Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What is to be done? Autumn Equinox 2017

    There's not much time. There's a lot to do. That much should be obvious to anyone with a pulse and a little compassion.  Everything I'm talking about has to be understood within and emerging from a realization that humans are committing ecocide.  This self-destructive pattern has opposing forces, communities and networks devoted to extinguishing those disastrous ideologies that have brought us to this precipice.  In the long run of history, it is my hope to see an end to capitalism, imperialism and male supremacy, the breeders of war and misery.

    In the short run, this could be a moment of rare opportunity.
    After eight months in office, there are more public calls for the impeachment of the President.  This will not happen as long as the GOP holds majorities in both houses of Congress.  With the mid-term elections next year, there is a serious possibility that the Republicans could lose that control.
    The other party, the Democrats, is in perpetual confusion.  Without dissecting the factions, let's allow that Sanders' campaign disproved the "conventional wisdom" governing the DNC & DLC campaign strategies.  Fortunately, the Sanders team has continued to work inside and outside the official party, pushing the conversation to the left, supporting local action committees, identifying and promoting progressive candidates to challenge the Wall Street Democrats.  For example, Every Voice  is a spin-off that's getting good results.
    This is a chance to challenge the old guard.  We need to find a lot of good, qualified people to get into races up and down the ticket, from school boards to Senators.  School boards?  We need to defend our schools from privatization as "charter" schools, don't we?  City council?  We want decent housing, fair wages, safe streets and clean water, don't we?  We know this if we studied "Civics."  These are abiding concerns for many of us on the local level.
    The unusual circumstances right now will require an enormous, coordinated effort to succeed.  I believe it would be possible to impeach the president and vice-president and choose a new Speaker of the House, who would ascend to the White House.  To do this, we would have to challenge and defeat many Democrats and Republicans currently sitting in the House.  With a progressive-tilted House, a new Speaker could be installed as the 46th President.  Think about that.

    Where do candidates come from? 
    Honestly, I don't know, but I have some ideas that suggest an historical trajectory we should take advantage of. 

   (At this point in composition I stopped to see what was causing Lambert's distress... )

    It's difficult to say how many authentic grassroots political action groups are functioning today. All the well-known and established non-profits have their spin-offs and astro-turf fronts competing for attention and dollars as well. (Check your Inbox if you doubt me. ) There are reports now, in the wake of the Democrats' purge of progressives, that the field of challengers the GOP will face comes from the Democrats' loyal donor class & "bundlers."
    If you participate in a group that has taken a stand to resist the GOP and Trump/Pence regime, look around and think about who might be a serious candidate for a local or district campaign. Who are the "spark plugs" and who are the stalwarts? What is the passion that drives them?
    Every day my email box is full of appeals for money, reports and alerts, projections and analysis, frequently above or below a name that's become familiar from repetition. Do any of these people aspire to public service, representing the folks they live with and advocate for? They are well up on current events and their public record should be readily available.
    Maybe you are the person to step up? Or a family member? A friend among your circle? It seems so remote, I know, and yet this is the essence of civic life and citizen democracy. As a democracy, we must insist upon respecting both "majority rule" and "minority rights" lest we perpetuate the present plutocratic hierarchy of power into the future.
    Last, here is a short list of groups from my inbox. You might recognize some of them. Just to repeat myself, "Who are these activists and could they be successful candidates who win elections?"

Rachel Warino   CA Labor Fed
Sabrina Joy Stevens   National Women's Law Center
Lucia, Candace, & Dutch
Emily Heffling  Western States Outreach Coordinator, Union of Concerned Scientists—       
    Oakland Office
Shaun O’Brien  AFL-CIO
Good Jobs Nation
Our Revolution
Sum Of Us
Ben Wikler  MoveOn
Brandy Doyle  CREDO Action 
Lena Moffitt  Sierra Club
Jay Henderson   Democracy for America
Reuben Hayslett   Demand Progress

     There are a handful of special elections coming up. It will be interesting to see what happens. In Alabama for example.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Observations in mid-summer, 2017

