Posts Tagged ‘democracy’


Monday, March 5th, 2018

headland sky by Ian of Zo

Headlands and Sky photo by Ian of Zo

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself.” Conan Doyle

In 1972 I was living in a twelve-person commune in Santa Cruz, part of the commune movement that sprung up spontaneously across America as the housing component of the cultural revolution known as the Sixties. And from 1968 to 1975, I was very excited to be part of that housing component and hopeful about the positive social, political, and cultural impact that widespread communal living could have on American society.

The first commune I lived in was an eight-person affair I started with a friend. I left after a year of frustration because my fellow communards were extremely reluctant to subsume their individual needs, even a little, for the betterment of the collective. We gave lip service to that idea, but aside from shared meals, it was largely every man or woman for him or her self.

So I was excited to join a commune with much more collectivity built into an operating system that quite effectively served twelve members and our many guests. I planted a huge vegetable garden and organized the eager volunteer gardeners, we shopped and cooked and cleaned collectively, and the entire group met once a week to discuss practical and emotional problems.

I felt there were a few duds in the dozen, but overall the communal living experience was economical, ecological, healthy, and emotionally satisfying. Four heterosexual couples and four singles, two straight, two gay, composed our twelve, and my only secret complaint was that most of my fellow communards were not particularly creative.

After a year and a half in that commune, my girlfriend and I were on the verge of breaking up, and our dyadic divide coincided with two members of the commune moving out, thus creating two vacancies to be filled through our well-established selection process. Our commune was famously successful in Santa Cruz, we were right on the beach, and we had dozens of people applying for those two spots on the roster.

Eventually we winnowed the applicant pool down to four finalists, three men and one woman. One of the men was Ted, twenty-five, boyishly handsome, charming, a fine musician and actor, a graduate student at the university, and one of the most brilliant, funny, interesting people I’d ever met. The other two men were boorish stoners and I was baffled every time either of them made the next cut. The woman, Tina, was twenty-four, a zealous gardener, poet, yogini, dancer, professional cook, and bright and funny.

I assumed we would immediately and unanimously elect Ted and Tina, and I was so excited about them joining the collective that I kicked off our final group discussion before we voted by extolling their many virtues and speaking of Ted wanting to host a Drama night and Tina wanting to help me expand the garden and lead a daily yoga session.

To my horror, only one of the five women in our commune voted for Tina, and only one other man joined me in voting for Ted. All the women voted for Ted, and all the men voted for Tina, but since eight votes were required to win a place in the commune, Ted and Tina were not invited to join, while the two boorish stoners got the nod. Two weeks later, I broke up with my girlfriend and moved out of town.

But before I moved away, I spoke privately to each of the men who voted against Ted, and I spoke privately to each of the women who voted against Tina; and I asked them why they voted against such wonderful people and for such boorish dopes?

Three of the women admitted to being threatened by Tina’s charm and talent, and especially by how much the men liked her. One of the women said she felt Tina was too good to be true and didn’t trust her. One of the men said Ted was “hyper”, another of the men said Ted was “too intellectual”, and the third male dissenter said he was intimidated by Ted’s talent and by his girlfriend’s attraction to Ted.

Thinking about that turning point in my life—I might have written a hit song with Ted and married Tina and had three kids and moved to Denmark—I am reminded of when George W. Bush was running against Al Gore. In a large national poll conducted a month before the election, seven out of ten American men said they would rather have a beer and hang out with George than with Al, and in that election 75% of all male voters, Democrats and Republicans, voted for George, and 75% of all female voters voted for Al.

And that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Blazing Saddles when Gene Wilder is explaining to Cleavon Little why the townsfolk won’t accept an African American as their sheriff.

“What did you expect?” says Gene to Cleavon. “A welcome sign? Make yourself at home? Marry my daughter? You’ve got to remember these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know…morons.”

And that reminds me of a recent and shocking study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center that found only 8% of high school seniors across America today identify slavery as the main cause of the Civil War, while 57% say tax protests caused the Civil War. How can this be? And isn’t it interesting that this phenomenon exists throughout the United States, not in isolated areas of the former Confederacy.

