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Screen Time

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News photo by Todd

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” Mark Twain

Dipping into the national news for the first time in some months, I found several articles about the American Academy of Pediatrics rescinding most of their previous suggestions that parents limit the number of hours their infants, toddlers, older children, and teens interface with media-blasting computer gizmos with screens. The pediatricians decided they were being too alarmist about how damaging computers and other television-like devices can be to the brains and psyches of infants and children and teens. Now, say the pediatricians, basing their new guidelines on no credible science, parents should feel fine about children watching as much media garbage as they want.

Never mind the myriad studies proving conclusively that bombardment by projected imagery and incessant sound severely interferes with healthy brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has now declared that parents need not worry about their children developing healthy brains, so long as they, the parents, encourage their zombified children to occasionally roll their shoulders, eat fruit, get some sleep, and possibly interact with other actual human beings. Possibly.

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

Also in the news: AT&T purchased Time-Warner for a measly 86 billion dollars. This makes AT&T the biggest media something-or-other in the world. Whatever happened to our anti-trust laws? Oh, that’s right. We don’t have those anymore because they were beneficial to the majority of Americans. What a silly concept. And if you already thought your media choices were largely controlled by anti-creative mega-corporations, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“I am greatly misunderstood by politically correct idiots.” Brigitte Bardot

I know many people who used to think compulsive television watching was unhealthy, but now they think constantly looking at mindless junk is fine and dandy. That is, they do not consider computers, cell phones, pads, and pods to be televisions. But they are.

No, Todd, texting and playing video games and being connected to the worldwide web twenty-four hours a day is a vast improvement over life before we could carry computers with us everywhere. Life was empty and meaningless and we were all desperately lonely. Everything is so much better now that people have been rendered eternally infantile by being tethered to their phones and television-like devices from morning until night.

Remember when you didn’t know anything and couldn’t find out about anything? Now we can, you know, check on stuff constantly. Sure, most of what we access is mind-rotting junk, but there are good things, too, like Wikipedia and, um, restaurant reviews written by idiots and, um, the weather, and blogs. You have a blog, Todd. Quit complaining.

And don’t forget news and sports highlights. Plus you can read books and watch movies, and now Netflix and Amazon and YouTube and Apple and AT&T are producing hundreds and thousands of new shows, incredibly great shows, the best shows ever to go along with every show ever made since the very beginning of television.

And don’t forget YouTube has billions of videos about everything and everything that has ever been filmed, and everything.

Which is why everything is getting so much better. The environment is being saved, and we have wonderful mass transit that goes everywhere so we don’t need cars, and solar and wind and wave power is totally replacing the need to burn fossil fuels, and our educational system is better than ever, and our government has stopped spending money on war, and nuclear arsenals are being reduced and more and more people have good and meaningful jobs, and our culture is thriving. And it’s all because we can watch new shows and old shows and videos about catching flounder and group sex on our various screens from the moment we wake up until we take some sort of pill to help us sleep.

Social networks have brought us all together and made us more tolerant. We’re so much better informed, too. Racism has vanished, violence has decreased, and look at the people we elect to represent us now. Gads, talk about an improvement.

But best of all, our children are growing up so knowledgeable, so thoughtful and generous and kind. So incredibly kind. Those video games that hundreds of millions of people play constantly, those games are all about kindness and generosity and solving problems with logic and foresight and a deep understanding of the fabulous information the web provides for us with the touch of a whatever.

Thank goodness the pediatricians stopped believing those silly studies saying screen time was perilous to brain development. Look how good everything is now that our children are growing up with those screens virtually implanted in their bodies. All those great games and movies and videos of cats running into walls and people wrecking things and…

“The two most common elements in the known universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Harlan Ellison

The pediatricians have capitulated to the conquerors. In the past they tried to sound an alarm about the negative impact of screen time on the mental and physical health of children and other living things, but truth interferes with profits and the doctors have been swayed.

When I lived in Berkeley, I helped raise a boy from the day he was born until he was six-years-old. I was his nanny six hours every day. He and I did not watch television when he was with me because I didn’t have a television. He was fine with that arrangement until he turned six and was addicted to watching television for several hours a day while with his parents.