     The recently installed, but illegitimate, forty-fifth resident of the nation's capital has continued his demolition of 'life as we know it' for millions of people. The axe of presidential authority falls primarily on the necks of people who are poor, speak English as a second or third language, or belong to a 'Middle-Eastern faith community.'
     My friends have an old eucalyptus on the hillside above the street that needs to come down before it falls down. They called the crew that's been trimming their trees forever. The crew is down to the boss, one guy and a trainee. The rest of his guys had to leave, or stay home while their wives went to work. My friends tried another tree trimmer, but he said the tree was too big for his crew.
     Almost every day now people are in the streets for immigrants' rights, protesting the round-ups and deportations, the travel bans. Civil rights groups are raising funds to challenge the executive orders in the courts. The government is confident it will prevail. With the confirmation of the White House's choice for the Supreme Court, this seems likely in the end. Meanwhile, on the streets, ICE, the new Migra, is working overtime to fill those buses.
     The new crew in the White House, a collection of billionaires and vulture capitalists like 45, has cleaned house, giving pink slips to everyone left, scrubbed department websites, and ruthlessly rolled back as much of the previous administration's regulatory protections as it can reach, with help from the Republican controlled Congress. Privacy and net neutrality are about gone. Environmental protections: gone. School lunches and women's health: gone. Voting rights: going. Police reviews: on hold. Pipelines: green light. Arctic drilling: green light. And these "executive actions" have yet to be complemented by the Congress' legislative agenda, including repeal of ACA, tax reform, energy policy, immigration reform, trade agreements and another shot at privatizing Social Security.
     And there's the war business, the engine that drives the the imperial juggernaut across borders, the endless struggle for domination of markets and resources. By some experts' figuring, more than half of all Federal tax revenue goes to "defense" (which also includes veterans' benefits, pensions, etc.), a fact that validates the assertion that the US spends more on its military than the next seven nations combined. If we spent less on defense, we could divert our tax dollars to do all kinds of things that need doing! That's not going to happen with the current regime in control.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson Discuss the Recent Turn of Events

(With the assistance of Reel Covert Surveillance, LLC & ImagiNation, IBU)

     "So, Sherlock, I see you've got your violin in your lap," Watson observed. "Were you playing before I arrived, perhaps?"
     The consulting detective nodded, stroking the body of the fine instrument. "Playing, Watson? No, not really. I was composing a dirge, actually."
     "Really, Holmes? A dirge?" Watson asked with some surprise. "Whose demise has roused you to attempt such an effort? Particularly after your own recent... er... challenges."
     Holmes smirked a little as he spoke, "There you are again, John, with a euphemism. But, your question is to the point." Putting flame to his pipe, producing a cloud of blue smoke, his voice seemed for a moment to be disembodied, in the vapor. "Whose demise has moved my cold heart to admit the feverish delusion of grief? What loss, you may well ask, is great enough to penetrate the armor of self-sufficiency and independence Sherlock Holmes has fashioned?"
     "Indeed, Holmes, I'd not meant... "
     "No, John, don't protest," Holmes said gently. "Perhaps it was nearly being removed from the game, as you mentioned, made me aware how marginal, how expendable each of us is. How perilously fragile our existence is, despite our best defenses."
     "You surprise me, Sherlock!" the doctor said. "Surely, with everything we've seen these many years, you must have understood! We all suffer, we all die."
     "But, Watson, I believed we were exempt, immortal, eternal."
     "Now, you don't?"
     "Not anymore."

     "What's changed, Sherlock? We've both been revived more than once."
     Holmes almost smiled at the remark. "Indeed, Watson, we have come back from the dead a time or two." He mused a moment before going on. "I believed 'the game' would go on forever, and as long as the game was afoot, I'd always be a part of it," Holmes explained, "with you, of course, there too."
     "And now... ?"
     "The game is over, Watson," said Holmes. "It is for the demise of the game that I grieve," he added, and fell silent.
     Dr. Watson sat in his own cloud of silence, for a moment, but his was a bewildered silence, unlike Holmes' gloom. "Sherlock, please, what are you saying?"
     Holmes' eyes appeared to sparkle a moment, perhaps with tears-- smoke or sadness? --as he met his friend's gaze."Barring the appearance of Maitreya or a World Teacher or some wise and benevolent extra-terrestrial beings capable of facilitating the universal transformation of human beings into conscious, peaceful creatures overnight... in short without a miracle, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that our species is committing ecocide. We are ending the possibiity for human existence on our home world. Thus, the game is over." 
     "Surely, you must acknowledge signs of hope, Sherlock, signs of resistance? You can't truly think it's finished."
     "Of course, there is resistance, but it's much too little, John, and much too late," Holmes said sadly. "Before the apparent election results in the US were known, it was already beyond doubt. Rising sea levels, more extreme weather events (so-called), increasing levels of greenhouse gases. The petroleum-dependent global economy has catastrophic consequences. Now, even mitigation is out of the question. This generation will be helpless to stop the collapse happening around them."
     "Holmes! Stop! You're looking through the darkest lens," Watson objected. "Yes, it's bleak, but we don't quit, no matter how difficult."
     Holmes smiled, a little. "Your optimism has always been an annoying comfort in difficult moments, but here it is entirely misplaced. I should say the election results in America have sealed our fate and hastened the end considerably."


