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Painter in his studio, Picture by Gerard Dou

I admit that I am not normally a religious person, but for this diary, lets have a go at one of the Gods that is worshipped fervently in this country.

I'm not discussing the God, whoever or whatever she is. True, I am an atheist of the kind of militant variety - and this is not a popular thing to be in this country which strongly approves of God. I'd have a better chance at high political office if I was a Muslim. But that is a discussion that is not hard to find, and I am not profiling Christopher Hitchens here.

I will also refrain from blasphemy at the second totemic deity in this great nation: the worship of guns. It is true that I despise this form of worship as well, perhaps more than the first. It is also true that this country does not take kindly to those who insult this from of worship; witness that heretic Bob Costas daring to suggest  that maybe an innocent 22 year old woman's death might have been preventable. Heaven forfend; he couldn't have been more roundly condemned if he had suggested that Jesus Christ was a closet homosexual, or that Kate Smith used to fuck aardvarks before warbling 'God Bless America'. But I see some Kossacks have diaried that as well.

No, I am going to take aim at that third, and maybe the highest God in the American pantheon: The worship of the almighty buck. The dollar, that is, the $. Alas, I am not so atheistic on this one . . .but undisguised, Mitt Romney-style greed is still repulsive to me, and I think many. So let's see what the Dartmouth truth teller had to say about that one. Written of course so that even a child could understand.

I have previously diaried on Theodore Geisel, the author of perhaps the finest Children's book written, and one of the reasons I always liked his work is the way the life lessons they give are usually so utterly correct; never moralizing or tiresome, delivered in a winsome way. They are fun to read. I even enjoy reading them aloud to my daughter, when, after sustained protest, she finally gets to bed.

So imagine my delight last year when Random house issued "The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories" by the good doctor. These were lost in the sense that they had appeared in 'Redbook' Magazine in the early fifties, and been promptly forgotten. No one thought they were book-worthy, and at the time he hadn't yet achieved the fame he would later get. But then Charles D. Cohen, one of the most prominent Seuss scholars and collectors (he wrote 'The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing but the Seuss) tracked down the magazines, redid the artwork, and lo, we now have new Seussworks, like unearthing a rare Jimi Hendrix bootleg years after he died.

Now, all the stories in this work are pretty decent, and they are just the right length to read aloud to a child at bedtime (I like this last point); they are populated with Seussian whimsical titles like "Gustav the Goldfish", "Tadd and Todd", "Steak for Supper" and "The Rabbit, the Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga" - Suess loved euphonious neologisms, and came early to the crucial insight that children learned words just as much, if not more, by the way they sounded, rather than how they looked on the page. So sounding the words was key, which is why so many of us, I would guess, learned to read in the Seuss canon.

But my Favorite is "The Bippolo Seed", and here is why

Winning tickets for the record Powerball jackpot worth more than $587 million were purchased in Arizona and Missouri.
Notice the breathlessness with which this is reported. Note how gargantuan the jackpots have become recently, something I do not think is coincidental. Notice the
problems that lottery winners face. I also think I know who does the bulk of lottery ticket purchases, which on average return, maybe 50% of the take in the form of winnings. A regressive tax on the innumerate it is. And I might go further:It is an unhealthy ennabling of this peculiar American fantasy that anyone can get - and indeed, the highest goal attainable - is to become filthy rich. Really, look how many voted for Romney; they weren't all 1% bloatocrats.

So I really like reading the following lines, about a duck named McKluck, who 'had a wonderful, wonderful, piece of good luck':

   

He was walking along when he spied on the ground
    A marvelous thing that was quite seldom found
    'Twas a small silver box. And it looked mighty old
    And on top of the box, it was written in gold:
    Who finds this rare box will be lucky indeed
    For inside this box is a bippolo seed
  Now initially this duck only wishes for enough duck food to last a week. He's a duck, what more does he need?
    But of course a cat walks by and tells him he's foolish for aiming so low:

   

"Now why", asked the cat "Did you wish for just that"?
    One week's worth of duck food? Pooh! that's not enough
    Why I'd wish for five hundred pounds of that stuff
The duck is dubious:

   

"But Gosh" said the duck with the Bippolo Seed
    "Five hundred pounds is much more than I need
Doesn't matter to the cat. They'll just sell all that excess food and grow rich. (Sounds like a certain politician, or several, I can think of).

