Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Random letters home

 [Migrated: 27 JUL 06]
[Note: New Orleans was my birth. Here's some insight as to why. More to follow.]

July 21
Back in NOLA... I've never wanted to be in Chico so bad. California, rather. I miss my trees and my friends, my family, cheap beer, airconditioning etc. The bs ride was hellish, but not undoable. I finished Cronan's Nature's Metropolis... I can definitely see how his life experience and research has helped him form his philosophic position on man's place in nature. We are undeniably tied to the earth's natural systems... How about that heat?
Brandon's here and many of my friends are here as well... but I am already irritated with the lot of it. I am drawing many paralells between Common Ground and the fraternity, especially that you can't force anyone to do anything in a nonproft. Also, the majority of peple lack the common sense and motivation to make the positive changes. It sucks... and that's why I miss home. Granted I love NOLA and certainly love the people I interact with but, although incredibly lonely and depressing life is without interaction, it sometimes seems easier to go at it alone. We can't really depend on each other, which is sad.
I wish I had a crazy story or some positive message for y'all, but I do not.
Last night, we got coffee at Cafe du Monde. We got an everclear daquiri on Bourbon to drink on our walk to Frenchman. The lights were out in the Bywater district, the riverfront and the north end of the Quarter... the city is still fucked up. And although I say it constantly, I really can't say it enough. We went to a little bar on Frenchman and saw Washboard Chaz again... he rocks. Had some Abita Restoration's, which are fantastic and had an interesting conversation with some locals. All and all, another day in New Orleans.
I would really love to spend some time blogging my experiences and thoughts, but I lack a moderate degree of privacy.
Did I mention it's fuckin hot??
I'm most likely going to spend a few days in Houma doing work there. Also, we are going to do some plantings for the Wetlands Restoration project in city park. I've spent alot of time between Cronan and Dr. Mark thinking about restoration and our role in nature, If you want a little news spot on the restoration issue, check out the Times-Picayune online. Also check out the housing issues in today's Opinion section...
I keep rambling because I'm tired and don't want to get back to work, but I'll spare you for now...
BREEDing the LOVE, from the Chocolate City

July 23
So another day in NOLA... It stormed like crazy yester day and this morning. A coffee can full of water (about 6 inches deep) in two hours. The power was out for blocks last night for over five hours... Chilled with some cool Cali cats at Kajun's Pub... The lightning was spectacular. Only then could you see the eeriely deserted streets throught the darkness of a city without power.
Today was average. Some things buggin me... but nothing out of the ordinary here at Saint Scaries. Crazy anarchists, gays and lesbians, college kids, the whole gambit...
At least the people here aren't as crazy as the Christian fundamentalists that are causing problems in Jackson, Miss. Pretty wild... Check it out at their website. They are basically fucked up right wingers attacking Roe v Wade at the last operationing clinic in Miss. A group of common grounders went to join NOW and other prochoicers in defense of the clinic. They basically disturbed their rallies and barricaded the prochoicers rallies.
The website is chaulk full of rhetoric and Bible thumping greatness. The writer (I doubt a journalist) should pick up a job with the tabloids, because she equated the commongrouners in protest as 'marauders' and satanists.
They had tshirts that said:
"Feminism is rebellion against god,
Islam is a lie,
homosexuality is a sin,
abortion is murder."
Pretty wild, no?
Moral of the story: These are the people that we are dealing with. The religious right is an enemy that we must face... Not in violence, but somehow... I haven't figured out how... I guess I can't grasp how backwards these people are...
I'm not religious, but the way they spin the story and twist the bible to serve their agenda is wrong. In my studies of the book, the only thing Jesus taught was love, for your god and for your neighbor. Tolerance. Compassion. Brotherhood. But it is these fundamentalists: these rightwingers, zionists, hezbollah etc that threaten to tear the world apart for their struggle, in the name of the same god (just under a different name). And that's the fear that weighs me heaviest...
Thanks for stickin with me...
Much love,

