Friday, August 31, 2012

Have the Neo-Bourbons Learned Anything?

Louis, Roi de la France, "Apres nous and all that...."

"Ils n'ont rien appris, ni rien oublie.
-- Tallyrand

I didn't watch the Romney-bot and His Familiar last night, but I did spend some time with the livestreamers, Nate Grant and the fellow from Occupy Tampa (forget his name, not that I ever actually knew it... names are so old-fashioned anyway), and as has been the case in the past, the protests and demonstrations, while relatively small, were boisterous and determined.

What was striking was that despite the one appearance of the platoons of Storm Troopers to protect the Westboro freaks from the Dirty Fucking Hippies, and despite numerous confrontations between police and demonstrators, and despite thousands of police on the streets (often far outnumbering demonstrators) there were almost no arrests, and as far as I could tell there was essentially no aggression from the police at all. They made their presence known to be sure, but they did not attack the protesters, did not try to kettle them and make mass arrests, and in some cases actually accommodated protest marches and demands to get closer to the Convention Center or to proceed on a route they had been barred from.

So far as I know, despite the news reports of "anarchists" and their "acid filled eggs," there were no pre-crime arrests either, no roundups prior to the convention in Tampa, and thus no martyrs to the Cause. Very different from the situation in 2008, in both Denver and St. Paul/Minneapolis, when the police were very aggressive, used gas and mass arrest and batons liberally, and where dozens were arrested for pre-crimes and thought crimes, and where some may actually still be under investigation or prosecution for things they didn't do and crimes they didn't commit during the Republican or Democratic National Conventions.

Have the Neo-Bourbons who rule us learned something?

For example, that -- perhaps -- the violent crackdowns on dissent which have characterized all large and many small protests (particularly Occupy) since the now-legendary Battles of Seattle during the WTO meeting in 1999 might-could backfire and develop, oh I don't know, sympathy for the Rebels?


No. Couldn't be.

I don't claim to know what happened to calm the waters in Tampa rather than roil them further. But instead of the extraordinary levels of official terror and oppression that we have witnessed over and over and over again in this country ad nauseum, the Tampa scene was laid back, efficient from the official standpoint, tolerant, deliberate, calm, and mostly festive.

The place was full of Anarchists who anarched all over the place, Black Blocs, too (well, semi-Black Blocs, it was hot and humid and who wanted to dress all in black for that?), there was much camaraderie,  really striking the expressions of cooperation and solidarity, something that wasn't lacking in earlier protests but seemed to be somewhat less meaningful. It was obviously just as difficult in Tampa to reach consensus about actions and routes to take as it was anywhere else, and yet things seemed (from the view outside) to come together in the end very well, to the point where it seemed there was almost no internal conflict at all -- though of course there was, and plenty of it.

At last night's Final March, surprisingly, there was a pause at a well lit intersection where the assembled multitude sat down in the street -- there were by this time hundreds at least and possibly well over 1000 or more marchers -- and watched a musical play being given by a very talented troupe of actors. It seemed to be about God and Satan and the Occupy, but I only saw part of it, so I'm not sure. It was really well-done and clever, and some of the police who had been monitoring and shepherding the marchers came to watch; they seemed to be as delighted with it as the crowd. It's in Nate's videos below (he had to archive midway through), starting at about 1:55:00 in the first video and continuing in the second.

Video streaming by Ustream

Video streaming by Ustream

After Nate's stream ended, the Occupy Tampa stream became the Go-To livestream site, and this little event pretty much captured the spirit of the end of the evening:

Video streaming by Ustream

There you have it.

They did crown a giant papier mache head of His Romney-ness "King of the 1%" last night -- and that's ultimately what's going on.

I've pointed out in many previous essays that we are not witness to the End of Empire, we're witnessing the End of the Republic, not quite the way it happened in Rome ever so long ago, but not all that different from it either.

As the United States Government transitions from its more or less hopelessly anachronistic Republican form to its more and more secure Neo-Imperial form, the necessity for a monarch becomes paramount, and to me, that's what this year's presidential election is all about. Are we ready to go full-tilt monarch or not?

From the Monarchical perspective, Romney is a nearly ideal candidate, being suffused with money, first of all, and being an exemplar of the most egregious attitudes and actions of the moneyed elite in this country. He embodies what a Money-King should be and would be. His wife, no less, loves the pretense of Imperial Highness and has shown herself quite capable of dismissing the rabble.

The Obamas suffer by comparison, not behaving even remotely like Royalty,  Michelle Obama even going so far as to appear on the television machine exercising  to the point where she has to call out, "Can a First Lady get a towel?!" How outré.

Their very humanity under the circumstances is an impediment.

Our own role in this election is minor at best. I have little doubt that what with the active voter suppression under way and the jiggering of the voting machines sure to take place, the ultimate decision of who will rule from the White House has already been made by those who pull the strings. The mystery is only maintained to ensure a healthy bottom line to the media cartels. The remarkable convergence of the polls, such that the candidates are supposedly neck and neck is to me a key indication that we're being exposed to a Show, not a real campaign at all.

No matter what the decision is, we will have our King-Emperor no matter what.
Now to check the news....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Momentary Change of Pace

But oddly apropos given the fix we're in.

Janices [sry, total brain fart] at Monterey Pop, June, 1967, rendering the definitive "Ball and Chain"

"Tell Me Lies"

I only watched a little bit of the Ryan Lie Fest last night. I had to water the lawn.

What I did see of it though was almost shocking in the breadth and depth of the lies and dissimulation coming out of that man's mouth. We expect politicians to lie as a matter of course (and for them, a matter of honor, oh yes) when they address the People, but this was in another category altogether.

I walked in on Ryan's speechifying as he was yabbering about the debt downgrade (that of course has had no discernible effect on interest rates, but that's another issue I won't get into here.) This is what he said:

It began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America.

Which neglects the fact that the S&P downgrade was precipitated by the Republican recalcitrance to raise the debt ceiling -- recalcitrance that Paul Ryan, he of the Zombie Eyes -- had no small part in. The downgrade was the result of hostage-taking and brinksmanship by the very fellow who addressed us so sad-eyed last night.

The speech degenerated from there.

He lied about the debt commission -- that Ryan himself served on and made quite a show of ensuring there would be no agreement from.

He lied about Obama "doing nothing" about the national debt (though what he's doing may not be the right thing, he's not "doing nothing.")

He lied about the Obama government trying to "divide up the wealth" -- when in fact, the policies of the Obama administration and any RnR administration are all but identical in their desire to pump ever more money into the pockets of people like, well, RnR. There is no "dividing" of the wealth, there is only taking wealth (whatever's left of it) from the poor and middle class and handing it by the carload to the already richest of the rich.

He lied about Obamacare. It's far from "federal control" of "your healthcare," it's more like endless insurance company bureaucracy determining what kind of care, if any, you might receive -- provided you've paid enough in premiums for long enough, yadda yadda.

He lied about Medicare -- both what he was proposing to do with it and what Obama has proposed.

He lied about the nature of government debt.

He probably lied about his mother (though I wouldn't know about that).

And of course he lied by omission regarding his greatest philosophical and economic influence, Her Sacred Immortal Presence, Ayn Rand.

I'm glad that from time to time members of the Church whose faith he (probably falsely) professes step in to correct his many errors.

But it doesn't seem to take.

If that was the prelude, we can only imagine what lies will emanate from the Romney acceptance speech later today. After all, as I've pointed out elsewhere, Romney was brought up with the understanding that it was OK for Mormons to Lie for the Lord.

Tell me lies....

UPDATE: Perhaps Ryan's most spectacular lie last night (but I didn't see this part of his presentation) was his oft-repeated lie about the closure of the Janesville, WI, GM assembly plant. For the record:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


An anti-police brutality march in Tampa has been stopped for some time at an intersection where bicycle police have formed a bike-barricade against the march continuing. It is an absolutely silent standoff, the marchers arrayed against he Tampa police (not in their riot get ups, btw), neither side yielding.

Until just a moment ago, both sides were utterly silent. Now the police are trying to strategize, and the barricade was just removed.

The march continues.

Video streaming by Ustream

 [UPDATE: This is the archived video of the testimony and the march. It's close to an hour and a half long. There is a (more or less) silent march before the Speak Out at Gaslight Park; the march resumes at about 47:00 and the police barricade is met at about 56:00 in. Nate was obviously very moved by the entire experience, as was I -- albeit vicariously through his video stream. The testimony about 23 minutes in is powerful; it is part of a largely untold and unknown story -- even within Occupy -- of police endemic misconduct and brutality that is often hidden -- as much as it is pervasive. In this instance, the police showed uncommon wisdom, the marchers uncommon solidarity and strength.]