I am often chided by friends for being a conspiracy theorist, so I will not elucidate my theory about how and why one of the most important historical facts in American history is not properly taught in our schools. I will say that this monstrous educational lapse cannot, in my opinion, be accidental. Who would be best served by misleading entire generations of Americans about the cause of the Civil War?

And that reminds me of when I watched Jimmy Carter debate Ronald Reagan prior to the 1980 Presidential election, the last Presidential debate I ever watched. I howled with delight as Jimmy made a fool of Ronald at every turn in the debate, and I danced out of my house overjoyed that Jimmy would soon be re-elected, only to read the next day that multiple polls revealed well over 90% of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, felt Ronald easily won the debate.

Which is why, conspiracy theories aside, it didn’t surprise me even a little bit when Donald Trump was elected President of these United States.


Monday, December 19th, 2016

dancing in the shadows

Dancing In The Shadows painting by Nolan Winkler

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.” — H. L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1921.

Since the election of Donald Trump, I have been haunted by aphorisms. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is connected. There are no accidents. Life is but a dream.

More and more, as Trump’s inauguration approaches, I am reminded of the days following the election of George W. Bush. Okay, so George wasn’t technically elected the first time, but he was elected the second time. Remember? He won twice. His cabinet was a horror show. Yet so many people seem to have forgotten that, along with everything else that happened before last week.

Trump’s election is hardly unprecedented when it comes to electing narcissistic morons. Does the name Ronald Reagan ring a bell? And though he was not a moron, Bill Clinton would give any other narcissistic ruler in history a run for his or her money. Marie Antoinette may have said, “Let them eat cake,” but when Bill Clinton pushed through NAFTA while dismantling Welfare, thus relegating millions to poverty, he essentially said, “Let them eat nothing.”

Oh but Trump is worse. Worse than what? The Obama administration, it is now revealed, subsidized dirty coal and dirty oil all over the world to the tune of several hundred billion dollars, yet Obama-wan calls himself the Environmentalist President. Reminds me of Trump calling himself a feminist.

But more interesting to me than our general forgetfulness and gullibility is the question posed by the Mencken quote at the beginning of this article: do these narcissists and liars and morons we keep electing represent the inner soul of the American people? Are we essentially a nation of dishonest narcissistic morons?

What is a narcissist? Narcissus, so says the myth from whence comes the term narcissist, became enamored of his own reflection to the exclusion of all else. He did not fall in love with his essence because he had none. He could only see and relate to his reflection—that which he appeared to be, not what he actually was

Narcissists are incapable of empathy because empathy requires an inner-self capable of bonding emotionally with others. And why would so many people in America repeatedly choose emotional ciphers to be our leaders, our lawmakers, and the stewards of our futures? Why would we choose people incapable of being kind and generous and thoughtful?

There must be something we, the general we, mistrust about genuine kindness and generosity and thoughtfulness; and there must be something we find attractive and reassuring about narcissists. And I think these tendencies begin very early in our American lives.

Do you remember the first time you realized that being smart and creative was appreciated by your teachers, but not by all of your peers? Do you remember seeing someone being teased for wearing glasses? Or maybe you were teased or bullied for being smart or wearing glasses.

In high school, I hung out with a gang of people who loved poetry and music and art. They were sensitive, thoughtful, empathetic, self-effacing, and appreciative of each other, while the general high school population looked upon them as strange and flawed and weak. As you may have guessed, none of them pursued careers in politics.

We, the general we, also do not like complex solutions to complex problems. Nor do we like complex explanations. We don’t really want to know the details. We are an impatient people. We want instant results, and if not results, then the promise of results. Or maybe we just want promises. Maybe because we were raised on promises, not results, we learned to value promises more than the fulfillment of promises. Trump promised to build a wall to rival the Great Wall of China. Now that is an amazing promise, one he will never keep. But maybe we like being amazed by impossible promises that can only come true using special effects in super hero science fiction fantasy movies.

Maybe we, the general we, no longer distinguish between reality and fantasy, between promises and the aftermaths of promises, between what people say and what people do. Maybe we choose narcissists to rule our country because they are not constrained by truth, and those who are constrained by truth seem weak and might wear glasses and listen to classical music and have complex explanations for why something will take more than a minute or two to fix.

