Archive for November, 2008

Stuffed Bell Pepper

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

It has taken me the entire length of the 4 day weekend from thanks-giving day on to loosen up enough to become creative. In the past it has been my contention that it takes at least 3 days and in this case it has taken 4 days. That is the reason why weekends are safe at 2 days and dangerous at 4. Persons prone to independent thinking will recover enough flexibility of mind to start thinking for themselves after 3 or 4 days of unstructured time.
I have rediscovered the joy of cooking. The only safe area for spontaneous creativity I have been told in the Vaishnavite way of thinking. Tonight I invented my version of a stuffed pepper. This was to take some veggies, bell pepper, yellow onion, garlic, garden tomato, basil, oregano, sage and cinnamon, saute them in peanut oil, then stuff them in a hollowed out Bell pepper throwing in a few slices of extra sharp cheddar cheese and stuffing the whole thing in a bed of pre- cooked basmati rice, turning it on its head in a plate and placing that plate in a preheated oven. I will let you know how it turns out.
Back to basic creativity, I find after the third or fourth day without having to do the mind numbing mental routines of work that my subconscious starts to work properly and I am able to retain some of what I read in the the Wikipedia articles on Positivism and Dialectical-ism. I am able relate it to the book I am reading “The Theory of the Avant-Garde” by Renato Poggioli and even to make some headway in Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”. I had thought I was brain dead when all that I was reading on the bus headed home from work was simply going directly into the subconscious store room, none of it was making any sense. But I merely had to clear my head of some of the mundane intrusions, work related nonsense, anxiety over finances etc, the sort of things that turn any one’s brain into mush, and then the usual holiday depression that comes when I am forced to compare my life to that of the idealized American family. Fortunately this year in the middle of a recession there are cracks in the psychic battering ram and it has not managed to so successfully devastate my mental capacities as in past years. The psychic hammer, the Thor’s hammer of consumerism that usually has me crawling on the floor seeking mind numbing substances has subsided to some degree. It could be they are simply not able to focus as much force in their usual assault on the minds of us poor humans or perhaps we have the liberator’s charge of the cavalry of the Obama call for change that people have been able to take seriously and cling to for hope.
Certainly the report of a shootout at a Toys R Us and the massacre of a Walmart employee in the thunderous assault upon its doors on Bloody Friday must have given pause to any sane person as to why they would participate in anything so blatantly inhuman, akin to going to the Coliseum to watch the Christians being torn to bits by the lions.
Whatever the reason, I find myself with a few free moments before I have to reengage my brain in the Sisyphean task of working for the unappreciative bastards I work for day in and day out. Never before in my life has the reality of work been so severely driven home to me, that it is a form of wage slavery in which the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle classes get screwed. I have become a member of that sacrosanct middle, where the screws are tightened daily and there is no hope in sight. No wonder these poor beaten fools went for Obama with his litany of lower taxes for the middle classes. It was a lie, a trick of smoke and mirrors, of course, if there was real tax reform they would tax capital gains and rescind the income tax as unfair to the workers of the world but that would bare the fact that the wealth is in the hands of a precious few and not in that of the many who work for a living. May the gods have mercy on their souls.
The plate cracked, I should have put the bell pepper on a pan, or wrapped it in tin foil. I am going to try it as soon as I finish this. Excellent. I still know how to cook.

Post-Consumer World, Go Green!

