Friday, February 26, 2010

Brit Rock Star, Wife Destroy Civilization

Meet the Geezers:

Name: Tommy

Instrument: Rhythm Guitar

Height: 6’ 2”

Hair: Gray

Eyes: Blue

Ideal Date: Barbara

Pet Peeve: Rich Liberals

The March Yoga Journal has an interview with Sting and his wife, big-deal British movie producer (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), Trudie Styler. Styler has a yoga DVD to flog, so the two chat about their introductions to yoga, its effect on their lives, and famous yogis they have known.

F’rinstance, the late Ashtanga Yoga founder, K. Patabhi Jois visited the couple’s Tuscany estate and scolded Styler when she complained about being stiff: “Bad woman. Body not stiff, mind stiff.” He was a famous and talented wog, though, so she could allow certain liberties.

I do asana -- what we call “yoga,” you know, the weird poses -- five or six times a week, and every once in a while, I see if meditation works yet. Yoga, which I very I’m marginally aware of, is a way of life based on Patanjali’s “Eightfold Path.”  I’m too much of a sensualist, and I like my anger too much, to get further than maintaining a capable body, and behaving well enough to stay married and out of jail.

Patanjali (pat-Angelie) was one of those historical presences, like Moses or Lao Tsu who left us something valuable, but whom we don’t know outside later hagiography and their written work. Patanjali may have been contemporary with Lao Tsu and the Buddha, or with Jesus, a five hundred-year anachronism. He studied medicine and grammar, but we know him for the eight limbs of yoga.

(Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, descended from the same lost tongue, spoken in what is now northern Turkey, as the modern European languages. The word “yoga” comes from the same root as “yoke,” and means “union,” union of body and soul, self and god, man and nature.)

The Eightfold Path includes five Yamas and five Niyamas, disciplines for social harmony and emotional stability; Asanas, postures to cultivate strength balance and flexibility; Pranayama, breath exercises; Pratyahara, withdrawal of the mind from sensuality; Dharana or concentration; Dhyana or meditation; and Samadhi or enlightenment. I like the Yamas and Niyamas a lot. They’re sort of a yogic Ten Commandments, but they cover the same territory in a way that is both more flexible and demanding. Isvara Pranidhana is devotion to God; Svadhyaya is self study, examination of conscience and application of scripture to our paths; Tapas is austerity and rigor; Santosa is acceptance; Sauca is hygiene, including mental hygiene. Those are the Niyamas. The Yamas are Ahimsa, or non-violence; Satya, truthfulness; Asteya, recognizing that there are things which are not ours; Brahmacharya, recognizing the full humanity of our sexual partners and conserving our energy; Aparigraha, non-covetousness, but more importantly, the reluctance to burden ourselves with things which don’t help us follow our paths (Aparigraha is the one to remember for this essay).

In grade school catechism, we learned that there was more forbidden by the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” than the lethal, special case. Mere anger was a sin against it, as were gluttony, or even the apparent virtue in which, say, a daughter sacrifices her chances of family or career to care for an infirm and manipulative parent. There have been at least two Vatican encyclicals in the last century and a half which have included injustice toward labor among the sins against life (Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno).

The Yamas and Niyamas are more positive than the Commandments. They are disciplines (“yama” means discipline) rather than prohibitions, practice rather than obedience, something you can get better at. The Christian notion of sin derives, no doubt, from ancient social reform (and possibly from intuited understanding of a relationship between virtue and mental health), but the most grievous sins aren’t necessarily the ones with the greatest consequences; they are the ones in which we consciously reject God’s grace. The Yamas and Niyamas assume grace as a sort of natural resource, which can be cultivated. We don’t need to walk on eggs, avoiding sin, or depend on Jesus’ ransom, paid on the cross.

Sting (nee Gordon Sumner) is a baby-boom singer and bass player, an advocate internationally for justice, and a former tax exile. He is married to Trudie Styler, an actress and producer, likewise born in postwar England. In the Yoga Journal interview, Sting says that he does 60 to 90 minutes of yoga a day. Styler does yoga three times a week, and meditates twice every day. Sting says, “Yoga is a great way to offset the downsides of touring by bringing much-needed peace and sanity into what can be a hectic life.”  Styler says her morning meditation “sets me up for the day and gives me a great sense of calm. I can go into meetings feeling calm and empowered. I can stay clear and really listen to what’s coming up.” Together they founded the Rainforest Foundation Fund to preserve the disappearing rainforest, and seek justice for its indigenous people.