Jimmy Carter, who was not a narcissist or a moron, told the nation we needed to start taking action to address the limits of natural resources. We needed to stop plundering and start regenerating. He talked about complex things, such as the interconnectedness of everything. Huh? This sounded strange and weak, so we replaced him with Ronald Reagan who said we could have anything we wanted without limits, that there was no reason to worry about the environment, that America was the strongest and the best in the world, so go for the gusto. Have it all.

And if you were poor and disadvantaged, that wasn’t Reagan’s fault. Just as nothing will ever be Trump’s fault and Trump will never be wrong, just as Bush and Clinton and Obama were never wrong. Narcissists are never wrong. They look in their mirrors and see knights in shining armor.

Then they stand before us and say, “I am a knight in shining armor. I’ll slay the dragon, build a giant wall, give everyone jobs, lower taxes, rebuild the infrastructure, and make you happy. I promise.”

And despite history and reality, many of us will believe those narcissists, over and over again. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe the tendency goes back a million years to some crucial moment when a big stupid narcissistic ape appeared to save the species, when our real savior was the little ape wearing glasses and writing a poem.

National Pentagon Radio

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014


News Report pen and ink by Todd

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

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” George Bernard Shaw

Say what you will about NPR, National Public Radio, when it comes to reporting on American foreign policy, i.e. using drones and missiles and fighter jets to bomb adversaries, real and imagined, who have no air force or any way to defend themselves against those bombs and missiles, NPR is the great legitimizer of the military-corporate strategy of endless war.

Most recently, NPR assembled a group of so-called journalists and politicians to respond to President Obama’s speech about launching a multi-year campaign (with no end in sight) to bomb the ten thousand fighters of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Obama, who really does sound crazy these days when he reads speeches written to instill fear in the minds of his infantile listeners, proclaimed he has the right (because he said so) to bomb Syria, Iraq and pretty much anywhere else his advisors think the Islamic State fighters need to be bombed.

Oh, wait. The CIA just announced there are not ten thousand Islamic State fighters, but thirty thousand of them. Isn’t that something? The day after Obama’s here-come-the-terrorists speech, the CIA (renowned for accuracy and truth) just happened to find twenty thousand more of those horrible guys, which means the threat is much worse than Obama told us it was. Eek!

Made up facts aside (dutifully reported as gospel by NPR) the so-called journalists agreed that Obama’s speech was clear and decisive and good. Never mind that his speech was vague and ridiculous and predicated entirely on the public being incapable of remembering anything from last week, let alone last year. For obvious reasons, no one on NPR ever brings up the sad truth that America’s invasions and bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are the primary causes of the rise of tens of thousands of lunatic fighters now threatening the oil refineries and oil pipelines in Iraq, which threat is the only reason the corporate puppeteers have commanded Obama to unleash the jets and missiles against those annoying killers who would never have arisen en masse in an intact and functional Iraqi society.

“If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.” Thomas Szasz

Why won’t NPR allow Noam Chomsky or Robert Fisk on their airwaves? Or how about Julian Assange? Can you imagine Julian Assange on NPR’s silly news show Almost Nothing Considered? That will never happen because NPR is the official mouthpiece of the Pentagon and America’s imperialist foreign policy. Chomsky and Fisk and Assange and countless others who actually know what they’re talking about would quickly put the lie to the whole shooting match, as it were, by taking us step-by-step through the events leading up to the latest chapter in the redundant saga of protecting the pipelines and refineries at usurious cost to the American public and for the profit of major funders of NPR and both political parties.

By the way, did you know that KZYX, our local public radio station, is one of the only public radio stations in America that airs both NPR’s Almost Nothing Considered and Democracy Now! I find this fascinating in light of Democracy Now! contradicting virtually everything reported on NPR and vice-versa. Democracy Now! presents in-depth news and interviews, while NPR regurgitates Pentagon propaganda. What a weird combo.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Theodore Roosevelt

In related news, the NFL, the National Football League, has been rocked recently by the arrests of three star players for assaulting their wives or partners, one superstar arrested for physically abusing his four-year-old son, and another superstar for assaulting his partner and his infant son. I conflate this news with America’s foreign policy because in my opinion, football, as it is packaged and presented on television, legitimizes and glorifies violence in much the same way that video clips of sleek jets bombing desert targets legitimize and glorify violence. Hundreds of millions of American men are violence junkies, with war footage, football, and hyper-violent movies keeping them constantly juiced and wanting more.

