by Gilles d'Aymery
"The voice is a second face."
—Gerard Bauer (1888-1967), Carnets
(Swans - November 20, 2006) BOONVILLE NEWS: Why begin with a rubric that has been relegated to the end of this column since the very second Blips? Because I want to introduce Bruce Patterson, whose first contribution to Swans Commentary is published in this issue; and I want you to buy his book, Walking Tractor, And Other Tales of Old Anderson Valley, which you can do by visiting his Web site, 4mules.com.
I've known, or better said, read Bruce Patterson's columns in the Anderson Valley Advertiser for several years. It's about the only column I read, beside ol' Nicholas Von Hoffman's, which are reprints from The Nation, a paper I do not read. Patterson's columns are unique, all originals. When his book came out in early 2006, I immediately bought a copy. Patterson speaks American, not English. He writes in the local lingo. He writes like he talks. He knows that knowledge comes from experience and only writes about what he's lived through and knows in his bones ("as a mathematician knows math," he said to me).
Bruce sent me an e-mail to which I immediately responded: "Very glad to hear from you. I've kept a copy of Walking Tractor on my desk for months and meant to review it ever since I first read it. Great work! . . . . Yes, let's meet. With pleasure. Any time. Give me a holler at [XXX-XXXX], or tell me where and I'll be there. I'm sure we have a few stories to share."
We met last Sunday, down in Boonville, at the Lodge. He was sitting at the bar with Patricia (Tricia), his companion and wife of decades, mother of their grown children. I recognized him immediately from a picture of his in Walking Tractor, though the rough and tumble of life have taken a toll on his body. He turned 57 that very day, Tricia told me. I'm the same age, only eight months younger. I, too, do not look as I used to... He had the same beard, only slightly longer and grayer, and the same fire in his eyes tied with an emanating sensitivity. We talked. We shared stories, and a beer, and cigies. We talked about childhood, Vietnam, killing people (something I was lucky enough not to ever experience), the Anderson Valley, living in the hills, logging or ranching, human condition, Bruce Anderson, David Severn, and of course politics. We talked.
Time to leave. I saw them walking together, side by side, two companions following their common path on the long journey, along HWY 128, and I wondered whether I would ever see them again -- a brother and sister on the road less traveled.
I will. Bruce, who is known as "Pat," upon finding out that I live in Vista Ranch, asked about the canyon bordering our place. "I've always wanted to walk up that canyon," he said, "but ya' know, this is not France; here, people shoot at you for trespassing. I can't wait to explore it with you," as though, being a bordering French, they, the oh-so-friendly neighbors, won't shoot at us! But the moment the weather clears, I'm up for the venture (though my body may not). We'll take our chance.
Friends, do me a trusting favor. Get a copy of Walking Tractor. You'll read about a simple yet out of the ordinary life of a man who has fought demons for a lifetime, with the sensitivity of a very humane human being. You won't regret it. Your money back guaranteed.
Last but not least, they both voted straight Green on November 7. Donna Warren will appreciate the commitment that exists out there in our boonies.
(I've more Boonville News. They have to do with the Anderson Valley Advertiser and its spineless editor, David Severn; but they are pretty depressing, even with humor injected. So, I let it go for today.)
CITATION FOR THE AGES: From Alice Walkers's latest collection of essays, We Are the Ones We Have been Waiting For, The New Press, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-1-59558-137--2 (hc) -- from the introduction, pages 1-2:
It is the worst of times. It is the best of times. Try as I might I cannot find a more appropriate opening to this volume: it helps tremendously that these words have been spoken before and, thanks to Charles Dickens, written at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps they have been spoken, written, thought, an endless number of times throughout human history. It is the worst of times because it feels as though the very earth is being stolen from us, by us: the land and air poisoned, the water polluted, the animals disappeared, humans degraded and misguided. War is everywhere. It is the best of times because we have entered a period, if we can bring ourselves to pay attention, of great clarity as to cause and effect. A blessing when we consider how much suffering human beings have endured, in previous millennia, without a clue to its cause. Gods and Goddesses were no doubt created to fill this gap. Because we can now see into every crevice of the globe and because we are free to explore previously unexplored crevices in our own hearts and minds, it is inevitable that everything we have needed to comprehend in order to survive, everything that we have needed to understand in the most basic of ways, will be illuminated now. We have only to open our eyes, and awaken to our predicament. We see that we are, alas, a huge part of our problem. However: We live in a time of global enlightenment. This alone should make us shout for joy.
