Monday, December 8, 2014

my perverse obsession

I mean really. Probably once a day I get invited via social media to join the beginning of the peaceful revolution. An invitation to an Occupation, the launch of a political party, a global conference call. A people's assembly. Or a link to a blog post exactly like the ones I was writing three years ago in October 2011. Bloated with optimism, newly enlightened, burning with anger, intent on success.

I love these beautiful actions. I even love the blog posts, even as I slightly cringe at the arrogance required to stand up. Critical mass is not building though, not fast enough. Activists are not organized like say the Evangelical Christians. I heard recently from this consultant that businesses now study Evangelicals because they are so good at training and promoting leaders. In this manner, activists could really use their company and insight. And actually, I think not only in this manner. And that ladies and gentlemen is my perverse obsession. This infernal, unshakeable blight upon my writing, this hopeless certainty. Please wring your hands with me, I am quite overwrought.

No, it's that I can't shake this idea that the ills of the world could be cured if the activists and the Christians united. Formed an alliance. All my previous attempts have abjectly failed, I mean really, it's like they're fending off a lunatic. On both sides.

And yet it remains my perverse obsession. Especially now at Christmas it haunts me, in the darkness, as I think about what is holy, what is sacred. In case you were wondering, the tree is winning over the nativity this year. My Christmas songs are on my ipod and while I was cooking Sunday supper yesterday I got really super mad when O Holy Night got to the third verse:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name, all oppression shall cease.

You might know as a blog reader how I come out on the whole Peace on Earth thing. We really accept an astonishing amount of war for a people who worship a god of peace and it George-Carlin-Style pisses me off. It's the silence around peace: where are the advocates? Where are the candidates? Call me old-fashioned, but if you really wanted peace couldn't you just stop fighting? (quote, Dr. Who, The Doctor's Daughter (2008))

And how about the oppression? We're not doing so great on that either. Who can escape the ugly truths surfacing about the police? How many Syrians? How many Ukranians? How many petty tyrants made possible by neo-liberal support can we name?

I was very grumpy until the Spectorette's version of Frosty the Snowman came out and I thought about that girl band, those poor impressionable girls controlled by Phil Spector and how oppression and darkness are all around us, even at Christmas. The truth is forces for good could be gathering and falling into place, there will always be darkness to see and I am free to step into lighter moments, as I amuse myself with the ludicrous painfulness of life. How I get so worked up over everything. So then I make a dinner and cuddle a child, read a story, make a lunch, draft a contract, tinker with a play. And I am fine. Until my perverse obsession takes me again. And then I can't breathe.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Sleepless Ones

The Sleepless Ones

What if all the people
who could not sleep
at two or three or four
in the morning
left their houses
and went to the parks
what if hundreds, thousands,
millions
went in their solitude
like a stream
and each told their story
what if there were
old women
fearful if they slept
they would die
and young women
unable to conceive
and husbands
having affairs
and children
fearful of failing
and fathers
worried about paying bills
and men
having business troubles
and women unlucky in love
and those that were in physical
pain
and those who were guilty
what if they all left their houses
like a stream
and the moon
illuminated their way and
they came, each one
to tell their stories
would these be the more troubled
of humanity
or would these be
the more passionate of this world
or those who need to create to live
or would these be
the lonely
ones
and I ask you
if they all came to the parks
at night
and told their stories
would the sun on rising
be more radiant and
again I ask you
would they embrace

~ Lawrence Tirnauer

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.


When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.


When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignoranceof
dark, cold
caves.


And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

― Maya Angelou

posted in loving memory of Mark Kuller who died early this morning.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ballyturk

Having this past season read reviews of Bill Clinton Hercules, my play in the Edinburgh Fringe, I am slightly more reluctant to write one.  The BCH reviews seemed to me to say more about the reviewer than the play. What the hell though? It's my blog. It's all supposed to be about me anyhow.

On Friday I saw Enda Walsh's new play at the National, Ballyturk. I felt like I was at the premier of Hamlet. It is a particular and peculiar masterpiece.  So I'm a big fan of Walsh.  Walworth Farce, Penelope, New Electric Ballroom... I am full of wonder at his ability to plumb the limitations of our psyches, see what we are in new ways and show us in his plays.  Damn these Irish playwrights with their wisdom and charm.

Audiences typically applaud heartily at his plays and then turn around to each other and say, what the hell just happened? What does it all mean? What was that blue stuff? It's always hard to exit a Walsh play in a timely manner because people are clumped together excitedly talking.

