Posts Tagged ‘greed’

Just Us

Monday, December 5th, 2016

The Magician

The Magician (Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company) ©2016  David Jouris / Motion Pictures

“In 1978, Proposition 13 passed with almost 65% of those who voted in favor and with the participation of nearly 70% of registered voters. After passage, Proposition 13 became article XIII A of the California Constitution.” Wikipedia

We’ve been picking up our neighbor’s Press Democrat while he is away in Idaho hunting elk. The headline article of the Sunday edition is about the shortage of rental properties in Mendocino and all over California and America due to so many people choosing to go the Air B&B route with their rental units rather than rent long term to locals.

What does that have to do with the famous Proposition 13? In my view, the Airbnb phenomenon is the grandchild of Proposition 13, and the election of Donald Trump is a sibling of Airbnb.

There once was a concept known as the Greater Good, otherwise known as our community. Before the passage of Proposition 13, California had excellent schools, universities, parks, healthcare, mental healthcare, and public libraries, along with many other public goodies, too. Ten years later, those public systems were collapsing as the wealthy fled the public sector for private systems only they could afford—to hell with the middle and lower classes.

I recently fell into conversation with a woman who, upon finding out I owned a house in Mendocino, asked if I had a cottage to rent? “Or even a garage that doesn’t leak?”

She was expensively dressed and driving a new BMW, so I doubted she was looking to rent something diminutive for herself. “We decided to go Air B&B with our cottage,” she explained. “So now we have to kick our renter out and I’m hoping she can find another place around here so she doesn’t have to relocate. She’s the greatest person. I hate to do it, but we need the money. She’s paying twelve hundred a month. We can make five thousand a month doing the Air B&B thing.”

“Lot of work,” I said, smiling wanly. “Sheets to wash, cleaning up after…”

“With the money we’ll be making, we’ll get someone else to do that,” she said, shrugging. “Really hurts. She’s the best renter we’ve ever had.”

Yes, for some people doing the Air B&B thing is a necessity, but for many people doing the Air B&B thing is simply a way to make more money than they were previously making. And making more money at the expense of a vibrant community and great people is precisely what people did when they passed Proposition 13. In the short term, property owners got to keep more of their money for themselves. In the long term, they wrecked our society.

The great appeal of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and the Georges Bush and Ronald Reagan, who might be called the Uncle of Proposition 13, was the message: you affluent folks can have anything you want and need not worry about the less fortunate people we destroy here and abroad so you can have your anything.

The appeal of Bernie Sanders was that he reminded people who remembered or had heard about that Other Time, the time of The Greater Good. And he suggested we could have another such time if we designed our systems of governance and taxation so everyone paid their fair share of the cost of a system benefiting everyone.

Alas, too much time had passed since the days of fair taxation, since the days of banks being banks instead of gambling dens, since the days of stock markets reflecting the actual worth of companies and commodities, since the days of high school graduates knowing how to read and write, since the days of superb public libraries, since the days when, truly, there were no homeless people—so in this last election most of those who voted opted for a continuation of privatization, voted for continuing to deny what is really happening to our world and our society, voted for a fantasy that capitalism can bring prosperity to more than a fraction of the population.

Now there is a movement afoot to recount the votes from the Presidential election and prove, some people hope, Trump didn’t win and Hillary did. And I marvel at the outpouring of money and support for this ultimately futile process, as if the system as it is now constituted would allow for a reversal of a national process predicated on the fantasy of fairness.

Fantasy. My hobby of monitoring movie trailers and ensuing box office results show that the most successful movies of the last two decades are fantasies about wizards and super heroes and invulnerable strong people (mostly men) battling the forces of evil. The public can’t seem to get enough of Harry Potter and the aftershocks of that pre-adolescent fantasy of kids using magical powers to conquer the nasty meanies of life, magical powers gained not through practice and wisdom and insight, but just because, you know, wizards are, like, granted magical powers because, you know, because they’re, like, chosen.

This pre-adolescent fantasy stuff is profoundly related to the election of Trump, for if we grow up believing important things only happen because of magic (luck) and not through clear intentions and hard work, we cannot possibly understand how things actually happen in this reality, nor do we know how to make things happen. And we grow up believing wizards or Super People will save us, save society, make things better.

I think we, the people, are now so passive and misinformed and entrained to stare at screens projecting fantasies, the spectacle of Trump versus Hillary was the best we could hope for. Bernie Sanders was too down to earth (and I don’t mean Middle Earth) and what he envisioned would have required us to share, to be part of a larger community, a society of equals. No wizards. No waving of wands for the easy fix. Just us working together and sacrificing together for the greater good.