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Imagine President Obama holding a press conference and saying, “I just want to let the American people know we will continue to use our incredible military might to keep the oil flowing so our corporations can reap obscene profits, we can remain dependent on fossil fuels, and gas prices will stay below five dollars a gallon. We don’t really give a hoot about human life or democracy or any of that nonsense. Everything we do is about maintaining the status quo, even if that means burning the earth to a cinder. Thank you and God bless.”

Now imagine the NPR analysts commenting on Obama’s speech. “Well, Bob, I think the President laid things out pretty clearly. The reference to burning the earth to a cinder was particularly cogent and timely given the latest global warming data that suggests there might be a link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming.”

“I agree, Joan, and by saying we don’t really give a hoot about human life and democracy or any of that nonsense lends a down-to-earth honesty to the ongoing carnage that I, for one, find refreshing and inspiring.”

“Exactly, Bob. Coming up, a look at an obscure rock band in Minnesota that has a hit on their hands with their song and accompanying YouTube video Kill Everything, featuring five cute little children shooting caged ducks with assault rifles and then posting pictures of the slaughter on Facebook. Just hilarious. Stay tuned for that.”

Protesting 101

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

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

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

You will recall the famous line from the movie The Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” and how, until the little dog opens the curtain and reveals the fraud, Dorothy and her friends do, indeed, ignore the man behind the curtain and remain riveted on a false idol projected on a large screen obscured by smoke and fire. I remind you of this cinematic moment because it brilliantly captures the current cognitive conundrum confronting contemporary crusading consortiums, most notably the much-heralded occupiers of Wall Street.

I have carefully skimmed numerous articles by people criticizing the protestors for not having a clear and unifying agenda, and skimmed other articles praising the protestors for not having a clear and potentially divisive agenda. These articles reminded me of my involvement in the protests against the invasion of Iraq in 1990, and my involvement in protests against the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001-2003 following the event known as 9/11, and how almost everyone involved in those protests paid no attention to the men behind the curtains, and insisted on railing against idols obscured by smoke and fire—the George Bushes, Senior and Junior, and their more public allies.

Wall Street, and by that I assume the protestors mean the for-profit financial system of the United States symbolized by the financial district of Manhattan, is not the cause of our current economic crisis, nor will Wall Street provide the cure, just as the Bushes did not cause the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The cause of our current economic, social, environmental, and political crisis is, in my opinion, our collective infatuation with false notions of reality. One such false notion is that most of the money in America is concentrated on Wall Street and that if only those greedy billionaire bankers and amoral stock traders would give a chunk of their money to our government, then all our problems would be solved. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, since only a few short months ago our government gave those bankers trillions of dollars.

“Let’s form proactive synergy restructuring teams.” Scott Adams

I admit to active cynicism about systems that focus on attacking symptoms rather than dealing with underlying causes. My father, a medical doctor, had heart surgery late in his life and I was his nurse for some weeks after what turned out to be a nearly fatal and wholly ineffective bypass procedure. One of my jobs as his nurse was to make sure he took a mind-boggling array of drugs several times a day, twenty-three different medications, each purveyed by a pill of a different color, shape, and size than the other twenty-two pills.

One morning, five days after his surgery, as my father was surveying the great mass of pills he was about to ingest, a quizzical frown claimed his face. “Hey, wait a minute,” he said, holding up a pale pink pill, “I was only supposed to take (name of drug) for two days following surgery.”

“Good,” I said, eager to eliminate one of the four pink pills in the mix. “Let’s discontinue that one.”

“Only…” My father’s frown deepened as he held up a dark green pill, “I was taking (name of second drug) to counteract the side effects of (name of first drug), along with (name of third drug) because (name of second drug) is extremely dehydrating, so…”

To make a long story short, I called the surgery center, put my father on with a post-operative consultant, and a half hour later my father’s ingestion regimen was reduced from twenty-three to fourteen drugs, and three days later from fourteen to seven, but only because my father was a medical doctor and had some understanding of why he was taking which drugs for what reasons, not because the medical system was designed to take good care of him.

