Wednesday, December 28, 2011

R.I.P. 2011

I've spent a lot of time the past few nights collecting and posting photos of people who died in 2011.  I've posted them in the appropriate sites: the theatre people at Stage Matters, the authors at Books in Heat, the science fiction figures at Soul of Star Trek, the boomer heroes and pop culture figures at Boomer Hall of Fame.  There's even an earlier post at Blue Voice about three of my college professors who died this past year. 

Even with all those, I've missed some significant names, like artists Cy Twombly, Richard Hamilton, Lucian Freud.  I also don't know what to make of two of the weirder notices I came across: like the 23 year old German porn actress, Sexy Cora, who died from breast enlargement surgery complications, and an Italian actress named Dorian Gray, who committed suicide by gunshot.

I started doing this a few years ago, with the stubborn conviction that I should pay respect to people whose legacy should be remembered.  A way to say thank you.  But this year it may have gotten away from me.

So here I want to note just four that mean a lot to me.  I noted the contribution of Lynn Margulis here earlier.  I posted about James Hillman at 60s Now.  Hillman's work has been most present with me, and I didn't know he died in October until a few weeks ago.  Neither of these two have made the lists or photo albums of big newspaper and media sites, with Elizabeth Taylor and Steve Jobs.  I included two photos of Hillman because they show two aspects of him that I value.  Upon reflection, it does seem that he had seen to his legacy well.  He'd written his books, saw to an edited complete works, left some late thoughts on video, and apparently cooperated with a biography, the first volume of which is published in 2012.  The biography may tell us more about the smiling man in the black and white photo.

The black and white of Hillman in the center even resembles the black and white of Joko Beck at upper left.   She's another person whose passing doesn't make those lists.  But her books, especially Everyday Zen, were and are important to me, and she was personally a teacher to a dear departed friend.

The fourth photo is Vaclev Havel, who bridged the gap between the arts and politics, and brought a human, ethical spirit to both.  His books are still inspiring.  (Even this extra-large photo cuts off the right edge, so you might need to click on the collage to see it in full.)

I leave them, and you, and 2011, with these words from Wallace Stevens' poem, "Peter Quince at the Clavier":

Beauty is momentary in the mind
The fiftful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

The body dies; the body's beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.
So gardens die, their meek breath scenting
The cowl of winter, done repenting.
So maidens die, to the auroral
Celebrations of a maiden's choral.

Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings
Of those white elders; but, escaping,
Left only Death's ironic scraping,
Now, in its immortality, it plays
On the clear viol of her memory,
And makes a constant sacrament of praise. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Class and Climate

Stephen Marche at Esquire begins his article, "We Are Not Created Equal":

"There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here's one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you're gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you're gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can't bear to tell themselves isn't real. It's the most dangerous lie the country tells itself."

There's lots of support for his major contention of a pretty rigid American class system, the 1% v. the 99%, including one new anecdotal: when the New York Times asked members of Congress whether even a friend or relative has suffered from the Great Recession, fewer than 20 even replied.  Congress, suggests the article, is on average comprised of "rank and file millionaires," many of whom became wealthy or increased their wealth while "serving." 

But Marche is wrong about one thing: this is not necessarily the "most dangerous lie the country tells itself."  The most dangerous lie is that global heating isn't real, there is no Climate Crisis.  The two lies are not unrelated, but the future of civilization and life as we know it on planet earth, with suffering and destruction spread throughout generations of humanity and many other species, is at stake with that second lie. 

We are not dealing with the causes of the Climate Crisis, and so the future prospects continue to get worse.  We are not even prepared to deal with the effects.  Of our major institutions, only the military is taking it seriously, and so is preparing to fight wars that may result, which will only hasten the onrushing New Dark Ages. 

Our scientific institutions and their often courageous scientists are openly mocked, vilified, ignored, and now perhaps worst of all, being prevented from doing their work.  Another NY Times article asserts that scientists could be doing a better job figuring out if and how the unprecedented spate of spectacular weather-related disasters of 2011 and 2010 are related to the Climate Crisis.  The reason they aren't doing as much as they could be doing is not only that there's no political urgency, but that there is an active political hostility to Climate Crisis research that results in less funding.

Such disasters usually result in damages that might add up to $3 or $4 billion in any given year in the U.S..  In 2011, they added up to at least $50 billion.  So far, apparently a small price to pay for the payoff of denial--psychologically to many, but in money to a very few of the few at the top of the American class system.