Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Softness of Being Human

It's been a rough week for a lot of the world. I tried to limit how much of the Japan catastrophe I let in, but there's that side of us humans, that side that feels its own mortality too keenly and so we are drawn to death and dying in a strange sort of relief that it wasn't our turn this time. But the scope of it is beyond us to take in all at once.

We can imagine it on a personal level when we see ourselves in the desperate faces hoping against all truth that a loved one survived. We grab our own loved ones tighter and try to look away, try not to see that it ends the same for us all, that the only difference is timing and how many of ourselves we leave behind to mourn.

I wasn't surprised to hear I wasn't the only one who was too numb to cry, too horrified by the magnitude of the triple disasters to let ourselves cry. I suspect it's  because there were simply too many dead to mourn them properly, to give them the tears they deserved. So we held it all back out of respect for the ones that would be missed if we cried for just a few.

But when this photograph appeared on numerous websites, I lost it completely. I cried for everyone I had ever lost because of a small, helpless dog who couldn't understand what had happened to his world. I knew, his human knew, everyone around him knew. But all that poor little dog knew was that something horrible had happened and now his human was there to love and comfort him, that it was going to be alright. It was the simplicity of it that got to me as it did to everyone who saw this photograph.

And then there's the horror of Libya. Like many people I have mixed feelings. I can't support war. I can't support killing. I'm the kind of person who picks up spiders and puts them outside. I don't want death anywhere near my hands. And yet, here's a cruel and ruthless dictator savagely murdering his own people. As horrible as that is, as much as I want there to be some other way to make him stop, as much as I want him to wake up and decide to be a decent human being, I know that's not going to happen.

I want to believe this is different somehow, these missiles are different than the ones that were launched in Iraq over oil, using the same language of justification, a dictator killing his own people. I'm jaded at the mercy missions of governments because I know there's oil in Libya too and the gluttony of the world for it makes killing more likely than if the country was nothing but olive trees and geckos.

Altruism always comes wrapped in bloody, oil-drenched rags and we wipe up our guilt by saying we're taking out a bad person instead of saying a lot of innocent people are dying too. How is our killing any different than his? Because it's for a better reason, a more noble cause? It is still death. It is still dying. It is still bombs and missiles and oil fields that mean much more than they should. Maybe a small dog caught in the rubble of a building brought down by a missile launched for "humanitarian" reasons would allow us to cry over the solution being as awful as the problem.

Anger is also a reprieve from the tears I'm sure would flow for days if I didn't have it as a valve to keep them in check. I'm angry at the photographs of elderly people fending for themselves in the rubble, the hardship they face simply because they are too old to get out and start over. I'm used to America not giving a shit about its old people. It's a selfish country and one obsessed with youth. All you have to do is listen to politicians talk about Social Security, Medicare, and other programs to know if a similar disaster hit here it would be the young and powerful first and the old could rot in the streets for all they would care.

But to see Japan inflicted with this lack of respect for its elderly is equally as devastating as the wreckage all around them. I want to yell at the TV loud enough that they will hear me: get out there and save the old people you selfish fucks! But I know the young are suffering too and so the old are expendable. Life is for those with years ahead of them, not behind them. It's another form of missiles being dropped to save lives.

My anger is also for nuclear reactors that were old and needed to be replaced, updated, modernized, but because Japan seems to have adopted the most disgusting of American greed, these ticking time bombs were left to decay so the shareholders, the investors, the powerful rich and wealthy could increase their profit margins.

It points out clearer than ever that if this could happen in Japan, a country devastated once before by the worst of nuclear power, then what hope have we in America of ever having a safe form of energy? What kind of safety considerations would the Enrons, the Exxons, the Koch Brothers, the Massey Mine owners, BP's and Halliburtons feel worth spending money on? I wouldn't trust them as far as I can spit, but here they are in charge of our energy sources, with nothing but their endless greed as a guarantee that money means more to them than human lives.

And today I received an email from Lydia. She wants to give her kids one more Christmas. She struggles through chemotherapy, radiation, all kinds of horrible medications just to drag out a few more months just so her children can have another Christmas.

Like I said, it's been a rough week.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Flinging Poo at the Monkeys

Ever since the earthquake and tsunami hit I've been watching the coverage from various sources, both online and on television. I rarely watch TV, especially for news, and the crap that passes for coverage on American network and cable news is appalling when you compare it with international sources. Before I could find the cable station with straight from Japan coverage, I had to wade through an embarrassment of faux-journalism that was painful to watch.

