As of Sunday morning, the 101 was still closed in Montecito, so I resolved to head down to Westwood for the Ecstatic Dance LA celebration. After lunch, rather than heading up to the Getty Center, I was inspired to visit the Armand Hammer Museum.

It was deja vu all over again as – just as when I visited with my sons during Kevin’s attendance at UCLA – most of the museum was closed for their annual rotation. Apart from the standing collection (mostly French and American oils from the 19th century), they had four environmental experiences.

The most profound is Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Saydnaya. Saydnaya is the death prison established by the regime of the Syria dictator Bashar al Assad. During the course of the civil war, more than 13,000 people have been destroyed there.

The guards at the prison maintained control through a strict regimen of silence. Any significant noise was punished by beatings – even the screams of those beaten were punished with further abuse. As a result, every sound was impressed upon the victims. Through acoustic forensics, interviews with those released have reconstructed the organization and operations of the prison.

The installation is simple: at the entrance, two large speakers that first demonstrate the effects of a 19 decibel drop in sound – reflecting the drop in the volume of the prisoner’s speaking when the prison stopped serving any investigative purpose and became simply a death camp. The recording starts with a loud siren, and drops through a series of declarations of annihilation (including the extinction of frog species in the Amazon). When the volume is inaudible, the recording continues with the testimony of a prison survivor describing the use of silence as an instrument of torture. Finally, the artist and acoustic specialist describe their methods.

The entry is dim, as the main installation is set off by a large partition. Walking around the partition, we are confronted with a number of overhead projectors, each bearing a ray tracing of the acoustic reconstruction. Two smaller text projectors add testimony of the investigation to the setting.

I entered during a lull in the recording, and stood in the center of the room, amidst the projectors, trying to feel my way into the situation. It was distant until I turned around to look behind me, and found that my shadow had fallen across the ray tracing on the partition. The pain washed through me then, and I turned my back to the young female docent as I allowed it to penetrate. When I finally left, I made the mistake of asking her “Do they have a PTSD therapy program for you after you spend all day in here?” Her face nearly cracked with grief. I don’t think that she understood before that moment.

I went down to the Peet’s Coffee on the corner and resolved to soak in the sun and listen to music. Brahm’s First Piano Concerto seemed appropriate, but the street traffic was noisy. After finishing my coffee and scone, I thought to head back into the Hammer atrium where I’d be able to focus on the music. As I stepped into the quiet, I had the sudden inspiration that I should do my listening in Hamdan’s exhibit.

The first movement of the concerto is an elegy to Robert Schumann, Brahm’s unstable contemporary who committed suicide at a young age, leaving a wife and young children. Much as the exhibition’s recording, it opens with crashing orchestral chords that evoke the trauma of receiving news of a tragic loss. After extended orchestral development, the piano solo enters with an echo of those chords. It was at that point that I paused the recording before walking up the stairs.

As I settled on the floor in the back of the projection space and resumed the concerto, the exhibition recording started, blaring loudly over the music. Again, the trauma and sorrow washed over me.

This was the process, then: holding onto the pattern of the music as the noise and words stepped over it. The stronger chords exerted themselves even through the loudest sections, but Brahm’s meditation has passages of delicate arpeggios and simple, haunting melodies that even hushed voices would occlude.

The thought that I projected was only this:

If they won’t let you speak, then hear this; share it.

To not be forgotten. To receive evidence that love transmutes sorrow into beauty. And, as the first movement ends with it’s playful re-iteration of the opening themes, to hope that children would come to restore joy where greed and fear have made a wasteland of the human heart.

The Answer is Right in Front of You

In my last post, I took a long view of the process through which we as a nation have struggled against the forces of Mammon – the tendency to reduce all human relations to currency.

There are two positive paths forward from the crisis we are now in. The first is to trust in historical trends and human steadfastness. The second is to mature in our relationship with God.

