Posts Tagged ‘Monty Python’

Ganesha

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Ganesha

Ganesha photo by Marcia Sloane

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

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinakaya, is the male Hindu god with a human body and head of an elephant. His Rubensesque androgynous form is most often represented with four arms, each arm with a five-fingered hand, though some drawings and statues of Ganesha have as few as two arms and as many as twenty. Revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom, he is also the patron deity of writers.

I knew nothing about Ganesha until nine years ago when Marcia and I got together, and Marcia revealed she was a devotee of the chubby multi-talented deity. She owns two small statues of Ganapati, one a handsome two-armed drum-playing fellow carved from wood, and the other an alluring six-armed dancing guy made of brass.

A remover of obstacles is my kind of deity, so with Marcia’s permission I placed her wooden Ganesha on top of my upright piano where he shares the lofty plateau with two statues of Buddha, one a happy standing fatso, the other a mellow lotus-positioned fellow with his thumbs and fingers touching each other in an intriguing mudra. The only other idol atop my piano is a tiny glass baseball player currently stationed in the shadow of Ganesha—my last gasp plea for the removal of the Dodgers from the path of our floundering Giants.

The more I learn about Ganesha, the more I like him, and when we recently removed the obstacle of an unsightly outhouse from a cirque of redwoods viewable from the eastside windows of our house, we decided to look for a large statue of Ganesha to stand in the grotto previously occupied by the ugly pooper.

And lo we were directed to Sacred Woods in Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, an impressive yard containing hundreds of statues imported from Thailand and Indonesia by Rachelle Zachary, the owner of Sacred Woods. After a delightful hour of statue shopping, we settled on an exquisite four-and-a-half-feet-tall white-stone statue of the elephant-headed god, hand-carved by a Balinese master, and a few weeks later the weighty objet d’art was delivered to our south-side deck.

Our plan was to have the redwood trees surrounding the proposed location for the statue limbed up before we engaged a trio of strong men to transport the statue to the grotto. However, after two weeks of gazing out the south-facing dining room windows at the magnificent statue standing on the far edge of our ground-level deck, we decided to move the statue just a few feet off the deck from where he was. We had fallen in love with seeing him from the dining nook, which is also where I do much of my writing.

And so I began clearing away the dense grass and brambles and vines and dead fern fronds clogging the ground where we envisioned Ganesha standing in the embrace of two stately ferns, and after a few minutes of work I uncovered a massive flat-topped granite stone butting up against the deck. We briefly considered placing the statue on top of the granite stone, but the top was too narrow and too close to the deck where rambunctious dogs and exuberant children and clumsy adults might unwittingly topple the statue.

When Marcia came outside to see how my work was progressing, I gestured at the mass of dead branches and fern fronds and chunks of old bricks and rotting abalone shells left by the previous owners and said, “The ideal thing would be a little brick pad right in there.”

Marcia nodded, winked at Ganesha, returned to her studio, and as I filled my wheelbarrow again and again with the brittle remnants of the past, I held in my mind’s eye an image of our magnificent Ganesha standing on a small brick pad surrounded by an expanse of gray gravel populated with large stones.

Then something astonishing happened, something a non-believer would call a fortuitous coincidence, and something a devout follower of Ganesha would call His doing.

As I clipped away the last of several dozen dead fern fronds from the lower reaches of a large fern, I espied the corner of a pink brick lying in the ground. Having previously removed several chunks of old brick from the vicinity I thought this might be another such chunk. However, upon removing more of the detritus, I exposed a perfectly level pad made of eight whole bricks.

And that is where our statue stands today, surrounded by an expanse of gravel populated with large granite stones. We have no idea what stood on the brick pad prior to the coming of Ganesha, nor are we certain the brick pad was there before I suggested to Marcia and Ganesha that such a pad should be there. Judging from several other artifacts left behind by the previous owners, I would guess a statue of John Wayne or possibly Ronald Reagan stood where our Ganesha now lords it over the ferns and stones.

I was inspired to write about Ganesha today, remover of obstacles, after a visit to Main Street in Mendocino to view the sturdy white fence recently erected on what is now the end of the sidewalk just to the west of Gallery Books.

A public servant, or as A.A. Milne might have written, a Person Of Very Little Brain, is no doubt behind this blood clot, so to speak, in a major artery of our little town, and as I stood at the ridiculous fence and gazed out over the headlands and Big River Bay, I thought of Monty Python and Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers, for this travesty of a mockery of a sham is a hilarious commentary on how far we humans, collectively speaking, have not come since we climbed down from the trees millions of years ago and sallied forth to people the earth.

Oh Ganesha, Ganapati, Vinakaya—we implore you to help us remove the Dadaesque obstacle on Main Street.

