Wednesday, November 19, 2014

American Exile: a poem

“But what when all your fields are rotten,
your waves of grain, amber waves of grain?
And you hide the dead

while my friends had to die in your name."

--Two Gallants, "Waves of Grain"

In the days of the colonies,
I moved to Merry-Mount,
and married a Pequod girl
and danced around the May-Pole,
Until Bradford and his
Puritan army killed her,
and tore down the May-Pole.

In the French and Indian war,
I fought with the French and Indians,
because they were my friends,
and hadn't killed my wife.

In the days of the Revolution,
I was a conscientious objector,
because Washington and
Jefferson owned slaves.

I moved to Alta California,
seeking peace in the west,
but found more death among
the coastal tribes forced into Missions,

I walked the Trail of Tears,
limping and starving all the way,
pursued by the Cavalry,
and more friends dying.

I wept at the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo,
when Mexico lost half its country
in "The Executive's War."

At Gettysburg,
I met Walt Whitman, army nurse,
and we wrote poetry and dressed wounds,
(really the same thing).

After the war, my heart broken,
I moved in with Thoreau at Walden,
and learned to live among the trees,
because people frightened me.
I had PTSD from non-stop war.

Two voices
called me from the wilderness:
Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison,
and I rode the Underground Railroad.

"I hope we can leave you in peace," 
I said to Crazy Horse.
Afterward I apologized to
the corpses of my friends,
and wet their feet with my tears.

When another war came around,
They threw me in jail
for protesting with Eugene Debs,
another dear friend,
who spent most of his
time in jail.

I nursed T.S. Eliot through
his nervous breakdown,
and we spoke of the Lost Generation,
and we were lost together,
drowning in alcohol and death.

When the Depression hit,
I wandered Hoovervilles,
with Woody Guthrie,
singing songs and watching grapes
growing heavy, heavy for the vintage.

During World War II,
I visited Japanese Internment Camps.
I wrote newspaper articles,
my words falling on ears
made deaf with patriotism.

In the 1950s, I wore a t-shirt
that said "No Nukes"
I limped around New York
with Allen Ginsberg,
Smoking grass and writing poetry,

and when the 1960s came,
the world felt alive again,
a great wave of music and poetry.
We danced around a new May-Pole
and I married a flower girl.
We marched and sang with
MLK and Cesar Chavez.

And then people started dying:
JFK in '63
MLK in '68
Bobby in '68
and my flower girl in '70
at Kent State.

And Nixon got elected,
and things got dark and paranoid.
I crawled back undergound,
seeking shelter from the storm.

I moved to San Francisco,
and met a guy called Harvey Milk,
and for a while it was beautiful,
and then he got killed.
All my heroes got killed.

I was filled with so much rage,
I moved down to Los Angeles
and formed a punk band.
We played the Whiskey a Go Go
with Bad Brains and The Middle Class
and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys.

Reagan said it was
"Morning in America,"
but to us it felt like midnight.
I couldn't afford to live
in 1980s America,
so I became homeless
along with lots of others
who filled the ghettos of
major cities. 
American refugees.

In the 90s, I moved to Seattle
and I became a "tree hugger."
I spent a lot of time hugging trees
because they had never hurt me,
had only nourished me.
I hugged apple trees
planted by Johnny Appleseed.

I rode trains when
everyone else drove cars
and saw the oil rigs
along the coast of California,
and whispered,
"Put it back, put it back."

I am an American exile,
and I'm still wandering,
a stranger in my own land.
Today I ride on rails and wires,
whispering the names of the dead,
across borders real and imaginary,
I am ageless memory,
And still I cry out,
"How long, How long
Shall we wander in exile?"