It is as if ancient graves, hidden deep in the shadows of the psyche and the earth, are breaking open of their own accord.
ALICE WALKER lives a short 9 miles away from our modest abode. Maybe, one day, in the not-so-distant future, Pat, Tricia, Jan, and I will have the honor and pleasure to meet her. These hills have their secrets and their wonders.
THINKING OF VOTING GREEN, check out George Kenney's interview of Peter Camejo. Not perfect, but definitely not bad. Camejo won't run again. It's a pity.
CONNECTING THE DOTS: On The Washington Post Web site, on Thursday, November 15, one could see pictures of people waiting in line at a Circuit City store in Rockville, Maryland. According to the caption of the first picture, they were "hoping to be one of the lucky 100 people to get their hands on a new Sony PlayStation 3. The first person arrived Monday even though the game won't go on sale until Friday at midnight." In a story by Staff Writer Mike Musgrove ("Let the Games Begin"), the store had 100 PlayStation 3 gaming consoles that would sell for as much as $600. "Sony's supply is so small that the cutting-edge multimedia device is expected to sell out across the country within hours, possibly minutes," wrote Mr. Musgrove. Outside the store, far more than 100 people were camping (literally) with frenzied anticipation. A young woman, Lynnea Finch of Olney, Md., her black hair twisted into a bun, dressed with a red T-shirt and mini shorts, and long, up-to-the-knees black Nike socks and sandals, was photographed by Ricky Carioti walking her two yellow dogs, breed unknown, in the parking lot next to the motley treasure hunters sitting along the wall of the store. In another picture, Ms. Finch is shown sitting comfortably in a tent, relaxing in the company of Chaz Smith of Rockville. What appears to be a TV set sits idly on another chair, hooked to an orange extension cord. Sleeping bags lay around. For all I know, a small refrigerator may well have laid there. What would one not do to get one's hands on such digital cultural icon?
Some geeks wanted to be among the very first to own the new technologically-advanced gaming machine -- "it has a built-in Blu-ray disc player . . . that promises crystal-clear versions of DVD movies that will play on their high-definition sets" (HDTV). Quite a few were in the hunt to make a quick buck, hoping to turn around and sell the device on eBay or on Craigslist for up to $2,000.
IT REMINDED ME of Papa Bush and his famous quip at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, "The American way of life is not negotiable," and for some obscure reason, my mind drifted to Sonny Bush and his little venture in Mesopotamia. Was sending the troops to trash the "cradle of civilization" between the two rivers -- the Tigris and the Euphrates -- anything to do with the Sony PlayStation 3 and its Blu-ray technology (don't ask me what that is) and our way of life? Sobering thought.
THEN, AGAIN, I came across another story, also on The Washington Post Web site, "Some Americans Lack Food, but USDA Won't Call Them Hungry," by Staff Writer Elizabeth Williamson. "The USDA," writes Williamson, "said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times." However, the USDA has determined that these masses were not "really" hungry. They were subject to "very low food security," apparently a "more scientifically palatable description." The USDA used to classify these poor people under two categories: American households who could eat, but poorly, fell in the category "food insecurity without hunger"; those who had no food at times were classified as people with "food insecurity with hunger." USDA sociologist Mark Nord is quoted in the article as saying: "Hunger is clearly an important issue," . . . . "But lacking a widespread consensus on what the word 'hunger' should refer to, it's difficult for research to shed meaningful light on it." Obviously, well-paid bureaucrats and consultants would have a difficult time defining something they've never experienced. Anyway, hunger is out -- there are no hungry people in America -- "very low food security" is in. I'm sure it'll make a hell of a lot of difference to the many hollow bellies around the country.
