20 October 2010


Vote NO on bumpersticker-thinking to resolve complex issues!


18 October 2010

I Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself....

“For as long as literature has existed, suffering, joy, horror, grace, and everything that is great in humankind has produced great novels. These exceptional books are often not very well-known, and are in constant danger of being forgotten, and in today’s world, where the number of books being published is considerable, the power of marketing and the cynicism of business have joined forces to keep those extraordinary books indistinguishable from millions of insignificant, not to say pointless books.

“But those masterful novels are life-giving. They enchant us. They help us to live. They teach us. It has become necessary to come to their defense and promote them relentlessly, because it is an illusion to think that they have the power to radiate all by themselves. …

“We want necessary books, books we can read the day after a funeral, when we have no tears left from all our crying, when we can hardly stand for the pain; books that will be there like loved ones when we have tidied a dead child’s room and copied out her secret notes to have them with us, always, and breathed in her clothes hanging in the wardrobe a thousand times, and there is nothing left to do; books for those nights when no matter how exhausted we are we cannot sleep, and all we want is to tear ourselves away from obsessive visions; books that have heft and do not let us down …

“We have no time to waste on insignificant books, hollow books, books that are here to please.

“We want books that are written for those of us who doubt everything, who cry over the least little thing, who are startled by the slightest noise.

“We want books that cost their authors a great deal, books where you can feel the years of work, the backache, the writer’s block, the author’s panic at the thought that [she] might be lost; [her] discouragement, [her] courage, [her] anguish, [her] stubbornness, the risk of failure that [she] has taken.

“We want splendid books, books that immerse us in the splendor of reality and keep us there; books that prove to us that love is at work in the world next to evil, right up against it, at times indistinctly, and that it always will be, just the way that suffering will always ravage hearts. We want good novels.

“We want books that leave nothing out; neither human tragedy nor everyday wonders, books that bring fresh air to our lungs

“And even if there is only one such book per decade, even if there is only one … every ten years, that would be enough. We want nothing else.”

from A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cossé, Europa editions; copyright © 2009 Éuropa Editions Gallimard, Paris. www.europaeditions.com

Photo of Wayne Collins courtesy of Images of Amazing Grace. Copyright © 2010 Grace L. Harwood. Used by permission.

09 September 2010

Rambling Midnight Thoughts on that Wacko Preacher in Florida, Etc.

Exactly how these self-appointed “Christian ministers” get the “call” is unclear. Certainly some, such as the late Rev. Jim Jones, might well have “gotten the call” watching the wooden plates fill up as they were passed hand to hand along the rows of pews of a Sunday morning. Some, like my father, might well have spent years and years reading books about The Good Book and realized they had something to say of value. Certainly I was pleased to hear that Mary the Magdalene was not a “whore,” but rather the daughter of a very rich family who apparently bankrolled Jesus and his band of merry men on their journeys through the New Testament. It was also fairly clear to my father, who was ordained into the Disciples of Christ, a small Protestant sect with subtle but meaningless distinctions of belief separating them from Baptists, Methodists, and Congregationalists, that The Church preferred men like the Rev. Jones to him on account of Jones’ ability to open wallets and pour out cash. Who called this other "preacher," Terry Jones, is anybody's guess.

But, once having received “The Call,” there is little that can be done to monitor what comes out of the mouths of these people, particularly, apparently, if their last name is "Jones." Nothing much to stop them from flying hundreds of people to a foreign country, stealing their social security and welfare checks, and giving them poison to drink, for that matter. My mother was a moral compass for my father, carefully reading his sermons as she typed them out on Saturday afternoon, so he was a pretty good guy with all this. Misguided into thinking he might do some good and help people. But a pretty good guy.

Be that as it may, my personal experiences as a preacher’s kid, albeit for only a couple of years, gives me a large block of salt with which to evaluate the pronouncements of these “religious” folk who believe they speak for their boss, whatever they choose to call it. Even politicians get called on the carpet every four years or so. But these boys with their shiny shoes and dark suits? Not so much. While these "men of God" do claim Jesus keeps an eye on them (and sparrows in particular, for some odd reason), there's simply no "higher authority" regulating their behavior, as anyone watching the Catholic choir boy scandal should know. (Compared to the Catholic Church, protestant church organization in the US is a real wild wild west.) And, as for Jesus doing annual employment evaluations of these self-appointed characters, I wouldn’t know. Never met the guy, being as how the one thing I’m pretty sure of is, if he existed at all, he’s been dead for millennia. But if anybody else is calling them to task, I’d be surprised. They all have the potential of being loose cannons.

I personally think we should bury all these "religious" books in a very large hole and start over, because these characters, like this tiny little man in Florida with 50 followers who want to burn one of them, have pretty well wrung any real meaning out of the rituals and readings of their Sunday meetings. And go back to nature and listen, really listen to its teachings. Because if there is any spirituality that is going to take us forward through this morass, that is where we'll find it.

That’s the thing. I think that’s what Whatever That Is behind all this tried to tell Moses (according to one of these books, anyway). That Which Is (or, as the eastern folk like to call it, The Tao) pretty clearly instructed ole Moses (and the rest of us for all eternity, I suspect) to not call That Which Is by any name because we’d get busy then and claim we were the ones who really had the 411 on That Which Is and then pretty soon we’d be off to the races, fighting and discriminating and killing each other over which little set of papers we declare holy and The Real Deal. So, what did Moses do? What all these "prophets" do. Sigh. He wrote down what he thought happened and what he wrote became the basis for deciding who were innies and who were outies. Huff and puff.

Now we have this little clown in Florida who reminds me of this old fella named Vance who lived outside of the little town where my father was preacher until my mother put her foot down. One Sunday after church Daddy and I went out to give his wife Communion (which, BTW, was Welch’s Grape Juice and Matzo crackers). Aside from the fact that I was puzzled about why Christians have ritualized cannibalism as a center of their practice, this day was strange for me because this old guy told us at length and in great detail about the murder of Joseph Smith in Carthage jail, and how his granddad led the mob which killed him, as though this were a good thing. Pulling himself up tall, he said, “And if I had to do it again for Jesus, I would be in the front row.”

My poor papa was so horrified, he just put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Never, never ever forget this day.” And then he didn’t say another word all the way home.

So now the Irani folks are stoning this woman because of their little book, and the Taliban are acting out blowing people into hamburger because of their little book. Some people believe you draw a little red dot in the middle of your forehead, and other people believe they should kill you because you do. Then there’s folks who believe they should be able to kill gay people because of their little book. Men in Utah believe they can treat women like cattle because of their little book. People who believe if they have the right kind of beads and the right number of beads and then say the right prayer the same number as the beads, then that's the way to go. People who believe they should have their own country because of their little book. And on and on and on and on…. Oh, for heaven's sake, people, please! Don't you see? If these books you read don't help you live in peace and harmony with others on the planet, what in hell are you doing????

