22 September 2012

Photo of the Day - Tewa Lodge

The Pueblo Revival-style Tewa Lodge. Built in 1946, it's now on the National Register of Historic Places. 5715 Central Ave. NE/Route 66, Albuquerque, NM.

Here's a postcard of it from the late 1950s:
tewa lodge, route 66 motels, motel signs, neon signs, albuquerque central avenue

Albuquerque's Orphan Signs

 Albuquerque's stretch of Route 66 was once a hotspot for travelers on their way out west. My 93-year-old uncle primarily remembers his late 1930s trip through NM by the many funky motels that sat along Central Avenue. Time has taken its toll on the strip, and while many historic motels still exist, other buildings have been razed, leaving only their signs. 
But foundling signs are taken seriously here. A group called Friends of the Orphan Signs has worked to transform several of them into ojects d'art. One of the best known, at 4119 Central Avenue,was embellished by Highland High School students Hilary Weir, Ellie Martin, Gabe Thompson, and Desiree Marmon. The sign has a strikingly beautiful glow, even in daylight, and a mysticism that's quite unusual in the midst of Nob Hill.

More: http://friendsoftheorphansigns.org/

18 September 2012

Literary Graffiti - Sylvia Plath

photo: Todd Mecklem

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Portland, OR. Part of a literary mural at 33rd & Hawthorne Ave. SE.

“The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then it gathered itself, and in one sleeping tide, rushed me to sleep.”

16 September 2012

Literary Graffiti - Kafka

"From a certain point there is no longer any return. This point must be reached." - Franz Kafka

Graf by Vincerama, Koln, Germany

12 September 2012

Rest in Peace, David Foster Wallace

So many great quotes from one of the few people who gives me hope, just having walked the Earth.

David Foster Wallace: February 21, 1962-September 12, 2008

“It’s a very American illness, the idea of giving yourself away entirely to the idea of working in order to achieve some sort of brass ring that usually involves people feeling some way about you – I mean, people wonder why we walk around feeling alienated and lonely and stressed out.” 

“Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.” 
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” 
This is Water

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don't bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.” 
Up, Simba!

*The truth will set you free--but not until it's had its way with you." 

“The interesting thing is why we're so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.” 

“Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you.” 
 Infinite Jest

“This is so American, man: either make something your god and cosmos and then worship it, or else kill it.” 

“I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear” 

David Foster Wallace photo quotes
Giovanni Giovannetti Capri

11 September 2012

A Little-Known Stupa in Santa Fe

High above Santa Fe, NM... at the top of Double Arrow Rd....

among white clouds...

sits a stupa built in honor of Ngakpa Yeshe Dorje (1926-1993), who was known as "The Rainmaker," weatherman for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He literally had power over the weather and used it to assist those in challenging situations, such as severe drought. 

a wood stove on the grounds

Everyone who met this extraordinarily joyful Lama apparently fell in love with him.  Here is a video of him:  http://youtu.be/-g9DrtBaszA

tashi delek!

08 September 2012

Photo of the Day

Albuquerque NM Native American mural Nob Hill

"Good Indian" Mural
Alley, Nob Hill, Albuquerque, NM
Artwork by Ernest Doty, Ryan Montoya, & Jaque Fragua

06 September 2012

Photo of the Day

Monk and Tiger
I found this online at the Buddha.FM site. Photo by Tejen Shrestha? 

03 September 2012

Labor Day Reading: Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, by Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco, Nation Books
So what if big business makes a lot of money and gets away with murder? For decades, Americans have looked the other way, as corporations have hacked into the natural world and human life with a machete a mile long. We seemed to think it was the “American way,” all OK, as long as we had ours.

Until we didn’t.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt brings to light a series of lives in four severely impoverished American places, the direct casualties of capitalism unchecked. In a sequence of incisive personal interviews and graphic illustration, we begin to understand exactly what happens when everyday life is eviscerated by corporate greed. These vividly described accounts neatly slice through our tendency to convince ourselves that negative circumstances aren’t such a big deal unless they’re happening to us.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, author Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges
This hard-hitting book is a generous act: the product of two men who devoted years of their lives to diving into the heaviness and darkness that stop most of us in our tracks. Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who logged two decades as a NY Times foreign correspondent in some of the world’s worst war zones, and illustrator Joe Sacco, the renowned creator of war-reportage comics including Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza, here graphically delineate the inner and outer landscapes of those most burned by raging greed. 

