An interminable eighteen days until the brittle cast comes off my leg. In the meantime, Gil Reavill has consented to contribute yet another juicy post to this page. Here he is.
JEAN ZIMMERMAN (writes Gil) is well celebrated for her parking karma. This arcane skill is probably not noteworthy in any other place than New York City and San Francisco, but within the confines of Manhattan, especially, it is golden. Jean’s strategy, by the by, is to drive directly to the place we’re heading for and not slow to look for street parking along the way. Like as not, she finds a spot close upon the goal.
In Cabinworld, cabin fever is a quite literal situation, and Jean insisted on getting herself and her splint-bound leg off the couch and out of the house this afternoon. We decided on Elysium, the Matt Damon movie by the South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp, who directed a 2009 film we both liked, District 9. Lured by brand-new reclining La-Z-Boy style seats, we aimed for the AMC theater on 84th Street and Broadway. (These are the best movie seats in the world, says Jean, worth going to a film for even when the film is rotten.)
Pulling up directly in front of the movie house, we found ourselves opposite a sedan with a driver sitting in the driver’s seat. Jean posed the traditional NYC question: Are you leaving? Yes, I am, said the driver. And he did. It was magic, especially for unloading a knee scooter and a person with a hurt foot.
Karma is a belief that there is some form of justice in the universe. Behave badly, be reincarnated as a worm or some other lower life form. Do good and step up the chain of being toward bodhisattva.
Gamblers call it luck. Here’s a passage from Jean’s The Orphanmaster that deals with it:
Drummond had witnessed the world’s best gamblers at play, including Prince Henry, a demon at cards. Bassett was Henry Stuart’s game, and he could win a hundred pound on the turn of a queen, only to lose it the next hand. Drummond knew the action well enough to understand the play was not really about winning and losing.
It was about faith and belief.
The field of battle and the gaming table. Drummond once stood beside an officer, a good man judged by all to be lucky and deserving, only to see a dressed-stone cannon ball take off his head. Every soldier learned the harshest lesson of battle in ways that re-ordered his very soul: Luck had nothing to do with it. Randomness ruled.
The gambler wanted to believe differently, that the world held some secret order to it, one that would accord him a special measure of good fortune. Every play tested the gambler’s faith in that belief.
Jean’s parking karma notwithstanding, I’ve always considered karma as no more than a comforting fairy tale. The universe is random and makes no exception at all for human concerns.
Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated a belief similar to karma, not in Buddhist/Hindu terms but with his usual Southern Baptist eloquence: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
It would be pretty to think so, as Hemingway would say. Such a kernel of optimism might be necessary in order to commit to the long-haul cause of social justice. King no doubt needed to believe to endure the incredible trials he encountered.
Talk of karma and the bend toward justice somehow implies that the universe will take care of itself. You don’t have to get on up off of your duff. But social justice doesn’t just happen. It needs a push.
Here is King’s great predecessor in the cause, Frederick Douglass:
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will. Find out what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice which will be imposed upon them. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
This August 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the occasion for King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech. Five years later, just before his assassination, his political strategy had widened to a specific economic purpose. He proposed another march on Washington, D.C., this one rendered tragic by his death: The Poor People’s Campaign in June 1968.
Civil rights is a dangerous enough cause to push, but demanding economic equality, that’s what they’ll kill you for.
Elysium, the movie that we watched flat on our backs in the AMC 84th Street Theater, was surprisingly political. (Political enough to make you drop your popcorn, says Jean.)
A broad-gauge fable of sorts, it spoke to the world’s most pressing issue, according to Dr. King. It usually goes by the name of “income inequality” today. We’re creating a two-tier society, segregated, policed and imbalanced.
In the film, the haves have decamped the earth for Elysium, a paradisal, mandala-like orbiting space environment.
The have-nots, down below, live in impoverished, overpopulated, climate-fried squalor. It’s like America after the Walton family and the Koch brothers get through with it: one sprawling, fetid favela.
The film has a covert message, with plenty of clues littered throughout. Elysium, a word the ancient Greeks invoked for paradise, is code for L.E.C.M. (say it fast), the alt-culture rallying cry of Love, Empathize, Create, March.
Damon’s solid, but Jodie Foster, as the military bigwig who concedes nothing without an armed invasion, turns in not her best performance ever. The steampunk flavor of the art direction is really the movie’s star. It just looks cool.
One way to follow the dictates of Frederick Douglass and agitate for social justice in 2054 Los Angeles, it turns out, is to have a rack of metal implanted into your skull.
What the haves really have and the have-nots haven’t any of, in Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian vision, is health care. It’s oddly endearing to watch a $115 million Hollywood action movie where the climax is… everybody gets the Affordable Care Act! (In the form of a magic box in your living room that instantly cures all ills, says Jean. Wouldn’t you like to have one? Now if Obama could manage that, that would be karma.)