Now…along with thousands of people camping and marching on Wall Street, imagine millions of people all over the country protesting in front of hospitals and medical clinics to demand that American doctors stop behaving as American doctors are trained to behave and start behaving in more humane and comprehensive ways, free of the control of insurance companies and amoral pharmaceutical companies that extort trillions of dollars from people who feel powerless to resist them. Oh, wait. That would mean insurance companies would have to be kicked out of the medical process, and the pharmaceutical companies would no longer be allowed to charge criminally high rates for their drugs. Oh, wait. That would result in a Single Payer healthcare system covering everyone in America, a not-for-profit system paid for by an equitable tax system. Oh, wait. That would mean changing the current system of county, state, and federal taxation. And to do that, we would almost surely have to change from a two-party system to a parliamentary democracy wherein if the Green or Pink or Blue Party gets five percent of the vote, they get five percent of the government. Oh, wait. That would be, like, democracy.

“In some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence.” Cesar Chavez

I pose the question: what would Martin Luther King Jr. say to the Wall Street protestors if he could speak to them today? I think he would congratulate them for their zeal and courage, and then he would ask, “What are the boycott components of your protest?”

And when he learned that the protestors did not have a boycott strategy, he would say, “So why do you think that these people in positions of power over you will change their behavior if you do not pose a threat to their profits and comfort? Out of the goodness of their hearts? You are naïve.”

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Aung San Suu Kyi

On a more personal but entirely related note, I just turned sixty-two, so in lieu of a big paycheck from the corporate-backed cultural mafia, (yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but another year has gone by without my winning a MacArthur Genius Award) I applied for Social Security. And soon, barring total economic collapse, some six hundred dollars will be deposited every month directly into my checking account by the government of these United States. However, in order to receive that vast sum, I promise not to earn more than eleven hundred and eighty dollars a month, else I will be deemed too rich and therefore undeserving of such lavish government support. Let’s see, eleven hundred and eighty times twelve is…fourteen thousand dollars a year. And the official poverty line in America is…

To clarify: I have agreed with the government adjudicators that if I earn barely enough money in a year to pay for grossly inadequate health insurance, I will forego the six hundred a month; which brings me to yesterday.

“Irony is jesting behind hidden gravity.” John Weiss

So I’m standing in line at the Mendocino post office, one of my favorite places in the world, a place threatened by evaporation through governmental retardation and corruption, when the woman ahead of me in line turns to me and says, “I read you in the AVA.”

“Oh,” I say, ever cautious about what that might mean. “Well…good. I hope.”

She nods minimally, which I take as a kind of approval if not a compliment. Then she says, “So are you gonna go join the protestors?”

“Where?” I ask, looking out the window. “Have they made it all the way to Mendocino? Far out.”

“No,” she says, glowering at me. “Wall Street. Los Angeles. San Francisco. They’re having protests everywhere. You could write about it.”

“Oh,” I say, certain now that my interlocutor has no sense of humor, “you know, I would be there already but I suffer from a fear of traveling. Even going to Fort Bragg is extremely stressful for me.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, grimacing sympathetically. “I have a friend who has the same thing. That must be awful for you.”

“Well, fortunately, I don’t really want to go anywhere, but I’ll tell you this, when the protests come to Mendocino, I’ll be there with bags of homemade gluten free cookies for my comrades. And we will occupy Main Street until those people give us what we want.”

“Main Street?” she says, horrified. “Why Main Street? And…which people? And…what do you want?”

“Everything,” I whisper conspiratorially. “For everyone.”

All Or Nothing

Friday, January 7th, 2011

“Every day: meditation, chocolate, a glass of port wine, and flirting with young men.” Beatrice Wood at age 98 on her secret to longevity

“I’m never drinking coffee again,” said my friend, reciting his New Year’s resolutions. “And no more alcohol. And I’m off all sugar. And I’m joining a health club and I’m gonna work out for at least an hour a day, every day. Without fail.”

“Wow,” I said, having heard similar declarations from this fellow before. “Sounds draconian.”