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

As the time comes for us to buck up and face the facts that the American Dream of consumption without end, must come to an end, we are now forced by reality to come up with another vision of our selves.
We envision our reality and in that envisioning create a cocoon of values that preserve and protect us from the encroachment of unforeseen and unwanted systems of belief. For it is our beliefs that set the course, and guide the ship of state that is our livelihood.
In the past we have had the concept of no taxation without representation and the live free or die motto of our revolutionary fore fathers. That was replaced by the manifest destiny of their children, those frontiersmen who hacked up a wilderness and created a shining house on a hill.
Then with the end of the frontier and the taming of the natives came Making the world safe for Democracy and the imposing of our new world order of one kind or another. Once we had been attacked there was nothing but to shop until you drop. We would shop our way out of terror. But there is a new wave coming, there is a new reality and it is not going to be shopped through, it will not be made safe for democracy or part of a manifest destiny and certainly not a world of no taxation without representation. No it will be something else. Perhaps we will have to “Go for the Green” It certainly has a nice ring to it and it has a destiny to it and it has a positive sound to it without being too specific other than greenness. It could be our next wave of the future. Lets go for the green America, yes we can do it, we can bring greenness to our world just like we shopped until we dropped. We can recycle, save energy, stretch our fuel efficiency, use the same bag at the supermarket, don’t wash the car so often, cut down on our shower time, by bulk not individually wrapped items, and most important stop buying bottled water. It is absurd that we buy something that comes out of the tap in plastic containers that have to be thrown away or recycled! Sort through that garbage, separate the plastics from the glass, from the paper and the aluminum cans. All that can be done simply when you toss things. Then put them in the appropriate container. That wasn’t so hard was it? And shop more on line, think before you consume, think twice, look for that bargain but even more so make sure it is a green product. Consuming green will change the way things are produced faster than anything, simply tell your retail source that you want it to be recyclable or you wont buy it. Tell them it has to be organic, locally produced produce, and not to wrap each item separately. Pack in bulk, loose pack. Ask how much fuel was consumed in transporting a given item to get to you. Did it come by container ship from China and by truck from the port to a distribution center and then by rail to your local distribution center and then by truck to your local market and then by car to your home? That is a lot of transporting.
Fuel will not always be so cheap. The Chinese workers will not always be willing to work for a pittance, and if we don’t set the standards for an alternative to conspicuous consumption then what will the new middle classes in India and China have as role models?
We still have to consume, it is in our genetic coding, at least temporarily, and if we don’t there will be massive unemployment around the world. But we must press our leaders both political and economic to change what we have to consume from wasteful toys like tanks, bombs and F-22 fighter planes that cost $318 million dollars each to fight an imaginary enemy, to spending on retooling the auto industry to produce 50 mile a gallon vehicles. Natural gas/electric hybrids, solar heaters for every home and apartment building and every office complex. Energy efficient utilities, refrigerators, washer/dryers and most of all efficient flat screen TVs. We need to make sure we are not switching from one depleted fuel like oil for another like Uranium. There is only enough uranium to fuel the worlds power for 50 or 60 years, so to switch to nuclear fuel is a fools game. We need to find alternative materials for our cell phones and batteries. The cobalt comes from the Congo and Siberia. We need to use the worlds resources more wisely.
Where we need to spend money is on infrastructure that is green. Build new high speed trains, maglev trains, trolleys and start to tear down the freeways. We need to encourage car pooling, and working near ones job, a short bus ride or bike ride away should be the norm. That means affordable housing. The rule you drive until you can afford the home is an anachronism and should be forgotten. City planners need to build up and under, create parks on the surface and gardens for local produce. Using geothermal, passive solar and wind energy to name a few. We have to take all these energy efficient dreams off the drawing boards and start building them now. Forget the McMansion ideal and the giant SUV, the debt driven housing and consumption and start to give people real raises so that it is savings and not debt that drives growth. It could happen, but will it? Tell president Obama that is what you want, and make sure he hears you.

The Mechanics Of Victory-Indifference

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

When the poetics of daily life have been replaced by a mechanical certitude, not the repetition of pattern which may or may not be mechanical, but by the lack of awareness, by the insensitivity that comes with brutish indifference, that is when the mind machine has become robotic in its repetition.
When the magic making of each moments intervention can no longer be perceived, and there is only tedium, an awaiting for the call to service, as in the antechamber of the fire house, where the firemen play cards and while away the moments awaiting the call to put out the fire, when that is all that life has become, then there is a tendency to want to make emergency happen. Like the revolutionary who spends his whole life awaiting the revolution that never happens, or the millennialist who awaits the end of the world that never occurs, there is among all of these persons the desire for something to break the daily routine, like the stone in the pond, if only the correctly tossed ripple making machine would cause everything to be transformed, but alas that is only true in the sense of the butterfly effect.
Yet there are fires, there are disasters, 9-11 did happen, we really did see the World Trade Center collapse before our eyes and thousands were thrown to horrible deaths of fire and collapse. Firemen did heed the call and there was the sense of a family being pulled together for the sake of the salvation of all that was right and proper in the world. What happened as a result? The president who would have been a mediocrity was transformed into a blazing prophet and what did he ask of us, the assembled multitudes? He told us to go shopping. Forget it, give him the power, let him kick the asses of the evil doers, and leave the work up to the experts who would go on the dark side as vice president Darth Vader pronounced ominously.
And that is what happened. Aliens were rounded up. Radicals were placed on lists and the rest of us went shopping. Shop until you drop was the slogan, shop for victory and the victory came in record debts and a stock market crash and a credit collapse and a financial collapse as we did what we were told like good Americans the world over.
There is nothing new about this. The world has been reminded of the firestorm that was put out by the credit card. We have seen Master Charge and Visa and American Express take on the iconoclastic value that war bonds and the draft and patriotism took in previous wars. Even the opposition that was vocal and vociferous in the last major war of unknowing in Vietnam has in this war become the ubiquitous Internet opposition and makes its presence felt in hit on a web site, movements of fingers on key boards not in the streets. Mass emotions of revolt have been recouped in this generation as the guy who is concerned about his lost credit and the guitar player is the symbol of the 500 and lower credit score of the looser in the consumption status wars. For we have been called to task by our leaders to shop and if we fail there, we have failed in the war on terror. Terror being the interminable poker game in the night of the fire house wait for the next disaster to strike.
It is indifference on the highest level, we have been asked not to care about even the life and death struggles of our way of life, of our very value system. Because it no longer exists. Truth, justice and the American way have become shopping, malls and the open freeway. And if we cannot shop when our hearts tell us too do so, as our president has asked us to do then our righteous anger is roused and we will tear down the walls that keep us from the object and the goal of our desires and we will kill any who would stand in our way, be he a rival gang member or a hapless employee at Walmart. For it is our right and our duty to shop and shop well will on the shores of the Caribbean tourist stop of our cruise ship, on the plains of our Malls of America in the vastness of the middle west, on the heights of our ski vacations in Aspen and to the very gates of the Disney World Adventures we have awaited all year and taken out a loan for our family fun time, it is our duty to shop and to consume across this planet in every nook and cranny with every spare moment at home, on the job or even in our dreams, and as proud Americans we will do our duty. After all this is Wartime and the president has called us…What will President Obama ask of us? We can only hope more of the same.