Takeover Complete

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

triangle-orn

Triangle Eye drawing by Todd

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

“In individuals, insanity is rare: but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Friedrich Nietzsche

The takeover is complete, and by takeover I mean the takeover of our collective ability to distinguish reality from illusion. We have been thoroughly conquered and now voluntarily carry devices on our persons day and night to keep us connected to the great corporate propaganda machine. Known as smart phones, these devices are not yet implanted in our foreheads, though I’m sure millions of people will voluntarily undergo such implanting when the propaganda machine tells them forehead implants are hip and super fast and greatly enhance video gaming and keeping up with the lives of celebrities.

Takeover? What am I talking about? Let me count the ways.

Among the tiny fraction of Americans who still read books, there is talk of boycotting Amazon for delaying sales and deliveries of books published by the media arm of the massive multinational corporation Hachette that owns television stations, newspapers, publishers, and aero-space companies and is doing all it can to hasten the annihilation of what little remains of our once thriving literary culture. Yet corporate television talking heads are celebrating this corporate behemoth as “the little guy” and urging book buyers to boycott evil Amazon and buy corporate junk elsewhere.

When will people realize that nearly all the books for sale in their so-called independent bookstores are published by corporations who would be every bit as bad or worse than Amazon if only they had gotten into Amazon’s position first? When will people realize that book reviews and their placement in various media are paid for by corporate behemoths in order to advertise books those corporations want people to buy? And when will readers realize that bestseller lists are lists of books that multinational corporations want to sell lots of, and virtually any new book you’ve heard of in the last thirty years was published by a corporation with politics that would make a fascist feel warm and fuzzy? Apparently never, now that the takeover of our collective intelligence is complete.

Boycott Amazon? How about boycotting Chevron or Chase or General Electric or Monsanto or any of the truly evil corporations?

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.” Bob Dylan

Reading Will Parrish’s excellent and terrifying summary of the dams and reservoirs and pipelines to be built with many billions of our tax dollars in order to transport nearly all the state’s water—should it ever rain again—to southern California for the benefit of corporate farms and to provide water for twenty-five million people who shouldn’t be living there, is to read a declaration of insanity and is further proof of the completeness of the takeover. Our collective willingness to allow this environmental suicide is a testament to how thoroughly brainwashed we are.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The number of registered voters in Mendocino County voting in the June 3 primary was a historically low eighteen per cent, which is far less than the percentage of Iraqis and Afghanis who vote in their war torn countries where voting might easily get them killed. But here where anyone can vote at home and mail in his or her ballot, only eighteen per cent of the registered voters—a fraction of those eligible to vote—cast their ballots. Takeover complete.

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” George Bernard Shaw

The news is full of stories about corporate shill Hillary Clinton claiming that she and her philandering hubby Bill exited the White House in 2001, dead broke. Those are her words. Dead broke. And she says that is why she and Bill felt it necessary for Bill to charge 500,000 dollars per speaking engagement and Hillary 200,000 per engagement so they could struggle, as Hillary put it, to make payments on their two new behemoth houses and their various new cars and jets and things, and put Chelsea through Stanford. God, the suffering.

This poppycock is being reported as important news. Takeover complete.

“I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” Edith Sitwell

Just about every day now, somewhere in America, someone goes on a shooting rampage and kills and wounds several people. For a while, these rampages were followed by cries from parents of the victims and from legislators calling for something to be done to keep guns from falling into the hands of certifiably crazy people, but now that these rampages have become so frequent we hear nothing in the news about the need for gun control. Takeover complete.

“We can end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war once and for all. We really can do it.” Angelina Jolie

Reading about the four-day conference in London where representatives from 140 countries gathered with movie star and United Nations envoy Angelina Jolie to discuss the idea of possibly sort of maybe kind of trying to see about declaring sexual violence a no-no for armies and soldiers waging war, I thought Wait, is this a joke? Killing, bombing, and maiming is okay, war is okay, and it’s fine to use drones to blow up wedding parties and women and children, but while we are killing and bombing and maiming and blowing up women and children we must try real hard not to commit sexual violence. Okay. Takeover complete.

“Lust and greed are more gullible than innocence.” Mason Cooley

At noon the boys and girls from the high school spill into the village to buy their lunches at Harvest or Frankie’s or the Goodlife Café or the marvelous Mendocino Grocery across the street from the post office. All the girls clutch their phones, fearing to be untethered for even a moment. Can this be true? Surely there must be one girl not clutching her phone. If I stand here long enough I might see one, and maybe a unicorn, too.

Worlds Collide

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

worlds collide

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

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

In search of good chicken for our once-a-week intake of animal flesh, I saunter into our magnifico Mendocino Market across the street from Mendocino’s blessed post office, my basket laden with the latest edition of the admirable Anderson Valley Advertiser, and I find the lovely little market and deli in the midst of a calm before the inevitable lunchtime arrival of legions of tempestuous teenagers and loquacious locals and inscrutable turistas.

Jeff, the jocular and unflappable co-master of Mendocino’s finest sandwich shop, has a few moments to wait on me, and as he rings up my purchase of four superb legs and thighs, he shares the following story.