July 24
Can't talk long... but, today was alright. It rained. We kept power though. Malik Rahim, the founder of CG and a Black Panther spoke to us earlier. He had alot of positive things to say about the future. Basically, by building community and a consciencness in this nation, we can meet our goals of global peace and justice.
He had alot of positive things to say about environmentalism and rebuilding nola as a green city and also making NOLA the most progressive city in the nation...
I'm gonna spend sometime in Houma to better round my experience on the bayou then I'm going to Jackson to fuck with the religious fundamentalists that threaten global security... I'm off to save the world, but until then...
Peace from the Chocolate City to Lebanon and beyond,

July 25
I miss my friends... :( especially Dave aka Socrates, that bitch Lauren and my beautiful neighbor Taylor :( But I don't miss school (surprise!)... papers, deadlines (that I rarely meet), incompletes etc...
I've been schooling some fools in the art of drinking. The Kajun is a fun place to throw back a few and choke on a cloud of smoke. I'm going to see some jazz tonight in the Quarter.
I think I'm going to interview Malik and try to put together some indie news articles and try to get my story out to the CN+R, Orion, Synthesis etc. There are things that need to be said about the conditions down here. CGC (two people with fifty bucks sitting at Malik's table smoking a fat spliff) made a call for volunteers in September and have serviced nearly half a million people with gutting, food, water, clothing, legal and medical services and so forth, and estimate the economic value of the services provided (at no cost to residents thanks to Malik's incessant fundraising) at 100 million dollars.
Like a previous post suggested: IMAGINE if Bush had mad the call, or the governor, or even Nagin. This city could be even further along the road to recovery...
But withstanding, CG and every volunteer that has passed through the doors of St. Mary's a clinic or distro or anyone that camped on Malik's lawn has brought with them a gift... hope to the residents of this wonderful city, hope to return and rebuild stronger and smarter, to take back the streets and sustain the amazing culture and energy of New Orleans for generations. Imagine what you can do in your own community and realize that the quickest way to peace and safety is through community bonds and direct action. I'll end with this, although cliche: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
One Planet, One people.

July 27
Another day of the same shit... I'm feeling pretty down. Y'all could show me some love by rolling up a fatty and blazin it for me...
I had a good conversation on militant activism last night at Kajun's. I certainly expanded my knowledge of the subject, as well as networked with a few Chico peeps in the activism scene. We are going to put together a candle light vigil for the 29th of Aug... not necessarily about Katrina and NOLA, but about social injustices, war and poverty, in general. If anyone has ideas for speakers etc. let me know.
In another conversation, we discussed anarchism and its role in our nonprofit. Basically we agreed that St. Mary's doesn't work, because there are too many people. It would be much more effective were it run as a business, but that conflicts with the values and foundations of the organization as 'collective'. Again, I find so many parallels between CG and the fraternity. It is much easier to manage small groups of people. Everyone has a job and they do it, or it doesn't work and people can hold the slackers accountable. Plus, a real spirit of activism can only exist in a core group of people. Once numbers get over some point, more and more find it easier to assume that someone else will pick up the slack. When everyone adopts that mindset, nothing is accomplished...
Like I said, CG does tons for the communities of New Orleans, but it is becoming less effective. We have over five thousand homes on our waiting list alone. There is too much to be done... and it is overwhelming! No wonder most coordinators, including myself, come close to complete mental breakdown. But to stay on topic, CG will live on without St. Mary's. We have many long term projects that will take several years, if not decades. Rebuilding communities is not simple, nor is the task of growing a social and environmental revolution from the ruins of an institutionalized corruption.
More and more, I see what I can accomplish. But the farther I look into the future and to my goals, the further they seem. I'm so overwhelmed by it all. And all I want to do is smoke a joint.
Until next time kids,

Thoughts: Inequality and the Ideological Revolution

[Migrated: 17 JUL 06]
[Disclaimer: This was written when I was in New York for the first time. I was on "vacation" from living in New Orleans working for the Common Ground Collective after Hurricane Katrina. It's funny how the more things stay the same, the more overt the evidence.]

