Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brave New Lawn: An Emblem of the American Dream Dies Hard

I grew up in the 50’s in the suburban neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley—North Hollywood, Panorama City, Woodland Hills— where lawns were as ubiquitous as the tract homes they adorned, or the dog poop in the clover. Something like that.

Anyway, the fact of lawns was not something I questioned as a kid, except to grumble when it was my turn to mow the grass. Pushing and pulling our reluctant, rusty lawn mower over stubborn, overgrown clumps of grass was not something I wanted to do on a Saturday, and neither was scraping dog poop off the wheels. But that every house had a lawn, and every person clean air and plentiful water, made water and clean air invisible as issues, as concerns. We never gave it a thought; we played on our lawns, that’s all, trading cards, playing Simon Says, cowboys and Indians, or horsie—rearing, bucking, grazing green grass like real horses.

Everything happened on the lawn: Our male dog, Buck the Airedale, got stuck for an hour in my uncle’s female dog, Leesha the Boxer, while she investigated the lawn, nose in the grass, oblivious of her panting caboose, while I ran to the adults, sounding the alarm about Buck’s predicament, and while the adults worked hard at ignoring me. Buck also —there’s so much Bucklore— raised his leg behind my girlfriend’s clueless brother and took a piss on his pants (now a real-estate attorney), while we sat in the grass and giggled; I smoked a cigar I found there, a cigar my step-father had lost during one of his meandering, upside-down treks across the lawn in hand-stand mode, and I smoked it until nausea put a stop to my smoking days, once and for all.

Still, as I remember one neighborhood in Van Nuys, our lawns were never kid heaven, compared to the vacant lot down the street. Well, it wasn’t really vacant; in fact it was overgrown with tall trees, bushes, and, best of all, hip-high (on a kid) grass, which we yanked up and out of the ground for our dirt-clod wars and for weaving into the sides and tops of our forts, for privacy. Of course, this was before homeowner associations, when nobody cared if there was a neglected plot in the neighborhood; it was also before these days of paranoia, TV addiction and video games, when children could disappear for hours and nobody worried, when children actually played outside. (In my neighborhood now, I rarely see children playing outside, though children do live here.) It was the vacant lot, with its nooks and crannies, paths, jungle terrain, forts and faraway feeling that did the trick, allowing for stories to emerge—plot, character, adventure, places for childhood imagination, where all things were possible.

That is to say, children and other living things do not need lawns.

Now, here comes today: Unclean air, water a finite, contaminated resource; gasoline is finite too, and dirty, as we have come to understand. The price of gasoline shocks us all, ruins some. We buy carbon-dependent food from supermarkets, or from small, family-owned markets, or even local farmer’s markets, but many folks haven’t tasted a real, home-grown tomato in years, if ever; the price of organic produce burns. Meanwhile, the weight of our excesses, our selfishness and greed, suffocates life on the planet. Despite these realities, lawns are as ubiquitous as ever—no matter the upkeep, no matter they require an egregious amount of water, gasoline to run power mowers, Round-up to kill the weeds and other unwanted things like birds, insects and human beings (cancer), fertilizers, so the green grass can grow all around, all around, so the green grass can grow all around. No matter that this miraculous soil is capable of growing everything yet is allowed to grow only one thing—grass.

Michael Pollen:

“Need I point out that such an approach to “nature” is not likely to be environmentally sound? Lately we have begun to recognize that we are poisoning ourselves with our lawns, which receive, on average, more pesticide and herbicide per acre than just about any crop grown in this country. Suits fly against the national lawn-care companies, and interest is kindled in “organic” methods of lawn care. But the problem is larger than this.” http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/why-mow-the-case-against-lawns/

But what of my little city here in dry North County San Diego, Escondido? Sure, the city has a water conservation web site, offers rebates, presentations to elementary schools in the area on all things relating to water; they had a “California-Friendly-Landscape” contest, a Water-Awareness Poster Contest, a Free Home-Water/Energy Savings contest, workshops, events, and they even have water-use Rules and Regulations, which they don’t really police, given budget cut-backs. But, obviously, they’re trying. Right?

So why is it, when I drive around town, I see greenbelt dividers on city streets and roads planted in grass —lush, green grass— and plenty of green lawns on business properties; then we have the parks and golf courses, still green as ever?

Seems like a disconnect to me, especially when alternatives exist to ease the burden on mother nature’s resources. Regardless, the lawn endures, as if to dig up a lawn and replace it with a rock garden is tantamount to stomping on the American flag. We must have our lawns, or die, apparently.

Aware of the downside to lawns but unwilling to lose the look, some choose the fake lawn as an alternative, imagining they’re doing something good for the environment, perhaps not realizing the facts:

“Whether fake grass is made of recycled or virgin materials, its manufacturing is a very energy intensive process, during which greenhouse gases are emitted. Natural grass is often accused of necessitating high quantities of fertilizing and gas-mowing, two activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions, but according to a research conducted by Berkeley's Laboratory For Manufacturing And Sustainability, artificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its production, transportation and processing than the maintenance of natural turf.”

Time to replace replace the old symbols with new ones. Front yards planted in vegetables or designed with rocks and native plants tell a better story about us than lawns. I realize it’s not the BIG ISSUE, but it counts. Every little step counts.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If the Corporation is a Person, What Kind of Person Is It?

“The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.” —Elie Wiesel



First, who ARE those “natural,” real people behind corporations?


In a speech to Congress on September 9, 2009, President Barack Obama made the
following remark: “Insurance executives don't do this because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable.”

Um...what? I mean, we’ve all heard plenty of remarks by politicians that don’t pass the BS test, but that one has to be among the worst. When he said it, I couldn’t help wondering about Mr. Obama’s moral compass—so, let’s see...injury to others is okay, as long as the injury happens within the context of profit-making? In this society, certain people can escape a designation as “bad people,” if profit is involved?

Amazed, I had to ask— when did making a profit become a justification for acts —criminal neglect, overt disregard for safety, dishonest, exploitive or unfair practices— that injure American citizens and the environment? Could that work for crystal meth producers too? Putting aside the illegal bit, what could possibly be wrong with people who produce this product and indirectly injure others? If it were legal, there’d be no reason to judge the makers and distributors of the drug—hey, they aren’t bad people; they’re just trying to make a profit!

Hello? How does that work, where the essential immorality of corporate crime in the guise of free enterprise, that is, bad people doing bad things to innocent people, cannot be acknowledged? Obviously, it doesn’t work, except in the upside-down world of the “free” market, where those who make profits at the expense of others are thought to be “amoral,” not immoral, i.e., bad people. And, what does that say about us that we cannot at least hold these people accountable, not only just as we hold common criminals accountable, by exacting criminal penalties —jail— but even minimally in the way we judge their character?

We are allowed to judge character, aren’t we? Martin Luther King:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

...judged by the content of their character, but judged, nevertheless.

I’m sure Mr. Obama has met insurance executives and corporate CEOs and perhaps found them to be charming and intelligent. But let’s be reminded of what the Canadian psychologist Robert Hare has brought to our understanding of human psychology, a check list of personality and behavior traits common to psychopaths. I do believe these traits are not only common to criminal psychopaths, but also to professional sociopaths in business, academia and politics:

superficial charm
grandiose ego
conning or manipulativeness
pathological lying
lack of remorse or guilt
lack of empathy
failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions.

I am far from being the first to point out that these are traits fostered and nurtured in America. Dare I say, Americans love a sociopath? “He’s got power and wealth—what a winner!”

And who ARE those not-so-natural, corporate “persons?”

So, if the corporation is a person, what kind of person is it? How many legs does it have? Does it have one head, two heads, or is it a monstrous, multi-headed person, where for each head cut off it grows two more, like the Lernaean Hydra of Greek mythology? Does it, like the Hydra, have a poisonous breath so virulent even its tracks are deadly? I’m afraid that’s about it, in some cases.

Surely, the Supreme Court has created a monster, this corporate person, which has profit at the top of its hierarchy of values, a monster with superficial charm, and all the other character traits on Hare’s list, including the failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions. But what else does it say about the character of that Learnaean Hydra that it values profit above all? What kind of person puts cold cash as a value above the lives of others, above the health of other species and the planet, above all?