“So yesterday, this guy comes in and I know he’s somebody famous, an actor, I’m sure. I’ve seen him on television. Has to be him, but I can’t think of his name. And then he uses a credit card to pay and his name comes up: Timothy Geithner.”

“Wow,” I effuse. “ Former Secretary of the Treasury, master criminal, and most definitely an actor.”

“I know,” says Jeff, smiling. “Amazing.”

“What did he buy?” I ask, guessing Timothy purchased a few bottles of expensive organic wine.

“Couple of chicken salad sandwiches,” says Jeff, nodding. “On a road trip.”

“Wow,” I say, “Timothy Geithner. God of the one percent. Stood right here and handed you his credit card.”

“Yeah,” says Jeff, chuckling, “we’ve got this Recession Special I was going to tell him about, but I decided not to.”

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.” Aldous Huxley

Thinking about Timothy Geithner buying sandwiches in our very own Mendocino Market, I try to imagine being so powerful and important that the President of the Unites States would appoint me Secretary of Anything, but my imagination fails me. However, I do have a vivid fantasy of shopping at Corners and bumping into Timothy Geithner in front of the broccoli and saying to him, “How could you? Have you no conscience?”

And that fantasy and the questions I asked therein, remind me of Obama’s recent appointment of billionaire Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce, which reminds me of my encounter with Penny’s father, Donald, at a fundraiser in Atherton, California just a few months before he died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-nine while playing tennis at a Hyatt Hotel in Honolulu, the Hyatt Hotel chain being one of several corporations owned by the Pritzker family, Donald the CEO.

Believe it or not, I met Donald Pritzker at the very same gathering where I met Daniel Ellsberg. What sort of gathering was this? And what was I doing there? I’ll tell you. The year was 1972 (Penny would have been thirteen at the time) and Daniel Ellsberg had recently become very famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and thereby seriously messing with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and the ruthless rulers running the Vietnam War. I happened to be friends with a guy, a zealous anti-war activist, who had convinced his mother, a minor Pritzker, to host a private fundraising soiree for Daniel Ellsberg, who needed funds for his ongoing legal travails and anti-war activities. When I heard about the soiree, I begged my friend’s mother to let me attend so I could listen to the great hero, and she said, “I’ll need kitchen help.”

So I donned white shirt and bow tie and black slacks and showed up at the snazzy Atherton digs at the appointed hour, at which point it was decided I would ply the crowd with champagne and hors d’oeuvres before Ellsberg spoke and then manage the groaning tables of food and carve the roast beef after Ellsberg spoke. And while he spoke, I could listen from the kitchen with the swinging door propped open a few inches.

There were about twenty people in attendance on that sunny afternoon, the females outnumbering the males two to one, everyone in attendance fabulously wealthy. The women were dressed elegantly, the men wore suits and ties, and the accents of these loud-talking folk were predominantly Chicago from whence the Pritzker clan sprang, though many of them had relocated to California. I remember being struck by how handsome and strong all the women were, and how nondescript the men, and whether it was true or not, I concluded that this clan of Jewish siblings and cousins was a powerful matriarchy, the men mere sperm donors.

I also remember being keenly aware that I was serving people who were used to being served and that I was invisible to them because I was a servant. I had met a few super wealthy people in my life, and it was my impression that extremely wealthy people were void of humor, but I had never before been in the company of so many wealthy and resoundingly humorless people. Or so it seemed.

After the preliminary wining and dining, everyone took a seat in the large living room and Daniel Ellsberg rose to speak. I positioned myself at the kitchen door where I had a view of the daring whistleblower, and just as Ellsberg began, a short bullish man rose from his living room seat and came charging into the kitchen.

“Phone,” he barked at me. “I need a phone.”

This was Donald Pritzker, red-faced and pissed off, and this was 1972, long before the advent of cell phones. So I directed him to the phone on the kitchen wall from which he proceeded to make call after call, buying and selling, cursing and commanding, threatening and cajoling—running his empire—while in the other room Daniel Ellsberg spoke about the ongoing atrocities being committed by our rulers and our armed forces in Vietnam. What a disconcerting dichotomy!

Despite the proximity of Donald’s torrent of vitriol, I managed to focus on what Ellsberg was saying, and I realized he was speaking to his audience as if they had never heard of Vietnam and knew nothing about the war that had been going on for almost a decade, which may have been largely true. These were not people troubled by distant wars. Indeed, they were prime beneficiaries of a most successful imperialism and a booming economy.

Halfway through Ellsberg’s talk, Donald Pritzker snapped his fingers at me and said, “Coffee. I need coffee. With sugar.”

I prepared his coffee and set it on the counter next to him as he growled into the phone, “You tell that sonofabitch he’d better come through or…”

He was purple with rage, the veins in his neck swollen, his knuckles white as he clenched the phone in a death grip—not a happy person.

I returned to my post at the kitchen door just as Ellsberg finished his talk and asked, “Are there any questions?”