"This needs to stop." The only chant heard.

A [semi-]Black Bloc was in the lead.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Your Police State In Action

Earlier today, it seemed that all the live streamers under the sun wanted to capture the Westboro Baptist Church protest and the counter protest by the good upstanding citizens of Tampa. The scene was breathtaking in its complete ridiculousness.

There were 8, count them, 8 Westboro freaks, maybe that many counter protesters, dozens (at least) of people with cameras, many of them streaming the scene, while platoons of RoboCops marched hither and thither, bicycle cops by the dozen tooled around, no doubt there were plenty of undercover infiltrators, FBI, DEA, NSA, ICE and who knows who all, all gathered to see the Westboro contingent and their nonsense signs. (What is their obsession about FAGS one wonders...hmm.)

Here's Tim's video. It's really a statement about the state of America. What a country.

Video streaming by Ustream

"Are we changing shifts, or are we just adding more to the mix? Can we get more protesters? Can you bring in a platoon of protesters?..."

Anarchists! Wobblies! Commie-Pinkos!

Kevin Gosztola over at FDL has been following this matter of "anarchist extremists" for a good long time now, and he is on top of the story with regard to the RNC Convention in Tampa.

I want Chris Hedges to know that this is what he has done. I hope he's proud of himself.

What was likely to happen as a consequence of Hedges' polemic regarding the "cancer" in Occupy was recognized immediately upon its publication, and many observers were horrified at the prospects. Partially as a result of Hedges' over the top excoriation of what he called "Black Bloc anarchists" -- not knowing anything about them -- the FBI and other parts of the National Security State have targeted self-proclaimed anarchists for surveillance, investigation, infiltration and -- from the scant evidence available -- framing and arrest for various nefarious plots against the Establishment, including (now) something to do with "acid filled eggs." This, I guess, has taken the place of "baggies filled with urine and feces" that were once commonly alleged to be stockpiled for use against The Man.

This is probably only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to official actions against "anarchist extremists," and most of it is traceable right back to Hedges' demonization and scapegoating of "Black Bloc anarchists" last February.

The whole point of which is to chill activist dissent, to control and make acceptable those who engage in authorized dissent (as Hedges and many others do) , and to ensure that no effective opposition to the current status quo arises from the left, or more specifically from the People. In other words to stop Teh Revolution in its tracks.

It's not so much about the anarchists extremist or not, Black Bloc or not. My impression is that they can take care of themselves, and for the most part they will take care of one another when need be. The issue is more about what the state is prepared to do to preserve itself against opposition, what it will do to prevent the masses from engaging in widespread and effective opposition, and how it regards the existence of potential opponents.

More importantly, it's how the state sees the unarmed "anarchist" threat as an existential one, whereas the armed militias (as well as the innumerable Lone Gunmen) are not seen as such a threat at all. They are little more than nuisances, indeed they seem to be regarded as useful idiots.

Not the "anarchists" though.

Of course, there is a long history behind the suppression of anarchists in this country, one that long predates the infamous acts of so-called "anarchists" -- such as the assassination of William McKinley in 1898 as well as the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910. Anarchists became the political demons du jour -- which meant rather extensive and heavy-handed persecution.

So here we are again, with the supposed threat from anarchists now outweighing the "threat" from terrorists, indeed the one being conflated with the other.

The link at the top of the post details what's going on now, and it's appalling. This is your police state in action.

Monday, August 27, 2012

On the Obsession with Mass Movements

Occupy Wall St General Assembly2 at Washington Square

One of the most peculiar things about the current struggle and unpleasantness is the constant calling for some kind of mass movement to correct matters, something like the Civil Rights Movement or the Farmworkers' Movement or something like that.

What's peculiar about these calls is that these movements were never mass movements in the sense that they involved the majority of the population at any given time, or -- in the case of the Farmworker' Movement, any significant fraction of them at any time. In the South, the Civil Rights Movement was never a popular movement, and it could barely poll a majority in the North until after most of the Civil Rights legislation was in place. They're called "mass movements" because large numbers turned out for some of their events, and ultimately they achieved a certain level of victory. It's a designation in hindsight.

Because these and other movements were at least partially victorious, the movements themselves had to be "mass movements." But in fact, they weren't.

By comparison, the Occupy Movement (Becoming Revolution) was, for a time, a mass movement in that it involved hundreds -- indeed, ultimately thousands -- of "branches" that attracted huge crowds routinely over the course of many days and weeks, and it can still put together something of a grand parade from time to time. The spirit of the Occupy Movement is not gone by any means, though the overt practice has muted considerably.

As a rule, I'm very leery of "mass movements" in any case: they are the ideal breeding ground for riot, demagoguery, and mob action among other things. Mass marches are difficult to put together and exhausting to implement. I could go on. Mostly a true mass movement is a sales operation, marketing, and that is not an ideal setting for accomplishing serious social, political, and economic change that benefits the People as a whole. Bottom line, mass movements may have their place, but not as Teh Revolution.

The point is that to be successful, a movement needs to be compact, mobile, determined, assertive, persistent and clear in its objectives and goals. A Revolution shares some of those qualities, but as a rule, a movement seeks participation in the established systems of society and governance by those who were previously excluded while a Revolution seeks to overthrow and replace the same.

A movement may -- or may not -- attract widespread popular support and approval; initially it almost certainly won't. A Revolution, on the other hand, may never have popular support during the course of the struggle. This is primarily because most people, most of the time, will resist making any kind of drastic changes in their lives, changes which are pretty much the point of a Revolution. A movement only seeks change in an aspect of people's lives, sometimes a very fraughtful aspect, to be sure (gay marriage, anyone?), but still it's not about the complete overthrow of established systems of society and governance. It is about participation in those systems.

I've been pretty clear that I see the Occupy Movement as a Revolution Aborning, one that the established systems of society and governance see as an existential threat that must be crushed. This is as true in the United States as it is anywhere else that the Occupy Movement has gained a foothold, and the efforts to stamp it out have become quite energized and frequently violent. The official violence unleashed against Occupy has had the effect of subduing the actions of the Movement and significantly curtailed its development as a Movement, let alone a Revolution. From appearances, the Movement is... almost gone. The operative word being "almost."

On the other hand, it triggered a diverse and diffuse systematic development of alternatives to the status quo, and it inspired innumerable protest actions against various aspects of the current state of affairs leading to the media's acceptance of the fact that "Occupy changed the conversation." I would dispute that myself, because the "conversation" they're talking about is the media's own conversation, which is, by definition, what it chooses to talk about, and the media has almost completely forgotten about Occupy and the issues it brought to the forefront.

Occupy has had its profoundest difficulties in developing and implementing a self-sustaining operating model that is flexible enough to survive repeated hammer-blows from internal factions and external forces.

As an ideal, the General Assembly model should work, but it doesn't.

The Ancient Greeks found this out many years ago, and fairly quickly abandoned the direct democratic model except as a pro forma exercise. The problems with the model were primarily due to its vulnerability to demagoguery and corruption. There was no way to prevent either.

Which is not to say that direct democracy along the lines of the General Assembly model doesn't have value and shouldn't be utilized. The problem in its modern iteration -- which echoes the ancient problem -- is one of scale. General Assemblies don't work on a gigantic scale -- which is what they were becoming in New York City. The GAs became so large that they split in two -- and then into many other GAs around Manhattan and in the Boroughs. But that didn't solve the problem, and so there developed the Spokes Council model, a form of representative democracy, that was adopted over strenuous objection, and it led almost inevitably to the near-death of the Occupy Movement in New York.

The Spokes Council never actually functioned, let it be said, except as a preliminary exercise. Whether it would have worked, I don't know, but the Raid occurred almost immediately upon its formation, and there was never the opportunity to find out.

Zapatistas have apparently been able to operate a Spokes Council model successfully for years, so there's no intrinsic impediment. There just wasn't an opportunity for it to function in New York successfully. (I've been told that there are examples of its successful functioning in this country, but I haven't seen them.)

The Spokes Council by its nature limits the mass appeal of the Movement, though I'm not sure that is immediately apparent. Rather than enhancing the main body of Occupy, it separates an Elect from it, and provides the Elect with all substantive power, leaving the General Assembly with no real function or power but to rubber stamp the decisions of the Spokes Council or reject them. In some cases, the GA  doesn't even have that power.

It was not the Black Bloc that interrupted the development of the Occupy Movement, it was the coordinated, always destructive and often violent police raids that did the trick. By comparison, the Black Bloc action in Oakland in November of 2011 was a fly-speck.