As for this little man in Florida and his merry band of 50 followers "sending a message to Islam," well, fella, look. First of all, I have more than 50 followers. Virtually every blogger on the world-wide web has 50 followers. But you? For one thing, why in Christ's name would anyone live in Florida not live near water? But that evidence of insanity aside, now there are a whole lot of dangerous people who know your name. They know where you live. And they know what you stand for. You've gone and called out some really crazy people who now want you dead. That was really smart. Good job. Please note I did not say Muslim people are crazy. Or dangerous. Because, just like Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, or any other group, there are nutty, dangerous Muslims, and saints among 'em. And a whole lot of middle. Folks who are a mixture of "good" and "evil," and mostly just trying to get through life, just trying to live. But now you've told the whole world you stand for hatred, bigotry, ignorance, and poverty of spirit. Among those even interested, Mr. Jones, in what you have to say, are people who make bombs and blow up things. As my kid brother has observed in other circumstances, this just might well be natural selection in action.

16 August 2010

A Second Post-Script to .....

One time I heard Gurumayi speak of a fella who had left his wallet in his shoes in the shoe room outside the meditation hall. To no great surprise, the wallet, together with thousands in cash, was missing when he retrieved his shoes. He was very upset because this was supposedly "a holy place," and these "good people." Upon hearing of this, the Guru chastised this man for putting temptation in the path of weak people, thereby screwing up their karma. She then advised those listening that they should never leave common sense at the door of the ashram.

A Post-Script to my Posting on "Eat, Pray, Love"

One thing that has always seemed most extraordinary to me is that there are decades of rumors and more direct accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of Muktananda and others in the hierarchy of Siddha Yoga, and yet somehow, mysteriously, unfathomably, this reflects on Gurumayi. I simply can’t comprehend this. First of all, we are not responsible for what others do. That’s kinda hornbook law, don’t you think? Otherwise, kind of a mess, with me having to go to prison for what you’ve done and like that.

Okay, okay, so, a, b, c, 1-2-3, a very young girl is “given” by her parents to this man when she is oh, what, 9? 10? And somehow, mysteriously also, it never occurs to those who are so very vitriolic in their criticism of her that perhaps she was actually one of the victims of this sexual abuse? Instead, somehow, mysteriously, Muktananda’s (and her brother’s) sexual misconduct with devotees is supposed to reflect on Gurumayi’s integrity as a teacher. Excuse me? How exactly does THAT work? And why is it that those “accusing” SYDA and so on never once (and believe me, I have looked!) suggested that this woman herself might have been abused as a child by these people. (Certainly I do remember how very rude Muktananda was toward her when she’d grown up to be his translator. And I’ve heard others notice that.)

As to my thought that she was possibly abused, I certainly don’t know that this is true. How on earth would I know? But what I can’t understand is, why has no one else asked the question? Just like why is everyone so up in arms about Catholic priests sexually abusing young boys, but not the women or nuns in their charge? Does anyone with a lick of sense actually believe women in the Catholic Church have not been abused? (Or any other place, such as prisons, protestant churches, the workplace, etc., where unchecked influence and authority are given to men who simply aren’t questioned?) So why aren't all these armchair critics of Gurumayi stumbling over these totally obvious questions?

I heard one rumor that Gurumayi actually beat her brother with a ballbat in Hawaii upon discovering that he, as Co-Guru, had been sexually involved with devotees. (Please note, again, I said rumor. So, nobody sue me, okay? Believe me, it wouldn’t be worth your time.) If, in fact, she realized that her beloved younger brother had raised by Muktananda, Werner Erhard, and the other men running the show, to become a sexual predator, couldn't that just enrage her to the point of violence? Ya think? And yet, again, mysteriously, in all the innuendo, and “exposure,” “evidence,” and so regarding this teacher and her movement, nobody but nobody but nobody has raised the possibility that as Malti, a young girl under the charge of a bunch of randy old men, far from home and sanctuary, might have been, oh, I don’t know, at RISK? What a concept! Whether or not my ponderings are based in fact is not the issue here. The issue is, why are people who live in America in the 21st Century not asking what to me seems such a totally important and obvious question? In their determination to to “expose” the Guru, are they truly unable to see what to me is a very large gray Indian elephant in the living room? And if indeed my wonderings do have some truth to them, wouldn’t that just explain a whole hell of a lot about why, in the end, she might simply walk away from the whole mess?

13 August 2010

Chop Vegetables, Eat, Meditate, Walk, Sleep...

I have knelt at her feet more times than I can recount; more than a dozen times, she touched me with her peacock feathers after I’d stood for hours in endless lines of like-minded pilgrims; I walked beside her; she laughed at my little jokes; told me to pursue my art as my service to her; and she counseled me in ways that helped me heal and grow immensely. There are at least two times I know of she probably pulled me back from dying. She was one of my most beloved teachers, and I would not be who I am today without having known her.

“She” is the Guru of the “pray” part of Eat, Pray, Love, the first-person account of Liz Gilbert, who was given a year’s worth of money to recover from a divorce and write about it, now a major motion picture starting Julia Roberts, a person far more suited to playing the Guru herself because of her own vast experience in dealing with people "stalking movie stars." "She" would use the term "meditate," not the term "pray." And thousands upon thousands know this 55-year-old woman as their beloved “Gurumayi.” Born Malti Shetty in Mumbai on June 24, 1955, she grew up to become Swami Chidvilasananda, on her visa a “meditation teacher.” Which is a little like calling Michelangelo a “church painter.” I first met her when she was a translator for Muktananda in the mid-70s, and then again in the mid-80s, when she had become the sole leader of Siddha Yoga world-wide.

I have no intention of telling 'secrets' about Siddha Yoga. The internet is full of stuff, if you are of a mind to 'expose' the Guru. Have fun. If that is who you are. If that is how you want to spend your time. But I think it’s a better idea to figure out how to connect with the infinite, sacred energy of the universe. Because we have so little time here, you know? And I have no intention of advising that you go to her Ashrams in upstate New York or India, looking for Swami Chidvilasanda. Honest, there are places to get quality spiritual guidance much nearer at hand. And she doesn't need the aggravation. Oh, maybe Suze Orman or Felicia Rashad wouldn't be sitting on the next asana, but for my money, your cat is a perfectly serviceable Guru, and your apartment a good ashram, if you are on the right path.

Don't misunderstand. I am perfectly happy that people go off to “find themselves.” (If they find me, I'd be happy if they'd send me home.) But there is something very “Siddha Yoga” about this whole best-seller book/movie deal. What an amazing world it would be if the Patanjali Yoga Sutras hit the NY Times best seller list. Or Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen. And I for one would love to see Khrisnamurti's life made into a major motion picture. I think, in the end, the Siddha Yoga people in general are not looking for “God,” but for a way to construct their lives from a narrow bandwidth of human experience so they feel as though they have gained some control and know exactly what they need to do (buy the right chanting tapes, saris, meditation pillows, go to India, the Catskills, attend the right number of classes, hang the appropriate number of photographs of Guru in your home, get the “Enlightenment” diploma). It’s the same thing that irritated me when Gurumayi told the Oakland Ashram to open their homes to the people at risk in the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. In a holocaust that displaced nearly 10,000 people, these "devotees" folk found exactly one family of devotees to invite. In comparison, Berkeley’s lesbian-owned Brick Hut Cafe fed an endless stream of firefighters and emergency workers on their own tab during the week of that nightmare. And my jaw dropped when I heard people tell me about the conversation on the telephone I had with Gurumayi when the fire broke out, reported as though they, not I, had made that call from a San Francisco high rise that unforgettable Sunday afternoon.