I went to Strawberry Fields (Central Park West and 72nd Street) to see the John Lennon memorial during the day and to flash a couple pics. A peace sign of stemless cherries encompassed the "imagine." The most simple message we've likely been given in the 20th century, it basically invites people to imagine a world of equality and compassion. I was further reflecting on the B-train enroute to Brooklyn.
  We surfaced from the darkness of the subway and began to cross a steel-trussed bridge over the East River. Standing with my back against a door, having given my seat to an elderly Asian man (remember chivalry?), I could see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty in the harbor beyond that. I wish I got a picture of that...
  Basically, as the cables of the suspension structure rose higher to the bridge's towers, they became more spaced. So the statue seemed to be divided in to little slivers by the cables, smaller pieces at the bottom, getting larger towards the top.
I 'imagined' that it was ironically fitting for a symbol of freedom and opportunity to be divided as such that, the feet and ankles supporting our great nation - working-class minorities and immigrants - should recieve the smallest and most trivial of pieces, while the bourgeoisie and gentrified masses (although I'll later argue these are in fact the minority) recieve the bounty of working-class labor. It seemed also fitting that the crown upon the head of the Empire be unobstructed, symbolic of the next hundred years of first-class rule.
  Why do I rant in an air of misanthropic treason? Because if I have learned anything from my travels, it is the fact that this country falls far short of its goals and has absolutely no right to assert its will upon the rest of the world. There is no justice, there is no equality in any form! Granted, we have a much better existece here (depends on your point of reference), but how can we say that we are 'equal opportunity?! Certainly the phrase 'give us your hungry' is nothing but ill-fated rhetoric!
  And so I plead you to simply open your eyes..... Realize that the Revolutionary war did not end with the British surrender. Blacks were slaves until 1864 and could not vote legitimately until the 1960s. Women could not vote until the 1920s and the question of whether they have rights over their own bodies will be reconsidered by the Supreme Court. Many states and counties are making English the official language to undermine our Hispanic, working-class brothers and sisters, while at the same time denying them reasonable visa requirements. How can we say this country has succeeded in its revolution? These minorities are together a majority! We can't even say representative democracy exists; and de Tocqueville's Tyranny of the Majority should be rephrased as the Tyranny of the Minority!
  If the French or the Russians have taught us anything by their histories, it is that violent revolution never solves a problem it only complicates it. Gandhi and Dr. King have shown by example that non-violent protest can create the shift in our popular ideological paradigm. And this, my friends, is the ends I wish to meet. Change the way you think about the world and where you see yourself in it. "Imagine" what we can accomplish and live your life to see it.


A trip through Roseville led to this reflection:

Who can we blame but ourselves?
The black top parking lots
scarcely interrupted by beige stucco barns
The cattle feed
gorging themselves on waste and excess.

Fresh towels lie in the trash and
tiles protrude from the wall behind the urinal
not a minute to lend to detail
or pride in labor,
for they are needed in pursuit of a
wider, greener pasture.

Although I rarely lift my face to speak,
I ask myself
-- the higher power too ambiguous --

When the grass has been pulled by its roots
and the brittle earth takes flight
on the breeze,
I hear the whisper of trees
fallen and plowed over
by SUVs
on alloy wheels

to humdrum subdivisions.
[06 SEP 07]


When blood spills,
the devil dresses in silk
the gown of ignorance.

As children cry,
the money-minded
wait in lines to buy,
another product of the soil.

After the dust is blown away,
the fields are empty shelves
that carry nothing to sate the hunger
of infinite wants.
[6 SEP 07]


You strike me with your axe, 
but I do not bleed.
Pitted with rust, its edge is flat.
Splintered bones pierce your lips,
as they break between gnashing teeth.
In a sober rage drool drips.
On a smoldering fire sits your bronze spitoon.
Your words echo as you eat,
across the hollow room.
[20 SEP 07] 


Worn full of holes,
but neatly folded into a ball
stacked carefully into a
single drawer.
the socks never dance into a bag
for auto shop oil spills.
Nor do they hide the calloused feet
that carry a man
across an open field
frosted in ash.
[20 SEP 07]

