Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Three or Four Cigarettes

I recall a passage from the Journals of John Cheever that speaks to my current condition. It goes something like this I'm sitting in a yellow chair smoking three or four cigarettes.  I don't smoke, but the vague agitation of Cheever's entry, the restless paralysis, rings true for me.  There is plenty to do: pack for holiday travel to the in-laws, clean the house, meet my son for lunch-- all these tasks and more line up like gates, the passage through which would convey an imprimatur of normalcy. And yet I do nothing. Maybe I'll take up smoking.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seeing Red

Yesterday we were caught behind a red-rust colored Camino, the rear of which was covered with celebratory messages of bloody salvation. Covered in the Blood of the Lamb read one such bumper sticker; Blood red is the color of Redemption read another. Ice and snow obscured the complete text of several other stickers, yet I was able to see that blood figured into the narrative of each one.

Today, while browsing the shelves at the library, I saw two middle age men hovering round a computer, discussing quietly to themselves the message on the screen. Eaves-dropping, I was able to pick up the disappointed tenor of their conversation. It seems that the web-site they were considering proclaimed the body count of the pending Biblical Apocalypse has been over-estimated. These two were discussing the relevance of Biblical citations to projected fatalities, and I thought I saw one of them doing a summary tally on his fingers as if to recheck figures against his shattered expectations.

Imagine the poor guy who owns the Camino; he may have to downshift the tone of his bumper stickers to something less ghastly, and seek a message of life rather than one of death from his chosen tradition.
That such alternative messages are inherent in Christianity is, of course, available. My seminarian wife tells me that up until the 10th or 11th Century, life affirming images of Jesus were more representational of the faith. These images depicted fountains and rivers as representational of what IT was all about. Of course, the ascension of the cross as the dominant symbol of Christianity began with Constantine and gathered momentum with the "conversion at the point of the sword" theology of Rome. In our day and age such gore becomes the fodder for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the violence therein pornographic in its appeal.

I offer these observations not to create controversy and not as a believer, but to offer a reminder that, starting next week, more light will be coming into the world, the days reaching however feebly at first toward Spring. And that process, that hope, is more easily glimpsed when we wipe the blood from our eyes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Feel Good Capitalism"

It's everywhere these days. Purchase a cup of coffee, a magazine, an automobile and be assured that a portion of the profits thereof are put toward a market based world of salads and sun. As a way to assuage the guilt of consumerism these gestures provide point of purchase forgiveness for exploitation, obscene profits, environmental degradation and a host of neoliberal terrors. Given the psychological reach of such efforts, it's a wonder that a medium cup of dark roast has room for cream!

In a heightened extension of market perversity, the United Nations has bought into and is promoting the idea of carbon offsets and markets as a means to preserve forests worldwide. The process works like this: Corporation X can "offset" their polluting by purchasing a forest elsewhere thereby preserving, or so say the promoters of this scheme, the ecological integrity and biodiversity of the environment, and offer economic incentives to indigenous people who happen to inhabit the purchased forest.

The head of the World Bank supports this plan (of course, he also promoted The New American Century which lead us to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars), The president of Ecuador supports this plan asserting against all evidence to the contrary that the "owner entities" of the world's forests "can be controlled," and more disturbing except as evidence of the desperation of caring people the world over, Jane Goodall supports this scheme.

Many indigenous peoples the world over are less enthusiastic. They wonder by what authority their lands are being sold out from beneath them? Unable to produce a recognizable deed--thousands of years of stories, traditions, and stewardship don't count to those whose imagination has been shaped by an affirmation of individuality via purchases in the market--these folks face the prospect of becoming squatters on their own land.

Any hint at regulations designed to limit market intrusion/greed are met with dire warnings of the failures of centralized economies or diminished as mere wishful thinking. The market is how the world works these days. You might wish it otherwise, but we have to be reality focused. This argument passes muster the world over and so accustomed are we to this bludgeoning that we are reduced to shouting, "Thank you sir! May I have another?"

Eclipsed in this abusive dynamic, what Naomi Klein has aptly called disaster capitalism in her book The Shock Doctrine, are any ideas of meaningful change. The market may be how the world works, but carbon offsets and markets never ask the question, For whom does this world work? Issues are framed to preserve current power structures; wealth continues to get transferred upward, Shell Oil continues to buy governments (see here), corporations continue to pollute, and people of the land, stewards of the Earth, become displaced, illegal, and unwanted.

All this is, the enthusiastic cheering to the contrary, nothing new. What is being preserved is the ability of transnational business to out maneuver governments the world over, to shape markets exclusively toward "bottom line" considerations, and to lull us into a guilt ridden sleep. I just might need that cup of coffee!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The View From the Cushion....

To keep myself from chasing after passing fancies

I sit still, let the distractions find me,

move in, exhaust their lease,

and leave me behind

Breathing in, breathing out.

* * *

Seeking refuge from strong winds

I watch my breathe rise and fall.

From the plaster wall I face

An owl casts a stern gaze over his hooked beak.

I am not concerned, and he flies away.