Friday, April 28, 2006

In Pursuit of Youth and Perfection Through the Zen Ideal of Emptying (Or: How To Find Happiness By Selecting the Right Cell Phone Plan For You)

Hot Zen Mommas know where it’s at finding pleasure in just the right moment, which for them is always now; accessorizing with just a touch of guilt and a belly-ring made of licorice; smiling at some cute guy whose vow of poverty doesn’t quite extend to his new Cingular cell plan with unlimited text messaging and free colonoscopy phone with downloadable auto emoticon drivers that anticipate your every mood whenever texting, saving you the very need to experience anything.

“Composting and ride sharing are one thing,” he tells the Hot Zen Momma, “But being uncool is just so lame.” I might as well be storing weapons of mass destruction in my pants, I tell them at which point both of them stare at my crotch and imagine a code Orange alert.

She snaps a picture of his bio-diesal VW Jetta and they hop into the back seat for a quick blow job, then they split vowing to keep fighting the good fight, plugging in and dropping out at the local Starbucks and like double shots of expresso, set out to energize their 9,000 plus friends at their MySpace account, detailing plans of personal regime change, overturning paradigms not even dreamed of yet.

I think of MySpace as wandering around a cemetery, silent with all the noise. On the downside, MySpace is a haven for all those sexual predators but on the upside: there is all that sexual prey.

The revolution will not be televised but it will be optioned off for pay-per-view along with a premier of The Sopranos: The Musical.

“Oh Tony we hardly knew ya
though your cheatin’ wife won’t screw ya
Now your soft and old wishing for more,
Longing for the days of Pussy Galore”

No, the revolution will not be televised nor will it be coming to a mall near you.

Bass – how low can you go? Death Row what brother Bush know when he went looking for weapons of mass deception. Misled by the news my ass – it was all there in black and white but pump up the bass if it makes you deaf and shake all that junk in your trunk. Dance like friggin' I-Pod silhouette: vibrant, hip, potentially violent.

Text me you love me.
Text me that everything will be all right.
Text me what to do and I will do it. Even Hot Zen Mommas would vote if they could find the vote lever on their Blackberry.

The gospel according to Neiman-Marcus is that first quarter profits are down so ramp up the violence against women, against children, against brown skinned folks – War going badly? Hey if you liked the Hummer then you’ll love the Bradley M1 Abrams tank sports coupe, complete with keyless entry and six-CD changer that only plays one thing over and over. The M1 boasts 3 miles per gallon and takes road rage to a whole new level. “Cut in front of me now, motherfucker? I don’t think so.” Don’t push me, because I am close to the edge I tell you. I'm just trying to get ahead - it's like a jungle everywhere.

Next is personal tactical nukes in the glove compartments of every vehicle as drive by shootings turn into little, personal Hiroshimas with millions of tiny mushroom clouds leaving just the shadows standing while the property stands in tact – totally liquid – an Ebayer’s dream.

And all these Hot Zen Mommas and cute coffee barristas prime the demand pump with their ceaseless wanting, flowing like a river.

So even the IRS has a plan with this idea of eliminating taxes all together and putting little casinos in every town in America (except for that goofy made up place Celebration Florida in Disney since the feds wouldn’t allow them to put giant mouse ears on the roof.) Local casinos like vacuums sucking the Benjamins out of everyone’s pockets we have invented the voluntary tax.

Later, they can send strippers around and have people stuff fives and tens into their g-strings and use the money to fund the schools. “Prop 2 ½ this” you think as you linger just a little too long placing the bill in the spaghetti g-string. But damn if your kids test scores don’t start to climb, right along with their prozac scrips and the sale of dark trench coats to high schoolers as ADHD is no longer a disease but now becomes just another lifestyle choice.

All of this has the impact of the Times Square jumbotron with color and information everywhere but not one bit of contact. All that counts - all that we need to know is that all of are implicated in this – all of us, and all of it. So what we do is what we can do. We do this and then we do just a little bit more. Always a little more. And just don't stop thinking about how to live. God please don’t stop thinking about it because when we stop wondering if we are doing enough then we have lost everything.