The Hippie Who Wasn’t

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

‘Hey Hippie” they would yell at me, my fellow workers at the Cadet Dinning Hall. We would be cleaning up the tables, busting them as we called it. Taking the dishes stacking them up on our serving carts and then rushing down to the dish washers where they would be placed in racks, run through an industrial washer and then brought back upstairs with clean silverware and freshly washed table cloths. We would place them on our 8 tables as quickly as possible, dust off the chairs, straighten them out and then head for the doors and freedom.
“Hey Hippie, you got a ride home?” I would bum a ride with one of the guys lucky enough to have a car. Most of us didn’t. We carpooled 4, 5 or 6 to a car, sometimes even 8. All jammed in headed back from the Air Force Academy to downtown Colorado Springs. We did this every day. Got to work at 5 am and got out of there at 2 pm. We had a lunch and two breaks and that was our 8 hour day.
Most of the guys were Chicanos, Mexican Americans who had been in Colorado for generations or had come up from New Mexico, not to many were from over the border back then, not in the early 70s. I was one of the 3 or 4 Anglos. There was another kid, a long hair like me, an old guy with a gambling habit and a middle aged guy who always wanted me to go with him to to meet lonely house wives in Nebraska that advertised in cheap swingers magazines. I thought that was sad. I had my own girlfriends, what did I need with some house wife out in the flat lands. But the Mexican guys were mostly cool. We carpooled together, sometimes smoked weed together, drank beer together and played pool. But I was not one of the guys, I was a weirdo, a hippie as they called me. I was in a spiritual cult, that was what brought me to Colorado, it wasn’t the fresh air and the friendly smiles. It was the desire to create a better world. One that we dreamed of in my crowded east coast home town. One that we were going to create here in the vast open lands of Colorado. A place where the sky was a blue that you could taste, and the land was deep brown, marked with the occasional white of a mountain top or the green and black of the pine trees that smelled sweet and refreshing. The whole place felt like it was a new born baby world, just waiting for us to create our own new world in. It was the big rock candy mountain the hobos sang of.
We had to sign a statement that we were not members of any of about 200 organizations to work at the Air Force Academy. Most of them were fascist terrorist groups, with names like the Croatian Liberation Army and such, stuff I had never heard of. Some were more familiar, Communist Party of Albania, but still, no cigar, all the communists I knew were Trotskyists or Maoists and there wasn’t a Trot or Maoist party on the list. So I could skate by that one and sign my name with no second thoughts. I was a commie, but not a commie that they cared about. Besides I had come to Colorado to get away from all those group-lets fighting for control of the revolution in the New York and Bridgeport ghettos.
I had been a high school revolutionary, living between my mothers place and the collective houses where radicals planned demonstrations against the war in Vietnam or in support of the Black Panthers. The cops had me on their watch list and would pick me up hitch hiking telling me who I was going to visit and wanting to know what I was up to. I never answered, always asked them to drop me off at my friends place and never got searched when I was carrying hash or pot or acid. Lucky I guess. But now I was now out here in gods country and I was looking for heaven on earth, not the revolution.
I remember one day not long after arriving in Colorado, getting into an argument with some communists who lived in a big house by Colorado College. I had just been to the commune up in Loveland, where there was a place called Sunrise Ranch. People of all ages had gathered there to share in a communal life. I started to tell these communists that they were missing the boat. Here we were all in this beautiful place, and they were still fighting the petty political battles that I had left behind on the east coast. Why didn’t they understand that they had heaven right here in Colorado. I was convinced that it was a place right there, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a place that existed right in front of our faces. Why couldn’t these guys get it?
My first time at the ranch had been a bit strange, I had taken some very strong mescaline and was tripping pretty heavily when I got there. It really did seem heavenly to me. People had a halo around their heads and when they spoke there were buttery flames coming out of their mouths. I couldn’t talk, only stare wide eyed in wonder. There were bikers and beautiful girls. It reminded me of something out of a Fairport Convention song. The group of friends I had come from believed in a magical kingdom where there would be justice and beauty and grace. It was something that I had picked up from my girlfriend in Connecticut before I left. She and her sisters were all medieval looking damsels and I had been made to feel like a knight on a quest for the grail. Coming to Sunrise Ranch had felt like a mixture of finding Camelot where the Knights of the Round table met to boast of their quests and a the digger-yippee-commie commune where everything was shared, organic food was grown and the goats came up to you and would eat out of your hands. It seemed like something out of the Oneida Community where the transcendentalists attempted to live their ideal of primitive socialism back in the 19th century.
I was high that first day and for the first year or so I was pretty much in a trance most of the time when I encountered that community. The ‘vibes’ were that strong.
One of my best friends sister had gone to Colorado first and then in June of 1971 my buddy went. They invited me to come out and I did later that summer. I stayed for a month, went to California to see my dad, told him about this wonderful place in Colorado and had him convinced that I should live there, and then I went back to Colorado got enrolled in school and once I was settled in hitched back to the east to tell my friends about this magical place I had found. All this took place in a matter of a few weeks. No hassle.
A year later I was working at the Air Force Academy. I was no longer in my initial trance and was now going to the university in Colorado, working and living with my communal buddies. But I was trying to balance too many things at once.
I was working full time, attending school full time and trying to be a good communard full time. I was not doing any of them very well and not wanting to disappoint anyone kept putting off the choices I was going to have to make, something would have to give, the commune, the school or the job. I didn’t want to give up on any of them.
I decided to leave them all and go on a trip to Europe. So I blew off school, work and the commune and went with a buddy to travel in Europe. I ended up in Austria broke eating green apples and drinking dollar beers, sleeping in the forest where the wild boars would wake me up at three am. I would climb up into the towers to get away and watch the sun rise over the hill with the fairy castle over Salzburg. It was Mozart’s home, and I was determined to find out what had driven me from the paradise of Colorado to that of Austria. I was confused by what had happened in a short period. I had gone from high school revolutionary in Connecticut to communal dreamer in Colorado to vagrant poet in Austria. What was to be my destiny? One thing for sure, I wasn’t the hippie they thought I was.
This is one of an occasional series of autobiographical pieces I write. If you have any comments or experiences of your own you would like to add, feel free.

