Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who Is Davis Mac-Iyalla And Why Is He Here?

Photo of Nigerian Anglican Gay activist Davis Mac-Iyalla in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during the Anglican Primates' Meeting February 17, 2007. He was there to confront Peter Akinola, the Anglican Primate of All Nigeria, who has pressed for the world's most sweeping anti-Gay law. (The Rev. Scott Gunn)
Do not attempt to become Buddha.
Resolve to be thyself; and know that he who finds himself loses his misery.
---Matthew Arnold
The more deeply we are our true selves, the less self is in us.
---Meister Eckhart
The simple answer to the question is he has made his first visit to the United States from Togo, where he is in exile, to tell his story. It is the story of a young man born in the south of Nigeria (an important geographic distinction following civil war there some 40 years ago) who happened to get asked to run a church school and accepted. He did so with some fear because at age 14, he realized his sexual desires were for other males. In Nigeria you could go to jail if you acted on such impulses. His work at the school was so successful that it came to the attention of the Anglican bishop of the area at the time, who invited him into his administration. In 2003 Bishop Ugede died suddenly of tuberculosis. The new administration, appointed by Archbishop Peter Akinola, fired Davis and removed any priests who supported him. Within 2 years, Davis had become the center of a growing movement of gays and lesbians in Nigeria demanding rights for their way of life. Archbishop Akinola responded with support for legislation, currently pending, that will make it a crime for any citizen to associate in any way with someone identified as homosexual. The term of imprisonment will be 5 years.
That story is the simple answer. At the same time, the American branch of the Anglican Church, known as the Episcopal, consecrated a bishop in New Hampshire who is openly gay and has a partner. Within hours, Peter Akinola in Nigeria declared the overwhelming majority of archbishops and primates in the area known as the Global South would not recognize Gene Robinson as a bishop. He said the church now was in a "state of impaired communion" and declared he refused ever to be in the same room with a homosexual person. Conservative Episcopal churches in the United States have moved to support Akinola financially and even explore ways to join his diocese in Nigeria. It is possible the entire Anglican church, numbering millions of members worldwide, will divide over this issue. The Archbishop of Canterbury will make his first visit to the States since all this blew open at the end of the summer...around the time Davis will conclude his tour in California. Can this one man have any impact on the situation?
When Davis became convinced he should make himself available in the US for a speaking tour, naturally there were problems getting a visa from this country to allow him in. A call went out for individual churches to extend a formal invitation to him to speak. Among the first---and maybe the first---was from my rector, Bill Carroll, from Good Shepherd Episcopal Church here in Athens, Ohio. So it was that Davis Mac-Iyalla presented the first address of his tour here on Sunday. My personal reflections on the talk, those of my 15-year-old daughter, and press coverage of the event will follow in comments. I wanted to get something up and out right away though because of the urgency surrounding this whole situation.
He was in Columbus Tuesday and continues to Cleveland today. His itinerary still is open for invitation. Accompanying him is a writer named Josh Thomas, from Cincinnati I believe. His account of Davis' story is here [link] among other places on the Internet. A new interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported here [link]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

We've Changed Earth's Climate: Now What?

That which man acquires by contemplation he should spend in love.

---Meister Eckhardt

All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

---Mark Twain, August 27, 1897

Mark Twain's famous remark remained funny for about a hundred years. Then we began to wonder. With all our technology, why can't we change the weather in some places if we want to? But at the same time, gloomier forecasts were accumulating that in fact humanity, in that same hundred years of industrialization, was changing not only the weather but the very stability of the planet's current climate arrangement. We've had at least 10 years of raging argument about this, and still we have "scientists," mostly in the pay of corporations who can't find a profit motive yet, who tell us it all is too complicated for people to understand and it's better to do nothing. Most people, in the States anyway, seem to believe there's global warming or whatever we end up calling it, but feel it's too big for them to change any behavior about. I mean, what is one guy supposed to do?