So he wishes for the food. But the cat calls Not Yet

   

"We'll think of some more things to wish for, I'll bet
    Why, I know a very nice thing you could wish
    A tree that grow duck food can also grow fish
    Wish six hundred fish to grow out of the ground
    And we'll sell those fish at a dollar a pound

Well you can see where this is going: They reinforce each other's greed:

   

"I'll wish for ten bicycles made out of pearls
That's the duck speaking now

   

"And eight hundred muffs that we'll sell to small girls
    I'll wish for some eyeglasses. Nine hundred pair
    And one thousand shirts made of kangaroo hair
    A ton of stuffed Olives with Cherries inside
    And ten tons of footballs with crocodile hide
There's no end of course:

   

"I wish", yelled the duck, and he started to scream
    "For eight thousand buckets of purple ice cream
    A trunk full of toothpaste, a big kitchen sink
    And lots of brass keyholes, and gallons of ink!"
And the quantities increase into the millions and billions; nine billion Hopalong Cassidy Suits, to be precise.

Well, of course the end is predictable: The duck gets so excited, the seed slips from his grasp, and lands "Kerplunk" in the river:

   

And that cat, and that duck, all the rest of the day
    Dived deep in that river but never did see
    A trace of the seed of the Bippolo tree
Sort of like lottery winners who ultimately go bankrupt, which happens at times

So pardon me, on this series for being a killjoy when so many people are so happy that they have the chance of becoming instant Romney/SuperPAC donators; I just think it strange that a country which does not provide basic health care to all its citizens, that does not provide basic nutrition to all its citizens, that does not provide a real education to all its citizens, often gives the serious sounding argument that 'we can't afford it', but can afford to indulge in this sort of harmful fantasy thinking. To the tune of hundreds of millions, gladly ponied up by those who really, well, can't afford it.

That's greed, son. And the deification of that which shouldn't be deified.

The Bippolo Seed lives on.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 08:23 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Autobiography By Lawrence Ferlinghetti (15+ / 0-)
    I have read the Reader’s Digest
    from cover to cover
    and noted the close identification
    of the United States and the Promised Land
    where every coin is marked  
    In God We Trust
    but the dollar bills do not have it
    being gods unto themselves.
     

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 08:33:18 PM PST

  •  "A regressive tax on the innumerate it is." (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks, what a polite, low-key way of stating that fact.

    Meanwhile, I do understand the great bigness of numbers, but after the first million I find it hard to keep track.

    Slightly off-topic, I think that the Grinch story is the only one that translated well into a tv cartoon and I cannot, shall not, will not- watch Jim Carey desecrate any more Seuss. Or Danny Devito & Co. These are supposed to be bedtime stories, not feature-length films.

  •  What a nice way to start the day. Thanks! nt (8+ / 0-)
  •  He had me at Horton. (6+ / 0-)

    Not "Hears a Who," but "Horton Hatches the Egg," with its reassuring refrain:

    I meant what I said
    And I said what I meant
    And an elephant's faithful--one hundred per cent.

    Thanks for your post.

  •  Wonder if Random House owns the rights (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet

    to his war propaganda and will be putting out a glossy edition of that anytime soon?

    •  1 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bigjacbigjacbigjac



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:02:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I am well aware of his wartime work (4+ / 0-)

      See this excellent diary I referenced it in my original diary on Seuss. Such is life. . .

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 07:00:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for the link, I'll read that in detail (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MichiganChet, bigjacbigjacbigjac

        presently.

        And sorry if my remark was not appropriate for your diary - as the other commenter implied.  