Anti-Life/Pro-Life Is There A Choice?

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

I have to say up front, I have a hard time with the holidays. I have not had the most successful family life and that may lead me to have a bit of a jaundiced view. Having given that warning, there are some things I have noticed that I wonder about in our consumer society.
There are some who take a position that there should not be more reproduction of the species because we are crowding out other species, like weeds. We are propagating all over the planet, sprouting on the most unlikely soils, Antarctica, the Gobi Desert, even on the underside of the moon, like a virus or one of those moulds that appear in bathrooms when you don’t disinfect often enough.
The Chinese have attempted an official policy of one child per couple to limit population growth. It doesn’t seem to have worked. In the last 30 years there doesn’t seem to have been a halving of the population there. Perhaps the growth is less than it might have been, but the population is still growing. Also the Chinese have the Indians to contend with. India attempted to force birth control upon the population with enforced sterilization on certain segments of the population, it didn’t work. What does seem to work is material affluence. Or more specifically a removal from a relationship with the land. When people are removed from nature and I don’t mean moved into cities, but removed from nature in a more profound way, no connection with the sources of food, when all the edible products come from packages that do not resemble the organic growing things they came from, when children come from hospital wards, when animals come from the pound, when reality comes from a tube, and there is no contact with the fecund earth, then you begin to have the biological urges dry up so to speak. People begin to think in terms of thing, products, commodities, they loose their sense of contact with the specific processes of fertility. They see sex not as a means of reproducing but as a form of diversion, one of a variety of methods to be entertained in the multiplicity of things to eat or open or tear, rip, pop or otherwise remove from the container it came from and dispose of the wrapper to enjoy the product within. When it comes to sex this can mean tossing the partner out of whom the sex substance came from. It is literally throwing out the baby with the bath water. Often sex has been likened to a form of self gratification of late, as if it were not something participated in by two beings, but rather something done by one to another. It becomes a matter of opening the can of sex product and enjoying the sex orgasm and then tossing the sex providing vessel.
This commodification of sex dooms the lovemaking aspect of human relations and completes the commercialization of all aspects of life. There is now not one aspect that has not become part of the money exchange process and thus there remains nothing that can be called sacred, or beyond the reach of the commodity process. When this happens the desire for children is reduced as they are no longer seen as the joy of ones life but only as the byproduct of a sex pleasure process gone awry. Or if there was a desire for children they are seen more and more as products to be picked off the genetic shelf with a concern for breeding qualities that are more like what one experiences among dog and horse buyers than in what should be a somewhat sacred process.
Perhaps that is why there has been a spate of people returning their children to the state agencies responsible for them, such as in Nebraska when they did not set an age limit on the return warranty on defective children and people were driving from all across the country to return their defective offspring. The commodification process is complete when there are guarantees offered by the medical system for children, and adoption agencies and the like. After all why would anyone accept a child that did not meet the specifications on the product label?
I am being a bit harsh here, but I am describing a process that is happening to our society. It is one where there is a line being crossed between quality of life and quality control, where life is seen as a commodity and the very essential processes that make for life’s great challenges have become products to be bought and sold on the market, either the open capitalist market or the controlled state regulated market. Either way, it is a codification of life that will certainly lead to the end of the population problem, no one will bother to have children once they have become totally com-modified. There will be too many other toys to buy and products to have and with things costing what they do, well why should one bother.
That is the essential question and that is why I ask. We love our children, and even those of us who have had hellish experiences with the state and our spouses and our offspring, we have an urge to care and that urge will not let us rest until it has been satisfied. It is the biological urge that drives us to buy these products for our children, not some capitalist market mechanism. We love our children, no matter where they are, no matter how far we may be from them and we will be tortured by guilt if we do not satisfy the urges to take care of them. I do not think that we will ever come to a point where there will be a commodification of our love for our children. That urge is too innate, we would have to become machines ourselves before that urge dies within us.
Despite the signs of dystopia, and consumerism gone amok, we have the basic biological urge that tells us to love our children and to care for them and to desire the best for them. And even when we lose our way with our spouses and cannot find a reason to enjoy the holidays, we will always want our children to be happy and healthy and cared for. And that will always be a part of the human condition no matter what we may do to deviate from our basic biological selves. We cannot remove our desire to protect and preserve the species no matter how avant guard we may become in our desires to be new, different or out there. Only a pure psychopath is divorced from those basic biological urges.
But as I have said I have personal problems that I will not go into at this time with family life. What the idea replacement is, I don’t know. Kibbutz raised children seem to be a bit colder, and we have all seen the pictures of state raised babies in Nazi Germany and Communist Romania, where the mothers personal touch is missing. I have known mothers who are incapable of giving the love that a child needs, but they are not common. What I have seen more of is parents who have to spend more and more of their time working to support their families and who have less time to be with their children.
In my own case I live in America and cannot see my son in France nearly as much as I would like. This year due to the economy I cannot afford to go to France to visit. So I will have to wait until next year. I make up by sending presents. It is not the same. It is a substitute I know, but it is the best I can do. We all make these compromises in our lives and hope that the children will not suffer.
It is not as bad as with those in war zones or who are facing starvation and disease, those children and families are suffering much worse. But every family suffers when the world condition does not allow for us to be with the ones we love, and thus we are forced, perchance to love the ones we are with.