The raids, the very public destruction of the encampments, and particularly the mass arrests were terrifying, and were intended to frighten ordinary people away from participation. They worked. Black Blocs had essentially nothing to do with it. It was a matter of implementing policy decisions from the top to put a stop to the Occupy Movement insofar as possible.

The irony of course is that the raids and destruction and arrests had the effect of dispersing the Movement to a far wider extent than I thought initially, such that the spirit of the Occupy Movement is now pretty much everywhere. The police response to almost any protest is now hyper-reactive and violent (see the police behavior toward protest in Anaheim as one example; for another, check out the police violence against crowds at the Art Walk in Los Angeles who weren't even protesting.)

This is the kind of official behavior that triggers mass resistance-- once the shock of the official violence wears off which can take a while.

But once mass resistance takes hold, it is difficult and sometimes impossible for the establishment to restore and sustain compliance.

Mass resistance is not the same as a mass movement, but it can be a precursor. Mass resistance is usually spontaneous, triggered by outrage against official misconduct. A mass movement, on the other hand, is generally not spontaneous but is instead a carefully orchestrated sales operation designed to promote a particular social or political endeavor. Mass movements are typically the result of marketing. The appearance of a mass movement or the declaration of one when there really isn't one is even more of a marketing ploy.

Obsessing on the creation of a mass movement seems to be a feature of both the old-line Socialists and large swaths of the "Non-Violence" community, neither of which can conceive of a successful movement, let alone a Revolution, that is not at bottom a "mass movement."  Thus both have a tendency to denounce the Occupy Movement for not fitting their specific criteria of what a successful Movement/Revolution should be/must be.

But it's always easier to be the critic than the creator, isn't it?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On the Importance and Irrelevance of Voting

I come from a heritage in which voting was considered of fundamental importance. When my Irish ancestors emigrated, they were not allowed to vote in Ireland, and previously, they hadn't even been allowed to marry according to the rites of the Holy Catholic Church, to hold office, or in any other way participate in the political life of His/Her Majesty's Realm. My German ancestors faced similar impediments.

In America, however, as soon as they established citizenship and residency, they could vote in elections and stand for office. My grandfather, therefore, only one generation away from the emigrant boat, was a Democratic Party Chair in the Great State of Iowa, and my father stood for office. This is something their ancestors could not have imagined doing.

I have voted in every election since I was eligible to vote (at age 21, let it be known), and I have never advised or encouraged anyone not to vote. Though I have never stood for office myself, I have served on numerous boards and commissions, have chaired some of them, and I have a fairly intimate acquaintance with the operations of government from the inside at the local, state and federal levels. I have campaigned extensively for candidates -- though not recently -- and I have more than a little bit to do with local Democratic politics (though again, not recently.)

If I were a cynic, I would say it's all a bunch of bullshit, a fraud of the first order, and everyone should stay well away from it -- or burn the whole rotten edifice down. But as a rule, I don't say that. Instead, I try to point out what the real deal is.

American politics is corrupt to the core, and there is no way to salvage it from its mortal corruption. It's been this way since dirt was new. There is no way to clean it up because much of the corruption is built in to the system. It's inherent in the way the Parties operate and in turn in the way the Government operates. It's riddled with cronyism, backscratching and backstabbing, time serving, and barely functional constituent services. "Pay to Play" is nearly universal, and the exceptions are striking.

You do not get a vote on policy at the Federal level at all. You may or may not get a vote on policy through initiatives and referenda at the state and local level, but even if you do, the implementation of any policy you've voted on is not in your hands, and it may not be in the hands of anyone who is accountable to you or any portion of the electorate and you will therefore have little say in the matter.

A Presidential election is a personality election, not a policy election. By the time candidates reach the presidential level, their policy prescriptions have long since been determined outside your purview, by people and institutions you probably have no relationship with, on behalf of interests you're probably not a part of. In most respects, the candidates you are allowed to choose from for President have similar if not identical policies. They are candidates for Head of State, Chief of Government and Military Commander; the Government itself is a huge institution with its own internal interests and characteristics. Changing that institution in any substantial way is usually out of the question, therefore, most of the policies of candidates (not necessarily campaigns) are virtually identical because the candidates campaigning not so much to serve the People as to serve the Government. 

Your vote is a resource to be mined under the circumstances, but it is not individually important at all. Vote or don't vote, it doesn't matter very much in the end, because you're basically voting on variations in personality and on slight differences in implementation policies that have already been determined. The policies are going to happen no matter what you vote -- or don't vote as the case may be.

The only way to affect policy is from the outside of the system. I learned that a long time ago, but it was a lesson I didn't really understand until fairly recently. In our political system, for the most part, policies (and candidates for that matter) are bought and sold like commodities, and with about as much care and concern. As a rule, those who have the money... rule.  This is true nearly everywhere in electoral politics; there are at any given time very, very few "citizen politicians." They are almost all creatures of their benefactors and funders. But their benefactors and funders are outside the political/governmental system. Very few of them ever stand for office themselves (this is not as true as it once was) and often they are completely unknown to the People. They are in the shadows, behind the scenes, pulling strings to be sure, but rarely making any sort of public display of it. These are the people whose phone calls your representative always takes; these are the people whose will becomes law in a surprisingly short time with little or no public comment. These are the people whose interests come first. These are the people to whom your government is accountable.

Not. To. You.

"But we can throw the bums out!" Yes. By all means. Go ahead. You'll get another crop of bums inevitably. This is how the political system and the government works. Indeed, voters have a choice but it will almost always be a choice between variations of the same thing.

The growing problem is that over the years the Government -- and its servants, the electeds  -- have become divorced from The People, to the point where now The People hardly factor at all in the policy decisions of the Movers and Shakers in and out of Government. In fact, many in office are proud to assert that the public interest and public will are not important factors in their decisions, and we have seen time and again, that the Democratic Party Big Wigs make a fetish of insulting and denouncing their own political base. Republican Big Wigs don't do this publicly, but their contempt for the base of their own Party is pretty obvious just the same.

Our Rulers don't believe that they need to accommodate the public any more, or even hear them in many cases. They don't believe they need to in part because they don't believe the public will do anything about the actions of the electeds (and those who sponsor them) that those in office need pay any attention to.

Sternly worded emails don't cut it.

Nor do blog posts.

Not even hotly passionate phone calls.

It isn't too strong to suggest they don't care what you think. They never really did. They only care about what you do and so far as they're concerned, you're not going to do anything they need concern themselves with. And if you get uppity, they'll have you taken care of.

Once you're clear about these fundamentals, the whole "lesser of two evils" trope and the notion that "this is the most important election in world history evah" lose their oomph. "Lesser of two evils" is essentially meaningless, especially if there is no recognition that it is the political/electoral/governmental system itself that produces this situation, not the candidates. All the candidates come out of and serve that system. "The most important election" notion is just as meaningless. If they are all the "most important" -- and they are -- then they're really not that important in the larger scheme of things.

What's important are the policies that are adopted -- which you and I have almost no say in as individuals or as voters.

Sustained activism outside the political system can and does affect those policies, however, as we have seen in numerous instances of civil rights and civil liberties campaigns. Our Rulers have been racheting down the limits of what sorts of activism and on what issues they will allow to affect their decisions, but there is still a possibility of influencing and affecting public policies through sustained activism.

Economic policies and war and peace policies, however, are rarely subject to public influence you may have noticed. In fact, it works the other way: economic policies and war and peace policies are determined at the top and then sold to the public like soap.

Nevertheless, by all means, vote, cast your ballot, exercise the franchise. Just don't expect it to make that much of a difference and you'll be fine.

And if too many people vote the wrong way for their own good, the wise old Robed Ones will take the vote on their own and fix it for you.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"No, No Keshagesh: You Can't Do That No More"

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Skagan Festival in Denmark, July 2, 2011

"Keshagesh" is a Cree(?) [yes, it's Cree, per Buffy her own self]  word which Buffy roughly translates to "greedy guts," the description of a little one (she calls it a puppy) who eats his own share and then wants everybody else's. An apt description of capitalism in all its aspects, a system run by mindless greed. Mindlessness is the key to understanding the nature of greed. When the puppy grows up, he is supposed to set aside his youthful mindlessness and behave with apparent thoughtfulness, wisdom and probity. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes the puppy never grows in wisdom, never has a thought but for having more, never gains enough insight for measured action. We all know that kind of adult dog.