As time wore on, I became increasingly aware of a huge gap widening between the astonishing, amazing spiritual experiences I would have in the presence of this truly remarkable woman and the way so many of her followers threw ethics, compassion, and manners to the wind in their addictive quest to be near her. It was not about spiritual awakening or finding the god within (who is there, within all of us, no-ticket-to-punch, comes-with-the-service), so much as it was bragging to your friends that you knew where Swami got her nails done in Manhattan or that you’d had “work” done by the same plastic surgeon she used. A simple equation: The more air you breathed in her actual presence, the more your individual self-worth capitalized. Much like sports figures, movie actors, rock stars ....

What I finally concluded was, Gurumayi is herself simply a mirror, a mirror held up to us of our culture, our society, our way of being here, now, this place. She is different in Mexico, different in Europe. I think from whatever place she finds herself, she draws upon that energy to show those people the nature and texture of the life surrounding them. While there were some lovely, amazing people surrounding this woman (some of whom I am still close friends with, or simply admire very much), much of what I saw among her “devotees” sickened me. And not just shallow “It’s Tuesday-so-let’s-find-God” stuff; or “Guru gave me Shaktipat so my shit no longer smells,” but some really ugly stuff. One example was a former director of the Oakland Ashram who refused to fix the lock on the back door of an apartment she rented to a long-time Ashram resident who was dying of metastic breast cancer, but did manage to raise her rent. I literally threw up in the bathroom of the Ashram upon learning of this. Is Gurumayi responsible for those people? Or the experiences Liz Gilbert had in India? Or is she a wonderful, beautiful mirror, reflecting back the very best and worst we are capable of? I couldn’t even begin to answer that. Except when I talked to Swami Prabuddhananda at the SF Vedanta Society about this, he said, “Yes, all true, but please, show me what part of all this is not God?”

The last time I saw Gurumayi at the Oakland Ashram, I suspect she had become completely worn out and frustrated with the “Hollywood star” energy her followers and the Liz Gilberts of the world surrounded her with. Even though I had known her for nearly two decades, I couldn’t get into the main meditation hall. A friend gave me a seat in a nearby building where they were televising her sitting in her Guru’s chair on two giant TV screens. It was on Guru Purnima, “the Guru’s moon,” the brightest full moon of the summer, and thousands of people were crowded in just to catch the merest glimpse of her. She said, “People, people, people. I am NOT the moon! I am only the finger pointing at the moon.” Then, darkness on the screen, and then, the moon, the full moon over Oakland, broadcast to us. I walked out into the night air and stood on the corner, looking at the moon, watching her being driven away in her Lincoln Towncar. She hadn't come down the chimney, and she didn't leave in a sleigh pulled by reindeer (or, for that matter, wise men didn't seem in evidence). I believe the most astonishing thing about her is that she is a human being. Just like the rest of us. I think we feel she, and Jesus, and other teachers, must be somehow very different from us. If she is, then we have no obligation to try harder, be better, grow more, become extraordinary. How very tiresome (and lonely) for them it must be!

The next day I did go by the Ashram, but wasn’t “allowed” inside a place where I had taken care of the garden courtyard for years, not because I had done anything 'wrong,' but because I wasn't a part of the 'in-crowd' who ran the place. I walked around to Marshall Street where I found folks so desperate to be near her that they were leaning against a wooden wall separating the Ashram's little courtyard garden from a parking lot. It seemed Gurumayi was inside, hanging out with the wealthy and influential members of the community. Someone waved me over, and I crowded in with the others, my ear against the fence, just for a moment, to hear her voice. When I realized what I was doing, I stepped back. I am, after all, a light-filled child of the universe. (As poet laureat Billy Collins wrote, “I am so full of light that if you cut me, I would shine.”) I am not a beggar groveling in a parking lot for crumbs from someone who is supposedly my teacher. I thanked the man who had given me his spot and walked away.

Certainly, Gurumayi is an extraordinary person. I think what she would tell you if you actually listened to her is, she would counsel you to eat mindfully, share what you have, meditate every day, be aware, kind and caring of the folks in your life, and show respect for that which deserves respect. To try to see the divine in each other. To feel gratitude and appreciation for what you have been given. And to walk. Walk, walk, walk. Outdoors. In nature. With life all around. Breathe it in. Connect with it. I mean, this is a woman who walked up Mt. Fujiyama on a whim! She has long long toes, and loves loves loves to walk. “Eat, Pray, Love” are not the bulletpoints of what she teaches. Oh, sure, go ahead, read Gilbert's book, if you must. But I'd think better time spent would be Ayya Khemma's Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. Yes, by all means, go to the movie. I think Julia Roberts recently built a new house in LA and probably could use the money. If you have the means, spend time traveling. Italy is so wonderful in the fall. But understand, the spiritual path is not an easy one. Money, good connections, and the right car won’t get you there. And there are no shortcuts.

But if you are serious, there are many other such extraordinary teachers, all across the globe. Throw a stone and you will find someone, if that’s what you want. Go to Green Gulch, Gold Mountain, Plum Village, Ganga-ji, Ammachi, Thich Nhat Hahn, Pema Chodron, Joko Beck, John of God, and on and on. You will find so very many lost and lonely folks looking for them. And you will find some deep and honest spiritual warriors to keep you company as well. Because, as Swami Prabuddhananda recently said, “If you aren’t spending your life trying to connect with the Divine, well, that’s just dumb.” But, caveat emptor, as I knew in my 20s, and know so completely today, anyone who pays big bucks to become “enlightened” isn’t.


I don't feel like risking legal action by using an image of Swami Chidvilasananda, because the SYDA Foundation gets very nasty about such things. Instead, I'm posting a photo my friend Grace Harwood took of what I would like to see more of us "becoming," a simple monk walking in front of the M.H. DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. If you want to see what Gurumayi looks like: http://www.siddhayoga.org/gurumayi-chidvilasananda

04 December 2009

06 February 2009

"Once there was a way to get back home ...."

This post is particularly dedicated to Harry Ibsen and Constance Carlson Ibsen, who share my loves of great cars and honest unions, with my love. mp

Maybe he was one of those "Depression Era kids" trying to "straighten out" the Baby Boomers, but when I was 19, my dad bet me $100 that I couldn't last a month in a factory. (I was between junior and senior years in college at that point, and I presume he thought I knew too much of the "reel world," and virtually nothing of "the real one.") In 1968, $100 was no joke, my friends, so off I packed to Eureka-Williams' employment office, applying for a job on the line.

The first morning of the first day, my assigned job was to pick up an upright waxer, swing it upside down over the head of a co-worker, and put it on the bench so she could air-drill four screws into the base. Just an FYI, the current Eureka upright vacuum weighs 21.5 lbs. The waxer was heavier -- I seem to remember 25 lbs. I took one look at the woman standing next to me, who had been working on the line for some 15 years, and I knew, dead to rights, that hitting her in the head with a waxer was a poor survival strategy.

