29 July 2011

The Tao of The Little Rascals

Tao is a Chinese word meaning way or path.

Hal Roach's Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, was a series of short films made during America's 1930s depression era.

The films are about a diverse group of poor neighborhood children and their misadventures.

Most television-rapt children of the 60s like me, grew up watching The Little Rascals on morning television.

The Little Rascals did much to shape my political philosophy. Our Gang characters like Spanky, Buckwheat, Alfalfa, Darla and Waldo reminded me with humor how people solve problems (often of their own making), and ultimately, how people get along.

Ground Breaking

The Little Rascals was full of cultural stereotypes, but it broke ground in American film. Hal Roach's Our Gang series was ground-breaking, and culturally progressive because:
  • It put boys, girls, whites and blacks in a group as equals;
  • Its lead characters included African Americans and females when discrimination against both was commonplace; and
  • Most of the characters were poor. Oft-times they were at odds with spoiled rich kids or meddlesome, small-minded adults
The child actors were filmed in a way that portrayed the unaffected and raw nuances of childhood, rather than a regurgitation of adult acting styles. The actors, some too young to read, rarely saw scripts before filming a scene. The scenes were explained to the actors, then they were encouraged to improvise.


The Little Rascals teach us that life is full of adversarial jerks.

Butch the bully and Waldo the rich kid represent the dastardly villains of conservatism, laissez-faire capitalism, and their closeted evil uncle, fascism.

Every Man

Spanky & Alfalfa were every man - humble schlubs who, while flawed, were street-wise and pragmatic.

I fancy myself having Alfalfa's sense of impending doom, combined with the pocket-fuzz of Spanky's street smarts. Spanky was a benevolent leader who treated his gang with democratic fairness and equanimity - like I have raised my children.


Tao is difficult to define or to express in words. Taoists say Tao can be discerned by observing nature -- and by extension, human nature.

If the Tao of The Little Rascals is discernible, it is woven from the constituent parts of
fairness, humor and humility.

25 July 2011


The standard literary rejection letter goes like this:
Thank you for giving us the chance to consider your poem "A Lifetime of Navel Gazing" for publication in The Buckwheat Review. Though it does not fit our current needs, we appreciate your interest in our journal and your commitment to quality writing. We wish you the best of luck publishing your work and hope you’ll consider sending us more in the future.
The Editors
If it is 1971, and the editor reviewing your work is the egomaniacal windbag Hunter S. Thompson, then the rejection letter looks like this:

Catch-22, the iconic 1960s novel by Joseph Heller, was famously panned by a publisher:
I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.

The flip-side of rejection is resolve.

Where do you mine your resolve? From the well of rejection.
Through my illness I learned rejection. I was written off. That was the moment I thought, Okay, game on. No prisoners. Everybody's going down.
~Lance Armstrong
I never allow myself to assume the reviewer is dead wrong. Rather I allow myself a ray of hope that the reviewer might be just wrong enough.

18 July 2011

Commonwealth, Common Good

Americans have lost the notion of commonwealth. Americans are wary of the notion of the common good.

Americans fancy themselves rugged individualists. It's bunk.

Americans have been conned by a concentrated but very loud anti-collectivist thread. Americans delude themselves by thinking they, and they alone, live off the grid while everyone else is a parasite. It's bunk.

A review of the last half-century of facts indicates we subsist and thrive on mutual aid and cooperative policies.

Many Americans participate in government programs, but don't realize it. We risk losing these government programs at our peril.

None of these programs are anti-American. All of these programs aim to improve the quality of life for Americans.

Some government programs are corporate welfare paid for by corporate interests, but most government programs -- the programs people rely on every day -- are resoundingly pro-American.

People care about being treated fairly. People don't want to be cheated. They want a fair share, a fair shake, or a fair opportunity.
Fair doesn't mean Equal.
Most people are willing to let others have a larger share of common gains -- if warranted. Most people will let others have proportionally more if warranted by sharper skills, proportionally more effort, or even dumb luck.
  • It is good for people to collectively bargain with employers. 
  • It makes sense to pool resources for collective community services. 
  • It makes sense to pool resources to provide free or subsidized public services like education, healthcare, transportation, insurance, and retirement.
Lets revive the notion of commonwealth and the common good.
Commonwealth is an English term for a political community founded for the common good (dates from the 15th century)
Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia were founded as commonwealths. Common-wealth is derived from the common weal which comes from the old meaning of wealth which is well-being.