In my opinion, the distinguishing characteristic of the profit-obsessed, corporate “person” (an entity made up of real people) from natural, actual persons, is one important thing: deep indifference.

Deep indifference corresponds with “lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, and failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions” on the Hare check list, but it goes beyond those human characteristics. It is something wholly alien from natural persons. Unlike the failures of natural people in denial of their humanity, or even actively engaging in hatred, the monster corporation’s indifference is wholly disconnected from human feeling: The corporate Hydra is capable of deep indifference, because it is built to be a non-human entity with no other purpose than profit and power. Its managers and CEOs, trained to spite their own humanity and that of others, devote themselves to the purpose of the monster, as mindless converts to the cult of “free” enterprise.

Question: Why not apply enhanced legal penalties to corporate criminals for indifference to the suffering of others?

If we as a society ever evolve to reject the notion that profit-making absolves corporations and their owners of moral and legal culpability for the damage done in the course of their self-interested ambitions, will we allow indifference toward the suffering of others as grounds for the attachment of enhanced penalties for their crimes? Can we say corporate criminals commit crimes of indifference, and, thus, their crimes are as equally deserving of our disgust as are so-called hate crimes?



(Illustration by Zenzoë)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Slouching Toward Extinction Now, Waking up Wise Tomorrow

"...The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity...

...And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" —William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), THE SECOND COMING

Despite everything, millions of Americans still thrill to Obama’s silky chords of rhetoric every time he stands at the podium. From there they are taken on a heady ride, where style supplants substance and all’s right with the world.

The problem is, it’s going to take more than lip-service to effect a change that will turn this empire back into a democratic republic and the planet back to health. Campaign rhetoric, while the planet parboils at 392ppm CO2, is not enough to get the job done. Mother Earth does not care about the insincere blatherings of politicians, or what your charismatic leader promises to care about while crossing his fingers behind his back.

No. It’s going to take more than business as usual. For one thing, ordinary people will have to get damn angry enough to demand responsible government, and demand it in loud, kvetching, furious, complaining tones.

The women who fought for the vote did not wait for an Obama, nor did they worry about being labeled as extremists, or radicals, or commies, or socialists, or threats to the all-American, patriarchal family. Nor did they feel they needed to couch their demands in nice, lady-like, diplomatic terms, to avoid seeming like angry hussies, which I’m sure they were called. Instead, their Declaration of Sentiments has a list of seventeen complaints, each beginning with “He has”, and so forth, a list of human rights abuses done for so long by men against women that anger had to be the only proper tone of their declaration.

Today we face equal and worse threats to human rights, democracy, economic security, and, most troubling, the very life of the Earth. You would think the people would wake up and take to the streets. But no. We are too well-schooled in the life of denial and distraction, and badly schooled in civics. As well, we have been long-conditioned to the uselessness of acting out. Our recent Democratic and Republican Conventions were witness to gross violations of First Amendment protections, where protesters were caged in “free speech zones,” out of sight and mind of those the protesters would petition for a redress of grievances; but, where protesters managed to get closer to exercise their Constitutional rights, SWAT police cornered them, fired pepper-spray, pepper balls, rubber bullets at them, injuring many.

Conservative Democrats and Republicans in Congress ...not to mention the FBI... categorize progressive activists as “extremists,” “radicals,” “persons of interest,” possible terrorists. The media ignore them. Barack Obama treats them with affable condescension, unperturbed and unmoved. Last April in San Francisco at $5,000-a-plate breakfast fundraiser, when protesters interrupted Obama’s speech, singing a song and holding up signs that read “Free Bradley Manning,“ Obama said, ““That was a nice song. You guys have much better voices than I. Thank you very much.” Then he turned back to his speech with, “Where was I?” adding, “Now there’s an example of creativity.”

Well, Obama can afford to feel secure. He is solidly established as the “velvet glove on the iron fist” of empire, as some have aptly noted. He does not have to resort to crude asides as did the former White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, who famously described the progressive base of the Democratic Party as “fuck'n retards.”

And so we get the same ol’ same ol’ crap—politicians posing as sweet-talking progressives, likening themselves and their supporters to heroes of the past, “liberals” who then make a sharp turn to the right, as soon as they’ve nailed the election. Thus, nothing changes, and here we go again, but this time slouching toward extinction.

It’s a puzzlement, this seemingly hopeless situation, but it’s also damn scary. MLK may have felt the “fierce urgency of now,” but it was nothing compared to this. You may think there’s time to “show up,” effect a slow take-over of the Democratic Party by progressives and turn this thing around, but there’s not. Thus, I refuse to pretend: I am going to remember that fears for the planet, disgust about over-population, or anger over our ever-growing list of political, economic and social ills, is not a sign of depression or yet another new psychological disorder (“Post Perky Negativity Disorder”?) needing the latest pill. Instead, perhaps it’s a sign we’re gaining in courage and losing our slouch.

Waking Up to Wisdom:

As science has it, learning —change— sometimes happens in a most mysterious way—by epiphany.

In Harper’s Magazine’s August 2011 Findings section, we find this nugget: “...babies learn language not through gradual habituation but in epiphanies.”

Imagine it—no need for rote memorization, for flash cards, for the stern nun looming with punishing ruler in hand...no sir. Baby brains, instead, absorb, leap ahead, then, lo and behold, they’ve got it.

I believe growth by epiphany is not limited to baby development. Is it not our constant enabler throughout life? I certainly can identify important epiphanies in my own life, and lesser epiphanies, those near-imperceptible growth spurts, allowing skills to proceed toward mastery, or at least competency, where trying too hard had never worked.

This may also work for entire societies. Others have noted it. They named it collective epiphany. Thus, someday, when a series of events converge in the midst of chaos, the American people will suddenly comprehend what is being done to them and their world, and who is doing it. When the catastrophes of empire, or tyranny, or plain ol’ incompetent governing, produce enough intolerable misery, the people’s consciousness just might take a leap. Then all it will take is one galvanizing event, and —flash!— the change we’ve been waiting for will no longer be a cliché, but a reality.

It’s an old story—death and resurrection.

Certainly, the Arab Spring, was initiated by epiphany, yes?

One question for me becomes, however, whether localized rebellion would be sufficiently profound for us, where the issue of global climate change must be addressed along with our pet projects of civic and political life? We don’t want to dawdle at door knobs, while the planet fades on a stretcher in the emergency room, or we could be facing not an American Spring, but a worldwide sizzling summer that has no end.

Thus, the sort of epiphany we need is a sudden change of our collective mind-set, one not limited to progressives, but one including those powers-that-be we love to blame for everything, one where, suddenly, masculinist ideology gives way to a balanced approach, blending both masculine and feminine ideals, where suddenly no other choice is possible but sustainable living, where all things cruel (war profiteering, industrial farming), stupidly dangerous (nuclear power, off-shore drilling, fracking), or selfish, wasteful, and immoral become impossible, because to choose them is to choose extinction: resurrection denied.

Under the radar, the signs appear:

If Ray Anderson, CEO and “recovering plunderer,” could manage it, why not the others?

And this: “Why The Insurance Industry Gets Climate Change

“We all have the extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released.” —Jean Houston

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Necessity of Bearing Witness: from War Crimes, to PTSD, to Peace

Bearing Witness I

Eighteen American veterans per day die by suicide.   Let us not forget them, even while we remember what they could not forget:
Claimed filed by Iraqi civilian for compensation under the Foreign Claims Act. The Foreign Claims Commission describes the incident as follows: ‘The claimant alleges that on 2 December 2005, U.S. forces raided her house, killed her son and took her car, some money, gold, and furniture. The amount requested is $35,000.’ The Iraqi witness statements go in to more depth. According to the Claimant's statement, US Forces knocked on her door and she let them in. They took her and her daughter to a room, meanwhile they arrested her older son and placed a bag over his head, when her younger son saw this he began to run and was shot 11 times by US Forces and thrown off of a roof. His body was not returned to the family and the family located it 26 days later in the morgue. The older son was released after being held by US Forces for five days. The mother filed a complaint against the US Forces wherein she wrote: ‘After 26 days we found him at the [morgue]. I want to ask why the Coalition Forces lied to about this subject and they said they took him to Salman Pak? Why did they kill my son? What he had done to the Coalition Forces?’ The claim was settled for $10,000.” 
 