So, up and over, up and over, up and over for two hours, 120 minutes, one waxer every three minutes. You do the math. Then, coffee break. I just sat on the floor and leaned on the concrete block wall in the women's locker room. Someone brought me a cup of coffee from the machine. "Oh, I can't pay you... I haven't gotten my check yet."

"Yeah, that's all right. We take turns paying for the coffee," someone explained.

Precisely as I was trying to figure out what would really happen if I simply put the waxer down and walked away, the noon whistle blew. My arms and shoulders were so spent, I could barely lift my sandwich or drink the soup from my thermos. All around me, people laughed and talked and jostled as though their muscles weren't burning in pain. I knew death was preferable, but was too damn tired to die.

When we returned, I discovered the devil had written another chapter of hell for me. Rather than lifting the waxers, I now stood motionless, or shifting from foot to foot, while another absolute stranger lifted the waxers over my head and I drilled in the four screws. At 2:00, another cuppa and two cookies appeared magically in my lap in the ladies' lounge. I managed a weak smile, mainly because I was conscious enough to pick up on the conversation on the other side of the room. They were putting into a betting pool over whether I would show up the next morning.

After I managed to drive my 1955 Ford Fairlane (with overdrive) five miles home and take a brief nap in the parking lot, it took me 10 minutes to walk up one flight of steps to my apartment, where I fell onto the couch dead asleep. My roommate woke me up at 11:30 with a hot bowl of soup and cornbread, and then ran a hot bath for me. She may have said something to me. I don't know. I was too tired to hear.

Just another FYI: betting against my stubbornness is a lost cause. During the days that passed, I learned a number of life lessons: how MUCH the government takes out in taxes; don't talk politics at work; not everyone is a brain surgeon; being smart isn't everything; and you can get used to pretty much anything. After I got paid, I bought everyone in the women's lounge coffee, and totally startled them. That's when I realized they'd just been "bein' nice" to buy my coffee when I was broke (and saving my dignity). I learned many things about my coworkers in those brief days with them. That standing at the same drill press for 30 years will wear concrete into inverted "normal curves" where your feet have stood. That one woman lived in an all-red interior "double-wide," including using red light bulbs. I asked her if there were any problems living in the all-red trailer, and she said, "Well, only on Sundays and holidays, you can't read the calendar."

But there came a pivotal day when all of my preconceived notions about union factory workers got blown out of the water big-time. The management people decided to replace the metal step-on switches with plastic ones. The assembly line was shut down, and the whole place fell silent. As we held our stations and watched, one of the foremen, a union rep, and an inspector installed the new switch on a waxer. Then, with clicker in hand, the inspector began stepping on the switch. On ... off ... on ... off ... on ... off ... on ... No other sound. At 63, the switch broke. They replaced it with another. On ... off ... on ... Broken, at 61. The union rep raised her hand. Everyone sat down on the stools which stood behind all of our stations, but which were so rarely used.

Books and newspapers came out of backpacks. A couple of transistor radios. Random decks of cards. "What's going on?" I asked."

"Sit down," my neighbor said.

I sat. "But what's going on?"

"That's what's going on. We're sitting."

"People work hard for their money," someone else said. "They deserve better."

We sat, played cards, read, listened to the radio, smoked, waited, for two and a half days. Then the union rep came down, followed by a fork lift with boxes of the metal switches. Just as quickly, the line came back to life. Again, a new waxer came off the line, every three minutes, with the durable metal step-on switches. (Okay, I know this is a long piece. Go get your tea and come on back for the second half... I just hate the idea of my readers suffering!)

"The Ford Pinto was a subcompact manufactured by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market, first introduced on September 11, 1970 [speaking of terrorism! mp]. Before production[,] however, Ford engineers discovered a major flaw in the car[']s design. In nearly all rear-end crash test collisions[,] the Pinto's fuel system would rupture extremely easily. Because assembly-line machinery was already tooled when engineers found this defect, top Ford officials decided to manufacture the car anyway, exploding gas tank and all, even though Ford owned the patent on a much safer gas tank. Safety was not a major concern to Ford at the time of the development of the Pinto. Lee Iacocca, who was in charge of the development of the Pinto, had specifications for the design of the car that were uncompromisable. These specifications were that "the Pinto was not to weigh an ounce over 2,000 pounds and not cost a cent over $2,000." Any modifications[,] even if they did provide extra safety for the customer[,] that brought the car closer to the Iacocca’s limits was rejected.

"The rush of the Pinto from conception to production was a recipe for disaster. Many studies have been concluded by Mother Jones on Pinto accident reports which have revealed conclusively that if a Pinto being followed at over 30 miles per hour was hit by that following vehicle, the rear end of the car would buckle like an accordion, right up to the back seat. The tube leading to the gas-tank cap would be ripped away from the tank itself, and gas would immediately begin sloshing onto the road around the car. The buckled gas tank would be jammed up against the differential housing (the large bulge in the middle of the rear axle), which contains four sharp, protruding bolts likely to gash holes in the tank and spill still more gas. Now all that is needed is a spark from a cigarette, ignition, or scraping metal, and both cars would be engulfed in flames. If a Pinto was struck from behind at higher speed say, at 40 mph chances are very good that its doors would jam shut and its trapped passengers inside would burn to death." (Source: Mother Jones.)

So, somewhere in the late 1960s, early 1970s, the American worker began to lose the battle to people like Iacocca and those who originated the grand scheme of "planned obsolescence." (For more on that misguided philosophy and its unholy results, see Vance Packard's The Waste Makers (1960), an exposé of "the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals.")

In contrast to the wonderful design, engineering, and construction of which we were so capable and respected the world over, exemplified by the gorgeous 1951 Kaiser pictured here and the Golden Gate Bridge, the people who were "management," those "white collar bastards" we used to routinely suspect and detest, began to produce goods which were meant to break, fall apart, give out, wear out, be crap, need replacement, okay? And, as I have said, as the unions all across the country have said, we fought this. We read our Consumer Reports, talked to our friends and family, did what we could to find the Maytags, the Levis, the Amanas, the American-made goods that were worth our hard-earned money. (Now, not only are we not resistant to the shenanigans of those "white collar bastards," we don't even see that there might be a problem with electing the son of an SS officer governor of California.)

The white collar bastards who ran things with a slide rule and an eye to their own bonuses and golden parachutes, who paid pro-employer (read "union-busting") law firms like Littler Mendelson, P.C. to destroy labor unity, eliminate benefits, and erode the rights of the American worker, eventually, somehow, they got control of everything. Somehow, we got confused. We let them. It's not that I think unions are all that and a cherry on top. But it is the mongoose and the cobra thing. Any fool would be afraid of both of them. Now the American workforce just bends over for the corporations. (Corporations, in my view, battle for first place with nuclear weapons as the very worst thing we as a people ever visited on the planet Earth). The very idea that we should act in concert in the workplace to provide our customers with the very best we can give them brings a snicker of derision.

When Enron imploded, their latest little brainchild in an obscenely ruthless quest to grab money from anyone within stealing range so they could continue to snort more of the world's resources up their noses, drive ever bigger BMWs and screw even more young foolish women, was to buy the water rights to India from corrupt government officials over there. Yes, in fact, you did hear that right. All of the water rights to India. Which would mean every single human life on the subcontinent would depend on people like Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, people with absolutely no moral or ethical context, for the second most valuable substance required to sustain life on the planet, the first being the air we breathe. I assume no one really requires further comment from me on this nightmare. Except to say that if that isn't terrorism, what is? And Bechtel Corporation, for one, is still trying to pull this deal off, according to those in the know at Human Rights Watch. Not only in India, but in Latin America as well.