Faith enterprises and the new political order

 Communities no longer boast the strength they once had. McCarthy and the Cold War can be blamed for our destructive suspicions of neighbor, friend, or congregation member. In exchanging our churches for a welfare state, we have designed a political system that is destined to fail. Not only is it important to criticize the religious right for its moral prophesy, it is also crucial to remember that we are just as guilty of denying the political pluralism.
"WalMart" box churches -- where we purchase salvation at wholesale prices -- are the worst perpetrators in the selective interpretation of the Bible. Those of us who have a cultural tie to religion but do not practice must remember that there is still a valuable ethic proposed by the Bible. In fact, every religion offers a moral code by definition. We must try to not scoff and dismiss those who speak of morals in secular government. But at the same time, we must be angry. We must overturn the tables in temple of the hypocrites and naysayers. Morality has a place... In reality, biblical morals (not those twisted to the agenda and profit goals of the evangelical leadership) have a beautiful place in this society.
Liberation philosophy is a small, and therefore usually overlooked, movement in the Catholic church. It takes the teachings of Jesus to heart. It aims to align political and social goals. It leaves faith to the individual, but demands social justice. For those at the megachurch rallies waving their pickets plastered with the false idols of aborted fetuses, they do not see the simple connection between the present and the two thousand year old message. According to the Christian doctrine, there are only two commands: to love your god and to love your neighbor.
Red Scare aside, it is time to seriously reflect on the latter. Religion in this sense has a very real place in the new political order. "Fags" and "baby killers," Muslims and the divorced; these are the enemies that Falwells and Robertsons erect to distract the religious masses from the true enemy of the pious. Poverty should be the church's enemy, abuse of the Lord's living temple should bring the holy to an angry chorus. Sure, churches have charities, but there is always some motive, whether to gain tax breaks or converts, there is always something in it for the religious leadership. But if you, the religious ones, believed in this conviction, you might find the rift between church and state might shrink. You might find that the nonobservant might be willing to discuss some of your political ideas, and we might begin to work together, because identifying a common goal is what  has been absent in the political dialogue between god fearing red states and 'hedonistic' blue states. Let's unite under the moral goal of ending suffering and let the church take the lead. Thus we solve two goals: we give a purpose to the religious in a secular political system and we eliminate the financially  burdensome and bureaucratic mess we call the welfare state.
 [28 JAN 08]

Feed and Breed

   The global economy is falling apart. More so the US economy, but in the age of globalism, only the most 'primitive' societies are beyond its reach. Yesterday, crude oil jumped another buck, ending at $105 a barrel. Cities and states across the US are scrambling to stick their fingers in the levee's cracks before the flood washes it away. Unemployment, increased costs of transportation, fewer public services.... I've been called a crackpot, a fool for preaching the end of North American hegemony... They've tossed insults onto my fire, but I burn hotter now than before. Identify those you can trust, those who can contribute to survival. In this country, we expose ourselves to chemicals that mutate our cells. Although many die every year, it becomes a tool to unite us in prayer when the dirty dancer has a diseased pancreas. What about the Hassidic Jews massacred while they studied? What about the division of the Democratic party that only strengthens the beat of the Republican war drum? What about the people without jobs, or homes, or something to eat? I think that the tables must be overturned in this hypocritic, ideological cluster fuck. And we can either raze the temple as poets or we can play the games of politics, religion and other things that don't matter... because the only truth to life is the need to feed and breed.
[09 MAR 08]

A world apart...

