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Entries in economics (28)

Sunday
Mar312013

Resurrection for All

Happy Easter. Or better said, Happy Resurrection Day. Today is a day of mystery. A day when we go slack-jawed at the amazing way life springs from death. It's not just a Christian phenomenon of course. It's the basis of the cosmos, the greatest recycling program ever. It's the pattern to which all things adhere. It's for everyone, all the time. But for a couple billion of us, we mark time every spring: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Whether Jesus himself actually was risen is always open to interpretation and even dismissal as an historical event. Okay, fine. But the pattern goes on for each of us if we call it this or call it that. The story we tell narrows that ever present reality down to one person and people who were utterly convinced that even a brutal and savage death wasn't the end of things. And then they were the people who went and shared the remarkable news. Somehow. Something happened. Even a couple thousand years later we're talking about it.

I don't actually concern myself with the historical veracity of the biblical accounts. That's a rather worthless pursuit when one has noticed and accepted the flow of death to life to death to life again over and over in the smaller ways. It's come to me in the form of dire family estrangements and the relations that emerged to support me; it's come to me as dental woes that made things look pretty gloomy and loaded me up with guilt and dread but that were transcended; it's come to me repeatedly as one identity dies and another rises eventually. I've watched it in my garden as the cycle keeps turning life into compost and compost into rich soil for more life.

If I had a wish for today it would be that people stop dismissing religion, spirituality, mythology, and the metaphysicality of existence. I know it's been grossly misused over the ages, but it has also been the only thing that has given us the sanity we need to respond to madness, abuse of power, injustice. You can't idolize a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Gandhi without respecting the roots of the spiritual consciousness that made them great. They're standing on the shoulders of the sages and prophets and saviors of old, and who themselves emerged in a period of madness and turmoil and change. If anything, we need more religion, not less. But we need better expressions of it, instead of what we have now: the stuff born of our lower consciousness and desires.

Joseph Campbell gave humanity a great gift with his work in mythology, showing how the great religions and psychology overlap so much as to often be telling the same story with the differences being largely in details. Along those lines, you can't be an atheist and escape the resurrection. You may not like the Christian language and symbols but the lived reality is probably already there. It's there whether any of us wants it or not. It just is. But does one connect with it with open eyes? Does one connect with it by associating with the larger story of one group or another?

We're in a shitstorm of an historical hour. We think we're at the top of things, the best things have ever been. Yet we think things will get better. But in which way? Complex civilizations always collapse, as Joseph Tainter says, but not into "primordial chaos." They simplify down to what can be sustained. Another takes its place. Cities are inherently unsustainable places to live. We don't like to accept the idea that the greatest things we make will eventually be lost. Yet we're not happy in our cities. We're cut off. We value stuff with no future. We're hurting. We're really more dead than we let on. And we're in denial. So what follows death? More life. Different life. Even better life.

The Great Pattern doesn't really care about the desires and designs of one human or a hundred or a million or a billion or more. The Great Pattern will make something of the whole mess just like some of us believe one man beaten to a pulp and left for a humiliating death was somehow made into something so extraordinary that words could not convey what happened next. We have to face that even our beloved technological, rational society has to come to some end, sometime. If we're true to ourselves, we need to admit that it's become our god to which we do more than tithe, do more than listen to the priests and oracles for guidance, even kill for—either for a loaf of bread or to launch wars and economic warfare on resource rich nations.

That god must die. Something else more wonderful and life-giving must replace it. If that god were the true god, we'd be doing okay just about now. We certainly made ourselves quite comfortable. But instead we have grown accustomed to the desperation, displacement, fear, violence, and other stuff that accompanies it though we haven't found any peace in the arrangement. It doesn't work. It's the way of death. How can we disparage Yahweh as being a twisted and angry figure prone to mood swings and violence while we throw fervent support behind the economic god and the political god that has literally brought the ecosystem to ruin for so many around the world? That god was man-made. We can even kill that god. That god has been given a chance and it's fucked everything up. Some gods are better not even being born, let alone resurrected.