No one said a word. Not one of the handsome women and non-descript men raised a hand, and Ellsberg stood there for a short infinity, looking very sad and tired. Finally, the hostess, the mother of my friend who had arranged for me to be present at this strange soiree, leapt to her feet and cried, “Eat, eat, eat!” and the Prtizkers rose to begin their feasting.

  “There is only one way to endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.” Alan Paton

I think of Timothy Geithner and his wife driving south on Highway One, enjoying their excellent chicken salad sandwiches from the Mendocino Market and superb lattes from the GoodLife Cafe, just, you know, having fun being far from the madding crowd, enjoying the view of the shining pacific and the passing fields rife with mustard flowers and the cerulean sky dotted with puffy white clouds. For just a little while, a rare little while, Timothy and his wife forget all about the millions of less fortunate people who are, in essence, paying for Timothy’s fun. Yes, for just a little while, Timothy might be anybody.

Greed Redux

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

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

“It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” John Steinbeck

This may be a stretch, but stretching is good for us, so…it seems to me that everything going on with our psychotic leaders in Washington these days is concisely echoed on the local level and in our personal lives. This week the propaganda peeps refer to the ongoing fiscal crisis as the sequester (how Medieval sounding!) as opposed to the fiscal cliff they scared us with a couple months ago, but the crisis is the same crisis: greed. And the emotion perpetuating this greed is fear: the fear of not having enough. The fear driving our psychotic leaders, alas, is very real, while the basis for their fear is imagined.

I’ve long been fascinated by statistics showing that my generation, the so-called Baby Boomers and primary beneficiaries of that mythic era known as The Sixties—a time renowned for sharing and love and connecting with Mother Earth—are the most materialistic, greedy, self-serving people who have ever lived. Of course The Sixties didn’t cause us to become so anti-Sixties in our behavior; our parents are responsible for that, and our parents were children of the Great Depression, a time when their fear of not having enough had some basis in reality rather than fantasy. And, as it happens, most of the psychopaths now holding sway in our federal and state and local governments and courts are children of the children of the Great Depression.

My parents, for example, grew up skirting poverty and survived the Great Depression to become solidly middle-class. Our family was never in danger of starving or being evicted, yet when my siblings and I were little kids my mother would frequently rail at us during supper, usually under the influence of alcohol, that if my father failed to bring home money that very evening we would be headed for the Poor House. To my inventive young mind, the poor house was a large stone building with a dirt floor strewn with rotting straw; and that’s where we were going if my father didn’t come home with money. I wondered if I would go to the same school I was currently attending while we lived in the Poor House or if there was a Poor House school with cruel teachers who would beat us for talking out of turn, which was my great failing as a student.

By the time I was in my twenties, my parents were unquestionably wealthy, and that wealth continued to grow for the rest of their lives, yet they never for a moment felt they had enough money, and this feeling was so strong in them that it was only with the greatest difficulty they would share their money with anyone, including their own children. When my father died, he left behind a letter to me he had lacked the courage to send while he was alive, a letter in which he enumerated the two reasons he had never given me any money despite his having millions of dollars while I lived on the edge of poverty for many years. First, he did not want to support me on what he considered a frivolous and wrongheaded path as a writer and artist, and second, he did not think he had enough money for himself.

“Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.” Mwai Kibaki

When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, the city council was stacked with people in the service of unscrupulous real estate developers, and my arrival in town coincided with the election of a new council member who had campaigned as a vehement opponent of the idiotic and shortsighted development that was laying waste to the Sacramento area. And then, quite publicly, within just a few months of his election, this fellow moved from a low rent apartment into a fine new home in the best part of town and went to work for the very developers he had vowed to fight. My environmentalist friends who had been so jubilant about his election were saddened but barely surprised by his conversion, for such dramatic ideological shifts were commonplace in that deeply corrupt city.

I, in my innocence, became involved with groups in Sacramento pushing for environmentally sensible alternatives to the New General Plan for the future development of Sacramento. But after a few years of attending symposiums and planning commission meetings, and realizing there was absolutely zero public support for any substantive change in business as usual, I watched in horrified fascination as a bunch of amoral sharks engineered a huge land heist under the guise of bringing an NBA franchise to Sacramento, a heist that obviated any hope of decent mass transit to the airport and improving air quality in the city. And once I realized there was no stopping the annihilation of the Sacramento Valley, and to save myself from the ever worsening noxious fumes engulfing our state’s capitol, I got out of Dodge, and none too soon.

“For greed all nature is too little.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Meanwhile, our psychotic leaders, who enjoy at our expense free and excellent healthcare and fabulous annual salaries, continue to call each other names and spout idiotic gibberish about the economy while failing to do anything to help the many millions of Americans who are in dire economic straits because of the actions of excessively wealthy people and corporations who paid for the election of said psychotic leaders, for whom those millions of struggling Americans are not people, but lower forms of life.