On Tuesday, the government's NASA site called Earth Observatory put up the 2005 photo you see here with this comment:

"Perhaps the most visible sign that Earth’s climate is warming is the gradual shrinking of its glaciers. In North America, the most visited glacier is the Athabasca Glacier, one of six glaciers that spill down the Canadian Rockies from the Columbia Icefield in western Canada. Visitors who return to the glacier a few years after their first visit will notice the change wrought by warming temperatures. In the past 125 years, the Athabasca Glacier has lost half of its volume and receded more than 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles), leaving hills of rock in its place. Its retreat is visible in this photo, where the glacier’s front edge looms several meters behind the tombstone-like marker that indicates the edge of the ice in 1992. The Athabasca Glacier is not alone in its retreat: Since 1960, glaciers around the world have lost an estimated 8,000 cubic kilometers (1,900 cubic miles) of ice. That is approximately enough ice to cover a two-kilometer-wide (1.2 mile-wide) swath of land between New York and Los Angeles with an ice sheet that is one kilometer (0.62 miles) tall.

"Melting glaciers, dwindling sea ice, rising global temperatures, and rising sea levels. Little by little the evidence is adding up to show that Earth is getting hotter, and scientists are almost certain that people are to blame. A number of activities from burning fossil fuels to farming pump heat-trapping gases—greenhouse gases—into the atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere, these gases stay there for thousands of years, absorbing the heat that comes from the Earth and re-radiating it back to the surface, enhancing Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. Between 1906 and 2006, the average surface temperature of the Earth rose 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.08 to 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit), while greenhouse gas concentrations reached their highest levels in at least the past 650,000 years. Most climate scientists believe that there is a connection and warn that if greenhouse gas emissions continue, temperatures are likely to go up 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 10.8 degrees F) by the end of the 21st century.

"While this might seem like a small change, it will probably lead to big changes in the environment. Warming temperatures will likely lead to more frequent heat waves, bigger storms, including more intense tropical cyclones (hurricanes), and more widespread drought. Since water expands as it heats, and melting glaciers and ice caps have dumped more fresh water into the world’s oceans, sea levels have already started to rise. Higher sea levels lead to more erosion and greater storm damage in coastal areas, many of which are densely populated. As much as 10 percent of the world’s population lives in vulnerable coastal regions that have an elevation less than 10 meters (32 feet) above sea level."

At that point, in a move not at all typical of this site---and I visit it everyday---the reader is referred to another page where begins a lengthy treatise on Global Warming. It is illustrated with many striking photos, maybe most of them taken from satellites circling the Earth. Well, it's a dot gov site, so where's the policy? Must we wait for the dot coms to sell us stuff to solve it? How organized are all the dot orgs? Is the species finished?

Groups are beginning to meet across the land, many of them in churches, and the concern seems to be the first issue since 9/11 that crosses all political boundaries. They've spent the last year looking at the videos and DVDs and hearing the speakers, and now comes the time to figure out what to do. At just this moment, a writer named Garret Keizer from up in Vermont has gotten an essay published on the Notebook page of the June Harper's. Put his name with "climate" into Google this morning, and stand back. I think the magazine arrived in our mailbox the same day Earth Observatory put up that photo, and already the Internet is buzzing about what this guy's got to say. Essentially his message is nothing could be worse than if liberals trot out their usual package of reforms, then go back to their decks and patios overlooking the manicured sward, and end up wondering in 20 years why everything is worse than before. Harper's undoubtedly will get this essay online, but they like to wait a couple weeks so that people actually give them some money at the newsstands. Bits and pieces already are emerging in the blogs and I'll give you a taste of those excerpts in a minute. But first, who is this Keizer dude?

A fairly detailed outline of his life appeared a couple years ago in the Vermont "alternate web weekly" called Seven Days. Here we learn he grew up in New Jersey, attended the University of Vermont where he got a master's in English, and settled around Burlington, where he taught the subject in high school for 17 years. In the meantime he married a Catholic girl and, not wanting particularly to abandon his Protestant perspective, he got her to attend the Episcopal Church. They asked him to give a sermon and then to take charge of some services, and eventually the church ordained him, even though he never went to divinity school, so he could manage activities in some outlying parishes. He quit teaching partly because of all this, and his own writing became increasingly involved with morality. Christianity Today has 35 articles by him."Garret Keizer"&x=10&y=5 In his mid 50s, Garret Keizer may find his quiet life around the Vermont town common suddenly disturbed by the kind of notoriety you get when you seriously rock the boat.