Friday, April 21, 2006

POEM - How To Make A Mountain

Like good worker bees, yellow and in motion,
the buzzing caterpillar tractors pushed
the garbage into one mammary heap
the blue smoke climbed the slate blue wall that was sky.
far off in a distance that was more like dreaming
raw, throaty engines chugged vast amounts of diesel.
The shrug shouldered dump trucks hastily spread
the gravel, the sand, the dirt and made the seal.
Like the rock rolled in front of Jesus' tomb
hoping to prevent the ressurrection.
In time, if everything is left alone,
the grass grows back greener and tougher than
anywhere else, making it appear like
the mountains i'd climbed when i was a youth.

M C Biegner

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Recipe For Disaster - Enron and The Zecharias Moussaoui Cases

It is ironic that the Enron trial is running concurrent with the Zacarias Moussaoui trial. There is a tenuous but real link between the two.

The Enron case is one which we all think we know since its headlines have been in the news for years now. The problem with this sort of "hyper-coverage" is that news stories hardly do the core principles justice.

Like most everyone else, I skimmed the articles thinking "Okay, more white collar criminals filling their own bank accounts on the backs of the working class. Tell me something new." It was not until i watched the documentary "The Smartest Guys in The Room" that I finally put my finger on what is so disturbing about this case. It’s not that people stole; it was how they stole, or rather the “manner in which they stole”. It was “the “presentation”, as a doctor might say when describing some disease. It was the callousness of the stealing that makes it so unnerving to me.
The principles involved in this tale exhibited such a lack of regard for anything human, it made me wince. We usually associate this sort of indifferent behavior with juvenile delinquents and serial killers. That is what makes this trial so different for me.

Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay - the "Sultans of Swindle" as I like to refer to them - are resolute in their disclaimers that they did nothing wrong. They are living examples of the modern ethic of free market pirates who live by the creed that if you really, really believe something strong enough, and say it often enough and sincerely enough, then it must be true.

We know that accounting wunderkind and foot soldier, Andy Fastow is guilty. He has already copped a plea to cooking the books for Enron in creative ways that would have probably made him a great painter had he chosen another field of work. The question remains: what did Lay and Skilling know about Fastow's fast moves with bogus profits and untenable accounting practices?

Skilling and Lay were hardly alone here. Practices such as "Mark to Marketing" accounting (an accounting method that books anticipated future profits in the present and is usually associated with stock traders) were signed off on by the SEC. A veritable who's who of financial institutions backed Enron on the flimsiest gossamer evidence that the company was even adding up it's P&L statements correctly. Enron was a Dow Jones wet dream, as the stock market fell over itself throwing money at them and heading toward the bright light. Everyone was lining up to line their pockets it seems.

On a abstract level, blame resides at the feet of a system that predicates wealth on the worst of human instincts. “Gordon Gecko is alive and well” is what we should take away from this. If greed is good, then what these guys did was "Great!" as Tony the Tiger might have bellowed.

0n a legal and practical level, I believe the trial will show that Lay and Skilling paved the way for this sort of unbridled avarice to win the day at Enron. After watching the documentary (and really, everyone should) one thing is certain: there was a climate of approved unethical behavior at Enron that allowed subordinates to short circuit their own sense of what is right.

But the really reprehensible part is what Enron did to the people of California.

Enron was responsible for the deregulation of power companies in California in 1999 causing the now infamous rolling blackouts that left millions of people without power. Traders trading power like it was pork bellies played out this elaborate shell game with California power consumers, ultimately sending $45 billion (that is “billion” with a "B") out of the consumer’s pockets. The climate was such at Enron that these traders would have slit the company's officer's throats if it would book them larger profits.

The indifference displayed by Skilling himself was stark, brutal and palpable. This is why I believe this attitude trickled down from the top. Then there was Skilling's tasteless joke that he made while Californian’s struggled to pay soaring electric bills. He made the joke during a world wide webcast to the Enron employees: (Question: what is the difference between California and the Titanic? Answer: at least the lights were on when the Titanic sank). No, not illegal, but coarse. I guess it’s okay to laugh at the misfortunes of others when it increases our own fortunes.

One trader is heard on tapes obtained by CBS News saying, “Just cut 'em off. They're so f--d. They should just bring back f---g horses and carriages, f---g lamps, f---g kerosene lamps.”

And when describing his reaction when a business owner complained about high energy prices, another trader is heard on tape saying, “I just looked at him. I said, 'Move.' (laughter) The guy was like horrified. I go, 'Look, don't take it the wrong way. Move. It isn't getting fixed anytime soon.”

California's attempt to deregulate energy markets became a disaster for consumers when companies like Enron manipulated the West Coast power market and even shut down plants so they could drive up prices.

