Friday, June 24, 2005

archy the cockroach

I grew up on this poetry by Don Marquis, about a cockroach named Archy who typed at night. of course, unable to use the shift key, he uses no punctuation. but he has a unique and often amusing insight into life as an insect, and hence, life as a human.

This is probably my favourite:

the lesson of the moth

By Don Marquis, in “archy and mehitabel,” 1927

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


followed closely by:

warty bliggens, the toad

By Don Marquis, in “archy and mehitabel,” 1927

i met a toad
the other day by the name
of warty bliggens
he was sitting under
a toadstool
feeling contented
he explained that when the cosmos
was created
that toadstool was especially
planned for his personal
shelter from sun and rain
thought out and prepared
for him

do not tell me
said warty bliggens
that there is not a purpose
in the universe
the thought is blasphemy
a little more
conversation revealed
that warty bliggens
considers himself to be
the center of the same
the earth exists
to grow toadstools for him
to sit under
the sun to give him light
by day and the moon
and wheeling constellations
to make beautiful
the night for the sake of
warty bliggens

to what act of yours
do you impute
this interest on the part
of the creator
of the universe
i asked him
why is it that you
are so greatly favored

ask rather
said warty bliggens
what the universe
has done to deserve me
if i were a
human being i would
not laugh
too complacently
at poor warty bliggens
for similar
have only too often
lodged in the crinkles
of the human cerebrum


it strikes me just now that perhaps the moth and warty bliggens are two sides of the same coin; and maybe that’s what I love about them both.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

reading list

Time to take stock of my reading for the past three months or so. Not an exhaustive list, but some of the notables, in no particular order:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended to me by another church planter, this is a book about the conditions that cause a social movement to reach the “tipping point” and explode into a social phenomenon. It’s full of fascinating psychological experiments, including research done on why Sesame St. works so well, why New York’s crime wave suddenly took a dive in the early 90s, and why Hush Puppies had a sudden resurgence in popularity.

The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile by Arundhati Roy
This book consists of a series of conversations with social activist and commentator Arundhati Roy (most famously the Booker Prize-winning author of “The God of Small Things”). I originally became interested in her when Andrew Denton interviewed her on Enough Rope – her story was fascinating and compelling. That interview is still available online here and is well worth checking out. Just a small exerpt:

I think where there is a fear, there will… I mean, where there is fear, there’ll always be hope. Where there is oppression, it will always be challenged by those of us who will challenge it with greater intensity, you know? So that’s why I don’t believe that there can ever be peace without justice, you know? The two go together…always there will be people who demand dignity, who demand justice, who demand their rights. And, you know, that is as much physics as the physics of people who want power and who try to usurp it – it is the physics of those of us who will challenge it, and we’ll always be around.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
If you read no other book this year, etc. etc….I know a lot of people say that, but wow, this book is a corker. John Perkins is a self-confessed former Economic Hit Man (or EHM for short), who on behalf of US interests blackmailed, cajoled and tricked developing countries into debt and ultimately expanding the US empire. This is an expose on the US belief that they are chosen by God to police the world according to their own values and beliefs, and their methods of ensuring that it is done.

No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies by Naomi Klein
The anti-consumerist’s bible. It details the very eclectic and disparate anti-consumerism movement, the reasons behind it and the tactics they employ. Marketing itself is a large part of the book’s focus, looking at the methods companies use to create community where there is none, and to brand us all in their image. It also details the horrific human rights abuses behind global corporations such as Nike and Shell, and the media spins they use to ignore or combat these events. A little long-winded for me, but certainly comprehensive.

Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
Let me begin this by saying that the word ‘economics’ makes me run a mile – which is good for my fitness, yes, but my point is that I have no clue when it comes to economics. Or should I say ‘had’, since I have learnt a lot since reading this book. Stiglitz is a former economist in the Clinton government, and Chief Economist at the World Bank. This book is a scathing assessment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the way their policies have continued and in some cases worsened widespread poverty in developing countries, counter to its imprimatur. The IMF is there, basically, to ensure that countries have stable and healthy economies in order for development to happen and poverty not to happen. Essentially, he argues that it is both incompetance and protecting first world interests (particularly in the form of repaid debt) that maintain the problems, and there is need for significant change.