The enduring Crisis of Capitalism has been upon us for what seems like forever now. The financial crash of 2008, preceded by varying forms of economic meltdown, has forced millions upon millions of Americans into poverty. The United States boasts the highest poverty rate in generations (and it is almost a boast, for this huge increase in poverty is due to deliberate policies). Millions have lost their employment, millions have been forced out of their homes. This is an ongoing situation. Literally nothing has been done at the governmental level to stop or reverse the impoverishment of Americans. Instead, policies have been adopted which ensure and increase the further impoverishment of Americans while a handful of greedy guts at the top of the economic pyramid have continued to flourish, to flourish at levels and in ways they never imagined were possible.

The wholesale impoverishment of Americans has had the effect of slowing, and in some respects reversing, the consumer economy on which the entire economic system was once dependent
 -- this despite the statistics that show continuing growth in income and consumption, statistics that could only be true if the small segment of Americans who are flourishing financially are somehow spending wildly which most of them aren't. For all intents and purposes, they're hoarding cash so exactly where the increases in income and consumption are coming from is something of a mystery.

For many decades now, Americans have been warned that they are overconsuming, and if they keep it up, they will consume the planet and ensure their own extinction. This idea of consuming "everything" has been around for centuries, and it has had a powerful restraining influence on some aspects of American mindlessness and greed, though obviously not all.

At one time, the mindless consumption of natural resources was incessantly warned against. The forests were vanishing, wildlife was going extinct ("like the buffalo"), pollution was fouling the waters, the seas were being emptied of fish, on and on, while starvation was stalking the suffering peoples of Africa. All of which was true enough, and people's habits changed. The rapine that had previously characterized resource extraction was mitigated in North America (while it massively expanded in South America and elsewhere) and the rate of consumption by Americans stabilized and even declined in some respects, while more and better food crops enabled the nearly complete eradication of famine -- at least for a while.

Americans learned to make do with less; their houses and cars got smaller (for a while), rising petroleum consumption was reduced, sustainable forests became more commonplace, more and more people were being fed better food from fewer and fewer farms and so forth. At the time (early 70's) the specter of the future was "Global Cooling" -- a new Ice Age.

Suddenly, that prediction was set aside, replaced with "Global Warming" due to increasing levels of atmospheric C02 caused by human activity, primarily the incessant burning of ever more fossil fuels and the raising of ever more billions of livestock animals. The devil's in the methane, you know.

As the developing world developed, the previously charming or sometimes threatening subsistence economies were replaced with more or less carbon copies of the American consumption economy,   requiring ever more resource extraction to sustain.

The endless greed and growth spiral was seemingly unbreakable.

Until the last few years as Americans have become more and more impoverished, all sorts of lifestyle changes have ensued but they don't seem to be statistically significant as yet. As more and more Americans have become impoverished, the prices they pay for basic foods and retail goods and services have increased, in some cases by double or triple what the same products and services cost before the crash.

This means that most people are paying more for less. And that may be the major source of the statistical growth in consumption we've seen during the course of the Endless Recession.

As Americans become less well off, the environmental strain of supporting the excessive lavishness of the American lifestyle is mitigated. From an environmental perspective, many Americans -- perhaps against their will, but by necessity -- are living ever lighter on the land, and it's hard to say that's a bad thing.

On the other hand, millions of Americans have seen their futures and those of their progeny stolen from them. Living with less material goods is one thing. Most people can adapt to that without too much problem. The problem is that people don't see a future for themselves or their offspring under current conditions, and that means that getting by with less has no functional purpose, especially not while some are living so high on the hog, it beggars belief and staggers the imagination.

I've referred in the past to the idea of full employment and enforced savings as the surest way out of an economic depression and pointed to the experience of WWII as an example. War is by no means the only way to accomplish that end, and it is not a desirable means in any case. No, given the global challenges of climate change and massive environmental degradation, along with the ever more fraughtful deterioration of the nation's infrastructure, it should be a straightforward matter for the public sector to put everyone to work "rebuilding the world" for as long as it takes to correct as much as we can of what's gone, but there is no political will to do it (well, outside of China.)

Yet it could be started tomorrow, and within literally months, and few of them, the Endless Recession would be over. And nothing like it need ever come back.

There is, of course, no political will to do any such thing, however.

So the American People are mired in a downward spiral from which there appears to be no escape.

"Keshagesh" will continue to eat his own share and everyone else's until there is nothing left for anyone, including "Greedy Guts."

And then what?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Railing Against the "Left" in America

At some point I will have to acknowledge the uselessness of continuing to beat the long dead horse of what passes for the "left" in American politics.

In point of fact, there is no real Left active in the American political system and there hasn't been one for many years. There are a few (very) fringe parties that take leftist, even revolutionary, positions on some issues, but they have no political influence at all -- some would say by the design and intention of the political system itself and by these fringe parties in cahoots with their own marginalization. They do seem to be oddly content outside the system, come to think of it.

In the mainstream of American politics, what's called the "left" functions as a slightly mitigating version of the ever-dominant American Right. I've pointed out that even St. Franklin Roosevelt was no "leftist," and the New Deal programs and policies that actually survived (like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance) are NOT leftist by any stretch of the imagination. They are basically survivalist policies of the Right intended to buy off the masses and keep the tumbrils and guillotines at bay for a while longer.

Now, however, since the Crash of 2008, the Right is going for complete control without the troublesome and burdensome necessity of carving out some benefit for the masses. They've been busying themselves with taking economic benefits as well as civil liberties away from the masses, selling off public assets at fire sale prices, destroying public education, reducing and/or eliminating pension benefits, making access to health care ever more difficult and expensive and setting up system after system of automatic revenue payments to corporate entities, many of which are now behaving like taxing authorities and private governments.

The so-called "left" in American politics and governance merely operates as if it were a helpful critic of Rightist policies. The "left" has no policies of its own except maintaining bits and pieces of the status quo and delaying and mitigating (somewhat) the more radical policies of the Right.

That's it. At one time, when there was something of an active Left in American politics, instead of reducing benefits and raising retirement ages, we would have been treated to arguments proposing to lower the retirement age and substantially increasing benefits. We would hear arguments to collectivize, nationalize industries and services and implement a broad-based public sector economy on democratic principles. Instead of ignoring Marx and other cogent critics of capitalism, we would have long ago explored and demonstrated alternatives to the kind of rampant crony capitalism we endure today -- a capitalist system that is depriving whole generations of a future.

If we had a real Left in our politics, the possibilities for the Future would be seen as unlimited.

But we don't have one. No, Occupy is not "the Left," not even close; it's not at root a political entity; it's more of a philosophical one. It may give rise to a political entity, but it hasn't yet. It has only given rise to ideas, opportunities, and demonstrations of alternatives to the current downward spiral.

The election will only have an effect on how fast and how harshly Rightist programs and policies -- most of which we are already familiar with -- will be implemented going forward. Neither major party is in any way interested in backing off from those Rightist programs and policies, any more than most of the governments around the world are going to suddenly jettison neoliberalism. It's not going to happen.

The only way to accomplish that end now is through efforts conducted outside the standard political system, and we've already seen that if those efforts show signs of succeeding, they will be violently shut down by the corpro-government.

If a genuine political Left is ever revived on the other hand, what might we see? What wonders might await?

A rational argument for not voting. [Note: a repost of the material at the link was disappeared at FDL because a moderator didn't want to "promote" the idea of not voting. It is obviously considered a dangerous concept that must be kept away from the masses.]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Problem With Making Art

New Mexico Landscape, August 2012

Several years ago, I visited a gallery in Santa Fe at the La Fonda Hotel. The gallery was exhibiting Impressionist landscapes, some of which were older, but many were newer, some by New Mexico artists. I thought they were delightful and compelling works.

In the corner of the gallery, an artist had set up a mini-studio and a canvas was in progress, but the artist wasn't there. I was studying the work in progress when the proprietress of the gallery started chatting with me.

"Are you an artist?" she asked.

I said I hadn't painted for quite a long time, and I wasn't sure whether I still could. That's why I was intrigued with the work-in-progress, to see if anything about it was familiar.

She said, "Oh you must start painting again. There is so much inspiration here in New Mexico. You just can't help it."

I smiled and nodded and agreed, and we talked a bit about the works on view. "Do you do landscapes?" she asked.

I said, "No, not really, but I buy them!"

She laughed and said, "Well! You've come to the right place!"

I said, "I see that, but there isn't anything here I can afford." I don't believe there was anything under $12,000 in the gallery and most of the works were priced at $25,000 and more.  Well more.

We continued to chat for a bit as I enjoyed the paintings on display, and then I thanked her for her time and said I'd better go. She said, "We have a lay-away. If there's something you like, I can hold it for you."

I said, "I like them all."

She said almost in a whisper, "You must start painting again, and don't hesitate to call me when you have something finished. I'd love to see it."