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Complexity of Global Hunger

This week in my English 101: Globalization class, we read an eye-opening essay called "The Last Famine," by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek.  The author travels through the famine-stricken Turkana Basin in Kenya, seeking to find answers: "I took a long walk with Daasanach nomads in northern Kenya, well inside the disaster zone, to see what it was like to move, as most famine victims do, on foot, through a landscape of chronic hunger.  It was a way to look at hunger beyond the carefully framed shots of television cameras, and an occasion to ask: When will Africa's vast hunger pangs finally end?"  Salopek does not find any concrete answers.  Rather, he discovers the complexity of this issue, and raises urgent questions for our increasingly interconnected world.

One of the most shocking and distressing things Salopek discovers is that western food and medical aid (from the U.N. and the U.S. mostly) does not necessasrily solve the problem.  In fact, western aid has, in some cases, made the problems worse.  First, because of food aid, nomads are not slaughtering their animals to the extent they used to, so that domestic herds have stripped the region of grass, making the land "sterile as concrete" for agriculture.  A Norwegian scheme to train locals to fish ended in economic disaster.  Giving aid to famine-stricken countries like Kenya must be done intelligently, and in collaboration with local communities.  Those interested in giving aid must constantly ask themselves: What do they really need, as opposed to what do we think they need?

Salopek hangs out with paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, whose family discovered some of the earliest hominid skeletons in Africa, like the famous "Turkana Boy".  These days, Leakey is pessimistic about the future of Turkana.  He sees the droughts in Africa as "another opening act for full-bore global warming."  As the climate gets hotter, those most immediately affected will be people in famine-stricken places in Africa.  Who is dumping the most CO2 into the environment?  It certainly isn't the nomads of Turkana. 

Causes of hunger in the Turkana region are varied and complex.  They include: cycles of drought (of course), stock-market speculation "for jacking up the costs of the world's food staples (thus pricing the poor out of their next meal)," political instablilty in the region, global warming, tribal conflicts, re-drawing of traditional land boundaries, and (in some cases) western aid.  I think we can also trace some of the problem back to European colonization of Africa, and how profoundly this disrupted  ancient ways of sustainable living.

Is there any hope for the future?  Salopek's article doesn't offer much.  I think, if there is to be any kind of hope or salvation, it must come from the Turkana people themselves.  Westerners have done a great job of messing things up for them.  Maybe our best option is to stop meddling.  Of course, we are in a situation now where, if we did that, many people would die of starvation, because many people are now dependent on western food aid.  Another long-term solution is to stop polluting so much with fossil fuels, because this is having a direct impact on dryer/hotter/famine-stricken places, like Turkana.  As with most of the stuff I've been reading and discussing for this Globalization class, I finished Salopek's article with more questions than answers.  But, I suppose, that's a good place to start.

Pastoralists of Turkana

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Vacation to Afghanistan

The theme of my English 101 class is "Globalization."  Last week, we read an article by journalist Damon Tabor called "If It's Tuesday, It Must be the Taliban," which is about a guided tour/vacation that the author took of war-torn Afghanistan in 2010.  As you might imagine, Afghanistan does not have much of a tourism industry these days.  Foreign visitors and journalists are sometimes kidnapped by the Taliban, which tends to put a damper on the region's popularity.

But that doesn't stop Tabor and a motley crew of international tourists from signing up with tour guide Geoff Hann of Hinterland Travel, which specializes in giving tours of conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.  In over 30 years of doing this, Hann has never lost a tourist.  So, off they go.  Tabor, who lives to tell the tale, shares his experiences of sleeping in police barracks, drinking tea with tribal elders, paying Taliban to cross checkpoints, and witnessing a real roadside bomb explosion!  (Thankfully, it only blows up a goat).  Hann, the tour guide, doesn't pay much attention to NATO or military reports.  Instead, he relies on a network of acquaintances (shopkeepers, local residents) whose information tends to be more up-to-date and reliable.

But all this begs the question--WHY?!  Why risk your life by visiting a war zone as a kind of "vacation"?  Tabor goes as a journalist who wants to see (and document) what life is like in a war-torn country.  The picture that emerges is complicated, unexpected, scary, and sometimes funny.  He's not on the front lines of any war on terror.  He's just a guy interacting with other human beings.  I think he is trying to cross the threshold and see Afghanis not as a distant "other," but as members of a global community.  I think this is the real eye-opener of Tabor's article.