Ultimately though, things will run their course and I expect a lot of what we see around us as our supposed god-given right to consume will be seen for what it is: an unparalleled effort to turn Creation into trash. I think it will be a bruising time as things are dismantled by natural forces and economic reversal. But something must emerge. It always does. A new type of human that doesn't have the luxury of destroying the earth while calling it progress? Stuff will grow back over time. Our mighty cities will fade and crumble like Angkor Wat or Rome. Creation will ultimately win back everything when humans prove unfit for the task of creating and maintaining places like we know as our megacities and suburbs. We'll have to face the music ultimately: what we call our mightiest accomplishments (at least in the material world) don't really have a future like we thought.

Humanity is in this giant death and resurrection together, but when done right helps us to adjust to reality that we cannot change. It transforms us, not the world. It teaches us to live within the what is. But also to be more human in doing so. We just can't control everything just like I couldn't control everything about my garden. But that's the good part! We've already tried our hand at controlling everything. We can't do it. Yet the wise ones of old knew that the world was good as it was. Genesis starts out with that first and foremost. Things were good just as they were created. Then we monkeyed with things and it took God a few attempts to knock some sense into us. Then we Christians understand there was the Jesus card that God played to get our attention again. "What if I appear like one of them?" Even that failed pretty badly because a righteous man was shown a very harsh exit from this stage. Then it was time for something even bolder...

"They just think they killed him. Just watch!"

So maybe it wasn't Jesus in the flesh. But it was, to those with the ability to understand it just enough, that nudge into another life, a bigger life even after the devastation of losing the one so dear. The one who was already attractive and intriguing but now became...bigger than life—and death—itself.

Death and resurrection is all around us. It is. It happens yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, by the minute. Are we attuned to it? Do we trust it enough to let it play out? Are we okay admitting that there are other people who experience it and it's not ours to control? Even though two billion people celebrate the resurrection, we certainly know there are folks who don't really get what it means. And certainly there have to be people outside the Christian realm who get it readily but don't identify with Jesus/Christ (sic). The message though is for everyone. Now more than ever, we really need a story that lets us know it's okay to die so that something better can emerge. With God's grace, anything might just happen.

Saturday
May282011

Too Tull an Order for Me

Jethro Tull tix for me and my lady are nearly $98 after Ticketbastard added nearly $18 to the price that I was already teetering about, plus the drive to Escondido/Valley Center, which, with gas prices today actually means a bit more still. Don't get me wrong. I have loved Tull for 22 years (and they are the first band that I truly savored, and I even started playing drums because of them), but I just aint into shedding that much "hard earned" dough for a few hours of kicks. (I'd sort of like to get remixed and remastered albums, if anything.) The current band, according to YouTube vids I've seen over a few years, is a shadow of itself (keys and bass players seeming all the more like hired guns with nothing of the kind of personality of earlier guys), and Ian's voice is pretty bad now, even while his flute and guitar work have advanced.

Even getting an agreement from one of the band to meet and greet was nice but the expense for a band that really ought to play instrumentals now, or in "emerging markets," or should go out proudly on 43 years of laurels and not keep milking it. Kind of sad, really. Musically, they are still quite exciting when playing the bold stuff like Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses, Black Sunday, Farm on the Freeway, but Ian really needs to call it a day with the voice. It is too identifiable an element of their sound, and it has been stressed since 1984. After a couple years' recovery time following his voice crisis that year, I liked his mellow voice on Crest of a Knave and one or two albums to follow, but since they tour all the time, no doubt that just makes it worse. I'd rather buy one good album every three years than see their tours at this price. But they don't really do albums anymore, it seems.

Yet, the three shows I have seen in the 90s have been quite enjoyable. The one to follow was perhaps a favorite concert experience of all...

In 1998, under the guise of working for Mike Keneally that day and borrowing one of the band's access passes, I got to meet the band (Martin Barre told me about Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention getting the axe from that band when he did some silly and not-too-well-thought-out Hitler gesture at a show) and watch both MK's show and the Tull show from side stage at Humphreys. That must be my Tull peak experience. It was that day that Ian Anderson stood just feet in front of me in the wings, watching MK's blistering performance with his 5 piece band, playing the Cowlogy with its insane Zappa-like rhythmic unison ending that followed a curvy and dense vocal line. Ian had a wild grin on his face watching that, and later on got in touch with drummer Jason Harrison Smith and had him come to England to cut demos for Tull's next album (Dot Com) and Ian's solo album, SLOB. Only Jason had a sort of loose tongue that uttered something during the sessions that killed the deal just as he was getting some of the biggest chances in his career thus far. Like Ian needed Jason's creative input!