“Look,” he said, piqued by my hint of sarcasm, “it’s all or nothing with me. One cup of coffee, I’m hooked again. One piece of chocolate, I’m a goner.” He glared at his big round tummy. “Moderation doesn’t work for me.”

“There can only be one winner, but isn’t that the American way?” Gig Young

I’ve often thought ALL OR NOTHING could be our national motto, for the concept infects virtually every aspect of our political, economic, social, and emotional lives.

“The only way I can figure out what I really think about anything is to write about it.” Norman Mailer

Throughout the 1990’s I worked with hundreds of writers to help them improve their writing. Some were beginners, some were advanced, and several were published authors, but they all began their time with me by confiding that they felt like failures because they did not write for at least two hours every day and produce piles of inspired prose as prescribed by those iconic books about how to be a writer. I will not name these bestsellers, for you may own one or two of them and believe they possess some value. I will only testify that these tomes have dampened the spirits and aspirations of countless writers rather than helping them in any meaningful way.

To those who have been wounded by such knuckleheaded all-or-nothing strategies, I offer the following insight. The most straightforward way I know of to establish a writing practice is to make writing your habit. There are many ways to become habituated to writing, but the underlying mechanism for developing any habit is to do the thing, the would-be habit, on a regular basis. For instance, I have a habit of making a cup of herb tea every morning after I get the fire going, and then I drink the tea whilst considering what lies ahead. This making and having a cup of tea every morning became my habit because I did it almost every day until the making and drinking became routine. The same holds true for establishing a writing practice.

“The most beautiful words in the English language are “You’ve lost weight.” Christopher Buckley

My father helped establish a clinic at Stanford Children’s Hospital for psychosomatically ill children and adolescents. These kids are so ill they have to be hospitalized or they might die. The vast majority of the patients in this clinic are starving themselves to death for fear of being fat; or as one psychotherapist put it, for fear of not being skinny enough.

What I found most interesting in learning about these anorexics was that nearly all of them quickly improved once they got away from their families and schools and television, and many of them just as quickly relapsed when they returned to the outside world. What could be going on in our society to make so many young people feel they cannot be skinny enough, while so many other people are eating themselves into morbid obesity? I see the twin epidemics of anorexia and obesity as symptoms of the all or nothing nature of our society.

“There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” George Bernard Shaw

There is a movie by Cameron Crowe called Singles. I haven’t watched the film since it came out in 1992, but the scene I remember most vividly (and my memory may have rewritten the scene somewhat) involves a character played by Bridget Fonda who wants to have her breasts enlarged because she believes her boyfriend played by Matt Dillon will love her more and not be interested in other women if she, Bridget’s character, has much larger breasts.

So she goes to a doctor who specializes in breast enhancement and the doctor falls in love with her at first sight and thinks she’s perfect just as she is. Oblivious to the doctor’s romantic interest in her, Bridget and the doctor stand shoulder-to-shoulder staring into a computer screen where a drawing of a woman’s torso and head can be manipulated with a dial to make the breasts grow larger or smaller. At first the drawing displays girlish breasts the size of Bridget’s breasts, and Bridget turns the knob to make the breasts grow larger and larger until each breast is nearly as big as the head of the woman in the drawing. Then the doctor spins the knob the other way and the breasts shrink to the size of Bridget’s breasts, and then Bridget commandeers the knob and makes the breasts bigger. Back and forth. All or nothing.

“There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book.” Saul Bellow

“Todd is a writer,” said a hostess introducing me to a well-heeled couple at her party. And then, winking ironically, our hostess fled.

“Written any bestsellers?” smirked the man.

“Honey,” said his wife, nudging him. “Don’t be rude.”

“What’s rude? Maybe he has. Have you?”

“No,” I said, feeling a strange admixture of shame and a desire to punch the guy in the nose. “Not yet.”

“Get on Oprah,” said the man, nodding authoritatively. “That’s the way to do it. She tells the world she loves your stuff, you’re a made man.”

“I’ll give her a call,” I said, looking for the nearest exit.

“You wish,” said the man, snorting.

A silence fell and the chasm of all or nothing opened between us.

