Friday, January 29, 2010

Life in the land of Nod

The origin of the human species is a curious subject for study. These days, there are two predominant methods for gathering information upon which to form conclusions about that origin. There is science, and there is faith. These two are quite different from each other, so different, in fact, that there is no argument between them.
Each one is a language established for communicating certain messages.
Faith was established in human experience thousands of years before science was. It's inception is clouded in human antiquities. Faith is established upon human testimonies of divinely-revealed truth; by definition, it requires no proof, except the shared conviction of those who wield it.
Science came along only a few thousand years ago, having been initiated by analytical thinkers in ancient Greece. But the pragmatic use of scientific method only reached its critical mass in our modern period beginning about 700 years ago in the work of such thinkers as Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Pasteur, Curie, Einstein, Watson and Crick, etc. The evolution of the scientific method has brought the practitioners of science to a regimented system of establishing fact through hypotheses that are confirmed by empirical proof and data.
Science, a systematic proof of hypothetical statements, is a language unto itself with strict rules for establishing that proof.
Faith, a cultural manifestation of shared belief, is a language unto itself having no rules, but having morals, which are its chief end.
In our era, the body of scientific work following the work of Charles Darwin and others is presented as evidence that the human species evolved through genetic mutations from other species. The evidence for this is quite convincing.
As a practitioner of faith, a Christian, I have no argument with this. And the reason is found not in the scientific evidence itself but in the Scripture, fourth chapter of Genesis, verse 13:
Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."
So we see from divine revelation that there were, in Adam's time, other beings on earth who were capable of killing the son of Adam, Cain. Whoever these violent entities are, I know not, for scripture does not say. Whoever they were, they were not sons of Adam; for scripture is quite specific that Cain was the first son of Adam and Eve. The second son was Abel, whom Cain killed. The third son was Seth, who was born after God and Cain had their discussion about Cain's problems that resulted from his murder of Abel.
Furthermore, we see from Genesis that God granted mercy to Cain in spite of his murderous act and that (Gen. 4:15ff) ...Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was building a city and he named it after his son Enoch.
To identify these people who might have wanted to murder Cain is now impossible, and also unnecessary. If readers of the scripture would speculate upon their identity, some may suggest that these violent ones were some variant of Neanderthals, or more likely CroMagnons.
At any rate they were, it seems, a pretty violent lot, and God was quite upset when Cain's behavior revealed a tendency toward their brutality.
Therefore, if scientific enquiry produces evidence of pre-Adamic humanoids, I have, as a believer whose faith is founded in scripture, no problem with that.
My faith is formed by divine revelation. My knowledge of this earth is formed in science, among other things.
The history of the human species, as revealed in secular writings as well as in holy scripture, is evidence to me that man is a deficient creature. That is to say, we're not playing with a full deck, and we all have a few loose screws. Christian theologians use the term depraved. That assessment is correct. There is plenty of evidence in history of our rampant depravity.
What's essential to me as a person of faith is this: the existential dilemma presented as a consequence of our depravity requires God's own salvation, not our own, for we are incapable of it. When God breathed life into Adam, that intervention introduced a new work of His upon this earth. That divine work later found its fullest expression in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus becomes my role model. That's not to say that I attain the perfection that he did. But I'm following him.
If you want to trace your ancestry to the CroMagnons, or even to the blue people of Pandora, and identify with them, go right ahead. Knock yourself out.
Have a nice day.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's, oh, so much more than the bully pulpit that Teddy called it.

Teddy called it a bully pulpit; but it is so much more than that.
As our legislative branch of government finds itself in indecisive stalemate, our President steps up to the plate and speaks, among his many talking points, this simple statement:
"We should start where most new jobs do -- in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream or a worker decides it's time she became her own boss."
Oh yes, I know it sounds like rhetoric, and It tastes like cliched boilerplate Americana apple pie, but it's true. Now is the time for all men and women to come to the aid of their country.
I'm serious, y'all.
Congress can't fix it. The Court won't correct it, because the Court understands that we are a free people, and we needn't have the government do everything for us.
Just because the government bails out the fat cats, that doesn't mean we all have to be bailed out.
It's time for the American people to rise up and do what their government is unable to do, because their government is broke!
Americans, find something productive to do.
Oh, so you think there's nothing you can do in this situation?
Who's going to suffer if you don't act? Those, perhaps, who are dearest to you?
You may have to, uh, take a pay cut. That's a big part of what this deleveraging thing is all about.
If you're mad at the bankers, you can feel better about lowering your standard of living just a bit. The bankers don't like deflation.
Furthermore, this belt-tightening is what we need to make our exports competetive with the developing world. But the real crisis is not in our trade deficit, or even in our budget deficit.
It's in neighborhoods and our factories. Look around you. Look in your neighborhood, your city, your church. There's a lot of work that needs to be done.
It's up to you. Follow the President's advice; step up to the plate and show us what ya got.
Let's we the people lead our leaders back to true democracy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Constructing a new mythology