Sunday
Dec052010

The Emperor Has NEW Clothes

I don't think anyone is surprised at the facts of commercialism at Christmas. Even my favorite Christmas special, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (from 1965) was well enough aware of the issue that a holy day was co-opted by commercial interests. Okay, well enough, we're all on the same page. What bugs the hell out of me is one company in particular, C-28, that has popularized their brand most notably with the "NOTW" image, which when read in full form means "Not Of This World." The reference is to the answer that Jesus gave to Pontius Pilate at a trial before execution. Pilate wanted some clarity about this kingdom that this man supposedly reigned over, and Jesus was mostly speechless except to say that his kingdom was "not of this world."

It was one way of saying, as Walter Wink, the theologian-writer says, that Jesus' kingdom was not shaped by the values of the world putting him on trial. Wink encouraged reading it as "my kingdom is not of this domination system." Or, more clearly, Jesus' value system was opposed to what Rome stood for, something that was cause enough for death at the hands of the empire, particularly if one was so bold to say it so clearly. Rome was only concerned with its own power and glory, and not some would-be scene stealer. So that was cause enough to put this treasonous man to death. So, to say "not of this world" is to reject the prevailing standards of right order in political, social, and economic aspects of life. Later on, the Revelation of John, written a few years after Rome stormed through Jerusalem with a scorched earth approach following the Jewish Revolt, goes to great lengths to portray the Roman system (in metaphorical terms as Babylon, the other hated empire of history) as a whore. John's vision also decries the economic dominance of Rome, the sad situation that to remain outside of Rome's dominance is to wither and die economically, and to be part of it is to be sold out just the same, to be complicit with an evil system. Jesus' statement was to place himself apart from the empire and its emperor. A daring thing indeed. The book of Revelation deals a lot with establishing clarity for the believer: you gonna get with this Christ program and leave that Roman stuff behind, or not?

These days, one can argue that the US is Rome, but I'd prefer to put a finer point on it. The economic model popularized in the US, and its narrative of material pleasure for individuals, lends itself to abuses that have cost the world dearly. Whether we worship the same historical god is not the issue now; these days the "in" people and the "out" people are defined more according to whether they are believers in the might of the market, believers in free trade, open markets and the like. My association with Jubilee Economics Ministries has led me away from that line of thought before it really got the better of me. A couple years ago Lee Van Ham presented an exceptional forum on how to unwrap Christmas itself so it was not commercial nor even the tame little tale that gets represented in pageants and other bits of dramatic interp. Lee took us to a place where many in this land typically haven't gone. At least, in my 35 years I had never heard these things. This year, after a year of close interaction with Lee, I asked him to present that forum in a blog series on the JEM site. You can read the five part series here.

But back to C-28. C-28 and the NOTW icon irritates the hell out of me. I say this because one can see the NOTW sticker on the backs of the biggest trucks and SUVs and tricked out cars on the road. C-28 is a clothing and "lifestyle" company that sells all sorts of Christian themed stuff, all borrowing heavily from popular culture and a bad conservative interpretation of megachurch style Christian messages. At best, I consider this kind of dreck as remedial Christianity that maybe has the power to draw some people Christward but only in the same way as chocolate chip cookies could start to nourish a starved man. Eventually one will have to get some real nutrients to finish the job. At worst—and this is what I'd like to put before you now—I consider it a complete co-opting of the Christian message by "this world." I already said that the NOTW stickers are all over giant vehicles, or ones that otherwise are displays of conspicuous wealth or material interest. Tell me, exactly what world do those cars come from if not from "this world"? How does one put such a sticker on such a car? Well, first, one has to have no fucking clue what Christianity means. And that is easily enough done today. After all, it has been co-opted by right wing politics, the military, and of course, the marketplace. If you go to C-28's website, you can get the same kind of right wing Christian propaganda as you'd get at a rally or concert (indeed C-28 funds that too) but with the added bonus (for them) that you can show your apparent conversion and acceptance of Christ with these great pieces of apparel (some looking a bit slutty), accessories, or stickers to add to your monster truck. What Would Jesus Do?, indeed!

The marketplace has become the new Caesar. Caesar, in the time around Jesus, took a fancy to being called "Augustus," or "the Revered," "the Great." These days I only half jokingly call the market by its Roman styled name: Marketus Augustus. The Revered Market. Market, The Great. There are some who already recognize this. I am not claiming to be unique. But it is far from being a widespread realization of what is at work. People, particularly during this rough recessionary time, are on bended knee before the holy Market and its grace or they are feeling damned by its fickleness. If you read Lee Van Ham's essays about the cosmologically explosive Christmas story of angels and wise men being the messengers of God's trumping of Caesar, then one must believe that we could experience that today—something has the power to shock us out of this love affair with what "this world" has given us. What I find contemptible is that something like C-28 obscures the way with their mixed message of Christianity and consumerism. What is it gonna be, Aurelio? (The founder.) You want to serve God or Mammon? Capitalists for Christ? If C-28 was in the business of donating plain T-shirts or hoodies to poor people with "Jesus" in black Helvetica, would anyone care about the Jesus reference? Or is Aurelio primarily a salesman who found a willing bunch of suckers who just need some clever designs? If you go to C-28 today as I did, you might not know it from any other hip site except for a few links, including a chance to buy a copy of the founder's testimony about how he "came to Christ." Well, I don't get it. If this isn't from this world, then what world? Because it sure seems pretty indistinguishable to me!

From the C-28 FAQ page:

Q: How does Christian apparel further the Gospel?

A: It is a tool for Christians to use as a conversation starter about Jesus. T-shirts with Scripture puts God’s Word out there and many people get a chance to read the message whether it’s waiting in line at the store or wherever. It’s also a way for Christians who aren’t so bold to talk to a stranger about Jesus to have His Word out there in public. Most people will never pick up a Bible or hear a verse quoted, but they will read a t-shirt.

Great. Now Jesus gets to be worn along side all the other bits of wisdom printed on T-shirts.

In Hans Christian Andersen's tale about the Emperor's New Clothes, it took a young boy to see through the lie that some snake oil selling weavers were foisting upon the emperor, his keepers, and indeed, the public at large. The power of a lie is great, especially if it is repeated often enough. This Christmas season, I take my place as the kid (admittedly not the only one) shouting out that the emperor has no clothes—the commercial Christmas is crap, all a lie we share in to feel better about a truth that we can't bear, even though it would do us good to face that our economy is teetering on collapse. And no amount of consumer spending is going to patch up the damage for long, like a band-aid on a chest wound. We're seeing through the delusional picture that Caesar has sold us. The Market is fallible. That is plausible enough. But for me, there is the added disappointment and betrayal that comes with seeing so-called Christians peddling their wares all the same. The Emperor isn't always wrapped in the traditional garb of power and glory. These days, it seems the Emperor—this world—is coming dressed in Christ-logo wear. The Emperor has new clothes, indeed. I wonder what "developing world" sweatshop they are made in. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Oh, by the way—Just 19 more shopping days till Christmas.

Thursday
Feb122009

World

It dawned on me that a number of DVDs that I have seen in the last year tell a great story when viewed in series, and all of which is fascinating to behold. I didn't particularly see them in the order I am about to propose, but when seen together, it is an interesting look at history from the formation of the earth through geologic history, and a wide sweeping look at human history and possible destiny, topped with a cherry on top in the form of Jesus as the model human to put right what has gone wrong.

All this stuff I got from Netflix, so the links will be to the pages where you can find these videos. Watch in this order for maximum narrative impact.