At my house, he and I contented ourselves with reading, drawing, going on walks, cooking, gardening, making music, playing ball, talking, making up games, telling stories, playing with other kids…things like that. But when I went to his house to take care of him, he screamed and cried and broke things if I didn’t let him watch television, so eventually I capitulated to his addiction and then made my escape to Mendocino.

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Water

FLOW

Flow photo by Todd

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

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle

As I was getting off his table today, my acupuncturist said, “Remember. Water is your friend. Be sure to drink lots today.”

Checking my email when I got home, someone had sent me a link to an article about Governor Brown announcing a mandatory reduction in water use by California residents and businesses. There was a little video with the article, so I watched Jerry speak to the people of California as if we are idiots, which, collectively, we are. Jerry was performing on a meadow in the Sierras where, for the first time in the seventy-five years they’ve been measuring snow on that meadow, there is no snow on April Fools Day. Zero white stuff that makes water when it melts.

Jerry bragged that his executive order will prohibit watering ornamental grass on public street medians, require new homes to use drip irrigation systems for landscaping, direct urban water agencies to establish new (higher) prices for water to maximize conservation, and require urban water and agricultural agencies to report more water usage information to the state (so the state can, like, think about those numbers and, you know, figure stuff out.)

He did not order ending water usage by oil extraction companies (fracking corporations) or impose limits on water usage by corporate farms, despite this being the worst drought in California in at least one hundred and twenty years. In other words, he imposed restrictions on people and towns and cities and businesses that combine to use about ten per cent of California’s water, yet he did nothing to reign in the profligate use of ninety per cent of the state’s water by corporate monsters, many of those monsters subsidized by our state and federal governments. Way to go Jerry!

Here is the speech I wish Jerry had made. “Well, as you can see by the absence of snow in this meadow, California is in dire straits when it comes to water. The Sierra snow pack is less than ten percent of normal, and we have no way of knowing when this drought will end, if ever. Most of our state’s precious water is being used for extracting oil we shouldn’t be extracting and for growing things like almonds and rice that should not be grown here in the absence of ample water. So as of today, I am declaring a seventy-five percent mandatory reduction of water used for fracking and growing almonds and rice and anything else that uses too much water. And that’s just the beginning.”

Maybe he’ll make that speech next year after another year of drought when the corporate monsters have entirely depleted the ancient aquifer under the Central Valley and there isn’t enough water for people to take thirty-second showers.

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” W.H. Auden

In the comment section below the article and video of Jerry Brown speaking to us as if we are idiots, one brave person made the suggestion that maybe there were too many people in California, and maybe that has something to do with the water problem. She pointed out that one in every nine Americans now lives in California. Wow, did that brave person ever get jumped on for suggesting such an un-American thing as limiting the population of a state, let alone a planet.

One person wrote, “The problem is not too many people. The problem is America spent so many trillions of dollars on war that we don’t have enough money left for building pipelines to bring water to California from Canada and the Mississippi.” Okay! There’s a solution for you. Get that to Jerry Brown. Forget the peripheral canal stealing most of northern California’s water for Los Angeles and the giant corporate farms, let’s just get the water from Canada and the Mississippi. How hard could that be?

“Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” Friedrich Nietzsche

In related news, the talented young actress Keira Knightley wants to know, “Where are the female stories? Where are they? Where are the female directors, where are the female writers? It’s imbalanced.”

How is this related to California’s water crisis? The way my mind works, the water crisis and the absence of women in positions of creative power in the entertainment industry are parts of the same larger crisis. Human society is out of balance with nature, and the impetus for that imbalance is a power imbalance between men and women. Feminist balderdash you say?

Maybe so, but if one assesses the movies made and released to large audiences in America over the last thirty years, you will find that the solution to almost any problem confronting a person or people in movies today, is to assemble muscle and weaponry, and if possible some super heroes, and perhaps a token kick-ass woman, and kick the shit out of the problem. Kill it. Complex, non-violent, cooperative, generous, caring solutions are so rarely modeled in our movies, one could almost use the word never.

Do I really think what we see in movies influences how we act in the rest of our lives? Without a doubt. Do I think our movies might have modeled ways of living and solving problems and relating to each other that would have resulted in a different approach to the state and national and global crises facing us today? Absolutely.

