Posts Tagged ‘Bill Gates’

Four Hundred Thousand

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I Never Heard The Warning (mixed media on wood) by Nolan Winkler

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

“I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need, if I die by four o’clock.” Henny Youngman

Do you earn four hundred thousand dollars of taxable income in a year? Have you ever earned four hundred thousand dollars in a single year? Do you have friends who earn or have ever earned four hundred thousand dollars in a year? I thought not; nor do I have friends earning that kind of money, though I do know some certifiably wealthy people. Earning two hundred thousand dollars is a different matter. According to government statistics about 1.5% of American households make two hundred thousand a year, and I can think of three or four couples out of the hundreds of people I know who might earn as much as two hundred thousand dollars in a single year.

So…households earning more than two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year were the lowest income earners President Obama said he was going to tax at a wee bit higher tax rate if only we would re-elect him. So we re-elected him and now he has chosen to go along with the certifiably insane Republicans and only increase taxes a teeny little bit on households earning more than four hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, while also allowing the current payroll tax cut to expire, an expiration that will immediately cause taxes to increase for 78 percent of U.S. households, with an average increase of 1,635 dollars. In other words, the lower middle-income folks got screwed again and the rich people, well…

Those three or four couples I know who might earn two hundred thousand dollars a year, and everyone earning more than that, all have accountants who are absolute wizards at manipulating the tax code so their clients pay little or no taxes at any rate—the tax code being essentially a compendium of loopholes to benefit wealthy people and their corporations. Thus, as far as you and I and 99% of the American population are concerned, the recent fiscal cliff circus might as well have been about raising taxes on unicorns for all the good the new law does you and me and the economy we struggle to survive in.

“It is money, money, money! Not ideas, not principles, but money that reigns supreme in American politics.” Robert Byrd

Meanwhile, as a sneaky side note to raising taxes on unicorns and 78% of the American people who already pay far more than their fair share, President Obama and his troops are now marching in lock step (goose step) with the Republicans to lower those damn Social Security cost-of-living increases that are the life blood of millions of certifiably poor Americans. Never mind that Social Security is an entirely solvent system that has never added a single dollar to the national deficit. “Such terrible awesome annual increases,” cry our insane overlords, “must be curtailed.”

I, for instance, under the current system of calculation, will see my massive Social Security payment of 663 dollars per month skyrocket to 674 a month in 2013. Katy bar the door! What is that sucking sound? Must be Todd and his deadbeat kind draining the treasury! Quick! Print trillions of more dollars to fund endless war and to pay the hundreds of billions of dollars interest on the national debt and to make unlimited funds available to banks and Wall Street crooks, interest free, so they can keep their toxic derivative bubbles bubbling. Whoopee!

 “Ben Franklin may have discovered electricity—but it is the man who invented the meter who made the money.” Earl Warren

When I think about the many vicious lunatics in Congress tirelessly stealing from the poor to benefit the rich, those duly elected crazy and vicious people with apparently no other agenda but accelerating the enrichment of the already incredibly wealthy, I can’t help but think that getting and hoarding huge quantities of money must be the cause of their insanity. And when I examine my own brief brushes with wealth, I am further convinced that the wealth/insanity connection is no figment of my imagination.

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” Woody Allen

Twice in my life, I earned more than one hundred thousand dollars in a single year, fortunes resulting from moviemakers buying or optioning the rights to my novels Inside Moves and Forgotten Impulses. Inside Moves was made into a film in 1980 and Forgotten Impulses was optioned several times in the 1980’s for small amounts of money, with the largest option (one year for 100,000 dollars) coming in 1995, though a movie of that book was never (has yet to be) made.

The IRS audited me for each of those stellar years, though I had dutifully given the government more than half my earnings each time. My auditors in both cases were well-intentioned young people who told me I was being audited because the dramatic spike in my income (up from next to nothing) was a red flag, an indication of possibly illicit activity, as if people engaged in illicit activities would be so stupid as to report their illicit gains. In both audits I was found to be a good boy, much to the disappointment of those hapless revenuers assigned to gather loot from those of us unprotected by savvy accountants.

