December 31, 2009

Tenacity of Benevolence

In anticipation of our excursion to Muir Woods National Monument tomorrow morning, here are some wise words from The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, published by the Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont. We found this inspiring book at The Warming Hut at Crissy Field while hiking the San Francisco portion of the California Coastal Trail.

. . . . . . . . 

For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.

. . . . . . . . 

There he began thrusting his iron rod into the earth, making a hole in which he planted an acorn; then he refilled the hole. He was planting oak trees. I asked him if the land belonged to him. He answered no. Did he know whose it was? He did not. He supposed it was community property, or perhaps belonged to people who cared nothing about it. He was not interested in finding out whose it was. He planted his hundred acorns with the greatest care.

After the midday meal he resumed his planting. I suppose I must have been fairly insistent in my questioning, for he answered me. For three years he had been planting trees in this wilderness. He had planted one hundred thousand. Of the hundred thousand, twenty thousand had sprouted. Of the twenty thousand he still expected to lose about half, to rodents or the unpredictable designs of Providence. There remained ten thousand oak trees to grow where nothing had grown before.

. . . . . . . . 

It had taken only the eight years since then for the whole countryside to glow with health and prosperity. On the site of ruins I had seen in 1913 now stand neat farms, cleanly plastered, testifying to a happy and comfortable life. The old streams, fed by the rains and snows that the forest conserves, are flowing again. Their waters have been channeled. On each farm, in groves of maples, fountain pools overflow on to carpets of fresh mint. Little by little the villages have been rebuilt. People from the plains, where land is costly, have settled here, bringing youth, motion, the spirit of adventure. Along the roads you meet hearty men and women, boys and girls who understand laughter and have recovered a taste for picnics. Counting the former population, unrecognizable now that they live in comfort, more than ten thousand people owe their happiness to Elzeard Bouffier.

When I reflect that one man, armed only with his own physical and moral resources, was able to cause this land of Canaan to spring from the wasteland, I am convinced that in spite of everything, humanity is admirable. But when I compute the unfailing greatness of spirit and the tenacity of benevolence that it must have taken to achieve this result, I am taken with an immense respect for that old and unlearned peasant who was able to complete a work worthy of God.

December 24, 2009


YouTube video posted by scs75

We're headed out to San Francisco (one of our favorite cities in the country) for the holidays and each time we visit, thoughts inevitably drift to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller Vertigo starring Kim Novak and James Stewart.

Love, Fear, Obsession and Confusion (plus some scenery to boot) ... sounds enough like real life, doesn't it? 

YouTube video posted by randallmae

YouTube video posted by tonyflagg9

December 21, 2009

The Moral Idiot Is Tolerated...

Clement Greenberg outside Jackson Pollock's Studio, c. 1950
Photograph by Hans Namuth

Excerpts from Clement Greenberg - The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volumes 1 - 4 (writings from 1939-69), edited by John O'Brian and published by the University of Chicago Press, 1988 and 1995:

... Everybody knows more or less how to paint. Examine any picture, and you will see a good amount of knowledge and manual competence in it, if not sensitivity. And you will even see enough of that. Everybody knows what has already made painting great. But very few know, feel, or suspect what makes painting great anywhere and at any time - that it is necessary to register what the artist makes of himself and his experience in the world, not merely to record his intentions, foibles, and predilections.  The same tastes that lead one to prefer scrambled eggs to fried are not enough to furnish the content of a picture. The trouble with American art is that it substitutes pretension for ambition.

. . . . . . . . 

Life includes and is more important than art, and it judges things by their consequences.

... In any case, I am sick of the art adoration that prevails among cultured people, more in our time than in any other : that art silliness which condones almost any moral or intellectual failing on the artist's part as long as he is or seems a successful artist. It is still justifiable to demand that he be a successful human being before anything else, even if at the cost of his art. As it is, psychopathy has become endemic among artists and writers, in whose company the moral idiot is tolerated as perhaps nowhere else in society.

. . . . . . . . 

Once again, you make your own way through art, no matter what you read, no matter what you hear. Or rather, you ought to; if you don't you're missing most of the fun. That includes changing your mind as you go along. If you don't find yourself changing your mind from time to time, then you're not really looking for yourself - and there's no use looking at art if you don't look for yourself.

. . . . . . . . 

There are, of course, more important things than art : life itself, what actually happens to you. This may sound silly, but I have to say it, given what I've heard art-silly people say all my life : I say that if you have to choose between life and happiness or art, remember always to choose life and happiness. Art solves nothing, either for the artist himself or for those who receive his art.