She gave me her card, but I've lost it, and the gallery is no longer there, replaced with something mundane and touristy -- I don't remember what. Places come and go in the Santa Fe art and gallery scene all the time. As always the tourists must be served.

But I've never forgotten that encounter -- and I've never really taken up an artist's brush since then, either.

The problem is my lack of inspiration. It's not that there isn't anything to inspire me -- there's plenty. What's missing is the urge, at least so far, to come up with an artistic project and carry it through to completion.

Although I don't paint landscapes routinely, I have painted a couple of them in my time, one quite large as a mural in the lobby of our theater when time was. It was an interesting project that took only a few days, and I felt very satisfied with the result. Most of what I have drawn and painted in the past has been for theater projects, designs for sets and costumes, or actual painting on the sets or costumes. I've done some portraits, but not recently, and over the years, I've done several relatively small sculptures mostly for my own amusement.

This is a photo from our recent trip to New Mexico. It was taken near Kingman, Arizona.

Mountain near Kingman, AZ, August 2012

It could easily turn into a generic Southwest Landscape, and at this point, I'm not sure that it won't, but for now, I'm happy enough with it as a photograph. One of the projects that's been on the back burner for years now is the sorting of the thousands (and thousands and thousands more) of photos we've taken over the years, some of which, of course, are sadly deteriorated as the printing dyes seem to have turned many of the pictures a uniform red. There's a series I took of Baltimore's Inner Harbor at night maybe fifteen years ago or so. They are now all a nearly uniform red-brown. I wouldn't even have recognized the location if it weren't for a pattern of highlights that said to me "this must have been taken in Baltimore!"

I have used photos and projections extensively as aids in painting. So I did some simple manipulations of the photo above to get this:

Mountain near Kingman, AZ Enhaced, matted, "framed."

And I could easily use it as a basis for a painting, but I still like the picture as a landscape photo. If I were to paint something it would be more along the lines of Harry Fonseca's St. Francis series.  

I tend to prefer St. Francis in his Tau pose (stigmata and all that), with hummingbirds, grackles and roadrunners in attendance to set a location in the Southwest.

But then I see something like this, said to be the actual habit of St. Francis himself:

St. Francis's habit

and I think, "Well, why not a series of statues instead?" With grackles, hummingbirds and roadrunners, of course.

Then I think about the neighbor who has turned a discarded bathtub into a shrine or grotto for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and wonder why that couldn't serve as a starting point for any number of projects, including one I've had in mind for a while concerning Our Lady of Lourdes. But then if I think that way, I've got to consider Father Roca at the Santuario de Chimayo, and the Holy Dirt from the Holy Hole in the floor of the Holy Chapel at the side of the Holy Sanctuary. And then I get confused. Why all these Catholic images? There is hardly anyone more secular -- in a spiritual way, of course -- than my own self. And yet when I think about doing art in New Mexico, I start with images of St. Francis and build from there. It's the strangest thing.

I bought another painting the other day. It was done by an artist I've mentioned on this blog before, Charles Blackwell -- who happens to be blind. This is a very small reproduction of it (the painting itself is 22X40):
Charles Blackwell's painting
"Git on Up, Mule" -- plowing
in the Mississippi Delta, c. 2009
In every way it is a remarkable memory-jogger for me, because its inspiration is taken from a play by Blackwell that we premiered some twenty years ago. He wasn't painting at that time, and when I found out he had painted this piece, I asked him if it was possible for me to buy it. He said he'd have to find it, he thought he knew where it was stored, but it might take a while to locate. He did find it, and earlier this week we got together and I now have this extraordinary painting. I have no idea where I'm going to put it yet. But it will have a place of honor and joy, no doubt about that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pondering the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Illustration from Susan Wallace's "The Pueblos of New Mexico," c. 1883
In April I wrote a piece that dealt with the question of violence and resistance as it applied to the Pueblo Revolt and the -- at the time -- continuing controversy of Black Bloc participation in Occupy. In it, I acknowledge my ignorance about the Pueblo Revolt, and at the same time, I take a few swipes at the likes of Chris Hedges and Kevin Zeese, whose own ignorance of the black bloc tactic, in the midst of their constant demonization of those who wear black in solidarity with their comrades and not simply in connection with Occupy, is striking.

Humility is not one of their endearing qualities. Some have suggested it's not one of mine, either.

I note with some amusement that the "issue" of Black Bloc participation in Occupy has pretty much evaporated. Oh. My. And we were just beginning to have some fun with it. Of course Occupy itself is not quite what it once was, and suggesting that Black Blocs are in any way a significant component of Occupy or have ever been a significant component is silly in the extreme. Hedges embarrassed himself, Zeese embarrassed himself. The topic has been dropped. And we go on.

But the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 is looming larger in my consciousness than Hedges, Zeese or Occupy for that matter.

It's only partially due to my brief encounters with Virgil Ortiz and his Venutian Soldiers last week in Santa Fe.

We haven't completed our move to New Mexico yet, and I'm still learning about the society and culture we are joining. There are many safe-havens for Anglos in New Mexico, and if they don't want to actually be part of the culture and society there, Anglos can -- and many do -- stay apart from it. New Mexico has been called one of the most racist and segregated states in the Union, and I suppose in a way it's true, as there are any number of quite distinct communities that don't have that much to do with one another if they can avoid it. New Mexico has long celebrated its "Tripartite" culture -- Indian, Spanish and Anglo -- and it is sometimes the case that there seems to be neither communication nor understanding between them. At other times, there is no obvious barrier at all.

Where we're moving to, in the East Mountains, is in some respects one of those Anglo safe-havens, but its history is filled with conflict. This has not been a quiet land over the many centuries of human occupation, in fact it has only been partially and temporarily quiet in recent times. While I call it an Anglo safe-haven, its population is surprisingly mixed, though quite small by modern American standards. So far as I can tell, no more than 10,000 or perhaps 12,000 people total live in the East Mountains (which includes the eastern slopes of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and the western margins of the Estancia Valley and the Galisteo Basin), and with the exception of a few very small towns, they live scattered on mostly small acreage -- though there are some enormous ranches (estancias) in the area as well. The total population I estimate for the East Mountains today interestingly mirrors the estimates of anthropologists for the number of Pueblo People living in the area prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

There are pueblos -- or rather the ruins of pueblos -- all over the place. There are no active pueblos in the East Mountains, but there are some magnificent ruins. There are also many sites that are little more than traces on or under the ground that indicate former habitation by Pueblo peoples.

The pueblos of this region were abandoned in stages over time during the 1200's and 1300's, depending on conditions, some were reoccupied during the 1400's and 1500's, some abandoned again, but all were abandoned in the 1670's; most of their inhabitants merged with the pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley or farther west. It is said that the largest contingent from the Salinas Pueblos which were scattered toward the southern end of the Manzano Mountains merged with Isleta Pueblo just on the west of the mountain slopes. But refugees from the Salinas Pueblos seem to have wound up joining most of the active Rio Grande Pueblos as well as pueblos further west in the tumultuous period just prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

I have a feeling there weren't a lot of Salinas Pueblo refugees for the other pueblos to absorb. Too much had happened prior to the abandonment of the Salinas Pueblos -- too much disease, abuse and starvation --  for  there to have been many survivors. The records are unclear about how many Indians left the Salinas Pueblos. At the same time, the Galisteo Basin Pueblos were also abandoned though they were reoccupied briefly after the Pueblo Revolt. As with the Salinas Pueblos further south, the number of Galisteo refugees is unclear, but it probably wasn't many.

They left under the watchful eyes of their Franciscan priests and Spanish military officials. They were starving, bereft of possessions, beaten down, and I'm sure many never made it the twenty or thirty miles over the mountains to their refuges along the Rio Grande.

The story of what happened to the Salinas and Galisteo Pueblos is somewhat murky in that the records are incomplete, but the outline of the situation is plain enough. The Spanish sent priests to convert the inhabitants of the pueblos, the people submitted more or less cheerfully (though under what kind of duress we can only imagine), and for a brief time there was something close to harmony among the priests and the peoples of the East Mountain Pueblos. (This of course excludes the episodes of punishment for defiance that the Spanish periodically inflicted on the Pueblos in order to assert their dominant position in the Order of Things.)

Then a severe drought came on, starting in the 1650's, the way they have done in these arid regions for thousands of years. Springs dried up, crops failed, starvation stalked the land. The Pueblo peoples had been dealing with these conditions for many generations; they knew what to do, spiritually and physically. They were prevented from doing it by the priests and the Spanish soldiers backing them up. Not only were the people forced to stay at the pueblos even though they were starving and too weak to defend themselves from Plains raiders, they were punished severely for calling on their own Native gods and spirits in their hour of need.