First of all, it has never been more obvious that the talking heads on television are not journalists but merely actors paid to read lines written by someone else. They're so used to handing off the story of the day to whatever propaganda spouting figure the network has provided for them that they are helpless when it comes to any in depth reporting done on the fly.

They fumble, stumble, and end up repeating inane phrases over and over again, as they desperately try and pass the story off to the expert who isn't there because there's no party line to push when it's a tragedy that happens somewhere else.

Give them a few days. I'm sure the experts will show up soon to promote more oil drilling in our backyards and less regulations in order to free up the supplies. How can the Corporate Borg resist such a natural disaster opportunity to promote their slash, burn, and get stinking rich policies?

But until then there's always "the man/woman on the street" who is asked how they feel so they can blather on in mindless fashion like some idiot wind-up toy until they're mercifully cut off for yet another commercial. And when the talking heads return after a slew of totally inappropriate perky ads, there's always a near feeding frenzy over some poor unfortunate fool who claims a friend of a friend of a cousin three times removed who knows someone who may have been in Japan AT THE VERY MOMENT THE DISASTER HIT!

All this pales when measured against the bigger shame, and that is how the news actors, when they finally get their new scripts and no longer have to try and improvise, talk down to the viewers. They know that most of their audience probably consists of knuckle-draggers and geriatric viewers who haven't quite figured out that new-fangled internet thing so they're forced to watch TV News. They know their audience's knowledge of Science probably came from visiting the Creation Museum, and watching the Jesus was an Alien channel that ignores any history older than 6000 years.

They know they have to explain the simplest concepts such as what is an earthquake and did god do it or is it more of that global warming (snicker snicker) nonsense?  If they don't simplify it to barely breathing level, they know their audience will go back to watching Jesus's spaceship land on the pyramids, or some gossip station that talks breathlessly of people they've neve met but knos more about than members of their own families.

I joke but I was shocked at how simple the concepts were that they're forced to explain to what is probably the most uneducated and unsophisticaed audience on the planet. "There are two kinds of earthquakes; shallow ones and deep ones." It's obvious they're assuming their audience slept through the third grade, and they're probably right.

Meanwhile, online you can get live coverage with real experts who actually study earthquakes, who know something about tsunamis other than surfing jokes, who have no agenda to push other than letting you know the facts of what happened. You have journalists on the ground following leads such as nuclear plants that are about to explode, instead of American TV who uses the potential tragedy as an opportunity to promote coal mining and oil drilling and only covers the nuclear plant by saying horrid things like "the Japanese have a lot more reason than we do to fear nukes." Seriously. This came out of the mouth of an American news actor.

What is lost in all this simplistic reporting of monumental events is that when you have a news source such as Al-Jazeera English ,the Guardian, the BBC, and online blogs that carry live twitter feeds from people on the ground, you have an audience that expects a certain level of reporting. This expectation creates a literate and educated journalistic pool more interested in bringing you the story than creating or slanting it to fit a particular advertiser or network owner.

American news,  instead of reporting the facts, repeatedly slants the story to create the propaganda they're pushing. The talking heads are interchangeable and do little but act as set decorations with moving lips. Instead of in depth reporting, the American audience gets Joe Doofus on the street talking stupid shit that is supposed to be average, but instead comes off sounding totally idiotic and nonsensical.

 It beats having to cover the story and it sure beats educating the audience beyond the point where simple Scientific concepts are too difficult for them to grasp. Because if the viewers get too smart, then they won't buy the stupid, meaningless crap that takes up most of the half hour anyway. And that's what American TV really exists for: to sell stuff. They could care less about the news, about the audience, about the idiocy of the viewing public. All they care is that you buy enough of the advertised crap so they can keep their job reading propaganda written by their overlords to pass on to viewing morons.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

To the Next Generation

I had an interesting discussion with a woman close to my age today. She wrote to me after I posted a comment on a facebook discussion about needing to step up the fight against the Republican Party's War On Women. I said that while I would continue to actively play a role in the battle, it was no longer my generation's fight, and that it was up to each generation to choose their battles.

At the risk of sounding like one of those tedious old folks blathering on about young whippersnappers who just don't understand the sacrifices we made for them, I still feel it's important to do a bit of generational back slapping for what we did accomplish and explain how all of that is at risk now.

As archaic as it may sound, I grew up in a time when birth control was limited and not very affective. For women who don't even think twice about filling their prescriptions for the varieties of protection available out there, here's something to think about.