You can read my review of his Misterman here .

Ballyturk. Spoiler alert.  Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi are in a giant studio apartment/womb/locus of consciousness/monad. They are nameless and they may be two parts of the same person. Or one may be a character created by the other.  Maybe the superego and the ego. The more intensely physical of the two has fits. They are, like all Walsh's characters, and indeed like all of us, are trapped in a narrative - they spend their days playing games involving the people of the town of Ballyturk.

One day Cillian catches a fly, joyful of evidence of an external world. One wall of their studio falls and Stephen Rea appears. He has this monologue about the relationship of his left hand to his right hand that will be a staple of every audition in London very shortly I am sure. Rea may be the fly. He may be authority. He may be reality outside the mind. .  He speaks pure poetry about the magnificence of the outside world heralded by the fly. Life in all its magnificence, he says, demands only one thing, a death. He demands that one of them join him outside. The rest of the play flows from that demand.

The play is shot through with a kind of nostalgia, but nostalgia almost like a high speed train running through the neural networks of the play. Power ballads play from the 80's. Yaz. (Upstairs at Erics was such a staple of my existence in the 80's) The nameless men dance. Rea croons. The recontructions of Ballyturk are Vaudeville.  There is yelling and fear and frustration. Murphy bangs his head bloody against a wall.

Mysterious and primal. In Misterman Walsh has Murphy so steeped in his own version of reality that the sound of people trying to speak to him is distorted. In Ballyturk we get to see inside that reality. It's almost like Beckett's play Not I (which I saw at Cambridge Arts) - it's like being inside someone's mind.

People take refuge in stories, right? They escape into a movie. And that's one level. But when I say Walsh's characters are trapped in a narrative I am being trite and annoying because really, the characters escape there too. They like it there. It is what they know. It must go on. We of course have these narratives too: I am a doctor, a teacher, a mom, a drunk, a loser, a Christian, a Conservative, a Jew. I live in a democracy. America is the best country. My children's safety demands my constant vigilance. It's necessary that air travel is the way it is. The world is basically fair. The world is governed by the rule of law. It is the human condition to have these narratives. It is the work of the very best playwrights to point out how these narratives trap you even as they keep you safe, how they are wrong or incomplete.

Walsh was always up there with McDonagh and McGuiness and now I feel like he's up there with Stoppard.

In my review of Misterman I complain bitterly that Walsh's comparatively least compelling play got a big standing ovation at the National. When I saw Ballyturk on Friday, it was sold out, but no one stood up. No one stood up for the better play. Sometimes that is how it is.
 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Wheaton College 25th Anniversary

This weekend the Wheaton College Class of 1989 is celebrating its 25th anniversary and I am in rainy Cambridge shuffling kids to Kung Fu and trying to help with Latin homework. I am not in Wheaton Illinois. But I just heard the Homecoming Chapel address, and it was given by an old flame. A man now a Bishop of a segment of the Anglican Church in America, Stewart Ruch.

He told a narrative of sin and redemption in his still charming style.  When he and I arrived on campus twenty-five years ago we were hungry to learn and grow and we both - separately, because we didn't meet right away - recoiled at the simplistic culture and specific nature of worshipping Jesus we found on campus. In Stewart's testimony in chapel, this was his sin. See, his chapel address/life narrative wasn't the usual old-fashioned unfolding of (1) drinking/gambling/slutting it up (sin) (2) finding Jesus and repenting (3) happiness and recruiting for Jesus (4) asking for money. This was much more sophisticated, as befits a mind like Stewart's. His sin was that he did not embrace the simplistic, particular nature of Christianity.  He employed his critical faculty. He wrestled with truth, and truth was hard to find. It required great energy and great struggle and it made him raw. That was what he did wrong. And as in every good testimonial, it made him very unhappy. He used the word despair. And twice he repeated the soul-crushing, hell-inducing insight that both the church and places like Wheaton are by their very nature "utterly and intrinsically fractured and broken".

Of course the end of the story was that he was set straight by his elders, told that his insights into human institutions and quest for the truth and other such intellectual things meant nothing to Jesus, Jesus merely requires your blind faith. Stewart was seeing and now he is blind and he lives in the presence of God, well into stages three and four.

