Posts Tagged ‘Amy Goodman’

Celebrity Saviors

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

magician

Mr. Magician painting by Todd

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

Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the influential Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England say many of the solutions proposed by world leaders to prevent “runaway global warming” will not be enough to address the scale of the crisis. They have called for “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the United States, EU and other wealthy nations.” Democracy Now

You may have heard that Russell Brand, the British comedian and movie star and ex-husband of pop diva Katy Perry, has made quite a splash of late talking about bringing down the current earth-killing systems of government and finance and replacing them with truly democratic socialist systems that serve all the people and stop killing the earth instead of only serving the bloody hell psychotic super rich. Russell isn’t saying anything new, but he speaks well, debates well, and has a lovable fearlessness and charisma that attracts the attention of thousands of previously disinterested people.

Also recently, Angelina Jolie, the mega-famous movie star and wife of mega-famous movie star Brad Pitt, received a humanitarian award from the same folks who hand out Oscars, and she made an eloquent acceptance speech in which she said that there but for fortune she might have been trapped in a refugee camp with little hope of having a good life, and she was determined to continue to work as hard as she can to help those less fortunate than she.

Simultaneously with Russell and Angelina broaching these subjects so rarely broached by super-famous celebrities, I happened to read the transcript of the show on Democracy Now from which I took this article’s opening quote, and I thought, “What if Amy Goodman interviewed Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks and they spoke the identical words spoken by these two scientists no one has ever heard of? What kind of an impact would that have on the world?” These scientists are talking about living lives of what many people in America and Europe would consider extreme material simplicity: no more traveling by air, minimal use of automobiles, getting around by bicycling, walking and using public transportation, radically reducing energy consumption in the home, not buying imported food, shopping locally, and so forth.

Then I had an epiphany that goes something like this: since hundreds of millions (and possibly billions) of people around the world care more about what celebrities do and think than they care about anyone or anything else, what if Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber and Madonna and Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lawrence and Lady Gaga and all the world’s most famous celebrities could be convinced to live lives of material simplicity in order to slow and eventually reverse the destruction of the biosphere?

Impossible? I don’t think so, especially if we, the people, can convince a few key super stars to make the change, and in so doing make material simplicity seem exciting and sexy, which it is, for then other celebrities will follow suit in order to, you know, be among the coolest of the cool.

“There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox

While watching sports highlights on my computer, I saw a thirty-second advertisement for shoes or shaving cream, I can’t remember which, that features a mega-famous basketball player going to exclusive parties and driving a million-dollar car and being swamped by fans and living in a mansion and buying diamonds and consorting with gorgeous women. As we watch the footage of the superstar’s high life, we hear the voice of the mega-famous player we’re watching say, “If they took away the parties, the hot cars, the fans, the money, the high life, what would be left?” Now we see this superstar jumping incredibly high and making a fantastic shot as he answers his own question with, “Everything.”

And I took this to mean that this superstar, worshipped by millions of young men and women, cares more about basketball than he cares about all those glitzy, greenhouse gas spewing, meaningless wastes of life and time, which means he is the perfect candidate for assuming a life of material simplicity and modeling earth-saving ways of living for his followers. Okay!

“90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane, and all but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.” Jon Queally

That’s right. Two-third of all the greenhouse gases emitted on earth in the last two hundred and fifty years were emitted by ninety companies producing oil, gas, coal, and cement, and most of the remaining greenhouse gas emissions came from people using that oil, gas, coal, and cement. Thus the solution is clear: we have to stop using so much oil, gas, coal and cement.

According to Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the average American is responsible for producing approximately eight (8) tons of greenhouse gas per year. Furthermore, 1.5 billion people in China are catching up to Americans with a per-person average of five (5) tons per year, with 1.5 billion folks in India gaining fast on the people of China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Kevin and Alice estimate that we must quickly reduce the global per-person yearly average to two (2) tons of greenhouse gas emissions to have any hope of the planet being habitable a few decades hence. They also remind us that the average per-person tonnage is brought way up by the wealthiest people on earth who do lots of flying around in jets, living in huge energy-gobbling homes, driving too many gas-guzzling cars, and buying lots of things they don’t need brought to them from many thousands of miles away.