There's a striking story of a kiva (a generally circular underground gathering place for community and religious purposes among the Pueblo peoples and their ancestors) at one of the Salinas Pueblos -- I forget which one now -- that was built next to the church. When it was excavated in the 19th century, it was found full of trash, something that seemed distinctly odd to the excavators, but then its location next to the church was also odd. It was surmised that this kiva had been built simultaneously will the church as a temporary expedient to ensure the Indians came in for baptism. Once that job was done, the priests, it was suggested, forbade further use of the kiva, ordered its roof demolished, and had the pit filled with debris so that it could no longer be used for religious observances. There are many other stories around New Mexico of kivas being disrespected in just that manner during the first phase of Spanish colonization in the area.

Indians were punished harshly and frequently for even being suspected of practicing their own religion. Sometimes the penalty was death -- on occasion by burning -- sometimes whipping, sometimes incarceration and physical humiliation. All the regalia and votive offerings for the Pueblo religious observances were repeatedly confiscated and burned. Shrines were desecrated.

As these policies were implemented ever more severely, the physical conditions of the pueblos and their inhabitants deteriorated. Going along with the Spaniards, even if they did provide solace for the soul through Mass and Holy Communion, was turning out to be a losing proposition. Rebellion was not infrequent and was met with ever harsher repression.

Even though they were starving, Indians were forced to work on the ranches that Spaniards had begun to establish in the area. They were forced to build massive churches in which the survivors of the Spanish exploitation and abuses were forced to listen to pious fictions of eternal salvation and damnation.

Finally, even the priests realized that the Indians had suffered enough and they prevailed upon the civil authorities to allow the transfer of the remnant population to the Rio Grande Valley Pueblos. By that time, hundreds had died of starvation, perhaps more from disease.

The Salinas Pueblos were never reoccupied, at least not by Pueblo peoples. It is said that Kiowa and Comanche made temporary abode in the ruins from time to time, but there wouldn't be permanent settlements in the Salinas area again until the late 1800's and early 1900's. In the Galisteo Basin, the Village of Galisteo was established as a Spanish settlement along Galisteo Creek in 1816 or 1819. The Indians who had returned to the Galisteo area after the Reconquest were decimated by disease and the survivors eventually were transferred to other pueblos by the 1740's.

The major Pueblo Revolt took place in August of 1680, either during the continuing drought or shortly after it ended (accounts differ). Several hundred -- up to 400 -- Spanish settlers were killed, the rest were driven out to the sounds of mockery and derision from the Indians who successfully reclaimed their lands and independent existence, the only time that happened in North America prior to the modern era.

The leader of the revolt was one Po'Pay, from the San Juan Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh), a seer and a holy man who had been seized by the Spanish and whipped in the Plaza at Santa Fe for "sorcery" -- along with close to 50 others in 1675 when the Spanish crown once again ordered the suppression of Native beliefs and religious practices. Po'Pay, along with others, vowed and plotted and eventually took revenge and drove the invaders out.

Ultimately, of course, the Spanish came back, but on very different terms than previously. There would be skirmishes and battles between the Pueblo Peoples and the Spanish for years after the reentrada of 1692, but eventually an uneasy peace would be established among the Spanish and the Pueblo Peoples such that the Pueblos maintained their cultural integrity, their land, and relative autonomy during the remainder of Spanish rule of the Southwest. Even when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and even when the United States seized the Southwest from Mexico leading to strenuous efforts to "de-Indianize" the Pueblo People, they maintained their cultural integrity and their land. To this day, the Pueblos assert their autonomy (often financially supported by casino revenues) and maintain their cultural integrity.

It's a remarkable survival that is rarely understood by tourists who flock to the 19 remaining pueblos in New Mexico to obtain souvenirs and take pictures of the charming dancing Natives.

Dancers at Okay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico
Po'Pay came from Okay Owingeh Pueblo (San Juan) and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 involved the pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley and further west. By the time of the Revolt, the pueblos east of the Rio Grande had been abandoned due to the drought and attacks by Plains tribes. The survivors from the eastern pueblos were dispersed among the Rio Grande Valley pueblos during the 1670's.  Though many were concentrated at Isleta, there were few barriers between pueblos except those put in place by the Spanish and the Spanish, despite their arrogance and exploitation of the Indians,  were suffering from the drought too. The Indians saw and took an opportunity to reclaim their independence from the invaders, and they were successful. At least for a time. Refugee survivors from the eastern pueblos were likely instrumental in the formulation and implementation of the Revolt and its aftermath.

I've constantly heard from the Indians that they never had any problem sharing land and produce and shelter with the Spanish or anyone else for that matter. There was -- or could be -- enough for all, even under difficult conditions. The Indians had long since learned how to live in nearly complete harmony with the rhythms of the Earth and one another -- even if from time to time that harmony was broken by conflict. The Navajo and Apache and the Plains tribes are supposedly the blood enemies of the Pueblo Peoples, and yet they have long lived together, sheltered and protected one another, and traded with one another. Conflict between them was been frequent but temporary, and neither tried to rule over the other as the Spanish -- and later Americans -- insisted on ruling over the Indians.

From all accounts, the Pueblo Peoples were prepared to treat the Spanish invaders the same way, and the Americans as well. Live and let live, share and share alike, fight when necessary, but not forever. These are concepts that were alien to the Spanish and are alien to many Americans; they must rule, and if they cannot rule they must destroy. When the Indians fought back, the Spanish pitifully wailed that they were the "victims" of "savages." To the Indians, the "savages" were the Spanish (and later, the Americans) because of their utter lack of dignity, decency, propriety, humility and sense of community. In a manner of speaking,  though they sought to sell soul salvation, they had no souls themselves. Indians saw them as  bereft and to be pitied.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was briefly successful in driving out the Spanish, but from the long distance of history, it's not entirely clear that driving them out was more than a temporary goal ("to teach them a lesson," perhaps, in humility.) Since the reentrada of 1692, many of the Pueblo Peoples have made common cause with the Spanish, adopted Spanish names if not customs, intermarried with Spanish settlers, and otherwise found ways to accommodate Spanish society and culture while maintaining the integrity of their own Pueblo society and culture. Indians and Spanish settlers united to drive out the American invaders (unsuccessfully) in 1847, and ever since they have tended to support one another's claims against the Americans, often successfully.

For someone like Virgil Ortiz and other Pueblo people, Pueblo society and culture are the primary ones in the Rio Grande Valley and much of the rest of present day New Mexico (Apaches and Navajos have their own areas and are welcome to them). They set the standard for culture and society in their realm. Others are welcome as long as they respect the dignity and customs of the Original People. It's easy -- or it should be.

But it is a lesson that seems to take forever to learn.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"This is the world you're joining..."

Venutian Soldiers, creation and photo by Virgil Oritz

"Better make sure it's what you want."

That message and image came across very strongly during our whirlwind week in New Mexico.

It was an experience I don't think we'll soon forget. It was altogether an astonishing time in the Land of Enchantment. Our encounters with the arts -- literary, visual and performing arts -- seemed to go much deeper this time than in the past when we've tended just to skim along the surface of things. This time, we felt like we were very much a part of the arts/cultural scene, and the question was, "Is this really what we want?"

There was some disappointment this trip to be sure, as certain practical intentions went unfulfilled and some things seemed to go haywire, but there was so much unexpected richness of experience in contrast to what didn't go right. That's pretty much the way things go in New Mexico. As I said at some point in the adventure, "Pressure doesn't work in New Mexico."

We've been involved in one way or another in New Mexico's writers and literary community for quite some time, but we've stayed on the periphery of the rest of the arts scene, particularly in Santa Fe, since an early encounter with some of the patrons of the Santa Fe Opera decades ago.

We came to understand at that time that we were dealing with a very rarefied realm of almost inconceivable wealth and patronage. It's a realm that we mock for its pretensions, and yet without it there would be a much more -- subdued, shall we say -- arts and cultural community in Santa Fe and New Mexico, and I'm not sure that we would want that or that the world would somehow be a better place with less arts and culture in the City Different and much of the rest of the state.

The Virgil Ortiz reception we attended on Thursday (August 16) was a distinct contrast to the book signing we went to the day before, and to me the contrast was a demonstration of one of the many dichotomies in New Mexico that are reflected in arts and the arts and cultural community.