“People were talking about market manipulation. People were talking about schemes, people were making jokes,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

“While the president would like to have an energy bill, I'd like to have an energy bill that protects consumers,” said Cantwell.

Consumers like Grandma Millie, mentioned in one exchange recorded between two Enron employees.

Employee 1: “All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?

Employee 2: “Yeah, Grandma Millie man.

Employee 1: “Yeah, now she wants her f---g money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her a-for f---g $250 a megawatt hour.”

It's clear from the tapes that Enron employees knew what they were doing was wrong.

Another taped exchange between different employees regarding a possible newspaper interview goes like this:

Employee 3: “This guy from the Wall Street Journal calls me up a little bit ago…”

Employee 4: “I wouldn't do it, because first of all you'd have to tell 'em a lot of lies because if you told the truth…”

Employee 3: “I'd get in trouble.”

Employee 4: “You'd get in trouble.”

There is something missing here: it is the lack of a sense of right and wrong that makes my skin crawl. It makes me wonder why these trials are not being held at the Hague. I’ve only witnessed this sort of amoral revelation once before in a public display and that was when our current president, George W. Bush, was governor of Texas. But that is another story for another time.

In the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, it’s a bit different. It’s a capital case meaning he could lose his life. Moussaoui is the only one of the 9/11 conspirators not killed who was captured. In essence, an entire nation’s anger could be reconstituted by the prosecution and focused on him for purposes of providing a surrogate.

There is some question as to whether or not Moussaoui was really involved or not with the plot. The defense is trying to portray him as insane, as someone who is a 9/11 terrorist wannabe. The prosecution’s logic is that had he not lied when asked about the plot, they MIGHT have had a chance to thwart the attempt.

By all accounts Moussaoui is not going to be asked to appear on Leno any time soon. One witness describes making eye contact with him during the trial and she describes it like looking into a great emptiness. What Moussaoui has to say is not easy for Americans to hear. It is the same Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric we hear from the U.S. news media now. He speaks of how he wished 9/11 could have continued into 9/12 and 9/13 and 9/14. Killing Americans carries with it no remorse; he is unable even to empathize with the 2000 + families and friends 9/11 has affected. It has the same moral consequence as buying a daily newspaper from a newstand. It is never questioned. In a weird sort of twist, some of those very same institutions that backed Enron had offices in one of the two towers that fell on that cool, crisp September morning in 2001. I just find this unintended nexus between two life-denying cultures very ironic.

The defense of course is telling us that Moussaoui was brain washed; that he was abused as a kid. All of this may be true. It is hard for me to decide that if Moussaoui is executed, it will be because he really did have some part in the planning of 9/11, or if he’s really just pissing people off, opening old wounds and just plain bitch-slapping our national psyche around; a national psyche that has only fairly recently felt like things could ever be simple again.

What stands out in both cases is how two disparate systems have failed the protagonists of these dramas. For Lay and Skilling, a Hannibal Lecter version of capitalism somehow sprang up rooted in greed giving us the Enron tragedy. Enron was simply the hyper-corporation: capitalism taken to it’s ultimate extreme. If followed to its extreme, the very existence of the corporation iteself is up for grabs if it means following the “prime directive” of profits at any cost.

For Moussaoui, a harsh version of Islamic law took hold, rooted in hatred, rooted perhaps in some valid social and political concerns. But the heart has been removed for the sake of simple dogmatic principles. In both these cases, the protagonists have boiled away the things that make all these issues complex and gray - whether it be leading a corporation or fighting for justice, as I am sure Moussaoui believes he is doing.

See, nuanced thinking just does not lend itself well to completing objectives. Jingoistic, macho, single point sloganeering, however, works just great to get others to act out agendas that may not be born from the healthiest of places.
“isms” as john lennon used to call these sorts of things (e.g. capitalism, fundamentalism), have a way of doing that. “Isms” lend themselves to the abnegation of the human spirit in favor of an “automatic pilot” way of living.

We need a call to develop our ethical intelligence, in the same manner that President Kennedy called on the young people of this nation once to consider service as a valid lifestyle. “Ask not what your country can do for you, rather ask what you can do for your country.” That was no less than a challenge to consider living out a different vision of what kind of place the world should be.