“On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate.” Buckminster Fuller

So…you check your email. A friend sent you a link. You click on the link and are taken to a headline JUSTIN BEIBER JOINS CO-HOUSING COMMUNITY. The accompanying article reports: “Following a celebratory tweet to his eight hundred million devoted followers, the Beibster rode his bicycle towing the small trailer holding all his worldly possessions to his one-bedroom apartment in the zero emissions and totally self-sustaining co-housing community of High Hopes in Townsend, New Jersey, his ultra-groovy pad to be shared with the Beibster’s awesomely cute wife Gretchen, also known as She (Accordion).

“I’m totally digging working in our big organic garden and teaching guitar at the local community school,” said the Beibster who will be traveling by tramp steamer with Gretchen to Europe next month for their acoustic bicycle tour touting his new album Light As A Feather, featuring his global hit Cleaning Up My Act. “When we get home from Europe, we’ll hang here at High Hopes for a few months and then go gigging by train.”

In the afternoon, you turn on the radio to catch your favorite Eco-Revolution show Get Natural with hosts Tina Fey and Russell Brand, coming to you live from the straw bale solar community center of Quail Run Cooperative Farm a few miles from downtown San Luis Obispo. Tina and Russell, co-founders of Quail Run, have as their special guest today the famous director James Cameron talking about his latest 3-D comedy thriller Turning Down The Heat starring Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, and Adam Sandler as improvisational ecological innovators sent into the way-too-hot center of North America to befriend the desperate people living there and implement zany innovative ways to speed up the reversal of global warming.

What makes Get Natural such a great show is the way Tina and Russell mix movie talk and celebrity gossip with tips on canning, fermentation, compost, communal living, and the new Slow Travel movement. Jennifer Lawrence calls midway through the show to talk about some new tricks she learned while making her latest batch of goat cheese and how much she enjoyed her three-week walk to Florida from her upstate New York intentional simplicity commune to shoot the seventh and final movie in the Hunger Games series, Hungry No More.

“I was exhausted after four weeks of filming,” said Jennifer, “so I took the quantum gravity zero-emissions train home. We had a stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, so the trip took almost an hour instead of the usual thirty minutes, but we produced far more energy than we consumed en route.”

There are still a few celebrities and a few dimwitted fans who have not yet made the shift, but that can’t last now that all the corporations are making such huge profits from their clever de-growth de-hedge fund strategies, and with the fines for profligate energy use so exorbitant. Yes, we’re faced with the problem of what to do with so much wealth and freedom and opportunity to be shared by everyone, but we’ll have to tackle that challenge with the same strength and conviction we brought to convincing our beloved celebrities to change their ways.

How did we do that? How quickly we forget. Let’s see, I know thousands of us barraged our favorite celebrities with persuasive informative heartfelt letters, instead of wasting our time writing to our pea-brained congressional representatives, but I can’t quite recall how we got those celebrities to realize that lip service and driving electric cars wasn’t enough.

Oh, yes, now I remember the turning point, when Brad and Angelina walked from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and hundreds of thousands of people and dozens of super-famous people joined them along the way, and how they gathered in the Super Dome to announce to the world that henceforth they would get around without flying and without the use of automobiles, and they would be assuming lives of material minimalism. Yeah, that was huge, that was when the tide began to turn.

Both At Once

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2011)

“Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Morning: A beautiful day in Mendocino, the rhododendrons madly blooming, the headlands a riot of wild roses and wild irises and wild mustard, while across the ocean a terrible thing is happening: four nuclear reactors in Japan are out of control, melting down, and turning vast areas of that nation into dead zones for thousands of years to come.

“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.” Allen Ginsberg

Noon: A friend writes to say his business is doing well, his daughter about to get married, and he hasn’t felt so well in ages. In the same mail is a note from another friend telling me about his neighbor, a fellow from Japan, who now has five relatives living with him in his tiny apartment in Berkeley, the hope being they can somehow figure out a way to stay here once their tourist visas expire, because as far as they’re concerned there is no going back to Japan unless they want to die much sooner than later.

“There is only one answer to destructiveness and that is creativity.” Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Afternoon: I weed my burgeoning beets. Oh how they loved all the recent rain; and oh how they love the fulgent sunshine. Making tea, I turn on the radio and listen to Michio Kaku, the renowned physicist speaking to Amy Goodman. He believes the ongoing meltdowns of the nuclear power plants in Japan, along with the massive releases of radioactive materials into the atmosphere, must be dealt with promptly and thoroughly or there will soon be catastrophic consequences far beyond the already catastrophic consequences. When Amy asks him what the Japanese government should do, Michio says they should call out the army and do everything necessary to entomb the power plants as quickly as possible.