Trappings of the Rio Grande Valley, NM
There are autos.
They scream about the traffic-pocked asphalt, scattering miniature sand dunes whence they came.
Drivers .. phones squawk that beautiful edifice of nearly five hundred years' history -- that syncretism – paying little attention to the mire of open range. Survivors pen obituaries – "in loving memory of" – but scornfully ignore the hoofed commodity, although her death was much slower, from lack of water and exposed bone.
There is a romantic sense of insignificance.
And the sage rustles when the wind calls. Storm clouds abruptly smother the sun, as if god finds some time to acknowledge this place . . . damningly shaking a lightning bolt finger.
Angels must live somewhere north, in the scrub pine forests. And hell must be somewhere south of Santa Fe. Purgatory is only significant to those riding the fence.
There is a disproportionate proneness to sociopathy.
Las aguas sucias del rio cannot carry it all away; it slows at conjunction with the arroyos of the flats. Somewhere in this unholy matrimony, poets find praise . . .
I smell sewage.
The green belt (a rarely exercised forethought) commands the floodwaters of the monsoon season – the blood of the Pueblo peoples, the tears of god herself. Yet, still, they fail to wash away what has been built here. Like a reflection of the night sky stored in sand, the day reveals stars of broken glass glistening. And the plastic syringe caps and torn t-shirt sleeves, knotted at an arm's circumference, act like satellites beaming the ailing condition to astute observers from more pleasant planets. But we quickly turn the channel.
There is a legacy of exploitation.
But is that any different than all the other legacies of written, or even human, history? The Spanish sought riches, their intentions slyly hidden behind a crucifix. Coronado did not find Eldorado. He found dolores. The Mexicans were preoccupied with maintaining their new state and unwilling to set aside the libertarian values with which Americans were quick to dispense with erections pointed toward the gold fields. The Hispanic era is no doubt visible.
And then came the bomb, in its simple package. No security door can keep the junkies contained to their huddled shanties. Like lions starved at the Coliseum, salivating for the Corinthians to be speared forward, an entire economy is so cast. The hungry war giants seek to rape these people (as the first Anglo-Americans defiled the Pueblo) at the consenting spear of national defense. And we, away on our greener planets, may gape our eyes, but we unclasped the lion's chain.
There is a sociological cost.
Neighbors lock their doors. The afternoon sun casts stripes across the stone floors, through bars to keep them in. A dozen cars clog the driveway, but they use stamps, not cash. Children learn the names of the uniformed police guarding the exits from the instituted program of indentured servitude. To graduate, they must evaluate a piece of paper. Nombre y apellido. Horas quieres trabajar. Usas drogas? They tear it to scraps, but can't get past their empty future here. Like the sage, they are destined to watch time pass from the roadside.
Everyone in the ergonomic chairs raised above the podium at city hall share names with everyone on staff. There is an ethics committee, but no one knows who sits on it. The newest policeman, who seems to be the only afforded expense, has been accused of gang rape in his teens, probably not a problem down at the station. It is a lesser demon . . . and it's not threatening outside of the closet. 
There is an awful simplicity.
Grasshoppers scurry into the shade of grass leaves as a car lazily meanders to the Wal-Mart, the northward destination of a weekend cruise that comes full circle from its apogee at the Sonic Burger. As the river wanders on a strictly southwestward path, so do the minds of the townspeople. The pine pole fences hide a truth. The adobe huts house another. The red ants mine mounds to mark their territory, while teenagers seek the same from the tips of aerosol spray cans. Lost in this desert, no spiritual sustenance abounds. 
[23 AUG 08]