When the pill first came out, women couldn't just go and get a pack or two for themselves. They had to be married and in far too many cases, had to have their husband's permission to get a prescription. No, this wasn't the dark ages. This was the late 60's, early 70's. We wrote notes for each other pretending to be each other's husbands saying yes, we give our permission for our property to get something to put in their bodies.

Can any of you imagine doing that today? But we did and we also began to object, to protest, to demand the right to get our own prescriptions, to take charge of our own bodies. It wasn't easy and yes, some of us lost our jobs over it, were considered no better than prostitutes if discovered that we had a prescription without being married. And today, any woman has the right to get any kind of birth control she wants. It's so easy, most women just take it for granted and ignore there's politicians in office right now who consider birth control as a form of abortion.

And speaking of that topic that is guaranteed to stir up heat in any discussion, try this one on. Women of my generation and before either gave themselves abortions that often killed them or left them torn up so bad many of them never had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy again. Or they went to some backroom butcher that did the same thing, only he/she charged them lots of money to do so.

Or they did as my mother did and went to Mexico to some dirty little clinic just over the border that was a short bus ride there and what can only be described as an horrendous bus ride back. I was about nine or ten when a cab pulled up to the house (an unheard of luxury as they were expensive and rare) and the driver half carried my mother to the porch and left her there bleeding. She wouldn't let us call an ambulance because she'd probably end up in jail for having an illegal abortion. I became pro-choice that day and along with other women of my generation, fought hard for the right for women to have safe and legal abortions.

And now we live in a time when women can find a safe abortion, even though they may have to travel to another state. They really don't think about how they may not be able to get one, or that they can't afford it, or that it could kill them or leave them seriously infected or butchered.  Thanks to my generation they know they will not have their insides ripped up, infected, destroyed, and then left bleeding on a doorstep.

But we also live in a time when immoral bastards on Fox News and hate radio promote the active killing of Abortion doctors. If this doesn't get women's attention and compel them to action, then maybe it's time they woke up because those same crazy politicians that consider birth control as a form of abortion, want to classify  abortion as murder. So the next time you pop that pill in your mouth, remember that some vicious little tyrant is plotting on how to charge you with murder.

And even though racism and discrimination against women, gays, and minorities exists, it was our generation who took to the streets and demanded change, who protested and got ourselves arrested, and walked arm and arm with each other until equality for all people is the norm instead of the exception.

But we aren't there yet. There are still far too many people who use all kinds of blatantly transparent bullshit to cover up their racist hatred of Obama. There are still parts of this country where Gays and Lesbians get beat up and murdered just for being born homosexuals. There are still places in this country where women are second and third class citizens and who are routinely beat up, raped, and killed.

And far too many people look to their friends of color, their Gay and Lesbian friends, the women who hold public office and positions of authority and think not much has to be done anymore. This is where my new email friend said she felt like we did almost too good a job in changing the mindset of our culture away from racism and bigotry and toward tolerance. Because it's no longer so blatant, it no longer seems like such an important thing to fight.

But even as I write this there are people in power who are working to find ways to take away the equal rights we fought so hard to make ordinary. There are people fighting to roll back all the work we marched in the streets for, made phone calls to politicians for, wrote books for, composed music for, made art for so that equality and tolerance and acceptance of each other as human beings would seem ordinary.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint, my biggest whine as a 60 year old aging activist: how dare you not vote! I get really angry when people tell me there is no difference between the two parties, that they don't even bother voting anymore. To these people I say they need to go read up on the women who took to the streets, who got beat up, who got shunned and had their families destroyed so you unappreciative little shits could say voting was meaningless. And oh yeah, it wasn't exactly ancient history. Women in America got the right to vote in 1920. It's a good chance your grandmothers had baseball bats taken to their heads so you could stay home on election day.

And finally on that there's no difference between the parties's not the Democrats who are trying to take away the rights my generation fought so hard to make sure you could take for granted. Educate yourself and find out who the real dangerous party is right now in America and get off your ass and vote them out or everything my generation worked so hard for will disappear.

But as I told my friend, maybe that's the way the cycles move. Maybe you don't want those rights. Maybe they mean less to you than other things. Maybe the concern with the state of our planet is so dire that you can't afford to take time to fight any other battles. I have to admit I partly agree with you on this. It is a battle that must be fought.

You also have to continue the work we put into peace because it sure didn't work out too well. We still have stupid wars, stupid bought and paid for by defense contractors politicians, and too many ways the wealthy get even richer from war.

So yes, I can see there's a lot to choose from but I'd sure hate for all the work the women of my generation put in to go to waste. It's much more valuable than that and hopefully you will realize that and fight to keep it for the next generation to take for granted.