“The only thing you can believe in a newspaper is the date.” J.B.S. Haldane

Night: The Giants win a great game in the bottom of the tenth inning—a real thriller, the winning hit causing me to hoot for joy. On my way to bed, I check the interweb for news of the nuclear meltdowns, though I know such news might mess up my sleep, and I find a recent statement from Barack Obama saying nuclear power is definitely the way to go because nuclear is clean energy and won’t contribute to global warming.

“The fool has one great advantage over a man of sense—he is always satisfied with himself.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Morning: I make a pot of coffee and turn on our local public radio station and listen incredulously to a show purporting to be about energy. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. The hosts, two self-proclaimed experts on energy, are both extolling the virtues and safety of nuclear power. Having just read the latest nightmare news from Japan, I am about to call the show, when they take a call from a guy who says, “Hey, all power is nuclear, right? Solar power is nuclear, right? Comes from the sun, which is nuclear. Right? So…”

And the hosts agree. “That’s right, all power is nuclear. So…”

They take another call. A woman. I’m hoping she’ll say what I want to say, which is, “Are you out of your minds? There are four nuclear power plants in Japan in full meltdown, radiating the entire earth, sewing the seeds of millions of cases of cancer, and you dare call nuclear power safe?” But she says something about life being a beautiful dance “…and, like, so…enjoy the dance.”

I turn off the radio and do the dishes. I vacuum the house. I chop kindling. I mulch the potatoes. I grab my bucksaw and go down into the woods and find a fallen fir. I cut the tree into draggable lengths and lug them up the steep hill to the woodshed where I saw the logs into firewood. I chop some more kindling. I drive to town and park at Big River Beach and walk into town along the beach and up the stairs to the Presbyterian. I am so angry at those people for saying nuclear power is safe, I’m about to explode, and I figure if I keep working and walking and using the energy of my anger to get things done, I won’t explode.

At the post office, Sheila and I talk about the Giants. We’re both sorry De Rosa hurt his wrist, but, hey, the guy was a dead weight on the team, bad mojo, and without him we’re winning again. We’re both looking forward to Pablo coming back. I buy some Gregory Peck stamps. I didn’t know Greg was dead. Did you know a person has to be dead before he or she can be on a postage stamp? The one exception to this I know of was the stamp (3 cents?) commemorating the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II. Apparently, one or two of the men in that famous (staged) photograph were still alive when the stamp was issued.

Part of the official reason for America dropping not one but two atom bombs on hundreds of thousands of defenseless Japanese civilians at the end of World War II was so our armed forces wouldn’t have to invade Japan “Iwo Jima-style” and suffer thousands of “unnecessary casualties.” This was not the real reason the bombs were dropped. I don’t know what the real reasons were, though I have my suspicions. What I do know is that anyone who says nuclear power is safe and clean should immediately go to Japan and help entomb the nuclear power plants that are in full meltdown and radiating the planet.

“The two divinest things this world has got,

A lovely woman in a rural spot.” Leigh Hunt

Marcia just came home from a three-week vacation in England, her first vacation in a very long time. She is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. We laugh sometimes about being artists and how people, lots of people, think artists have it easy and don’t work as hard as, say, dentists or hedge fund criminals. But we work seven days a week from morning until night. Yes, we take breaks and eat meals and go on walks and run errands, but we put in ten to sixteen hours of labor every day for which we may or may not get paid a cent. That’s our life. We work because to not work is to not answer the call of whatever is calling us, however esoteric that whatever may be.

One of the hardest things for me and probably for you, too, is not letting all the horrible terrible frightening sickening news depress us so much that we can’t work. Thus I intentionally limit my intake of news when I feel overwhelmed with fear and anger. A few days of ignorance may not create bliss, but it usually clears the lobes and allows me to focus on the few things I have some control over.

“There are only two emotions in Wall Street: fear and greed.” William Le Fevre

Buddha understood that fear was the great obstacle to peace, both personal and societal. When we’re afraid, we don’t fully experience the present moment, and therefore we are not fully alive or fully aware of what’s really going on. When we’re afraid, anger arises and seeks release. War might be said to be a massive release of anger masking fear.

