Sunday, December 18, 2011

Following A Star

Amelia Earhart started the year with the first solo flight from Hawaii to California in January. Beer was canned in the United States for the first time in the same year. The no-fly zone over the White House went into effect while Franklin D. Roosevelt was putting the finishing touches on the New Deal’s 3 Rs: Relief, Recovery and Reform. Social Security was born and, in December, so too was my father, Aaron Martin. Within his life time, many of the technical barriers that were surmounted in his natal year have been vaporized. So it is slightly ironic that 76 years later, on this day, FDR’s Social Security and New Deal – in their modern form – are as ill-advised as they were when they were born. In his nomination acceptance speech, Roosevelt was indistinguishable from politicians today – same rhetoric and same empty logic.

“There are two ways of viewing the Government's duty in matters affecting economic and social life. The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will leak through, sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small business man. That theory belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776.”

“But it is not and never will be the theory of the Democratic Party. This is no time for fear, for reaction or for timidity. Here and now I invite those nominal Republicans who find that their conscience cannot be squared with the groping and the failure of their party leaders to join hands with us; here and now, in equal measure, I warn those nominal Democrats who squint at the future with their faces turned toward the past, and who feel no responsibility to the demands of the new time, that they are out of step with their Party.”

“In the years before 1929 we know that this country had completed a vast cycle of building and inflation; for ten years we expanded on the theory of repairing the wastes of the War, but actually expanding far beyond that, and also beyond our natural and normal growth. Now it is worth remembering, and the cold figures of finance prove it, that during that time there was little or no drop in the prices that the consumer had to pay, although those same figures proved that the cost of production fell very greatly; corporate profit resulting from this period was enormous; at the same time little of that profit was devoted to the reduction of prices. The consumer was forgotten. Very little of it went into increased wages; the worker was forgotten, and by no means an adequate proportion was even paid out in dividends--the stockholder was forgotten.”

“And, incidentally, very little of it was taken by taxation to the beneficent Government of those years.”

“What was the result? Enormous corporate surpluses piled up-- the most stupendous in history. Where, under the spell of delirious speculation, did those surpluses go? Let us talk economics that the figures prove and that we can understand. Why, they went chiefly in two directions: first, into new and unnecessary plants which now stand stark and idle; and second, into the call-money market of Wall Street, either directly by the corporations, or indirectly through the banks.”

Anybody up for occupying something or somewhere? We could, in this moment, conclude that within my father’s life, we have done little to advance our state of affairs. And if you want to come to that conclusion, you can look at this weekend’s failed WTO intransigence where the zombie Doha-round still refuses to die.

However, if you’d rather not find yourself beset with the hopelessness of our long-bankrupt sense of socio-economic advancement evidenced by a life-time or more of redundant colossal inequities and injustice punctuated by ill-advised wars promulgated in the name of freedom to promote our infantile, imperial quest for the resources stewarded by others, than there’s a lesson in the stars that merits telling in advance of nativities and Persian astrologers.

I was standing in the morning sun at Zama – the Mayan walled city misnamed by the Spaniards Tulum when mistaking the Mayan word for “wall” as the name for the city – taking in the another deep drink from the cenote of wisdom that punctuates the Yucatán. My love affair with the legacy of the Inca, Maya, and Aztec is directly attributable to my father’s amazing life and his most enduring Muse – his love for the heavens. Throughout most of his life (and all of mine) my Dad has stood under night skies in wide-eyed amazement peering into the expansive astral canopy. As a college teacher, he transmitted his transcendent love for the heavens to thousands of students. While I’m incapable of anything but casual observations of a few planets and a handful of constellations, there is no night sky that doesn’t immediately transport me to my amazing Dad. My father, like the Mayans who built their great temples and observatories, understands something that neither FDR nor any current occupant of either the White House nor the halls of Congress can comprehend. And it struck me, standing on the cliffs perched atop the crystal blue water of the Caribbean Sea, that I owe much of my capacity for insight to that thing that both seem to embody and teach. Namely, that to understand a thing, you need to put yourself in the right place removed from the pollution of human illumination, understand your role as a participating observer, and take in knowledge through triangulation.