  • Miracle Planet (five part series). This one takes a look at the long history of the planet Earth and is built on an argument that life is seemingly a stroke of luck that has somehow lasted for billions of years despite radical shifts in climate and terrain and so forth. It ends with the advent of the homo sapien and its edge over Neanderthals due to the former's power of articulate speech as its defining feature, something that paved the way for communication of increasingly complex and abstract information and ideas. Which is a good set up for:
  • Guns, Germs and Steel (three part series). A National Geographic series built on the themes in Jared Diamond's book of the same name. Diamond asks how it was that the Eurasian branch of humankind was able to thrive, innovate, and spread its kind to all manner of places, and to dominate human history. He credits geographical advantage of fertile lands as the basis for early civilization that surged ahead of other hunting and gathering peoples, and innovation that arose out of that advantageous circumstance. Such things as exposure to domesticated animals secured our resilience to diseases that later were fatal to vulnerable New World populations. High technology and well developed use of horses helped the history of domination wherever Eurasian peoples went. It is all a great look at how domination is essentially foundational to civilization and violence is a major tool by which it spreads. Other civilizations had not the advantages of such successful agricultural effort, and perhaps lacked the resources or literacy that Eurasian peoples had, and so never progressed in the same way.
  • What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire This comes out of the Peak Oil "doomer" camp from which I sort of consider myself. This takes a brutally honest look at the world situation (peak oil, global warming, food shortages in the face of overpopulation, etc.) and its foundations in our mythologies of progress and love of technology. Consider it the extended tale of what Guns, Germs and Steel is talking about. (Diamond is well known for a book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.) It too reaches back into the roots of civilization and shows how the whole system is set to somehow succeed to the point of failure eventually. It concludes wondering how life would look if exploitation, domination and violence was not the leading paradigm, and if life were lived more reverently and in tune with what the Earth is able to provide.
  • A Crisis of Faith: The Series (four part series). This covers a few different bases in each of the different films but it comes back to the role of how we've lost touch with the mythic universe that keeps us as characters within a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The first one is somewhat like Life At The End of Empire in that it takes a look at our present situation and its roots in the myths of progress, and Enlightenment materialistic thought. It asks why in the age of moon landings and nuclear technology we are losing our way as people with a sense of meaning. The second one examines economic injustice in America, particularly how it affects blacks here. The third looks to the story Percival and the Holy Grail and how it narrates development into a fully human being. The fourth episode is a great "portrait of a radical" and shows how Jesus of Nazareth was the ideal human who lived a remarkable life of service to fellow humans and how he exposed the systemic injustice of his time and place—something not at all too different than today. The last two videos of the series are meant to illustrate how domination-rooted human mess can be pushed aside by lifting up our compassionate humanity in the face of the devastation the world brings. The emphatic message is that we need to turn inward and downward for our wisdom and not outward for external gratification and acceptance. That would pave the way for more genuine enlightenment ala what Jesus demonstrated.

The theme that comes up repeatedly is that our problems are rooted in the very civilization we wish to save with all our valiant efforts. Technology heaped upon earlier technology has done a lot to forestall the problems associated with earlier strides in civilized life. Social arrangements such as division of labor have allowed us to fall into traps of some being better than others, some working like dogs, and others living as kings. In some ways, one might say that Jesus was an anarcho-primitivist with his talk about the Kingdom of God and the notion that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. It seems that there hasn't been a time during the civilized world that has been adequate for the coming of the Kingdom; a lot of what Jesus was talking about was trusting that life would go on just as well if we didn't set up shelter, hoard food, or have fancy clothing. He spoke of relinquishing the trappings of the material world so that we could get down to the business of living. Well, perhaps his words and civilization would clash forever until one or the other falls to nothing, but which would fall to nothing first? If you subscribe to the thesis of What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, then maybe we're seeing the fall of not just another civilization but the fall of the most advanced one we've known, back to something simpler and more in touch with reality. Maybe the overly complex arrangements need to fall apart so we might discover why we wanted to get civilized in the first place: to put to use our elevated thinking and speech to better ourselves. As Crisis of Faith says, we're awash in information, but not so in wisdom. We're in love with quantification, but we don't know what it means or what to do with it. That's because we move too fast and don't know where we want to go.

Thursday
Dec182008

It's The (Real) Economy, Stupid

It is cold, even inside where the heater is here but does not work. The lights are on for the holidays but the cheer has to wait still. It is me and the dog, both waiting in anticipation not for Santa—it is almost a week too early for that and he isn't really what defines Christmas around here anyway. No, we are awaiting the centerpiece of our home, Kelli, who is making her final drive down from her school now upon completing her final work in seminary. Buber may not believe in Santa, but when Kelli enters, he will be as joyous and bouncy as any kid who might watch the jolly man arrive in the middle of the night in this cold season. The poor pup doesn't know what to make of her coming and going each week, but every time she comes home he is beside himself with doggy glee. As for myself, it's like getting the living part of me back.