PERHAPS WILL YOU be interested (though I doubt you will) in hearing about the lofty goal of the U.S. -- Williamson again:
The United States has set a goal of reducing the proportion of food-insecure households to 6 percent or less by 2010, or half the 1995 level, but it is proving difficult. The number of hungriest Americans has risen over the past five years. Last year, the total share of food-insecure households stood at 11 percent.
AND THIS YEAR, it stands at 12 percent!
I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but I find the stories of the Sony PlayStation camping hordes, certainly repeated all over the country, and the hungry people in America, sandwiching the war in Iraq for our non-negotiable way of life, quite telling in some sort of Batesonian way of looking at patterns which connect.
SINCE I AM INTO DOT-LINKING MODE and it is the time of the year when giving becomes part of the yearly circus on TV, the MSM, and the Malls, I revisited one of my oft-broached topics: private wealth and charity (or assistance, or aid, or donations, or whatever name you want to put on the effect of sharing one's bounties with our less privileged brothers and sisters in this country and around the world). So, once again, I looked at The 2005 Slate 60 -- the 60 largest American charitable contributions of the year -- that was published last February by Slate (now owned by the Washington Post Company) for the 10th consecutive year.
KEEPING IN MIND the "very low food security" crowd, I did a quick scan of the recipients of US hyper-wealthy "generosity." I did not find any new data that I haven't covered over the years, whether in 1996 ("Generosity: Carol or Bountiful Fable"), or in 1997 ("The Limits of Generosity"), or in 1999 ("Let'em Eat Cake"), or in 2003 ("The Silly Season Amidst Terminal Decay") -- and I must be missing quite a few entries in the Blips.
FIRST THEY SERVED THEMSELVES, by giving to their own foundations (tax-deductible, s'il vous plait) and to their alma mater. Second, they give to hospitals. Third, they give to museums. Finally, some have a few pet projects ("other groups"). The "very low food security" crowd is not included in the equation, none whatsoever. Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, explains in "The Philanthropist's Handbook" (November 15, 2006) how our current crop of billionaires "give their money away." The new philanthropists want to be partners rather than patrons. "The modern philanthropist," writes Weisberg, "dislikes the term charity, preferring to speak about his social investments. His language is entrepreneurial, sprinkled with references to metrics, scalability, leverage, and venture philanthropy. The fashion these days is also to work globally rather than locally, to erect programs rather than edifices, and to focus on those who are absolutely worst off in the developing world, more than on those who are relatively impoverished at home." The boys at Google.org "don't see much distinction between a technology business that contributes to society and philanthropy that might turn a profit." Bill Clinton, too, is a "new philanthropist." Raves Weisberg, "Clinton, who gave an inspiring address at the conference, is a polymathic philanthropist, who wants to understand everything, convene everyone, and solve all of the world's problems at once.