Here are some sections from his essay Climate, Class, and Claptrap~~~

This pretense of not knowing what every idiot knows has increasingly come to define our national discourse. To say, by way of example, that it has characterized the protracted denial of global warming is to understate the point. It also characterizes the burgeoning acknowledgment of global warming, the willingness to grant that a crisis exists even as our key players scramble to guarantee that every systemic cause of that crisis remains intact. It characterizes our farcical debate over the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq even as permanent bases are constructed in that country to oversee the flow of its denationalized oil to our national snout. More than anything else, it characterizes our official take on wealth and class, a blind spot as large as any hole in the ozone. ...


But I shall be accused of dancing around the most important issue of our time, the issue at the name of which every knee shall bow. Global warming, we are told, will have its most devastating effects on the worlds' disadvantaged. Therefore, we need not care so particularly about the world's disadvantaged; we need only care about global warming -- as mediated, of course, by those who stand to make a bundle off it ...


Am I too irreverent? Am I not aware that polar bears are drowning in the Arctic? I am very much aware, and very grieved as well. I am also aware, thanks to book after book by Jonathan Kozol, that children are drowning in our inner-city schools and have been drowning there year after year and decade after decade, but I do not recall anything like the universal lament that has met the drowning scene in An Inconvenient Truth. Then again, the polar bear depicted in that movie has two incontrovertible advantages over Kozol's kids: it's digital and it's white ...


The intestinal tipping point came for me when a contingent of students from Middlebury College (annual tuition and fees $44,330) found both the gas money and the gall to drive to the town of Sheffield (annual per-capita income $13,277) in order to lecture the provincials on their responsibility to the earth and its myriad creatures. Not to be outdone, a small private school in our area (annual tuition and fees $76,900) has challenged the wind projects as a source of noise disturbance for its special-needs students. This could actually turn the tide. Like a bookie assessing the hindquarters of horses, I've learned to place my bets with a sharp eye on tuition and fees. Don't tell me where you went to school; just tell me what it cost.


Gore speaks of the need for "a different perspective" ... But this is the old perspective: the race to the moon, the triumph of the will, the forward march of progress on a goosestep and a prayer. The unquestioned belief that the answer to every human dilemma and desire is a gizmo -- in short, the very attitude that gave us global warming to begin with. Those measuring the ice shelf in Greenland would do well to spend a few weeks measuring the time that typically elapses between any mention of conservation and the quick segue to something sexier; that is, to something you can buy or sell. The abolition of obscene excess, the equitable distribution of finite resources -- these have the same appeal for our movers and shakers as adopting a crack baby has for the infertile members of their club. We have all these wonder-working technologies, all these clever schemes for producing the golden eggs -- or you could always take home little Bernice. But that's going to be a lot of work.

The bottom line here is, as always, the bottom line, already being parsed out in prospectus form for the eco-savvy investor. ... Gregg Easterbrook, writing in the April issue of The Atlantic, is less of a prig. The question he invites us to ask in regard to climate change -- "What's in it for me?" -- is "neither crass nor tongue-in-cheek," he assures us. Much of what's in it for you (that is, if you happen to be affluent, educated, etc.) will come in the form of carbon trading, a shell game allowing polluters to purchase "offsets," in green-energy production, which may or may not come to include nuclear power ...


Presumably this is not the same greed that inspired ExxonMobil to wage a campaign of disinformation about climate change. Presumably we might also consider redirecting the primal human impulse of hate. We could get the Ku Klux Klan to buy "offsets" for lynchings in Mississippi ... It's the Devil's old remedy: If you're being poisoned to death, try taking more poison.


... It is not enough to acknowledge that global warming exists; we also need to ask what global warming means. Surely one thing it means is that a culture that has as its highest aim the avoidance of anything remotely resembling physical work must change its life

... But that is only half a meaning, less than half. We're told that "that science is all in on global warming" and that it's just about unanimous. ... But the science has also been in, and in for a while, and is every bit as unanimous in concluding that we are members of a single species, descendents of common ancestors -- family in every conceivable sense of the word. How can we imagine that we will address one overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion without having acted fully on the other? ...