Bearing Witness II

Last night I saw  the movie Triage, with Colin Farrell. While its flaws as film detracted (frustratingly clipped editing, giving many scenes a rushed feeling), it nevertheless touched importantly on the atrocity that is war and the severe damage done to anyone who goes there.

It’s the story of a photojournalist who comes home from a Kurdistan war zone with undiagnosed PTSD, which is exacerbated by an unresolved, secret shame. His bearing witness to mad slaughter and tragedy via photography was one thing; bearing witness to his own psychological trauma was another, the most difficult and painful journey of his life. With the help of a wise old psychotherapist, he makes it through, when he reveals to his wife the guilty mystery of his friend’s disappearance, out loud and properly told in truth.


Bearing Witness III

Yesterday, while reading outdoors, I spotted a dove resting in the middle of my garden. I nearly missed her, for she was perfectly still and camouflaged against the dry soil and grayed oak planter behind her. I thought, “What a smart dove you are to choose that spot to rest in—what predator would see you there, so quietly blending with your surroundings?” But why she was there at all, I couldn’t tell.

It was such a rare event. Doves visit my place regularly, to eat from the feeder on the balcony, or to sit in the pine tree, but never do they stay ground-level for more than a minute or two. Cats are always present; coyotes, occasionally. Jasmine, my adoptee cat, was there yesterday too, napping on the patio bench, then later moving to her look-out tree to groom herself—without once noticing the dove.

I kept an eye on the dove for two hours, while I read my book, until about 7:45 p.m.  During that time, I worried over her, using my binoculars to get an up-close view. She hardly moved, except for blinking her perfect round eye and rotating her head this way and that; I could not see if she was wounded, or stunned, or just plain frozen with fear. I was tempted to approach her to get the answer and rescue her if need be. But something held me back— “Let’s trust in nature’s wisdom and just wait and see...”  I would go to her, but only if a predator approached.

Then, as day’s end and darkness approached, she began to relax, to test herself, moving to another position, extending her wings, flapping them briefly, tentatively.  And that’s when, with a long stretch of her neck toward the near-by pine, she took off, up into the branches, where she disappeared.

I don’t know exactly why this event made me as happy as it did. Most people wouldn’t be attached to a mere bird’s success, so very happy about a dove’s flight to safety, after a long, fearful wait. It’s one thing to be relieved and glad for the bird. But such inner hoorays...I don’t know.

Perhaps the event reminded me of something. Perhaps it just felt right, the symbol of peace, having been sent into hiding, to bide her time in a dangerous world, then at last swooping up to safety to live for another day. After all, couldn’t it be true— spirit long denied; spirit finally freed and made whole again?


Bearing Witness IV:

The rarely-visited issue of Military Sexual Trauma:

Psychotherapy for victims.

Interview, Eli Painted Crow, addresses the calling back of the spirit after war trauma, among other issues, excellently—also, touches on the disconnect between the heart and thinking within military life.
"For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another's life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."

...also just taking a moment to bear witness to such a welcome notion of "warrior."

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Art of Politics: Honest Bastards, Phonies, and Authentic Spirits

“The most essential skill in political theater and a consumer culture is artifice. Political leaders, who use tools of mass propaganda to create a sense of faux intimacy with citizens, no longer need to be competent, sincere, or honest. They need only to appear to have these qualities.”  —Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion, the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

In a lighthearted mood leading up to the 2008 election, I wrote the following:

“Among the worst lies George W. Bush has told is the one where he insists, ‘we do not torture.’ That was a doozy.

      I don’t know where he gets that. I mean, he tortures me every time his goofy self appears on television. All it takes is the sight of his bow-legged, cock-strut across the White House lawn, and my face goes twitchy, just like Clouseau’s torture victim Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Then, as soon as he opens his mouth, and his words wrangle their way toward my ears, hinting of a sloppy, sottish past (is the drinking in fact past?) — ‘Thish is an impresshhive crowd -- the havezsh and the have morezsh. Shome people call ya th’ elite -- Ah call you mah bayshe’— I cringe.  What can I say? It’s painful—he might as well be pigging on hot dog, smacking and chewing with his mouth open. 

     I don’t know if I can make it to January 20, 2009, without some kind of intervention on the guy. Like impeachment.

      Help!  Please, my friends, bring us a President who at least honors the Office of the Presidency —for a change— with eloquence, a resonant voice, and, even if he isn’t going to bring us Medicare for all, even if he supports 'clean' coal and 'free' trade, at least he has the ability to think on his feet and speak coherently.

      I think you know who that is. It is NOT John McCain.

      McCain. Think about that. It’s bad enough that he is painfully uncomfortable in his own skin, that is, physically, yes, but metaphorically in his ethics, values and opinions too; but the spector of McCain in the Presidency is nearly as horrifying as that which resides there now; we’re talking asymmetrical, puddin’ face, stiff-joints, a nasal tonality and an inspirational deficiency that simply will not improve with time. It’s only gonna get worse, Folks. You vote for McCain, and it will be nothing but four more years of Bush crimes against our aesthetic sensibilities. Don’t do it.

      What it boils down to is this: do you want four years of goose bumps, or facial tics? The choice is clear.”

To be fair to myself, I was never entirely seduced by Obama. I knew of his duplicitous character way before the day I voted for him. The surface charm, his affable presence, never quite erased the memory of his having voted for telecom immunity after promising not to vote for it. And I’ve never been one to judge by anything but behavior, with “trust only movement” my mantra for many years. However, with that one small lapse of critical judgment in comparing those two political choices, I could see the upside, as wobbly as it was, of a vote for the first black President of the United States. Besides, sometimes you have to allow yourself to be seduced just long enough for your seducer to reveal his true character— “give ‘em enough rope, and they will eventually hang themselves,” as the saying goes.

Now that Mr. Obama has revealed himself and decided, apparently, to push Social Security and Medicare over the cliff, along with grandma, along with the poor, the middle class, and everything the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for, hey, what I wouldn’t give now for an honest bastard in the presidency! What I wouldn’t give for a president who, while he might not be the virtual embodiment of eloquence and grace, would not represent, every time he opened his mouth, the political equivalent of kitsch, aesthetically speaking; that is, sly-sentimental propaganda, a pretense of art, charming lies. At least when Bush spoke, the aesthetic was consistent with the corrupt nature of his soul; with Obama, the inconsistency between the aesthetic, the presentation, vs. his behavior —eloquence, calm, while screwing us and slaughtering every known progressive virtue and principle known to all— sickens beyond the worst any artless villain can inflict on the wounded sensibilities of my inner citizen.

Let’s face it: Obama is the political equivalent of kitsch in the art world—he’s the Thomas Kincaid of politics, a phony who offers us nothing but pretty lies, a betrayal of authentic commitment.

As for the authentic spirits —the authentics in the art of politics— I would mention Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, Raúl M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison, among others.

That our most authentic progressives have been marginalized paints another picture, though, one of America as captive to a kitsch-loving mentality that defies all cures short of wiping it all away and starting over, with a commitment to uncompromising ethics, where democracy itself is not marginalized, and truth reigns. Otherwise, we’re stuck with the spirit of uber-capitalist, masculinist values of power, domination and competition that permeate the entirety of society, from the elite ruling class all the way through to Facebook and ThomHartmann.com.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What Lady Gaga Is Not and Never Will Be:

An artist.   But here's the real deal:



 



Laurie's still going strong...

...even without a face lift.

Concurrencies

Yesterday, as I lay on my bed reading the novel, Solar, by Ian McEwan (a very, very funny, relevant book), I could see my TV (turned on, but on mute) over the top of the book; and, at a certain point the action of an episode of Minute to Win It caught my attention. It was the end of the show, the last challenge for one teen-aged girl, whose teen team stood back in unbearable, anxious hopefulness and joy, while she attempted her winning feat——to make two towers of stacked soda cans, which were standing on a table, side by side, into one tower.  She tried hard, almost balancing her one tower, but, alas, the thing wobbled and collapsed—thus, she lost. Oh! The sorrow! The shame! The disappointment!

