Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 is Over Thank God

2009 is over- thank God. If ever I was happy to see the end
of a year 2009 is it. Early in 2009 I lost my job with Advanstar
Communications. The combination of the economy and corporate change seems to have effected so many people I care about. The
fact is that while the economy has seemed a little better many people
are still seeing their lives melt away.
In 2008 President Obama was elected and we all had so much hope. In 2009 President Obama did some good things- frankly without the
unemployment extensions and the COBRA subsidy I would have used
up my savings a long time ago.
But I think many of us were hoping for FDR or LBJ. We were hoping for a president who like Ronald Reagan would change the conversation. Many of us wanted the stupid red necks and their corporate enablers to be turned back that dream has been dashed.
As Americans we can hope that 2010 will be a better year for all of us including our dear President. I think President Obama would do better if he came home to Chicago more. Maybe getting out of Washington and talking to real people would help?
In the end I am glad 2009 is over. I am also glad that the decade of the zeros is over. Lets see what the future holds? and hope for better.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar Christmas

Normally during the Christmas season I write an uncomfortable reflection about Jesus as God with us.
I then get some nasty responses from people who think that Jesus is bunk and we all return to life as before. What makes Christianity different than other monotheistic faiths is that that God entered into history, lived with us died for us and knows what it means to be us he chose to make all creation sacred.
The Christian idea of God With Us- Immanuel makes allot of things sacred. God chose to be one of us and bless his creation. Destroying His creation and his creatures wantonly is a sin. The sin is Gluttony. This is the best argument I find with right wingers who argue against protecting the natural world. If you are in favor of unjust wars, environmental degradation, and violence then it seems that you are in fact contrary to what God ordained and you are among other things a glutton.
Christians throughout history have chosen to ignore what God ordained by his Incarnation and embrace gluttony and sin. They have justified all manner of evil. A few have chosen to make gentleness and reverence for Creation important and reject gluttony- St Francis, Charles de Foucoult, Bartolome de Las Casas, Menno Simons and today the New Monastics come to mind. But normally we get tomes about "sexual purity" or "morals" and nothing about the sin of Gluttony that kills millions of people, animals and plants every minute of every day.
Yesterday, I went to see the new movie Avatar. Normally movies are experienced and then I move on but I cannot get the images and ideas of this film out of my mind. The film is a conviction of our world as it is today a world of Gluttons.
Forgetting about the fabulous images and special effects Avatar is an advocacy film of the first order. It challenges gluttony against the natural world and makes it very clear what is wrong with our current Capitalist/Industrial model. The mining scene in the movie evokes the copper mines of Chile and the Tin Mines of Bolivia. The attitudes of the humans in story are very close to many business executives I have known in my life- get the money, walk over anything, rape, pillage and forget about the consequences Gluttony of the first order rather than the kind of husbandry and care.
The difference between someone who cares for and cherishes people and land and water and air and makes the world a better place and those who will consume everything and then dump their garbage in the sea. It is not evil to make money but in the service of money much evil has been done and it is not wrong to point that out and ask is it necessary?
Avatar argues that the created world is sacred and should be cherished and respected rather than used until destroyed. This is an incarnational way of seeing the world and fits well into this season of Christmas. Avatar exposes the lie that we can do whatever we want with the created world.
It also makes real what happens everyday in our world vis a vis our environment. The fact is that our current Capitalist/Industrial is not only destroying our world but it is in fact sinful is lay ed out on the screen and it disturbing in the way Holocaust films are disturbing.
Avatar makes its world view very clear. It also evokes what happened in the past when those who were more powerful got what they wanted. You feel that you are seeing the destruction of the Incas and the carnage of Potosi again. You feel like you watching the African Slave trade and the destruction of the millions of Hispanola again and you want to cry out. It is not a naive evocation of a "nature people" as some have said. So many times we patronize native peoples for example as more in touch with nature and that is really false. The Capitalists are not always evil but since gluttony is rewarded capitalism makes these evils possible.
Avatar says everything should not be exploited and we should not be gluttons. This message will probably be shouted down by those who think that gluttony is all necessary to make our lives more efficient and more profitable you know the "Greed is Good" Crowd. They have been in Washington opposing Health Reform, Environmental Reform and more. I am surprised we have not had entire Glenn Beck programs about the evils of Avatar but that must be coming soon.
I for one was moved. I could see my heroes people like Dorothy Day, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, John Muir and others saying to the screen yes, yes that is what God wants. I hope the message penetrated better because of the 3D and the digital images but it is still the same message .... Immanuel God With Us

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why I Hate the Amazon Kindle

Every time I see this ad for the Amazon Kindle
I get angry.

In fact all e Readers make me angry.