Things are changing, and Virgil is on the edge of that change, as he's been taking New Mexico Pueblo traditions and turning them inside out and upside down for quite a while now. His Venutian Soldiers are... well, let's just say, "eye openers." They are not a complete break from the past, far from it. It's not his intention to break from the past, it's his intention to illuminate the past through contemporary imagery and iconography, and I think he succeeds in ways no one can yet fully appreciate.

Virgil is not all that young -- he's in his 40's -- and he's been around for long enough, typically in the heady realm of high fashion, that he runs the risk of becoming jaded about everything. But he doesn't seem to be falling into the trap of ennui.

The reception included a smattering of Old Farts like me, lots of fashion fan-boys and -girls, many of them Natives, a handful of academics, and quite a few people who had known Virgil for many years. It was a vibrant mix that even attracted the police for a time. The police presence was a distraction from the festivities to say the least, and yet it seemed strangely in keeping with the whole feel of the evening. That story will have to be told, but not just now...

What seemed missing from Virgil's reception was the Wealthy Patron factor. That seems odd when I think about it... I can't recall seeing even one of the usual Santa Fe Major Arts Patrons in attendance, though there may have been one or more there and I didn't notice. It was that kind of event. So much going on, you're bound to miss something.

Yet the day before, at the book signing, it seemed that in addition to plenty of artists, there were more than a few of the Patrons who keep the whole scene going. Perhaps they felt safer...

Virgil is dealing with some of the fundamentals of the Pueblo People and Pueblo history in New Mexico and he isn't holding back, at least not that I can see. As he says, the whole idea of the Venutian Soldiers series -- which includes pottery pieces, statuary, and photographs at this point, but which is intended to include a film or video production and an illustrated story/graphic novel -- is to highlight the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, "the First American Revolution."

The Pueblo Revolt has never been an easy topic in New Mexico as for many residents it is still living history, especially among the Spanish and Indians. Our place isn't far from the Salinas Pueblos on the east side of the Manzanos, and those ruins when first encountered don't really clue you in to what happened, you have to do some digging and studying to understand it. The Salinas Pueblos were abandoned sometime in the 1670's, probably around 1676 or 1678, not long before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. They were abandoned due to a number of factors: drought, disease, attacks by Plains tribes, abuse by Spanish clergy, starvation. I'm sure there was more to the story of their abandonment than that. But I have long felt that it was the stories from those pueblos that set the stage for the revolt so soon to come along the Rio Grande and beyond.

The Pueblo Revolt was a success; the Spanish were thrown out of New Mexico and the Franciscan clergy paid a heavy price in blood for their decades of exploitation and abuse of the Pueblo people and the suffering they caused among those who only wanted to be left alone.

Virgil has made telling that story his life's work. Many other Native artists, maybe most, never mention it and never refer to it in their work. It's as if it never happened, though everyone knows it did.

When I first saw Virgil's pieces for the Venutian Soldiers exhibit, my interpretation was that he was making mock of the high fashion world he's been involved with for quite a while. The models are stunning in costume as Venutian Soldiers and in person signing posters at the reception. Dolled up as "Venutians" they certainly have the appearance of being some sort of fever dream of an overheated fashion imagination. I knew nothing, initially, about the 1680 connection at all; I saw them for what I saw, unfiltered as it were. And I saw them as a not-very-nice comment on the nature of the fashion industry.

Well, they may be that on one level, but there is so much more I would come to find out.

In Virgil's retelling of the Pueblo Revolt, his Venutian Soldiers are contemporary Super-hero versions of the Pueblo warriors who evicted the Spanish from New Mexico all those many years ago. He's re-conceiving the historical struggle of his people in contemporary -- and visually compelling -- terms that can appeal simultaneously to a wide range of modern spectators.

The arts patrons of Santa Fe may have stayed away from Virgil's reception because they might not have felt safe there.

I could spend quite a lot of time on the question of the very wealthy patrons who are the underlying reason why there is so much art in New Mexico. Without the patrons, the arts would have a very different character and might be much less prominent in New Mexico culture.

Virgil comes from a long line of Cochiti Pueblo potters and artists and has been active in the field of the arts and fashion for decades. He's using what he knows deep in his soul, dressing it up in contemporary clothing (or rather lack...) and telling us a story that most of us have no idea of.

In that, he's taken a step way beyond where most of the Santa Fe Indian artists have chosen to stay.

And he seems to know it's not going to be easy... The struggle has just begun.

For us? Is this the world we want to be part of?

Do we really have a choice?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

People and Place

Lots of people have tried to describe what constitutes the enchantment of New Mexico, "The Land of Enchantment."  It's a subject I've wrestled with a few times myself -- not very successfully.

I've driven out here dozens of times over the years. The first time we came to New Mexico in 1982 was by driving hell-bent for leather from California on the way to St. Louis (I had work there.)  There was a moment and a vision on that drive -- and on every subsequent one -- that triggered the sense of enchantment: the cleft between those painted cliffs which I've long called a Baroque Mesa at the border between Arizona and New Mexico.

This is kennedymarijuanaseed's video that gives you some idea of the gasp-worthy visuals at the crossing. (I have some photos, but they aren't loaded to this computer, so...)

It's breathtaking. And for me at any rate, the instant we cross over from Arizona into New Mexico, we are in a different environment. The sky is different. It's clearer and bluer, a nearly sapphire deep blue. The clouds are whiter and fluffier. The land is different, still high desert, but not like Arizona. It's less, how shall I say, manipulated for gain, and people's presence seems much lighter on the earth. It's Navajo country on both sides of the border, one is in Dinetah no matter which side of the line you're on, but the New Mexico side seems spiritually much freer. My heart soars on crossing the border.

That's the first enchantment for a visitor driving through. You see something you aren't really expecting given the flat arid high desert of Arizona's eastern sector, and you're transported into another world.

You see Indians everywhere; you hear their languages on the radio; you can get some frybread or oven bread at the stands along the road or in surprise locations where you don't expect to find such things. There are horses and sheep wandering free.

The place seems laden with silver and turquoise.

As you travel east, you see a series of red mesas marching along in formation, but soon enough you're in the presence of Mt. Taylor, known to the Diné as Tsoodził, "the Sleeping Woman." If the light is just right -- which it often is -- the reason for the Navajo name of the mountain is obvious. There is a long haired woman sleeping on her side taking up the whole top of the mountain.

We like to stop for a bite at a place called the Kiva Cafe in Milan, just under the mountain -- which you can't see from the ground because the peak is hiding behind a mesa. The place is often packed with people from the area out for lunch or dinner, many of them Indians. The food is abundant and good and the staff is friendly -- if sometimes harried! Next door is the Chaco Canyon Trading Company, which is a remarkably fine and complete place to find Indian jewelry (some made on the spot), pottery, and other items. Most of what they sell is made by nearby artisans, much of it of very high quality and at prices that are certainly fair. The total experience at this location (it's also a truck stop and convenience store) is very down to earth, not at all what you may encounter in the more fashionable places frequented by denizens and visitors to Santa Fe, say. 

At one time I didn't care for Santa Fe at all. I didn't even want to go anywhere near it, I had such a bad reaction to the place. After a while, I found out why. I was a smoker, you see, and Santa Fe is at an altitude of 7,000 ft. It's very, very difficult for someone who smokes heavily like I did and has not adapted to the altitude to breathe in such a rarefied atmosphere. The body reacts as if you are suffocating -- which in a way you are -- and most people suffering under those conditions get very crabby, essentially panicking. 

I could recognize what was happening after I stopped smoking, but not until then. 

I still mock Santa Fe as "Fanta Se" and otherwise poke fun at the pretensions of so many Santa Feans, both newly minted and some of the crusty old timers. But it's no longer a problem being there, nor do I tend to become panicked because "I can't breathe!" 

Yesterday we had a surprisingly delightful time in the City Different, going up to attend some events as part of Indian Market week. There were some Navajo made short films playing at the History Museum, and in the afternoon, there was a book-signing at the Collected Works bookstore featuring about a dozen Native American artists whose work was featured in Contemporary Native American Artists by Suzanne Deats and Kitty Leaken. 

We also attended a workshop on support for Native American documentary film making presented by Native American Public Telecommunications. Ah, the grant process! I've been out of that realm for quite a while, but it's like riding a bicycle. You never actually forget how, though your skills may become rusty with disuse. It was really a useful presentation, though it's not clear that either the "White Guys" or the Indians in attendance (and one Filipino) could realistically participate in the program. Personally, I've never been fond of the film making process though I've been in some movies and have dabbled in making a few films and videos -- but generally only in support of theatrical projects. For their part, many film makers have trouble appreciating the theatrical process, and it is not as if one is superior to the other. They are different, and to my mind their purposes are quite different as well. I have been more attuned to and more comfortable in the theater-making process than in the movie making process.

