Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fifty Million Tons

I've had a number stuck in my head for weeks.

Fifty million.

As in fifty million tons of pork consumed each year in China. For those of us who are vegans because we feel it is wrong to regard a sentient being as a commodity to produce, sell and consume, what does this represent ?

I'm not dumping on China. There are plenty of statistics to go around. Lets focus down to per capita, USA, 2005: 65 pounds of beef, 49 pounds of pork, 100 pounds of chicken, and 16 pounds apiece of turkey and fish, or 2/3 pound of flesh a day.

And let's take the long view. In 1950, according to another source, the per capita US meat consumption (chicken turkey veal lamb beef pork) was 144 pounds. In 2007 ? 222 pounds. Over that time, per capita chicken consumption skyrocketed from 21 pounds per annum to 87 pounds per annum. Beef went from 44 to 66 pounds a year, after peaking in 1975 at 85 pounds per year. Pork starts at 65 pounds per year in 1950 and, by 1990 levels off to 40-51 pounds a year.

And slaughter ? 98 million pigs, 34 million cattle. Nine billion chickens. Billion.

What is a vegan to do in face of this rising tide of meat ? In face of the carnivorous arguments ?

It tastes good.

Humankind has always eaten meat.

God permits it.

Well, "God," if you want to get scriptural, "permits" -- even orders --a lot of unsavory things. Like what ? Oh imperialistic genocide for example.

Nothing new under the sun.

I am glad the BCP Daily Office Lectionary is about to enter Ecclesiastes. I have been weary, lately, and I need to spend time with a voice of canonical weariness. In September I'll have finished the two year cycle of readings where I began it, just after the book of Job. Between the Preacher and the famously afflicted righteous man lies a vast swath of Old Testament law and history, Numbers, Joshua and Judges. As I said, I have been weary lately. Weary of the whole, unending, unchanging historical cavalcade of affliction: war, oppression, degradation. And weary of the fungible, unscrolling bolt of grief and absurdity that forms our collective imagery, from Iraq to Walmart to sweatshops to foreign aid workers sexually abusing children to the titillating and asinine discourse that passes for political discussion, to flag pins and mouthy preachers, to a cluster bomb ban unsigned by the nations most apt to clusterbomb.

And listen: Can you hear that ? It's the sound of people busily strip mining the Bible for passages that will justify and excuse every prejudice and appetite, from homophobia to mysogyny, from meat eating to the pursuit of wealth, from murder to war. In God's Name.

I close my eyes. I see a parade of smug faces, mouths working furiously, veins bulging above the clerical collars, eyes glazed with the marmoreal conviction of an absolutely finished faith.

I speak to them. They smile, as if saddened by my ignorance and apostasy. "Yes, but...." they reply. I am always wrong.

I whipsaw from the There is no one who does good, no, not one of Psalm 53 to the confession, we have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created.

Fifty million tons of pork. I see it piled high as Babel, a meat cathedral putrifying in the desert sun.

Here, in its reeking shadow, we pray for daily bread. And Kingdom, even though the metaphor hurts our mouths.

Monday, May 26, 2008


The text of this book was set in Krafft-Ebing,*
a fin-de-siècle corruption of the roman typeface, Macula,
a typeface adapted by the Dutch type cutter Jakobius Bathybius
from Johannes Cantrip’s long-suppressed Immacula,
a beautiful roman face censored by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481
for its innumerabilibus peccatis,
including the secular canting of the e’s cross-stroke,
and the crassitudo diabolico of the S’s sinistral curve.

Cantrip’s matrices, rediscovered
in a root cellar in Middenmeer (1745),
prompted a radical rethinking of the serif
among the region’s younger typographers.
Jakobius Bathybius’ Macula represents
the apotheosis of the resultant typefaces.
Noted for its muscular brackets
and gracefully tapering ascenders,
it has been described as a “a typographical fusion
of the mundane and the divine.” (Caslon, 1766)

In 1881, Hieronymo Glyphe,
a Parisian typesetter’s apprentice,
while handsetting the text of Didier Consommé ‘s
712-page Histoire De Mes Cacoëthes in Nonpareil Macula,
after five days straight of neither food nor sleep
dreamed the typeface transmogrified
into a mummery of limbs, bellies and holes,
all carousing, hermaphrodisiacal, across the blanc-
mange of sense, a play upon a play, a semaphor.

Krafft-Ebing, a bastard fount of unsurpassed eloquence,
grafts rack and crux, crook and genuflex,
groin and crotch, to the lunulate curves
of rictus, opisthotonos and gravidity.
Its strokes and serifs self-flagellate
to an abecediary tarantelle, and meaning
escapes its fenestrations, exorcised.
It is type’s trump. Huzzah ! Ghaxt. Plygqi. Vlo.




Saturday, May 10, 2008

Notes From The Rolling Studio

When B. asked me whether there was some music I'd like to work on, I was prepared. I whipped Purcell's "Evening Hymn" out of my backpack. We looked at the music. It was in G, and climbs to 2 Gs above middle C.

High G is not my friend.

I hit a high G in church last week, I think. I was LEM, and was standing next to the priest at the altar as we sang the Sanctus. Its Hosannahs all go up to a high D, the absolute ceiling of my range. Glass ceiling, it sometimes turns out: the note sometimes shatters into overtones, the loudest of which is a tinny, unpleasant G. So there I was, belting out my precarious Hosannahs, listening to the acolytes reaching them sweetly and effortlessly, when it happened --

Ho- sanna-AAEEEEEEEEE !!!!

Oh, man. Did I ever want to turn Ad Orientem.

So Evening Hymn in G was not an option. We settled on the key of B, and I headed off into a gorgeous Boston spring evening, with my Evening Hymn in my backpack, eager to start practicing.

Earlier, as I sat in the Conservatory hallway waiting for my lesson, I listened to the students practicing. It was 7:30, and I was tired, but happy to be there. Four or five magnificent, simultaneous performances washed over me, including a familiar Bach string piece. I thought about all the young musicians learning the ancient repertoire. The musical score exists like a timeless first principle. Performers incarnate it. The music itself is spirit, breath.

I have found singing to be extraordinarily carnal. This, for someone as disembodied as myself, is disconcerting. I think about my vocal cords. In my imagination they seem to reside in some deep flue occulted miles below the surface, impossibly remote, a glistening, taut, fleshy V opening and closing in a subterranean wind. I touch the front of my throat: it seems odd that they are in fact less than an inch below my fingers.

Anyway, the next day I climbed into my rolling studio, pointed it toward Medford, and did some long tones and some vocalises. Then, working up from my lowest note -- D below middle C, I found Evening Hymns's first note, F, and began singing. I was having a great time. As I crossed Mass Ave into Arlington, I sang

to the soft, the soft bed, my body I dispose

and as I rounded the corner and headed past the looming brick side of St Agnes Catholic Church, I sang the next line, a question --

but where, where shall my soul repose ?

I looked up. As if offering up a cheeky alternative answer to Purcell's Dear, dear God even in thy arms, it rolled past: a flatbed truck, and, chained to it, an improbably pink sarcophagus.