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I've Got Those Post-Election Armchair Revolutionary Blues   

    There are a couple aspects of the current socio-political situation that I want to look at. One is the vote-counting in swing states and the electoral college. The other is the correct stance in relation to the unfolding transfer of power to Trump and the Republicans.
    There are reports of voter suppression surfacing in the "swing" states Trump won. There is evidence that the rolls were scrubbed to dilute Democratic numbers, giving the GOP the narrowest of victories in a handful of states, enough to take the electoral college. Greg Palast, who has been on top of this story since the 2000 election, is on it again. If this story got the attention it deserves, millions of ballots currently uncounted, in storage, would have to be counted. People who are petitioning for the abolition of the electoral college should find this investigation helpful to their cause. Despite the criminal disenfranchisement of millions, it appears Clinton has won the popular majority and would be President, but for the electoral college. Activists in the targeted states should keep the spotlight on this, get the media covering it with press releases where the ballots are stored (or destroyed). Find voters who were denied the right and have a picnic/speak out (with media, livestream).
    As this story unfolds, look for signs of a third party emerging. Do folks prize the vote but despise the choices? I bet they do, and that's something we want to foster.
      *                  *
    With daily announcements to the press services, Trump's team has identified the President-elect's first appointees, and they are appalling. Which is my second, but primary, concern today. What is the correct stance to take with respect to this transfer of power? There are some on the left, within the Democratic establishment, counselling for a conciliatory, "Wait and see" posture. The sitting President has offered his cooperation. The Senator from Vermont has promised to help Trump do what is good for the country, and vigorously oppose him when he does not. The mainstream mass media appear to be engaged in the process of reshaping, or reframing, what is acceptable, normal public behavior for the head of state. At the same time, the press is schooling Trump, tripping him up over his conflicts of interest and displays of ignorance. He is a media-creature and like any organism, he'll adapt to the changing environment or die.
    There seems, to my ear, to be a chorus calling for cautious vigilance: yellow alert, as it were. It may be based on some romantic belief in the gravitas of the office having a sobering effect on the occupant. Don't count on it, I say. If anything, it's likely to feed the ego of a narcissist. My initial response to "Wait and see" was, "See what? How bad it can get?" For half-a-second I was seduced by Obama, but then I realized what a "successful" Trump presidency would mean: the achievement of his campaign pledges:  Mass deportations. A Scalia-clone on the Supreme Court. Obama care-- gone. EPA-- gone. And what else?
    Those are but the dire prospects perhaps in the future. Turning to what we know, by past words and deeds, there are predictions we can reasonably make about decisions Trump will make that affect us all. We can begin with those appointees mentioned in passing above. Each is an indicator of the tone, style and objective purpose of the incoming regime. Trump's closest advisor and chief strategist, Steven Bannon, created Breitbart, the pre-eminent platform of the 'alt-right' white-rights movement. The head of the transition team for energy policy is the leading climate-change denier. The economics advisors include the CEO of Cerberus, former chair of the SEC, & a longtime exec from Goldman-Sachs. Trump's choice for Attorney-General is so reactionary, he was rejected by the Senate for a federal judgeship. The next head of the CIA is the quintessential Tea-Party Republican, totally in the pocket of the Kochs and neo-Cons. And then Trump's other "first" apointment, his national security advisor, has drawn attention for his apparent close ties to Putin and vitriolic comments about Muslims. Lest we forget, it's only been two weeks. More to come.
    In addition to these political moves that determine how the state is to be governed, some of Trump's other doings outside the Office are having an impact. His tweets continue to draw attention in the media. His refusal to hold a press conference raises questions about access, privacy and transparency. His private meetings with heads of state are "off the record." His continued refusal to repudiate the bigotry of white supremacist groups emboldened by his election clarifies his pledge to represent all Americans. He means all those who are white.
*                        *
    To me, it's obvious this is the early stage of a fascist coup. Remember Mussolini's definition? The corporate capture of the state apparatus. Most of the Congress, most federal courts, state legislatures and governors are dependent on corporate "sponsorship." There are ways to please the sponsor, and ways to provoke his wrath. Invariably, "he" is also "white." The election of a neo-fascist governor in Wisconsin, followed by the crushing defeat of the state's public unions, demonstrates the power and ruthless indifference of the "corporate elite." (Give me a better term?) From my perspective, there is no alternative but to oppose Trump in every possible way. When I consider the arc of history, both the long view and the short, there is no room for compromise with illegitimate authority that appeals to racist supremacy. Mr Trump and I share the same planet, breathe the same air, but that is all we have in common. Thus, I must stand in militant, non-violent resistance to his election, installation and occupation of the Office of President.
    As I watch the talking heads on tv, tossing their points back and forth, this "new normal" becomes more and more hollow as I listen. Now it strikes me what's missing from all this empty talk. I have not heard from the Elders, from the Grandmothers, from women, from communities of color, from the displaced and undocumented victims of American intervention. These are voices I want to hear. I want their counsel. I want them to tell me if my stance is correct or not.