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” John Emerich Dalberg-Acton

I will never forget a long ago conversation I had with two writers, a woman from France and a man from Germany. This was in 1982, but the scene is still vivid in my mind. We were sitting in a modest café in Santa Monica, sipping wine and discussing our shared passion: movies. The next thing I knew, these charming people were sincerely trying to convince me to move to Europe because, as the woman put it, “Your government is doomed to fascism, and as your government goes, so goes your culture. Can’t you see? If you have only these two identical parties, there can be no voice for socialism. This is why the big corporations are buying the movie studios. To promote their agenda.”

“Besides,” said the man, who admired my stories and plays, “there is no place for your writing here. You will have an audience in Europe. Your work is character-driven, as the agents like to call anything even slightly nuanced, which is the kiss of death in Hollywood. But in Germany we love stories about real people. Everything here is a cartoon now. You should come to Europe.”

“Your work is too subtle,” said the woman, sighing. “And your characters are not predictable. They hate us to be unpredictable here.”

“You will be ignored. Come to Germany.”

“Or France,” said the woman, smiling assuredly. “We will sponsor you, and within a year you will have a play produced, I’m sure.”

“You can make a living as a writer in Europe,” said the man, nodding. “You might not get rich, but you can make a living with your craft. Isn’t that what you want?”

But I was too enamored of the vision of rising from nothing and getting it all—uncompromising art and riches; so I stayed in America and rode the rollercoaster of my career up and down, mostly down, to this roughly level ground where I stand today, a habitué of these hinterlands, writing because it is my habit and my passion, sharing these words with you through the auspices of our instantaneously reactive Universe that loves everything from the tiniest Nothing to the grandest of Alls. Or so I like to think.

“It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice—there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” Frank Zappa

Pathlogical Greed & Electric

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Repeat after me. Pacific Gas and Electric is not a public utility. They would like us to think they are a public utility, but they are not. PG&E is a huge amoral corporation owned by an even larger amoral multinational corporation with one goal transcendent of all others: to make obscene profits through the maintenance of energy monopolies.

A year or so ago I reported in these pages that one of those little slips of paper accompanying my PG&E bill, those slips 99.9% of us don’t read, informed us that PG&E would be raising our rates to pay for their new smart meters to improve PG&E’s efficiency and raise their profits and increase their control over our use of energy. I pointed out that the smart meters would pay for themselves within a few years, but we would continue to pay higher rates because of them for all eternity. Alas, my article did not incite a consumer revolt.

Now in last month’s bill, another of those little slips of paper informed us that PG&E is going to raise our rates to pay for the development of a wind power project. We will pay today so they can build wind generators that they, not we, will own forever, and we will pay again tomorrow when the energy from those wind generators we paid for (but don’t own) comes online. Good for PG&E, but not very good us.

And this month there were two more slips of paper accompanying my bill. One slip said PG&E is raising our rates “to recover costs associated with performing seismic studies at Diablo Canyon Power Plant.” DCPP is their (not our) nuclear power plant built on a major earthquake fault, a plant, by the way, that has never and will never pay for itself, and that our grandchildren will somehow have to decommission (at a cost of many billions of dollars) if the murderous thing doesn’t melt down first. The second slip said PG&E is raising our rates on top of the aforementioned raises to “recover costs associated with renewal of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant operating licenses.” As in, they’re going to pour even more of our money down their nuclear power toilet.

Terrible, right? We should create local community-owned power companies and develop solar and wind power that we, the people…hold on. PG&E has just spent several million of our dollars putting Proposition 16 on the June 8 ballot, a measure that would require a two-thirds majority of local voters to approve the creation of community-based power companies, as opposed to a simple majority. And PG&E plans to spend thirty to forty million dollars more of our money to make sure Proposition 16 passes.

Why would they do such a dastardly thing? Repeat after me. PG&E is not a public utility. They own us, we don’t own them.

When I lived in Sacramento, I was privileged to help launch the campaign that eventually closed down the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. That closure of a fully operational nuclear power plant by a vote of the people is the only such accomplishment in our nation’s history. The only one. And believe me, we did not win with two-thirds of the vote. Nor were we directly up against PG&E, but rather the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which we, technically, owned. But I guarantee you PG&E contributed heavily to try to defeat the will of the people (and no doubt raised our rates to pay for their contributions.) And I am absolutely certain the lesson of that successful democratic process was not lost on those corporate gamers responsible for subverting the will of the people. The lesson is this: if you can’t fool half the people, change the law so you only have to fool one out of three of the people.

