Sunday, April 22, 2012

Incomplete Diagnosis

Hypoxic Dead Zone: The Mississippi drains nitrogen and phosphorus into the Gulf. Algae bloom, die, and sink. Bacteria in black sediment monopolize the oxygen, laying waste to the bottom-feeders.

Oil-drenched executives speak of junk shots and top kills as oil blooms from the Gulf floor. Once the earth circles the sun, hundreds of dead dolphins wash up like jetsam. From a passing jetliner, these dead vessels of pinched consciousness are no more visible than plankton-sized pellets of plastic adrift in brine.

Tsunamis strike and wash radioactive vessels back to sea. Coastlines melt down.

Birds drop like black rain.

In dead vessels, fishermen die of thirst as cruise ships sail by.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Imaginal Cells

We are the imaginal cells.

. . . Humanity as Caterpillar. . .
. . . Occupy as Chrysalis. . .
. . . What will be the Butterfly. . .

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why I Occupy

Today, this piece appeared on the Portland Occupier.

Between the election of America’s first black president and his inauguration, gun sales spiked and America suffered an ammunition shortage. Afraid that Obama would trample his Second Amendment rights, Richard Poplawski ambushed Pittsburgh police; a torrential rain of lead claimed three lives. Joe Stack piloted a Piper Dakota aircraft into an Austin IRS building, decrying the government bailout of “thugs,” “plunderers,” and “self-serving scumbags.” His suicide mission killed a government employee and injured thirteen more. Armed to the teeth and frothing from a steady diet of Glenn Beck’s rancor, Byron Williams barreled down an Oakland freeway hoping “to start a revolution.” Police stopped him for speeding, and the kevlar-vested man opened fire, injuring two before falling in a blaze of bullets, miraculously still breathing. In Tuscon, Jared Lee Loughner shot a congresswoman in the head before turning his Glock on the gathered citizens, littering the parking lot with bodies, six of them dead. Amid this carnage, Tea Party senate candidate Sharron Angle told Lars Larson, “people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around?” A generation before, novelist Don DeLillo made a more subtle observation on the triumph of violence over the imagination: “it was [once] possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness.”

Such was the poisonous atmosphere when climate-change lone wolf James J. Lee strapped bombs to his body and proceeded into the Silver Spring, Maryland headquarters of the Discovery Channel. His manifesto demanded that the channel revamp its program lineup to discourage “the birth of any more parasitic human infants,” to cease “promoting War,” and to “disassemble civilization” while revealing it “for the filth it is.” He seized three hostages before the police gunned him down. These right-wing tactics in service of a progressive cause birthed a new crisis. No longer did the imagination deficit exist only on the right. The death logic of purifying violence had infected the entire American psyche. Few of us were immune to this hateful psychosis. Among my own darkly teeming visions, I hungered to see Lloyd Blankfein’s ample body pureed along with cilantro, mint, and lavender, to be served on ice to families left homeless by foreclosure. Some sins, I concluded, could be washed away only with blood.

In October 2011, with hatred in my heart, I stepped foot into Occupied Lownsdale Square. Around the Soldiers’ Monument wrapped a line of speakers. Their voices greeted my violent anger with peaceful defiance. I heard for the first time the human microphone, as each speaker’s words were carried by the lips into the hearts and minds of the gathered revolutionaries. After the sun fell, I sat on the damp concrete and joined my first General Assembly. I was no longer an individual but a cell in the body of an evolving organism. In one night, my cynical assumptions about the world turned to dandelion fluff. My violent urges floated away on a cleansing breeze. Occupy Wall Street had floated embers in every direction, touching off prairie fires in the imaginations of millions, clotting city streets with antibodies to the hopelessness infecting us all. My imagination, along with the world’s, was newly occupied.

But violence, hatred, and fear are not why I occupy.

I occupy because violence does not purify, nor does it transform.
I occupy because imagination needs a place to frolic and play.
I occupy because ruins are the symphony of capitalism.
I occupy because the future is not shaping up as I’d hoped.
I occupy because the only remaining occupations are vulture capitalist and
I occupy because as Woody sez, “you won’t never see an outlaw drive a family
     from their home.”
I occupy because those who profit from this mess have no incentive to clean it
I occupy because I don’t want revolution without carnival.
I occupy because spring follows winter.
I occupy because I want to mic check capitalist realism.
I occupy because another world is possible.
I occupy because the Pentagon does not levitate itself.
I occupy because of Scott Olsen.
I occupy because UC Davis students braved the pepper spray.
I occupy because Zuccotti Park is our chrysalis.
I occupy because it’s just.
And I occupy just because.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Die-Off Cover Story

I wrote this more than a year ago at the height of the die-off phenomenon. I tried half-heartedly to get it published, but had little luck. It's no longer newsworthy, but I stand by the points made herein.

Around the time Saudi Arabian officials nabbed a Griffon vulture as a Zionist spy, thousands of red-winged blackbirds spilled like inky rain from the dark skies above Beebe, Arkansas.