I used to be amazed when otherwise sensitive and intelligent friends would speak of homeless people as a separate species of hominid from housed people. And though I knew this gross insensitivity came from their not really knowing any homeless people, I still found their tendency to dehumanize people shocking, until one day I had a moment of enlightenment while sailing on San Francisco Bay in a little sailboat with five other people, the five of them homeowners with rental properties, I the only renter in the party.

As I rejoined the group after fastening down a yardarm or some such nautical thing I’d been told to do, I found the conversation had changed from harbor seals to what at first I thought must be a discussion of how to get rid of rats or vermin, but turned out to be a griping session about the terrible species of hominid known as Homo Renterus. And after five minutes of listening to these otherwise perfectly nice, liberal, educated, self-proclaimed Buddhists referring to their renters in highly distasteful terms, I could hold my peace no longer and said, “Excuse me, but I am a renter routinely abused by my landlord, and I find this discussion deplorable. Might we change the subject?”

Needless to say, I was never invited to that party again, on land or sea. And what I took away from the experience was that there is something so inherently hierarchical about our culture (or is it our species?) that most people tend to dehumanize those they perceive to have less than they, and lionize those with more. My parents did this and many people I know do this, too, and I probably do the same thing without knowing I’m doing it, and I wonder what possible value such behavior could have in terms of cultural evolution, other than to maintain the status quo of the haves lording it over the have-nots.

“Compassion is the natural response to an open heart, but that wellspring of compassion remains capped as long as we turn away from or deny or resist the truth of what is there.” Joseph Goldstein

In my readings of Buddhist dharma, I come again and again to passages concerning the universality of suffering, and how we develop compassion by opening our hearts, both to our own suffering and the suffering of others. And it occurs to me that by dehumanizing others we spare ourselves the discomfort of opening our hearts to their suffering. If those landlords on that sailboat opened their hearts to the suffering of their tenants, they would no longer think of them as enemies. And if our psychotic leaders could open their hearts (assuming they have hearts) to the suffering of the American people and people in other countries, they would not be able to carry out their entirely self-serving policies that are so cruel and hurtful to so many.

So I’m working on ideas for bumper stickers about this and I’ve got the gist of what I want to say, but I need some help here. What do you think about OPEN YOUR HEARTS, YOU ASSHOLES! Or HEY YOU INSENSITIVE POOPHEADS, YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY HUMANS ON THIS SPACESHIP. Or YOU’RE NOT OKAY IF I’M NOT OKAY.

But maybe that’s being too subtle.

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

Critical Delusion

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

“The fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford are at the heart of our problem.” Robert Scheer

There is no doubt I am happier and more productive and healthier and much more hopeful when I lose touch with the world outside the local watershed; and I am especially happier when I don’t read articles by Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges and Jim Kunstler and other brave and intelligent left-of-the-now-non-existent-center pundits. When I do read articles by these folks, or essays by relatively moderate commentators like Paul Krugman, I feel depressed and hopeless and mentally bludgeoned because these well-meaning folks keep saying the same things over and over again, week after week, month after month.

So to climb out of my slough of despond, I abstain for days on end from news of the outside world, and the bloom returns to my cheeks, and my writing picks up steam, and new melodies present themselves, and I improve as a husband and friend and neighbor, and I start to think life is pretty okay; and then someone sends me an incisively gruesome article or someone emails me a link to a frightening treatise, and I am once more sucked into reading commentaries elucidating how and why things in the great big world are, indeed, going from bad to worse, and I feel bludgeoned again, and while I’m being bludgeoned I try to make sense of the avalanche of facts about the legions of crooks who own and run the world, though the ultimate sense to be made is the same sense I’ve been making since they ran Jimmy Carter out of office in 1980 with a fake oil shortage, to wit: we’re headed for even bigger economic and environmental catastrophes than the ones we’re in the midst of.

And it occurred to me as I was reading Robert Scheer’s recent tirade from which I culled the opening quote—The fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford are at the heart of our problem—that I have the same difficulty with Scheer and Hedges and Krugman and Kunstler that I had with most of the speakers at the anti-war rallies during the George Bush years, which is that these angry intelligent people are so stuck on exposing the already entirely exposed current crop of crooks that they don’t delve deeply enough into human nature.

For instance, yes, millions of people were duped into buying homes they couldn’t afford, but that is not the heart of the story. To get to the heart, I will pose and answer three questions. 1. Why were those tens of millions of fraudulently sold houses so incredibly expensive? 2. Why were tens of millions of people so easily duped into buying absurdly expensive houses? 3. Why, in the recent California election, did a majority of voters defeat a proposition that would have, for eighteen dollars a year, made our several hundred fabulous state parks wholly viable and free to everyone?

