Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: Black Elk Speaks - a First Nations memoir

 John G Neihardt: "Black Elk Speaks", University of Nebraska Press, 1988, 298 pages

                       This text is an oral memoire of a Lakota medicine man "transmitted through" - and rendered into an "elevated" English by - J G Neihardt way back in the early 1930s when Black Elk was an old man approaching his seventh decade. Black Elk speaks of the old ways of his people and of the unequal, doomed struggle against the encroaching Wasichus, their army, lies and canon. But above all, Black Elk speaks of the Great Vision that was granted him when he was a mere boy of 9 years (1872). Many, such as activist and teacher, Vine Deloria, consider this text to be a sort of "Native North American Bible", rescueing a portion of dying native spiritual traditions from oblivion and granting it, at least, the opportunity for rebirth in the hearts of generations who have come to understand the vacuity at the heart of Wasichu culture.

                      This can be described as a "portal text", opening on a parallel universe in which magic works and which only partly intersects that (? those ?) of Caucasian North Americans. Even editor Neihardt claims that it was "obvious" that the old man possessed "supranormal powers". Be that as it may, one can only marvel at the incredible richness and wisdom of the vision recorded by the mind of a nine year old boy.

                      My own reactions in finishing this book were quite mixed: anger, frustration, sense of loss, wonder. Once more, in its revelation of the demented rapaciousness of Wasichu culture, I could only see reinforced the conviction that an era, begun with Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World, is ending. One point will suffice: to conquer the Indian, Wasichu destroyed his food source. Buffulo were simply slaughtered to extinction. The mind can only recoil at the overt obscenity. This era ends, of course, because we have no more world left to plunder. For commercial purposes the hoop of the finite world was belted in the mid-nineteenth century. Now we deplete the remaining stocks of non-renewables to exhaustion and seem not to possess the will nor the intelligence to limit our activities to what the planet can sustain though its living - renewable - bounty..

                       I also found myself in disagreement with Black Elk himself. He felt he had failed the Great Vision:

‎"Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw: for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.", (page 43)

                         True, Black Elk did not lead his people to the Flowering Tree of life. They were conquered, killed, forced onto reserves, humiliated.. But perhaps, as has been noted in the past, prophecy does not necessarily accord with our personalized time frames. Vision does, after all, have its roots in the intemporal world of Forms, of Totems and Archetypes. In the Great Vision, Black Elk tapped into the powerful Archetypal drama of death / rebirth / regeneration: the Archetype of healing / making whole / Initiation (transcendance - metamorphosis). There are of course - as there must be - culturally specific motifs in Black Elk's Great Vision of collective salvation and rebirth but the Archetype itself is universal and intemporal in nature. The Vision is a portal, Black Elk has opened a door. It is up to us who follow - and understand (gnosis) - to materialize that Vision, to bring it into fulsome materiality. So it was with the Bhuddha and Jesus; they, too, opened a door through which we are invited to enter a new world, a new way of being in the world. Black Elk, then, was not, as he thought, a loser, a failure in life but a "Bearer of the Logos (the Word)" (Carl Jung, psychologist). He was one of those who bring a powerful, regenerative vision into the world. The Archetype of Healing as presented in the Great Vision is, if anything, even more apropos today that it was 140 years ago - May the Sacred Tree flower!

Signs of the Times: acid ocean killing commercial fishery??

          Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the fizz in the beer (everybody likes beer!), the rise in yeast (everybody loves crunchies and bread) and, as global warming "sceptics" like to claim, "CO2 is plant food". Plant food it might be but, like good ol salt, too much of a good thing can kill ya.. (another of those things the "sceptics" didn't tell ya..)

            CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising due primarily to industrial activity and forest cutting. The CO2 in the air tends to exist in equilibrium with that dissolved in sea water. At equilibrium the number of CO2 molecules leaving a given surface area of sea water is balanced by the number of CO2 molecules dissolving in the water. If we add CO2 to the air there is more "pressure" on the side of the air and so more molecules will enter the water than leave it, till a new equilibrium is established.