“Millions, millions every night. You look up in the sky and it’s just black,” said resident Stephen Bryant. “I seen a bird drop.”

“It was horrible,” another shocked witness reported. “You could not even get down the road without running over hundreds.”

The next day, workers in white hazmat suits fanned across Beebe to collect the corpses. Residents did their part, collecting by the bucketful the dead birds.

Theories of the die-off proliferated, including “everything from the sign of biblical end times to chemical conspiracies, shifts in the Earth’s magnetic core, and even proof of UFOs.” Others blamed “[e]lectromagnetic scalar weapons” or other top-secret developments of the military-industrial complex. Soon enough, the authorities coalesced around an unlikely cover story.

Exploding fireworks, they claimed, had frightened the skittish blackbirds; in a panic, the birds took flight and their precious palpitating hearts couldn’t weather the shock. Broken-hearted and terror-filled, the birds slammed into buildings, trees, and each other, dying of “blunt-force trauma.” The cover story diverted blame for this particular ecological catastrophe from the cascading bad decisions and unsustainable behaviors encouraged by constant growth and anti-nature policies.

Even if true, this cover story could not explain the gathering storm clouds.

After all, bird deaths in Beebe were not an isolated incident. Scaly corpses of as many as 100,000 drum fish lapped up on the shores of the Arkansas River, left for the raccoons to eat. Forty thousand Devil crab cadavers littered cold British beaches, as bookmakers predicted that the UK would face the next bird die-off. Turtle doves dangled from leafless branches in Faenza, Italy.  Ten thousand bovines bit the bullet in Viet Nam. Direct-to-video apocalyptic movie star and former Growing Pains cast member Kirk Cameron was summoned to CNN to calm tensions by claiming that “birds falling from the sky. . . has more to do with Pagan mythology” than with Christian revelation. Earth appeared locked in a collapsing environmental end game.

In this atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust, those in power needed a cover story to take the heat off themselves. Consider Greg Palast’s take on another environmental catastrophe, the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Palast shows how the cover story, the "Fable of the Drunken Skipper," blamed a drunken captain, who in fact was sleeping off a bender and not at the helm. The true cause of the oil spill, according to Palast, was cost-cutting measures that led Exxon to shut down a radar that would have prevented the ship from running ashore on the Alaskan coastline. Exxon effectively pinned the blame on the bad choices and questionable character of a single person. The cover story fit the corporatist ethos of the rugged individual who alone should win the glory or suffer the defeat. One man’s weakness, and not systemic corporate malfeasance, took the blame. The public was none the wiser.

In the face of global mass die-offs, how might a similar cover story explaining the dead birds in Beebe serve the agendas of those in power? To answer that question, one need only look at what hornets’ nests might be stirred up by other theories.

The Tea Party rabble suspected that a secret Obamunist weapon was responsible for the bird die-off. Homeland Security types feared a terrorist plot. Those still coughing into their shoulders to prevent the spread of swine flu believed a disease had mutated or had been released by the CDC. At its most innocent, the die-off indicated that the government could not keep us safe. At its most extreme, it shoveled ammonium-nitrate and fuel oil into a U-Haul truck driven by a paranoid patriot.

For Christian Armageddonists, the bird die-off added to the expanding number of apocalyptic signs. As souls anticipated getting hoovered up to heaven, and a righteously angry Jesus prepared to reclaim his kingdom, true believers began turning their backs on politics. Thus a verifiable End Times scenario threatened the tenuous coalition of Christian Dominionists and corporatist Republicans that drives American conservatism.

The bird die-off also fed left-wing alarm. Suburban environmentalists suspected a pollutant had killed the blackbirds. DeLilleans feared an “Airborne Toxic Event.” Deep ecologists pointed to an irreparable rupture in nature. For these environmentalists, corporate greed and irresponsibility accounted for the bird deaths. These explanations heaped compost on the rhizomic theories of corporate-sponsored ecological distress.

In other words, theories regarding the mass die-offs threatened to fracture the fault lines of power. From the right, the theories fueled anti-government hysteria while driving a wedge between the religious and moneyed interests that cemented Republican power in the Age of Reagan. From the left, the die-offs further justified action against corporations dead set on devouring every ounce of the Earth’s bounty before shitting out the toxic leftovers in the form of pollution.

Now consider the function of the story of some poor schlub who set off the fireworks that ended up killing the birds. He was a good ol’ boy blowing off steam in the worst economy since the 1930s. He didn’t intend to hurt the poor red-winged blackbirds. In fact, the deaths were an entirely unforeseeable catastrophe. The cover story implied that the deranged conspiracy nuts, kooky Christians, and redwood-hugging hippies were twisting a one-time, innocent accident to suit their own crooked agendas. Despite their zany explanations, these birds were killed by natural and explicable, albeit uncommon means. If doubt could be cast on one die-off, blame for the others might also be deflected.

And that’s how the truth became a cover story.

Toward a Poem

Spring is here
and pepper spray
hangs in the air
like pollen spores.
Popping up
about the squares
like mushroom tips
from damp, black dirt
come whispers:
“Revolution’s near.”