The answers to these questions are:

1. In 1996, in the working class neighborhood where I lived in Berkeley, California, a little (and I mean tiny) house went on the market for 139,000 dollars. After six months on the market, this eensy teensy house sold for 119,000. However, four years later in 2000, this same iddy biddy house sold for 540,000 dollars, and my neighborhood was working class no more. Two years later, in 2002, this same miniscule home sold for 790,000 dollars. Now, honestly, these price increases did not occur because of fraudulent practices. These increases occurred because of collective insanity springing from greed, fear, and delusion. Thus I conclude that collective insanity is the answer to why all those eventually fraudulently sold houses were so expensive and unaffordable even had they been sold without a hint of fraud.

2. Many millions of people were so easily duped into buying insanely expensive houses they could not afford because they, the duped people, were greedy, fearful, and delusional. Why they and most Americans were and are greedy and fearful and delusional is another question, one might even call it The Big Question, and I’m coming to that.

3. The majority of voters in the last election voted against paying eighteen dollars a year—the same eighteen dollars they spend on useless crap every day—for eternal free admission to hundreds of groovy state parks because they, the No voters, are greedy, fearful, and delusional. Yep, the same answer as numbers 1 and 2.

Therefore, I conclude that greed, fear, and delusion are at the heart of the economic meltdown, the perpetual state of war, and the takeover of our country by crazy amoral jerks, not fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford. The end. Not quite.

“It is the author’s working assumption that the words good and bad are meaningless.” Buckminster Fuller

Let us investigate greed, fear, and delusion, shall we? Okay. I will endeavor to make this interesting rather than depressing. Greed, I think we can agree, is born of fear. People who constantly overeat and over-consume (expressions of greed) are afraid they won’t get enough to eat and will die of starvation. This fear-induced greed, whether partially or entirely unconscious, was probably ignited in the greedy gobblers in early childhood and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a real lack of food or safety, but springs from primal fears that every human is genetically prone to. Once the fears of starvation and/or homelessness are ignited in a person, quelling those fears is no easy task.

Over the course of my life, I have known a good number of people with millions of dollars, and none of these millionaires considered themselves wealthy or felt they had enough money. When I asked them why they didn’t think they had enough money, the universal answer was that they lived in fear of some sort of catastrophe rendering them poor and homeless and soon to die of starvation or worse.

Some of these millionaires were children of the Great Depression, some were grandchildren of the Great Depression, and a few were great grandchildren of the Great Depression. None of these millionaires felt they had enough money to be safe, which is why they needed more money than the millions they already had. How much more? As much as they could get until they died so they could leave as much money and property as they could to their children who would also never have enough no matter how much they got. In other words, they were all insane. And more importantly, you and I are no less insane; we simply lack those millions of dollars.

Indeed, I think that the acknowledgment and understanding of our inherited collective insanity is the key ingredient missing in the diatribes of Hedges and Scheer and Krugman and myriad other alarmist writers. These well-meaning pundits preach that corporate crooks and their political proxies and the crooks’ fathers and grandfathers did such horrible fraudulent things because they, the crooks, are inherently evil, i.e. insane. But the deeper truth is that these crooks are merely standout psychopaths in our vast population of crazy people.

“Humanity is moving ever deeper into crisis—a crisis without precedent.” Buckminster Fuller

So what is the solution? Few pundits offer pragmatic suugestions about how we might solve the problems caused by the insane elite manipulating our collective insanity. They, the pundits, speak in grandiose terms about throwing the crooks in jail or shifting our national economic policies in ways the insane crooks will never permit unless we overthrow them in a violent revolution, and I’m too old for that. However, I am confident we have the power to cure our society of the insanity that grips us.

First, we need to admit that we, you and I, are part of the problem. To that end, please repeat after me. I am greedy and fearful and part of our collective insanity. You didn’t repeat that after me, did you? Come on. Give it a try. I am greedy and fearful and part of our collective insanity. Good. Speaking the truth can weaken the grip of madness.

Secondly, we need to understand the basis of our greed and fear and resultant insanity. And that basis is, drum roll, please…our belief that there is not enough for everyone—not enough food or money or houses or fun. Why do we believe this? Because it used to be true, but it isn’t true anymore. Through the grace of collective genius and accumulated knowledge and the collaboration of the universe, we now possess the wherewithal and know-how to provide every person and every living thing on earth with enough of what they need to live healthy, happy, and meaningful lives.

You flinched, didn’t you, when you read that last line? Or you stiffened or frowned or thought This guy is nuts. Why? Because you don’t believe there is enough for everyone. But there is. Prove it, you say. There are now seven billion people on earth, you say. The fisheries are depleted. The biosphere is threatened with massive pollution and degradation beyond the point of no return. War! Famine! There can’t be enough for everyone. It’s natural to be fearful and greedy. We’re not delusional; you’re the delusional one, Todd. You with your Buckminster Fuller bullshit. There isn’t enough for everyone. There’s not. There’s not!