Well, over here in East Anglia I am still in that sinner stage. I am still raw. It simultaneously sucks and is more fun living in that difficult terrain of being uncomfortable and uncertain all the time. I seek truth and enlightenment, and for that I have to learn things and change, and change means I leave my comfort zone and that means I am not comfortable. But if I accept each moment with love, love of myself and acceptance instead of judgment, I can grow, I can learn through the pain of the discomfort and sometimes it is totally fun. Plus I think I'm getting smarter. Not smarter, exactly, but more capable of real love, love that is found in ourselves instead of sourced in an external God named Jesus. So if you are thinking of becoming an anti-intelllectual in the wake of Stewart's somewhat (sorry) pre-Fascist speech, I write to ask you to think again.

I believe it is preferable, if you are strong enough as a human (a human who may or may not be in service to Christ, (may we please leave that as an open question?)), to stay in that place of uncertainty. 

I want to defend the sin that Stewart repents so strongly of. That period of decadence was actually kind of fun, not that decadent, and good for our humanity.  And we were developing a critical faculty, a faculty I value and will defend. It is true that all our human institutions are "utterly and intrinsically fractured and broken" and I think responding to this truth by telling yourself to stop thinking and just submit is not good.

The more I employed my critical faculty, the less I could believe in the particular claims of Christianity. I was the student in the New Testament class raising my hand every five minutes asking what would happen to all of the Muslims under strict Christian doctrine. It took me to a terribly sad period of mourning.I think a living relationship with God is something that I have. And yes, life is still uncomfortable. But this lifetime of devotion to truth has brought me closer to it than I think Stewart is now. So I'll put my testimony out there too. (I thought it was so interesting that when Stewart was testifying about the depths of his moral depravity he said he was a fan of anarchy. I'll get to that later.)

Wheaton College in the mid-Eighties had an intellectually lively and artistically vibrant community. I loved learning there. Hanging around with Stewart was the best. It was intense. In retrospect we were tortured souls but we were really alive. Pushing through those literature and philosophy, theology and physics classes and thinking so hard about what was the core, what was the core of what we believed. And we fell in love with the greats, with Joe McClatchey, with high church action... Frederick Buechner was on campus that Fall; his subtle and intensely human Christianity and wisdom drew us both in. Funny. After Stewart's talk I recalled Leo Bebb.

Around the end of the nineties I became more and more aware of the fact that what I believed was just and true and loving in the world and Christian doctrine had drifted apart. Not completely. I still went to Episcopal churches.

When I went to law school I taught Sunday school at the church Governor Weld attended. I didn't know the Governor was at church until a series of oddly specific Prayers of the People were uttered ("and when Bill 5422 passes the Governor's desk this week, we pray oh Lord that you give him the wisdom to sign it").

I wrote my law school thesis on the verse from Luke- "Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you do not lift a finger to ease them." My thesis was that religiously motivated political involvement is an inescapable phenomenon. Evangelicals want to be in politics. There is no point telling Christians that the liberal humanist philosophy in our Constitution does not want them to pass laws in accordance with their doctrines. So a better strategy - the one that worked for me - was to look at the heart of Christianity and see whether that heart would be better served by ensuring freedom. Freedom to choose or reject Christianity. For certainly Stewart would agree that a coerced Christianity is not a true Christianity. Wouldn't you, Stewart? So the laws must find us free to fail. To not hear when Jesus stands at the door and knocks. There is nothing less than a theological justification - Jesus's own justification - for civil rights laws. The sacred space of the human heart and the human self must be autonomously given, and those choices should be honored and respected by the government (evidence on this point runs more along Antigone lines).

I make this digression because Stewart's church is somewhat famously anti-gay and I wonder what he would say about this point. One man's cloak of certainty about Jesus is another man's burden hard to bear. See, e.g., the stories of OneWheaton.

I don't write to challenge Stewart's doctrine on the point of LGBTA people particularly - I guess I wrote to challenge the whole philosophical underpinnings that got him there. I challenge the certainty. I challenge the set-up in Stewart's talk - the solipsistic assumption that those who disagree with him are denying the one truth. There are many truths that must work together.

My Christianity fell away in 2001 and I mourned. I really grieved. I missed the unfolding Christianity of the mid-Eighties -what Stewart referred to as his decadent period. (Consistently in my life there are two themes in conversations (1) I never thought of it that way before and (2) the time I was living/working/friends with you was a decadent period.) It sounds completely douchey to say this but my search for truth continued and was amplified by the birth of my children. .