        It's just that as war propagandists go, he's one of my favorites (sorry St. Ronnie!!) and thought that was worth mentioning . .. . ..

        •  I think it a legitimate issue, even though (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Roadbed Guy, bigjacbigjacbigjac

          a bit tangential to the diary. But so what, that is what the comments section is for. Suess got his start in advertising, after all.

          An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

          by MichiganChet on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 07:35:58 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yup, you can't control the comments can (0+ / 0-)

            you - they have a mind of their own.

            In any event, my last thought and then I'll give it a rest but I've been endlessly fascinated whether his war propaganda was sincere, or if it was offered in the spirit of Clint Eastwood raging at a chair - IOW cleverly mocking the the whole thing.

            •  I think it was sincere (0+ / 0-)

              Given how everyone felt after Pearl Harbor. Mass hatred is quite contagious. . .lookit how everyone felt after 9/11. .  .it is only after the war ends that the hatred dissipates.
                  People are much more a product of their times and the thinking around them then they are comfortable admitting

              An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

              by MichiganChet on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 10:03:06 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  You've probably already seen this (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MichiganChet, Caelian

        from the New Yorker:  Cat People: What Dr. Seuss really taught us but it's a pretty interesting article in any event, that starts out as:

        The Cat in the Hat was a Cold War invention. His value as an analyst of the psychology of his time, the late nineteen-fifties, is readily appreciated: transgression and hypocrisy are the principal themes of his little story. But he also stands in an intimate and paradoxical relation to national-security policy. He was both its creature and its nemesis—the unraveller of the very culture that produced him and that made him a star. This is less surprising than it may seem. He was, after all, a cat.

        Every reader of “The Cat in the Hat” will feel that the story revolves around a piece of withheld information: what private demons or desires compelled this mother to leave two young children at home all day, with the front door unlocked, under the supervision of a fish? Terrible as the cat is, the woman is lucky that her children do not fall prey to some more insidious intruder. The mother’s abandonment is the psychic wound for which the antics of the cat make so useless a palliative. The children hate the cat. They take no joy in his stupid pet tricks, and they resent his attempt to distract them from what they really want to be doing, which is staring out the window for a sign of their mother’s return. Next to that consummation, a cake on a rake is a pretty feeble entertainment.

        If only I had known all that when I was a kid reading the book like as through it was a story for a 6 year old . . .. .
        •  Yeah I looked at that article while researching (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Roadbed Guy, bigjacbigjacbigjac

          My first diary - and it formed the basis of the comment in this diary about how little ones learn to read, or how people think they learn to read (I remember learning to read and it was mostly memorization, not phonics, but that may be just how my brain is wired). Anyhow I like the article, although I think it loads a bit too much freight on the poor cat, who I always thought was just delivering the message that fun is fun, but don't get too carried away, and clean up your own mess.

          An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

          by MichiganChet on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:24:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  So, alleged imperfections=invalidates whole career (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MichiganChet, bigjacbigjacbigjac

      that is kind of the subtext message, unintended or not, that a comment like this infers...

      And additionally it also might appear to have a bit of a self congratulatory "Keeper of the secret flame that the ignorant and the lesser informed or even the incapable of handling the secret higher truth" whiff about it... something we all do to some degree and as an occasional know-it-all myself I have been guilty of that sometimes too...

      It also seems to have a sort of Jack Nicholson-style "You can't handle the truth" variation on it... that the unenlightened who are still kept uninformed are incapable of truly understanding the deeper truth etc... and if this is the intent it implies of course that like Jack the person making such a comment IS one who is well able to handle the truth... unlike the person(s) the message is directed at.... but that regardless the unenlightened grasshopper must try on their own to find enlightenment with only the barest hint from the truth Dojo master...

      So that also begs the question... what axe if any might be secretly being ground? What personal baggage is apparently being protected and who are the real targets of a person's veiled scorn and pre-rejected audience approach?

      Or is this just a very stretched attempt at humor... tongue in cheek in the spirit somehow of this diary... that Dr. Seuss is a shibboleth or sacred cow "arteeste" that for too long now has been unreasonably exalted and needs to be dragged down a few pegs... or? maybe just messing with people to see what happens........