Perhaps the most fascinating member of Tabor's crew is a 75-year-old Indian woman named Bithi Das, who walks with a cane and has lots of health problems.  This "conflict zone" tourism is not just a game for the young.  In fact, most of Tabor's group are middle-aged or older.  After this jaunt in Afghanistan, Bithi plans on visiting Libya and Uzbekistan.  When Tabor asks Bithi if she is concerned about the danger, she replies, "I will die.  We all will die.  It's OK."

Damon Tabor in Afghanistan

Mark: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary. I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

The gospel of Mark is the earliest, shortest, and most action-packed of all the gospels.  it jumps right into the action, and the narrative moves along at a brisk pace until the end.  Marks says nothing about the virgin birth, or anything about Jesus’ infancy or childhood.  Rather, Mark begins with John the Baptist preaching by the Jordan river, and baptizing people, one of whom is a man from the tiny village of Nazareth named Jesus.  When John baptizes Jesus, the heavens open, a dove descends, and the voice of God booms, “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well-pleased.”

"Baptism of Christ" by Giotto di Bondone (1304-06)

Then Jesus goes into the wilderness alone, where he is temped by Satan.  Meanwhile, John the Baptist is arrested.  Jesus follows in his baptizer’s footsteps, and becomes a wandering preacher.  Jesus calls his first disciples—a motley crew that includes unlikely figures from the margins of society—fishermen, tax collectors, etc.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus does a LOT of healing and exorcisms.  He heals all kinds of diseases common in first century Palestine—leprosy, paralysis, blindness, deafness, etc.  Jesus is a very popular healer and exorcist, and gains quite a following.

"Christ Healing the Blind Man" by El Greco (1570)

Jesus often clashes with a group of observant Jews called the Pharisees, who get a pretty bad rap in the gospels.  They did their best to follow the laws of Moses and the traditions of Judaism.  Jesus (an observant Jew himself) often criticizes them for following religious laws at the expense of human charity.

As in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches people in parables, which are like little allegorical stories meant to illustrate some spiritual truth.  These parables are a bit esoteric, and require explanations.  Interestingly, Jesus only explains them to his disciples.  Everyone else is left to make sense of them on their own.  Throughout Mark, Jesus seems reluctant to let people know who he really is.  Often, after healing someone, he instructs them not to tell anyone.  This, of course, doesn’t work, and Jesus’ fame continues to spread.  I’m not sure why Jesus is reluctant to reveal his identity.  Perhaps this is related to Gnostic Christianity, which claimed to possess “secret knowledge” about Jesus.

Jesus also performs a number of miracles.  He feeds 5,000 people with just a little bread and fish.  He stills a mighty storm.  He walks on water.  His fame continues to spread—people are intrigued by his miracles, hearings, exorcisms, and cryptic teachings.

"The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" by Rembrandt van Rijn (1630)

Jesus has some lovely interactions with people as he wanders around Palestine.  One time, a man approaches Jesus and asks him to heal his son, who is both sick and demon-possessed.  Jesus says, “All things are possible to him who believes.”  The father replies, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”  I love the honesty of his response.  Faced with the living Jesus, the man still has doubts.  Then Jesus heals the man’s son.

In another instance, a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  (This scene is also in Matthew)  Jesus first tells the man to follow the laws of Moses.  The rich young man says he does this.  Jesus replies, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  The young man walks away sad.  He cannot part with his wealth.  Jesus tells his disciples: “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! … It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  

Continuing this sentiment about the necessity of poverty and humility, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

To further hammer home the problem that money creates for those who wish to follow him, Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and violently overturns the tables of those who are attempting to sell things and turn a profit from people’s religious devotion.

"Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple" by Luca Giordano (1675)

Now that Jesus has entered Jerusalem, the seat of political and religious power in the region, he knows he will be killed.  He is too radical.  But before he is killed, he will say some more lovely things.  When some religious leaders ask him which commandment is the most important in the laws of Moses, Jesus quotes a passage which basically says, “Love God and love people.”  Pretty simple.  Jesus’ message is one of simple love.

Eventually, Jesus is arrested by the temple guard of the “chief priests,” and placed on a kind of religious trial.  It’s important to note that Jesus’ accusers are not the Pharisees, but the “chief priests,” who lived in affluence and were complicit with Roman exploitation of Jews in Palestine.  Jesus “beef” is not with ordinary Jews (he was a Jew) but with the corrupt religious and political establishment.  Unfortunately, many Christians throughout the ages have used Jesus’ clash with Jewish leaders as a basis for anti-semitism.  This is a poor reading of scripture, and it does not “gel” with Jesus' message of love.

"Christ Before Pilate" by Tintoretto (1567)

Anyway, Jesus is declared a “blasphemer” by the high priests and taken before the local Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  At this time, Palestine was a part of the Roman empire.  Jesus is beaten, mocked, and ultimately crucified.  In Mark’s gospel, the only words Jesus speaks while dying on the cross are, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Then Jesus dies, like a common Roman criminal.

"Crucifixion" by Jan Provoost (15th century)

This, of course, is not the end of the story.  Jesus is buried, and three days later he rises from the dead, defeating death!  What a badass.  The last verses of Mark, in which Jesus appears to his followers and  commissions them to go out and preach, are a later addition, not included in the earliest manuscripts of Mark.

"The Resurrection of Christ" by Peter Paul Rubens (1611)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Anti-Club Playlist 11/14/14 — The 30th Anniversary of Mulberry St. Ristorante!

Last night was the 30th anniversary of Mulberry St. Ristorante, the place where I DJ on Friday nights.  Here's what I played last night...

“Full of Fire” by Al Green

“Bury My Body” by The Animals

“Walk Away” by Ann Peebles

“Planet Claire” by The B-52s

“Little Girl of Mine” by The Cleftones

“Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Making Time” by The Creation

“La Jaula de Oro” by Los Tigres Del Norte

“Step Aside” by Los Headaches

“Magma” by Chicano Batman

“Comin’ On Strong” by Hepcat

“Many Rivers to Cross” by Harry Nilsson & John Lennon

“Roadrunner (Once)” by The Modern Lovers

“Pizza Monster” by Cherry Glazerr

“Johny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry

“Rudy Got Soul” by Desmond Dekker

“Oh! You Pretty Things” by David Bowie

“Living in Paradise” by Elvis Costello

“Get Him Back” by Fiona Apple

“Wowee Zowee” by Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention

“Sun in the Morning” by Future Islands

“Highwayman” by The Highwaymen

“Oh Yoko!” by John Lennon

“San Francisco” by Foxygen

“Liquid Swords” by GZA

“Antitaxi” by La Femme

“Me Gustas Tu” by Manu Chao

“Certain People I Know” by Morrissey

“I Can Reed” by Personal and The Pizzas

“Where is My Mind?” by The Pixies

“15 Step” by Radiohead

“Chum” by Earl Sweatshirt

“She” by Green Day

“Dark Fantasy” by Kanye West

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division

“These Are The Days” by Lift to Experience

“Alone Again Or” by Love

“Slumberdoll” by The Autumns

“There’s Too Much Love” by Belle & Sebastian

“Johnny Appleseed” by Joe Strummer

“Science Fiction / Double Feature” by The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“Tender” by Blur

“Time Trap” by Built to Spill

“Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldnt’ve)? by Buzzcocks

“Riot Squad” by Cock Sparrer

“Washington Bullets” by The Clash

“Revenge” by Danger Mouse & The Flaming Lips

“La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens

See you next Friday at Mulberry St. Ristorante (aka The Anti-Club)!