Pomp & Circumstance

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

 

sextant

Sextant drawing by Todd

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

“Everything in life matters and ultimately has a place, an impact and a meaning.” Laurens Van Der Post

Been one of those weeks where every conversation with all kinds of different kinds of people began with talk of the drought and the state of our personal water supplies, and from there we spun off into discussions of the swiftly changing reality of what it is to be human on this little planet that used to seem so vast.

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” John Ruskin

You might have missed the news, or simply not given a hoot, that Stephen Hawking recently announced there are no black holes. Thus thousands of astronomers, physicists, science teachers, and graduate students are in various stages of shock that the foundation of their careers has been decreed by Mr. Black Hole himself to be a misconception, and that their decades of work have been about what isn’t there, and that billions of dollars spent on black hole-related research was essentially a big waste of money, not to mention time and space. Oops.

What made Hawking’s proclamation especially interesting to me was that the widespread foundational scientific belief in the existence of black holes was apparently not scientific at all, but mere conjecture. Hawking and his influential colleagues have abruptly changed their minds, so everyone else (including millions of people who ponied up the cash to buy Hawking’s A Brief History of Time) better change their minds, too, or risk…what? Not agreeing with the emperor who now blithely admits he wasn’t wearing any clothes, though he kind of thought he was, sort of? This is science? You betcha. Remember: medical doctors all over our scientific nation used to prescribe cigarettes to ameliorate symptoms of anxiety. Oops.

I hunted up Hawking’s explanation for why he and the entire scientific community were wrong about black holes, and I present his explanation here for your enjoyment. For extra fun, I suggest you imagine John Cleese and Eric Idle of Monty Python impersonating balding scientists taking turns presenting this blatantly self-contradictory proclamation—also pure conjecture if not outright balderdash.

“The absence of event horizons means that there are no black holes, in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infinity. There are however apparent horizons that persist for a period of time. This suggests that black holes should be redefined as metastable bound states of the gravitational field. It will also mean that the CFT on the boundary of anti de Sitter space will be dual to the whole anti de Sitter space, and not merely the region outside the horizon.

“The no hair theorems imply that in a gravitational collapse the space outside the event horizon will approach the metric of a Kerr solution. However inside the event horizon, the metric and matter fields will be classically chaotic. It is the approximation of this chaotic metric by a smooth Kerr metric that is responsible for the information loss in gravitational collapse. The chaotic collapsed object will radiate deterministically but chaotically. It will be like weather forecasting on Earth. That is unitary, but chaotic, so there is effective information loss. One can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance.”

“There are two ways of seeing objects, one being simply to see them, and the other to consider them attentively.” Nicolas Poussin

Songs nowadays are no longer songs as I used to think of songs being songs. That is to say, the things I still call songs can be listened to with my eyes closed. But the popular songs of today, the Grammy winners and the songs on all the charts of today’s music must be seen in order to be properly heard? Songs today, not the ones we oldsters think of as songs, but the new ones the youngsters live by, are inextricably bound to little movies for which music is soundtrack, and most of these soundtracks are composed of many layers of synthesized sonic noise underpinned by mechanically generated rhythm tracks designed to support the visuals comprising the little movies.

“Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter: second, telling other people to do so.” Bertrand Russell

I like that definition of work: altering the position of matter. I would add that for some position altering of matter one earns money, and for some position altering of matter one does not earn money; and there are two kinds of money: regular money and gig money.

Gig money is worth much more than regular money. I used to think the added buying power of gig money had something to do with black holes, but now that black holes no longer exist, perhaps the extra buying power is attributable to anti de Sitter space, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I think the extraordinary nature of gig money is alchemical. Now before you climb on your scientific high horse and declare alchemy a pile of mystical infantile wishful thinking black hole rabbit poop, feast your eyes on the following from Smithsonian Magazine: “There is growing evidence that alchemists seem to have performed legitimate experiments, manipulated and analyzed the world in interesting ways and reported genuine results. And many of the great names in the canon of modern science took note, including Sir Isaac Newton and Lavoisier.”

What do I mean by gig money? The word gig has come to mean job in today’s world. “I have a regular nine-to-five gig for a software company, but my main thing is recording random street sounds and turning them into rhythm tracks,” is common parlance today, but a gig used to mean a performance, usually of jazz or poetry, made with the hope of possibly making some money from the performance, but maybe not making any money. It is this maybe/maybe not making money aspect of a gig that endows gig money with its alchemical mystical extra-potent power. Why? Because nature abhors a vacuum or nature doesn’t abhor a vacuum. You choose.