America's Judeo-Christian traditions darken into the shadows of history. The resultant void sucks unto itself whatever religious relics are strewn across our wasteland of secularity, and appropriates them into a new pseudo-spiritual infrastructure.
And so It appears that James Cameron and his comic book predecessors are constructing a new mythology to replace the old Greco-Roman obsolete one.
Apollo, Venus, Prometheus and that Olympian crowd are a little too primitive to suit our enlightened 21st-century purposes, so the storybook priesthood now anoints a new pantheon. Their divine commission is to set the agenda for all that we hold dear in the future.
The new collection of immortals originated some seventy or eighty years ago with Superman and Wonder Woman, and later expanded to include Batman, Spiderman and others who you've no doubt heard of.
Then, just a half-century ago or so, the blocky old comic-book superheroes made a temporary exit stage left to accommodate a new crop of superhumans whose fanciful incarnations were revealed through movies and tv.
This late-20th-century god-crop takes on a relatively cerebral character, compared to the old superhuman crowd; Mr. Spock and Luke Skywalker, for instance, manifest their superiority in aptitudes that appear far more human than the earlier crowd of legendary giants. And smarter too--that's a big part of the new wave. Since there are far more educated people on the planet now than ever before, especially in the USA where so much of the Oz mythmaking began. The new appointment of emulants includes some very smart entities. Back in the old days, the first requirement for virtual godhood was physical strength. Now that has taken a back seat to intelligence, especially with the discovery of DNA and the mapping of the human genome placing new parameters on this whole god-making process.
Now a light-year leap in datastream technology enables the advent of the most potent demigod of all--the blue avatar. This Cameron-conceived character releases, from your local multiplex movie palace, a Pandoran plethora of highly fortified planet-saving personae. The blue avatar is very special, though, because along with his digital incarnation comes the virtual announcement of the gods' agenda for our age: save the planet. And this is an agenda of much greater significance than just the old crime-stopping checklist.
James Cameron and his legion of avatar-makers have done a very impressive job of setting that agenda in the context of the old good vs evil drama. They've cooked up a pretty convincing crop of bad guys whose resource-devouring rapacity outperforms even the baddest villainry of the old military-industrial complex. Their maiden-voyage launch of the blue Pandoran debacle makes you wish you could just leave this drudgy world behind and become one of those noble blue savages. And that is, in fact, what the avatar does--becomes one of them.
More on this later. Have a nice day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Narrowing the focus

When you are young, your horizons expand. Your world gets wider and wider.
It starts when you're born. . After cacooning in total darkness and protective custody for nine months or so, suddenly there you are splashed down like a space capsule into a wave-tossed world. It's probably confusing as hell for a young soul, a rude awakening for sure. But then who remembers it? I don't.
Your senses go to work immediately, trying to make some sense of it all, not that you have any sense yet--just senses. More than likely, they are overloaded right off the bat. But then somehow you manage to pull it together and register your protest to this rude awakening with a scream. Good for you. If you're lucky like most people, you're mama will cuddle you and offer a warm welcome even in the midst of this strangely cold environment. But if mama rejects you then only God can help you. Maybe you'll make it through the other phases into real life, or maybe you won't.
If you do make it, and years go by, your senses slowly learn how to deal with life, and they develop a collaborative arrangement with your body that informs your body of what is happening around you and then your brain tells you how to respond in any given situation. And God helps if you let him.
Time passes; your opportunities for personal development grow and grow. Your world gets wider and wider. If you are blessed, you'll eventually learn how to live life and enjoy it instead of just having some meaningless routine.
Lately I've noticed that when folks get old that whole process seems to reverse. The senses seem to wither away, becoming less precise and less dependable as the days roll by. One or the other of them may even shut down altogether, even before that big bucket comes along and you kick it. And it's not just a person's senses that slowly fade away. It's also their sensibilities. Old folks just aren't tuned into what's going on like they were back in the day. Any particular person may be sharp as a tack with the long term memories and all, but there just doesn't seem to be many reasons left for them to be tuning into all the other stuff that's happening around them in this life, especially the useless stuff like who's the latest movie star and drivel like that.
Most folks will go through this process, having their awareness gradually narrowed until at last it's just a little speck of consciousness--a little essence of _______(fill in your name) that slips into the universe, whatever that is. For me, it will be meeting the resurrected one, Jesus.
Some folks, though, will not have the experience of that slow narrowing. They will not grow old and pass into eternity. Perhaps their demise will come suddenly, like it did for the person whose foot I saw on the telly last night.
I turned the dam thing on after Pat and I arrived at the hotel room here in Honolulu. And so there on the tube is Anderson Cooper reporting on the pile of Haitian rubble behind him. He gestures downward; the camera pans to a human foot, the only visible part of body that's covered with a broken concrete slab. Whoever that person was, he or she did not grow old.
Or, It didn't look like an old foot.

