Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

Bob Kevin Culture

Monday, November 7th, 2016

windmill two

Windmill Sky photo by Todd

“There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox

For a few weeks this past summer people kept asking me what I thought about Kevin Durant deciding to leave Oklahoma City to come to California and play for the Golden State Warriors, and lately people keep asking me what I think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now that the basketball season has officially begun, the Kevin Durant question has resurfaced, and yesterday two more people asked me what I thought about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.

I learned a long time ago that a fan’s love of a musician or band or athlete or sports franchise is a form of religious fervor, and I don’t mess with religious fervor. So I dodged the Dylan question by saying tangential things like, “Isn’t it odd they don’t award the Nobel Prize posthumously?” or “They gave Bob a Pulitzer, too.” To the Kevin Durant question, I answered, “The guy can shoot,” and “What a handle, huh?”

But I’ll tell you in the privacy of this article that my initial reaction to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize was to recall when I was nineteen and driving through Hibbing, Minnesota on a hot muggy summer day, the mosquitoes ferocious, and I thought, ‘I know why Bob moved to California.’

The country I come from is called the Midwest. I was taught and brought up there, the laws to abide, that the land that I live in has God on its side.

My favorite Bob Dylan song is ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’ I know he’s written hundreds of songs since, but that’s still my favorite. I resonate with every syllable and I love Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version as much as Bob’s, though my favorite rendition is a slow bitter blues take by Eric Clapton recorded at some Dylan celebration twenty years ago. Tore my heart out.

That said, I know almost nothing about Dylan’s music after 1969, and I’m sure Bob would be okay with that, the Bob who wrote ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’

Over the intervening decades, several men have tried to convince me of Dylan’s ongoing genius. They insisted I listen to Bob’s later albums, with them watching me listen. And these experiences were always torture for me, though I never said so to my torturers because I don’t mess with religious fervor. I try to avoid it, but when I can’t, I feign reverent somnolence.

“There seem to be two causes of the deterioration of the arts: wealth and poverty.” Plato

Also over the last several years, several people have sent me links to advertisements Bob Dylan made for IBM, Victoria’s Secret, Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi, and Chrysler. Some people sent me those commercials because they were outraged Dylan would sell out like that, though they didn’t say what he was selling out. And some people sent me the ads because they thought everything Bob did was fabulous. I did not watch those ads until I started writing this article, and now that I have watched them, I wish I hadn’t.

As for Kevin Durant choosing to leave Oklahoma City and move to California, I’m sure he made that choice for the same reason Bob Dylan changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan and moved from Hibbing to Malibu—in hope of having a more enjoyable life.

“The poet’s only responsibility is to write fresh lines.” Charles Olson

Now that’s an interesting and noble-sounding idea, but pragmatically nonsensical. It reminds me of the Peanuts cartoon dozens of people sent me before I managed to publish my first novel. Snoopy is sitting at his typewriter on top of his doghouse writing a letter to a publisher. “Dear Sirs, I have just completed my new novel. It is so good, you will just have to come get it.”

Snoopy is elucidating every artist’s dream—to be recognized and rewarded for our creations simply because we created them. But the truth is, our ships can’t come in, so to speak, unless we send our ships out. Artists must take their wares to market or no one will ever know about them. And to succeed in a big way as a musician or artist or writer in America, the artist must convince those who control the avenues of distribution and exposure to give them access to large audiences; and once initial access has been gained, the artist must continue to convince those in power to give them such access.

Though they work in different sectors of the entertainment industry, Kevin Durant and Bob Dylan are both savvy business people adept at sustaining and improving the value of their brands. Kevin Durant’s salary for playing basketball is twenty to thirty million dollars a year, but the Kevin Durant brand makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year from shoe sales and jersey sales and endorsements and advertisements. And the same is true of Bob Dylan. Making a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler was good for his brand, and so is winning the Nobel Prize.

“Though he played so sweet and high, they knew he had never been on their TV so they passed his music by.” Joni Mitchell

When I was thirteen I bought Harry Belafonte’s new album Midnight Special. On that album, a young guy named Bob Dylan plays a harmonica solo. Midnight Special came out right before Dylan released his first album, and Bob’s harmonica playing on Harry’s album is reputedly Bob’s first official professional recording.

Until that Belafonte album was stolen from me in 1980, whenever I found a fervent Dylan fan had made his or her way into my house, I would bring out the Belafonte, lower the needle on Bob’s solo, and watch the true believer listen in reverent awe.