December 20, 2009


NBC's premature cancellation of Freaks and Geeks still stings to this day, but do yourself a favor and catch Community on and yes, on NBC. This well-written comedy series stars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Chevy Chase, and Ken Jeong as lovable oddball characters at fictional Greendale Community College. The talented and balanced cast begs the question of everyone's inner Senor Chang that if community is finally possible (and visible) on the small screen, when and how can we carry that ideal into our real lives?

December 13, 2009

It's That Little Souvenir Of A Terrible Year

Here's Where The Story Ends 
YouTube video posted by vear1976

While walking to Chinatown for some fruits and vegetables this morning, we were pleased to see Lou Reed at such an early hour as we passed by Astor Place. During one of the many unconventional moments in our lives, Anna and I decided to play Lou Reed's Perfect Day at our small wedding ceremony to the "delight" of our guests. Seeing the artist in person got me to thinking about the state of music and culture today ... and the nonsense pumped out continuously by companies such as the American Idol marketing machine, etc. Really, at what point does the crap end? 

Of course, the title to the song Here's Where The Story Ends by The Sundays then popped into my zany mind and it brought me back to a slightly more innocent time (not that long ago really) before we were all inundated by the 24/7 brash and branded pop culture of today's world. Do kids even have a fighting chance these days? 

Here's to The Sundays on a Sunday. Here's to the trinity of their three classic releases: 

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic by The Sundays, 1990

Blind by The Sundays, 1992

Static & Silence by The Sundays, 1997

Live performance of Monochrome 
from the album Static & Silence 
YouTube video posted by comebackharriet

December 7, 2009

You Will Lose Your Power

... and if you still don't believe that some aspects of our modern society need more reasonable regulation and oversight, educate yourself about the modus operandi of credit card companies and the consumer loan industry. Please follow this link to watch the full program of Frontline's The Card Game, written and produced by Lowell Bergman & Oriana Zill de Granados - original air date November 24, 2009.

. . . . . . . .

To tell you the truth, it doesn't surprise me that the majority of those who are truly wealthy or are implicitly involved in big business have never much cared for the people of the lower class. After all, they probably see these folks as a burden and there just isn't much of a return on investment for caring, is there?

But what does amaze me from watching recent Frontline programs such as The Card Game and The Warning is the smugness with which some of those in big business, the banking industry, and on Wall Street conduct themselves and in effect are now dismissive toward our country's middle class. 30+ percent interest rates tacked on to credit cards. Passing questionable financial products that assured many Americans would lose their jobs, businesses, homes, savings, and lifelong dreams. In a reckless and immoral pursuit of profits, these supposedly respectable members of society stomped on every citizen's fundamental human rights.

Those in the middle class probably don't want to hear this, but the upper class has always viewed the middle class as gullible and malleable ... and unfortunately a necessary evil. What confounds me is doesn't the upper class realize that if they lose the support of the middle class, they will effectively lose their power? The middle class is the backbone of the United States of America - the people who does the dirty work for you ... the people who bought into the fantastical American dream. Why would you want to screw with that carefully balanced narrative? Are you willing to keep pushing until the people are forced to take to the streets?    

We Americans respect those who work hard, put in the long hours, and succeed. We respect success. We do not respect crooks. Roll out your standard patriotic, patriarchal, and biblical responses against reason. Keep talking about trickle-down economics and the free market economy ... you're running out of sheep faster than you can count. It's no longer believable that everyone else is just lazy and on the dole. Everyone else is really everyone else this time around. Who's going to bail out your mistakes, fight your wars, and believe in your fairy tales when the people cannot even put food on the dinner table for their children and families?

You, the self-proclaimed best and the brightest, are about to lose the middle class of America. You are about to lose your power. - PS

December 6, 2009

Analysis Of A White-Collar Crime

Brooksley Born, Chairperson of the Commodity 
Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), 1996-99

"In Washington, they say the financial sector has five lobbyists for every congressman."

> Congressional committee question, Summer 1998: "My question again is what are you trying to protect?"

> Brooksley Born: "We're trying to protect the money of the American public, which is at risk in these markets."

In The Warning, learn about Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve (and a disciple of Ayn Rand), and his complete faith in business, anti-regulation and the free market. As well, learn more about Brooksley Born, "who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008."

On October 23, 2008, Greenspan answered the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform "Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders' equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief."

December 2, 2009