             A bit of the CO2 that enters seawater is turned into a weak acid, carbonic acid (not toxic - gives the tang to beer and pop):

            CO2 + H2O --> H2CO3

            and some of the carbonic acid dissociates into electrically charged ions or radicals:

            H2CO3 + H2O--> H3O(+) + HCO3 (-)

            The H3O thingy ("hydronium ion") is the gold standard of acidity. Since carbonic acid is a weak acid, there aren't too many hydronium ions. But nature is a system of balances which have co-evolved together over time. Putting too many hydronium ions in sea water is not good. The water becomes too acid for sea life to survive. Some forms of life, including photosynthetic plankton which form the base of ocean food web, possess shells. These shells will dissolve or not properly form if seawater is too acid.

           What will happen? At the least, the result will be a loss of livelihood for fisherfolk. At the limit, if ocean ecosystems collapse, people highly dependent upon ocean fisheries will starve. Simple as that. No brainer..

           This stuff is scary! "Never before seen" levels of CO2 in the water column. 95% of an annual crop of scallops in British Columbia wiped out - just gone. (In past centuries that would be called "famine".)

            In the video above, the feds hypocritically state they are looking into things. Really? Are they really looking well.. I mean all those cuts to federally funded science.. shouldn't those cuts hinder, well.., the capacity of government scientists to do their job protecting the public from environmental hazards and all that? 

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Prostitution in Canada: an interesting social experiment


"In a Dec. 20 ruling, the high court unanimously struck down laws against street soliciting, living on the avails of prostitution and keeping a brothel.
The Supreme Court deemed that the laws endangered sex workers and were violations of the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person. It gave the government one year to come up with new legislation before the current Criminal Code provisions lapse."

            In an innovative move, the Federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper has decided to consult the Canadian public on its attitudes towards sex workers and the sex trade. 

Speak Up! Get your 2¢ in..

           The original reason for the supreme court's overturning the old codes on prostitution and sex trade work was a progressive desire  to protect sex workers from harm. The old, puritanically inspired laws, tried to sweep the problem under the rug: out of sight, out of mind.. But clandestinity also played against the sexworker, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The court tried to step in and provide them with a minimum of security and protection of civil rights.

            However, all acts have unexpected consequences ("blowback"). The supreme court's ruling has obliged the government to draft new laws and, in the process, provided the opportunity for this novel experiment in collective governance. Fortunately, the Harper government people had the wisdom the seize this opportunity to listen to the people. For this, at least, they deserve some credit.

The larger context: Will we have the wisdom to use the new electronic media to empower civil society? Or will we pervert it to dumb down the masses so they can be better controlled by a functionally demented economic elite ready to sacrifice the future of the planet on the altar of their moloch, Profit? Everything is up for grabs, today. Things can tip off in any one of a number of directions, some expected, some totally novel. We are living a time of Great Choosing. This social experiment by the Harper government is just one small symptom of these times and their character.

                  One suspects the Harper government was taken by surprise by the high court ruling. Several commentators have made the point that the government does not seem to be acting ideologically. Like myself, they appear to be genuinely confused by the the whole sextrade issue and are feeling their way along a dark wall looking for the light switch..

                For some short, thoughtful comments of the ethical reasoning behind the court ruling, see the following article by our favorite conservative journalist, Andrew Coyne:

Coyne: court rules to protect sex workers

                Boy! we don't often get the chance to give praise to the Harperites. We might as well take the opportunity to give them credit for something else they got right: eliminating the penny as legal tender. In our overpopulated world of rising expectations and depleting non-renewable resources we have much better things to do with a valuable metal like copper than to make trash-money out of it. Think: electrical conductors, motors, generators and all that other good stuff that keeps our modern civilization running.. 

Bye! Bye! Pretty Penny