Be that as it may, I learned a great deal about how Native Americans can gain valuable assistance in documentary film making through the NAPT. Some of the productions they've supported include "Good Meat," "Reel Injuns," and "Thick Dark Fog" among many others. 

After the workshop, we attended a showing of Navajo made short films, collectively called "Navajo Paradiso." It was quite a variety of styles and topics, all with a Navajo perspective, some spoken in the Navajo language. The film-makers were all in attendance and spoke afterwards about their work and process and intent. 

I found myself quite drawn to two of the works. One, called "Floating," was surprisingly compelling. I say surprisingly because it was so... edgy... a non-Indian is smoking dope and trying to fix hot dogs while arguing on the phone with his (Navajo) girlfriend in what the film maker referred to as an "epic" redundant conversation. Yes. It was. OMG. Stylistically, the film was innovative -- clever cuts and dissolves, unusual screen proportion manipulations, unexpected visual and auditory moments. It would not change your life by any means but it was certainly a definitive slice of what you might call an ordinary life. 

The other was titled "The 6th World," an innovative Navajo science fiction picture centering on a future mission to Mars which relies on corn (as it happens, Indian corn) to provide oxygen for the trip and to form the basis of terraforming the red planet. It wasn't a fully-developed idea, but it was a start on a topic that could prove fascinating to explore in film and other formats. Just how would Navajos and other Native peoples approach a Mission to Mars or the other planets? (According to Buffy Sainte-Marie, an old Indian told her after the moon landing in 1969, "You know, they really ought to leave that Moon alone.")

The film makers were mostly women (there were two men), they were young, enthusiastic, creative in different ways, and each film was unique. The film makers were exploring the medium and the possibilities of story telling through film. None of the films was particularly polished (which is not meant as a criticism), but neither were they obviously amateur products by people who were just fooling around. They were all serious attempts at formulating and presenting unique visions of "what is" through Native eyes. And they all met that specific objective.

We had lunch at the Plaza Cafe, a Santa Fe institution that was closed several years ago due to an unfortunate kitchen fire. The restoration seemed to take forever, in part due to the requirements for upgrading so much infrastructure before the reconstruction could proceed. There were many, many delays. This was the first time we'd been back since they reopened earlier in August, and it was a treat. 

Like the Kiva Cafe in Milan, the Plaza Cafe on the Plaza in Santa Fe is not a fashionable eatery, so you'll rarely see those who suffer from "Santa Fe Style" inside its doors. On the other hand, plenty of locals seem to like it a lot, and tourists and travelers who just wander in are surprised and delighted with the food and service. It's a New Mexican/Greek diner sort of restaurant, and you can get your New Mexican dishes with a Greek accent if you like. 

It was nice being back.

Then it was off to the book-signing at Collected Works. This is where things got really intriguing. I was almost certain we'd been to other events at Collected Works, but walking in the door, I didn't recognize anything, so... maybe not. We found seats and were almost immediately approached by an elderly lady who said that Kitty was her daughter. We were not familiar with the book under discussion, so "Kitty" didn't mean anything at first. But then I looked closely at the older woman and a younger one who seemed to be in charge of the event and the resemblance was obvious, so that must be "Kitty," and then I realized that "Kitty" was Kitty Leaken, the photographer for the book "Contemporary Native American Artists" which was the topic of the event and the reason why everybody was there. Oh. Well. 

Later, we would meet Kitty through Peter. Who was Peter? I had no idea, but we struck up a conversation while waiting in line to get our books signed by the dozen or so artists featured who were in attendance. Peter had just come back from leading a tour at Chaco Canyon, and he thought he had missed this event. He was very glad he didn't. Turns out he was close friends with Kitty and knew some of the artists featured in the book. We were joined shortly by Mark, from Tesuque Pueblo, who was the manager of the tour outfit and had been a Chaco too. Turns out Mark -- in addition to running tours -- is an artist, a sculptor of some repute (well, his works are at the Wheelright and the Smithsonian among other places) but he was too modest to say that. No, I found out later when I Googled him up -- actually, I was Googling something else and his name appeared, oh. Instead, he and I chatted about Berkeley in the '60's and how things got a little tense there in 1969 when his family decided it was time to get the hell out and return to the comparative sanity of New Mexico. What a story. 

We continued to chat as if we were old friends while waiting to get our books signed, and then we chatted as if were were old friends with the artists themselves. Of course Mark was an old friend of many of them, as were many of the others in the room. 

I noted with interest that I was one of a dozen or so people in attendance happily sporting a Hawaiian shirt. Yes. Well, it's summertime in Santa Fe, and if you don't want to be taken as a tourist, what are you going to do? Wear a Hawaiian shirt, of course!

So we yakked and continued through the line -- I learned a good deal about relations between artists in Santa Fe and New Mexico which I sort of knew of in the past... and then it occurred to me how I was drawn here to begin with. 

I've written about it before, but it was this event that brought it home to me. 

Harry Fonseca.

He was a Native American artist in Northern California who created the "Coyote and Rose" series and made the Coyote character an American icon, especially in Santa Fe. I was lucky enough to have known him in California, and was intrigued when he said he was going to move to New Mexico, initially to Albuquerque. He was already famous, you see, for his Coyote character series, but it would be just a little while longer before Coyote became a... well, for want of a better word, "meme."

This is the Coyote Harry Fonseca did for Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe in 1994:

Coyote for Coyote Cafe by Harry Fonseca, 1994

Harry told New Mexico stories before he moved here, and they were filled with both mystery and joy for me. The night sky was a special pleasure to hear about -- because in most of California you never see a brilliant starfilled night sky, you never see the Milky Way, and you can't know what is out there for your amazement. You can and often do in New Mexico.

Seeing for yourself is what it takes, along with the motivation to make it possible. 

New Mexico itself provides the motivation, I think. If it draws you back again and again, eventually you have no choice. You have to live here. You must.

I was talking to one of the artists featured at the book signing yesterday, Upton Ethelbah (Greyshoes) who is at least as well known as Harry was, and he asked me about moving to New Mexico, as he's been all over and now works in Albuquerque. I told him it was "time." He laughed and said something like, "Yah, sure. You leave California for a better quality of life out here!" I said, "Yes, that's it exactly. It IS a better quality of life, though you'd never convince most New Mexicans or Californians of that." He said, "Everybody should find the place they're best suited to. California, New Mexico, they're all good places. So don't be ashamed of being from California. Enjoy living here. It's called you home." Or did he say, "It's called your home?"

That's the key to the Enchantment; it's not just a marketing slogan. When the land calls you, you know it, and you're drawn, there's no escaping it. I've talked to so many people who live here now who came from some part of California (usually the south, because the landscape is somewhat similar)  who say exactly that. From the first time they saw it, they knew that New Mexico would one day be Home, there was no way around it. For some, like me, it took years, decades in fact, to make it real, but New Mexico would be Home no matter what.

Harry Fonseca clued me to the spirit of the place, and once he moved here himself, it was as if he, too, were part of the lure. Even after he passed away.

Yesterday, as we were going about to the various events we attended, we kept running into so many people who had made that trek east from California to New Mexico, quite a few having just arrived and who said they were just getting familiar with the place and the people. I don't know whether they felt the same pull we did, but if they did, they knew what that Enchantment was all about too. 

Practically every time I've attended events in Santa Fe or elsewhere in New Mexico -- or just been hanging around someplace-- I've been amazed at how quickly, almost instantly, I've become integrated with the locals, as if I had lived here for years and years and everybody knew me and I knew everybody. There are any number of tight-knit communities in Santa Fe and New Mexico in general, this is after all  a very tribal society, and it's not easy for outsiders to penetrate these communities, though outsiders are usually treated pleasantly and politely. 

What's so striking in our experience is that at least momentarily we are welcomed into the tribe, which ever it happens to be, spontaneously, sincerely, as if we have always been here.

It happened again tonight. We were went to the opening reception of Virgil Ortiz's "Venutian Soldiers" series of pots, sculptures, and photographs at the Zane Bennett Gallery in the Railyard District of Santa Fe. It was an adventure.  No one we knew was there. Virgil Ortiz himself we only knew by reputation. 

Spontaneously, literally out of nowhere, people started talking to us, chatting away as if we were old friends, telling tales and sharing life stories, making connections that might last. The problem for so many years has been that these spontaneous contacts can be made only one time because we almost immediately have to go back to California, and we may not be back in New Mexico for months. By then, the moment will have passed.

But now we live here, this is our home, and when we go back to California tomorrow, it will be to finish packing up for the final move east.

This has been quite a week. One we will not soon forget.