mind that the various publishers involved did absolutely nothing to promote or distribute my books, and in most cases suspended all support for the books before they were published. No, the data says the books did not sell, which translates in corporate parlance to “Todd does not sell.”

Being reminded of this damning data every time I approached an agent or publisher, I nevertheless continued to try to interest mainstream publishers in my work for many years, with and without the services of literary agents. Of course, agents are privy to this same database, and so I was a pariah to most of them. But eight years ago, shortly before moving to Mendocino, I succeeded in interesting an agent in representing my novel Bender’s Lover, a metaphysical love story comedy thriller set in San Francisco and having to do with music, friendship, and power. I warned this agent about the damning data that was following me, but she seemed undaunted. “After all,” she said, “those sales figures are over twenty years old and this book is so good that…”

She sent copies of my tome to fourteen editors in New York, eleven declining to consider the manuscript because of the aforementioned database. Three said they would give the book a read, and lo a miracle occurred (or so we thought.) A senior editor at Viking went mad for the book, called my agent with a fat offer, and asked that we all get together for a conference call the next day, which we did. My oh my, did we have fun, a ménage á trois love fest during which we designed the cover and cast the movie and read aloud our favorite parts from Bender’s Lover; and for the next forty-eight hours I believed the curse had finally been lifted from my career and I would at last be allowed to ascend to my rightful place in the pantheon of American novelists.

This delightful editor’s last words to me were, “I don’t anticipate any problems, since I have carte blanche here, but as a formality I do have to run this by a couple people in Sales and then I’ll call you with my formal offer. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be getting this book. It’s going to be huge.”

Alas, Sales nixed the deal because the data says Todd doesn’t sell, never mind how old the data or what the data is based on. Never mind anything except the raw little numbers, which in truth are miraculous for being more than zeros.

My agent’s voice was trembling as she gave me the sorry news, and then she took a deep breath and said, “So…under the circumstances, I don’t think there’s really any point in our continuing to work together. Do you?”

Cue the howling hound!

And that is just one of many reasons I do not care much for data, big or small.

Whoopsie Doopsie

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Drawing by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough is love.” Henry Miller

A couple years ago I created a catchy blues tune entitled Whoopsie Doopsie, and after I performed the song to the apparent delight of my wife Marcia, I thought I might make a recording of the tune and see how the world liked it. I wrote a note to myself—Whoopsie Doopsie Project—and put the note in the center of my just-cleaned desk, thereby establishing a new bottom layer for the accumulation of papers and books and drawings and letters and bills that would inevitably grow into a high plateau of dysfunction until, in a fit of frustration, I abstained from eating and drinking for several hours until the mess was properly expelled.

Thus time and again over these many months, I worked my way down to a little yellow square of paper on which was writ Whoopsie Doopsie Project, a trio of words that sent me to the piano to bang out the latest rendition, after which I would say to myself, “Yes, I really should record that and see what the world thinks of it.” Then the tides of time and paper would rush in again and submerge the note, and the project would largely vanish from my consciousness, except on rainy mornings when I was practicing the piano, at which times I might essay a version or two of the pleasing apparition.

Feeling especially sad one such rainy morning, I played a very slow Whoopsie Doopsie, and the sweet little love song became dark and plaintive; and I appreciated the song in my bones rather than with my sense of humor. And that very night we went to a dinner party at which the hostess asked me to play, and Marcia suggested I premiere Whoopsie Doopsie for the public, as it were. So I performed a rather timid version of the tune, the piano unfamiliar to me, and everyone in the audience said I must bring out a recording of the song—everyone being four people.

Here are the lyrics, in their entirety, of Whoopsie Doopsie.

Whoopsie doopsie, doopsie do

Whoopsie daisy, I’m in love with you

Whoopsie doopsie, doopsie do

Tell me how you like it,

Tell me what to do

Wanna make you happy

When we’re making whoopsie do

The last line is a not-so-subtle tribute to Ray Charles. As you can see, we’re not talking about great art here. However, we are talking about the artistic process, which I find fascinating and difficult to write about. The difficulty in writing about creative processes, for me, lies in the non-verbal nature of those processes through which original art and original concepts emerge and evolve and are ultimately captured so others may experience those creations. Since there are no words for that which is wordless, the best one can hope for in describing such wordless processes are faint approximations. And the other large challenge for me in writing about making art is to ignore the nagging feeling that I am describing a process that almost always results in mediocrity or crap, otherwise known as failure.

“There are only two dangers for a writer: success and failure, and you have to be able to survive both.” Edward Albee

On the other hand, many great teachers, Buckminster Fuller among them, espouse the idea that there are no failures in the inventive process, that everything we do is a valuable part of the continuum of experience. Failure, these wise ones suggest, might more usefully be understood as a necessary step along the way to discovery and fruition. Two of my favorite quotes about this idea, referring specifically to musical improvisation and composition, are from Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Miles said, “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note, it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” And Bill said, “There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions. I think of all harmony as an expansion and return to the tonic.”

“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

My favorite composer of classical music is Felix Mendelssohn. Why? Hard to say, for love is as ineffable as creativity. Maybe his use of complex harmonies resonates especially well with my chakras. Maybe the brilliant confluences of his polyrhythms synch perfectly with my inner groove. I don’t know. In any case, I dig the cat. So a few years ago our very own Symphony of the Redwoods performed Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, and after hearing Marcia practice the cello parts for several weeks, and then being enthralled by the marvelous local rendition, I got out my Mendelssohn books to read about the Italian Symphony.

In Conrad Wilson’s Notes on Mendelssohn, to my great interest, I found that though the Italian Symphony was an instant and enormous success (the composer conducted the world premiere in London in 1833 at the ripe old age of twenty-three), Mendelssohn was dissatisfied with the composition and immediately after its premiere set about “changing the coloring of the andante, adding fresh touches of poetry to the third movement, and considerably extending the finale.” Yet despite Mendelssohn’s great fame, “his revision remained unperformed for a century and a half, and has only recently been issued in a performing version upon which most conductors are turning deaf ears.” I rushed to get one of the few extant recordings of the revised symphony (not readily available in the United States, but gettable from England) and to my ears the revised version is vastly superior to the original.

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Oscar Wilde

With the help of Peter Temple, I have made two solo piano CDs in these last year two years: Ceremonies and 43 short Piano Improvisations. While working on those albums I was forever being seduced by a particularly alluring chord pattern I would improvise on for hours at a time; yet only one diminutive piece born of that pattern was strong enough to include on 43 short Piano Improvisations. However, I continued to be enamored of that pattern and felt that one day I might succeed in recording a few longer takes of what I call Mystery Inventions.

Meanwhile, the Whoopsie Doopsie Project was bubbling away on a back burner; and verily it came to pass (driving to town one day, singing nonsense songs to the clickety-clack of our old truck on a country road) that a new and very different version of Whoopsie Doopsie escaped my lips and catalyzed an epiphany: why not make an album composed of several different interpretations of Whoopsie Doopsie, and throw in a Mystery Invention or two, too?

“One must bear in mind one thing. It isn’t necessary to know what that thing is.” John Ashberry

As of this writing (early October 2011) the Whoopsie Doopsie recording project has been seriously (or at least continuously) underway for a month, and save for a slightly menacing a cappella version of Whoopsie Doopsie that came to me in the absence of a piano, nothing is turning out as I imagined anything would. Indeed, I would say the Whoopsie Doopsie Project is currently in creative free fall, and I am not surprised. The song that inspired this undertaking becomes less and less significant with every new Mystery Invention we capture, and new tunes audition daily as I chop wood and plant garlic and pick apples and make spaghetti sauce. Old tunes, too, long neglected, saunter out of the woods, tap me on the shoulder, and sing, “Hey, what about a revised version of me?”

The floodgates have opened. Mazel tov! So long as I don’t panic and attempt to control the flow too soon or too restrictively, there’s no telling what might come pouring out of that mystery reservoir I am convinced was once a river free of dams.

Sexual Comportment

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Shall We Dance painting by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2011)

“There’s only one person in the whole world like you, and that’s you yourself.” Fred Rogers

You may have heard about Cynthia Daily, a social worker using an interweb directory to keep track of all the children fathered by the same sperm donor who fathered her child. According to Cynthia’s data, this same sperm donor has now fathered one hundred and fifty children, several more of his offspring are on the way, and, also according to Daily (who enjoys vacationing with families of other children fathered by said sperm donor), “It’s wild when we see them all together because they all look alike.”