History is on the Side of Justice

Hope is found in this simple historical fact: this pattern of oppression has been experienced again and again through human history. When wealth and production become decoupled (as we see with outsourcing from America since 1970), financiers eventually control politics because debtors must continue to pay interest on their obligations in order to maintain access to additional financing.

This is a fun game for the financiers until tangible goods begin to decay. This was first evident in the Rust Belt, but is now visible in America’s degraded infrastructure. Initially the cost of living rises as the population attempts to preserve its lifestyle, but in Detroit and Flint we see the end point: a dramatic decrease in the standard of living that drives down the value of property.

When there isn’t anything worth buying any more, what’s the value of money?

Ultimately this leads to the collapse of currency and the dissolution of nation states (such as during the American Revolution, driven primarily by taxation issues, and in current events as California and New York actively rebel against federal myopia on climate change, trade, human rights and taxation). In that liquidation, regulations are established to prevent recurrence.

Those regulations must cover the reach of the financial system, and so we see that government always expands in the aftermath of collapse. This happened not long after the Revolution of 1776 when the original Confederation of States was reorganized as a Federal system under the US Constitution. It occurred again after the Great Depression, when the bureaucracy was expanded to regulate interstate corporations. After World War II, the shell of global financial regulatory systems was set up in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union.

We should be encourage now that we are faced with the final stage of harmonization of financial regulation. Commerce is now global, and English is established as the language of business. All we have to do is organize the political will to establish that framework.

And, despite resistance, the financiers have always been unable to prevent that step – largely because they eventually discover that there’s nothing left to cheat out of the impoverished masses, and turn on each other. The financial game is no longer worth playing, and those that want to make money return to the problem of trying to create value.

Maturation in God

When asked about the age that we are in now, Jesus made vague remarks about “wars, and rumors of wars,” foul weather and disease. When I first read that material, I thought “Well, when has this ever NOT been true.”

But there was a reason, for Jesus had already told them the answer. The age ends when we learn to love God and our neighbor.

When I make this point to people, I follow it up with the observation that “there’s a conspicuous omission there.” Most of them recognize that it’s “myself.”

Loving unconditionally, as God loves us, has the problem that the beloved can abuse our trust. We see this arising again and again in the Old Testament. The Fall, the Flood, the silence in Egypt, the punishments for the Golden Calf, the rules regarding access to the Holy of Holies, and the Fall of Jerusalem are all motivated by the pain suffered by the Most High due to the infidelity of the Chosen People.

So love is metered out to us in the measure that we are trusted to use it. If we don’t respect God, we lose his love.

That shouldn’t surprise us.

In recasting faith as a process for regulating the flow of power from the Most High to our neighbors, Jesus was offering this wisdom: we are the instruments that God has placed on this earth to regulate the flow of power to others. God seeks to empower us, and when we empower others, their witness is a testament to our worthiness to receive power.

On the road to Jerusalem, the Apostles argued over the rights of each in the realm to come. Jesus rebuked them with the parable of the talents. Two beneficial paths are identified: if you have skills that will allow you to help others, God will give you power when you exercise them. If you do not have skills but invest your strength in support of those that do, God will give you power to facilitate that work.

But if you hide your power because you fear to lose it, you will be lost, because to enter the kingdom of heaven requires far more power than you can hold in your self. You can only enter in relationship with others that hold you in loving regard, preserving your spirit from the enormous forces that swirl around the Most High as he seeks to fulfill his compact with us.

How does this work against criminality in business? Because when we hold someone in our loving regard, we know when they are endangered. We can feel it even from a distance, and that knowledge forms a cyst around those that would do ill to us and others.

Of course, in that knowledge, we have two choices: we can choose to do unto the criminal as they did to us, or we can ignore them and focus on constructing functional relationships. When we get wrapped around the axle by management wrangling at work, this is what I tell my peers: “Forget them. We are here for each other, and every day that I am here I will do my best to help you succeed.”

This is what Jesus meant we he said “pick up your cross and carry it.” When we devote ourselves to that task, there is no weakness to exploit in the bonds of good will.