That doesn't mean - well, I don't know what that means. When I was at the steps of St. Paul for Occupy it was like what I imagined the early church was like. An undeniable reality, just like when people laid hands on Stewart in his talk. But my reality makes more things sacred, our bodies and our earth, our governments. And for that I will stay raw and even listen to the anarchists. And the responsibility for revolution is something that I feel now. Because I think Jesus would want us to do something about the fact that our institutions are utterly and intrinsically fractured and broken

And that's where I am going to leave my testimony.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The World War III Version- Bill Clinton Hercules

When I was in college, the drama society put on Jail Diary of Albee Sachs. the true story of a white South African lawyer repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for his anti-apartheid views. Real triumph of the human spirit stuff. Great play and great performances. It sticks in my memory mostly for a comment made by Jim Young, the artistic director for Wheaton College theater at that time. When asked if he was satisfied with the performance, he said he would be satisfied when the audience was so overwhelmed that they held hands and cried, and then all got on a plane to South Africa, vowing never to depart until apartheid was dismantled. When apartheid was actually dismantled, he would be satisfied.

I have truly come to admire his high standards.

It is boring and wanky to write about what it means to be an artist and what the process is of art. This surprised me: I would complain to my friends about the small difficulties I experienced in Edinburgh and they would say in all earnestness (because these are European friends I am talking about) that they empathized with the artistic process. As if the suffering were mandatory. At this I would shake my head. Maybe an eye-roll. I don't believe in that stuff. I'm here to cut to the chase.

What play do I write that gets people holding hands and crying, and promising to each other that they will stand up for justice and democracy? What play is that? Because I need to write that play very quickly. I'm getting stressed out.

I don't know about you but I am completely freaking out here over ISIS, Ukraine, Gaza, Scotland, Ebola, NATO, the Ministry of Justice - like I can't even be on Facebook for more than a second before it all gets too much for me. World War III is in the air. People are terrified.

In this panic, in this deference to leaders and to war that I am sure is upon us, in the scourge of racism and fascism consuming England, I want to do the right thing by my children and I know you do too. I want to build a better world for them. For decades the middle class have looked only inside their own houses, to the welfare of their own children, the size of their own extension (I just had planning permission granted)... but now blood and tears are spilling out of Eastern Europe and out of the Middle East. It may be that we will not have the luxuries of our consumerist decades in the future. It may be that we will be forced by circumstance to look outside our own houses. It may be that we still can better the world. It may be that justice is possible.

And whether it is unrealistic to imagine the scourge of war, surely it is a sound use of time to imagine a better world, to plot against the panic, to see our way clear to the standards of democracy and justice set by our mothers and fathers. Remember our heroes. Remember the rule of law that stirred our hearts in law school. Show trials? Secret courts? Mass surveillance? This is what we have now? What choice do we have but to stand up for what we believe in? No one is more surprised than I am that this is the message. But it is the message.

If I'm not mistaken, we are all sleepwalking into WWIII. I hope I am mistaken, but it is a dim hope. I want like Jim Young for people to hold hands and cry.






Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Magicians

So I am reading and re-reading and re-reading some more the Lev Grossman trilogy - The Magicians, Magician King and Magician's Land. There is a part I keep re-reading, where the hero, the magnificent and geeky Quentin Makepeace Coldwater graduates from Brakebills - the real upstate NY Hogwarts - and Dean Fogg talks to the graduating class about magic. Putatively magic. Actually, maybe, I hear Grossman talking about writing.

"I have a little theory that I'd like to air here, if I may. What is it that you think makes you magicians?" More silence. Fogg was well into rhetorical-question territory now anyway. He spoke more softly. "Is it because you are intelligent? Is it because you are brave and good? Is it because you're special?

"Maybe. Who knows. But I'll tell you something: I think you're magicians because you're unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. Hefeels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.

"Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Playwright notes: Bill Clinton Hercules