Let’s unpack this a bit more. First, finding the right place. Many ethno-sensitive historians postulate that the Mayan’s valued astronomy and mathematics – including quite critically, geometry – as much, if not more, than most other human civilizations. Their fanatic obsession with time – not our petty hours or Gregorian days and years – was to insure their participation in the rhythm of the universe. Understanding when to plant, when to harvest, when storms may be coming, when eclipses warranted the revitalization of sacred myths. To inculcate knowledge into millennial records, they built temples and erected stones to illumine with the equinoxes and solstices thereby mapping the dance of the heavens INTO their everyday lives. Rather than trying to enclose nature to serve them, they placed themselves IN nature to live at a cosmologically appropriate scale. It wasn’t lamps and torches that lit their path to knowledge – it was the celestial keepers of time and seasons.

The Mayans, like my Dad, did not wait for someone to tell them the mysteries of the world. They ground stones, polished rock, understood optics, and undertook massive civil engineering projects – like my Dad hand grinding his first telescope mirror at his farm in Pennsylvania – so that they could actively participate in observation. Over the past 76 years, and notably, in the past 76 days of discontent about the injustice of our economy, how few have actually engaged in UNDERSTANDING what’s really going on? We know that there’s something amiss but we complain about being neglected rather than engaging in deep understanding about the systems that impact our lives.

And finally, all wayfarers, both then and now, understand that confidence comes through triangulation – not through the careless observation of a single point. In her amazing work with island navigators of the Pacific, Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey was taught the synthesis of multiple factors including stars, horizon lights at dawn and dusk, wave patterns, the movement of living things and the sounds of the water during her sojourn in Satawal with some of the esteemed remnants of our world’s wisdom keepers. Like their Mayan counterparts, they knew that hunches could be birthed by individual impulses but navigation required the integration of multiple perspectives. My Dad and Mom lugged their troop of young sons to the great Aztec pyramids for the total solar eclipse in 1970 to experience the 3 minutes 28 seconds of darkness in which we learned so much about light. Climbing Teotihuacán’s steps (many of which were as tall as me), some ancient spirit must have pulled my still beating heart out of my chest and replaced it with a passion for as much breadth of experience as any life could hold. Throughout my life, my Dad and Mom invested heavily in literally moving us around and – in so doing – gave us a world of vantage points from which to triangulate our course through life. We would all do well, should we wish to Form A More Perfect Union, to get out of our myopic redundant environments and embrace perspectives as divergent as possible. In so doing, we just might find our way.

Happy Birthday Dad! Thank you for teaching me so many tools to navigate a path through life. And, by the way, Happy Anniversary tomorrow, Colleen. One more year until our quarter century and – just think, that’ll be on the eve of the Mayan’s 2012! Here’s to the return of the winged serpent!


  1. Dave, this post really comes from your heart, particularly the second half. It connects, reflects a lot of emotional work and depth, and is IMHO is your best post this year. Continued success in 2012 and I will be going outside tonight. Maybe looking up will add the next point to triangulate the journey!

  2. Dear Dave:
    still with my eyes wide open, with my heart beating excitedly, my mind expanded, all of that by what I have just read. Because beyond your congratulations to your beloved beings, what I can see underlying is that you are pointing out the limitless possibilities that lies in just being human and what is possible when you follow the quest of KNOWLEDGE beyond what we take, as convention, of what reality is. In this very moment, I can't help but laugh at our pathetic pride of believing, the western civilization, as the most superior civilization have ever existed. There are layers and layers of KNOWLEDGE just there, to make the quest the very essence of life, your words just pointing at that with your very passionate words.
    Thank you!

  3. Maybe, as we enter the final cycle before the much-heralded reboot of the Mayan Long Count we can give ourselves the grace to consider that we have much to gain from the Ancient Future of our Common Wealth.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave