Friday, November 29, 2013

Life is but a Dream?

I looked over and the strange fact that Pamela Kheto was driving seemed perfectly normal, even though my sole contact with her in the last ten years was a brief meeting in a parking lot where she tried to recruit me for some kind of power-grab at her church. When I looked to the front I saw we were on rough terrain. I felt the bottom scraping on large boulders and finally hitting something huge that threatened to completely ty us up, the edge of a cliff actually, but our momentum carried us up and over, teetering on the edge a moment then flipping over, dropping about 20 feet. I was thrown out of the convertible and I tried to keep tabs on the car, leery of it rolling over me. It took a weird bounce and came right for me but since it was a convertible, as it rolled over I was able to avoid injury by tucking into the seating compartment. But all that excitement woke me up. I lay there breathing, heart pounding, wondering, WTF? Are dreams parallel realities or just random happenings that we attempt to make sense of by tying disparate fragments together into a story as best we can?

I’ve always been influenced by whomever I’m reading, in terms of writing style. Like Chomsky for political writing. In high school when I discovered Sherlock Holmes I would write friends, usually friends I was hoping to make girl friends, in the style of that early detective story writer. Lately I’ve stumbled upon David Sedaris. Anyone familiar will probably notice him lurking in this writing. Back to my dream: Mulling this stuff over I got up and did my five minute yoga routine, coordinating movement with breathing, keeping my attention on breathing or rather the moment in time I'm standing in... except when I dart off to add something to my to-do list, then trying to remember where I left off, doing five of each movement but losing count and settling for however many, lying there at the end wondering whether to get back in bed or lay here and meditate... falling asleep, waking, random stuff going through my mind as if they were life or death issues, catching myself, letting them dissolve, being once again, transforming that energy into presence, determined to not drift off, realizing I'm thinking about that meeting thursday, some stuff to add to the agenda... waking, letting it dissolve again... focus, focus... um, that line in my latest song, it has the word little in two consecutive verses, need to change that... wait a minute! Let it dissolve, back to now.

So I put on the ear buds, hook up Nugget Q. Underfoot the dog and head down the street, making for the cemetery, a thirty minute walk to get rid of that extra five or fifteen pounds or at least maintain a holding action, and keep the old bod in minimal shape. Half a block and I notice the song I’m playing is 2/3 through and I haven’t even been aware of it. So now I attend. The next song starts and I drift off thinking about random stuff like those dreams. There’s a song again, half way through and I’ve missed the first two verses. I seem to wake up in the middle, vow to focus but mostly only hear beginnings and endings.

What I’m listening to are the songs I’ve been recording. I’m going through more or less chronologically, recording in batches of ten the songs I’ve written since 1969. A bit more than 2/3 through that archiving project. “Album” number 18 coming up. I listen for mistakes or dull passages that need to be tweaked. Sometimes I listen to other artists, like The Swimming Pool Qs but I always come back to mine own… it’s what interests me I tell myself, and if I didn’t listen to them they wouldn’t get heard… I tell myself. I’m using Mac’s bandcamp to record them, usually laying down guitar and vocals to a drum track then adding bass, lead guitar and maybe keyboards. When I load the batches to bandcamp I do a cover, using one of my paintings or drawings, and add lyrics and commentary. My pace is such that I put up an “album” a month and if twenty people check it out that month I feel like I’ve accomplished some sharing behavior, even though I can tell that many only listen to part of a cut, according to the stats available. Can’t begrudge folks, I’m the same way, I can’t sit there and listen to album after album, read all the poetry, novels, see every movie produced, read all the essays of my fellow bloggers. Ya, I do a blog too. You’re reading it.

The blog started out, and so states at the top, with a focus on being and power, power being basically looking at who rules civilization for whose benefit, the 1% we’ve heard so much about, Noam Chomsky, as I said earlier, being the guru here. The being side comes mainly out of the work of Eckhart Tolle. I mean, many folks have nudged me in this direction but no one has provided such clarity on the subject as ol’ Eckhart. The blog readership, like the songs, is miniscule. I think I got 60 readers once when I posted thoughts about Israel that pushed somebody’s buttons, bringing charges of anti-semitism, a definite possibility when dealing with that subject. The more usual readership is 15 to 40, and who knows if they make it through the whole essay? A few listserves is mostly how I promote the blog. I accompany the posts with political cartoons, drawn from my archives or done special for that post. For posts on being I more often use paintings since they generally deal with aesthetic rather than political issues – the aesthetic being the philosophy of beauty and beauty being what one experiences in deep being - if you know what I mean. Turns out the being half is far less than half.

BTW, some citizens of backward countries like, say France, think we in the U.S. don't understand hardship. I've got this tankless water heater I installed for environmental reasons and it worked great for awhile, lowered my gas bill noticeably. Just as the warranty expired it gave out. I invited the Georgian “expert” on tankless water heaters over and after 3-4 hours he threw up his hands and disappeared. It was a loss for him because I never got an invoice and he lost cell phone minutes talking to the engineers at the manufacturing plant – ya, made in USA!

So anyway, now when I’m ready to shower I turn off the in-line to the unit, turn on the shower (no water of course since the input is off), put on my robe cuz I have to walk through my screen porch to get to the unit, go there, turn on the input, light the unit (one in three times it lights itself) and head for the shower where I have a bucket to catch the water. It's usually hot by the time I get there so I put the bucket aside (to be used for toilet flushing later) and do the shower. I wet down, turn it off and lather up. When I turn on the water to rinse there's no way of knowing if the unit fires up so chances are the only hot water I have is in the pipe between shower and unit so, a quick rinse is what I get. Well, it saves water don't it, as the English say. And they, along with those Frogs, probably also say that we in the states don't suffer but i've just disproved that, didn't I.

Photo by/of Tom Ferguson

Monday, November 11, 2013

Three Books: Michael Parenti, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, Noam Chomsky's Imperial Ambitions and Arundhati Roy's War Talk

I join these three books because of their common unveiling of who-rules-for-whose-benefit, across cultures and time. Parenti shows an ancient example, the destruction of early Roman Democracy by oligarchic forces. Chomsky illustrates the continuation of plutocracy, or elite rule, in our time, despite and in opposition to the advances of Democracy. Roy provides confirmation that this struggle is international, in this case India.

It was news to me that democracy (a very limited form to be sure) was operant in early Rome. Nor did I know it was demolished when Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. Parenti portrays him as a reformer, limited but still siding with the common people on many issues and being assassinated for his trouble. The prime consequence of the assassination was a civil war that saw the end of democracy for hundreds of years. Democracy had long struggled to supplant monarchy, making an overt return politically unwise. The rulers after Caesar, kings in all but name, took on the title Emperor, coopting the prestige of Caesar by taking his name and ruling Rome, quite undemocratically, for hundreds of years. So today, the Italian media billionaire Bertolucci labors to undo whatever democratic gains he can, yearning I suppose for the good ol' days when his class ruled without challenge.

Rome's very limited democracy was hoarded by a ruling class which may have squabbled among its various factions but definitely excluded what they would have called the “rabble”, the common people, ordinary workers, women and slaves. The financial manipulators of the time were fond of a scheme where they would lure less advantaged “citizens” into great debt such that, by law, they could then enslave them. On the other end of this game was the freeing of slaves, also by law, but used primarily to unburden slaveholders of obligations to feed and house those whose working lives were over, due to age or infirmity. The primary concern of this ruling class was to maintain and expand their privileged lifestyles. They objected to, and assassinated, Caesar, claiming that he was ambitious of destroying democracy. Their true motives were as obvious as were those of George Bush as he claimed to be spreading democracy. There were few objections to tyranny when their class privileges were not threatened.

Dissidents in Rome faced a pretty brutal and lethal response from the self-appointed “authorities”. In the U.S. today, consequences for dissent are relatively benign, depending on how far you're willing to push it. Just standing out on the corner with a sign denouncing drone warfare, nothing's likely to happen beyond the occasional middle finger from passing rightwingers and you might be infiltrated by taxpayer-funded, Constitution-defying spies. Occupy a public space and you face pepper spray and a weekend in jail. Whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning, Snowden and Assange start to feel the effects of riling the beast that pretends to worship freedom. It's good to keep in mind that this situation where citizens are relatively free to dissent is a hard-fought legacy of activists who labored in difficult and dangerous times, advancing democracy inch by inch.

In India, the world's largest Democracy seems firmly in the same hands, or worse. Criticizing the high court can get you jail time, as it did Arundhati Roy. She'd probably still be there if not for her celebrity as a best-selling novelist. According to Roy, leading Indian politicians are, “...either members or admirers of a right-wing, ultra-nationalist Hindu guild which has openly admired Hitler and his methods.” These are the overseers of India's nuclear weapons. Arch-enemy Pakistan seems no wiser but also blusterous possessors of nukes. And into this tinder-box the U.S, sends incendiary drones as if to assert that we of the west too have learned nothing from the devastating violence of the twentieth century and its pandora's box of weapons of mass destruction.

As Eckhart Tolle has said about consciousness, “There are many questions but only one answer.” And as Einstein warned many years ago, “With the splitting of the atom everything changed, save our way of thinking. And thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Until we commit fully to non-violent resolution of conflict, with all its implications for justice and environmentally sustainable practice, we sail an accelerating, Armageddonesque trajectory.