Unlike an Ipod which does not fundamentally change
the ways we consume music and films as primarily
aural experiences e Readers are an attack on something fundamental- the Book.

The thing that has been lost by the growth of the internet is serendipity. If you think about it because of the internet there are many pleasures that younger people will never experience.

The finding of an article in the newspaper that you did not expect to read and acting on that seredipity. Finding an album in a record store that you never thought you would buy and now with e Readers they are trying to destroy the last bit of anonymous chance the bookstore.

I know, I know, we all buy books on line but is there anything better or more important than a good bookstore? I for one came of age among some great ones, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Seminary Co-op in Chicago and the lost but not Forgotten Gotham Bookmart in New York.

There is nothing better than spending a couple of hours here in Chicago at Seminary Co-op. Chatting with Jack Cella its' great General Manager then finding an obscure book that you thought you would never read. Opening a new book with its pages and its artwork is something tactile and real that I have never felt from something electronic. It seems that our goal as a nation is to destroy everything that is actual in favor of the virtual.

I don't want to eat artificial food- I want real food.

I want to spend warm June afternoons at the ball park watching my White Sox and not have so much stimuli that I cannot concentrate on the game.

I certainly do not want all bookstores to go away in favor some electronic paper whatever the hell that is? Imagine not being able to browse a bookstore and find that right book?

Someone please tell me what we are to do?

I don't want to read books- even bad ones on a computer screen. I want to sit with a book and coffee and read books that are objects not just pixels. It is bad enough that Google is stealing every book ever published but tell me why are they trying to kill the bookstore? Frankly I have had enough please go away Kindle and the rest of your satanic brethern....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poetry in Chicago is a Small Pond Lacking Oxygen

I have not been very active in the Chicago Poetry Scene this year. Being unemployed and trying to get on with life my energy has been sapped and I am trying to just keep things together.

Three of the events that I have participated in are the Mark Nowak reading organized by the Poetry Center of Chicago, The Italian Poet's Reading organized by Litmus Press and Jennifer Scappettone co-sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago and a reading at the Sullivan Gallery where the Poetry Center asked poets from many genres of poetry, from Slam to Experimental to Regional Writers to reflect on a piece of art in a new opening.

All of these readings have been first rate. Mark Nowak who I introduced is a great poet who brings to so much to our current economic situation. The Italian event was spectacular. It was a much needed infusion of Global Poetics to our all too provincial reading list and was well produced and the Sullivan Gallery event brought together genres and poets to do something great.

The fact is that Francesco Levato is diversifying the Poetry Center amidst budget cuts, loss of donors and a general contraction and keeping it in the forefront. Francesco along with the Danny's Series, Chicago Poetry Project, Dancing Girl Press, Series A, and other groups are trying to give our poetry scene much needed oxygen that our small pond is lacking.

Of course there are critics and one of them has decided that there is an evil Kabal I guess organized by Francesco Levato and Myself to ruin Chicago's poetry scene which is ridiculous. One of the things that Francesco organized are poetry workshops at the Poetry Center. Now I realize that this is a radical idea but in most cities there are literary centers that do workshops. Some of these are really sought after and in some cities Literary Centers actually work to create literary community. Sometimes they actually charge for these workshops because the product has value.

Literary Centers cost money. In New York, St Marks, Poets House, Bowery Poetry Club and many others are actual physical places with endowments and staffs. They are not just websites with one crazy mediocre poet spouting hate and division. If only more energy was expended to build a literary center rather than defaming good people.

Francesco Levato of the Poetry Center has seen fit to devote himself to a vision where the Poetry Center actually engages the whole poetic landscape and tries to create something new in a tough time. I write this post because I salute Francesco's work on behalf of our community.

I also dare to ask the question will Chicago ever have a literary center? The fact is that it is the very lack of poetic oxygen that the critics revel in that stands in the way. My feeling is is whatever kind of poetry you want to do- do it well. But do not use your own personal vitriol to attack others because their vision is different.

Chicago was not always a great theatre town. But in the 1960's small theatre companies decided that they were going to do serious theatre here in Chicago. Innovative things that could sell tickets and fill theatres. Today we are a great theatre town it took vision to do that not harping and defaming people's character. It seems that within our poetry community that will never be possible.

The fact is that whatever poetry community you are a part of in Chicago, Experimental, Latino, African American, Spoken Word there are poets who stand out for their excellence be they Kevin Coval, Simone Muench, Ed Roberson, Francisco Aragon, William Allegrezza, Garin Cycholl or Peter O'Leary and all of them would benefit from a literary organization. Francesco Levato has been struggling to build that and I applaud him for it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In this Season of Hope the Church Continues to Ignore Evil

As a practicing Roman Catholic the recent priest sexual abuse scandal is a great evil and pain to all of us. Retired New York Cardinal Egan was forced to publish his personal notes from the many priest abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Hartford. The fact that almost every Bishop in the world covered up for serial abusers over decades shows a Church that acted more like Carlos Escobar's Medellin cartel than the City of God.

