Posts Tagged ‘poor’

Precious Dream

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Marcia and Stella at the Mendocino Coast Hospital

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

Last night I had a precious dream,

dreamt I woke into the dawn,

walked out of my little cottage,

found a newspaper on the lawn

When I picked up that morning tribune,

and it opened to the very front page,

the headlines they told me

it was the dawning of a brand new age

Several years ago, I wrote the song Precious Dream, and three years ago when Marcia and I recorded So Not Jazz, our CD of cello/piano/guitar/vocal duets we included the song on the album. A few months after the CD was released, a DJ in Astoria, Oregon used Precious Dream as her theme song for several weeks, and that about sums up the commercial life of the song.

I wrote Precious Dream to elucidate my hopes for the world and human society, and I like to think of the tune as a campaign song in search of a candidate. I have yet to find such a candidate, though the Greens come closest to embodying the gist of my reverie; and since we are about to find out who our next President is and how far to the right of the mythic center our Congress and state houses will be, I thought this would be a good time to share the lyrics with you.

Yeah, the rich folks had all decided

to share their money with the poor

The movie that most influenced my thinking about the human world when I was a little boy was The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone. Marcia and I recently watched that old movie again and I loved it as much as I did when I was a child. The most powerful scene in the entire film for me was (and still is) when Robin takes Maid Marion to meet a group of poor people who have been savaged by the amoral rich. Robin is helping these people with money and food he steals from wealthy villains, feeding and sheltering and protecting these innocents who have nowhere else to turn for safety and sustenance. Meeting the victims of the rapacious overlords, Maid Marion has one of those great cinematic aha moments wherein she really gets that her life of privilege and luxury is built entirely on the backs of the poor.

I was an avid archer from age six to twelve, and many of the countless arrows I let fly in those years were loosed while imagining I was Robin Hood stealing from the rich so my band of merry men and I could give to the poor.

 and the leaders had disbanded all the armies,

not another dollar spent on war

Another hugely important movie in my life was King of Hearts, a gorgeous bittersweet movie that came out in 1966 when I was seventeen and the war in Vietnam was escalating. As my age peers and I lived in daily terror of being drafted to fight in that senseless war, along came this sexy, sad, funny movie about a soldier, played with comic innocence by Alan Bates, who ultimately chooses to hide away among the officially insane rather than spend another minute aiding and abetting the senseless slaughter of and by the so-called sane people of the world.

Let us never forget that the lion’s share of the income taxes we pay go to fund the creation and deployment of deadly armies and weaponry, money that might otherwise be used to make the world into a life-affirming utopia.

 and they’d stopped building prisons,

put that money in our schools and neighborhoods

Many comprehensive studies have proven conclusively that the healthier and safer and better-educated people are, the less likely they are to commit crimes. So why do we spend so little on vitalizing our communities and truly educating our children, while spending so many billions building prisons and locking people up for crimes committed out of economic necessity? Our justice and prison systems are nothing less than ongoing crimes against humanity.

and instead of making bombs and guns and things we do not need

we were all of us working for the greater good

Frank Capra was in love with the idea of people working for the greater good, an archaic-sounding concept involving people subsuming their selfish tendencies in order to help others—the greater community—and through helping others finding happiness and meaning. It’s A Wonderful Life, You Can’t Take It With You, and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington tug at our heartstrings, I believe, because they resonate with our inherent nature, which is to share what we have with others.

 Yes, they’d stopped clear-cutting the forests

and killing all the animals,

stopped dumping poison in the ground and the rivers and the sea,

When I was thirteen I went on a high Sierra backpack trip with two good friends and our three fathers to the Cathedral Lakes out of Tuolumne Meadows. On our second night at Upper Cathedral Lake, we shared that holy place with a big troop of Boy Scouts who made their camp on the opposite side of the lake from us. The scouts had a huge bonfire, though wood was scarce, and they even chopped down some small living trees (highly illegal) to fuel their fire. When we woke the next morning, we discovered that the scouts had festooned the trees and bushes and granite all around the lake with toilet paper; and when they hiked away they left garbage everywhere.