Yes, there is. And I’m glad you brought up Buckminster Fuller because Bucky, besides inventing the geodesic dome, wrote a book entitled Critical Path, the last book he published before he died; and in Critical Path he expresses the hope that whomsoever groks (deeply absorbs and understands) his message will try to translate Bucky’s stream of consciousness prophecies and revelations into language and art and technology and design and behavior that will open the minds of others to the paradigm-shifting truth that, among other things, there is enough for everyone, and we need to focus our individual and collective genius on transforming human culture to reflect that truth.

By the way, the expression critical path refers to the steps to be taken in order to accumulate and apply sufficient knowledge pursuant to accomplishing a particular goal. Bucky’s introductory example of a critical path process is the challenge posed by President Kennedy to design and implement the safe transport of humans to and from the moon, a task that required many quantum leaps in knowledge and technology in a very short span of time to accomplish the stated goal and simultaneously illustrate the astonishing things our well-funded collective genius might accomplish.

In conclusion, we need an all-nation critical path program to reverse global environmental collapse and to give everyone enough to live healthy and fulfilling lives. And while we’re helping to implement this marvelous global program, each of us can work on programming our individual psyches to accept the truth that we, collectively, have enough for everybody. And because there is enough for everybody, we no longer need to be fearful or greedy or delusional. There is enough for you, enough for me, enough for everyone. There really truly is.

(This essay first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2010)

Astrologers have told Todd that his natal chart indicates preternatural optimism. His cheerful web site is Underthetablebooks.com

Competitive Meditation

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

What a silly idea, competitive meditation. Yet in America all things become competitive and hierarchical as reflections of the dominant operating system. Twenty years ago the notion of competitive yoga would have been just as absurd as competitive meditation, yet today yoga competitions are all the rage with big cash prizes for top asana performers ranked nationally. An asana is a particular yoga pose. Could league play be just around the corner?

The history of Buddhism, with meditation as its foundation, is a fascinating study in what happens to a non-hierarchical, non-competitive, crystal clear philosophy when it comes into contact with different societies, each with entrenched systems of social organization and religious dogma. Because Buddhism in its purest form is not a religion, it is easy to discern how in coming to China, Tibet, Japan, and now the United States, the original tenets of Buddhism have been deformed to fit the pre-existing religious or pseudo-religious structures.

Organized religions universally feature a head priest or priests, priest lieutenants, their favored adherents, the less favored, and so on down the steep slope of the pyramid. Trying to fit the fundamental Buddhist notion of the essential emptiness of reality into such a pyramidical structure is akin to building a complicated factory in order to produce nothing. Delusion, greed, arrogance, jealousy, all of which Buddha called enemies of enlightenment, are, ironically, the building blocks of organized Buddhism in America.

One of my favorite stories about Freud, not to change the subject, is that he said to his American cohorts on several occasions before his death, and I paraphrase, “Whatever you do, please don’t make being a medical doctor a prerequisite to being a psychiatrist.” He made this plea because many promising psychotherapists in Europe, among them Erik Erikson, were not medical doctors, and Freud didn’t want to preclude this valuable source of input to the field.

Sadly, the Americans did just what Freud feared they would do, and we suffer the consequences to this day. Why didn’t the Americans heed Freud’s advice? Because greed, arrogance, and most importantly the desire to control who gets into the exclusive club, won the day. People at the top of pyramids will do almost anything to stay there, and since there isn’t much room at the top, the maintenance of the ruling elite requires the ruthless exclusion of anyone or any idea that threatens the status quo.

Indeed, our government and our entire economic system reflect this basic tenet of organizations structured as steep-sided pyramids. Ironically, the collapse of such pyramids is inevitable because without new ideas and original personalities, these systems decay from the top down. This is why Jefferson suggested revolutions at regular intervals were essential to the continuing health of any large organization such as a nation.

The worship of celebrity, not to change the subject, is a hugely important aspect of the American psyche. Americans aspire to be celebrities, to associate with celebrities, and to know all about celebrities. I attribute this particular mania to our collective genetic memory of being subjects of kings and queens for the thousands of years when members of the royalty were the primary celebrities until the Industrial Revolution spawned a middle class. Regardless of how it came about, celebrities rule our psyches, individual and collective, and American Buddhism has become a celebrity-based system, too; a happenstance every bit as absurd as the notion of competitive meditation. Absurdity, however, is another hallmark of American culture along with ignorance, racism, and senseless violence.

The historical Buddha, Gautama, so say the texts, witnessed these hallmarks of American culture as they manifested in India circa 600 B.C. and was so disturbed by the terrible suffering such ignorance and violence caused victims and perpetrators alike that he left behind his princely life and embarked on a journey, both inward and outward, to discover the root causes of pervasive human misery. And the vehicle he rode, as it were, on his quest to discover the source of suffering, was meditation.

Now here is something crucial to remember about Gautama Buddha: no one anointed him, no one taught him, and he did not belong to a lineage of teachers. Through meditation he attained enlightenment and discovered what he believed to be the source of suffering, and he did this…drum roll…all by himself.