This play accurately recounts President Clinton’s early childhood as gleaned from his autobiography My Life. He really did memorize the I Have A Dream speech, he really did shake JFK’s hand, his first memory really is his mother on the train platform. His daddy died before Bill was born and his mama had a bust of Elvis in the kitchen.
The events during the Presidency and governorship actually happened except there is no evidence that the Chinese navy went to Los Angeles to take out the cast of Friends.  There is an eleven-foot statue of him in Kosovo.  President Carter did send the Cubans to Arkansas (but a great unsung hero of his administration, Gene Eisenberg, spoke to Clinton). There was a trashed hotel suite in Iowa after President Clinton had a phone call with Senator Kennedy in 2008.  There really was a bearded hippy Bill who gave a heartfelt speech.  The events of the 1996 shutdown/snowstorm are condensed except it really was one week between President Clinton going Odysseus and the shutdown being over.
He is close with George Bush Sr.  He does not to my knowledge have a problem with Leon Panetta and Alan Greenspan.  He has never said in public that he would do anything else but support Hillary utterly in her political ambitions.  He did say some very encouraging things about Occupy when asked by reporters. 
He re-reads Seamus Heaney’s Cure at Troy every year.  Why does he read it every year? What does he find there? How does it feed him? I think it is the joyful ending when the world is a better place.  The miracle of changing people’s minds.
The dream at the end of the play is mine. I dreamed at the beginning of the Arab Spring, asleep in Washington.  I took it to Occupy and my dangerous sign that got me kettled in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral said Justice Is Possible.
I was just picking salad in the garden when the thunder rumbled. Look to the world stage. A storm is coming. Governments collapse (Iraq, Syria). Cities fall into desolation (Detroit, Mosul, Gaza City). Fascism looms in Europe. A Taliban arises in America,  armed with corporate  religious beliefs out of the reach of the rule of law. A despot dismantles the NHS.  Police states replace democracy.  Wars rage. No one speaks for peace.
Except Bill Clinton Hercules.  This character – this play – is a creation that merges Clinton’s best self with Rachel weeping for her children.  He speaks for peace and freedom.   His grasping for life can be yours too. The heroism of Hercules is your heroism.   You are like Bill Clinton who is like Hercules started:  a human with a mother.

I quote Thomas Paine, the man from Lewes who wrote Common Sense. “When my country, into which I had just set my foot, was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir.” Now is the time to make real the promises of our democracy.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Oranges

Oranges by Gary Soto 

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The 1992 Bill Clinton Stump Speech


What has changed since then? Twenty-two years later ... 



SCENE  : CAMPAIGN SPEECH

EARLY JANUARY 1992 [EDITED TRANSCRIPT STUMP SPEECH GIVEN in HOUSTON, TEXAS OF YOUTUBE CLIP POSTED BY MICHAEL BERGERON]
    
SOUND EFFECT OF A LOUD COCKTAIL PARTY. THE NOISE COMPETES WITH CLINTON. HE IS JUST STANDING IN SHIRTSLEEVES AND A TIE SPEAKING  INTO A LECTERN – PERHAPS IMPROVISED HOTEL FURNITURE. THE LIGHTING IS COCKTAIL PARTY DIM. GLASSES CLINK. THIS CLINTON IS PLUMPER AND MORE MIDMANAGEMENT THAN HIS LATER YEARS.

Ten years ago we had the highest wages in the world and now we’re ten. Ten years ago of the 22 richest countries in the world, we were eighth in the equality of our income distribution and now we’re dead last.

THE NOISE OF THE COCKTAIL PARTY IS SO LOUD THAT HE HAS TO REPEAT HIMSELF OVER THE NOISE.

Middle class people have worked harder for lower wages, spent less time with their children and spent more for health care, housing, education and taxes only to get less far.  Poverty has exploded and how could it not? Where could can poor people go when there is no middle class to work into?

George Bush says this can’t be the federal government’s concern. This is for the local government. This is for the thousand points of light.

Well, a friend of mine said it’s kind of hard to be one of the thousand points of light if you can’t pay your electric bill.

DELIGHTED LAUGHTER, FOLLOWED BY A DROP IN BACKGROUND NOISE.

We can’t go on like this. If you vote for me this is what I am going to do.

          NO BACKGROUND NOISE.

I will give you growth. I will give you prosperity. We will double highway spending, put some people to work. We’ll give dignity back to the working poor. We will change the banking system in this country . . . [DROWN OUT BY APPLAUSE]

Let’s look to other countries. There are places with universal healthcare, a four week paid vacation every year and shorter hours and sick leave for people and for their children. Maternity leave.

We are talking about a politics of empowerment here where we enable people to do things they never thought they could do and then require them to do it. We are talking about spending more money for childcare and healthcare. We are talking about asking managers to stop raising their pay by four times as much as their workers pay goes up and instead by making their profits the old-fashioned way.

We are asking the politicians to show courage to change and come together.

This is the longest lasting democracy on the face of the earth because at every critical juncture in our history we came together and we had the courage to change.

If you are sick and tired of the politics of division and you don’t want a president who will do anything it takes to win but a president who will do anything it takes to help you win, then I ask you to vote for me. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Leon Panetta Problem

So last week I went to the annual data protection update and meeting of the great and good in UK information regulation at Bird & Bird, a law firm unparalleled for its insight and hands-on guidance in data protection matters. It's always a lovely and interesting event.