Monday, March 07, 2011

The Bozo Creed

In the 1970's a group of friends united by a common love of humor, philosophizing, alcohol, assorted drugs, and the college student lifestyle that enabled  them to camp out around wilderness campfires through most of their University years, got together and wrote down some principles to live by...or not.

For several decades this tract put together from various hallucinatory visions and most excellent conversations, was lost. It made a brief appearance in a student magazine sometime in the mid 80's at a college near the extreme border from which it first emerged.

Then it disappeared once more when the institution funding the publication decided they didn't want to pay for as much free speech as they ordered. So upon discovering their hunger was more easily satisfied with soft food and compliant and officially sanctioned "civil" disobedience,  said institution heaped the first shovel of invisible cloaking dirt over its much too honest carcass.

But like the lovable zombie of fond youthful memories, it rose up again at the celebration of one of its members officially entering the age of geezerhood, where it was shared to an audience appreciation of disobedience that wasn't civil.

In honor of that special occasion, please help spread its message far and wide in as many languages as possible to share the true meaning of its words. Or not.

The Bozo Creed

1. All bozos, by the very fact of the bozoness, have the option of creating our own creed.

2. A bozo is only one bozo, regardless of how many followers we profess to have. We can never be more or less than one bozo.

3. A bozo is only a bozo when we recognize we are a bozo. Before or after such a recognition, we are still only a bozo; only a bozo in this sense can be said to be in a state of bozo bozoness.

4. A bozo is no better and no worse than any other bozo. We have no labels, descriptions, or definitions, so we can only be a bozo like all other bozos. There are no superior or inferior bozos because the essence of bozoness does not take into consideration anything other than pure bozoness.

5. A bozo has no past or future as such things only serve as crutches on which others walk when they cannot accept what they see in front of their eyes. To give a bozo past or future is to label us with your own personal bozo biases. Every bozo has been born with the right to begin our life from whichever point we feel most comfortable with. If the point does not exist, so much the better, for each bozo is born with, and is proud of our madness.

6. Whatever a bozo has to say, no matter how outrageous it may seem, should be taken in the same manner as if it made perfect sense, for if we start to judge what is sane and what is not sane, we deny the essence of bozoness within ourselves.

7. Each bozo, by the fact of our bozoness, does not involve ourselves with debilitating manias such as: responsibility, common sense, maturity, or social obligations. By our bozoness, we are protected from having to become involved in status games or prestige occupations, as bozoness is all the assurance we need to survive authentically.

8. A bozo accepts that which touches the spirit and remains detached from that which does not. A bozo cannot, without betraying our bozoness, become involved in issues which do not touch the soul deeply and personally. A bozo cannot even become involved in those things which do touch us, as a bozo cannot place ourselves in the position of being judge to any action without expecting our actions to judge us in return.

9. As bozos, we accept our madness. If we cannot, we must leave it alone and not attempt to tamper with its absurdity, for the day will come when we must accept it or die.

10. A bozo laughs with life because we realize that as long as our own eyes are open, that is enough. We cannot expect more or less.

11. A bozo expects nothing and is prepared for everything.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Creeping up on Sixty

In a few days I'll be sixty years old. I've never been shy about examining the inner stew that I am, but there's something about that milestone that seems to require not only a closer look, but also a categorizing of it. There's a bizarre necessity to write about it all as if it were something that can prepare others as they embark upon the same precipice, or maybe warn them that there be monsters beyond a certain age. So here's a few entertaining monsters I stumbled across in the last few months leading up to this point.

1. The past becomes endlessly more fascinating than when we lived it.

People I knew decades ago suddenly came back into my mental present time. It wasn't so much a desire to reconnect with them as it was curiousity. I wanted to know how closely or how far apart the different paths we took from the same point actually took us. So I used this internet tubes thing and googly googled a few of them. I didn't find the ones I was looking for (isn't that always the truth?), but I did stumble upon a few of them by accident while searching for something else.

For example, I found one of my old art professors while I was using an image search tool to find someone else's work. It was a brain cramp moment when I saw the similarities that probably neither of them would see because it's their art, after all, but I could see because I was the outside observer to both of them. So of course I wrote him an email and said hello.

The next one was even more bizarre. A friend who was going to visit the Los Angeles area wanted to find a Vegan restaurant to eat at while she was there. I offered to be the friendly neighborhood googler and come up with the perfect place. I found it, a few blocks from where her conference was going to be held and as I was reading the website, a very distinctive name leaped out at me. I had exactly three friends in High School and she was one of them. We weren't blood friends or even the kind of friends who swore to name each other's first born after them. But I was grateful to her, for the memory of her because I could say for the rest of my life that I knew three people in High School who didn't suck. That was worth at least an email.