Wild? Interesting choice of words. I’m inclined to call this phenomenon anti-wild. I mean, what qualifies this guy to be populating the earth with his genes? Is he fabulously strong and intelligent and handsome and creative? Maybe. But he might be weak and stupid and ugly and nearsighted and prone to arthritis and gluten intolerance. Or maybe he’s just a regular guy with time on his hands, so to speak, and that’s why he’s donated so much sperm. The only thing we know for sure is that he’s potent.

One of the concerns of parents of children fathered by the same prolific sperm donor (and there are apparently quite a few of these randy fellows flooding the gene pool) is that their daughters and sons may unwittingly end up procreating with their half-siblings, which apparently multiplies the chances of genetic defects manifesting in offspring. On the other hand, some people with the same father but different mothers may enjoy hooking up with someone who looks wildly like them. I don’t know. I, for one, enjoy having a wife who looks nothing at all like me, thank goodness.

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Woody Allen

I remember some years ago there was a sperm bank in New York offering the sperm of celebrities to women seeking artificial insemination. I seem to recall that Woody Allen was one of the sperm donors. Several jokes come to mind about that, but I don’t want to get sued for slander. The idea that a woman would want to have, say, Albert Einstein’s baby, has a certain appeal until one considers the issues of unruly hair and huge foreheads. Are those attributes we would knowingly want to burden our children with in this appearance-oriented culture, even if he or she did turn out to be wildly intelligent?

“The four best things in life: to love, to be in love, to be loved, and to make love.” Lilo Bloch

As a young man I was a voracious reader of ethnographies, with a particular interest in how people of other cultures comported themselves sexually, both in terms of what was acceptable in those societies and what was taboo. I’m sure my fascination with sexual comportment in other cultures had to do with my sense that the acceptable sexual comportment rubrics of my own society were emotionally and physically suffocating, and I was looking for sexual comportment models that made more sense to me, and I don’t mean intellectual sense.

As a consequence of my particular interest, I unearthed dozens of ethnographies of indigenous societies with sexual comportment systems so shockingly antithetical to the American way of doing it, euphemistically speaking, that I could star at any party by reeling off a few synopses of the spicier comportment models employed by our genetically identical brothers and sisters around the globe. And in none of these indigenous socio-sexual systems were anonymous men fathering hundreds of kids.

“In my experience, there is only one motivation, and that is desire. No reasons or principles contain it or stand against it.” Jane Smiley

I know what you’re thinking. Or hoping. Am I going to share with the reader a few of those spicier (compared to the American model) sexual comportment systems employed by our genetically identical brothers and sisters around the globe? Yes, but with the following disclaimer: I will not be precise regarding locations, names, and historic time frames of the ethnic groups about which I write. And in keeping with the traditions of academic Anthropology, I will employ the present tense when speaking of these societies, whether or not they still exist.

“I think there are two areas where new ideas are terribly dangerous: economics and sex. By and large, it’s all been tried, and if it’s new, it’s probably illegal or dangerous or unhealthy.” Felix G. Rohatyn

There is a sect in India in which no one may marry outside the sect, and everyone in the sect must marry an age peer born in the same five-year period. For instance, an age peer group might be composed of everyone born between 1995 and 1999, after which the next age peer group would be everyone born between 2000 and 2004. Now here’s where things gets spicy by American standards. From the onset of puberty until marriage at eighteen to twenty years of age, all members of a particular age peer group are expected to have sex with all the members of the opposite sex in that group except with the one person of the opposite sex they ultimately marry and have children with. Try to wrap your American mind around that one. According to the ethnography I read, incidents of adultery among married couples in this sect are so rare as to be virtually non-existent.

“If a man and a woman go into the woods with a picnic basket and a blanket and have a picnic, that’s a G. If they go into the woods with a picnic basket and crawl under the blanket, that’s a PG. And if they go into the woods without a basket or a blanket and have a picnic anyway, that’s an R.” Jane Fonda on movie ratings

I’ve read several ethnographies of Australian aboriginal societies, and though these societies differ from each other in little ways, they share many foundational beliefs and sexual comportment rubrics that allow one to generalize about Australian aboriginal society.