Monday, January 18, 2010

He had a dream.

"'I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.'''

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
August 28, 1963

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In defense of God

Phil Angelides mentioned to Lloyd Blankfein that there is a difference between acts of God and acts of men/women.
I’d like to add a little bit to that discussion by pointing out that there is also a difference between acts of God and acts of nature.
An act of God would be, for instance his provision every minute of every day of breath in your lungs and beating in your heart.
On the other hand, a financial breakdown would be classified as an act of man, because it is the foolishness of men that makes such things happen.
An earthquake, however, is an act of nature. There’s no need to blame God.
Here’s why:
If this lump of matter that we call earth was once a sizzling, hot sphere of lava that shot off from the sun or the big bang or from however all that creative process spun out, then there would necessarily be cracks forming along its surface as the earth cooled.
Have you ever seen a mud puddle that dried up in the sun? Perhaps you noticed the mud, thick and wet. A few days later you walked by it and noticed that the mud had cracked as it dried.
That process, roughly speaking, is what has happened on the entire surface of the earth since it became a planet. Furthermore, that geological process has not ended; it is still happening. Cracks are still forming in the surface of the earth, rearranging its face.
When a crack happens where thousands of people are living, many get killed because heavy stuff that humans have made falls on them and crushes them. This is one of many hazards of living on this planet; it goes with the territory.
The cracks in earth’s crust develop along what geologists call “fault” lines.
So understand that the earthquake in Haiti happened as a result of a fault in the earth. This tragic event was the earth’s fault.
It there was any “curse” involved, it was just what somebody uttered when they realized what the hell was going down in Port au Prince.
It’s not God’s fault, and it’s not an act of God.
If you think the earth just happened this way, then don’t blame God because you don’t believe in him/her anyway.
If you’re thinking that maybe there is a God who created the earth, then you may be wondering why did he make such a dangerous place where innocent people get killed seemingly for no reason?
I don’t know, but I do know this: you shouldn’t shove the blame on God for something that is the earth’s fault.
If you ever do meet him then perhaps you can ask him about it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Where to now, St. Labor?

Human history presents to us an account of people learning how to work together to overcome nature’s hostility. Toward that end, we see that humans organized themselves, erecting along the way great institutions of government and culture. We associate the history of past institutions with the names of leaders who founded them—Alexander, Caesar, Napolean. Magnanimous leaders rise up to forge empires or institutions from the fragmented resources of previous ages. Years later, those institutions are slowly dismantled and/or necessarily reconstructed by their descendants.

In the context of our western world, for instance, we read that the disarray of Alexander’s Greek empire eventually furnished a rubble of culture and knowledge upon which a Roman empire could later be erected. With the passing of more centuries, the Catholic Church replaced the Roman empire as an organizing structure for further civilizing development. Later still, the papal dominance was decimated by Protestant reforms and restructuring. Then came the nation-states projecting their varied hegemonies—Germany, Austro-Hungary, France, Great Britain.

This dynamic of growth and decline is seen throughout the history of the world in kingdoms, empires, nations. We can see similar patterns in business.

In the United States, we saw Rockefeller blasting his way through the American hinterlands, building an empire of oil and railroads along the way. We saw Carnegie forging a great institution of steel. We saw Edison providing the spark for an energized era of electrical empowerment.