A MINOR HICCUP WITH WEISBERG'S idyllic presentation is that he starts with the wrong premise. The billionaires do not give their money away. They transfer their money to private foundations in order to preserve their vast fortunes, as David Nasaw cogently spells out in "Looking the Carnegie Gift Horse in the Mouth" (Slate, November 10, 2006). Like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Russell Sage, Andrew W. Mellon, or Henry Ford, in their time, our new philanthropists made their fortunes at the expense of society at large. Talking of Carnegie then, Methodist Bishop Hugh Price Hughes said, "Millionaires at one end of the scale involved paupers at the other end, and even so excellent a man as Mr. Carnegie is too dear at that price,"
ADDS NASAW, "His point was well-taken. One doesn't have to [be] a Socialist -- and Bishop Hughes certainly was not -- to wonder whether a more equitable distribution of wealth might be better for society than the idiosyncrasies of large-scale philanthropy." These family foundations have been around for a long time (late 19th century and early 20th century). They are wealthier than ever, the descendents of the founders having cozy job security for life. They've given handouts here and there year after year, decade after decade, century after century... Has poverty receded -- in this country or worldwide? Has the education of the people improved? Has health care been extended to all of us? Have diseases declined? Has social justice improved? Has hunger disappeared -- in this country or worldwide? (The Green Revolution has turned into an unmitigated disaster.) Has the environment improved? And on, and on, and on. Why would anyone with one iota of common sense think that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Soros, the Google boys, et al., will succeed where their antecedents did not? Actually, wrong question: They will succeed, but their success is measured with different "metrics." They measure success one generation at a time. It's about how to keep the money in the family, not about the well being of our sisters and brothers the world over (or even in this country). It's about keeping power in their own greedy hands.
NOW, YOU MAY WONDER how come I can relate a bunch of people camping at a Circuit City (or Wal*Mart, or Target) store to buy a Sony PlayStation, the war in Iraq, hunger in America (and all over the world), and our fleecing older or newer robber barons. Fair enough. I simply connect the dots. You need hungry people for others to camp around a store with the hope of purchasing a $600 device that has no utility whatsoever. You need those people to pump their hard-earned money further upward. For instance, the main competitor of the Sony PlayStation 3 is the Xbox 360 made by Microsoft, and that is expected to reach 10 million units sales in its first year. Mr. Gates gets a healthy return and passes on the money to his foundation. It's that simple. The war on Iraq? To keep us diverted from the objective reality; to keep those robbers in power; and to keep another commodity -- not the human one -- under control.
FINALLY, FOR THOSE OF YOU who "believe" in the generosity of our ruling classes, here is what Nasaw has to say:
Philanthropic foundations will certainly never accomplish what they set out to do without a greater infusion of dollars. There is, however, no evidence that such dollars are forthcoming from Buffett's and Gates' fellow billionaires. On the contrary, the richest Americans appear to have cut back their spending on philanthropies. In 1995, estates worth $20 million or more gave away 25.3 percent of their wealth; by 2004, that figure had dropped to 20.8 percent. At the same time, the percentage of $20 million-plus estates that gave nothing to philanthropy increased more than 5 percent, to a total of 47.7 percent. Think about it-more than half the families worth more than $20 million do not give a dime to charity of any kind.
PUT MY FOOT IN MY MOUTH ONCE AGAIN: It is unfortunate that the Swans fact checker was not working during the last issue -- she (Jan Baughman) undoubtedly would have noted that, as reported in the Blips, the recording of "Strangers on my Flight" was not an amazing re-mastered digitalization of Frank Sinatra's voice; rather, it was an excellent Sinatra impersonator.
Having discovered this, the fact checker would have immediately realized that the parody came from the Howard Stern show ("any fan will recognize Howard's and Robin Quivers's voices in the background," said Jan). While there is no official written transcript, a so-called "Stern SuperFan" annotates each day's 4 to 5 hours of show. The following describes one playing of that song parody:
"# Nancy Sinatra Calls In. 1/15/02. 7:15am Nancy Sinatra, daughter of Frank Sinatra, called in to promote a bunch of things this morning. Howard spent a little while talking to Nancy about her father and all of the battles her family has had with each other.HOW DID I FIND OUT? I did not. Jan did!
Howard also said he used to pleasure himself to Nancy when he was a kid. He said she was the hottest chick "in her day."
Nancy is a big fan of this song parody Howard plays on the show once in awhile called "Strangers on my Flight" so Howard played it for her today. She asked Howard who sings it but he wouldn't say. He just said it's someone who does song parodies for them."
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.