Thursday, November 27th, 2008

On this day when traditional families meet in their traditional homesteads, I sit in my isolation, as has been my usual for most of my adult life. The glass between the image and the reality has been a theme taunting my life since a childhood of recognition of difference. We did not celebrate like the suburban kids down the street. We had our horses to tend to and then we would go to a diner for dinner.
I can recall my desire to be like the picture portrayed on the Television to be so strong that one year when my mother wanted to take my sister and I to the diner, I refused. I wanted her to cook a traditional dinner and when she would not I refused to go to the diner, I would have my TV tradition or I would have nothing. I ended up with nothing. It set a pattern that has been with me most of my life, one of holding up an image of what should be in my mind and then contrasting in reality the total absence of that image.
As I grew older and my alienation with the family code grew more complex and more complete, I was faced with the reality, we did not have a working toilet, we had an out house, we did not have a working bath, we had a well, we did not have a father at home, we had a dad in the rodeo somewhere in the west. We lived like a family of the 19Th century in the mid 20Th century. I was very aware of the contradiction but I was not capable of identifying with the pride in our rural estate that my mother and sister seemed to have. What we had were horses and land. The horses were ours, but the land was my uncles and when he sold it the reality that we were not poor gentry but simple tenants became evident. I never bought into the dream so it was not a big deal for me when we were transited out of our estate by the sheriffs and I was even hopeful that my family would leave behind its 19Th century baggage, identification with the land and animals. They were older tribal forms of identity, ones that prevailed in nomadic Africa, the west of another imaginary Television world, the western.
My family watched westerns together, we watched Bonanza and Gunsmoke as rituals of affirmation of a lifestyle that was visceral for us. We were the Indians fighting against the cowboys of modern civilization. Once in a while I was able to identify with the fantasy, like when my sister and I and some of our horsey friends would swoop down on the mini-bike riding kids who were sneaking into our leased property to ride their bikes on our trails. When they would stop to camp out we would silently ride up on them and then charge their encampments. It must have felt just as rewarding for the Polish cavalry when they might have done the same to a German armored unit when the Germans invaded in 1939. It must have been just as anachronistic and futile.
I grew up with a feeling of being part of a dying breed. I did not want to be the last Mohican, the last rural person in a suburban town. But we were. We constantly had the neighbors complaining about the smell of the horses, or when the mini bike kids broke our fences and the horses got out of the pastures to go graze on the lawns of the suburbanites we would be awoken by the local police and have to go out at 3 am or whenever to capture them and bring them home.
Lots of neighborhood kids came to our place as a refuge from the pressures of the 20Th century. We were an island of rural culture, where there were real chores to do, horses had to be fed, groomed, watered, and these visceral chores were natural, grounding, and gave kids caught up in the existential despair of the alienated world of modernism a place that was unlike their artifice driven home lives where status was based on grades in school and where all value was placed on making it in the moloch of New York. We had hay, oats, sweaty animals and horse manure. I spent more time cleaning up after horses than I did riding them. I learned their names, their habits, likes and dislikes, and could communicate in that speechless world where most of nature thrived. The literate world of humanity meant nothing to a stubborn old mare named Clyde who took pleasure in resisting every attempt at making her go faster by the unlucky human who tried to play the romantic cowboy hero on her back.
But for me, being caught between the reality of our lives at home and the totally different reality being presented by the world around us, I felt a constant conflict was raging between my understanding of the natural world as something that was like a door slowly closing, with a light that was becoming more and more indistinct, and the other world where there was a cacophony of noise and shouting voices, one that was overwhelming and also harsh and unrelenting in its insistence that it was the way of the future. When I saw our farm turned in to another housing development I felt that my fears had been realized, that the life I had grown up with was being slammed shut in my face. I could understand the alienation that a native American must feel when forced to confront the world of the white man off the reservation. But the reservation itself is a tawdry remnant of a world that has gone by, and our farm was just that a remnant of a rural way of life that had disappeared with such rapidity that in only a couple of generations a way of life that had been prevalent was only a memory.
My mother still has a couple of horses. She keeps them at the farm of a wealthy business man. It is his hobby and she has managed to find a niche where she can maintain some semblance of the horse lifestyle she loved and has maintained through it all. My sister tried to duplicate the life she had as a child and with her daughter has done something of the same in rural northern Florida, not in Connecticut where we grew up. But she finds it a struggle and has never been able to make a livelihood from her horses like my mother did. But she has her tradition as a horse person, the 4 H club, the riding lessons she gives, boarding peoples horses on her small farm and keeping a few of her own horses. She goes to horse shows with her daughter and they have rooms full of trophies.
I don’t think she cooks Thanksgiving dinner either. I will be going to the Hare Krishna’s for a vegetarian feast and will be glad I don’t have to eat a dead animal for my thanks giving.
This is not the Television world I imagined as a child, and at least now I don’t fight for the right to have a dead turkey meal. But I wonder if enough of us give pause to consider the natural world and what it means. As more and more of us live in urban environments, we must find ways to connect with the realities of dirt, excrement and the feel of animals minds interacting with ours. If we don’t, if all we have is concrete, pets and cars, we will be loosing much more than we can possibly imagine, we will be loosing the soul of this world. Nature is not just a concept to be bandied about, a play thing for sophisticated urbane minds. It is the very ground upon which we stand. Without it we are truly lost in space. We have to be thankful for the earth and take a bit of it into our hands and kiss it for it is the dirt that we are made of and to which we shall return.