Until we validate ethical intelligence as something needing nurturing, the way the 60’s space program validated and encouraged math and science programs in every school in this nation, the only path left for our young is a mindless, soulless consumerism. Like the fast food joints this lifestyle grew up with, this is a poor substitute for human connection. It leaves you unfilled and unsatisfied, ultimately unhappy. It leaves you in positions like Lay and Skilling, like Moussaoui, unable to find the connecting principle between all things.

Until we focus on ethical intelligence in our culture over cognitive or athletic intelligences, the soulless will continue to walk among us. To do anything less is just a recipe for more disaster.

POEM - On Easter Weekend

On Easter weekend, we pull all the screens
And with hard streams of water from aging
Green snake-like hoses and leaky faucets
Remove the vast accretion of Winter
In our lives; areas we simply let
Go, let slide, let become automatic.
Water that removes the cobwebs and dust
Moves with glacial grace down the black driveway,
In little rivulets, toward the gutter,
On its way to join all of the other
Streams of holy water, making their way
From their respective hoses and driveways,
And leaky faucets; their cleansing mission:
To remove all the lifelessness that snow
And the cold hard seasons heap upon us.

M C Biegner

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

POEM - Atonement

In the rounded buds at the tips of branches
Is where the secret of everything resides;
This kind of sleep is made of unexpected wanting -
Fist-like and wrapped tight, a whispered promise
That tomorrow is always there, waiting.
The suddenness of morning light offers forgiveness
To the darkness, like an open hand, with
Fingers of streaming reunion and welcoming
Against the long winter overcoat that is night.
Atonement is built into everything, both visible and not;
Reparation and the anticipation
Of reparation is what we hold out for, what we cling to,
In our deepest most secretive places.

It is the kissing breeze which carries off
The oppressive and muscular heat,
It brushes away the flies, it is the cool drink
That ennervates our slumbering hearts.
It fills us with hope and an abiding satisfaction.

M C Biegner

Saturday, April 08, 2006

POEM - Listening to Gary Snyder At A Poetry Reading

We came in from the cold like Canadian geese
Honking and boisterous
And I swear in a V-formation;
Filing into the great hall
Poets of every size and shape and color,
Gray haired and bearded
Sandaled and booted,
Tall ones and short ones,
Ones whose faces wore the look
Of someone who loved words too much,
Smooth-haired and wiry brillo haired ones;
Ones who write in really small, neat print
And ones who write with large, circular strokes.

We came to listen, carrying aspirations
Like journals, as cumulus as clouds.
We, professorial types and we student types
We who liked to get dirty in language,
Books cinched tightly under our arms
Books we hoped to have signed by Gary Snyder himself,
As if this act lends meaning to what we read.

We came with secret writings
Like hierogyphs honoring royalty
We came in trenchcoats and parkas,
We came in pajama bottoms and ponchos
Wearing too much makeup or none at all;
We came wearing newsie caps and bright orange “tukes”
We all came to genuflect
For where there are two or three hundred gathered in my name
Well - that just makes a market -
A poet’s dream demographic.

We came because there is nothing like this
In our daily lives -
Not on the radio, not in talking
With our husbands nor our wives,
Not with our friends and certainly not with T.V.

We came because we are starving
And like most hungry people,
We wear dervish looks in our eyes.

When Gary read and when he spoke
The calculus of poetry was laid
Before us at our feet.
It is something we already knew,
Something that enslaves us,
Something like a soduku puzzle,
We can’t seem to quit:

We left our heated homes and comfy chairs,
We struggled through the road rage
That we seem so inured of these days,
We struggled to find parking spaces,
We struggled to find child care,
And in one case, one woman I know struggled through
The onset of early labor -
Just so we could be seduced!

Just so we could be fooled that outside
These auditorium walls, everything has meaning!

We came to announce to each other
That we are poets and that inside each of us
Is the deepest, blackest stuff -
Older than the solar system -
Which through a simple poem,
Falls to earth like the blackened bits
Of meteor shards that litter the
Antarctic ice floor waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

POEM - You Are The Poem

You are the poem she will memorize
And recite by heart;

You are the rhythm she will repeat in
Syncopated breath;

You are the word she will try to rhyme with
When nothing matches;

You are the epic she will lose herself
In when chaos reigns;

You are the measured beat of a sonnet
When her verse is blank;

You are the succinct couplet that ties it
All up into one great bow.

She is the onomatopoeia
Of your heretofore sheltered lives.

M C Biegner