Three and a half years ago was a lifetime ago. A nightmare of a summer preceded her beginning of school, but I was glad that she was doing it, even if it was to mean a lot of solitary time for me. It is interesting; the summer of 2005 was a time when the world outside was doing rather well—housing prices were still high (though I contend value was low), and our life was in crisis. And now, all this time later, the world outside is in shambles and we're holding our own, even better than we thought possible. As soon as she is done with school, she gets a whopping couple of days to come down and then has before her a nine month internship at a hospital, as chaplain resident. With that comes a worthwhile stipend that puts us in a rather satisfactory position while I still sling taters and onions daily. It defies logic that we're doing this well, but for this, I thank whatever power runs the universe at our local level.

But I like to think of it this way. Kelli's work will feed the souls of people, giving the medical profession some balance as it is quite clear to that profession now that a doctor alone can't simply fix people if their whole being isn't tended to. So Kelli will learn to fill that part of the healing profession. I presently actually am a link in the chain that feeds people actual caloric sustenance and gives people a reason to gather around a table. So maybe it isn't so far fetched that we are in the place we are in today. I won't go so far to say that our particular positions are recession proof, but both are more essential to human life, and reside closer to the base of the economy than do say, a bunch of Wall St. financial wizard-grifters who are now seen to be frauds who deal in greed, hype, and fear.

We didn't just wander into these positions. Kelli's path is longer and perhaps more substantial but she realized before she went to seminary that she had been doing ministry in the secular world as an advocate for youth and seniors, educator in schools and churches, poet and speaker. What she needed was to turn those efforts into something that could bring those circles of her interests into focus, and to get a degree to legitimate what has long seemed a calling for her. My interests in social dynamics, history, psychology, deep economics and political science helped lead me to a family owned business that deals in the thing that unites all humanity at a deep level—we all gotta eat. Yeah, I am a driver, but each work situation can teach something and this one has many small lessons as I drive. The actual work has a certain few things to teach, but moving through town where I see some of the richest people and the poorest people in town is instructive in its own profound way. There is something profound about contemplating the differences—and similarities—between the rich people of Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla, and the desperate people on street corners and doorways in Downtown.

In many ways Kelli and I have pursued our own types of education in these few years, with much more to do. What I cherish about all that is that we trade notes on our experiences and deepen our understanding of our own realities with what the other has to say. Reflecting on the economic crashes of late, it is sad that it will cause anguish for so many. But really, a deeper look at the world's economy shows how despicable and destructive it is. What needs to happen is for a more human sized economy to emerge, and one that is more holistic in its practices. But people fear the change, and the coming of the new. But at what real price, the success of capitalism as we know it? When all is said and done, people still need to eat, and people will need the patient pastor or chaplain to hear their hearts as a lot of pain gets expressed—the disappointments and grieving for loss of all sorts of things big and small. Having known some loss individually and together, I'd like to think either of us might have been prepared to speak meaningfully to another person, even if it was against our wills to ever have the words to do the job!

But in this season of Advent, I am just joyous for Kelli and me not just surviving her schooling, but really thriving in it. Her own schooling at seminary swept me up in all sorts of new understandings. I have said many times I am glad she wasn't just a business student, else how would one really have the chance to develop and look at the world a whole new way such as has been put before me? Some professions are rather stiff and boring, but I think we've both benefited from her seminary experience and its enlivening effect. For now though, I will be happy to just enjoy her being back safely in a few hours, and Buber the Dog will be happy to get petted all of her waking hours, at least until she is off to the hospital in another big adventure.

Friday
Oct242008

The Brain Fart Heard 'Round The World

Okay, the Wizard, the High Priest, or even the god of the world economy made a mistake. Hey, he's only human. He didn't realize there was a housing bubble till it was bursting. What a putz!