These war zones are close to home. Take southern West Virginia, where coal-mining giant Massey Energy has completely gutted the local landscape; contaminated air, soil, and drinking water; and flatly refused to comply with any legislation locals can pass through a corrupt legal system. It’s a striking example of how megacorps have plundered local resources to expand their own coffers while leaving community residents with Third World problems. “Disease in the coalfields is rampant,” Hedges states. “The coal ash deposits have heavy concentrations of hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen. Cancer, like black lung disease, is an epidemic. Kidney stones are so common that in some communities nearly all the residents have had their gallbladders removed. More than a half a million acres, or 800 square miles, of the Appalachians have been destroyed. More than 500 mountain peaks are gone, along with an estimated 1,000 miles of streams, which provide most of the headstreams for the eastern United States.”

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Jenkinjones, West Virginia, Joe Sacco, Massey Energy
Jenkinjones, WV. Joe Sacco.
“Mountaintop removal” is a euphemism. These corporate predators have actually completely removed 500 mountains in West Virginia alone. The entire Appalachian landscape has been radically and permanently altered—and rendered almost unlivable. Local residents, who recall their childhoods in a virtual Garden of Eden, have now given Last Rites to the natural world they've loved.  As resident Larry Gibson states, “Do you know what it’s like to hear a mountain get blowed up? A mountain is a live vessel, man; it’s life itself. You walk through the woods here and you’re gonna hear the critters moving, scampering around, that’s what a mountain is. Try to imagine what it would be like for a mountain when it’s getting blowed up, 15 times a day, blowed up, every day, what that mountain must feel like as far as pain, as life.”

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Joe Sacco, graphic novels, illustrator
Joe Sacco
The rape of nature--and humanity--is also a constant in Immokalee, FL, where scores of migrant laborers are captured into slavery and interned in shockingly cruel circumstances. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders once described this area as “the bottom in the race to the bottom.” Captive workers are routinely forced to work countless hours in 90-degree heat for sub-minimum wages that are often withheld from them or applied against an enormous fictitious “debt” they’re required to pay. Gouged by everyone from landlords charging $2,000+/month for overcrowded, ramshackle trailers, to company stores, to viciously abusive crew leaders, these people live lives that are in some ways more desperate than the original Southern slaves’. Ill from constant pesticide exposure, they lack any form of job protection or security, medical coverage, Social Security, food stamps, or legal protection. And when employers are done with them, they’re left with no income, food, or housing. Much of the workers’ suffering is directly caused by the unreasonable stipulations of large chain grocers and restaurants, such as Walmart, Burger King, and even Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Their demands  on suppliers to keep prices at rock-bottom have meant that migrant workers now receive even less than their previously minuscule wages. Some hope does exist here, however. The workers’ efforts at organizing, via the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, have begun to reap real results in ameliorating the situation.

Chris Hedges’ careful descriptions read like verbatim records of hell. If your heart is still intact, this is an emotionally draining book to ingest. And terribly infuriating, as these stories chronicle suffering that could easily be prevented if corporations considered their impact on human beings. However, the authors know that corporate compassion is unlikely. Despite Mitt Romney’s assertions to the contrary, corporations are not human. They thrive on being “no one,” and thus not having to concern themselves with matters of conscience or justice. As Hedges notes, “Corporate culture absolves all of responsibility. This is part of its appeal. It relieves all from moral choice.” Employees of Goldman-Sachs can look out the window and jeer at Occupy Wall Street protestors, while reassuring themselves of their own personal innocence as their employer jacks up commodities on the global food market, forcing thousands of people to go hungry and die of starvation each day. The technical jargon they’ve learned in business school masks the true nature of the proceedings, helping them conveniently ignore their own bloody hands.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Camden NJ, Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco
Hedges and Sacco also take on the political landscape, which has played a huge role in the American death spiral. While politicians everywhere are known for their corruption, the authors help us understand how their bribe-taking leaves nothing to “trickle down.” A prime example is Camden, NJ, where not only has the city’s entire economy (except for drugs) been sent overseas, but the chance of a recovery is nil thanks to crooked politicians like George Norcross, who pocket relief funds doled out by the government. We see Camden's trajectory in the story of Joe Balzano, a 76-year-old former dockworker whose life spans much of city's rise and fall. Here, Sacco’s illustrations bring the man’s biography to life. But the hero of the chapter is Lolly Davis, a kind-hearted grandma who has mothered countless children discarded by their addict parents. She’s a stellar example of the power of acting on one’s principles with simple human kindness in the face of disaster all around us.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Camden Transition Area, Joe Sacco, Camden NJ, Camden homeless
Camden Transition Area. Joe Sacco.
Sprinkled throughout Days of Destruction are amazing philosophical quotes that lend moments of transcendence and even hope to an otherwise bleak account. As someone who wonders daily if I’m the only one who sees (or cares) what’s happening to the country, I feel better knowing that this state of affairs is being keenly observed by an extremely articulate thinker/writer like Chris Hedges. “As societies become more complex they inevitably become more precarious and vulnerable. As they begin to break down, the terrified and confused population withdraws from reality, unable to acknowledge their fragility and impending collapse. The elites retreat into isolated compounds, whether at Versailles, the Forbidden City, or modern palatial estates. They indulge in unchecked hedonism, the accumulation of wealth, and extravagant consumption. The suffering masses are repressed with greater and greater ferocity. Resources are depleted until they are exhausted. And then the hollowed-out edifice collapses. The Roman and Sumerian empires fell this way. The Mayan elite became, at the end, as the anthropologist Ronald Wright notes in A Short History of Progress, ‘…extremists, or ultraconservatives, squeezing the last drops of profit from nature and humanity.’ This is how all civilizations, including our own, ossify and collapse.”