For instance, one night I made forty bucks for reading my short stories and telling jokes in a used bookstore in Sacramento, the audience unexpectedly large, the donations jar overflowing. With that gig money I bought groceries for the entire week, went out for Mexican food twice, bought new guitar strings and three pairs of pants at the Salvation Army, and still had money left over. So I bought a pile of Russell Hoban novels at the used bookstore, gave ten bucks to a friend, bought my sweetheart some flowers, and splurged on three goldfish for the backyard pond, and I still had money left over. And if I hadn’t gone and cultivated negative thoughts about an annoying person who was just doing the best he could, I might still have that gig money because thoughts are actions and the karmic wheel rolls on ceaselessly. Which is why we should always endeavor to be kind and generous even when we’re just sitting still with our eyes closed listening to songs.

 “There are two kinds of fools: one says, ‘This is old, therefore it is good’; the other says, ‘This is new, therefore it is better.’” W.R. Inge

Currently in the throes of rewriting my new novel, I am carving up my printed-out pages with red ink flowing from a pen held in my hand attached to my arm and directed by my brain far from the madding computer and text on a screen. Writing longhand and editing longhand are considered by most writers under the age of fifty, and even by many writers over fifty, to be antiquated practices inferior to doing everything on the screen from start to finish. I beg to differ, but who cares if I can tell by reading a few paragraphs of a novel or short story whether the author composed his or her words longhand or on a computer? That doesn’t mean one way of writing is better than the other, but it does prove (to my satisfaction) that there is a qualitative difference between those two ways of writing, and I find the quality of one of those ways vastly superior to the other. But that’s just me. And speaking of black holes, here is a recently crafted paragraph from my new novel.

In the near distance Donald sees the sign known to every alcoholic and pool player for a hundred miles around, a gigantic square of blinking neon, pink and green and blue, spelling Hotsy Totsy, a misleading moniker if there ever was one. Home to three pool tables, a long bar, seventeen bar stools, six warped plywood booths, two hideous bathrooms, and a juke box full of rock music from the 1960’s and 70’s—nothing after 1975—Hotsy Totsy is a low-ceilinged beer-soaked bunker presided over by the bald and portly Hell’s Angel Calvin Jensen, owner, bartender, bouncer and popcorn maker, popcorn and peanuts the primary foodstuffs available at Hotsy Totsy.

Civil War

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

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

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Abraham Lincoln

I was on the phone with my old pal John Grimes, a cartoonist with funny and provocative insights about American society, and John said, “It’s 1850 all over again. The nation is as deeply divided as we were right before the Civil War.”

My initial reaction was to agree with John—visions of red states versus blue states dancing in my head—but the more I thought about his idea, the more I disagreed. I don’t think America is divided, except that six people with my last name (no relations) have more money than forty-two per cent of all the people in America.

If we were a nation divided, half the people would vehemently oppose our ongoing foreign wars and the maintenance of hundreds of military bases around the globe that cost us trillions of dollars we might better spend on culture bases here in America. But there is no anti-war movement to speak of today, and the candidates representing the supposedly opposing political parties have identical foreign policies, except that the Democrats traditionally spend a pittance on family planning programs in Africa while the Republicans abhor helping women anywhere plan the size of their families.

If the nation were divided, half the people would oppose Single Payer healthcare, otherwise known as Medicare for all, and half would be in favor of such a marvelous thing. But poll after poll shows a vast majority of Americans in both blue and red states would love to have Single Payer Healthcare, yet for some inexplicable reason we keep electing boobs who won’t give us that boon.

If the nation were divided, half the people would want to increase taxes on the wealthy and half wouldn’t, but poll after poll indicates that the vast majority of Americans would love to increase taxes on the wealthy, yet for some inexplicable reason we keep electing boobs who won’t give us that boon.

No, I think Americans are remarkably undivided, certainly compared to the Italians or Greeks or French or Russians. When was the last time we elected a socialist president or dissolved the government for lack of confidence or marched in the streets to protest unfair austerity measures (let alone to protest elections decided by politically appointed judges)? The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats today is infinitesimal compared to the differences between the top two Greek parties, or the top two parties in any democracy, which we most definitely are not.

Imagine the French putting up with a trillion dollar student loan debt. Wouldn’t happen. Their nation would be shut down in a trice by protests and roadblocks and huge crowds of furious former and current students, and France would stay shut down until the student debt was forgiven. But Americans, blue and red alike, fit ourselves to the yoke of debt to the same bankers who bankrupted our nation and then helped themselves to a few trillion more. In a nation divided, half the people would demand that those crooked bankers forgive the student debt, yet there is no popular support for such a good idea.