We Are All Mumbai

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Just as we were beginning to think things were looking up, that the bad days of the Bush crew was over, we are reminded that the underlying conditions that caused 9-11 have not gone away. There has been an attack by terrorists in Mumbai, a group that may be called the Deccan Mujahideen.
India, has been subject to a bombing campaign for over 20 years. The reasons are partially regional, Sikhs, Muslims, Tamils, tribal groups, Maoists, Hindu fundamentalists and Christians to name a few, are among the groups who have been in conflict there.
India is the largest democracy in the world and the second most populous nation after China.
There are just as many problems in China, but that is not a democracy. China is a communist led authoritarian state, not exactly a dictatorship. There are elections, but it is a much more centralized state with a censorship apparatus that makes it harder to find out about local disturbances, such as the Tibetans, Muslims, tribal groups, labor unrest, religious cults, and prison labor to mention a few.
I have not been to China, but I have been to India, not Mumbai, but New Delhi and Calcutta are both cities I have been in. They are crowded places where the very poor are very evident. Yet these are places where one feels safe, not threatened by random violence in the street. Like in Europe there are soldiers at the train stations on guard against attacks like the ones that have just occurred in Mumbai.
This could have been London, New York, or Moscow. Anyplace where there are disgruntled populations who are seeking to violently demonstrate their concerns.
The problem many of us who have been active as protesters against the inequities of the world have with these more violent protesters is the seemingly indiscriminate nature of their attacks. They seem to have little or no respect for the sanctity of human life. That over simplification is what the media in the US portrays.
As I write CNN broadcasts a reaction to the attacks that show no analysis. Consider how many innocent civilians that are killed every time an American bomber or drone attacks a village in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq, that may be the crux of the connection. The US and British militarises seem to have little respect for human life around the world and those who oppose them react in kind. The attackers in Mumbai were singling out American and British passport holders. They made the message clear, as long as American and British policy targets innocents around the world, there will be repercussions that target American and British innocents in a tit for tat response. This can be simply seen as an old testament eye for an eye mentality in action. Or it may be an attempt simply to strike at those who to them represent the nations that are most responsible for the problems in the world today.
I do not justify this violence, but I am amazed that the media do not make the connection. Perhaps Al Jazeera does, but I don’t see it in the west and this lack of willingness to make this connection shows a willingness only to deal with symptoms and not causes. It is a short sighted response that does not acknowledge the legitimacy of any of the demands of these attackers and leads to a nihilistic response on both sides where there is no attempt to communicate demands but only to inflict damage. That cycle is one that started with the unconditional surrender mentality unleashed upon the world by the United States during World War 2. It is a mentality that allows no nuanced options only destroy or be destroyed. In a world where the means of destruction are escalating it seems what we need is a return to the old mentality of a balance of power and the mutual exchange of interests. We need to get away from this absolutist mentality of good vs evil. There is not good, there is no evil, only people with mixed motives, all legitimate and illegitimate to varying degrees. But all human and if we can De-escalate the rhetoric, perhaps we can find a way to return to a world of realpolitik were life is valued over ideological concerns.
This is not the realpolitik of corruption and back room politics, rather the realization that we are all stake holders in the well being of the planet.
I am willing to call a truce in my war on capital if capital will end its attack on humanity. Will the various leaders who speak to god take a break and talk to one another for a change? We are all just a poor person going to work in Mumbai. And we are all the self righteous ideologue trying to make the world understand the injustice they are suffering under. We are all the hostage and the hostage taker. And the sooner we get back to speaking to the basic realities of our humanity, the sooner we will find reasons to stop killing one another.
The only time when unilateralism is justified, is when your life is threatened with extinction. I am thinking of the the Nazi killing of Jews, Gypsies and Gays. But even this was something that could have been stopped if the rest of the world had let the Nazis know that we cared about these minorities and that there are standards of behavior that must be maintained, respecting all life. But the Nazis were encouraged. Hitler was not the devil. He was a man who scapegoated certain peoples. Just like the Americans have done with the Muslims, native Americans, Chinese, Japanese and blacks.