Of Cats and Food

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Django Yoga

Django Yoga photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“The story of cats is a story of meat, and begins with the end of the dinosaurs.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas from The Tribe of Tiger

We have one cat now, a twelve-year-old shorthaired gray named Django. We almost lost him eighteen months ago to complications arising from his extreme obesity—he weighed over twenty pounds—and in order to save him we became draconian masters feeding him half as much as we used to and splitting that lesser amount into four meals a day to encourage stomach shrinkage. The results have been good. Django has lost nine pounds, is noticeably more energetic and agile, and our veterinarian recently declared him fit as a fiddle.

However, there is a new development with Django. Accustomed to eating much more than he needed for the first eleven years of his life, Django now feels hungry all the time except when he is sleeping. He would, I gather, prefer to feel how he used to feel: fat. To that end, he has become a big talker, if you know what I mean.

Django asks to be fed by persistently reciting in cat language the famous line from Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, I’d like some more.” Telling him to be quiet has no effect whatsoever when those hungry excess fat cells get the best of him. Fortunately, we have found that if we pet Django for a few minutes and explain in soothing tones why he has to wait a little longer for food, he is often mollified. This suggests that he is not so much hungry as insecure about not being fat anymore.

“If you want to save a species, simply decide to eat it. Then it will be managed—like chickens, like turkeys, like deer, like Canadian geese.” Ted Nugent

In other food news, in case you hadn’t noticed, the price of eggs has skyrocketed. Why? Food prices should be going down along with the plunging price of gasoline. But they aren’t, just as our utility bills are not going down, though they should be, too, since a large percentage of California’s electricity is generated by power plants burning oil. But I was speaking of eggs.

Egg prices have gone way up because Proposition 2, passed by sixty percent of California voters, mandates that all eggs sold in California must come from chickens that have enough room in their cages to fully extend their wings and turn around. Predictably, the egg barons are suing the state for unusual kindness to hens because such kindness means the egg barons must replace their current commercial henhouses in which egg-laying chickens cannot spread their wings and turn around, especially with ten hens jammed into a single cage—a common practice in the industry.

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw

It was reported today that Max Scherzer, a very good pitcher of baseballs, has signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Nationals for 210 millions dollars. That comes to thirty million a year, a million dollars per game, and approximately ten thousand dollars per pitch. His record-breaking deal is also cleverly structured so Max will pay almost no income tax on the gargantuan fortune.

Also in today’s news was an article stating that by 2016, the wealthiest one per cent of human beings on earth (wealth measured by dollars) will have more wealth than the combined wealth of all the rest of the people on earth. That staggering news was juxtaposed poignantly with news that nearly a third of the people on earth now survive, somehow, on less than a dollar a day.

A good head of lettuce costs $3.49.

A little can of kidney beans costs $2.85.

A large gluten-free blackberry muffin costs $4.25.

A small package of faux crab sushi costs $6.95.

Organic almonds are now seventeen dollars a pound.

Organic brown rice is three dollars a pound.

“Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” W.C. Fields

Walking up the hill from downtown Mendocino, a quartet of chicken legs secreted in a little ice chest in my knapsack, I come to a field rife with gophers and stop to admire a gorgeous orange tabby sitting still as a statue as she peers down at an entrance to the gopher kingdom, otherwise known as a gopher hole. The sight of this patient hunter reminds me that Django used to be quite the hunter of rats and mice until a broken tooth and a snaggletooth conspired to make it nearly impossible for him to eviscerate his kills, and so he became even more reliant on his humans for sustenance. In the wilds, Django would not have survived past his prime, and the same can be said for me.

The dry gopher-ridden field also reminds me that the drought is not over, not here or anywhere in California—the vegetable and rice and almond basket of America. I shudder to think how high food prices will go in the coming months should the meteorological consensus prove correct and the effects of the drought worsen. As if to echo my fears, a big shiny water truck rumbles by on its way to deliver water to someone with a dry well in January. Oh the things we take for granted.

I arrive home to Django singing multiple choruses from Oliver, though his next meal will not be served for another two hours. I put away the groceries, give Django a tummy rub and promise to feed him at five. He gives me a doubtful look, hunkers down in a pool of sunlight, and begins to assiduously clean himself with his tongue. I look out the window and watch in dismay as a dozen robins gobble my recently arisen Austrian Field Peas.