Conversely, we do create a culture that justifies financial fraud in that passive investments are merely an attempt to profit from the labor of others. If we are seeking to get more than we deserve, why shouldn’t our financial advisers do the same?

So this is the bottom line: stop worrying about yourself, and focus on caring for others. And as you do, remember this: there is a billion times as much energy leaving the sun than warms the earth. That’s enough energy for every eight people to have a planet of their own. There is nothing that we can’t do once we have earned the right to it, and nothing that we need fear from those that have.

Because we will rest secure in the knowledge that, as God, they exist only to love us.

Casting a Paul over the Republican Party

Obviously my continued focus on this issue reflects my sense that the GOP is no longer legitimately part of a nation that styles itself as “Under God.” They may continue to wrap themselves in the flag, but I’m going to do my best to beat them over the head with the cross.

Continuing the object lesson that “the end justifies the means” is a slippery slope to criminality, reports emerged yesterday that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – and last-year’s chief strategist for Republican Congressional campaign efforts – made active use of information hacked by the Russians from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. These ties are under active investigation by the Mueller’s team, explaining  Ryan’s ongoing coordination of attempts by Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes to undermine the House investigation of election interference, and recent smears against Mueller brought by the Republican Congressional delegation as a whole.

The singular piece of public evidence is a pre-election letter from Minority Leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to Ryan warning that use of the hacked material was to facilitate  Russian attempts to undermine America’s democracy

At the state level, one RNC operative that accepted DNC and DCCC materials from Russia has stated that he didn’t care where the information came from so long as it served the campaign. Clearly, the RNC is not applying its resources to ensure that its operatives are knowledgeable of and comply with election law. Winning is the only thing that matters to them, and it appears that Ryan himself was actively involved in the rule-breaking.

That Russia hacked the RNC and failed to provide the information to Democrats is a clear indication of Putin’s affinity for the Republican Party. It is now left to Mueller and his team to discoverer whether that affinity reflects criminal affiliation – and the degree to which the hacked information may make the Republican Party vulnerable to blackmail. For parity, I would hope that Ryan and others in the Republican Party would publish the hacked RNC data. As it is not national security information, it seems inevitable that it will become publicly available through the Mueller investigation.

How Long?

This nation has cultivated a spirit of violence. Lacking an external enemy, it turns now inward.

First Las Vegas, and now Texas. Both sites of the most fervent gun worship. The saner parts of the country reject your mania, and so the intensity of the hatred builds where it finds succor.

We shall overcome:

Exit the Dragon

Words, not Bullets

Response to Leah Libresco’s opinion piece out at WaPo: I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.

The answer to what?

The gun control issue is about more than gun-related deaths. It is about the relationship between police and the public. It is about the psychology of our public spaces. It is about respect for democratic process and the methods used to create social change.

For far too long we have allowed the NRA, which contributes $54 million a year to sympathetic political organizations, to create a carte blanche remit for the gun industry to poison our political dialog with advertising that promotes hostility, suspicion and fear – all with the goal of building a deeply-rooted need to possess ever-more-powerful tools of violence.

This is the real problem. An assault weapons ban is merely the low-hanging fruit that all politicians should be willing to embrace as a means of defining what is acceptable in political dialog. No one should feel a need to own a military-style weapon. That so many of them are sold is a testament to the control that the gun industry has over our culture.

Fire From on High

Were the bullets like the angry fists that pummeled your growing body?

Was the scurrying below meaningless, like the gambling that you used to hide your pain?

…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.

[NIV Gen. 2:17]

Is that the only escape from the sorrows of this world? An escape into death?

Was that the truth you wished to communicate before you took your own life?

Oh, dear brother, why were you immune to the Lord’s promises? Did no one tell you?

I will give you a new heart and a new spirit. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

[NIV Ezek. 36:26]

For now you have fallen prey to the illusion of death. The savior reached out to you with a healing embrace, but instead of receiving that gift, you chose to bear arms.