To put that as succinctly as possible, the days of paradise for a few are drawing to a close. The game of finding someone else in some convenient misery to fight our wards, pull our rickshaws, and serve as the offset for our every filthy indulgence is just about up. It is either Earth for all of us or hell for most of us.


Those excerpts are taken from a blog that Grist runs, and as of this morning there are 46 comments raging there. Since other bloggers are having a similar experience, maybe a dialogue will start right here. Here's Harper's to watch for the post online .

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Death Of A Bebop Wife

In the photo Grange boards plane to meet Al. (1960)

Death Of A Bebop Wife by Grange (Lady Haig) Rutan
Published by Cadence Jazz Books, Redwood NY 13679

The modern pianist has a very special relationship with his drummer and his bassist. As his instrument has hammers, it resembles the drums; and as it has strings, it's like the bass. His position in the rhythm section is more detached, and more ambiguous than that of his partners, the bass and the drums. If he feels like it, he can stop playing for a few bars and let the bass define the harmony and the drums ensure the rhythm. He can suggest new harmonic directions, fall into step with a soloist, then break away a moment later. On again, off again. He opens or he closes. He's present at the heart of the rhythm, then suddenly he's gone.

---Laurent De Wilde
from chapter 5, p. 21

There's a scene in Grange Rutan's long-awaited book about her first husband Al Haig in which the legendary piano player introduces his young bride to Miles Davis. The men had played together with Charlie Parker in the tumultuous beginning years of bebop, and Al was pianist on one of Miles' Birth of the Cool sessions. By the summer of 1960, Miles Davis was packing in crowds at the Blackhawk in San Francisco, but Al Haig was scuffling for work. After turning down Miles' urgent invitation to sit in with the band, Al sheepishly confesses he and Grange have no place to sleep. Without hesitation, Miles reaches into his pocket and hands Al Haig the key to his dressing room. It was there, on a stained mattress in a shabby back room of a nightclub, the couple consummated their marriage. The bride looked brave, despite 2 black eyes.

Much about jazz, its artists, its working conditions, its devoted followers, and both the generosity and freakouts, is revealed in that passage. There have been many books written about the history of the music, including the death-defying years of bebop, but here's one long overdue from the perspective of a woman who loved a man who created some of it. And Grange Rutan goes beyond her own marriage of 2 1/2 years with Al Haig, into his next marriage which that girl did not survive. Rumors of murder persist to this day, and Grange presents her view as to whether Al could have done it.

Please consider, we are talking about a creator of some of the most gentle and sensitive beauty on jazz piano to come before Bill Evans. Here's a man whose daily warm-up practice involved pieces by Bach, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Debussy, and especially Chopin. Imagine if you can Chopin playing Night In Tunisia, and you'll get the idea. With a touch as light as Teddy Wilson's, it was Al Haig that Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker had to have in the group if they could get him. And shortly after, Stan Getz would launch a career of gorgeous gold to Al Haig's accompaniment. Could a quiet, dedicated artist like this hurt a woman?

What did it take in a segregated 1945 to be one of the only white men to play this music? What was required to learn the lightning twists and turns of bebop lines? Who can hum for me right now the melodies to Driftin' On A Reed or Quasimodo? I often compare learning bebop to identifying the opening movements of the Haydn symphonies by number. What does it take out of someone to do that...and to do it every night between the hours of 10 and 3 in the morning---maybe 40 minutes on and 40 minutes off---in a smoke-filled room where the audience is getting drunk...and perhaps worse?

Lady Haig, thus dubbed by Dizzy when he met and noticed her regal qualities, does not disguise the wild streak that got her hooked up with Al Haig in the first place. Living in a comfortable Presbyterian home in Montclair, New Jersey, the family nevertheless found itself close enough to the Meadow Brook Ballroom to enjoy the influence of the great dance bands of the late '30s and early '40s. As Grange became a teenager, she was listening to jazz DJs out of New York, instead of that new rock 'n roll stuff. When it came time to be out of school and at her first job, the City's where she headed and meeting jazz players was her goal. It was a risky challenge, considering she vowed to maintain purity for marriage.