However, despite surrendering half of my windfalls to Uncle Sam, I still found myself possessed of much more money than I was accustomed to having, and so in the first instance I bought a house and made a short film and gave money to friends and embarked on a disastrous marriage and became a pauper again just a few short years after becoming sort of a success. In the second instance, I moved from low rent Sacramento to high rent Berkeley, gave away most of the money to friends, and in just a few short months was back to scraping together my minimalist monthly nut. Why did I give my money away so quickly? After much thought, and believe me I’ve thought plenty about how swiftly I got rid of that extra do-re-mi, I concluded that I was so psychically uncomfortable having lots of money when so many of my friends had so little money that it was either share my wealth or go insane.

“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” Spike Milligan

Imagine getting four hundred thousand dollars, giving a little bit to the government, and then…getting another four hundred thousand, and then another four hundred thousand, and so on for years and decades. Who are you? What have you been doing to get that money? And what have you done with all the money you’ve gotten? Have you helped your friends and your community? I hope so.

Whoever you are, the insane people running our government have decided you should give them a few thousand dollars more this year than you did last year so they can continue destroying the earth as fast as they can. How does that make you feel to be told you have to give a teeny bit more of your four hundred thousand to the government? Do you shrug and say, “No problem. I make that much in an hour from the bubbling hedge funds I own, and I make that in a day from the rents paid to me by my many tenants living in the houses and apartment buildings I bought with my wads of excess cash. And besides, my accountant will jiggle my numbers so I end up paying even less taxes than I did last year.”

Or do you say, “Why me? Why have I been singled out to pay more when everybody else (except 78% of the population) is paying the same amount they did last year? And what about people like Todd getting an eleven-dollar increase in his Social Security allotment? It’s an outrage, I tell you, and I’m going to make a large tax deductible donation to a fascist political action committee to get this usurious tax increase reversed and stop those deadbeats from draining the treasury dry!”

Sadly (or happily) we will probably never know what those rare and elusive four-hundred-thousandaires will do or say about the tax increase on their unimaginably vast (to me) influx of moolah, because we will probably never meet them, just as we will almost surely never meet a unicorn, except in our dreams and fantasies. What we do know is that the President of the United States and the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are united in their utter contempt for common Americans, and by common I mean households earning between thirty and seventy thousand dollars a year, which is the average income of most households in America, not counting the tens of millions of households mired in poverty.

Which reminds me of that old joke about Bill Gates walking into a jam-packed bar and suddenly the average person in the joint is worth more than a billion dollars.

Falling Behind

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Photo by Marcia Sloane

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

“If we weren’t still hiring great people and pushing ahead at full speed, it would be easy to fall behind and become a mediocre company.” Bill Gates

In 1983, as the trajectory of my writing career, commercially speaking, was turning steeply downward, my third-rate Hollywood agent gave me an ultimatum. “Get an answering machine or find another agent.” Thus I became one of the last people in America to discover the joys of screening my calls.

In the early days of owning an answering machine, I especially enjoyed making long rambling outgoing messages; and people seemed to enjoy hearing those messages a few times, after which they would urge me to change the messages because they never wanted to hear them again. So I got in the habit of making new outgoing messages every couple days; and then people complained I was erasing really good messages before their friends got to hear them. Thus art mirrored life.

Then one day I made an outgoing message that went viral before the phenomenon of something going viral even existed. I’m speaking about a time before the advent of the interweb, which was not very long ago but seems prehistoric. If I still had that particular outgoing message and put it on YouTube today as the soundtrack to beautiful scantily clad women dancing on the beach or swimming in lagoons or sprawling on bearskin rugs or walking through sun-dappled forests, I have no doubt my message would go viral again and I would become famous and wealthy from all the hits and links and apps and downloads from clouds and kindles and everywhere.

Sadly, I only remember the feeling of the message, not the words. The feeling was of being exactly where I was supposed to be and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, which was telling an entrancing story or expressing some deeply satisfying feeling or describing a most delicious way of being—something so alluring that the caller was overcome with a full body sensation of life being a lovely adventure, a sexy samba on a warm summer day, and that their calling me and listening to my message was exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Yes! The experience of listening to my message was a holy act, a miraculous give-and-take, a blessing, a multi-dimensional, emotionally, physically, and spiritually fulfilling orgasm free of even the slightest attachment to outcome or length or reason. Hallelujah!