So now, in 2009, we have sunk to a place so low that Stewart Purnell, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, can sit before a committee of the House of Representatives and refuse to eat peanuts from his own company, smug in his belief that risking the public safety is not as important as his little company's bottom line. So sleazy that he simply refused to answer questions put to him by the United States Congress by wrapping his very small self in the United States Constitution's protections against self-incrimination after he had ordered "product" shipped throughout the country since the company's 2006 request that JLA USA testing service "help control salmonella in the plant." After Darlene Cowart of JLA USA visited Peanut Corp.'s plant and pointed out problems with the company's peanut roasting and storage which could lead to salmonella, the PCA discontinued using the lab for testing purposes on the grounds that the testers had "identified salmonella too many times." (Um, don't shoot the messenger, Mr. Purnell?) So we have what? A confirmed nine deaths and 600 cases of potentially deadly salmonella? And this is a problem because....?

Mr. Purnell of course is the bastard spiritual son of Lee Iacocca who is responsible for far more deaths. "By conservative estimates Pinto crashes have caused 500 burn deaths to people who would not have been seriously injured if the car had not burst into flames. The figure could be as high as 900. Burning Pintos [became] such an embarrassment to Ford that its advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, dropped a line from the end of a radio spot that read[,] 'Pinto leaves you with that warm feeling.'"

(Two years before the release of the Pinto, one of our neighbor men was arrested for stealing a chicken from an IGA to feed his family, and spent five years in Menard State Prison for stealing. When his wife chased the power company man up the phone pole for trying to shut off her lights, my parents collected the money to pay her bill and buy her kids groceries. At this juncture, Purnell faces one year in jail and $1000 fine.)

Of course, incalculable are the effects of the mistrust created in this country of American-made small cars. Yes, we lovingly buy our Toyotas, our VWs, our Hondas. The saddest joke in all of that is that the Japanese purchased the plans for the very self-same 1955 Ford Fairlane four-cylinder overdrive which was my first car, and updated its plans to become the wildly popular Toyota Corolla, which we couldn't buy enough of. And, happily, we discovered Accords and Camrys as we grew older and had more disposable income. Buy American? Are you nuts? When an Accord will run 300,000 miles, if properly cared for? Low emissions, terrific performance, stylish looks, great ride! Detroit buys up the rights to electric cars and now we're driving what? Oh, Prius. You know. Toyota. Why? Because we know it didn't bother Lee Iacocca to turn us into crispy critters just so long as we signed on for those monthly payments. Stick a little American flag in the window of the dealership so people would feel patriotic and let them pay for death traps on time. What a great guy! Saved Chrysler. American hero.

Once there was a way to get back homeward

Once there was a way to get back home

Sleep pretty darling, do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby . . . "

(Golden Slumbers, Beatles...)

And so this brings us where? The Industrial Workers of the World were the first American union to use the sit-down strike, which is a form of civil disobedience in which an organized group of workers, usually employed at a factory or other centralized location, take possession of the workplace by "sitting down" at their stations, effectively preventing their employers from replacing them with strikebreakers or, in some cases, moving production to other locations. "The United Auto Workers staged successful sit-down strikes in the 1930s, most famously in the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937. In Flint, Michigan, strikers occupied several General Motors plants for more than forty days, and repelled the efforts of the police and National Guard to retake them. A wave of sit-down strikes followed, but diminished by the end of the decade as the courts and the National Labor Relations Board held that sit-down strikes were illegal and sit-down strikers could be fired. While some sit-down strikes still occur in the United States, they tend to be spontaneous and short-lived." [Wikipedia....] And the sit-down strike, of course, is the precursor to the sit-in.

While our elected (and bought by corporate interests) representatives sold our public airwaves to the cable companies for a penny on the dollar of what they were worth (as though you could ever put a value on a free people's right to know rather than be manipulated), Rupert Murdoch and the other robber-baron media conglomerates worked 24-7 to convince us that the problem with Detroit is the workers. The Unions. Greedy. Lazy. Trouble. Un-American. Always their little mantra. If you don't want your kids to die in illegal and unjust wars? Un-American. If you don't want your kids to die in death-trap cars? Un-American. If you vote to support small business, good schools, election reform? Un-bloody-American. Ad nauseum.

Somehow, we've transformed in the past three-quarters of a century, or three generations, from a people who would stand up and stop the companies from all manner of bad behavior, to people who would allow their life savings to be handed over to robber barons who have no shame at paying themselves huge bonuses for destroying the very companies they were charged with the stewardship of. Oh, yes, we are the victims of terrorism, hell yes! But not from a few impoverished groups of angry, frustrated people from middle-eastern countries. The terrorism destroying our once-great nation is economic terrorism, which has siphoned off the money, the jobs, the means of producing goods and services, and the ownership of the media (with the one notable exception being this internet) which we could use to discuss these issues in a thoughtful and deep way. And, given the opportunity, they have not only destroyed the means of obtaining higher education, they've sucked off so much of the resources of our educational systems that we are even hard-pressed to keep the bathrooms clean, functioning, and disease-free.

Somehow we've lost our dignity, our sense, our ability to work together for the greater good, our focus and our vision.

Somehow we've lost the ability to talk to each other. To listen. To solve our problems as a group. To stop those who do not wish us well from taking the very words that we need now, such as working together collectively, and making them "un-American." [See, www.rockridgeinstitute.org.] We can't even live together without large dogs and guns. We are a terrified people in desperate need of salvation. And it will not be Jesus who saves us. If we are saved at all, it will be our own doing. When we relearn what we always knew before. How to invent. How to take care of ourselves. How to think of our communities and people as a whole. How to educate our children. How to protect them from credit card companies, sexual predators, drug dealers. America will again deserve the moniker of "great nation" when, sober, serious, and dignified, we move forward and relearn how to coordinate our efforts and, when necessary, shut down the line.

Copyright 2009 by Mugsy Peabody. All rights reserved. Photographs of 1951 Kaiser used courtesy of Grace Harwood, Images of Amazing Grace, Oakland, California.

26 January 2009

Why We Need The Ledbetter Equal Pay Act

Note: This story is for Suzanne Conti and all the other tough, brave, farsighted women who carry it for the rest of us. So good to know there are those whose dignity and self-respect will never be on the table. Baci Baci. MP

I had been driving for hours alone in my 1983 Corolla across the prairie from Red Cloud, Nebraska, headed across Oklahoma to Perryton, Texas, to visit a friend from the 1984 Women's Voices writing retreat. Red Cloud, as you might know, is where Willa Cather was born. (If you don't know who she is, well, that's why God made Google.) Red Cloud is a scant 10 miles from McCook, where my mother's mother was born, and where my great grandmother, Martha Ann Duffield, "lost her mind" because the wind across the unplowed prairie was unrelenting, and "loud as a freight train."