“The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.” William Sloan Coffin

I’m reading a letter from a friend full of news about his five-year-old daughter. I grin as I visualize his brilliant, beautiful child racing around, singing, talking, learning, when suddenly these big drops of water splat down on the page. I look up into the clear blue sky. How can it be raining? Oh. I’m weeping for joy at hearing about the miracles of his daughter’s happy childhood, and weeping for sorrow about the world we are leaving her—weeping about both at once in the same breath.

Todd’s web site is Underthetablebooks.com

Art Rant

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Books

Rae’s eyes were red and swollen. They sat on the couch side by side, in silence, waiting for the doctor.” from Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott

The silence of the eyes rings true, and the eyes being side-by-side seems plausible, but how in heck did those eyes get onto that couch without Rae?

I was thirteen and had devoured a thousand books before I discovered the first typo of my reading career, an error that struck me as a scandalous affront to the artistry of writing. I was an insatiable reader, and wanting to be a professional writer I did not skim, but read every word. And when I found passages that wowed me, I copied their lines longhand to teach my sinews the feel of great writing.

“The pallor of hunger suited Kim very well as he stood, tall and slim, in his sad-coloured, sweeping robes, one hand on his rosary and the other in the attitude of benediction, faithfully copied from the lama. An English observer might have said that he looked rather like the young saint of a stained-glass window, whereas he was but a growing lad faint with emptiness.” from Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Nowadays I am surprised if I read a book from a corporate press and don’t find grammatical errors galore with typos sprinkled throughout. I was recently told I must read the stories of Jhumpa Lahiri, a current darling of the New York literati, a writer with myriad awards to her credit, including a Pulitzer. I dutifully ordered her most revered collection of short stories, and after wading through several introductory pages of praiseful blurbs from influential magazines and newspapers—the word miraculous appearing in several of the blurbs—I entered a grammatical minefield that rendered her half-baked stories unreadable for the likes of me.

I complained of Ms. Lahiri’s failings to Marcia, my wife who is so patient with me when I rant about the decline and fall of our culture. Marcia calmly considered my condemnation of the writer and said, “Maybe you just don’t like her style.”

Indeed. Clunky composition featuring profligate use of the word “it”, pronoun confusion, place confusion, time confusion, inadequate descriptions of people and places, and lame depictions of action do add up to a particular style, but who needs it? And why would reviewers describe such stuff as miraculous? In two words: culture collapse.

Jhumpa Lahiri and Anne Lamott and countless other contemporary authors contracted by the corporate presses should be ashamed to publish books that have not been thoroughly and thoughtfully edited. Why aren’t they ashamed? You tell me.

Radio

“It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on.” Marilyn Monroe

In 1966 I was lead singer in a rock band of sixteen-year-old boys. By our third rehearsal we knew we were fantastic and would soon be opening at the Fillmore for our favorite bands Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. After much deliberation, we settled on the name Joy Ride, though I was never certain if we were The Joy Ride or simply Joy Ride.

This was long before the advent of cassette tape recorders (now obsolete) so we recorded our loud songs on an Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder and sent the one-of-a-kind tapes to Warner Brothers and Columbia Records so we would be discovered and made famous and have beautiful wonderful girlfriends who wanted to have sex with us day and night while maintaining their brilliance and creativity and innocence.

We had one gig before (The) Joy Ride broke up. The gig was a battle of four bands in a cavernous high school gymnasium. We were awesome, yet we lost the battle. The only possible explanation for our defeat was that the airheads didn’t get where we were coming from. Our one stalwart groupie said we reminded her of Jimi Hendrix and The Byrds rolled into one. No wonder we knew we were fantastic.

Embittered by our rejection by the airheads, I joined forces with a guitar player and wrote eleven amazing songs. We recorded our masterworks on that same reel-to-reel tape recorder and sent the tape to A&M Records because a friend of ours had a friend who knew someone’s friend’s cousin or uncle who worked there. Maybe the tape got lost in the mail, but more likely the record company airheads just didn’t get where we were coming from. In any case…

Fast-forward forty-five years. Having just produced two new CDs, I have been questing for likely DJs at likely radio stations to send our music to, my goal being to send forth a hundred packets, each containing our CDs and a heartfelt handwritten letter aimed at a specific DJ. So not Jazz is my collaboration with the aforementioned patient wife Marcia, her exquisite cello improvisations elevating our jazzy instrumentals and songs into the sublime, while 43 short Piano Improvisations is my solo adventure in musical haiku.