One of the most un-American of those foundational beliefs is that females are born perfect, whereas males are born deeply flawed and must spend most of their lives striving to overcome their flaws in hopes of becoming more like women. Again, try to wrap your patriarchal Judeo-Christian-Muslim minds around that one.

Because females are perfect, when a girl begins to menstruate, her transit into womanhood is joyfully celebrated, whereas boys, being terribly flawed, must undergo brutal initiation ceremonies that often result in the deaths of some of the young males. Should they survive these initiatory ordeals, these young men are then sent off to wander about with other unmarried men as they quest to overcome their flaws so they might one day be good enough to marry one or more of those perfect women. Hence most Australian aboriginal men do not marry until they are in their late twenties and thirties, at which time they usually wed women who have only recently attained sexual maturity, which means a typical Australian aboriginal couple will feature a man much older than his wife or wives.

Adultery is taboo among Australian aboriginals, but it is a soft taboo, which means many people have lovers outside their marriages. That, on the face of it, is not unlike the American model, but among Australian aboriginals extra-marital activities are expected and even encouraged (even though they are taboo), and so there are rarely any dire consequences for extra-marital hanky panky.

Now…those questing men I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago? The ones sent off to roam around with other imperfect men? Well, they wander for years and decades trying to improve themselves spiritually and emotionally so they can one day get married, have children, and grow old in the company of perfect women and other much improved men. And in the course of those many years of roaming around, these groups of men occasionally come into contact with mixed gender bands with whom they like to hang out for a time because, well, that’s what life is all about, bumping into groups of other people and socializing. And the sexual comportment practice that goes on at the outset of contact between roaming men and a band of married people and children and unmarried women is, to say the least, by American standards, spicy.

So…imagine a band of four or five extended families camped by a desert spring, life meandering along, so to speak, when a group of wandering men appears and stops a respectful distance away from the camp to await a response from the larger mixed gender band. And that response, assuming the wanderers are discerned to be a worthy bunch, is for several of the women, married and unmarried, to go out to greet the wandering men.

And when the wandering men see the women coming out to them, they lie down on their backs and surrender themselves sexually to the women, who mount those eager yet submissive visitors and thereby expiate lust, tension, mistrust, and you name it, so that when the wanderers enter the camp, they are, as it were, tame. This is the only acceptable occasion for a married woman to have sex outside of marriage.

Are there any occasions when a married Australian aboriginal man may, with the blessing of his society, have sex with a woman other than his wife or wives? Yes, there is one such occasion. But because I am absolutely certain my description of that occasion would deeply offend at least half my readers, I shall not endeavor to describe such a shocking event and the astonishing aftermath.

Desnatchification

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

“Bodies devoid of mind are as statues in the market place.” Euripides

Have you ever seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers? I’m thinking particularly of the 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland. I remember two things most vividly about the movie. First, the invading fungus (or fungus-like alien) left everyone it snatched seemingly unchanged on the outside, but on the inside those who got snatched were full of fungus. Hence the expression: the fungus amongus. Secondly, I had the distinct feeling the film was not fiction, but rather a docudrama. It seemed to me that Americans by the millions were being snatched and having their hearts and minds turned into sticky gray fungus; and I kept meeting these people and dating them.

“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein

Now it is 2010, thirty-two years since I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and here comes the news that a wealthy television producer just won a MacArthur Genius Award. If nothing about this news strikes you as strange or untoward, then I would say you have been snatched. The news that an award intended to support daring unknown artists has been given to a well-known commercial hack reminds me of that terrible day some years ago when the abominably sophomoric musical fungus A Chorus Line won the Pulitzer Prize. When I heard that news, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Those judges have been snatched.”