As my tires rolled mile after mile onto the odometer, I mused over great-grandma's being roadkill in the headlights of Manifest Destiny, over her premature death at 45 from the madness caused by deafening isolation -- while others, like My Antonia, thrived and lived to ripe old age.

When my car radio could only crackle country 'n western, I really began to comprehend her plight on a visceral level. There was nothing, in any direction, except the unbroken horizon line. It was clear I was never going to get out of here. New meaning to the expression, "500 miles west of East Jesus." No way out but through. I began singing to myself, an old Illinois folk song:

Oh, the horses run around

Their feet are on the ground

Oh who will wind the clock when I’m away….

A snake’s belt slips, because he has no hips, and

We hope that Grandma’s clothes will soon fit Ginny….”

I've always been dedicated to maintaining a hold on sanity, no matter how tenuous, but I realized my grip was slipping. So I pulled over and pawed through my bags for tapes, finally settling on The Greatest Hits of Elvis Presley. Laugh all you want, but let me tell you, I couldn't have beat that with a stick. If you are ever on a seemingly endless road trip ("Ace of Cakes" staff, are you listening? Geoff?), the King will carry you.

After I'd sung along with "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" until I'd deluded myself into thinking I actually sounded pretty good, I saw a bump on the horizon. I pulled over again, and drank an orange juice out of the cooler, figuring my blood sugar was dipping to the point of delusion. But after Elvis and I had backed away from the low blood sugar edge, the bump was still there, and actually looked like a square.

The square grew larger and larger, until, an hour or so later, it proved to be a one-room concrete block building with a wooden lean-to kitchen built-out in the back, and an outhouse. The sign on the side said, "Rosie's Cafe." "Oh, sweet Jesus, there is a god," I sobbed, leaning on my steering wheel. I checked the time. 5:35. No wonder I was half-nuts! I hadn't eaten since breakfast.

But as soon as I walked through the door of the cafe, I realized I had truly crossed over. Every single person in the cafe wore either a vermilion or red clown wig, a bulbous red plastic nose, clown make-up, blue overalls, tattered boots, and striped shirts. No one spoke, but they all turned and stared. A couple of bicycle horns at the ready were squeezed in greeting. Since the room was at best 12x12 feet, it wasn't an option either to back out and run for my car or slip quietly into the chair at the one vacant table. I sat.

From the lean-to came a full-sized Raggedy Ann doll, balancing four blue-plate specials on her arms. After downloading, she stopped in front of me and pulled her order pad from her apron, her pencil from her wig. "Hungry, stranger?" she asked, and I thought, "No stranger than you, lady...." I ordered from the black chalkboard menu above the soft-drink cooler. Raggedy Rosie brought me a soda and returned to the kitchen. I tasted the drink gingerly, half expecting exploding paper snakes to emerge from the bottle, but it in fact tasted like "The Real Thing." I began to settle down a bit and to contemplate my fate in this bus full of clowns.

Who had clearly been contemplating me. A late 20th c. Lesbian from Oakland, California. Just guessing, I'd say I was a first. Might as well have been from the moon, Alice. While I smiled, and others smiled back, there was little direct conversation while we ate. I was most of my way through the actually quite good plate when one fine gentleman carefully wiped his mouth with his red bandanna and asked the assembled, "Well folks, why don't we take this little lady from California down to see the dinosaur?" As I listened to the general cheering and hoots of agreement, I began to see my entire life pass before my eyes. Well, mostly the part about my mother telling me women who drove around the country by themselves met with a "bad end."

The fella with the bandanna and the suggestion said, "You ride with us." Soon I was, with the entire cafe, driving off into the Oklahoma sunset in a caravan of clowns in Ford and Chevy pick-ups, at the time, I thought, an apt metaphor for this great land of ours.

About 20 minutes later, over dirt roads, through cattle gates, and over gullies, we arrived. I found myself gazing across a huge pit in the earth at a circle of clowns, and I thought, "Perhaps there is a clear advantage to knowing which ditch you will actually end up in, but what it is, I cannot think." Then, I looked down. And there, 12 feet below me, was a complete fossilized Sauroposeidon. "Sauroposeidon is a genus of sauropod dinosaur found in rocks dating to the Early Cretaceous, a period when the sauropods of North America had diminished in both size and numbers, making it the last known giant dinosaur on the continent." (Thanks, Wikipedia.) (Note: At the time, I had no idea that is what I was looking at, but I knew it was one damn big dinosaur.)

One of the women asked me if I would like one of the bones. "I don't think so," I responded, looking at the yellow plastic "Do Not Cross. Crime Scene" tape which had been unrolled and staked around the entire pit. I wondered to myself how on earth the paleontologist had figured out this poor Sauroposeidon had been murdered.

"Why not?"

"Well, I think if this fella has been here for millions of years, we'd best not disturb."

The guy with the red bandanna nodded. "That fella from the University said we needed to leave it be until they've figured her all out. And they're still digging."

"You know, it's strange to watch them down in there in that hole," another clown said. "They're usin' paint brushes and dustpans to take the dirt off them bones. And then they're puttin' the dirt through a flour sifter. I'd figure they'd be petro-fied, but one of them fellas said they wasn't."

We all stood there, marveling, in the sunset. I took a few desultory pictures, but it really was too dark to make anything much.

"My name's John," the lead clown said. "And this is the Missus."

Then, sounding off like the original Mouseketeers, they all introduced themselves.

"...George.... And the Missus..."

"...Kermit.... And the Missus..." all around the pit.

I asked one of the women directly, "And what was your name?"

"Oh, I'm the Missus..."

I asked three of them, and each time, "the Missus" was the answer. So I observed, "Why, all you ladies must be related."

"How so?" the Missus of the Bandanna clown asked.

"Oh, because you all have the same name." Fortunately, everyone laughed. We ambled companionably back to the pickups.

Rosie was most glad to see us all, particularly since we'd left without anyone paying. We all stood outside in the new moonlight, drinking coffee and enjoying the night air. "Mugsy?" Rosie asked.


"Kin I ask you a question?"

"Sure, if I can ask you one back."

"Did you ever figure out it's Hallowe'en?" They all busted up, and of course, realizing how hilarious it was, I fell out myself.

Then Rosie asked, "What's your question, Mugsy?"

"Well, how'd you end up with your own name? None of these other ladies seem to have one."

"Oh, that," she said. "See, my husband passed away."

I drove on into the night toward the Texas panhandle, over who knows how many Sauroposiedons, past oil wells pumped Oklahoma crude from the residue of their days. Listening to Elvis, musing about my great-grandmother who transplanted from Hartford to the Nebraska Territory via a wagon and horses, a place where women had nothing, not even their own name, from which to build a life. Musing about loneliness and silence, about dinosaurs buried and and those still alive. Knowing this was a place where I'd have no chance of surviving.

I don't remember where I stayed that night. I suppose I was near enough a town with a motel or I drove on through the night to Perryton. But whenever I hear some city woman say she can't imagine why we still need the Ledbetter Equal Pay Act or the ERA in this day and age, I remember those women standing around the Sauroposeidon dig, dressed as identical clowns, not even able to offer their given name to a stranger. Koko, the great ape, had a name. Alex, the grey parrot, had a name, and his obituary would be printed in The Economist. But not these human women.