Concurrencies:  While I read my book, America is distracted by the likes of Minute to Win It, America's Got Talent, American Idol, The Next Top Model, whoever is "trending now" on Yahoo (who are those people, anyway?), etc., etc, while another kid with no future in America joins the military, where perhaps he might find himself in Afghanistan forced to witness his buddies murder innocent civilians, forced onto a kill team, forced to commit atrocities, forced into a second, third, fourth deployment; that is, while we play, a "war on terror" goes on in our name, and our nation crumbles into further corruption and degradation, a nation with as many separate, distinct identities —faces— as a schizophrenic on crack.  I don't know, but are we insane, or what?

An article at Common Dreams.org tells us about the "new face of war." We can now go in and assassinate whomever we please, violate whatever country's sovereignty we wish to. Where is this going? Do we think we can keep doing this and not inspire the ultimate in blowback—a nuclear attack on American soil itself?  Do the masters of war forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, or, do they have a death wish?  It appears to be the latter.


(This post inspired by Natural Lefty's post at thomhartmann.com., where you can see my unedited version of the above.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cirque du Soleil, Quidam: the Art of Wholeness

If you need a reason to love humanity, all you need is Cirque du Soleil.  If you cannot see a purpose for humankind in this world, see Cirque du Soleil and think about art—how nothing so justifies the species like creative expression, especially acts of beauty and enlightenment, such as that gifted to us by Cirque du Soleil.

You can have your bloviating intellectuals, your politicians, your fat CEO’s; I want none of those—give me just one Cirque du Soleil performance, such as the one we saw yesterday, Quidam, and I am convinced we deserve to be here, after all.

No doubt, I was seduced, transfixed; no doubt there was something familiar there in all of it too—from the appearing and reappearing central icon, the Magrittesque Quidam —headless figure in an overcoat, umbrella opened above, bowler hat in hand— to the roaming groups of dehumanized and vaguely threatening figures in white biohazardish suits (Chiennes Blanche), to the long processions of grief-laden slaves (my impression), the lost-and-longing airplane man, and, overall, a little girl’s dream of life, love, fascination, and play, all of it resonating  with truth.  One thing is certain—Quidam is art, where one finds wholeness—a balance of male and female, light and dark, dread and hope, grief and joy, body and soul.  You leave the theater simply glad for your life...unless you are a six-year-old whose daddy, on the way out, had just —unknowingly— trashed the popcorn tub you were planning on making into a house...in which case, you are boiling mad and not likely to forgive him for at least an hour.   ; )

Coincidentally, the little girl character in Quidam is named Zoë.

Thank you, Julie and Steve, for such a wonderful gift—tickets to Quidam, San Diego.

Open Letter to My Congressman, Brian Bilbray, California District 50

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.  — Buckminster Fuller

Dear Mr. Bilbray,

As a father and grandfather, you take pride in the responsibility of protecting your children and grandchildren from harm.  I assume you would never do anything to put your loved ones at unnecessary risk.  By the same token, as a U.S. Congressman, you take pride in protecting your constituents from harm.  I trust you would never knowingly do anything that would put us at risk.

I also trust, therefore, you want to be aware of the consequences of ignoring threats to the lives and health of your constituents.  You would not wish to mislead us with regard to facts that may put us at risk, knowing that the best protection is prevention.  Thus, I am sure you, as a guardian of our security, would want to be aware of any realities that might concern our health and safety.  Certainly, you would never dismiss such concerns with foolish bravado.

In your response to my concerns regarding nuclear power, however, you said the following about the San Onofre nuclear power plant: “...the seawall created to repel tsunamis in San Onofre measures 30 feet high compared to the one protecting the power plant in Japan that was only 10 feet high.”  Mr. Bilbray, with all due respect, that statement is just plain wrong. First, Japan’s seawalls were 10 meters high, not feet; that’s almost 33 feet for Japan’s seawalls; yet such seawalls were not high enough to withstand the tsunami that hit Japan, which was estimated by some at approximately 23 meters—76 feet high.*

Furthermore, according to Gil Alexander, a spokesman for the San Onofre plant's operator, Southern California Edison, the seawall at San Onofre is 25 feet —not 30 feet**, as you stated in your response— and so, clearly, it is an inadequate barrier, given the reality of tsunami science.  You also did not mention that the San Onofre plant was designed to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, while the quake that hit Japan was a 9.0 quake. Nor did you mention that the plant in San Onofre was built 42 years ago, or that the geological fault most likely to directly threaten San Onofre lies about 5 miles offshore.

* http://english.cntv.cn/program/newsupdate/20110314/102025.shtml

* http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/global-filipino/world/03/18/11/japan-tsunami-was-least-23-metres-high-report

* http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/23/height-estimate-japans-tsunami-wave-tops-70-feet/

** http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/03/san-onofre-nuclear-plant-can-withstand-quakestsunamis-officials-say.html

Sir, given the facts of Japan’s nuclear disaster —including the underestimation by nuclear engineers of the hazards and potential for catastrophe, as well as the deadly pollution of plutonium, radioactive iodine and cesium now contaminating Japan itself— and given the scientific facts, from the toxic pollution of uranium mining to that of spent fuel storage, your statement, “Nuclear power is an essential part of our domestic, clean energy mix” seems breathtakingly blind to reality.  Nuclear power cannot in any way be rationalized as a part of a “clean energy mix.”  There is nothing clean about it. To think otherwise is simply to ignore scientific fact:

“...What's to be done with 52,000 tons (47,174 metric tons) of dangerously radioactive spent fuel from commercial and defense nuclear reactors? With 91 million gallons (344.5 million liters) of high-level waste left over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than half a million tons (453,592 metric tons) of depleted uranium, millions of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils, solvents, and other waste? And with some 265 million tons (240 million metric tons) of tailings from milling uranium ore—less than half stabilized—littering landscapes?”
http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/earth/inside-the-earth/nuclear-waste.html

You also said, “Nuclear generated electricity avoids almost 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in the United States.” This is may be true; however, the argument is a red herring—the proper comparison is between nuclear energy and green, 21st century, renewable energy, such as solar and wind technologies. These technologies will avoid both the deadly pollution of dirty nuclear and dirty coal. 

Clearly, what we need to do, if we are to survive and progress as a species, is to do as Buckminster Fuller advised—leave 19th and 20th century energy technologies behind, and move forward toward 21st century energy technologies.

You said, “I believe that believe that science, not fear should drive our energy policy and our environmental policy.”  I would respectfully suggest that “science” can be used to promote most any position one cares to support; to assume that the opposition to nuclear power is not based on science is plainly incorrect.  Fear, as well, can be used as a motivator, as we have seen with regard to the “war on terrorism;” even though the threat to human life and security posed by nuclear power is every bit as real as the threat of Al Queda, it is downplayed. This begs a serious and valid question—who is more irrationally fearful, the citzen who objects to living near a nuclear power plant with the potential to render an entire city uninhabitable for hundreds, if not thousands, of years; or powerful entities who fear the consequence of losing profit should nuclear power be phased out?

In summing up, your response said, “I look forward to the full report on the Fukushima Daiichi Plant disaster so that we can ensure that all current and future nuclear power plants are as safe as possible.”

Mr. Bilbray, if what we already know about the disaster in Japan is not enough to begin phasing out nuclear power —specifically in your district, the San Onofre plant, which was built long ago near two earthquake faults— no further information, no disaster will ever be enough for you.

I cannot fathom why you would want to mislead your constituents on this serious issue, but the fact remains: Your response to my concerns was false and misleading. 

Please take seriously your responsibility as a guardian of our environmental and energy security and do the right thing—act now to remove the threat of nuclear energy.  It is neither safe, nor clean, nor economically viable into the 21st century.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fiddling with Facebook While Japan Fries

“The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos.” —Jim Hightower


My daughter-in-law has been fund-raising on behalf of the public school my granddaughter attends in Rancho Penasquitos, a moderately affluent town twenty miles north of downtown San Diego.  Perhaps she doesn’t mind having to raise money for art, music, and classroom supplies; after all, her child’s education is among her highest concerns. Or, perhaps she does mind, given that she and my son have already paid dearly into a system that is supposed to provide free education, a system that, regardless, places a higher value on the military machine
than on her children’s education—$1,164,513,049,451 and climbing spent on wars since 2001 (this number will be obsolete by the time you read this).
 