I humbly submit these for your viral internetting pleasure—

greenspan: oops, my bad

greenspan: i had a brain fart

don't worry alan, we didn't need that economy anyway

good riddance to greenspan/god is dead

Friday
May162008

Undignified Freedom

picture of truck mirror reflecting a homeless man walking away from trash cans where he got his mealsI think freedom is alive in America
It's just not where you would expect—
Entrepreneurs line the street corners
They keep their own hours
Taxation doesn't touch them
Then again, hardly anyone notices them
Except when a kind soul breaks free and gives a dollar
Stalling traffic in the process
I find more and more such entrepreneurs
In the rarified air of my ironic material ascension
My full time position of gainful employment
Sobering juxtaposition against daily news of upheaval and hard times

America's swelling economic class of poor can be found
Standing at the street corners or crouching in the doorways
They talk to people beyond our field of vision
(Possibly their only friend in Jesus, just out of sight for most of us)
The ever-present cardboard signs
"Homeless, disabled, anything helps"
Some are dejected while some retain humor
Their frankness a shock to most ears, it brings fear
A fear invoked by material loss and dissolution of dreams
We who drive by in our metal ivory towers
Air conditioning and music pumping behind tinted glass
The sequestering effect of the dream well dreamed
Worried sick with neuroses about
Petty shit only a bored materialistic people could think about
As if it mattered somehow
The tense glance and the undesire to meet eyes
The feeble reach for the coin tray as if out of guilt
Knowing Heaven's reality TV show has cameras trained on you
The giving out of fear to avoid fear
Sad flash knowing the party may soon end
Living paycheck to paycheck
The wobbly feeling mounts
The feeling mounts, fears of when we're all made equal
By the things we won't have anymore

And the next stoplight won't be any easier!

Who is our enemy and how can we love him?
Who is the dispossessed self-as-other whom we hate?
Our reflection in the empty gazes
The thinly veiled despair of cardboard signs
A world of possessions in a stolen? shopping cart
Why do we hate you, Failed America that just won't go away?
Does it hurt to know thyself this way?
If we throw off the slavery of debt and war
Would we recognize our freedom?
How many more street corners can we build
To give jobs to all the jobless?
How many more alcoves must be made
To give homes to the homeless?
How much more cardboard must be pressed
To help small businesses get off the ground
Off the ground of dirty streets and canyons?
Freedom to piss openly on the street
Conjures our righteous disgust and revulsion
While secretly our sad unspoken admission is that
They might be freer than we

The economic stimulus package entrenches many in voluntary slavery
Either by getting in or getting out
It is yours to choose just like paper or plastic
A false choice doomed to bind us to the sickening status quo
Yet freedom is just outside the door
On the corners and in the alleys
A little dingy, yes, but
There it is within reach if you had to take it
Or maybe captivity is more precious
The certainty of heat and light
The safety from the dark of night—
If not pulled, some are pushed

America, America, land of the free
I witness the slow shameful decline
Just as the torch is handed off to me
A new generation with the old hope dashed
By the freedom of some to take the freedom of others for the want of a buck
And the race to the top being run roughshod
Over true believers in the national mythology of upward mobility
An undignified freedom prevails in the land
Not like the days of ticker tape parades
When we beat back manifest evil
And sent the bad men running for cover
A slow shameful decline into poverty of the soul
A land that will sell its grandchildren
If a buck can be made this quarter

The condo-boom in the downtown
Is met in like fashion by the corner people
Whose numbers grow daily
Rooms, rooms everywhere and not a place to stay!
Conspicuous signs of wealth only mask the
Swelling poverty behind the glass and steel facades
It's the dilemma of our time
It's the shame of our age
Uniquely plagued with too much stuff
Too successful for our own good

The light can't turn green fast enough, can it?

Tuesday
May292007

Home-coup Haiku

Rake in the profit
You didn't need the fam'ly
You betrayed me first...

Skeletons in closets
Touch the sacred and taboo
Before I was born

Sell out family
Get some dead and some angry
Laughing to the bank!

Trailer prayers reek of
Things I can not speak of here
Let us prey, my love...

Promised me shelter
Offer good till I go out
Awakened Buddha

Five hundred fifteen thou!
Richer than sin, don'tcha know?
Jubilee justice?