“Of one thing we can be sure. The quality of our life in the future will be determined by the quality of our thinking.” Edward de Bono

What do I mean by snatched, assuming the snatchee’s body and brain isn’t actually filled with alien fungus? To my way of thinking (which I grant you is not necessarily a simple or popular way of thinking) a person qualifies as snatched when he or she has surrendered his or her powers of discernment to propaganda disguised as contemporary culture. Sadly, horribly, fungaciously, this means we’ve all been at least partially snatched and live in constant danger of being totally snatched if we don’t take immediate action to counter the powerful and relentless fungal forces.

Appendix A: The body and soul snatchers have virtually no power over us in the absence of electricity and the myriad gizmos running on the stuff. Why is this? In two words: auric fields. Stay with me here. You won’t be sorry. Oh, maybe you will be sorry, but no more sorry than you’ll be if you go watch a half-hour of television instead of staying with me here.

An Aside (or is this a disclaimer?): I am well aware I run the risk of being called a crackpot for what I am about to write, but what is one to do if one truly believes in that which he is about to attempt to elucidate (because of personal experiences validating that belief) except to make an attempt to elucidate that belief? (Rhetorical)

The theory of physical illness and physical wellness and emotional distress and emotional well being I subscribe to posits that each of us has an aura, which in simple terms is a field of energy surrounding our body. Whether our auras emanate from us or are merely part of our totality, I don’t know, but there they are, our auras, otherwise known as auric fields. Not coincidentally, when our bodies die, our auras vanish.

This theory further states that the quality (color, texture, brightness, strength, vivacity, etc.) of our aura is determined by our thoughts, and most especially by our recurring thoughts. Furthermore, our aura is in constant communication with our chakras, which I understand to be energy concentrations in our bodies that are intimately and perpetually interacting with our internal organs, which interplay sets the tone for our experience of life. A grand oversimplification, to be sure, but in a nutshell, that’s where I’m coming from. Cognizant that you may now consider me full of hackneyed spiritual fungus, I will continue.

Thus we are receivers as well as broadcasters of energy. In the pre-electronic world, that natural world in which our species evolved, we were not being bombarded night and day with mind-numbing electronic sensory input as we are being bombarded today. Indeed, the sensory input bathing the senses of our founding homo sapiens (from whom we evolved) was not mind numbing at all, but rather mind-opening. Which is prefatory to saying that desnatchification, otherwise known as cleansing your aura of mass media fungus, may be achieved by periodically disengaging from all forms of electronica and connecting with our ancient ancestral roots by becoming an acoustic human being, and by acoustic I mean that which is not electronically enhanced or amplified, as in acoustic music.

Here are a few ways to desnatchify, cleanse, and invigorate your aura. These activities will also positively impact your chakras and make you feel much better and less fungal. 1. Making or listening to live well-played acoustic music. 2. Gardening. 3. Reading great literature 4. Becoming immersed in nature (a walk in the woods, a stroll on the beach, a dip in the sea). 5. Engaging in intimate equilibrious conversation. 6. Snuggling with a copasetic animal or animals (including cats, dogs, horses, and other humans). 7. Watching a spider spin a web.

Another important step in the desnatchification process is to strictly limit your intake of mainstream fungus. Alas, avoiding aura-snatching fungal books and movies and media is not easy, especially since the corporate purveyors are expert at dolling up the deleterious fungus to look like what we remember from long ago as the good stuff. However, almost without exception, if the book or movie or cultural goody comes from a neo-fascist multinational corporation, the book or movie or cultural goody is a body snatcher.

“Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.” Charles Dickens

Now it may be that you enjoy much of what mainstream American culture has to offer. If so, I’m sure you stopped reading this article long ago. But if you have stayed with me here until now, the chances are good that you are still more acoustic than digital. And know this. You are not alone. True, almost everyone else has been snatched, but here and there, living among the fungus-infested zombies are your brothers and sisters who have secretly maintained their auric integrity. Seek them out. Establish covens of acoustic human to carry us through these dark ages and beyond the time when the fungal junk collapses under its own putrid weight, to a time when our culture is reborn, a culture for all of us, not just for totally, like, you know, fungal fourteen-year olds.

How will you know these other acoustic humans? And how will you signal to them that you are another who has not yet been snatched? You will…wait. What’s that sound? Oh, no. They’ve come for me. The fungus amongus! I must run. Be brave. Stay strong. Find the others!

(This memo originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, October 2010)