This year, it kicked off with two speakers, one from the Ministry of Justive high up in the EU (where they are drafting new data protection regs even as we speak)(except it does seem like a phenomenally leisurely pace to workhorse Americans like myself) and from the ICO, the Information Commissioner's Office, the people enforcing the data protection regs in the UK.

They were both impressive, insightful, well-versed in their subject matter and authentic human beings. They both mentioned that they were working to address the "Snowden Revelations". So they talked about EU regulations that would fine private businesses for inadequately disclosing data breaches, and they talked about prosecuting prison authorities that lost USB sticks with names of prisoners, but I didn't really hear anything that addressed the Snowden Revelations. Right? Essentially, the Snowden Revelations are about how the government itself with minimal oversight (two drunk Lords) had aligned itself with the NSA, accepted the NSA funding of the GCHQ and were using Finfisher and other software to listen to everything we said. What came out at the same time as the Snowden Revelations in the UK was the degree to which the police classified activists as terrorists and targeted groups with infiltrators in the past. It became clear that at a minimum 20% of our Occupy membership was likely undercover MET police.

Now, it's nice to fine prisons for stupid mistakes, but these guys got up and said that the principals of privacy and data protection enshrined in the EU constitution and the common law were SACRED. They agreed they were sacred. Yet the biggest violator of these sacred principles is their employer. So the poor dude from the Ministry of Justice got ahead of me in line at the coffee break and I laid all this out for him. To his credit, he spoke from the heart, about the IRA bombings and murders when he was growing up in London, and how he thought national security was a legitimate interest that outweighed privacy at the discretion of the government.

But his eyes were troubled when he said it.  The exception has become the rule, the greatest violator of our freedoms is the state itself. Now that I am 47 I am mellowing and I actually feel bad for the people that I lay into.

My father-in-law Sir David Williams wrote Not in the Public Interest, a legal treatise on the state secrets/national security exception to transparency in democracy and government. He warned that this exception could swallow the rule. He was right and that was back in the 70's.

In Bill Clinton Hercules, Bill calls it the Leon Panetta problem. This comes from the Vanity Fair article about a year ago about the Obama administration. The article recounts how Hillary when she was Secretary of State was complaining about drone killings to Obama in front of Leon Panetta, who was at the time Secretary of Defense. Panetta laughs at her complaints, leans over the table sneering and says, "you just don't get it, do you?"

Well, in the play Bill says this:

Nothing in my life has infuriated me like that sentence from that man. Not Starr. Not Gingrich. Not Greenspan. Because right there’s the failure of the rule of law, right there’s the failure of democracy, right there… in one snide little comment.
What he’s saying is that there is no branch of government more powerful than the CIA. We are running things, sweetheart. Democracy is ”window-dressing”. The secret forces are in charge. How can you not get it?”

Leon Panetta.... What the hell happened in Washington while I was gone? 9/11 does not justify that…

So anyway, this is what I was thinking about at Bird & Bird while these kind men said they were addressing the "Snowden Revelations". That really they weren't. 

And yet I have hope that they will, that they are men of good faith who will get there. I have hope that the brain trust in data protection law will turn their attention - perhaps surreptitiously - to protecting our data, ourselves, our democracy - from its greatest threat, their own employer. I hope. I hope. 


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On the Pulse of Morning

ON THE PULSE OF MORNING
 by Maya Angelou 

Spoken at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, January 20, 1993.

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.
Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers -- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours -- your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ode to Ida Lillian

Ode to Ida Lillian and Grief Poems
(Rachel Mariner)

Words can ease pain mildly if there is truth there.
An ice pack of words.
But I found nothing.
There are sappy ones, forgivably sappy, but not my thing.
Where is heaven exactly?

There are poems telling the grievers to buck up.
Look for the baby in the sunshine and stars and . . .
No thank you, completely unacceptable.
I need a poem that shows just the grief.

But pure grief is too painful.
Maybe especially for the poets.
Even Shakespeare softens the blow with a joke, a hope, an upswing.
Today that would be a lie.

I want a poem that tells of Ida Lillian Kuller.
Especially beloved.
The epicenter of earthquakes in hearts up and down the Eastern seaboard.
The poem should depict her house in ruins, toppled, wreckage.
I need a poem where far-flung friends wonder about so much pain.
And hate their helplessness.
Scroll furiously on an iPad past poems not good enough.
Still they stare and scroll and wish.

This is the grief poem I need.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The After Party Manifesto

NTRODUCTION

We are human beings.

1. The Introduction
We live on a living planet with other living beings.
We have infinite worth and infinite ways of expressing our worth.
We must no longer sacrifice our boundless potential to profit.
We are told we are worth what we are paid.
We are told we are just consumers.
We are told there is no other way but capitalism.
We live in a toxic system based on greed and inequality.
A system where the majority of benefits go to the fewest people, while more than 20% of our kids live in poverty.
We are told to follow rules. We must conform. We must work longer hours for less pay.
We must serve the markets as if that’s what makes sense.
We are told lies.
We are told more lies.
We are not for sale.
We are not machines for the making of money and buying of things.
We are not consumers.
We are creators.
We are human beings with dignity.
We have had enough.
We are taking over. 

2. WE ARE NOT REPRESENTED

We are not represented.
We have been usurped.
We have been usurped by millionaires and billionaires and banks and corporations.
We have been usurped by CEOs, hedge fund managers, corrupt politicians, Wall Street, defense contractors, lobbyists, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, the World Bank and the NSA.
We have been usurped by profit-seekers.
They write our laws.
They control our senators, congresspeople and president.
They have looted and continue to loot our wealth.
They take our homes.
They sell our privacy as data.
They spy on us.
They appropriate our most precious land so they may sell us oil.
They make “free trade” deals with each other that rob citizens in many countries of their economic freedom.
They use war as a tool for economic expansion in the name of democracy.
They imprison, torture and murder innocent civilians around the world.
They poison our water and contaminate our food.
They gouge us when we are sick.
They steal public money for private profit.
They use the drug war to imprison and exploit the labor of young black and latino men.
They use a militarized police force to occupy their neighborhoods.
They call themselves Democrats and Republicans.
They buy our votes through advertising.
They think we are stupid.
We are not stupid.
We were asleep.
But we are waking up.

3. OUR VISION

Every human being is entitled to food, shelter, education, employment, and healthcare.
By food, we mean food that nourishes.
By shelter, we mean clean and safe.
By education, we mean empowering and unfiltered.
By employment, we mean fulfilling and sustainable.
And by healthcare, we mean equal, free and accessible.
They say we can’t afford it.
Of course we can.
But not if we allow the greediest banks to gobble up our wealth and get bailed out.
Not if we let them make billions and sit on their mounds of cash.
Not if we let them stash trillions of dollars in offshore bank accounts.
Not if we let their lobbyists write the tax code.
We’re not broke.
It’s not a matter of money.
It’s a matter of commitment.
Now, we are committed.

 

4. THE EARTH

Clean water and air are the rights of all people.
Our resources are not commodities.
We acknowledge the state of our planet.
The acidification of our oceans. The destruction of our wetlands and forests. The extinction of one third of all species. A rise in temperature we have not seen in thousands of years.
If this continues, what will remain?
What will the survivors say of us?
As we stood by?
We must change.
We must change as drastically as the situation is drastic.
We must stop drilling and fracking.
We must stop fucking with our food.
We must stop recklessly growing our economy at the expense of our ecology.
We must get back to the land.
We must respect the Earth like we must respect each other.

5. MUCH TO LEARN

We have much to learn.
We listen to each other.
We listen first to those whom we’ve ignored.
Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Asians.
Gay, bi and trans.
Women.
Children--with their simple wisdom.
We listen to those whom we’ve forsaken.
Native Americans who knew, so many years ago, what we must learn today.
We must coexist.

6. WE’RE DOING THIS

We are on the margins now.
But we move the margins to the center.
We run for school boards and city councils and mayorships. We take over local governments with believers in these principles. We change the government from within.
We protest and we stand behind protesters. We join with unions and workers fighting to unionize. A few of us have the courage to throw our bodies against the grinding corporate machinery. The rest of us offer our humble support and solidarity.
We form worker-owned cooperatives and fight for worker ownership of existing businesses.
We want alternative currencies based on sharing.
Most importantly, we serve each other.
We feed those who are hungry.
We educate those who wish to learn.
We care for the sick.
We house those whose houses have been taken away.
We are lucky.
We have arrived at just the right moment.
Every struggle in the past led to this one.
This is not ironic.
This is serious.
This is our country.
This is our planet.
This is our moment.
Another world is possible.
We are making it.
Join us.


see more at www.afterpartyusa.org 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting  
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver 
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Friday, March 28, 2014

Christianity in America

So this week a Christian international aid organization called World Vision surprised and delighted the compassionate among us by announcing that they would hire Christians in same-sex marriages. Over at the OneWheaton group, and all over the world, shoulders of a thousand wounded gay Christians relaxed a little.