I also think we would have taken ameliorative action to combat global climate change, environmental pollution and degradation, nuclear power, overfishing, and the elephant in the room known as overpopulation, long ago if our movies and books and plays and music and education reflected a balance of male and female energy instead of what they reflect today and have reflected for most of my life—domination of the world and human society by men stuck in adolescent wet dreams, and when I say wet, I don’t mean water.

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Idiots

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

“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

I realize it is not, in Buddhist terms, skillful speech to call anyone an idiot, but there are times when no other term works quite so well for me. For instance, have you ever listened to John Boehner speak? I have only managed to listen to him for a few seconds at a time before I become nauseated and have to stop listening or lose my lunch, but what I have heard in those few seconds can only be called idiotic. Or Dianne Feinstein? Have you ever heard such blatant dishonesty, hypocrisy, and amorality spewed from the mouth of anyone? True, I am conflating dishonesty and hypocrisy and amorality with idiocy, but in my worldview these words are synonyms for each other.

And, assuming most of the elections in our great land are not completely rigged (a daring assumption), we the people elect these idiots, which would make us…

“You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.” Norman Douglas

“The problem is men,” said a visiting divorcee, her ex-husband problematic, indeed, and definitely male. “They’re all idiots.”

“Could we rephrase that?” I asked hopefully. “To make an exception of present company? Could we say the problem is most men? Just so I don’t run out of the room screaming? Yet.”

“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” said the divorcee. “I’m talking about the 75 per cent of male voters, Republicans and Democrats, who voted for George Bush instead of Al Gore.”

“You don’t think Al Gore is an idiot?” I asked. “Mr. Sabotage the Kyoto Protocol and promote nuclear power and then masquerade as an environmentalist?”

“Well, he seemed like less of an idiot,” she said, shrugging. “But you’re right. They’re both idiots. And that’s the problem. Most men are.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked, having thought long and hard about why most men are idiots.

“Males evolved to be prolific sperm donors, hunters, and violent protectors of their mates and offspring from wild animals and other violent males.” She nodded confidently. “And that’s about it.”

“But why would such evolution lead to idiocy rather than brilliance? It seems to me that for most of our evolution, the forces of nature must have selected for intelligence, ingenuity, and…”

She shook her head. “Brute strength, violence, cruelty. Ever read the book Demonic Males? Check it out. Men are hardwired to be cruel, insensitive louts.”

“What about Mozart?” I suggested. “Mendelssohn? Ansel Adams? Danny Kaye? Fred Astaire? The Dalai Lama?”

“Mutations,” she said without missing a beat. “Do you see much evidence of those sorts of genes in the general male population? And the reason for that is obvious. The Mozarts and Mendelssohns and Fred Astaires, until very recently in the course of human evolution, only rarely survived long enough to procreate because the brutes killed them off in childhood.”

“Well, I disagree,” I said, fearing she might be right. “I think idiocy is learned. And I think that’s true for women as well as men.”

 “The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.” Robert Graves

When I was in my late twenties and thirties, I spent a good deal of time in Hollywood trying to get my screenplays turned into movies, an excruciating epoch that involved countless meetings with movie producers, studio executives, agents, actors, and directors, those who would deign to give me some of their time. And in the beginning of my Hollywood education, I thought a few of the movie people I encountered were brilliant, many were not so brilliant, and many more were idiots.

However, by the end of my Hollywood education, I concluded that all the movie people I’d met and spoken to were idiots, and by that I mean they had no imagination, no genuine sense of humor, and absolutely no interest in making good and original movies. They only wanted to make movies they thought would make money, which I consider a terrible kind of idiocy. I also concluded there must be a few non-idiots in the movie business, but for reasons beyond my understanding I was never fortunate enough to meet any of those elusive beings.

“It was déjà vu all over again.” Yogi Berra

One of my screenplays, They Hate Me In Chicago, won me a dozen meetings with various Hollywood folks affiliated with other Hollywood folks who might have been able to get a medium-budget comedy drama produced. I should clarify that what won me those meetings was a clever one-paragraph summary of my screenplay, since none of the idiots I met with would ever have bothered to read an entire script unless they thought the idea was commercial or the script was written by someone they were having sex with or trying to have sex with or getting drugs from, or unless the script was written by someone they thought was having sex with or doing drugs with someone high up the Hollywood totem pole.