We spent that day and the next cleaning up the enormous mess as best we could and wondering what could possibly have inspired those young men to wreak such havoc on that pristine place. Fifty years later, I still sometimes think of that sickening mess as I read of manufacturers dumping poison into rivers to save a few dollars and when I study the latest reports on the ongoing meltdowns at Fukushima nuclear power plant and the resultant poisoning of the Pacific Ocean. What happened to these people to render them so drastically and ruinously disconnected from the very source of our lives? Such behavior is not natural. Someone or something is teaching human beings to poison our own nests.

the cars ran clean, trains ran smooth and fast, the air was clear,

food and shelter, health-care guaranteed

I have friends in Canada and Ireland and England and Denmark and Germany who have been emboldened to start interesting businesses and launch new careers and undertake exciting creative projects largely because they live in countries that provide free and excellent healthcare for their citizens. As long as we don’t have free and excellent healthcare in America, we are not a free people.

and the movies were about fascinating people

with real problems, you know, the real stuff

and our heroes were bright and generous,

pioneers of truth and love

My brother just sent me the last words of advice Kurt Vonnegut wrote for an audience: “And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one. I’m out of here.”

 When I woke up, my heart was pounding,

and I prayed my dream had all come true,

but I knew as well as you do

that that’s really up to me and you

Yes, we have it in our power to change the way we live

we have it in our power to take no more than we give

we have it in our power to love instead of hate

we have it in our power to make these changes

before it’s all too late

If you would like to hear Precious Dream in its entirety (absolutely gratis) with Marcia’s gorgeous cello and my guitar and mellifluous tenor, go to UnderTheTableBooks.com and click on Listen. If you enjoy the song, we hope you will share the link with your friends.

Propaganda of Childhood

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2010)

“What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.” Cynthia Ozick

The propaganda of my childhood said that Santa Claus rewards children for being good by giving them what they want. And long after I figured out that my parents were Santa Claus, I continued to believe that the reason I never got what I wanted was because I was not good. Every year I was given clothing I did not want, books I did not want, and things my father wanted, so that as I unwrapped those gifts he would chortle, “What a coincidence. Just what I needed.”

However, when I was ten-years-old, my parents gave me a real bow and arrows with steel tips, something I had been asking for since I was old enough to ask for something. And when I went outside to shoot that bow and arrows, and found that my father had also bought a bale of hay to which he had affixed a beautiful target, I was more than happy; I was filled to bursting with the sense of being good.

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple

In response to the depressing fact that the latest tax bill signed into law by President Obama actually increases taxes on the poorest 150 million Americans while allowing the super wealthy to pay no taxes at all, a friend remarked, “That doesn’t fit with the propaganda of our childhood.” And her comment struck me as a cogent explanation for why my peers and I continue to be so deeply disappointed by the machinations of the corporate overlords as carried out by their trusty puppets. And her comment also explained why we, the people, gorge on documentaries and articles recounting sordid truths about our government and our history yet remain powerless to effectively respond to these revelations. Why? Because we are programmed from the cradle through high school to believe the opposite of the truth.

For instance, nowhere in the propaganda of our childhood does it say the President of the United States is a puppet manipulated by corporate overlords. Indeed, according to the propaganda of our childhood there are no such things as corporate overlords. According to the textbooks and teachings of my childhood, the President of the United States and the senators and representatives in Congress and the governors of the states are men (and a few women) who love the poor and downtrodden and are dedicated to helping them. Our rulers are special people, war heroes and people from humble beginnings who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and want to help other people do the same.

But what was impressed on us even more persistently and deeply than the special goodness of our leaders was the unimpeachable truth that these special people cannot lie. The president tried to lie when he was a child (all the presidents tried at one time or another in their childhoods to lie) but he felt so bad about lying that he confessed his lie to his father or mother or grandfather or teacher, and rather than (or along with) spanking him, they showered him with love for admitting his mistake; and their love empowered him to overcome a thousand hardships and to marry a lovely, intelligent, essentially submissive woman who was his rock from which he rose to the position of commander-in-chief. Amen.

“Childhood is a promise that is never kept.” Ken Hill

In the California public schools of my youth, circa 1955-1967, American History was the main Social Studies event in Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade, Third Grade, Fifth Grade, Eighth Grade, and Eleventh Grade. The fundamental operating principle of that system was: The Salient Information shall be foisted on their malleable brains over and over again, year after year, and they will be compelled to memorize and regurgitate this information dozens of times as their brains develop so that whether they can remember a single date or historical tidbit at the end of their indoctrination, the underlying ideology of subservience to an imaginary system run by good and wise white people is deeply and permanently ingrained.

This is not conspiracy theory. Public education as it exists in America today was designed and implemented in the early twentieth century by industrialists working directly with their national, state, and local proxies to transform a largely agrarian population of people recently arrived from myriad foreign societies into a homogeneous population of factory workers. That is actual history, not propaganda. If you have ever wondered why public school classes are exactly one hour in duration and begin and end with the ringing of a bell, it is to simulate the experience of working in a factory, and to condition the nervous systems of the students for that eventuality.