Commonwealth expanded in meaning in the 17th century from public welfare (or commonweal) to signify a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people.

10 July 2011

Ouzels, Honey Bees and Purpose

I'm re-reading Painting Water, a yet-unpublished novel by Greg Keeler.

My head is 10 inches beneath the flight path of a very purposeful swath of honey bees.

Since this swarm arrived from Boulder two weekends ago, I have been mesmerized. Common interest rules the hive. Bees have a genetically hard-wired purpose. They work for the common good, then die. It'd brutally unceremonious.

In Trash Fish: A Life, Greg Keeler longs for the clarity of purpose a water ouzel has as as it dips it head and dives into a chilly Montana river.
"If I knew my life like an ouzel knows a river, instead of longing for rehearsals, I might wander in and out of surfaces and alien environments, at home with water, air and earth. Love would be as easy as diving off a rock, and death would be as familiar as the moon seen from underwater. Yes, in ouzel mode, I might shoulder the pain and wreckage I've inflicted on myself and those I love as an ouzel shoulders the current - not so much as a burden but as a way of staying in place where everything else is moving."
While Greg is shouldering pain and wreckage in ouzel mode, I am in bee mode – more specifically, drone mode -- hoping to find purpose beyond the male end of procreation.

I am taking my time re-reading Painting Water – savoring it like I let dark chocolate melt in my mouth, or like I sip my way through the layers of a Speyside scotch. I savor the occasional scotch, like I savor an emotionally raw memoir like Trash Fish, or a melancholically lyrical and brilliant novel like Painting Water.

If I had to choose an excerpt from Painting Water that encapsulates my profound connection to Greg Keeler's work, it would be from the preface of the book. In the preface, the novel's protagonist Clinton asks for the reader's indulgence saying,
...I have never been successful in the charting of my intentions and the life that eluded them, either in theory or in practice.

01 July 2011

Shared Sacrifice Sounds About Right

Bernie Sanders is a mensch. And he's dead-on bringing Shared Sacrifice into our national consciousness.
At least 50 percent of any deficit reduction package must come from revenue raised by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and eliminating tax loopholes that benefit large, profitable corporations and Wall Street financial institutions. A sensible deficit reduction package must also include significant cuts to unnecessary and wasteful Pentagon spending.
~ Bernie Sanders, US Senate

What's Fair is Fair

This week more than 80,000 Americans, signed Senator Sander's Shared Sacrifice Letter to President Obama.

Senator Sanders urges President Obama to stand with the tens of millions of Americans struggling to survive economically.

It is time for the privileged and moneyed - comfortable millionaires and billionaires - to pitch in their fair share.

Cutting taxes while engaging in two elective wars is unprecedented. The under- and middle- classes have shouldered the burden of two unnecessary wars and beared the brunt of budget-busting, misguided nation-building. For two decades the middle class faced stagnant wages and declining economic opportunity. Sorely needed public institutions and programs are crumbling and are chronically underfunded.

Habitual focus on tax cutting has DONE NOTHING to create economic opportunity. The benefit of whatever economic growth the US has seen in the past decade has been skewed to the wealthy.
There is a war going on in this country...I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country.
~ Bernie Sanders
More Tax Revenue

We are done with tax cutting. The tax cut mantra is destroying us.

It is time to increase tax revenue. Closing corporate tax loopholes is NOT too much to ask. Fair-minded legislation requiring the top 1-2% to pay some extra tax cheddar at tax time is NOT too much to ask.
He can have no right to the benefits of society who will not pay his club towards the support of it.
~Benjamin Franklin
Lets demand shared and equitable contributions from the economically privileged.

Shared sacrifice will prove to be a seminal slogan. Shared sacrifice sounds about right.