Then as sure as you’re born, along came enterprising innovators and aggregators to capitalize upon the industrializing tracks that had been laid in previous years. Ford, GM, Chrysler all carved out, over the course of the twentieth century, their slices of our burgeoning prosperity. That prosperity was founded upon the potential energy of hydrocarbons being kineticisezed into economic dynamism.

It's a similar scenario in this era, the age of information.

Consider a great company called IBM. There’s an innovative giant that made a big impact on the way American business was conducted in the latter half of the twentieth century. IBM, through profit-seeking creativity, converted the record-keeping practice of business in this country from traditional hand-scribed accounting procedures to computerized data management. Their resourcefulness produced a string of new developments that changed forever the way business is done, and generated huge profits for its investors and employees along the way.

For a while, IBM didn’t just change with the times; IBM changed the times.

For twenty years or so.

Then along came Microsoft and Apple. The rise of software-enabled personal computing effectively dismantled IBM’s mainframe empire.

Now Microsoft is where IBM was twenty years ago—too big to adapt, too cumbersome to think out of the pc box. Microsoft’s empire of software and personal computing power is being overshadowed in a networking cloud that will leave their twenty-year windows of opportunity quaintly obsolete. Their expensive proprietary packages will go the way of the punchcard, lying in the chads of business history.

Could IBM have foreseen the rise of Microsoft and Apple and made adjustments to ensure its own position of primacy in the computing world? No way. That’s not the way it works. Innovations are made by new entities that are not confined by thinking inside institutional boxes.

Could Microsoft have foreseen the rise of Google and Cisco and made adjustments to ensure their position of primacy in the computing world? They did not. Now Microsoft’s dominance is fading into a cloud. Does Microsoft have within its programming loins the resourcefulness to, twenty years from now, evolve with the times and emerge, as IBM has, with a new role? We shall see.

In times such as these great leaders make things happen differently from the way they did before.

Thomas J. Watson and Bill Gates were both legendary icons in the history of business, but neither of them could build an empire that would be immune from the abrasive grinding of the sands of time and competition.

Just as IBM had to be downsized, restructured as a new entity in order to function effectively in the competitive world of business, and just as Microsoft is now being, or must be, similarly rearranged if it to survive, so must be the strategy of every working person in these United States.

The sun is setting on America, and we can't go west, young man young woman, any more. California's broke. Now the westward march of American industry has screeched to a great, grinding halt. Will the working stiffs of this country wither to welfare atrophy while cyber-savvy credit swappers securitize their way to gated-community opulence?

Working people of the USA, we better figure out a way to get through these cataclysmic times—a way that goes beyond making demands upon the diminishing resources of a waning American business empire—a way that goes beyond sucking the dregs of a failing insurance system—a way that surpasses the passing of greenback reserve notes issued by an insolvent government.

And that way will surely involve an old-fashion thing called work. Time to get off our asses; that includes you democrats.

I’m asking you, the working people of America, because, although I worked for twenty-five years as a carpenter in North Carolina, I’ve never been a union guy. From my southern, right-to-work perspective, the unions’ demands on corporate resources were appropriate and constructive in past ages of expansion when there was plenty of work to go around. But now those demands are incongruous with our present predicament of scarcity. And what are we going to do about it?

Where are the true labor leaders of our age?

Let’s face it folks. The American labor movement, in its present incarnation, has outlived its usefulness. What must it do to morph to something useful again?

What would Eugene V. Debs do? What would John L. Lewis do? What would Cesar Chavez do? Try to write new contracts with dinosauric car companies that have, by their failure to make fuel-economizing innovations, painted themselves into a corner of stylish obsolescence?

The “organizing” for our next phase of the American experiment must be even more innovative than any previous expressions of it. We’ll have to get back to our roots, literally.

Got veggies?

Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

Saturday, January 9, 2010

After seeing Across the Universe

Guy gets girl. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I discover anew this gem of truth whenever I watch a great love story movie, and especially Julie Traymor’s masterpiece, Across the Universe. You say that’s an old movie? Yes, it’s two years old. Big deal. Pat and I just got around to viewing it on our daughter’s DVD, because we’re old fuddy-duddies. But we don’t care, because together we found long ago what the movie presents as life’s most important accomplishment.
She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah, and I love her. You can take all the rest and shred it—all the psychedelics, the fashion, the crusading pacifism, the sleepin’ around, ,the druggy paraphernalia and countercultural struggle--They’re not worth a dime compared to true love.
Like many a child of the 60s, I could relate to this movie in a big way, and had a lot of fun watching it. I discovered a precious nugget of truth: All the angst-ridden longings that burdened my aching soul during those years of my teens and twenties--they have, since that time, been fulfilled! And I thank God and my wife Pat for that.
Those youthful pangs, so powerfully expressed in the Beatles’ music, became the shared experience of the baby boomers. Most any American or Brit in their fifties could tell you that. The fab four from Liverpool truly captured the heart and soul of my g-g-generation’s search for love and purpose, and turned it into an amazing collection of music. This movie takes the Beatle’s unique platform of genius and expands its message to a new level of profundity. And what is that message?
All you need is love.
It's a great message, and so poignantly depicted in the movie’s last scene. Traymor’s choice of that particular Beatles song, rendered by the cast in a rooftop concert, really says it all. Are we then to believe that the bottom line for the Fab Four all along was just Love?...from I Wanna Hold Your Hand to Hey Jude to pop-culture immortality and beyond--nothin' but simple, silly Love? You tell me. I mean, guy gets girl—what else is there in life? She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a declaration that every man hopes to one day shout out to the world. Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. And what's wrong with that?
Well, admittedly this whole production was a McCartneyish take on the legendary John/Paul philosophical tension that produced such incredible creativity and musical art, but that’s another blog.
So I, the McCartneyite, repose the question: What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with love? Nothing that I can find.
Actually, I did find a few things.
I mean, the movie is dangerous for young people to watch. I wouldn't trust anyone under thirty to really track with it without falling into some serious error. The characters Sadie and JoJo--who represent in the movie the Janis and Jimi phenoms of unbridled creativity—also ultimately manifested in real life self-destructive behavior. Traymor and her crew don’t tell you that in this piece of work, but then that wasn’t within the scope of their project. I can see that. But I gotta tell ya that in real life Joplin and Hendrix both died at an appallingly young age, due to poor lifestyle choices--destructive choices. They may have been cool, but then they were dead . All that free love and consciousness-altering substances takes a toll on a body. I swore it off long ago when I turned to Jesus for deliverance.
And so while the Beatles and their innovative contemporaries certainly captured, in unique ways the essence of our 60's kids' deep longing for love, they also mislead us in some very perilous ways.
Rebelling against anything that didn’t seem to make sense was a major part of the whole 60’s countercultural movement. Later on, (although it actually started in the 50s with that Kerouac and James Dean thing) the mainstream media appropriated that youthful alienation as the basis for so many relativistic, hedonistic , not to mention profitable, blockbusting media works of art and music.
But smashing the bounds of societal proprieties does not constitute art. Ultimately, we have discovered that this kind of libertinism can lead to addictions, unwanted pregnancies, abortive practices, predatory sexual abuses, laziness and a host of other social evils.
And here’s why I’m a McCartneyite, not a Lennonist. I can be mildly entertained by the riotously colorful psychedelic implications of Lucy in the Sky and goo goo goo goo job nonsense, but when you get right down to it, it’s not sustainable in real life.
When Lennon sang, and later sexy Sadie sang in Across the Universe “why don't we do it in the road?” No. uhuh. My buck stops here. John. I wouldn't want my children to entertain themselves with that song. Just pushing the envelope, busting societal taboos in ever-more-creative ways does not justify creative endeavor. The end of that road is pedophilia and snuff films.
Thanks to Paul McCartney, though, the Beatles’ legacy, so beautifully expressed and expanded in this movie, manages to present some admirable content: love, love, love. And Traymor’s story, created in collaboration with screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, presents a sublimely moving saga that truly expresses the quest upon which my g-g-generation was so obsessed.
Part of the appeal of the 60s phenomenon is that we really were together as one sort of big litter of kids spoiled Dr. Spock kids. We had a uniquely common experience as that first-ever tv-raised generation, before the onslaught of this present fragmentation of media in which every consumer seeks the voice that reinforces what he/she has already concluded to be valuable.
How different was our experience as baby boomers from what this generation must see and feel. Don McLean sang, "there we were all in one place--a generation lost in space." We really were all in one place, with our newsly documentation faithfull presented every evening by everybody's favorite uncle, Walter Kronkite, then followed by LIFE magazine’s glitzy oversimplified analysis, and our common nemesis being the fact that the world lacked the one thing it so obviously needs more than any other--authenticity.
There's a scene in the movie when a timeless profundity of classic drama is portrayed. It’s a moment when the dilemma of whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is pitted against the or by opposing end them choice of action. Jude, the artist protagonist , enters the office of the anti-war radicals with the intention of rescuing his true love, Lucy, from their (one male leader’s especially) dominating influence. The love-starved Jude barges into this hotbed-of-political activism office—something like the SDS or Weather Underground-- to challenge Lucy with a love ultimatum. The radical leader Paco instructs his loyalist aides to throw Jude out; he lands in the street outside. But before he gets ejected in the scene he starts singing-- right there in the antiwar office Jude begins singing-- in the richest, corniest tradition of all great musicals, these anthemic Lennon/McCartney lyrics, "you say you want a revolution, well you know, we all wanna change the world..."
But leave all this struggle behind; come with me and let's make a love nest is what he's really saying, and quite publicly, to Lucy there in the middle of the alienation and the protest of early 70s New York. And I’m here to tell ya that yes, Jude did, in the end-- long story short--take a sad song and make it better and get the girl. I can tell you that, because the movie is after all more than two years old and you’ve probably already seen it, even though Pat and I are just now getting around to watching it.
And that love thing--where Jude rescues Lucy from the illusions of a confused epic age, and probably eventually enriches her skies(and her finger) with diamonds—that love thing really is what it was all about for the Beatles, and for my g-g-generation too. Still is. Got love?

Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

Thursday, January 7, 2010

King Nevuhhadnuttin's dream

King Nevuhhadnuttin had a bad dream and he was trying to figure out the meaning of it but he couldn't and so he called in the wise satraps and the council of advisers; then seemingly out of nowhere, but actually it was from the jailhouse, this wise woman Danielle steps forward and with mucho aplomb poses this mysterious enigma wrapped in a question:
"The other side? The other side of what?"
And King Nevuhnadnuttin exclaims: "That's it! That's exactly what I''m wondering, and what I'm frantically asking, in my dream just before I wake up."
And Danielle calmly continues, "Precisely, O King, and allow me to describe your dream, for I have discerned it and I can interpret the meaning thereof."
"Go for it!"says he. "Knock yourself out."
Then saith Danielle: "We're careening down a slippery road; the brakes are failing; further down the slope ahead of us in the frozen darkness is a precipice and we're going to slide right off it into sheer unsupported air. Here's one guy speaking urgently from the back seat pleading the driver to stop spending money because if we don't we'll slide right off the edge and plummet to insolvency and fiscal ruination that will lead to societal disintegration and national chaos.
"But over here in the passenger seat is another guy warning with controlled alarm in his voice that we've got to keep the money flowing and make it possible for most everyone to keep spending dollars and the only real danger is we have not yet thrown enough money at the problem and if we cut off the Fed supply the fall from the precipice will be very bad and our recovery will be long and protracted at best.
"So the driver--and I'm talking about not only you, O King, but your entire realm and every person in it (how's that for high stakes pressure, huh?)--is worriedly weighing these two opposite warnings, and trying desperately to apply the brakes but finds it impossible while the passenger says just let the thing go because if we build up enough downhill momentum--not to worry--we'll launch beyond the precipice fast enough and far enough to land on some terra firma which is surely on the other side.
"'The other side? The other side of what?'"
"The other side of the balanced-budget misconception," saith Danielle. "You see, according to the prevailing Keynesian wisdom, balanced budgets are an obsolete notion that no longer have any real meaning. They're just relics from the past--holdovers from ages long gone, like the age of gold, when monetary value was tied to gold, and the age of silver when we were using silver certificates for currency, and the age of bronze when all our value was linked to industrial production, and the age of iron when times started to get hard, and now the age of iron mixed with clay when everything falls apart."
"Falls apart?"
"O, not really, O King. I was just kidding. We'll be okay. Have you thought about declaring a jubilee?"
"A what?"
"A jubilee. Free all the debtors from their debts, and let every person and family just take ownership of his/her/their domicile and vehicle."
"Say what?"
"Just kidding, O King, it would never work, too disruptive and unorthodox--definitely not a workable strategy."
"Right, Danielle. That would be a...uh...can of virtual worms. Now who's dreaming?"
"Me, I guess. I have a dream too."

Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Swastika alarms

My peace of mind was disturbed this morning while reading some news about China.

The legions of bureaucrats who administer the communist party there are very persistent and patient in their endless control-freak proclamations.

While Marxist/Leninist ideology may have provided the operating principles for the People’s revolution of 1949 and the ensuing economic plans—the “great leap forward” and the “cultural revolution,” the modus operandi for Chinese nationalism has been quite different since Mao kicked the bucket in 1976.