While the story is gripping and all jazz fans love to hear new anecdotes about the masters of the music, it's Grange Rutan's wonderful writing style that you'll notice at once. This work of about 550 pages, including index, chronology and discography, 15 years in the writing, is like a scrapbook. There is something of a linear development, but she can't be hemmed in by a structure like that. Maybe it resembles a screenplay, that darts back and forth in time...or a conversation over lunch delightfully going every which way. Actually her style is like a jazz solo. Some of what she plays she's played before, and she relates the material over those same chord changes again and again, but then she's into new territory and trying to describe an experience one more time in a different way.

That's how it is when you remember a love from long ago. Images stick in the back of one's memory and sometimes even the sound of a "tinkling piano in the next apartment." We have both foolish and very serious things in Death of a Bebop Wife, but about one thing there is no doubt: Lady Haig has expressed to us what her heart meant. We begin, "I long to see Al's face. He's still in there and his power over me grows stronger in spite of his death. I never knew what he was going to say next. Some mornings I would wake to see his handsome head leaning on the palm of his hand, staring at me, silently crying. I just didn't know how to handle all this drama. Let me try to pull this together, not just for you but for both of us."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The 6th Great Die-Off

Without the bitterest cold that penetrates to the very bone, how can plum blossoms send forth their fragrance to the whole world?
Each something is a celebration of the nothing that supports it.
---John Cage
The horse's mind
So swiftly
Into the hay's mind.
---Fazil Husnu Daglarca
All the artwork is by Richard Ross.
Something like 60 years ago I spent some summertime at YMCA Camp Onyahsa on Lake Chautauqua. It was only several miles from Mom and Dad in Jamestown, New York, but I didn't thrive in the situation. The highlight of the whole experience were a couple nature hikes with a young man named Bob Sundell. The boys all called him "Bugs." He had an intensity about what you could see in Nature and how to look that was contagious. Even other boys who weren't into this whole camping thing that much were completely involved with this guy when he showed up. Off we'd go...and immediately there was a snake or a hawk---"It's a Cooper's hawk!" yelled Harold Smith, who later had to wear a ball and chain in the cafeteria because he kept trying to escape...but "Bugs" said, "Hey, that's great!" when he knew that hawk, and Harold was proud. Or there was a flash in the fast I didn't see what it was: a bright blur. "A redstart," "Bugs" whispered...but it was gone and hiding.
Redstarts became my favorite bird and I always wanted to see another one, even though I hadn't really seen the first one. Maybe it was "Bugs'" influence and the way he engaged us little boys. I don't think I ever saw Bob Sundell again although I often thought to look him up when I was back in my hometown. I think he's lived in Western New York all his life, teaching at a community college there and prominent with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute Ornothological Club (Peterson was from Jamestown too) and the local Audubon Society...especially the annual bird count.
The other day, down by the main creek of 3 that run through our woods, I saw another redstart. My second. It's been 60 years! I suppose if I had really gone out and looked in the meantime---made a project of it---I could have seen a bunch by now. But I don't seem to interact with Nature that way. I'm more an alert-and-see-what-pops-up sort of guy. It may be those 2 redstarts are bookends of my life, and I'd be content with that.
I never minded when neocons snarled "treehugger" at the way I feel about Nature. They've called me a lot of things in the past 40 years, but I think hugging trees is a wonderful experience. I much prefer it to knocking down every one I see. A couple weeks ago I threw a father and son off my land because they'd brought in their 4-wheelers. I did it with so much rage I frightened myself. I don't mind hunters---as long as they let me know---but I find those recreation vehicles obscene today. When I look at my neighbors and how they interact with Nature, I feel doomed.
What should I do?
And how much time do we have? Which brings me to the dire task at hand. Before today, there's always been a sense of joy or sharing or work-to-do when I've recommended information to people I know. But now I feel more like it's duty to report this. The June issue of Mother Jones magazine carries a cover story by their environmental reporter Julia Whitty. That cover is here illustrated, and the little card next to that specimen reads "Homo sapiens: -Large brain, opposable thumbs, -Primary cause of Sixth Great Extinction". After the warming and climate change, this is next and more biologists are telling us this everyday. The entire article is online and I believe was picked up by The Independent in the UK, but it's always good to support magazines at the newsstand. I'll warn you Julia begins with a graphic description of death by dehydration...but we need to know how fast it happens and after a certain point no matter how much water they give you, it won't help.