The Promethius Deception by Robert Ludlum
Not so much significant for its own sake as for the fact that it was my last Robert Ludlum book. I went on a Robert Ludlum rampage for the last 2 and a half years, and read every one of his 32 or so books…I’m really not sure why, considering they are all basically the same, only with the character names changed. It’s the old one-skilled-but-alone-man-against-a-global-conspiracy-with-no-one-he-can-trust story, but it’s really fun stuff you can switch your brain off and enjoy. Maybe for me too it has that element of encouragement – that one person can make a difference, etc. (even if that one person is a highly trained covert ops assassin…)

How to be Good by Nick Hornby
Thus began my Nick Hornby binge – and what a beginning. The blurb explains it best:

Katie Carr, doctor (and self-declared ‘good person’) has just had an affair. It’s really not her fault – she is, after all, married to David: angry, cynical, negative (though undeniably funny) and a real pain to live with. But then David meets DJ Goodnews, astonishingly effective faith healer and do-gooder of the unbearably smug kind. And now David is good. Too good, actually – ‘a liberal’s worst nightmare’, he starts to put theory into practice, giving away their kids’ toys, reaching out to the hopeless and homeless in a very personal and, for Katie, disturbing way. It seems to her that if charity begins at home, it may be time to move…

A fascinating study of what it would be like if we were actually prepared to risk living what we believe.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
This is a magnificent story about male and female relationshjps. There was a movie made of it with John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones a while back, but in an Americanized way. If there’s not a dozen or so “I can totally relate to that!” moments as you read this book, I’d be surprised.

About a Boy by Nick Hornby
Another book that was adapted well for screen, although the book has a slightly different slant on the characters. Basically about two boys, one a grown man who needs to grow up and the other a young boy who needs to learn to be a kid.

Currently: The End of Poverty: How we can make it happen in our lifetime by Jeffrey Sachs
I’ll let you know how it goes when I finish, but basically, it’s an explanation of the arguments behind the MakePovertyHistory campaign and the requests being made of the G8 leaders this July to forgive debt, make trade fair, and increase aid.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

an eventful week

so this week was rather eventful for me, all stemming from a 2 minute incident at 12:45pm on Wednesday.

Basically (to make a long story short) I witnessed an altercation between a young man (18ish?) and an older man (mid 70’s?) outside the front of my house. I didn’t see what started it (although I later discovered the young man had asked the older man for money), but I did hear them swearing and yelling at each other before they began fighting, and watched from my window as the younger man picked up our wheelie bin and brought it crashing down on the old man’s head before being chased away by the older man.

I won’t go into the ensuing details of police reports and investigations. Suffice to say I was the only witness to the event, so I was quite popular with the boys in blue for a couple of days. : D What strikes me most as I replay the whole situation is how this kind of thing happens. What could possibly have transpired for an exchange between two complete strangers to escalate to the point it did?

Let me start with the older man. It was his angry voice I heard first, and believe me, he was giving at least as good as he got. The only reason I can think of for him to react so angrily and aggressively was fear. He wasn’t exactly a frail old man, but I imagine he wasn’t in the prime of his life. To have a young guy come and ask you for money (I don’t know how that happened, whether he demanded it forcefully, or just requested it) is confronting, particularly if you feel threatened. The second you feel threatened or fearful, you feel defensive, and react defensively. I think the likelihood is that his defensive reaction was offense.

Then there’s the younger man. Obviously I don’t know his situation, but I do know that this occurred just 20 metres from a piece of graffiti that reads (somewhat like a disclaimer), “If youth allowance wasn’t 52% of the poverty line, I wouldn’t have to steal.” Teasing out the issues involved in that sentence alone could take days (eg/ why write that unless you are genuinely apologetic?). But clearly this kid is not alone in his desperation for that which most of us take for granted – a means to fulfill our most basic needs. No-one begs for money as an entrepreneurial venture. Maybe I’m assuming too much about a situation I barely know anything about, but it makes me feel at least as much sympathy for this kid as for the old man, both caught up in a society of fear. That fear alienates that kid, and it only perpetuates a system of inequality and alienation.

And then there’s me: why didn’t I go and put myself in the situation? Why did I watch it escalate to its conclusion from the safety of my darkened window? Well the answer to that is fear too. Not for my own safety – goodness knows my instinctive reaction to things like this is to act without thinking and jump in aggressively (demonstrated not once, not twice, but thrice) – but for my family. To intervene, I thought, would be to invite the wrath of the young man upon my house; and that meant my family. I still don’t know what to make of that, whether I did the right thing or not. But I acted out of fear, and that alone is, at the very least, sad.

I don’t know what to do about it, I just keep looking at this whole incident and thinking how it’s just a tiny, tiny microcosm of the sadness that is allowed to go on in our society, perpetuated by “a current affair” and our pm and others. I don’t even know how to end this post. I’ll pray for them.