Styler produced a film called Crude. She says “yoga has given me a lot of courage to fight injustice.” Crude documents the disease and displacement of Ecuadoran Kayapo Indians due to oil drilling.

When asked where she got her sense of justice, Styler answered, “My mother. We lived in government housing and had no money.” She continues, “When I was two, I got hit by a truck.” The company tried to avoid responsibility for Styler’s injury and disfigurement, and her mother took them to court, “and got some money to compensate for this severe injury that I sustained. So this voice has been active in me for many years. My mom had a great sense of justice and compassion.”

Hmm. Two year old hit by truck. Mother sues responsible party for medical costs and rehabilitation, and becomes example of compassionate justice. Maybe litigiousness meant something different in 1956 England than it does now in Minnesota. And where was National Health?

They own homes in Wiltshire, the Lake District, New York, Malibu, and Tuscany. Sting’s net worth is estimated at more than a third of a billion dollars. Did I say he used to be a tax exile?

In 2007, a British employment tribunal found that Styler had been responsible for the discriminatory dismissal of Jane Martin, one of her cooks. Martin had become pregnant, and ill. Styler’s management firm had done the actual firing, but the tribunal found that Styler was the “driving force, manipulating others to perform her dirty work.”

The Stings appealed. An appeals tribunal upheld the finding, and awarded Martin twenty-five thousand pounds. This tribunal’s transcript quotes Styler as saying, “Who the fuck does she think she is? She is my chef in the UK. She needs to be available when I need her, or she needs to re-think her position.”

Boil an egg, honey.

Of course a family worth nine figures is de facto a business, and the homes are places to network. Sting has said that bars and clubs are the shop floor of the music business, and he’s apparently been promoted to the board room. Jane Martin’s pregnancy was more than a personal inconvenience; it interfered with Trudie Styler’s deal making. In a way, she must think of herself as the leader of a tribe, with responsibility for the cooks, and lawyers, and blue-jeaned chanteuses who make the beds and entertain the grandkids. If a member of the tribe doesn’t pull her weight, she needs to rethink her position.

Styler needed Martin’s cooking to entertain artists and backers, provide a relaxed entertaining atmosphere in which the next movie could find funding. Crude brought information to its audiences about injustices visited upon other human beings for the sake of fueling the developed world. Styler’s yoga video, Warrior Yoga, was “created for everyone, but especially for women who are in the battlefield of life.”

The thing, though, is that authentic tribal membership is automatic and permanent. Organizations like Sting and Styler’s (or the Cosmodemonic Bus Company or your employer) usurp the prerogatives of the tribe, but are indifferent to the humanity that make them run. Tribal leaders are part of their tribes, not the tribes’ owners. Besides that, the system which told us about Indians poisoned by oil companies runs on stolen oil. Styler greases the wheel that grinds the real tribes.

Rich liberals depend on the system that they abhor to maintain the way of life to which they have become accustomed. You can’t put more into the system than you take out, gatekeepers don’t create wealth, they distribute shares, and if the system is essentially entropic, quit trying to pull my leg. Money equals fuel equals money. From now on we’ll be pumping less and less gas and oil, and it appears that burning any of it alters the climate to which our civilization is adapted. If you’re rich, you own more fuel than I do, and I defy you not to burn way more than your share.

The February Yoga Journal had two items that seem apposite. First a full page ad for the mPulse Smart Sauna. Under the headline, “Want to generate Tapas?” is a photograph of a woman performing some kind of lunge, taken through the glass wall of a very large and beautiful free-standing sauna. (You’ll recall that Tapas is one of the Niyamas, and means austerity, and I wonder how many of these boxes Trudie and Gordon own.) The other is a quote from one Douglas Brooks, “a Tantric scholar and professor of religious studies at Rochester University.” In a philosophical article, “Aim High,” about something that I won’t bore you over called the Purusharthas, the author quotes Brooks as saying, “Wealth is not a bad thing, and there is no zero-sum game.”

Buckminster Fuller once pointed out that there are three things, matter, energy, and intellect. He was saying that human ingenuity could make it possible for the whole world to survive comfortably, each one realizing his or her potential. Douglas Brooks, the tantric-econ professor,  must be saying something similar, but there are zero sum games, and contemporary commerce is one. There’s only so much fuel, and people do starve.