     (The election was two weeks ago. Turkey Day is this week. In between, we've survived another Arroyo Arts Collective Discovery Tour, and been to my Uncle Al's funeral. I feel like I'm still recovering from the three weeks I spent subbing at a Charter school, teaching high school English. (That's a subject for another essay.) Just giving context to this entry.)  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Versions of Kabir

     When Charles showed me the poems I was shocked by the erotic energy, and had to look again at some of my attitudes and ideas about love, sex and language. So, when I looked again at Tagore and Bly, I had to wonder what Kabir would say to each of them about their renderings:

Here's Tagore:
     Within this earthen vessel are bowers and groves,
           and within it is the Creator:
     Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the
           unnumbered stars.
     The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
     And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and
           the spring wells up.
     Kabir says: "Listen to me, my Friend! My beloved
           Lord is within."

And now Robert Bly:
     Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains,
         and the maker of canyons and pine mountains!
     All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars.
     The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.
     And the music from the strings no one touches, and the source
         of all water.
     If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
     Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

     Both versions have given me a lot of pleasure. I appreciate Tagore's genteel language with its implicit affection for the western canon. He is presenting a vernacular Indian poet of the masses to an audience of European upper class intellectuals and theologians. He probably felt constrained to use language that would not discomfort his readers.
     Robert Bly's approach fifty years later has the advantage of being able to use contemporary vernacular. Bly's readers in the 60's and 70's were acquainted with non-European
arts and  philosophies and not likely to be put off by language less exalted than Edwardian English. Bly argues that Kabir and Mirabai used everyday language, common situations and familiar examples to instruct their listeners and convey the message. The message hasn't changed, Bly reminds us, but the metaphors and idioms may seem obscure to us, 500 years later. Still, he says he strives for accuracy. Kabir's lyrics were learned by heart and later written down in several languages. Tagore worked with Bengali translations, and Bly reworked Tagore's work.
     So, accounting for the differences in language and style, reflecting a developing sophistication among western readers, I find a satisfying sense of harmony and agreement in the content of the two versions. I think Kabir's essential teaching survives, despite some questions I have in understanding particular images Bly and Tagore chose to employ.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Part of my Home Health CareTeam

This is Felicity, aka "Shorty"


Melissa, or Misa

 Nutmeg, aka "Nutty" or Spice Girl

Post-Op Reflections

I remember being rolled into the O.R. on the gurney, looking around, hearing voices around me, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the resident, the cool air ….

                   Dark. Depthless darkness. Deep within the darkness a spark,
the tip of a cone of light, turning, replicating gyres emanating, expanding, blossoming petals of fire and the sound of wind rising within the silence of the darkness….

And then I came to in a bed in a room with different people around who I didn’t recognize… dozed off and came to again, and this time I recognized Karen, bright eyes and smile. I think I smiled back and nodded off, having figured out I wasn’t dead, just very tired. And very sore.

I was up and walking the day after the open-heart procedure. The doctors were pleased with their work and my recovery went very well. During the four days I spent in the hospital, I had wonderful care from the nursing staff, some remembering me from last year’s stay in the West Tower.  Karen came daily without fail and on Sunday I had a sweet visit from Bob & Mercedes. The food service, of which I have complained so noisily on previous occasions, has actually gotten worse.

When not sleeping or being attended to, I was able to enjoy a few of the other perks of this age of miracles:  listening to an orchestra and chorus perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and Lata Mangeshkar singing bhajans (Chala Vahi Des). On my portable CD player, recordings of Maharaji’s satsangs put me blissfully to sleep. The truly healing thing was Knowledge, practicing, accepting each breath, accepting the pain.