One trillion-plus dollars spent on destruction. That’s who we are. But that’s okay—the more mothers we can enlist to pitch in and take up the slack in our schools (habituating service), the sooner we can privatize all the public schools and devote more financial resources to the main goal, which is, apparently, to turn America into a neo-feudal, corporate wet-dream of everlasting war and broken government, that is, paradise for millionaires and billionaires, while the scruffy stray dog the Commons has become wanders about searching for scraps... 

Oh “gloom and doom!”  Let’s not think about it!  After all, we’ve already thought about it —irrational wars, our warming the planet to the point of no-return, the corporate coup d’etat of America— and come to realize we’re screwed. Time to “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” or at least check our horoscope to discover we “may feel a little down today or low on energy. We may feel that we have hit some kind of creative road block, that we have suddenly turned invisible...”  Or, perhaps we will poke somebody on Facebook, hoping for a poke back (Nobody ever pokes me, sigh.). Or we can write a blog post that nobody will read. That’s always useful.

Nobody wants to think about it?  Not quite. Not all are ignoring reality; some are giving our situation a serious look and taking action. I happen to like Chris Hedges’ take on the subject in “Death of the Liberal Class,” for example.  He has helped me to see what this denial is all about, and where we might be headed if we don’t get out of it, the denial, that is. 


This morning UCTV aired a lecture by ecofeminist Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at Berkeley, Carolyn Merchant.   This lecture was entitled, Environmentalism: From the Control of Nature to Partnership. There, she traced the history of science from the Renaissance, with its Earth-as-a-Living-Organism world view; through Francis Bacon’s view of Earth as a female that man can shape and have power and dominion over; through Newton and the Industrial Revolution, where the view of nature went from “organism to machine.”  Okay, so now we know how well that philosophy worked out, or is working out, still expressed by corporations that continue to operate in that unenlightened mode. They still act as if nature is something they can control via technology, in a mechanistic way. It’s nuts, but that’s who they are.

Fortunately, we can now say, “Whoa boys and girls, there’s new science to consider!”  Namely, the “Butterfly Effect” in “Chaos Theory,” which I don’t pretend to understand, but which, according to Merchant, has given us a chance to “re-think our relation to the natural world.” One definition gives us this to consider: “Chaos Theory claims that as complexity increases in a system, its predictability decreases.”  Think about that—Man, you don’t get to control stuff anymore. You’re weak and pathetic compared to Mother Nature.

So, suddenly, just in time —we hope— we have reason to tell people to give up the folly that we can do as we please with the planet, because some technological fix will save us. Science itself is telling us to forget that and start living “in partnership” with the Earth (Merchant’s vision). Well, isn’t that quaint? It took the Men, and Women, of Science in the industrialized realm this long to come to a realization indigenous peoples have understood from the start. Verrry schmaaat...but schtoopid!
 

It does seem to me, though, that not enough people are up to speed with the new vision. Many still think we can continue living as we do—continue burning carbon for fuel, sprawling across the urban landscape, importing food from far-away places, subsidizing the oil industry, failing to develop green technologies and failing to adopt earth-friendly options such as vegetarianism, etc., etc., etc.  But how is a change of world view to be accomplished on a mass scale, when there’s so little time? We have known we are in trouble for decades. Jimmy Carter tried to tell us back in 1979, when he proposed that 20 percent of our energy should come from solar power by the year 2000:  

“To further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism.” 

 But here we are thirty-two years later, and we haven’t budged more than an inch toward an energy program that would not only be sustainable from a consumer standpoint, but would be sustainable from a world peace and Earth-healthy standpoint, even though we are facing ecological and environmental catastrophes, world-wide, everywhere we look.

Thirty-two years.  Do we have thirty-two years to waste, fiddling our thumbs, waiting for the corporate media to stop propagandizing on behalf of the oil industry? Do we have thirty-two years, while Japan fries (apparently global warming ='s earthquakes),  Russia burns, the Arctic melts, bees die and disappear, corals fade and die?

Maybe if we hold a bake sale in every town.  I can see it now...a sugar-cookie walrus hanging onto one tiny bit of white frosting on a sea-blue cake...

Naw...that’s not going to do the trick.

In Wisconsin this week, a protester’s sign read, “You screw us—we multiply!”  What we need is the spirit of Wisconsin to multiply across the country in a tsunami of citizen democracy the likes of which no corporate criminal has ever seen. Wouldn’t that be something, something great for worker rights, for unions and the middle class. But notice how silent we are on global warming. Somehow it looks like only when a real tsunami of global disasters begins to affect all of us, including the Koch brothers of this world, only then will we humans get the message. I hate to annoy you with the truth, but by then it’s going to be too late.

Perhaps we need to hold hearings on the pernicious ideology of “free” market capitalism/empire, rather than the one being held this week on Islamic extremist ideology?  Just a thought.

In the meantime, don’t feed the corporate beasts. They get fat and arrogant.  Put your money in a credit union. Wear up-cycled clothes. If you can’t grow your own veggies, go vegetarian. Buy organic. Buy local. Buy American made products. Car pool. Vote progressive.

Any other ideas? I'm just a little bit worried for those grandchildren I love so much.










—Zenzoë

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pale Reminiscences of a Never-ending Girlhood


The day of my birth, my father visited my mother in the hospital to tell her he wanted a divorce. I have no way of knowing how that dismal fact affected my childhood, though Mother told me I used to whimper a lot as a baby. Regardless, I must have recovered quickly, because my earliest girlhood memories have me swinging from the tops of trees like a natural monkey, or flying over fences after letting go of my seat on a swing, or engaging in dirt-clod wars with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood, taking cover within the lush suburban jungle of a vacant lot. 

I only had one doll and couldn’t say if I missed having more, though I remember being envious of the awesome collection of Storybook Dolls lining the shelves of a little friend’s bedroom. Not to worry, of course— I had other things to do, and playing with dolls wasn’t on the list.

My mother re-married when I was eight-years-old, and the man she married was a handsome, no-ifs-ands-or-buts veteran of WWII, a Lieutenant. Having only experienced a casual matriarchy up until then —mother, grandmother and three girls— and being entirely unacquainted with the notion of patriarchy, I didn’t take to the new arrangement all that well. Thus began The Resistance. My step-father soon learned I wasn’t going to be a push-over, getting lip from me in no uncertain terms: “I don’t have to mind you— you’re not my father.”

The man had a big heart, though, and found a way to soften the resistance when I reached age ten. He bought a six-month-old horse for me, fulfilling that little girl’s constant wishes, which she had been expressing out loud from the very beginning. I named him “Salute,” and we remained good companions until I married at age twenty-four. Funny thing is, now, a million years later, I miss the horse more than the man I married and divorced thirteen years into the marriage.

Also at age ten I could beat any boy in the neighborhood at foot racing. Of course, those athletic triumphs soon went the way of pale reminiscences, when all of us reached puberty. “Oh! The unfairness of it all!” But I still had my horse, though I went from horse-crazy to boy-crazy in no time at all, not that I ignored my horse—he was always good for soothing a broken heart. Then along comes marriage, and I had to sell my horse and put all my childish dreams aside, but didn’t. Not really.


"So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us."  ~Gaston Bachelard

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gaga Update

I happened across the March issue of Vogue magazine the other day. Guess who was the subject of the cover article?  Yup—none other than herself, Lady Gaga.  As you can imagine, I was eager to see what Vogue had to say about her, and slightly anxious that I was about to have my entire thesis demolished before my eyes.

Not to worry.  Yes, the slutty bit was absent— tasteful make-up (pee-hole-in-the-snow eyeliner gone), an arty pink hair-do, and a sumptuous array of photo layouts with Gaga dressed in costumes of the highest and most exquisite femme-fantastical order you could ever imagine.  Quite beautiful, actually.  Then it hit me—Marie Antoinette!  Well, sure—Lady Gaga is the new royalty.  In essence, what I found myself looking at was a let-them-eat-cake ideology only Vogue can deliver with quite the slick and delicious perfection that it does.

You might notice, if you go to Vogue’s website, an advertisement for “chalk calf copper anklet sandal, also available in black: $2,295.”  Ee-ee-kkk!  I don’t know about you, but if I had that kind of incidental cash, I’d rather spend it on a heating system for my humble abode (mine is not functioning).  Leafing through the magazine itself, you might also notice in the advertisements, as did I, a fashion trend that is quite reminiscent of the Roaring 20’s, which is also present in the Gaga layouts, or, as it seems to me.  Hello?  Are they telling us something, or not?  And isn’t this yet another face of the zeitgeist, where wealth and fame and extravagance and cold cash are the ultimate values? Class warfare? You bet!