I am so very fortunate not to have had to marry someone because, as one of my friend's mother told her, "at least he was clean," just to survive. I feel so blessedly fortunate to have had been able to create a situation for myself where I have what Virginia Woolf called for so very many years ago, "Money and a room of our own with a lock on the door..."

Copyright 2009 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.

Note: The wagon and oxen photograph was taken by my grandmother, though in the 1930s, not at the time they lived in Nebraska.

19 January 2009

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929 - 1968

Nearly a decade ago, my friend Grace Harwood sent out the above card in honor of Dr. King, commemorating the brave stance he took against the VietNam War, for which he was vilified. With her kind permission, I reprint it here.

From Dr. King's speech of April 4, 1967:

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

"We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world -- a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

"Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."

For those of you who don't read Italian, the St. Francis prayer in English:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

31 December 2008

Carousel of Happiness

Once upon a time there was a wonderful 17-year-old red-headed boy from Texas who was raised up right so when his country was at war, he wanted to do the right thing. Even though the war was so wrong, he was too young to know that. He didn't want to kill anyone, though, so he joined the Marine Corps and trained in Australia as an interpreter in Vietnamese.

But, just because he had a good heart didn't mean everyone else did. So when he landed in Vietnam, they put a rifle in his hand and sent him into the middle of the Tet Offensive.

He told me later the only way he retained his sanity in the middle of that hell was, at night when he was in the foxholes, he had the mechanical works of a music box in his pocket, and he would play it, and imagine a merry-go-round where the people killing each other across the trenches and their families could come together in peace and enjoy each other and the sunny day, rather than turning each other into hamburger, just so the United States could control the oil in the Indochine Peninsula, or whatever game the big boys were playing this time, using these kids as pawns.

Even hell will end, eventually, and for Scott Harrison, he found himself in San Francisco, volunteering for Amnesty International of the US, where he found his they-broke-the-mold wife Ellen Moore, and together they pursued his dream of an Urgent Action Network to rally support for Prisoners of Conscience around the world who were being tortured or in danger of losing their lives. With pluck and skill, they moved to Colorado, built a house at Nederland, and set about 30 years of work as pioneers in the battle-field of human rights.

But having lived through Vietnam, Scott had his nightmares, his guilt, his need to do something with his hands. And so he began carving. The rabbit was the first, and then .... they came. The St. Bernard. The Ostrich. The Bear. The Mermaid. The little girl dancing for the top. He carved and carved, and they began to emerge from those nightmare foxholes of the late 1960s into his basement, and then into a warehouse, in Nederland. Last count, there were 38 or 39 of them, many sponsored by local folks at $1,000 a pop for their nameplates on their animals. On the world's first "green" carousel -- which will be powered by the sun, in the main, and actually contribute energy to the grid.

For nearly 20 years, he has carved and painted his full-sized carousel. And as he has moved forward, it was the if-you-build-it, they-will-come scenario. The Seagram's Company in Peoria donated first-growth lumber from an old brewery for the floorboards. Scott found the works somewhere in the northwest. A real Wurlitzer has appeared. And so it goes. He's now donated the carousel to a not-for-profit foundation, who has just broken ground on the building where this treasure will live. Before the donation, Scott and Ellen had it appraised by Dewy Smith, a folk art expert, who said it was worth $1.5 million. If you have seen them in person, however, you know the whole kit and kaboodle is priceless.

Now retired from Amnesty, they both move forward, Ellen teaching HUMAN RIGHTS: PROMOTION AND PROTECTION, AN NGO PERSPECTIVE at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and archiving oral histories with the founders of Amnesty in the US. Scott, as with other non-profits, searches for the funds to fund the building and open the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, at the Gateway to the Rockies, for generations of people to enjoy. When I think of heroes, they are two of the first to come to mind.

http://www.carouselofhappiness.org/about.html, for more information, a video and tons of pictures of the animals. (These photos courtesy of Grace Harwood, Images of Amazing Grace, Oakland, California.)

22 December 2008

“The world is a beautiful and terrible place. Deeds of horror are committed every minute and in the end those we love die. If the screams of all earth’s living creatures were one scream of pain, surely it would shake the very stars. But we have love. It may seem a frail defence against the horrors of the world, but we must hold fast and believe in it, for it is all that we have.”

--P.D. James, The Private Patient

20 December 2008

A posting from the Gay Center of the World:

Ignorant, bigoted people, do your best, but we will win

Two stories above me on the roof of the new Packard Lofts on Broadway, as I pedal pedal pedal at the Downtown Oakland "Y", a green and white flag fights with the rain and wind, wrapped around its flagpole, struggling to breathe free. This flag is supposed to be a rebuttal to the most famous Oaklander -- Gertrude Stein -- who supposedly said of this town, "There is no there there." Just as straight people normally misunderstand gay culture, that is NOT what at all she meant, and if you read her entire remark, you understand perfectly. Stein was born in a grandiose Victorian near 25th Avenue and 13th below what is now Highland Hospital. While she was an expatriate in Paris, the house burned to the basement. The majority of her family and friends had long since moved to Europe. The Great Earthquake destroyed the San Francisco she had known as a young person. So when she went to her beloved neighborhood of memory, there were none of the markers of land and experience that had constituted the world of her childhood and the basis of her memories of Oakland. She remarked on this, saying, "There is no there there!" It was a sadness and longing for homeland behind that remark, a cry of the heart that many know so well.

As I pedal pedal pedal along on my exercycle road to nowhere, I note the green and white banner has now shed enough of the rain it is soaked with, and has begun to free itself from the flagpole. I think about the way what women say is so often ignored, or twisted, major parts left out, the meaning distorted or totally misunderstood. For instance, what Virginia Woolf actually said was, "To write poetry and fiction, a woman must have 500 pounds a year and a room of her own with a lock on the door." To any woman involved in the creative process, each and every one of these elements is fundamental. But that lock on the door is invariably left out of the quotation, and quite often the money as well. But for Woolf, a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her older brothers, nothing could have been more requisite to her creative process than the freedom provided by her own money and the means to prevent men from creeping up on her when she was writing (or sleeping).

The "There" flag has now freed itself from the post, and is attempting to fly, but still is stick wet to itself. And, pedal pedal pedal, speaking of distortion, omission, and dismissal of women, it is best not to get me started on the Oakland Black Panthers. But since you have Google, maybe you should check out the real Panthers who made the whole thing work (including writing the Manifesto), i.e., Dr. Angela Y. Davis, Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver, Erika Huggins.... Oh, but this is another track for another day.

I have thought long and hard about what the hell is the problem with so-called straight people (many of whom are on the down-low) and gay people, and now I think I understand it. Discounting totally ignorant, bigoted, arrogant fools who are just frigging mean-spirited about anything not in their little narrow worlds (which only demonstrates that we make our own hells on earth), I think there's a huge huge huge misunderstanding about gay people among those straight folks who can't afford an expensive haircut, a catered wedding, don't work in the entertainment industry, and haven't got enough sense to get it that their favorite teachers, Ms. Eikenberry and Ms. Alexander, weren't just roommates. Are you ready? They just don't know us. They live beside us. We teach their children, write their books, sing their songs, connect their wireless service, fix their cars, bag their groceries, take pictures of their kids at graduation, and whatever else you got. But they don't know us. And even if they did, they still claim to have a problem. So I thought more. And watched the flag dry itself and unfurl.