As I look at our recent history, the narrow slice of the last 150 years, several features seem apparent to me. And, looking at micro trends within this recent period tends to validate what I think I see. Looking at our modern age within the much larger continuum of human development over the past million years, I'm even more persuaded that we are on the cusp of significant social and global transformations.

I really don't think that the socio-political and socio-economic models that have been in play for the last couple hundred years will be sustainable for much longer. The environmental changes that are coming will likely be much more devastating than current models predict simply because the entrenched systems of resource development and allocation are not responding to the crises quickly enough. We're also learning that collapse tends to accelerate and cascade in unpredictable ways. The social  and political changes that are being demanded by "democracy movements" will of course be resisted by those who now have power. It's hard to see how global conflicts over water rights and human rights can be avoided. Of course, no one knows what the future will be, but there's no way things can continue as they are going for much longer. And that's just the "short term view."

Taking the long view, I tend to agree with critics and analysts who argue that we have done so much deep harm to our natural biological human inheritance that we, as a species, have become a significant destructive factor for all life forms that share our ecosystems. In nature, when a species endangers the ecosystem, you know what happens: the system collapses and the destructive species dies back or disappears. Homo sapiens is obviously a mortal danger to the planet’s biosphere. And, we have been watching ecosystems collapsing regularly now for fifty years, species going extinct, new unexpected life forms appearing (viruses, for example) and changes in the very structures of creatures that have been stable in the context of evolution for tens of millions of years.

I am not a doom & gloom guy. My personal experience, my faith, my understanding of "how things work"… persuade me that this is perhaps a unique point in human/global/cosmic evolution. If you believe, as I do, that the Universe is essentially conscious and benevolent (not indifferent, nor hostile) and that the Creation is a kind of learning environment for many different kinds of sentient beings, then we (as one species among many) are getting ready for a kind of Final Exam. I also believe that the key thing we have to understand for this graduation is not what we have learned (old models, old explanations, old ideologies, etc), but how we learn. We're so stuck in the past. We have to get into the present.

Part of the difficulty is that we have devised these educational systems that just don't work. Our schools tend to crush creativity, imagination and cooperation just when those are three of the human traits we need most! Do you know where the most talented people have gone over the past three or four generations? Into advertising!! The way children are taught today is absolutely upside-down and backward! Look, it is nature's gift to homo sapiens that we have this incredibly sophisticated nervous system, capable of …. you know! You've got one inside your skull, between your ears, behind your eyes! Is there anything more fun than solving a puzzle, figuring something out, learning something new? Our survival depends on our ability to learn and adapt, which we do by playing, experimenting with our environment. So, if you accept this coinage, homo sapiens ludens (which I think is obvious), it is easy to understand and explain the almost universal dislike children have for school.

But I digress.

In the previous essay, I felt called to speak to prayer. In this, I feel called to say something of hope, called by a friend’s recent beautiful meditation on the subject. As she clearly says, there are elements of promise and expectation that something desired will be fulfilled. It’s apparent to me as well how prayer and hope reflect each other across the surface of the human heart.

In the months before this surgical procedure I often considered “my odds,” risk factors, alternatives, et al. Several sharp hooks would snag my attention from time to time, particularly when I was in the ICU, pulling me into some scary, frightened places. The energy that got me off the hook, I’d have to call ‘hope’ in the sense here, that it’s my expectation that my desire to live will be fulfilled. I realize I will die, but before I do, I will have n crises over the course of my lifetime, and will survive n-1 times. Those are really good numbers to begin with, I’d say.

More meaningful than my glib manipulation of symbols is the feeling growing within me that this really is a special moment in our evolution. The world we live in today is so different from the environment our species was born into. As a species we have changed over the course of a couple million years. This interplay has generated an unprecedented degree of disequilibrium and potential for transformation. Admittedly, my assertions are general, vague and arguable. Correct me, please, where I’m missing something. Instruct me where I’m getting it wrong.

The epiphyllum blooming on the deck this week are simply spectacular. The Occupy movement is resurgent. We are six months from the Presidential election and seven months from the end of the Mayan calendar. Today I feel the promise of Spring, the possibility every day for something new and wonderful.  Maharaji is coming to LA in July, and I get to spend another day with Karen. I hope to be here a while longer, to be part of the play which I hope to be glorious!

Let me quote Arundhati Roy’s closing phrases from her 2002 Lannan Foundation lecture:

Perhaps things will get worse and then better. Perhaps there’s a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.
Eagle Rock
14 May 2012