The Gaga article is pure cotton candy, supporting the ridiculous notion that she is an artist, though I don’t know why I would even hope for a RollingStone sort of exposé in Vogue. And the Lady lies through her perfect teeth again, claiming to have been bullied in her school days. Well, the myth must be perpetuated, after all.  The author did use the word “zeitgeist,” however.  That I found most interesting.



(Note: Fair Use doctrine applied to the use of this photograph, as it is being used for the purpose of artistic criticism. And because not all that many people will see it here!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

We Have to Stop Meeting Like This...

This blogging thing is taking up too much of my time, my life.  The question has become not so much to be or not to be, as, is this or is this not being, living?  I ask this, while being entirely aware of the irony of the question, posed as I am, sitting here in front of my monitor, the window onto the life of my imagination, a life built from electronic bits I know pretty much nothing about, aside from 0101010101...all the while the buzz of a landscaper’s trimmer breaks the barrier from outside in the real world to inside my skull, annoyingly, interfering with my concentration.

This morning, rather than going directly,
dressed in my bathrobe, to the computer to write my next comment to one or another blog post at Thom Hartmann.com, I said, No, that can wait. I got dressed, instead, had breakfast, then got in my car —which now runs quietly, thank you very much— to go do a few errands and be in the world.  The last stop on my list was the local torterillia, where they have extra-large-sized corn tortillas, and teeny-tiny ones, and where I speak Spanglish with the workers. (I have never seen another anglo in this business.) At the checkout, I made little jokes here and there, and the clerk played along, smiling, mirroring my mood. When I said, “Bromeando...I’m only kidding,” with a chuckle and a smile, she nodded and smiled back.  This was important, as miniscule a moment of human interaction as it was, because it reminds me of what is so lacking in online relationships—air, human bodies in space and time, where real smiles, eyes, eyebrows, and gestures give communication a reality one can count on. No amount of text or emoticons will ever take the place of the real thing; no matter how hard you try not to misinterpret an online conversation, it is bound to happen. Not that we don’t “misunderestimate” (a word coined by my favorite comedian, Dubya) people in person, for heaven’s sake. It happens all the time. However, at least there you have a chance. Online? Not so good.

So many of us find ourselves relating in this way, sitting alone in our offices, or cars, kitchens, at school, or wherever, “talking” to “friends” at Facebook, or Tweeting, or texting, where everything and anything can be said, or discussed. We need it, don’t we, because where can you go in your neighborhood to discuss politics, to play, where you don’t have to buy a drink? Does anybody talk politics at home anymore? It’s a puzzlement.  But I’m not sure we have the best answer.  I, for one, find myself pulling away from the digital life, thinking I just might be happier shutting it all down and going outside to tidy up my front yard. At least there, I might meet a real person, a neighbor, and have a real conversation....  um...  but where we will have to avoid the subject of politics, or religion, or culture....oh hell, it’s an impossible choice, and so here I am again.

 

THE WHERE OF IT ALL 

Looking out from our beach bench,

at grays, mauves and umbered swaths,


this sky pressing down on the smothered sun,


the surf crawling forward like a frothy


army of crabs, only to scoot a reminder
 

of the Now ‘round bathers’ ankles, as if
 

Monday were not looming—
 

we ignore each other, you on your laptop,
 

I with the passers-by on the sidewalk,
 

dogs on taut leashes, spotted mutts,
 

sleek pointers, the muscular pug with her
 

complement, the master in black spandex
 

and loose-jointed amble leading with
 

the hips, cutting a profile on the landscape
 

worthy of the Hockney eye; but you
 

offer another view, a digitally pieced
 

psychedelic composition I’ve seen
 

more times than I care to remember;
 

and the music works it out, makes it,
 

takes it to where no salty breeze
 

interferes, from here to where
 

we are again, like indoor cats
 

at the window of our lives.





—Zenzoë

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Technical Glitches and Other Realities of Everyday Life

I refer to my last post, that of this morning, the one that asks why my post was blocked as "inappropriate" at the Thom Hartmann web site.  As it turns out, it wasn't a glitch.  It wasn't censorship, either.  It was the word pornographic. They've decided, because the word contains the modifier, porn, it will not be allowed—somebody might be trying to post a link to a pornography site.  So now, with my edit that has the word as xxography, my post was allowed.  Huh?  Brilliant, guys.


Well, I'm glad it wasn't a technical glitch.  I've had enough of those lately.  For example, one day last week I got in my car, put on my seat belt, turned on the engine, locked myself in and started to back down the driveway, when holy-hell of hells, a clattering arose like I've never in my life ever heard before, and it wasn't raindeer on my roof, though it could have been.  Immediately my mind went to the fascist who lives next door—what the hell did he put in my gas tank?  The guy is just the type, with his American Flag and the cigarette butts he and his biker friend toss all over my driveway... 


So, my embarrassment —no, grudging paranoia— in tow, I drove clattering away down to Pep Boys.  It didn't take the mechanic long to figure it out—the door lock on the driver's side is corroded, or something, but somehow that affects each and every lock on each and every door (4), which means that unless the lock device is in exactly the middle position, the damn thing goes bonkers, like a hail of gravel on my roof.  The mechanic showed me how to make it stop and didn't suggest a repair; so, fine with me—I'll just drive around unlocked.  At least it will be quiet.


Not so fast.  On Friday I went over to the Vons Shopping center to drop of my Netflix mailer.  I parked. I got out of the car without my purse —it was only a drop off, for heaven's sake— and, not thinking, locked the car with my remote key thingy.  All well and good.  Problem was, when I returned and tried to open the car door with my remote key thingy, as is my habit, the door wouldn't open!  The lock wouldn't respond!  There I was in my habituated mind-set at a loss as to what to do—no money, no purse, oh no!  So I'm standing there looking like a complete dunderhead, after trying this and that, popping the trunk (the seats were locked in position there too), when a man who was parked behind me sitting in his driver's seat, and who apparently had been watching my entire, idiot performance, calmly rolled down his window and said, "You might just try your key in the lock..." 


Duh. Of course, that was the correct answer, and so I was able to open the car door and drive off to visit at my son's place, but only after sheepishly thanking the nice man for his gallant rescue.


Not so fast. After arriving safe, sound and quiet at my son's place, I made the same bloody mistake—locked the car with the damn key thingy. But this time the thing started clattering again.  But wait!  I knew what to do, right?—open the door with my key! 


Not so fast. That was when the key wouldn't go in, and that was when the alarm honk kicked in.  Great. There I was standing in my son's Rancho Penasquitos, quiet, well manicured neighborhood with a honking car —the loudest honk you've ever heard.  Well, I don't know what I did, but, after many a panicked attempt, it finally stopped.  As I gathered up my stuff and my withering self-esteem, I walked down the sidewalk toward my son's house—just as one of his neighbors was backing out her driveway, giving me a look, like, "Go away, insane woman with your late-model heap..."


My temperamental car lock, where the mechanism has to be in just the right spot,  reminds me of one of Stephanie Miller's favorite mini-jokes: What is sex like with an optometrist?  "Is that better now, or worse now; better now, or worse now..."

—Zenzoë

"Inappropriate" at Thom Hartmann's Web Site—Was it a mere glitch or censorship?

 This morning I went to my Lady Gaga post at Thom Hartmann's web site to post a comment in response to recent comments there from Natural Lefty, Dhavid, and Nimblecivet.  I don't know if the web site was going crazy, or what, but it would not allow my comment. I tried three times, to no avail. Can anybody tell me what is "inappropriate" about my comment, below?

What Dhavid says about Grace Slick — “her plain and simple attire has no particular meaning. An anti-gaga. Any time, any age authenticity and genuineness can find expression” — complements Nimblecivet’s “genuine feminism (liberation of women) rests upon dismantling heirarchical ('masculine') culture, and the attendant implications relevant to fostering a more healthy, life-affirming attitude.”   Whew. Such simpatico sounds!  I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming...  men who actually love women!  And all this while I’d slipped on Dhavid’s banana peel and was ker-plopped, for having thought I’d asked questions, but had not, apparently, asked anything that might deserve a response, especially since I am female... (wink-wink  - - I know, one can’t be expected to answer everything)  but I digress...