2. Change is not always inevitable.

I also reconnected with a goodly amount of ghosts from the past who seemed happy to hear from me. We exchanged a few emails and then let the silence between us grow again as the same reasons we did so in the first place were still there.

The most disturbing in a holy calcification batman sort of way was someone I really admired when I was in my twenties. He was an amazing writer who seemed to have such a phenomenal and perceptive way of looking at and writing about life. He was easy to find as he had self-published enough books, pamphlets, treatises, and manuals to level a fairly large forest.

But in all that copious amount of self-flagellation there was barely anything new that reflected decades of life. He was writing about the same things, in the same language, with the same passion as he did forty years ago. It was as if nothing of life had touched him in any way. He was literally the same man he was then. I was sad for him.

And I knew I could write whatever I wanted to about him because  he would never read this blog.  He has a disdain for the internet, for the social aspect of it. He said it distracted him from real life and he only used it to take orders for his books and answer book related emails. It explained the time warp that claimed his soul in the late 70's and never gave it back.

But the saddest for me were some of the women. They're the kind of women who always bring me a sense of deep sorrow when I read their obituaries, the women who lived and died within a few miles of where they were born. The obituaries are always filled with the children they birthed, the gardens they grew, the things they did for others. And how they never left home, neither physically or metaphorically.

But for a few short years when we were in college together, they had dreams we shared over wine, weed, and eternal blooming hope. These same women were going to travel the world, they were going to write the great novel, paint the masterpiece, find the cure for cancer, become the first woman President. Instead, their obituaries will say they lived and died a few miles from where they were born, and will describe the children they birthed, the gardens they grew, the things they did for others. I wanted to ask them why they gave up so easily but I knew they would never see themselves as having given up so there was no point in asking, no point in trying to recreate a past that died the day they graduated and took the path right in front of them instead of venturing out a bit to see what else was out there.

In the end, all the searching and googling and writing ended up with the same result: the good people were still good, the bad people were still bad, the boring were still boring, and the interesting ones had all disappeared into a world where they couldn't be found so they could go on being interesting without others expectations of what interesting was supposed to mean.

3. Expectations are like assholes, no matter how much we deny it.

The most surprising thing I discovered was that some of the people I connected with had expectations I'd be a certain this or that and were disappointed that I went my own way. They weren't interested in what I had done with my life, in the new paths I had carved through resistant wildnernesses, in the way I had managed to live a life of honor, ethics, integrity and love, and still survive on my own terms, by my own wits, and with no one telling me what to do but me.

Yes, I'm surprised that I make my living with art created digitally with cameras, computers, and scanned hand-drawn and created images. Yes, I'm surprised that I make my living writing about what I do, that I've channeled my passion for words into something that gives me pleasure, that allows me to share some of what I believe and most of who I am with people all over the world. Yes, I'm surprised that I've sold things with my art in just about every country in the world, all the provinces in Canada, and every state in America. Yes, I'm surprised that I've written to and shared dreams, philosophies, world views, visions, hopes, despairs, sadness, joy, sorrow, and love with people all over the world.

So I'm surprised when people I connected with again always said they thought I'd be a writer or an artist or an activist, but they never thought I'd be doing what I'm doing. It makes me wonder why they expected me to limit myself to one thing when there were so many options. It makes me sad that they see me as unusual and different and an exception to how they thought I should live.

I want to say to them that all I really wanted was to make a difference. I didn't want to go through life without leaving my mark on it. I figured with so many options available to me that I had no choice but to exercise them all if I was truly going to make a difference by having lived. So far, I think I'm accomplishing what I set out to do.

4. Some wounds don't heal.

Of course there are people I think about, people I loved, people I trusted, people I let into my life too easily and by the time I noticed they were bad people it was too late to shut the door. They are me as much as any of my art or my words or my actions. But the deep wounds don't heal. I can still feel sad, angry, upset, afraid when I remember them. I can let myself love them even after they hurt me. But there are some paths you can't walk backwards on and the path of wounds is one of them. I leave them alone, let them remain as lessons, as reminders that no matter how many good and decent people you know in life and call friend, the biggest assholes will always be the ones whom you loved the most. Age and time doesn't seem to even that out any. I hoped it would, but it seems some wounds are timeless and are meant to be with us in that shape and form for life. Maybe in the next decade I'll figure that one out to where I can explain it better.