“You don’t have to kill and eat those birds,” I say to Django, “but couldn’t you at least chase them away?”

He gives me an ironic smile and resumes his toilette.

Community Property

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Long Way from Home

Long Way From Home Nolan Winkler acrylic and crayon on paper

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

“Ah, yes, divorce…from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Robin Williams

The advertisement caught my attention because it was not one of the usual ads that play during every baseball game for the entire 162-game season. I listen to Giants games on a small silver radio that accompanies me to the garden for day games and stands nearby while I do dishes during night games. The ads rarely vary and the sponsors repeat their ads dozens of times per game: Chevron with Techron, Budweiser, Speedy Oil Change, Wells Fargo, Ford Motors, Bay Alarm, Dignity Health.

But this was an advertisement for a law firm, and not the law firm that advertises during games to attract people who need help dealing with the IRS. No, this was an advertisement for a law firm specializing in divorce, and the gist of the ad was: Do you own a business? Want a divorce? We specialize in divorces for men with businesses who don’t want to lose their businesses or business assets as a result of divorce. With offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, our success rate is second to none. Call us today to protect your business and personal property!

I was thinning baby carrots when I heard this ad, my little radio dangling from a branch of an apple tree, the Giants in another tight game with the Dodgers, and I thought to myself Did I just hear what I think I just heard? An ad for a law firm proclaiming they help men, specifically men, defeat the community property laws that are supposed to govern divorce proceedings in California? Yes, I did.

I suspect a programming error caused that ad to be aired during the game because I had never heard it before and haven’t heard it since. But what a remarkable proclamation, not remarkable because there is such a law firm, but remarkable because they publicly and proudly admit to specializing in helping men get the best of their wives, right here in the progressive gender-liberated city state of San Francisco.

“He taught me housekeeping, so when I divorce I keep the house.” Zsa Zsa Gabor

Perhaps you know women, as I do, who were married to wealthy men who accrued that wealth during those marriages, yet gave little or nothing to their wives in divorce. True, these women were instrumental in their husbands’ successes, raised their children, did most of the housework and shopping and cooking, provided sex and companionship, and had part or full-time jobs outside the home to pay the bills while their hubbies built up their businesses or established medical practices or completed their MBAs or cooked up lucrative hedge funds, but in the end the women got nothing and their husbands kept everything. And if you are such a woman, I imagine you sometimes wonder how things would be today if you hadn’t been robbed by your ex-husband and his attorney.

I worked in a Palo Alto day care center in the 1970’s in which twenty-three of our twenty-five little kids lived with their single mothers. The center was created to provide childcare for single mothers with full-time jobs, and nearly all our mothers had put their ex-husbands through college or medical school or law school or graduate school or years of starting up a business, only to be discarded when those husbands started earning big bucks and decided to purchase spanking new wives.

Some of our single moms were nurses, some were secretaries, some were sales clerks, and some worked two jobs to pay the rent and feed and clothe their child or children. Very few of our mothers had gotten more than pittances in their divorce settlements, though I knew that should not be the case, theoretically, in California.

After hearing the umpteenth story of one of our struggling mothers slaving as a secretary to put her husband through college and law school while also raising their two kids, only to have her husband divorce her and marry a shiny new trophy wife within a year of landing his high-paying job with a big law firm, I asked my mother, an attorney, “How can this be? I thought California was a community property state and wealth accrued during marriage is, by law, the joint property of husband and wife.”

“Rich people are supposed to pay higher taxes, too,” my mother replied drolly, “but their accountants and lawyers have no trouble getting around that. In contested divorces where facts are easily disputed, the best lawyers usually win. And if one of the contestants has a good lawyer and the other contestant has no lawyer, and the one with the lawyer is merciless, then there’s really no contest.”

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

When my first marriage ended in divorce in 1994, I gave my ex-wife the house I had owned outright for several years before we got married, though California divorce law said I did not have to give her anything. Even my most open-minded friends thought I was crazy to give away my only possession of any monetary value, a large California Bungalow built in 1910 on a big lot in a good neighborhood and appraised at 400,000 dollars. But after months of anguishing about how to get on with my life, I felt in my bones that giving my ex-wife the house was exactly what I needed to do.

Some years after my divorce, during a rough passage when I had no money, I experienced a moment’s regret about giving away the house, but my regret vanished when I recalled how deeply relieved I was to be free forever of that collection of rooms in a place I no longer wanted to be, and how glad my former partner was to accept my gift and install her new husband therein.

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