It seems that the revisionism so meticulously implemented by the CCP since Deng took over is all about making money. The socialist version of capitalism has replaced the old abusive, now discredited Maoist doctrines. Many report that “to become rich is glorious” in China these days. And the “communist” party has jumped aboard this synthesized communo-capitalist bandwagon that so effusively fuels statist economies.

As you may suspect, however, and as current surreptitious reporting reflects, not every citizen in China is supportive of the party's obsessive micromanagement. Notable among the many groups of Chinese dissidents today is the Falun Gong sect. It’s a contrarian movement that grows, in spite of official oppression, in leaps and bounds at an astoundingly prolific rate since its founding by Li Hongzhi in 1984.

This is what I was reading about, and watching on the NTDTV videos, this morning.

Having originated in the heart of China, the Falun Gong practitioners are a growing worldwide collection of gentle people. I know you’ve seen them in public parks or plazas--moving very slowly, controledly, in group-coordinated movements. Collectively, they look like a gathering of Jet Li karate enthusiasts played on one-tenth-speed. Their ancient qigong exercise discipline dates back to China’s Tang Dynasty, our middle ages. The devotees love to gather in public places in the major cities of the world and project their dance of grace upon surrounding air. I am actually quite pleasantly entertained whenever I encounter its gentle presence somewhere.

The peaceful movement was tolerated in China during the 90s; but its organizers, eschewing state control, chose to depart from official party partnership in 1996. Since that time, the Chinese government’s criticism of Falun Gong practice has escalated to blatant oppression, with imprisonment and torture for many practitioners.

It’s a sad, but predictable, development in a police state. The control-freak bureaucrats do not tolerate anything that remotely challenges their imposed groupthink. As I learned more about these persecuted Falun practitioners during my viewing of their videos this morning, my sympathy for their bold dissidence was interrupted when I saw the swastika on an interviewee’s breast. And I later noticed two more swastikas—one on the cover of their seminal book, the Zhuan Falun, and the other on a stage curtain at a public lecture by the founder, Li Hongzhi.

While the display of the swastika is perhaps no big deal to people of the Orient whose cultural heritage includes Buddhism and Taoism, the sight of it in the video disturbed me. A soft-spoken woman’s informative account of persecution was quite moving and persuasive, but upon noticing that crooked sign badge on her breast, I was distracted; its stark outline alarmed me as much as, or more than, her dire testimony about the cruel CCP imprisonment and torture that accompanied her belief/practice.

It reawakened the fears I had experienced last summer while viewing religious shrines in Sichuan province of China, where I saw the crooked symbol prominently displayed.

The use of swastikas does not set well with this ole boy from North Carolina.

My neighbors and relatives had bled and died to defeat the Third Reich that had been publicly driven by that symbol’s odd power. Yes, we know that Hitler usurped the strange thing and used it for his own demonic purposes.

But getting an unexpected visual on it works on you. Those critical associations do not just dissolve into some kind of rational acceptance. I find myself thinking that these people—all the millions of them, perhaps, should find themselves another symbol not possessing such destructive history.

But you and I both know it ain’t gonna happen.

I suppose that would be like asking a mountain of culture to move.

Or a volcano.

This world confuses me more every day. I don’t know whom to trust, between swastika-toting pacifists in China and Nazistic Israeli aggressors in Gaza, it all seems so upside down, not to mention the manipulated employment statistics in our own country.

I feel a little threatened by it all.

Friday, January 1, 2010

the Zero years: poem

The zero years, a helluva a decade--
nothing can compare to them.
Beginning with a Two, as if to double
the trouble
of three zeroes strung out across two millenia of vesuvian rubble.
We queried: Why 2k?
O it was just on delay, you see
as our auld lang sine wave of predictability
must lose its invincibility,
and so it did eventually
in smoky plumes of twin towered dooms
unwinding out across the blue september skies.
Then while we nodded nearly napping
suddenly there came a slapping
as seven swans came swimming
across the Hudson skimming
pennies from high-freq trading heaven, and seven
cosines later, after pandora of Iraqi trouble
when our bubble was filled with rubble
we tumbled downtown crashing, those long tails just a-thrashing.
But who knew?
that just a stone's throw away
along the uptown Hudson
some Sully captain guy would land our decade of woeful dope
upon a lilypad of hope.