TAZ TALKS – The Totally Awesome Retard

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There has been some confusion about TAZ TALKS versus TED TALKS. Actually, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference. TAZ TALKS feature intellectually challenging explorations of innovative ideas that boldly address the pivotal issues of our age, and ages to come.

TED TALKS, by contrast, are Tony Robbins infomercials for NPR listeners.

Hope that clears it up.

What follows is a transcript of Taz Talk #2 – presented by Taz Mopula at the Aspen, Colorado Airport Hilton on March 17, 2009.

Life Is Good When You’re A Totally Awesome Retard 

Hello.

Ann Landers, Pema Chödrön, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Help yourself.” True story.

TV was once exciting. Every new technology shows promise before plummeting to meet the level of its user.

Technology has democratized the tools of creativity, resulting in a tsunami even more cretinous and loathsome than anticipated.

Our ability to broadcast the wretched detritus of daily life is no argument for doing so; restraint is increasingly precious.

Humans can repair mechanical problems; but machines cannot repair human problems, only manifest them in new forms.

If technology makes our lives any more convenient, even breathing will become too much of an effort.

We think of the world as a dangerous place and realize too late that we are the most dangerous part of it.

I avoid all political discussions because the doctor told me to reduce my daily intake of anger and stupidity.

Common good must take precedence over all else: obstinate adherence to partisan ideology for its own sake is treasonous.

The problem with Democracy is that it allows absolutely everybody to participate; fortunately they don’t.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me every day and you’re ready to run for office.

The real tragedy of political correctness is that it has given lying a bad name.

You have the right to remain silent, and listen. Might be advisable to exercise it before they take that one away, too.

You can’t fool all of the people all of the time; but why would you even try when they’re so eager to do the job for you?

Never confuse fame with artistic quality, or wealth with value. Society gets what it wants, not what it needs.

For today’s artist, reality is an unsatisfactory inconvenience desperately in need of digital enhancement.

No one goes to school to become an artist; you go to school to avoid becoming an artist.

Why pay to exercise in a gym when you can enjoy an exercise in futility for free whenever you like?

Clever is a poor relation of smart, and a bitter enemy of wise. The inevitable consequence of knowledge is humility.

Whales and polar bears, yes; but you will never find intellectual sloth on the endangered list.

Should you meet someone who claims that visualizing a thing makes it so; tell them to visualize being flattened by a bus.

If you want to find your bliss, get yourself some blisters.

Exorcize your demons; don’t exercise them.

It’s not that I don’t love you, I do love you; I just don’t love you enough to lie to you.

Thank you.

Fear Is A Revolving Door; Fate’s A Boulevard

ian mcharg

My late father, Ian McHarg, was ensconced in Who’s Who before I made it into high school; by the time I went to college he’d been featured in LIFE Magazine. Later on, President H.W. Bush presented him with The National Medal of Arts and the government of Japan gave him a lifetime achievement award that came with a million dollar check. Not bad for a poor kid from Glasgow.

Breath, fame, and fortune have all vanished like mist on a lake, leaving me to sort it out. Though dismissive on the subject of celebrity, he craved it like an addict in an alley; and like that addict, no amount of more was ever enough. As they say, “nothing recedes like success” – and my father chased a steady stream of students, fans, and sycophants.

After the latest Wall Street Journal cover story or TV chat show guest appearance he’d regale me with insider celebrity tidbits in such a way as to demonstrate how little it all meant to him. Even then I knew the smell of horseshit, but I pretended to take him seriously all the same.

“One day, Alistair” he would say, “I will come to be known not as Ian McHarg but as the father of Alistair McHarg.”

In these rare moments of camaraderie we laughed heartily, enjoying this preposterous fiction as if there was a scrap of authenticity to it. The fact was, no one rose above my father and lived to tell of it.

I traveled under a double curse; as his son I was expected to reflect his glory but always defer to it. Had I attempted to surpass him I would have been crushed. And so, I turned my anger inwards and set out upon a life of self-destruction, depression, alcoholism, and failure. (You might be surprised to learn that real failure requires dedication.)

“Disingenuous self-deprecation is an especially distasteful manifestation of vanity.” Taz Mopula

Fear defined my entire relationship with him. Fear of failure, fear of success. Since the lesson one refuses to learn constantly re-presents itself, I was stuck in a revolving door. One day the door had had enough and spat me out as contemptuously as a fish rejecting a lure. I was left only with fate – and fate had plans for me that did not include ruin. There was service in my future.