Those who have succeeded at anything and don’t mention luck are kidding themselves.” Larry King

Luck? According to the propaganda of our childhood there is only one way to succeed and that is through hard work and perseverance. Luck has nothing to do with success. You start in the mailroom or the equivalent of the mailroom in your chosen profession and if you work hard and loyally at delivering mail without questioning the value of what you’re doing you will eventually be noticed by someone further up the chain of command who will say, “Wow, that person is really working hard and persevering so I’m going to give him a better job and more money.” Eventually, if you never stop working hard and never question authority, by golly, you’ll rise to the top and become president of the company or discover a cure for some dread disease or win an Academy Award or something like that.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Well, long after my childhood I moderated a panel of successful movie and television writers speaking to an audience of aspiring young writers. Before the public show, the panelists asked me what questions I was going to ask them. Since the panelists all knew each other, they had a good and raunchy time answering my questions by recounting their family connections, sexual connections, drug connections, and nauseating (to me) cronyism that launched their various careers near the top of the heap. But in front of that crowd of eager young writers, each of these famous people spouted phony nonsense about working his or her way up from some mythical bottom, with two of them actually referencing the mailroom!

In contrast to such propaganda, Henry Miller recounts in his memoirs that it was not the quality of his writing that first got him published, but a sexy girlfriend who traded sexual favors with a few editors to grease the wheels, as it were; and he followed this plan of action by having his lover’s wealthy and well-connected husband publish and promote the novels that made Henry famous. Yet we recoil from such truth because it was impressed upon us ten thousand times in our youth that if we created an original and valuable thing, we would be rewarded with wealth and fame, when in truth such valuable creations were more likely to be stolen from us than to bring us any kind of reward.

“Memory itself is an internal rumor.”  George Santayana

In the propaganda of our childhood, Thomas Edison was a great guy who invented the light bulb. Henry Ford was a great guy, too, and he invented the assembly line and the Mustang. Can you imagine your child coming home from school troubled by the news that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford and hosts of other American icons were not, in fact, great guys, and that they perpetrated all sorts of dastardly deeds along the way to owning the patents on light bulbs and automobiles and just about everything else defining modern life? Imagine all those famous white guys, the Founding Fathers and Founding Inventors and Founding Explorers and Founding Paragons of Virtue and Pluck revealed to our children in the light of truth. What kind of people would we Americans be in the absence of all that bogus information hardwired into our psyches?

I posed this question to someone of my father’s generation, a middle-class liberal, and before he could invent a more judicious reply, he blurted, “Oh, but if we taught them the truth there might be rebellion.”

I wonder. Who knows what might happen in the absence of the ongoing barrage of propaganda, now that this bogus morality and bogus history is so deeply entrenched in us? It seems that no matter how loud our conscious minds yell “Beware!” our more powerful subconscious programming commands us to believe (name any American president, senator, celebrity, industrialist) is telling the truth.

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain

According to the propaganda of our childhood, America was solely responsible for the good guys winning World War II. When I was eighteen and finally read a detailed history of World War II, I was shocked to learn that for each of the many armed divisions (approximately 15,000 men in a division) deployed by the Germans on their western front against the British, French, and American troops, five divisions were deployed against the Russians. Even so, we were taught that if America hadn’t entered World War II, the Germans and Japanese would have conquered the world and made everyone on earth their slaves. And we were certainly never taught the terrible truth that the bankers who funded the German war effort funded the American and British side of the conflict, too; yet that is the case.

We were taught that our leaders didn’t want to drop those atomic bombs on two cities filled with women and children and civilians, but it was the only way to defeat the Japanese who were irrational and evil, as were the Germans. Americans, and to a lesser degree people from England, were rational and good. Cigarettes were good, too, according to the propaganda of my childhood. Indeed, if you were in a hot steamy hell you could come all the way up into a mentholated paradise by sucking on burning Kools.

“The living moment is everything.” D.H. Lawrence

So. Is the propaganda of today’s childhood qualitatively different than that of my childhood? I would say Yes, for sheer volume alone, but also for the use of special visual and sonic effects that make it virtually impossible to distinguish fantasy from reality. That is to say, the foundational lies are much the same, but the spectacular presentation of those lies makes the lies appear more real than reality, certainly bigger and more colorful, with all the rough edges of truth airbrushed away.

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com