The British massacred Africans, Indians and in the name of commerce addicted millions of Chinese to opium. What the Nazis did was simply a slightly more extreme version of what people do to minorities all over the world. Something that must no longer be allowed or encouraged as part of the normal side effect of business as usual.
Neither the banality of evil or the fire of ideology must be allowed to demonize our fellow humans. Ultimately it is the inequity of the US having 5% of the population and consuming 25% of the worlds resources that must end. As long as this level of inequity exists, there will be a war between the haves and have-nots.
Deepak Chopra has said much the same thing that I have said, assuming that Washington is the source of the problem because of the policies of people who alienate the Muslims cause moderates to become radicals. When you attack unilaterally and declare whole peoples to be evil, write them off as human beings, then they will respond with violence.

Alexander After Gaugamela

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Alexander, Alehandro, the victor over the might of Persia, was the king of Babylon after the great battle in 331`BC. He was already the conqueror of Egypt and Phonecia. Darius offered to split the world with him, offering the west to Alexander if he would leave the Persian heartland to Darius, but Alexander counter offered that Darius retire and give him the entire empire. The result was the great battle at which over 100,000 Persians and their allies fought less than half as many Greeks and Macedonians. You can read more on line from Plutarch or you can pick up a copy of Arrian’s “Campaigns of Alexander”, or you can read any number of modern biographies. Oliver Stone created a great romantic Alexander in his movie of the same name creating a lush textured version of the tale. He placed a lot of emphasis on the psychology of Alexander, a mama’s boy who challenged his fathers right to his mother, a real Oedipal guy. But he did not kill his father, unless he secretly hired or conspired with his fathers asassins., you can cut and paste this or link through my blogroll.

Alexander met his match in India. It was too vast for him. Warriors from a termperate climate were not prepared for the tropics. I feel that they could have handled an Indian winter, but if they were trying to campaign in the heat of summer, that might have been a bit much. On the other hand Alexander could handle Egypt and Mesopotamia, places that get exceedingly hot. He fought in the winter months there and rested in the heat of the summer. That is what could have been expected in India. I have been there in the winter and it is temperate, even cold at night.
The commentaries claim it was the strong wine, in India that led to their downfall, as they could not drink the water. Greeks used to water down their wine, as I do. That strong wine did them in. It certainly led to the death of Cletius. Ran through with a pike by Alexander when in his cups as Arrian put it.
This may have clouded his mind but it certainly did not cause him to leave India. Onward Alexander wanted to go, his army now made up of Persians, Bactrians, and others as well as the Greeks and Macedonians who had come with him for so many years. But this was not an army of only a few thousand loyal comrades from the Greek Isles. This was a polygot force, perhaps as mixed as the Persian army he had once fought and defeated himself not too long before. This is something that is not mentioned enough in the sources. They mention that he was training a force of Persian youth, and that was one of the things Alexander used to shame his Greeks and Macedonians when they threatened mutiny when they no longer wanted to go foward. But this was already a mixed force. Something that the Greeks did not want to point out. Attrition in battle, unless there was a constant reinforcement from Europe, would have led to transformation. The force with Alexander by the time they were in India was most likely more than half asian already. I have read some attempts to determine the nature of his forces at that late date, but none have seemed adequate.
I have linked to Tarn’s classic on the blogroll. I think the ancient historians wanted to make it seem that the victory was all a Greek and Macedonian one, they did not want to give credit to the orientals among them nor the ability of the Indian opposition. For Alexander was not able to conquer India, he failed where the Muslims later succeeded. His Europeans were homesick as they say, but Alexander was wounded and the fact may simply be that the Indians were simply able to amass a force that was too great for even the Great Alexander to handle.
One thing he did do was to conquer Afghanistan, although it was partly through marriage. Something that Obama might consider if he insists upon his adventures in Pashtunland.
Akexander was a great adventurer, will Obama have the mettle to fight in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, in the same in Pakistan and then wade through the complications of the conflict over Kashmir? No American administration has even been willing to take on Palestine, let alone the Indian subcontinent.
Unless we are willing to take sides in the Hindu Muslim conflict, it is better that we stay out. Let the locals deal with their own issues. As it has been pointed out the Pakistani intelligence service is still helping the Taliban and will still be involved there long after we leave. But I am wandering long after Gaugamela.