For fleeting moment I wondered if Nimblecivet might be pulling a hoax like the one my son told me about last night— “Sokal's hoax.”  Perhaps you know of it?  If not, this physics professor at New York University, Alan Sokal, submitted an article to an academic journal as an experiment to see “if such a journal would ‘publish an article.... liberally salted with... nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions.’”  The article was entitled, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, and they did publish it, nonsense and all.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

Then too, for yet another instant, I suspected you might be Natural Lefty’s alter persona, given the mudskipper in your pic. Ah well, my head was messed, but only fleetingly. And I must always remind myself—who the hell knows who we’re talking to online? One never knows.

NL, Lady Caca! I did laugh. Very good. My 4 1/2 year-old grandson would like that too. His favorite word, still, is poo-poo, so “Lady Caca” would delight him as well. Poo-poo has been his favorite word since age 2, so I don’t know if he is progressing normally or not. It’s poo-poo butt, poo-poo head, poo-poo spinach...  ad infinitum.

As for Jewel, I used to be attached to her album Pieces of You back during a time when I was infatuated with infatuation, you might say (we used to call it being in love with love, but that wasn’t it). Her song, Who Will Save Your Soul, if I remember correctly, was quite a conscious song. Is she still writing those, or has she caved by now?  As it is, truth be told, I tend to prefer the folksy set, such as Patty Griffin, Eliza Gilkyson, (Her “Man of God,” about Bush is great!), Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier, etc. Anyway, I posted a link to a current female Brit writing and performing conscious rock—guess you didn’t notice?

It is a good thing to remember what a healthy, ethical, non-industrial, non-commodity, authentic  female rock artist looks like.  And I do not think comparing Lady Gaga and Grace Slick makes a moralistic distinction, as in the whore-madonna thingy, which is of the patriarchal mind-set. If that were the case, we’d be comparing Lady Gaga and the Lennon Sisters. Instead, it’s very much a conversation we can have as progressives, where it is possible to consider just how willing we are to ignore a corporate industry’s degradation, exploitation, humiliation, and trashing of female artists, that is, women, for the sake of profit. It is important to notice, at least, that it is happening, increasingly, and to be reminded of what wholesome used to look like, wholesome in the sense of having integrity and being whole, that is, not being split off from oneself. I wouldn’t pretend to know all the reasons for the corruption, but I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to assume that the increasing prevalence, increasing intensification and widespread influence of misogynography (my word for misogynistic pornography) in the culture has spread to the music industry. It’s a continuum, from one to the other and back again. I’m hoping it’s merely part of the last gasp of capitalist patriarchy, which has just about gone as far as it can without our noticing how ugly we have become.

I see the pro-pornography, pro-commercial rock set among “liberals” as being of a libertarian mind set. They see such as “free-speech,” “free market” issues, regardless of the “unfortunate” sexism. Then there are those who are against such for moralistic reasons; they are the right-wingers. What is often ignored is that there’s another approach, which we appear to have here—the progressive approach to the subject. This is a mind that supports fairness, equality, and justice, while it abhors exploitation, human degradation, cruelty and profit-making at the expense of human dignity and health.

What the pro-pornography men don’t realize is that misogyny is equally damaging to men. A whole, wide world of human experience and pleasure could be had, but they’re stuck in a narrow realm of macho bravado and self-denial, imagining themselves to be free. Also, that notion, where the hyper-sexualization and degradation of women is offered up as women’s “sexual liberation,” if only women would agree, needs to be debunked and revealed for what it is— a false promise, a seduction of men against their own best interest. Their masculinity doesn’t require it; only an industry bent on exploiting their fears requires it.

—end of comment

So, what was so "inappropriate?"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LADY GAGA: Our Unwitting Zeitgeist Incarnate

by Zenzoë

To her fans, Lady Gaga is the rocker supreme, a performance artist, philosopher, fashion genius, smart marketer, a spectacle of sexual liberation and human triumph over the odds. She is the ultimate “material girl,” with no apologies. To celebrate her is to celebrate fame as the highest of high values we hold so dear...but wait—what does Lady Gaga herself have to say?

Lady Gaga:  "Live your eyeliner, breathe your lipstick, and kill for each other.”

“This is the Manifesto of Little Monster: There is something heroic about the way my fans operate their cameras. So precisely, so intricately and so proudly. Like Kings writing the history of their people, is their prolific nature that both creates and procures what will later be perceived as the kingdom. So the real truth about Lady Gaga fans, my little monsters, lies in this sentiment: They are the Kings. They are the Queens. They write the history of the kingdom and I am something of a devoted Jester. It is in the theory of perception that we have established our bond, or the lie I should say, for which we kill. We are nothing without our image. Without our projection. Without the spiritual hologram of who we perceive ourselves to be or rather to become, in the future.”

Huh?  Am I missing something, or are these pronouncements as breathtakingly, mindlessly incoherent to you as they are to me?  “It is in the theory of perception that we have established our bond, or the lie I should say, for which we kill.”  What is this— regardless of the admitted lie, the bond between Gaga and her fans, it must be defended with violence: “...for which we kill?”  Excuse me, but is this philosophy?  Seems more like insanity to me, or maybe just sheer blathering.

One thing we know—fame, celebrity, stardom, power, to be worshiped by a faceless multitude as addicted to fame and celebrity as she is—these are her ultimate values.

“...The fame fame
I can see myself in the movies with my
picture in the city lights
Photograph my mind and whatever else you'd
like to shoot you decide
All we care about is, pornographic girls on film
and body plastic
Give me something, I wanna see television and
hot blonds in odd positions

Fame
Doin' it for the
Fame...”

Until this post, if you were to google “is fame a healthy value,” nothing would have come up. This is America, after all, where fame  is IT, everything. Who would question such a value?

We also know Gaga was always a talented singer and musician, starting from the age of four. Once into her teens, she knew what she wanted from life. But it wasn’t until she completely changed her image, her brand, from an obscure, dark-haired, Italian-American girl with a big, Roman nose, to a blatant, damaged-blond, trashed-babe with a more petite, ethno-neutral, American nose, wearing any silly, grotesque, crapped up, slutish thing S&M enough to capture the celebrity-intoxicated soul of America—it wasn’t until then that she made it big.

That’s when she became a commodity, a marketable object, a “smart marketer.”

So what?  What’s a gifted girl rocker to do, if she wants to get noticed?  Well, maybe it’s more than just smart marketing; maybe something hidden informs such marketing decisions: Underneath the pseudo female-liberation, “hot babe” images of popular culture, lies the sad, sexist truth— female degradation and self-humiliation is the highest standard by which the misogynistic culture, a profit-oriented culture, judges female rockers.  Thus, in the male-dominated music industry she was going to have to conform—she had to adapt her image to the overall zeitgeist, which just happens to be sexist and hostile to true female liberation, female empowerment, female dignity and respect.  It wasn’t that Lady Gaga’s passion for fame was a triumph inspired by her having been a misfit in her teens, as the lie she tells her fans goes (her parents were wealthy; she was popular); it’s that she, as herself, was a misfit in the industry.  That meant, given her lust for fame, she had do anything and everything to fit in, even if it meant killing her original self.  She is not the misfit, making the abnormal normal, identifying with all outsider teens and their angst; she was, and is, the ultimate insider, now Queen of Conformity, Queen of Kitsch.

“She’s a really great manipulator,” said a close former friend. “It’s a long process to become a rock star, and she’s willing to crush anyone in her path to do it. She has zero ethics whatsoever. None.”

To her “Monsters,” however, Lady Gaga is salvation, solace, and friend to the friendless. She is worshipped. What she tells her fans speaks to an intimate connection, compassion and love: “When you are lonely, I will be lonely too...” That she manipulates her fans in this way is not manipulation at all; it is pure sincerity. She plays her fans like fools, and it doesn’t matter. If “we are nothing without our image,” then we are something with it.  The delusions of connection, love, greatness, power, soulful intimacy, all become better than everyday, ordinary reality, where we must be content with our real selves and our simple, ordinary lives.

Lady Gaga’s fans have been suckered into her realm, by the magic and spectacle of celebrity, where just wishing makes their bond with her a reality. "I used to walk down the street like I was a fucking star... I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be - and then to fight so hard for it every day that the lie becomes the truth."

Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class: “The belief that we can make things happen through positive thoughts, by visualizing, by wanting them, by tapping into our inner strength, or by understanding that we are truly exceptional, is peddled to us by all aspects of the culture, from Oprah to the Christian Right. It is magical thinking...This magical thinking, this idea that human and personal progress is somehow inevitable, leads to political passivity.  It permits societies to transfer their emotional allegiance to the absurd—whether embodied in professional sports or in celebrity culture—and ignore real problems. It exacerbates despair. It keeps us in a state of mass-self-delusion. Once we are drawn into this form of magical thinking, the purpose, structure and goals of the corporate state are not questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be seen as obstructive and negative. ...This magical thinking,...holds out the promise of an impossible, unachievable happiness. It has turned whole nations, such as the United States, into self-consuming machines of death.”

Is it an accident Gaga’s performances have a tinge of violence about them?  I don’t think so. After all, she was born of a militant, death culture. And the misogynistic violence of violent pornography is not a problem for her either, apparently; it’s a mandate: “All we care about is, pornographic girls on film and body plastic; Give me something, I wanna see television and hot blondes in odd positions”  This is what passes for “liberation.”

She is a “performance artist,” though, isn’t she?  I say, No.  She may be a performer, but she is no artist, except in the narrow meaning of the corporate music industry.  A true artist is an iconoclast, not the icon itself needing to be destroyed.  An artist goes ahead and draws a mustache on the Mona Lisa, as the French painter Marcel Duchamp did.  Lady Gaga only copies, by inference and eager intentionality, a culture twisted by greed, violence, lust for fame, profit, competition, destruction, death, and the degradation of woman. She does not draw a mustache on the face of her culture, she celebrates it. What she performs is kitsch, not art, satisfying the wildest dreams of a culture that wants women humiliated and aching for attention from a world that hates them. Oddly, therefore, she is a better Zeitgeist incarnate than even Andy Warhol was; she is the embodiment of everything shallow, calculating, bent on a ruthless success and war against sanity that is this culture—except she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t care. After all, she is busy changing “the world, one sequin at a time.”

Chris Hedges: "He [Michael Jackson] became a commodity, a product, one to be sold, used and manipulated... He was infected by the moral nihilism and personal disintegration that is at the core of our corporate culture. He was a reflection of us in the extreme.

The cult of self, which Jackson embodied, dominates our culture...This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths; superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception, and manipulation, and the incapacity for remorse or guilt."

I don’t despise Lady Gaga—Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta—the person. Of course, I don’t like that she wants to role-model to young girls, that her “personal style is a commentary on what it means to be a lady,” that being a “lady” means humiliating oneself; that she and others to follow her may brainwash generations of young girls to delude themselves, to value fame above all; but, it is possible she is not as powerful as she thinks. What I despise is the zeitgeist itself, how everything real, everything honest, tender, gentle, peaceful, sane, wise and non-exploitive is turned on its head and rendered powerless in our culture. What I despise is what we’ve become, this sick, pathetic thing that Gaga unwittingly reflects back so accurately to us.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sanford Russell

Ups and Downs...


I’m no technical climber but I do enjoy a mountain hike now and then. My ascents have always been relatively mild and safe, never anything technical.
 
When I was very young, idling with nothing better to do than wait around for a boat to Germany, some of us killed time fooling around with pole climbing. Our "instructor" was a daredevil bike rider and fearless mountaineer who had not too long before broken his leg in three places from a fall of only six feet (when his spikes pulled out of a rotten pole). The lesson I took from that story is that going up isn't the problem, it's getting down safely that's the challenge.
 
I've known two people who froze going up a slope. You may know Kissing Camels, the gorgeous red sandstone formation in Colorado Spring’s Garden of the Gods. Nowadays you can't go up without ropes (and a permit) but the first few years that I was there climbing was unrestricted. Kent, Lloyd, Nikki and I thought to spend an afternoon going up, which was OK until Lloyd or someone thought it would be fun to take along a young lady flatlander. She got as far as the chimney and refused - couldn't - go up or down. I was already down with Nikki before I learned that the others had to bring her down bodily.
 
Another time in Boulder some roommates agreed to take a totally inexperienced Harvard grad on a technical climb up the Flatirons (tall and steep, humungous uplifted rock formations) using ropes and pitons. Now, I'm told that the Flatirons isn't exactly an easy climb even for the experienced. The poor fellow froze midway and had to be brought down. Nobody wanted to talk much about it afterwards but I doubt that it was a very easy descent.
 
Thunderstorms on a mountain aren't trivial, in my opinion. Once while coming down Long's Peak a fierce thunderstorm broke over us that several times sent Elmo's fire along our backpacks. Beautiful it was but one experience of that sort does it for me. Some of the "kids" I knew in Boulder, Colorado, used to wait for thunderstorms, rush up the mountain and wave metal poles and rods around hoping they'd light up. That wasn't my idea of fun, although I'm sure it was exciting.
 
In spite of what I’ve just said I still enjoy going up and down, for me it’s all the fun. I’ve never lingered on top. You can't truly see a mountain from on top - they're lots prettier from a distance. Now, if you want to see valleys and gentle slopes that’s a different story.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mubarak's Egypt Had Nothing on Us

During the afternoon of the day Mubarak stepped down, I was driving to an appointment and listening to NPR, an interview of a supposed expert on Egypt.  Just that morning, I had watched Al Jazeera English and Democracy Now!’s coverage of the celebrations in Tahrir Square and the various interviews they had on the same subject, where I learned from Lisa Hajjar, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on Democracy Now!, that Omar Suleiman was/is “...the CIA’s Man in Cairo and Egypt’s Torturer-in-Chief,” that he had, in fact, tortured a person himself.

Imagine my disgust, therefore, when, listening to NPR that afternoon, I was told Suleiman was not the bad guy his “critics” said he was. Instead, it went something like this, from another NPR story:

“Suleiman brings to these discussions a long history of involvement in delicate Middle East negotiations. He has been Mubarak's principal representative in discussions with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and he has mediated between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions of the Palestinian leadership. He also has close contacts with Saudi and Iraqi leaders, and he has met often with top U.S. military and political officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, formerly the head of the U.S. military's Central Command.


"Omar Suleiman is careful, calculating, shrewd, obviously extremely intelligent," said David Mack, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs in the administration of George H.W. Bush. "That comes across when you speak to him."


Suleiman's leadership in crafting a way out of Egypt's dangerous political stalemate is characteristic of his experience, Cohen says.


"He's a strategic thinker," he said. "He is trying to design a strategy that would allow the changes in Egypt to take place peacefully without further bloodshed and would not split the army and the people. They know that if there is a split between the army and the people that would damage the whole structure of the legitimacy of the Egyptian state." 


Notice the difference? Nothing about torture. This is what is known as lies by omission, and that is NPR’s journalistic ethic these days—no ethical or moral compunction to tell the whole truth at all. Don’t expect the truth about Egypt’s “Torturer in Chief;” you’re going to be protected from all those pesky little details.

This is, in part, an aspect of what Chris Hedges is talking about, when he refers to the “death of the liberal class.” This is why ordinary Democrats, those who only read the New York Times, or listen to “liberal” NPR —mainstream media— will never rise up in anger against the status quo as did the Egyptians—because the status quo looks so rosy to them, compliments of a mainstream media that is designed to keep them ignorant of reality. Try to tell them about Dish Network’s Free Speech TV, or Link TV, or Democracy Now!, and you’ll get, “Well, those are biased,” as if lies by omission are not reflective of bias.

Really, oppressions against the people by clumsy dictatorships, such as that of Mubarak’s Egypt, can’t compare for effectiveness to America’s more advanced, sophisticated means of oppression. Keep the people fat and happy, and you can do anything you like.

This is the reason it will be a long, long wait, before Americans will rise up in a passionate defense of democratic freedoms—they’ve got their perky local TV personalities, their Oprah, their magical, optimistic will power, and no news station will ever disabuse them of their delusions of living in a democracy. Even conservative "news" stations such as Fox will fail to criticize, for example, the Obama Administration for torturing detainees. But even they, as much as they wish to destroy Obama, must be silent on torture.  Call him a "socialist," but torture?  Sh-h-h-h...

—Zenzoë