I believe the majority of people who are against "gays" in this country have an image of us in their heads which has as little to do with who we really are and how we love as Foster Farms caged deformities have to do with free-range grass-fed Rosies.

I think there are a whole lot of folks out there who base their ideas about being gay on homosexual prison rape. And they equate the two. But here's the truth. That's like equating heterosexual rape with straight marriage. Prison rape and straight rape are about brutal power, like Bush kissing Barbra Streisand at the Kennedy Honors, when he knew bloody well she hates his guts, or giving the German Chancellor an uncalled for shoulder rub at the G-Eight Conference.

The majority of rapes, both in prison and out, are committed by straight men. (Have you noticed? Those dicks have taken over the airwaves, literally, and are apparently the most important parts of the American anatomy. [Maybe you've noticed as well -- those dicks apparently don't work. They need constant drugging to enlarge them, to make them "flow", to work at all.] In fact, over 80 percent of all sex crimes are perpetrated by straight men, okay?)

Back to my point, now that the "There" flag is flying fully and freely over my recumbent exercycle in all its green and white glory: Gay love and gay life are as full of dance and song, light and life, loving touch, sweet notes left on the bathroom mirror in soap, remembered snatches of golden days, deep worry and concern for our loved ones as those of anyone (and of course we do it all with soooooooooooooooooooo much more style!). In fact, we have the same sorts of problems, as well. "Aren't you going to pay the rent this month? When are you getting a job, for chrissakes?" "Isn't it your turn to take out the compost?" "No, I don't want to go on some damn Olivia cruise. We need to paint the house this year!" "Could you please scrub your toes, damnit?" "No, I did the laundry last time, it's your turn." We don't force each other to have sex, we don't rape our children, we don't "recruit" straight people (who wants an amateur to practice on you?) And do I need to point out we're paying more taxes than the straight married folks?

Chickens in cages in dark places stacked on top of each other are not healthy living things. Brutalized men crowded into prisons for years on drugs and bad food are not healthy living things. That they treat each other brutally doesn't make them gay. It does make them crazy. And uncivilized. Elephants in zoos are not health living things. (Separate issue. Men who screw farm animals are not gay, just for the record.)

How do I know we'll win? Because we will. Because the kids get it. The majority are not anti-gay, any more than they think Senator Obama's race was a reason to vote against him. They just try to figure out their own destiny, as individuals. Yes, there are vicious rapists among them, like the kids who nearly killed a lesbian woman in Richmond last night in a gang rape because they saw the rainbow flag on her car. (And I sincerely hope those boys rot in the hell of Pelican Bay.) But the vast majority of young people believe you should find your own sexual destiny, your own life partner, and move forward without judging other people. While there is a lot of honest struggle among the under-30s, they mostly are into live and let live. (What a concept.)

So just a question for anyone still reading this who is against gay marriage. Do you really honestly believe you have more of a right to be married in the United States than Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner? National treasures both, who've contributed enormously to whatever culture there is in this country, and together 30 years? Or Elton John and David Furnish? I mean, really. The almighty dick is not going to fall off if gay marriage is legalized in the United States. And it will happen. We have been here for millenia, and we will dance on the graves of those who live in hate. Trust me.

Just a footnote. A hundred years after Gertrude Stein left Oakland for Europe, Oakland has the largest percentage of lesbian home ownership of any city in the United States. So if she and Alice came home now, I think they would have been most pleased with the there here now.

17 December 2008

Guns vs. Butter

Here we are again, the same old question. We can borrow trillions of dollars from foreign nations and risk thousands upon thousands of the lives of our young people in pursuit of an illegal, un-winnable, and absurd war, but when Sen. Clinton proposes universal healthcare, or Pres-Elect Obama proposes rebuilding our failing infrastructure or fixing the toilets in our elementary schools so the kids don't risk epidemic disease going to public schools in the supposed richest country on earth, the republicans shout, "Oh, heavens no! We can't. The Economy!!!!"

So, Desi, 'splain it to me, please. Why is it good for the economy to dig a hole (war) and fill it up (with the body and bones of civilian people who we've murdered) but it is not good for the economy to build houses for the homeless, provide in-home assistance for the disabled and elderly, educate, really educate our children so they can think and make reasoned judgments, as the framers of the Constitution hoped for, rebuild our failing bridges, solve our energy problems, and otherwise strengthen our people and our physical plant in this country. I mean, here's a thought. Drug treatment and job therapy for people instead of prison?

If you want to make yourself entirely nuts on the subject, may I suggest http://armscontrolcenter.org/? But this is not rocket science. There are 80 billion, that's billion with a "b" (which rhymes with a "p" and that stands for pool, friends, trouble, folks, we got trouble...) there are 80 billion landmines in the world. The majority of which we built, bought and planted. Can we grow a good tomato? Not so much. But we can plant a landmine that will blow the legs off a small child playing soccer in a field next to the school in their village in virtually anywhere in the second or third world, thanks to the United States. If you want to help, http://www.banminesusa.org/, in honor of her Royal Highness, Diana, Princess of Wales, Tender of the True Flame, etc.

Change? Change would be from guns to butter (not that butter is all that great for us, either! I've long said forget oil. It's when we run out of sugar that this country will screech to a stone halt). Schools. Real education. Drug treatment for aging homeless Vietnam Veterans. Hey, there's an idea. Health care for everyone, including the vets of Iraq and Afghanistan. Shall I go on? I could list a thousand things we could do with this money before I spend the money we give out to Dig Hole Fill with Bones, Inc. every year. As Dr. Helen Caldicott has shown until she is blue pink and purple in the face, there's plenty of money to do the things we should be doing. We just have to quit making our economy run on fear. Prisons. War. Police. Oh, and get me started about the police. If your car gets stolen, you will receive a telephone call from the police three, maybe four days hence. If you park your car illegally, however, it will be three, maybe four minutes hence that they ticket you. And, as happened recently to one friend who sassed the cop for this very thing, you will lose your license for a month for fighting with a meter maid.

Am I ranting? Oh, I daresay. But I promise, if someone could please tell me what the difference is, why doing useful, helpful, important things is "bad" and evil insane immoral things is "good" for the economy, I'll shut up about it. Why oh why is it good for the economy to murder innocent people and squander our resources, but bad for the economy to rebuild our schools, factories, homes, small businesses? Can anybody anybody out there please clue me in on this?

<[p>And just a note. ANOTHER thing I was very disappointed in President Clinton about, refusing to sign the landmines ban. If you want more info about that, http://www.commondreams.org/views02/1021-04.htm. Somehow, I suspect he thinks there's a moral offset because he's working on global AIDS. Nope. Not in my book. He let us down by not keeping his pants zipped when he knew the neocons were after any little thing, and he let us down by refusing to sign the landmines ban.

Note: My ole pal Kathy Reilley figured out the reason Adsense keeps sending me Wal-Mart and Sam's Club ads (neither of which I shop at or endorse): They sell both guns AND butter! Of course!