      So check out the "War Propaganda" and see if it is particularly objectionable even for our time... it does have some "Jap" caricatures we would not find acceptable now but beyond that.. of the apparently hundreds of political cartoons and War Bond etc images he drew in this period which covered a multitude of topics, not just the war and see if there is something that totally demotes Geisel from his supposed status of demigod or not...

      So in short... I am a fan of Geisel and less so of some types of comments.... but hey, it's a somewhat free country and this is a limited freedom type blog with room for all kinds of comments and commenters... within fairly wide latitudes most of the time.

      Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

      by IreGyre on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 07:56:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't really know what that's all about (0+ / 0-)

        I was just asking if there was - or was ever going to be -  a compilation of his war propaganda - you know, in glossy coffee book format.

        Which I definitely buy to put on my coffee table.   Cuz' it's really cool stuff.

        And your secrecy conspiracy angle is very weird - I mean, what's up with that - none of this is secret.  In fact if it were, what'd have been the point of producing it in the first place?

        •  nah.. just the vague content light comment itself (0+ / 0-)

          and even the use of the word "propaganda"... it used to be a fairly innocuous word... not much different than "PR" or "information"... So at the time the cartoons came out they were "propaganda" in a more positive way without the more recent negative connotations... that is, that "Propaganda = intentional lies and misinformation"... sort of like FOX News is propaganda in the modern sense.

          So is what he did more like: "Patriotic Advertising in time of war"? "War effort Publicity"? "Jingoistic sell out with racist overtones"? Propaganda has become a negative word for most people so the PR for a book would not have this sort of approach: "Hey American public do ya want to buy a big glossy book full of propaganda"? Probably not the best selling angle for most Dr. Seuss fans to pick up a copy if something like that was ever published.

          And as for the supposed conspiracy and Secrecy angle?... again, just a commentary on the "I know something you don't" flavor of the comment and rather than sounding positive about and actually looking forward to a glossy book with those cartoons... the wording came across as more like "This will never see the light of day" because the powers that be would not like it for whatever reason... (because it would reflect badly on Theodore? or Americans are not interested in finding out the awful truth? or something?)

          So a total misread of the original comment? OK.

          Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

          by IreGyre on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 03:14:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Since you don't seem to have access (0+ / 0-)

            to an online dictionary, here's the definition of propaganda:

            prop·a·gan·da/ˌprɒp əˈgæn də/ Show Spelled [prop-uh-gan-duh] Show IPA
            noun  

            1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

            2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

            3. the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.

            4. Roman Catholic Church .
            a. a committee of cardinals, established in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, having supervision over foreign missions and the training of priests for these missions.
            b. a school (College of Propaganda)  established by Pope Urban VIII for the education of priests for foreign missions.

            5. Archaic.  an organization or movement for the spreading of propaganda.

            The first 2, and to some extent the 3rd, sub-definitions fit nicely what he did.  And up to this thread, I really didn't think that it was at all controversial that the US government ran, and still runs but just but different means, huge war propaganda efforts.  I don't care for pretty much all of them with "Dr. Seuss's" being a notable exception - because his stuff was just so bizarre that I've never been able to figure out if he was serious, or pulling a Clint Eastwood chair routine decades before that became popular. . ..
      •  Some of Geisel's Cartoons Were Grossly Racist (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        IreGyre, bigjacbigjacbigjac, ubertar

        and some of his children's books are brilliantly anti-racist. Historical legacies are complicated.