Whilst pursuing those rare DJs who might be open to music from the likes of us, I have visited over a hundred public radio station web sites and scrutinized several hundred DJ profiles and play lists. As of this writing, I have sent out sixty-seven packets and gained three DJ fans: one in Fort Collins, Colorado, one in Worcester, Massachusetts, and one in Astoria, Oregon. They have each played a tune or two of ours, and promise to play more. We are, in a word, thrilled.

As a result of my copious research, I have learned that if a radio station is an NPR (National Public Radio) affiliate and airs All Things Considered, they will probably be a kind of public radio Clear Channel with canned programming and zero interest in independent artists. But if a station airs Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, there is a fair chance they will harbor one or more zany, curious, eclectic programmers. And then there are the entirely student-run college stations. I do not intend to approach any of these stations until our hip-hop metal reggae album Dread Metal YoYo is ready for release.

Movies and Plays

“Television has raised writing to a new low.” Samuel Goldwyn

John Simon is the author of my favorite one-sentence film review. In response to the movie Tommy, he wrote in Esquire, “Anyone who has anything good to say about this movie has nothing to say to me.” I feel this way about nearly all the American movies I’ve seen in the last thirty years, and that is because I have not been programmed to digest contemporary theatrical offerings.

Contemporary movies and theatre in America are now entirely conflated with television, the essence of which is physical and psychic violence, emotional superficiality, sexism, the deification of morons, verbal abuse disguised as humor, and non-stop brainwashing. Because I ceased watching television in 1969, the programming of my brain has not kept pace with the changing cultural mores. Thus contemporary American plays and movies, even those purported to be brilliant and deep and meaningful, almost always strike me as trivial and/or toxic.

I remember the precise moment I decided to forego television for the rest of my life. I was nineteen and on the verge of dropping out of college—academia antithetical to the likes of me. I was wandering the halls of my dorm looking for someone to accompany me on a late night stroll when I came to a lounge wherein a dozen young men and women were watching television. As I stood in the lounge doorway and watched the watchers, I was struck by the realization that these promising young people, four of them my best friends, were being lobotomized by the rays emanating from the television, their faces fixed in helpless idiocy.

Over the last thirty years, I have attended some two hundred plays in theatres large and small in New York and Los Angeles and Seattle and Sacramento and Berkeley and San Francisco, and most recently Mendocino, and I cannot bring to mind a single contemporary play written by an American that I believed in for more than a moment or two. Of the few hundred American movies I’ve seen since 1980, I can think of a handful I would call good, only a few great. Thank goodness we have access to foreign films (I consider the British foreign) so I do not entirely starve for good movies, though I am frequently hungry.

I am certain (having been privileged to read such manuscripts) that fine plays, books, and screenplays are still being written in America, but they are not, as a rule, produced or published or widely disseminated. And, yes, I have on rare occasions over the last forty years watched television, usually at the request of friends urging me to sample shows they say are fabulous, only to have my sense of the ongoing devolution confirmed.

Renaissance

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Pablo Picasso

If you so desire, you can overcome the televisionization of your psyche and revitalize your aesthetic taste buds. Having worked with many teenage and adult writers who were initially incapable of writing original stories with non-stereotypical characters and natural-sounding dialogue, and knowing the causes of their dysfunction to be television, corporate fiction, and contemporary American movies, I found that if I could convince my charges to eliminate these influences from their lives, creative rebirth was a virtual certainty. For teenagers, such rebirths may occur within weeks of their ceasing to imbibe the media opiates. For adults, such rejuvenation may take months. And I suppose the modern variants of television, iPads, cell phones, YouTube, etc. should be included in the list of influences to be minimized.

Our brains, in much the same way as ecosystems, will regenerate once persistent toxics and stresses are removed, and once you end your addiction to the opiates of the masses you will be astonished by the dramatic shift in your perceptions. However, there is the strong possibility you will feel left out of the cultural discourse about celebrities and the latest movies and books you can’t remember shortly after you ingest them, and you may feel isolated and lonely and desperate in the absence of all that you have become accustomed to. Fear not. Falling off the wagon is but a click of the On button and a badly written bestseller away.

[Todd reads books written by dead or very old or unknown authors and watches foreign films (and the occasional teen flick) in Mendocino.]

This essay originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2010