Exxon, or whoever, is pumping oil out from under the Kayapo Indians to fly the Stings from Heathrow to Malibu, and deliver their Tuscan honey and olive oil to Harrod’s. NATO is in Afghanistan for Sting and Styler’s three hundred and some million. My friend Greg Klyma, a talented musician and witty lyricist, the “Rust Belt Vagabond,” tours endlessly and kind of scrapes a living, because some guy in a suit figured he could get a cut if Sting were rich, and life was harder for journeyman rockers. Who knows how many very low-budget movies didn’t get made or distributed because Trudy Styler hogged the gravy. Making a living and making a killing: Maybe they're more than just figures of speech.

In a 2003 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Neil McCormack, Sting said, "I have no excuses. But this is a conundrum faced by anyone who has a car, central heating, air-conditioning. I don't know how to alter the paradox. I could go and live in the middle of Hampstead Heath with a blanket around me and eat grass. Maybe as a gesture that might be heroic and even considered useful."

Sure. I’d vote for that, but why take the blanket. The cops would eventually chase you out of Hampstead Heath, though.

He’s right though, about the conundrum, and, with a household fortune about a thousandth of Sting’s, I wonder if I’m on the venal side of the privilege line. I don’t have air-conditioning, but I live where the scorching weather doesn’t last more than a couple of weeks (yet), and I do my asanas in January wearing nothing but a pair of trunks, not unlike the little blue number Sting wore to fight Maud’Dib in David Lynch’s Dune. I’m privileged, and so are you.

Fuller said that if you want to get rid of something, replace it with something better. So what would I do with Sting’s unimaginable treasure? Sting’s three-and-a-half zillion dollars isn’t his. He owns a share of it, but so do you and I and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Still, Sting’s in possession, and I won’t make him disembowel himself, if he does the right thing. Here it is -- no charge.

There’s a ninety-one year old architect in the Arizona desert. His name is Paolo Soleri, and forty years ago, he wrote a book that could give you a hernia, called City in the Image of Man (if you follow the link, scroll down a little more than halfway). It’s not the first adult book I ever read, but it’s the first book I read as an adult. Soleri’s thesis was that replacing sprawling cities with ones that were, in his ballsy neologism, “neogeolgical,” would be a form of miniaturization that would be the appropriate next step in evolution. The book's cities were human-made mountains. This would free up land that’s currently under concrete for agriculture and wilderness; it would reduce logistical costs, because everything would be in this sort of giant parking ramp covered with tipis -- okay, a shabono for Sting; and it would increase creativity by putting us comfortably closer to each other. Soleri is actually building one of these bungalows. It’s called Arcosanti, and it’s about zero-point-zip percent done. Soleri has said that he’d have it finished by now if he’d had the price of a single 747.

Now, 747s cost between two and two-and-a-half zillion dollars, so if Sting moved into Arcosanti, and dumped his fortune -- "sorry kids, you’re not exactly out of the will, there just isn’t one" -- on Soleri, or whoever winds up running the show next, they could build a really good city in the image of man. (Note to James Cameron: Sorry I haven’t seen your latest yet. I hear it has kind of an environmentalist message. Maybe you should have skipped the message and took the cash to Soleri.)

Don’t like that one? Same deal for Wes Jackson at the Land Institute. How about John and Nancy Todd’s Ocean Arks? The Buckminster Fuller Institute. Bill Mollison or David Holmgren? How about first blowing a couple million locating the thirty-year old whose PhD thesis has an answer to our situation. And trading him your fortune for a (small) annuity.

‘Cause, I tell you, it’s not about the planet. And the Kayapo are no innocents. We don’t recognize it, but we’ve made war on the Kayapo. They’ve been on both sides of the rapine and murder, since long before the oil and timber companies came on the scene; they just never came up against as formidable enemy as Homo corporation. We will either wise up, and the Kayapo can go about their business, or we’ll take ourselves out, and they can go about their business. It’s about civilization, and justice for eight billion people. You and your tribe are in the way, Macbeth.

(Today’s picture of me in front of Macy’s was taken in November by a downtown beggar. He had some genuinely clever patter that involved slight of hand with a War-era zinc penny -- two pennies, if the truth were known.)

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