They Hate Me In Chicago is about a baseball umpire who makes the final call of the final game of the World Series, an incredibly close call at home plate that gives the series to the Yankees over the Chicago Cubs. The movie begins with our likable down-to-earth sweetly sexy hero making that fateful call, and follows our hero for the next year of his life culminating in his making the final and deciding call at home plate of the next World Series, the Cubs once again the National League team vying for the crown. Our flawed but lovable hero has a humorous and challenging life off the field as well as on, featuring several strong and appealing female characters to compliment the equally strong and appealing male characters—a compelling mix of professional and personal drama leading to the thrilling climax.

Right around this time, the movie Bull Durham was proving to be a great and surprising success, and was always referenced at my meetings regarding They Hate Me In Chicago. The producers, directors, agents, and studio executives I met with were universally baffled by the success of Bull Durham because, to paraphrase several of them, “Baseball movies were box office poison until Bull Durham came along and nobody can figure out why that movie did so well when so many other recent baseball movies bombed so badly.”

“I can tell you why Bull Durham was a success,” I said to each of the many movie people who professed bewilderment about that movie’s success. I was unaware at the time that my daring to say I knew something about movies that these folks did not know was an unforgivable breach of Hollywood etiquette. By suggesting I thought I knew more about movies than those with more power than I in the steeply hierarchical world of Hollywood was tantamount to, well, calling them idiots, which they were, but that is not the way to make hay in the movie biz. Au contraire, that is the way to burn bridges and end up on numerous shit lists in the movie biz, which I unwittingly did.

“Oh, really?” they all said, making notes to themselves never to meet with me again. “Do tell.”

Bull Durham is a success because it’s not really a baseball movie. It’s a comedy drama about sex and romance with a strong female lead and a sexy leading man, and that’s why so many women love it. And it has a baseball subplot for men so they can say they like it for the baseball, when they, too, love it for the sex and romance. In other words, it’s the perfect date movie. Which is what They Hate Me In…”

“What do you mean Bull Durham isn’t really a baseball movie?” said the producers, agents, directors, and studio execs. “Kevin Costner isn’t playing ice hockey. Are you saying your movie isn’t really a baseball movie? Because the only reason we’re talking to you is because baseball movies are hot right now because Bull Durham, a baseball movie, is hot right now.”

As I said…idiots.

“I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the words of Shakespeare, but if he did not, it seems to me he missed the opportunity of his life.” James Barrie

Today on my walk to town, I saw not one, not two, but four different people either talking or texting on their cell phones while driving. Not only are these practices illegal—the electronic equivalents of drunk driving—they are the height of idiocy and cause thousands of deaths and horrible injuries.

But far more idiotic than the use of cell phones while driving is the advent of computer screens in the dashboards of most new automobiles manufactured in America, screens for drivers to manipulate and look at while simultaneously doing one of the most dangerous things a human being can do: pilot a two-ton mass of hurtling metal at high speeds on roads filled with other multi-ton masses of hurtling metal being driven by other humans, some of whom are very old, very young, very stupid, very drunk, high on drugs, eating lunch, talking on phones, and staring into computer screens instead of watching the road ahead. That, as far as I’m concerned, transcends idiocy and climbs high into the realm of collective insanity.

Todd will be appearing at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino on August 30 at 6:30 PM to talk about and read from his recently reissued novel Inside Moves.

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Scholar Jim

“There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous.” Mark Twain

I wonder how Mark Twain would feel if he knew his novel Huckleberry Finn has been rewritten in such a way that the meaning of his book is entirely changed, and that such an execrable mutation of his work is about to be afflicted on the next generation of American schoolchildren. I ask because such a crime has just taken place. Yes, it’s true, and I quote from The New York Times:

“Throughout the book [Huckleberry Finn]—219 times in all—the word nigger is replaced by slave, a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

“Alan Gribben, a professor of English and a Twain scholar at Auburn University, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

“‘I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer,’ he said. ‘And I don’t think I’m alone.’