Letters to My Elders

An attempt at consolidating my first twenty five years

Papa Ron
Thank you for being my friend. Much of who I am is because of the stories you've shared. I recognize the cultural importance of agriculture, as well as its intrinsic and health benefits. From the ranch in Wyoming, you were molded into a hard worker and a fickle spender. After some time in Los Alamos, the Cold War era defense industries brought your family to Southern California. However, as soon as you had a chance to return to the field, the city could not keep you in its denigrating trap. In Hauxton, CO, you ruled your homestead with an iron fist. There were no second chances and when the ice streaked across a gray sky, the piglets shared blankets with your children. As much as they recall your lack of child rearing tact, you were a good father. The time you ran three miles to the doctor's with my mother in your arms after she was hit by a car illustrates this. You taught your children the values of hard work and self-sufficiency. You gathered to celebrate with your neighbors and to share the heavy equipment that was too expensive for all to own. These values have been, in turn, instilled in me. Self-determination is libertarianism; and for that, I thank you.
After the Whelty's siphoned as much as your profits as they could, you called it quits. And although I will say you should not have carried a hate for grandma and her family this long, you knew when you were being taken advantage of and suckered. You taught me that love is conditional and that, in this life, we must depend on ourselves alone. After leaving the farm, you returned to the burgeoning, suburban metropolis of greater Los Angeles. As much as it pains you still, nearly half a century later, you remade your home in the sterile boxes beautified with yellowing lawns. You embody the value of sacrifice. The water company treated you well, but you remained a cautionary consumer and have a comfort in retirement to which many cannot relate.
You gave me my passion for history and geography. While many students choose distant lands to study, I find an insatiable interest in the American West. The rivers wind their courses; the cattle graze. Our movie nights, in which I've seen more westerns than I can count, sparked much of this interest. I recognize that farming is difficult and not hugely profitable, but I also know that there is nothing I'd like to do more with my life. The beautiful simplicity of life on the land still sparkles in your eyes. But, you've become restless. And soon I hope your spirit returns on the prairie wind to rustle the cornfields, to embrace the beauty of the West, and to inspire the romantic awe of subsequent generations, as you have with me.
Nana Rosalie
You are a character. And there isn't as much to say about you... You typify the same generation and you can count the decades on your wrinkled face. I think that what I will take from you is your sense of ownership of the self. You seized your destiny. You made mistakes, but you live with those as a guide, and in your own unique way, have passed those lessons on to me.
Grandma Marjorie and Grandpa Earl
You epitomize the nuclear family of the post war years, which is why I than you together). Just as Tom Brokaw writes of ordinaries in the Greatest Generation, I do not see yours as an entirely different story. Although we have an emotional rift, because in your culturally conservative ethos a blood relation is stronger than one on paper, I value the lessons you have taught me indirectly through my father.
The Depression taught important lessons in frugality. You represent a purer American mind in the years before planned obsolescence. In turn, I have found that "quality over quantity" to guide has led me to an appropriate place in the consumer culture of the early twenty-first century. The psychological and sociological benefits of a strong family bond radiates from the home you've built. The need for patience and discipline, enforced through a naval career, is clearly evident in your attitude.
Grandma represents the last generation of matriarchs, because somewhere in the rat race, women began to value career over family. You ruled why he was at sea. And without your guidance, my father would not be the man he is.
Josh Wilson
You fueled my smoldering interest in history and geography. You chose a hands-on approach to education, and much of my academic success can be attributed to you. The Odyssey was more than a service-learning event, it opened my eyes to the larger world, and although it took another few years of maturity to come to fruition, I believe that the Odyssey was my birth as an individual. You never encouraged conformity and anyone that knows me can attest to my vehement self-expression.
Mr. Hickman
You taught that every education must be holistic. You also, subconsciously or not, taught me to question everything that I read or hear in the media. Where the public education system lacks any clear plan to develop critical thinking skills, you did a superior job. As well, you told me to chase what I love and not concern myself with career goals. Enlightenment, it seems, is an education's purpose.
Dr. Brady
Of course. You were more than a teacher; you are a friend. You allowed me to explore geographic inquiry and constantly encouraged me to dig further. You entertained my questions and were honest. You made me love what I studied.
Dr. Matray
Although our tenure was a brief three months, I will never lose what I gained in that little room in Butte Hall. You took everything I had learned and made sense of it. You challenged me as a writer and thinker, and your timing was impeccable, as I had begun to grow tired of 'learning'. You carried a certain air of majesty about you, but you spoke to me, not as a student, but as a colleague. And that only encouraged me more. Thank you for your kind words about my writing. It only encouraged me to continue to write when I otherwise would have liked to give up. Your sense of humor also eased the transition from student of history to practitioner. 
As if I can ever seem more dramatic and weighed by nostalgia, I felt the necessity of committing some thoughts to print. I often reflect on my early years and try to make sense of them. I've said it before, but here is the closest I've come. It will take many more years. And many more mentors and family will continue to shape who I am. We are a dynamic species. Just as the snow and wind change the shape of a rock, so to do the people, ideas, and experiences on their journey shape the stubborn from Birth to Death. And just as I am shaped, and the rock is shaped, these words will change as I become aware of other impacts these people have had on me.
Friday, 22 AUG 2008