I worked within the Church as both a lay volunteer after college and I also considered entering religious life. Many of my dear friends are sisters and priests but the weird sexual vibe found in many religious houses makes for an odd mix of misogny and homoeroticism that I chose not to enter into as a younger man.

Today rather than facing the unhealthy sexual vibe of the Church the Bishops are instead moving to the Right. Rather than addressing the evil that their mindset created they are assuring everyone that the real problem is feminist Sisters, women priest advocates and those who believe that the poor are a priority.

In the end you reap what you sew but in this time of rebirth and incarnation it is time that the Roman Catholic Church realizes that its sexual mentality caused the sexual abuse of minors but that would mean questioning the closed system that is more about power than about God.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Amanda Knox is Convicted Gets 25 Years

Amanda Knox, an American Exchange Student from Seattle was convicted
today of the brutal murder of her roomate in Perugia, Italy. The case has been a salacious feast for the Italian press but the question that I have is how do you convict someone of a brutal murder when there is no DNA or other physical evidence?

But apart from the critique of the Italian justice system that are well founded what I find most disturbing is the fact that the Italian prosecutor would be allowed to to call this woman "a dirty minded she devil". It is hard to imagine an American jury buying this hyperbole. It is also amazing that they have another person who had DNA on the dead woman's body and has already been convicted. I think that this type of Sexism makes the verdict suspect and in the US beyond a reasonable doubt.

Another bit of rottenness is that Knox's parents are being sued for 'defamation' for simply expressing an opinion about the fact that Knox was questioned without a lawyer present.
This is a terrible story only made worse by this verdict.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Swiss Ban Minarets.... God Bless The First Amendment

The nation of Switzerland known for
watches, Banking, and Tasty Chocolate is now
infamous for something else, banning religious architecture.

I remember the first time as a visitor to my mother's hometown in Italy the jarring presence of Muslim women in full chador on the piazza of the place of my ancestors. The fact that in our little Alpine town, amid the Churches and polenta there were Muslims was new a jarring.

I can understand the dismay of traditional Europeans with
this change. For those of us who are close to our roots Europe
conjures up certain images and minarets are not part of that narrative.

Europe is reaping what they have sewn over for the better part of 40 years Europeans have become both secular and addicted to immigrant labor to the jobs they no longer want to do. They have treated immigrants not as new neighbors but almost always as "Strangers".
Unlike the US, Brazil, Argentina and many nations with long immigrant traditions Europeans
have done a lousy job of integrating their immigrant populations into their societies.

How is it possible that I, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Chicago feel more connected to the valley in Italy where my mother comes than the Muslim immigrants living in that valley now? Why are they are still referred to as "Stranieri" or Strangers when their Grandchildren are now being born there?

It is possible that racism is to blame but I think the real issue is intolerance and a lack of honesty. For all of America's faults one of the things that we do very well is process immigrants and lay our cards on the table. There are other countries that do this well also, Brazil comes to mind.

Unlike Europe with its long history and traditions we in America based our nation on the following premise; as long as you are not hurting anyone else and you participate in the economic life of the nation you are welcome. This is not a nicety, there is much wrong with America but we have done a good job of making Italians, Arabs, Africans, Jews, Poles, Germans and Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews into Americans.

In Europe the 'native people' and the immigrants live very separate lives. In the US last week
I bet you that my Gujarati neighbors ate Thanksgiving like the rest of us and we both have Obama signs in our windows.

In Paris three and four generations of Muslims continue to live in Banlieues separated from society, in Chicago the owner of my local Dunkin Donuts, Mr Singh works at the counter with his Sikh turban on his head and he wears a Stanford or Williams sweatshirt sporting the school colors of his two children who are studying at those prestigious schools. We do a better of job
of integrating immigrants and maybe the Europeans could learn something?

I think it is because of the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Americans, and that is what any immigrant is when they decide to come here are guaranteed the right to be left alone.

No matter what was said about Catholics when they first arrived the Protestant majority could not ban their churches or close their schools and they became Americans. When Jews arrived the majority had no right to ban their worship and they thrived. Today Muslims and Hindus are vibrant members of our society and achieve so much here because we have the First Amendment.

Maybe the Swiss should realize that diversity is a good thing and that the Chocolate is not that good served with a helping of bigotry.

God Bless the Bill of Rights