This poem, Winter Birds, is recent, and tracks this father and son act back to the days when he would impress me into service in the garden, moving rocks, transplanting trees, stealing ferns from the woods. No man ever worked harder to make nature more perfect than it already is.

When it was done I reread it and understood at last how, finally able to see him life-sized, and honor him accordingly, I really am free to let fate have its way with me. I don’t know if there is anyone left who remembers his contributions but I do know this – I will never again think of him as Ian McHarg. He is the father of Alistair McHarg, which, from my vantage point, is a far greater accomplishment.

Winter Birds

My father was a foreigner no matter where he went
I stumbled in the shadow of his odyssey, shifting lands
And languages like agents on a mission, hiding in
Plain sight for all to see and none to know

He had to add a garden onto every new address
Pencil scratching paper scrap, knees upon the earth
Ferns and bricks and gravel paths, ponds and rhododendrons
Sprawled upon the ground like a flamboyant signature

He taught me the gentle ceremony, sapling uprooted
Burlap, fingers, spade, bearing it away to meet
Unfamiliar soil, transplanted, reaching to embrace the sun
And rain so it could drive its roots into the earth, like anchors

Water blessed, nested, tree we would admire how the sweat
Of our labors had borne fruit, then, flash of lightning like
Bird appeared to grasp a branch and claim possession of it
As if he had been watching us, aching for the chance

My father never told me that, without the weight, hollow bones
And feathers, nervous eyes alert, one small bird swaying
On a slender branch, earth itself, unbalanced, would wander
From its axis and vanish in the cold expanse of space

Alistair McHarg

CLICK HERE TO ORDER BOOKS WRITTEN BY ALISTAIR McHARG (Do NOT Click Here To Order Books By Ian McHarg)

Killer In The Dining Room

ira einhorn

Moonlit Tours is a dark comedy that begins with a fundamental question – are human beings intrinsically good and evil – or – is evil behavior the consequence of increasingly questionable choices? There are many interwoven storylines involving incremental falls from grace, where essentially decent people find themselves committing unspeakable acts – including murder.

As a young man I was spared the experience of military service and have seen little of death, much less murder. So, when I was preparing to write I scoured my memories for interactions with killers. The most useful was an uncomfortable familiarity with convicted murderer Ira Einhorn, whose unapologetic expression stared out from front pages across the nation some time back. This is the story of how I came to know him.

People rarely rise to the pinnacle of their profession by accident; usually they are driven by a primal force like greed, competitiveness, or the need for approval. My father, who lived his entire life in a state of hypo-mania, genuinely loved what he did; but the emotional engine powering him was an almost pathological need for validation and respect.

I have no first-hand acquaintance with celebrity but I learned a great deal about it growing up in his shadow. One of the first things I found out is that stars attract sycophants; while some crave only the warmth of reflected limelight, others seek to attach themselves for manipulative, unsavory purposes. Luminaries, because they are accustomed to praise and crave it like morphine; are easily victimized by the latter variety. Meet Ira Einhorn.

Ira Einhorn was a self-styled anti-war, environmental activist who collaborated with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. As the first Earth Day approached, he launched an intense lobbying effort to get on my father’s good side so he could claim some of the credit for organizing it.

I remember him sitting at the massive George Nakashima dining table in our house, overlooking Fairmount Park, schmoozing with desperate relentlessness, and my father, clueless as only the truly brilliant can be, falling for it with a broad smile. Einhorn was smart, charming, affable, and determined. He had an unerring instinct for isolating what made people tick, and putting it to his advantage.

Earth Day took place in 1970. In 1977 we learned that Einhorn had murdered his ex-girlfriend, Holly Maddux and stuffed her body in a trunk which he stored in his West Philadelphia apartment. I was surprised and not surprised, having always sensed something unpleasant about him, although even today I don’t know exactly what. He avoided capture for many years and, after some convoluted legal square-dancing, was shipped state-side to face judgment. In one memorable last attempt at prestidigitation he tried to persuade the court that CIA agents had killed Maddux in order to discredit him.

Moonlit Tours explores a world where people do not choose evil; they fail to choose righteousness – where the great crimes of life are committed by unexceptional people, people essentially like us.

Moonlit Tours Cover