The backlash was remarkably fast and cruel. American Christians - the Sadduccees and Pharisees, make no mistake - denounced World Vision for its heretical acceptance of sin. People were exhorted to cease donating to World Vision's work. Billy Graham's son issued a hateful message about LGBT people. World Vision reversed its decision.

OK,this week sucked. It's awful how deeply the American Christians lack basic compassion. My brother, the great gay rights activist David Mariner stepped back and took the whole thing in:

Billy Graham preached a gospel that was big enough for Republicans and Democrats alike. He was as much a spiritual guide to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as he was to Ronald Reagan. This interview, and the disdain Franklin Graham displays both for the office of the President of the United States and the President we have at the moment, is a stunning betrayal of that legacy. To understand why young people are walking away from Christianity, one only has to look at the difference between Billy Graham, and Franklin Graham as he represents himself in this interview. Graham has said that Islam is "a very evil and wicked religion" in 2001. He said that gay and lesbian people "recruit children" in this video. Young people are so much smarter than to accept this bigotry. They've grown up in a more diverse, more accepting world and the reality of their lived experience with friends who are LGBT or friends who are Muslim give them a more informed perspective. Simply put, many young people out there would rather walk away from Christianity all-together than be a part of a club that people like Franklin Graham belong to. One study indicates ONE THIRD OF MILLENIALS THAT LEFT THEIR RELIGION WALKED AWAY BECAUSE OF ANTI-GAY Policies.

I have disassociated myself from mainstream religion for thirteen years. But I still think Billy Graham himself was a great man of God. He didn't see anyone as his enemy, and it made him more Christlike than, well, everyone who takes it upon themselves to condemn World Vision. There was a statesman quality you could respect with Graham, there was a decency. There wasn't this creepy malice his son brings.

I am fortunate to be married to a man who has no time for religion at all. Discussing these things with him gives me such wonderful perspective. We were just talking about this week, this amazing week, this tumultuous life-changing week, and he shook his head because he just can't believe the lack of compassion inherent in homophobia. To him it is obvious that the Christian religion requires compassion and the condemnation of World Vision - homophobia - comes from a place without compassion.  Not to say, of course, that LGBT people deserve some extra compassion because they are problematic. NOOOOOOOO. To say instead that they deserve the same compassion we all deserve. The same rights.

But they don't get it. Not from the church. These bozos are supposed to be following Jesus! Jesus who preferred lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors (morally the worst, obviously) - preferred the people condemned by society. That's who he wanted to be with.  The religious and political institutions of the time were not to be trusted, those who called themselves righteous never ever were. The fabric of the goodness of Jesus was peacemaking and love, and sitting next to his mother at a wedding and making sure the wine didn't run out. Christianity is not about judging the actions of others and having enemies. It is about radical acceptance and inclusiveness. It is about not having any enemies. It is about healing the enemies you have wounded. It is about respecting the dictates of each person's own soul. Even if that bastard asks for your coat too.

So after a week like this I actually think that maybe I still am a Christian. Because I feel like I deserve that title more than Franklin Graham ever will. You see, just a few weeks ago I got into it with a bunch of Evangelical Christians on LinkedIn. I know what you are thinking - who gets into a heated discussion on Linked In? But someone in the Wheaton Alumni group condemned some students who had a demonstration after a chapel message from a woman who says she used to be a lesbian but now is a good obedient Christian wife. The kids just wanted to say that there were other stories, there were other ways to negotiate being LGBT and being a Christian. But this alumni wanted to condemn any other story but his own rigid intepretation of the scriptures. And it was the Pharisees and Sadduccees all over again, puffed up with their scriptural accuracy and blameless lives, utterly lacking in any love. "Woe unto you lawyers for you lay upon the people burdens hard to bear, and you lift not a finger to aid them".  Luke 11:46. This particular kind of arrogance causes Christian gay youth extreme self-hatred and awful suffering and is in my view a terrible thing.

Yet you know we will see more. And we will see women's access to birth control and abortion eroded, and we will see creepy "purity" balls where girls pledge their virginity to their heavenly father, and we will see that the old white men want their control, they want their institutions, they want to be in charge more than they want to follow Jesus. Christians who turn people away with hate instead of welcoming them with love do not, perhaps, deserve the title.