Hatred tango tears
Two many lives apart
Unraveling web

Wednesday
Feb282007

Aqualung My Friend

Today the stock market took a dive in the worst fall it has taken since the day of September 11, 2001. This news doesn't look to be an isolated instance of the market's fickleness in the age of globalization. My anticipation is that this is only a taste of things, and that sooner or later things have to reset somehow, in a big way as the market hiccups and shudders in what James Kunstler calls the Long Emergency.

homeless man petitioning for cash or help from the side of the road near mission valley mall.Today was just another day of driving wastefully about the city and county as I deliver technical documents to architects and engineers who build places I deplore. While out and about, it is impossible to not see the growing number of panhandlers on the street corners and intersections. Maybe it is just that I do so much driving now that I see it this much, but I am certain this subculture has to be growing in population. Almost invariably, they are white people. A work buddy of mine said in December 2005 that they were all white, and since then, I have paid attention to the validity of that claim, and just by my observation, he was nearly 100% correct. I honestly believe that in the year and more that has passed since then, no more than two men in such situations were something other than white. He claimed that the latinos would not be seen doing such things if they could stand in a work line and get something of a day gig in construction or whatever they specialize in, for it would be an insult to their machismo breadwinner role to be seen begging. So far, my buddy's Wyoming-lensed observation has held out remarkably well.

It is the season of Lent, which usually is the time when people of Christian faith reflect on the sacrifices required to honestly live the faith. As for me, I just feel very disconnected from all that this year because instead of the last week being one to pause and take stock of personal allegiances, it has been 100% "GO!" between my day job and doing some significant domestically demanding work as of late—namely moving house! (So far Kelli and I have made 22 truck and car trips to the new place in Bay Park.) So I have unwittingly and grudgingly taken on the mantle of the workaday schmoe who puts the blinders on and has to "look out for number one." I'm concerned about my job just because the place has fired three drivers in the four weeks I have been there. It doesn't seem to be a very stable place to try to remain, even though I am seemingly doing well and taking on a bit of dispatch duty as needed. It scares me that all my eggs are in that basket. I listen to NPR and public radio all day long, so today I was able to hear the market hemorrhage during the course of the day. And then I looked out to the street corners and saw the broken spirits of the ruthless market economy. I carry no money but for a few bucks each day. I have just my lunch with me. I am not driving to be charitable. But they are there asking for help, just as I sit in the car, stuck as it were, even in a device that usually is associated with ideas of freedom. So I have to meet eyes with these people, knowing full well that I could offer something, and probably would, but being a slave to peer pressure nonetheless, worrying either about how fragile my job is, or what the people in other cars will think, or that maybe the guy I give to is a professional panhandler who makes more than I do in any given day. So I go cynical and drum my fingers till the light changes, and that discomfort will pass until the next major intersection or the next time I pass by that same intersection.

It makes me feel like a great hypocrite and sorry excuse for a human being. But in my culture, what can I say? We are so conditioned to think that there is a scheme, even behind a guy who is panhandling. We are so conditioned to fear that he might do something irresponsible with "our" money. Or maybe it's that if you give to a guy once, and he is there the next day, do you give again? Or do you give to the guy on the other corner opposite where the first is standing?

I spent most of 2006 working on developing some spiritual sensitivity to the world around me, but this year is so different. Different work, different house, different everything it seems. I've been moving away from my church because of a political and time management problem that has not resolved. I have not been able to attend my (usually twice monthly) therapy sessions because my work schedule is what it is. So I feel oddly detached from something that enveloped me last year. Yet, I don't kid myself and think that I am on the right track. More and more the economic storm clouds are coming in, just as I have feared for a couple years now. I guess the panhandler guys on the streets are scary more than anything. They are scary because the look like me or some people I know. They are scary because they might have had what an earlier economy considered a "good job" in some manufacturing or something meaningful, but now they haven't. Then I consider what it means that my job is essentially disposable on the drop of a hat, and that as my costs rise, and as I age, and as the economic-social-political world is transformed into one with a dying middle class, I have a visceral fear that it is not impossible for things to fall that far, even for me.

Even still, for the guy that I don't give a buck to, or the guy I don't give some food to, I am the same privileged asshole in a car that avoids eye contact and is keen to get the hell out of that uncomfortable captive situation as soon as the light goes green. What difference does it make if I spent the last year trying to deepen my spiritual sense if in the most critical moment, I throw it all out as I "look out for number one"? I suppose for my lenten reflection, I have to write this to at least acknowledge that I know that I'm as hypocritical as any other most of the time, operating out of fear of something, and not knowing what button exactly I must push to activate that part of me that knows what is right and good, and to act on it. Empathy I have, but sympathy (the will to act on the empathic response) is still lacking.

Wednesday
Jan102007

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