        Here's what I wrote about it in an article I wrote about using Seussian literature to teach social responsibility:

        Geisel did not always live up to the humanistic ideals he advanced in these books. In 1942, just two weeks after Attorney General Biddle announced the removal of so-called "enemy aliens" from the Pacific Coast region, and just six days before Roosevelt's infamous Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese-Americans living in those areas, Geisel published one of a series of political cartoons with racist, anti-Japanese-American, content. On February 13, he published his "Waiting for the Signal From Home...." cartoon in PM, which depicted stereotypically drawn Japanese-Americans as a fifth column, lining up as a horde of nearly identical faces to receive bricks of dynamite while one man spies through a telescope pointed across the Pacific. The viciousness of the caricature encapsulated many of the arguments for internment at that critical juncture, claiming that Japanese-Americans were just waiting for a signal from the Japanese government before waging war against the US.

        While the Sneetches taught about the interaction between discrimination and capitalism, Horton Hears a Who (1954) is Dr. Seuss' exploration of genocide. I wonder if he wrote it partially in apology for his racist cartoons. In the book, an elephant named Horton discovers a city full of miniature people (the Whos) living on a dust-speck. Horton tries to prevent the rest of the animals in the forest from boiling the dust-speck, and with it, everyone living in Whoville. Michael Frith, an editor at Random House, says that Geisel wrote it partially to urge the US government to listen to the people of Japan even as the US military occupied that country in the post-war period. Geisel dedicated Horton to a friend from Japan. Horton endures many travails in order to save the targeted Whos, and galvanizes them to band together and make their voices heard. I've used this text in college classes to spur discussions about nonviolent resistance to genocide, the challenge of motivating allies to speak up, and how we might act nonviolently to prevent incipient genocide.

        •  He grew up with stereotypes like most did. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          samdiener

          Racists and not so racist and very tolerant alike all were exposed to them and it is hard to say where it was a symptom of the times and where it was a part of perpetuating racist attitudes since it was all on a continuum in popular culture and mind-sets. Herge with Tintin, and many many more of that time drew stereotypes at times.

          I recall as a child seeing several English childrens' annuals with cartoons in them from the 50s or even earlier and they had a large single panel full page drawing of something called "The Jolly Nigs"... with lots of simple, happy big lipped black people doing funny silly things... Blackface cartoon "humor"... the stereotypes in it would be outrageous today but just would have seemed much like GollyWogs and other imagery which many thought harmless and acceptance and enjoyment of meant they were not racist at all without understanding how it colored and reinforced their biases and attitudes... Even more recently R. Crumb has explored the boundaries of what is acceptable commentary or satire of this kind of imagery (Angelfood McSpade is one example)...

          It speaks well of Herge and Dr. Suess and others that they came to learn better and understand the harm the stereotypes they picked up and copied/perpetuated did and more so that they stopped doing it and tried to make amends.

          Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

          by IreGyre on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 03:30:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  It (this god called money or wealth) is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bigjacbigjacbigjac

    destined to destroy the US, unless checks and regulations and oversight are strengthened to the point they function well as in the European social democracies - esp France.  Taxes on the rich must be raised.  To hell with the Republican talking points.  They are false, untrue and damaging/fatal lies.  The working and middle classes as well as the poor in the US are downtrodden and victims of usury by most of corporate America (cell phone companies, cable companies, other utilities, most corporations with bloated - overpaid-execs at the top).  America went off the tracks in this regard and it is shocking.  It is sad.

  •  url please (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet
    ...Kate Smith used to fuck aardvarks before warbling 'God Bless America'. But I see some Kossacks have diaried that as well.
    All my search attempts to find those diaries have been unsuccessful. if it's not too much trouble, would you please provide their titles or their authors' names?
    •  Well I was sort of being a smartass (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue aardvark

      But I meant that you can find diaries about Bob Costas and the wingnuttery that descended on his head after he made those comments during America's weekly gladiator contest (aka Sunday night Football). Whether Kate Smith truly enjoyed the carnal embraces of one or several aardvarks before warbling her (highly annoying) saccharine hit is pure speculation on my part, but I would be happy to republish research on that topic

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 10:07:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I always liked the Sneetches too. (4+ / 0-)

    I think it's an excellent example of the stupidity of bigotry. All that money they spend adding and removing stars, and in the end no one has any clue who started out with or without and all equal in the end.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 11:10:03 AM PST

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