Friday Night in Southern California

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I was thinking as I rode on the metro Blueline train from Compton to Long Beach that it would be cool to be catching the milk train from Grand Central Station on the New Haven Line to Connecticut. I missed those conductors with their blue uniforms, suit wearing conductors who had those clicker things they would used to punch your ticket and they would then put a little tag over your seat.
The milk train was the last train of the night out of the city. It stoped at every station along the way and took forever. It was the train the workahalics and the alcohalics took to get home. It was that or sleep in the city and that meant lots of explaining if you had a family waiting in the burbs.
People socialized on that train. The ride was long and people were tired, tongues were loosened by the substances imbibed and stories about jobs would begin, pictures of family would come out and market tips slipped from lubricated lips.
Anyway, it was cool and people were real. I was just one of the guys on the train and were were all tired riding home from the city. We were there, noplace else to be, because when you have been a worker in the capitalist money machine of New York, you have been at the top of the world and if you can handle the pressure there, you can handle it anywhere. There is no mental work presure cooker more intense that the big apple. When you head home from New York, there is no question, you have earned your keep that day, maybe only for that day, but on that day you have been a real man or woman, a real working class hero for what it is worth.
Riding the milk train home from the city, there ain’t nothing more real than that, in an unreal world where we have imagined ourselves into years of tedium, all for the sake of keeping a few masters of the universe happy and fat. Why do we do it? I would say it is a tribal instinct of solidarity, something akin to the wolf pack, that has been morphed and manipulated by the masters and their hired guns, until we have ended up with a system of mass manipulation that would make the bees and ants envious, if they were capable of such things.
But we take pride in our part, in our ability to tough it out, like a marine, we take a perverse pleasure in the fact that we can do something that is intrinsicly meaningless for ourselves, but certainly useful for the masters. One day perhaps enough of us will just say no to mental slavery, but to do that we have to unlearn years of conditioning, and relearn to socialize on a different basis. Perhaps it is possible, I have dreamed of such things, while on the milk train, the sensation of human solidarity overtakes that sense of being a warrior for the masters and one can even imagine a word where the milk of human kindness is the reason we take the train.

The Return of the PC

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

After my computer was stolen I went through a period of almost 2 months with no home computer. I tried to write my blog from work but it was not an appropriate environment. The end result being, that all the world of affairs, with elections and the rest passed me by and I had little to say about it.
My frenzy of political desire has been partially fulfilled with the election of Obama. I have seen my own political thought go from anarchist communist to democratic socialist. I guess I went from the extreme left last August in Denver to the reality of my life in Los Angeles, lower middle class, with too much debt, and no savings, no juice, no power, just a job and a place to live and a girlfriend who only likes me sometimes. I could say that I have reduced my expectations, or I could say I am facing reality with a more subdued contenance. These things happen. In any case I am happy that Obama is president elect and I am sure I will have things to say about him as well.
There have been massive fires here in LA over the last few days and my neighborhood in Long Beach is covered in smoke. It smells like a fireplace, there are dark clouds, orange skies and white flakes falling like in a premonition of another Pompeii. But there is no volcano about to errupt, just a reminder that LA is in a basin, surrounded by desert, mountains and the ocean. It is a fragile world where things could rapidly fall apart. We have only a thin line of public servants, our wits and what good karma remains between us and chaos.
Things are coming together and others falling apart. This is no Nigeria, but it is not the America of 50 years ago. What it means for me personally is that the government comes after me and demands even more of my income. There is the chance that the new regime has the potential to turn things around in the country in a direction that I can feel some hope that the next generation might have a better world. As for me, my life is a mess and I doubt if it will get any better. I did not protect myself when I should have, I did not make the most selfish choices and now I can only hope that the forces of greed that have run things for the last 30 years so forcefully can be held in check by a somewhat more public spirited regime.

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