Today in America or Japan or Tibet or China or Indochina, one would be extremely hard-pressed to find any “officially recognized” Buddhist master who would dare say that a practitioner can find his or her way without the guidance of an “accredited master”. I am currently reading for the third time Sogyal Rinpoche’s wonderful text The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying in which he repeats ad nauseum that no one can ever hope to understand the true nature of mind or really make much spiritual progress without devotion to, and instruction from, an accredited, official, bona fide Buddhist master, and to think otherwise is dangerous and foolish and wrong. In subtle ways, he contradicts this message throughout the text, yet he seems terrified to overtly suggest otherwise.

Which brings me to The New Testament, not to change the subject. There is now both academic and popular support for the theory that the gospels of The New Testament were selected from a much larger body of Gnostic gospels in order to espouse the view that it is impossible for a regular person to connect with God except through an accredited, official, bona fide priest who somehow or other is linked by direct transmission to Jesus Christ. Any gospel that suggested you and I might connect directly with God through our own efforts without the intervention of officially accredited priests were simply not allowed into the anthology, i.e. The New Testament.

I may be stating the Gnostic case in an extreme nutshell, but I think it an accurate description of how a hierarchical system was imposed on the teachings of a Buddha-like being (Jesus Christ) who got His download, so to speak, directly from God, with no accredited anybody officiating. Which brings me back to Buddhism and competitive meditation.

I first became interested in Buddhism when I fell in love with the poetry of Philip Whalen in the late 1960’s. Searching for texts to explain Whalen’s passing references to Buddhism in his poems, I came across a little book, and I mean a tiny paperback of less than a hundred pages, written by Alan Watts entitled The Wisdom of Insecurity. Reading this book was more than a revelation to me; the experience rearranged my synapses. The basic premise of The Wisdom of Insecurity is that if I am thinking about the past and/or thinking about the future, I’m not actually here because our awareness determines our place in time and space; from which followed the popular expression Be Here Now.

The Wisdom of Insecurity was new stuff in America when it was published in 1949 (the year I was born) and it was one of Watts’s many attempts to elucidate the primary purpose of Buddhist practice, which is to bring the mind into communion with the present moment and thereby reveal the past and future to be illusory. Watts, it should be noted, has of late been marginalized by contemporary American Buddhist orthodoxy because he adamantly rejected the idea of official anointment and wasn’t particularly keen on formal modes of meditation. In this way, he was another of those folks who apparently “got it” without being knighted by an official of the hierarchy he helped found.

Inspired by Watts and Whalen, I continued to read Buddhist texts, contemporary and classical, for some years, and I was inspired to write a batch of contemporary short stories springing from various aspects of Buddhist philosophy. For instance, I would read about generosity, meditate with generosity as my starting point, and then write a story that welled up from that meditation. Then I’d send copies of the story to several friends, some versed in Buddhist philosophy, some not, wait for feedback, and then rewrite the story. Over the course of three years, I wrote forty-two such stories that eventually became a manuscript entitled Buddha In A Teacup, the title homage to Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm of the Hand Stories.

I made a photocopy edition of a hundred and fifty copies of Buddha In A Teacup, informed my friends I had done so, and within a few months sold all the copies for twenty-five dollars each, which covered my copying and mailing costs. Many of my readers urged me to try to get the book published, so I sent the manuscript to a half-dozen publishers of Buddhist texts in America and Canada. Reaction was swift and universal; the book was fascinating and fresh, but I, Todd Walton, was no one of even minor note in the galaxy of Buddhist celebrities, so No Thank You. To which I replied, “Is not the goal of our practice to transcend the illusion of ego and embrace the essential truth of our no oneness?”

Only one editor replied to my reply. He reiterated how much he liked the stories, and regretted that his company only published well-known Buddhist teachers armed with rave blurbs from really famous Buddhist teachers.

I eventually self-published a lovely edition of Buddha In A Teacup through Lost Coast Press in Fort Bragg, and though not a single Buddhist publication large or small would deign to review the book, Buddha In A Teacup has now sold over fifteen hundred copies and continues to gain a wider audience. People, those not constrained by the worship of celebrity or constricted by devotion to orthodoxy, love the book, and I think they do because the stories illuminate essential messages of the Buddha; that we are all on the same path, each of us seeking to become less fearful and less judgmental of ourselves and others, each of us aspiring to become more loving and generous.

In the vast Buddhist library there are many versions of what happened at the moment Buddha’s body died and his essence returned to the essential ground of being, an extremely subtle and eternal energy field from which you and I and all things arise and dissolve. My favorite version of this last corporeal moment is a poem by Mary Oliver entitled The Buddha’s Last Instruction in which his only spoken words are, “Make of yourself a light.”

And that is what I suggest you say to anyone who challenges you to a meditation contest. “Make of yourself a light,” and leave the competition to the organized and fully accredited yoga teams.

Copies of Buddha In A Teacup signed by the author are available from Underthetablebooks.com.

(This article first appeared in The Anderson Valley Advertiser in October 2009)