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!

15 December 2008

मुसिंग्स ओं सोल्स्तिस

About 10 years ago, I found an eight-inch Miwok pestle grown into the rootball of a fallen giant in the forest at the Vedanta Retreat at Olema. Miwok used these to grind acorns for flour, they say. And the miracle of finding such a thing after the hundreds of years it had slept inside the soil of that rootball did not escape me. But I spent the next two hours looking for the mortar that went with it. Then I returned to the Retreat House and showed Swami Prabuddhananda the pestle. I asked him if I could keep it, and he responded, "Oh, if you must."

Then I told him of a day in the mountains in Colorado when I was sitting with my feet dragging in the water on either side of the point of a small island in the stream. In the midst of that, I understood the connectiveness of all things, matter and energy flows, essentially the whole of everything. I saw the whole of creation, of eternity, of the way that planets are atoms and solar systems molecules, snowbanks are sandunes. And even though it had been 25 years before, the absolute magic of that moment stayed with me. I was still trying to get that back. Just like I was trying to find the mortar. I couldn't see how it was possible for me ever to be satisfied if that were my character.

He said a couple of things. First, that the Miwok probably didn't carry their mortars, but just used rocks with hollows in them in situ. Why would they carry something that was all around them on the ground? The pestle, on the other hand, was a tool and valuable, because rare. So they would have taken that with them. That it was important to know what was which and not to carry the heavy mortar when you don't need to.

Second thing he said was that enlightenment comes and goes. And that I had probably been enlightened many times in my lifetime, but still hadn't gotten to the point of realizing that like everything else, it wasn't something I could hold onto. But I could use that experience to inform my perceptions of everything going forward. And so I try, lugging along the mortar, sometimes, and sometimes the pestle, sometimes enlightened, sometimes too in the dark to light the candle in my hand.

When I typed the Title on this blog, it translated my words, "Musings on the Solstice" into sanskrit letters. I have no idea what they mean. But I'm satisfied that this is what it is. May enlightenment catch up with you today, and may you be so enlightened that you don't try to hold onto it! Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.