“Mr. Gribben, who combined Huckleberry Finn with Tom Sawyer in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that Huckleberry Finn had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“‘I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,’ Mr. Gribben said. ‘The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.’ (The book also substitutes Indian for injun.)”

Should we be outraged? I suppose the publication and widespread dissemination of degenerate versions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer pale next to the unending crimes against humanity perpetrated by military forces around the globe, but still, removing nigger from Huckleberry Finn and replacing it with slave is not only immoral, it is grossly stupid. For one thing, the word slave already appears many times in the original text. Clearly, Twain did not want Jim to be known as Slave Jim. Might not this so-called scholar have changed nigger to negro or some African-sounding word like jomo or kumbaya? Or better yet, why not change nigger to scholar? Scholar Jim. Yes. I like the sound of that.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Ernest Hemingway

Ernest who? Wrote some book called For Whom the Bell Tolls. Now there’s a title in need of updating. Nobody uses the word whom anymore. Or the archaic verb toll. The new title should be Who Is That Bell Ringing For? Don’t you think?

But, Todd, the word nigger taken out of the context of a novel set prior to the Civil War is offensive and racist. Never mind that Huckleberry Finn is about racism and the dawning awareness in the mind of an extremely appealing everyman (Huck) that slavery and racism are deeply wrong and need to be abandoned by anyone purporting to be a decent human being. Never mind that the word nigger is to Huckleberry Finn what garlic is to good Jewish, er, Hebrew chicken soup.

“Only one thing is impossible to God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.” Mark Twain

Indeed. Why is it even legal for this so-called scholar to rewrite Huckleberry Finn? Oh, because the book is in the public domain, meaning Twain and his heirs are long dead, so anyone who wants to fuck with, I mean, amend the original text may do so without fear of legal action against them. Fine. In that case, I want to change the ending of Huckleberry Finn, which has always struck me as weak and something of a copout. I think the novel should end with Huck coming out of the closet and admitting that he and Tom [Sawyer] have a serious thing for each other. You know what I mean by thing, don’t you? And Becky will be exposed as a cover for Tom and Huck’s, you know, hanky panky. And Jim (Jomo) should be like this totally wise prophet kind of guy who helps Huck and Tom emigrate to France where they adopt three children, a Hebrew, an Italian, and an Irishman. Yascha, Luigi, and Sean. Scholars all.

“What are the three great American things? Jazz, the Bill of Rights, and Mark Twain.” Roy Blount Jr.

What about Moby Dick? Goodness, dick will never do. Dick means, you know, the male thingy. Perhaps the Auburn scholar would like to go through Melville’s massive tome and change all the dicks to, I don’t know, Jason? Moby Jason. No, I’m thinking scholar might be the best choice here, too. Moby Scholar. Yes. Perfect.

“There are three kinds of people—commonplace men, remarkable men, and lunatics.” Mark Twain

There goes Mark (Samuel) again, using an inappropriate word. He used the word men synonymously with people. What a sexist! What a male chauvinist pig. I’m sending a letter to that Auburn scholar demanding he rewrite all of Twain’s nineteenth century writings to bring them into accord with twenty-first-century political correctness. Just think how women today must feel when they read quotations like that. How could Twain have been so blind and ignorant and arrogant not to know that our language would continue to evolve after his death. Some genius he turned out to be.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain

The best thing for me about this Auburn University scholar, or the damn idiot, as I’m sure Twain would have called him, blithely ruining Huckleberry Finn and making boatloads of money in the process, is that his deplorable actions have now freed me entirely from my last shreds of regret about dropping out of college in 1969 after two inglorious years of academic nonsense. There have been times in my life when money and gainful employment were hard come by, and in those dire straits it crossed my mind that it might have behooved me to earn a degree or two, but now I am confirmed in my long ago decision to remove myself from the psychic influence of that Auburn scholar and those of his kind, for they are surely bad for the mind and the heart, and most definitely toxic to the soul.

“The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Mark Twain

Seriously folks, I do mourn for our culture as I mourn for our society, the lunatics having taken control of just about everything now. But comes the revolution, we will find all the copies of Huckleberry Sawyer wherein nigger has been replaced by slave, and we will burn those copies, but not wastefully. We will ignite those useless pages in woodstoves to heat our homes, the flames providing extra heat for the double good they are doing.