The thing is, we Americans are fanatically undivided in our love of cars and computers and television shows and 3-D action movies and comfortable living. Oh, and in the absence of royalty, we worship celebrities. We know more about celebrities than we do about our government. In fact, we know almost nothing about our government. Come to think of it, we know almost nothing about anything except celebrities and television shows and cars and apps (whatever apps are), and our ignorance, to a large degree, is what unites us.

And the rulers of our nation know very well that ignorance unites us, so they make the continuance of our ignorance the focus of their governing and educational policies, while keeping us stuffed with up-to-the-minute information about which celebrity was recently driving drunk or in possession of an illegal substance or cheating on his or her wife or husband with another celebrity, and whether or not his or her cheating will help or hurt the box office numbers of his or her next incredibly violent 3-D action movie or sappy heartfelt romance or bloody police drama.

I tend to think that a celebrity having an affair with another celebrity would, in general, help that celebrity’s box office numbers. Don’t you? I mean, people (at least half the people) will be curious to see if the celebrity seems different now as a result of his or her affair, so I would think our collective curiosity would bring us to the multiplexes in greater numbers than if he or she had not had an affair. No?

Okay, so I’m being cynical, but factual, too. I think the ruling puppeteers use the idea of a great divide to distract us from our cohesiveness and to keep us from discovering how easy it would be for us to overthrow the puppeteers. Indeed, we are an extremely united people, and that’s one of the main reasons we don’t revolt. We feel the solidity of our union and we like the feeling. And though we may think we disagree about Romney and Obama, in our collective heart of hearts we know Romney and Obama and Clinton and Bush and on and on ad infinitum are all superlative representatives of the ruling elite and never deviate from the orders of their overlords. In our ignorance, we do not know who those overlords are because overlords are masters of invisibility, which is one of the prerequisites for becoming an overlord and keeping your job.

Oh, what do I know? I don’t even have a cell phone or an app, whatever an app is. Where and how I get off commenting on American society when I don’t belong to even one social network, I don’t know. Forgive me.

“The people will save their government, if the government itself will allow them.” Abraham Lincoln

Speaking of great divides, I was living in Seattle in 1977 when Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall came out. I was a big Woody Allen fan back then and remained a Woody Allen fan until around the time he married his daughter. I didn’t stop going to his movies because he married his daughter. Woody marrying his daughter just happened to coincide with his movies becoming redundant and annoying and pointless, as far as I was concerned. But I loved Annie Hall, saw it several times, and was vociferous in championing the film. Today I won’t watch Annie Hall for fear I will find the film retroactively pointless and redundant.

So…at the height of my infatuation with Annie Hall I went to a party and fell into conversation with a man who thought Woody Allen movies were stupid, especially Annie Hall, which he had walked out of after twenty minutes. He said he found the movie pointless and shallow and badly acted and horribly written. “Anyone,” said the man, shaking his head, “who likes that movie has a screw loose.”

“I love that movie,” I said, trembling with sudden rage. “Anyone who doesn’t like that movie is a shallow doofus.”

“Touché,” said the man, clutching his heart as if stuck by a rapier. “So does that mean you loathe Monty Python?”

“I love Monty Python,” I said, trying to dislike the man but finding I liked him. “Especially The Cheese Shop.”

“Then we can be friends,” he said, holding out his hand to me. “The truth is, my ex-wife loves Woody Allen and I associate his movies with her, which is probably why I walked out of Annie Hall because I kept thinking about how much she would love the film, so…”

We shook hands and he told me a joke I still have in my repertoire.

So this guy goes to a psychiatrist. At the end of the hour, the psychiatrist says, “I think you’re crazy.”

And the guy says, “Hey, wait a minute. I want a second opinion.”

“Okay,” says the psychiatrist. “You’re ugly, too.”

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.” Abraham Lincoln

I am fascinated by how passionate you and I and most Americans are about books or movies or music or celebrities or Youtube videos we love or despise, yet how dispassionate we can be about the ongoing crimes against humanity perpetrated by our government in concert with the fleecing capitalists, the ongoing social inequities, the ongoing environmental degradation of our planet, the ongoing criminality of our healthcare system, ad infinitum. Of course, it is that ad infinitum that renders us dispassionate, for we are overwhelmed and benumbed by all that is wrong with our society even as we participate in that wrongness by using electricity and driving cars and surfing the interweb and buying groceries and widgets and whatnots.

We, the people, are not divided in our culpability or in our desire not to feel culpable, yet we need and desire ways to express our outrage at feeling compelled to be culpable. So we blame rich people and politicians and pretend there are huge and important differences between Obama and Romney; and we passionately defend the only things we feel we have any control over: our taste in books (if we read) and movies and music and celebrities and web sites and apps, whatever apps are.

Or as a big scary drunk guy said to me in a bar in Los Angeles, “Far as I’m concerned, anybody who don’t like Country music might as well be dead.”