Todd Walton’s web site is


Thursday, June 18th, 2009

(This piece was originally published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser under the title “John Trudell and Me”)

John Trudell made an appearance at the Caspar Community Center a few weeks ago. I have listened to his provocative CD DNA a number of times, and I have admired him in the movies Thunderheart, Smoke Signals, and most recently as Coyote in Dreamkeeper. His impromptu 90-minute talk reiterated much of what he says on DNA, with one fabulous (for me) digression about Obama. This digression stated almost word-for-word what I have been saying to people for some months now, but coming from Trudell such intuitive analysis was greeted with applause rather than the snorts of derision that tend to greet my elucidations of “what’s really going on here.”

Trudell is big on thinking. As he says again and again, when we’re believing, we’re not thinking. When we limit ourselves to believing something, we close our minds to the possibility that the thing we believe in may have changed or disappeared. Trudell is skeptical that we have a democracy in America. If we believe we have a democracy, we will be closed to the possibility that we never had a democracy or that our democracy may be swiftly turning into something else.

In his digression about Obama, Trudell asked us to consider the possibility that Obama was installed as president by the ruling elite to further their ongoing agenda, just as Bill Clinton was crowned in order to complete the stalled works of his predecessor George the First. These works included the passage of NAFTA, the dismantling of Welfare and other aspects of the social safety net, the hastening of deregulation (of everything), and the demolition of unions. Trudell did not say what he thought Obama was installed to do, but he asked us to think of the economic meltdown and the government response to it as part of a larger plan, a plan that is working precisely as it is intended to work. He does not think the meltdown and the ensuing breakdown of our local and state governments are merely the repercussions of “some bankers making mistakes.” He thinks the overlords have installed Obama to oversee the next steps of their plan, though he did not specify what he thought those steps might be.

So I’ve been thinking about everything with new zeal, feeling validated by Trudell, and this morning my wife Marcia said something that crystallized much of what I’ve been thinking about. We were talking about the seemingly moronic proposal by the governator and his Republican minions to close our state parks. Such a plan makes no economic sense in the short or long term. It will hurt low-income vacationers. It will hurt local economies nurtured by state park use. And, Marcia said, it sets the stage for the privatization of the parks.

Think. All those wonderful state parks left unattended. Here come the armies of the newly impoverished to squat therein. What can be done? Call out the gendarmes. No gendarmes available due to budget cuts? Call out the National Guard and then privatize the parks. Lease them for, oh, a hundred years to private companies who will manage/protect them with private security forces. Entry fees will have to be exclusively high and those entering cannot be on any list of any sort of suspect. And then to pay for all this (to protect the park for future generations, of course) luxury homes must be built, tennis courts and a golf courses installed, with chic bistros riverside and lakeside and oceanside so the campers/residents won’t have to travel beyond the walls to dine. There will, of course, be high walls encircling the enclaves, er, parks. Far fetched?

Not at all. Consider the latest leaks reported in the mass media. It now appears Obama won’t have enough support in Congress, even among Democrats (imagine that?) to include a public option in any healthcare proposal. In which case, the healthcare situation will worsen and create more recruits for the army of the poor, as will the firing of eighteen thousand California public school teachers, a firing that will leave most inner city schools in California understaffed and essentially unmanageable, except as de facto jails. Oh, yes, and Obama himself has just announced he wants to cut over 300 billion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid, thus impoverishing many thousands more.

Meanwhile, there’s no budget shortfall for the military. In the absence of decent paying jobs, military recruiters are swamped with volunteers and we are swiftly growing a huge and robust military for wars abroad and quelling unrest at home.

As Trudell said several times during his talk, “I’m crazy, okay. I’m just talking. I don’t know anything. I’m just saying…think.”

School just got out for the summer, the kids shouting their goodbyes from the school bus trundling through Mendocino. And a year from now, school, what’s left of it, will be getting out again. If you believe the economy and our schools will be better than they are now because the experts on NPR and in the mainstream media say the economy seems to be stabilizing and a recovery is on the way, you are, to quote John Trudell, not thinking.