I got hundreds of calls. Telephone calls. Not emails or hits or links. I’m talking about actual human beings calling my number and listening to my message—hundreds of people from all over America and around the world. Friends told friends and their friends told their friends, and so on. A woman called from France and left a message my neighbor translated as, “I am so very much wanting to have the child you are the father.” Another call came from a bunch of people having a party in England, and after hearing my message they applauded and shouted “Bravo!” Calls came from bars and cafés all over America and Canada where the callers held the phones up so everyone in those joints could listen and respond. I felt like I’d won the Pulitzer Prize, minus the prize money.

That message made people happy. Those words, their order and tone and cadence, made people laugh and cry and rejoice. Some people left delightful replies—impromptu poems full of love and hope that brought tears to my eyes. I tell you, that message was an elixir, a salve, and a great big answer to the gigantic question: why are we here?

I kept that globetrotting zinger of a message on my answering machine for months until one day a friend who had heard that psalm too many times said, “Enough already,” and I hit the Erase button. Honestly, I had no idea what I was erasing because I had not listened to the blessed thing since the moment, all those weeks and months before, when I hit the Record button and fell into a reverie from which flowed those now forgotten words.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

My wife Marcia and I are both self-employed and have web sites whereon we display our wares and talents in hopes of enticing people to give us money for what we do. Marcia is a cellist, cello teacher, composer, and she runs two chamber music camps each year for adult string players. Her web site is NavarroRiverMusic.com on which she promotes her marvelous camps and sells her CDs and sheet music. Her most successful creation, commercially speaking, is her Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation, a CD that has sold three thousand hard copies and is being downloaded at an enviable rate each month, I being the envious one. Music teachers and musicians and meditation practitioners rave about her cello drones, and there seems no end to new customers. She also sells her album of wonderful cello-centric songs Skyward, sheet music of her original compositions, and three CDs she’s made with her husband Todd (that would be moi).

My web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com on which I sell my books, music CDs, story CDs, birthday cards, and cards and posters of my zany paintings. Visitors can listen to stories and chunks of my novels (read by yours truly) for free, and sample tunes from my albums. My most successful creation, commercially speaking, is the lovely little hardbound book (signed by the author) Buddha In A Teacup (just ten bucks!) I am currently most enamored of my solo piano CDs and dream of one day rivaling Marcia’s enviable download business, though for now I’m thrilled when I make .0013 cents from someone in Poughkeepsie taking a listen on Napster.

And, yes, my previous experience with the aforementioned miraculous outgoing answering machine message and a few other game-changing incidents of cosmic largesse keep me believing that one day such transcendental beneficence might befall me again. My new CD Mystery Inventions, piano and bass duets, for instance, might be just the creation that inspires those hits to keep on coming. Or not.

So…from what I’ve just said you might get the impression we’re a fairly techno-savvy household. In truth, Marcia is a computer enthusiast and gets better at cyber software stuff all the time. I, on the other hand, am a technophobe. Even simple procedures involving software are to me as Everest is to one with high blood pressure. After nearly thirty years of owning a personal computer, the contraption remains for me little more than a typewriter with a screen, a way to send and get mail, and a pseudo-television for watching sports highlights and movie previews—all else digital is baffling to me.

“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” E.F. Schumacher from Small is Beautiful

So yesterday I’m reading the newspaper, the actual paper, not a projection, and I come to an article the likes of which I usually skip, an article about a man who has an app design software company that is growing so fast he just rented another 150,000 square feet of office space in the hottest sector of downtown San Francisco, and he thinks he’ll quadruple that space by year’s end.

I could not understand anything this man said or anything he is reputed to have done. He said that twelve million people have downloaded one of his apps that empowers them to paint on their cell phones, thus “unleashing an avalanche of pent up creativity.” Twelve million people are painting on their cell phones? Are they finger painting? What does a painting made on a tiny screen look like? Then the guy goes on to say that everything he and anyone in the know are doing today is “all about the cloud.” The cloud. I’ve heard about this cloud, some sort of virtually unlimited cyber space computing zone making possible the instantaneous transfer of jillions of bytes of digital information per nanosecond times a jillion squared. This cloud, according to this billionaire cyber wizard, “will unleash the creative potential of humanity.”

And my gut reaction to that is, “I hope so, but I doubt it.”