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Occupy Wall Street, Joe Sacco, Zuccotti Park, Chris Hedges
Occupy Wall Street. Joe Sacco.
Hope and possibility are front and center in the book’s concluding chapter, “Days of Revolt.” Hedges hunkered down with the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park (for which he was arrested), and here chronicles its history and principles. He attributes some of Occupy’s success to forging new systems that operate outside traditional lines, instead of attempting to work within a broken system. He asserts, “The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from the consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience and obstruction.” The authors make the fine point that nonaction is equivalent to complicity, that standing on the sidelines and declaring one’s innocence is tantamount to enacting radical evil. As Hedges notes, any act of rebellion, no matter how small or seemingly futile, is helpful in chipping away at corporate power and making the point to other potential activists that revolution is possible. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

In the winter of 1989, Hedges was a New York Times reporter covering Prague’s Velvet Revolution. One night, after 20 years of exile, Marta Kubisova, Czecheslovakia’s most popular singer who had been silenced by the Communist Party, took the stage in Wenceslas Square. After two decades of being relegated to factory work, she once again began to sing. Her song was “Prayer for Marta,” the defiant anthem that had originally sparked her banishment. And the words that came forth were these: “The people will once again decide their own fate.” Hundreds of thousands of Czechs sang in thunderous unison. Less than two weeks later, the socialist government collapsed. 

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, Joe Sacco, Chris Hedges, Lakota Reservation SD, Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge Reservation, SD
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a punch-packing, heart-breaking, and ultimately invigorating book, the one that those of us who have felt so disheartened in the last 5 years have been waiting for. It pulls no punches in demonstrating a truth that’s easy to understand and hard to ignore: for most, corporate greed has shredded what was once possible in America. 

“The idea that life will get better, that progress is inevitable if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by a hard and bitter truth. The American dream, we now know, is a lie. We will all be sacrificed. The virus of corporate abuse—the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters—has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plague our communities with foreclosures and unemployment. The virus has brought with it a security and surveillance state that seeks to keep us all on a reservation. No one is immune. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner, or the Hispanic produce picker universal. They went first. We are next. The indifference we showed to the plight of the underclass, in Biblical terms our neighbor, haunts us. We failed them, and in doing so, we failed ourselves. We were accomplices in our own demise. Revolt is all we have left. It is the only hope.” 

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, by Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco. Nation Books, 2012.

Check it out! This review can also be read at the NY Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/days-destruction-days-revolt

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt website: http://perseuspromos.com/hedges/daysofdestructiondaysofrevolt/

01 September 2012

Walmart's Walton Family: Richer Than You, Me & 49 Million Americans Put Together

This morning I heard something on Truthdig radio that should disturb everyone with a beating heart.  According to the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest individuals, 6 members of Walmart’s Walton family now hold as much wealth as the bottom 41.5% of all Americans, or 49 million families. This translates into a $102.7 billion pie split among a half-dozen Arkansawyers, or $17+ billion per head.  While in recent years, American families have seen a median drop in wealth of almost 39 percent (!), these wiley Waltons have bucked the trend by augmenting their own wealth by 22%.

Anyone in their right mind could reasonably draw the following conclusion: Here in America, those who exploit the most win. Those who create the most suffering for their fellow humans are the ones who are most lavishly rewarded, with the biggest bank accounts, the nicest homes, the finest vacations, the cushiest private jets, and the greatest legacies to leave their likely satanic spawn.

Thus, I have a few questions: Why are we not out in the streets, venting our outrage? Why is no one seemingly very upset about these figures? Why are the polite among us not organizing boycotts? Why aren’t the less polite hiring planes and firebombing Walmart roofs?

Is this a freakin’ JOKE? The wealth of 49 million families in the hands of 6 outrageously greedy people? Who is allowing this to continue unchecked and why do idiots still believe that capitalism should not be regulated?

People are dying of starvation and illness, and Walmart’s waddling swine are sitting on more money than anyone could possibly spend in 10 lifetimes. Certainly not sharing it with their workers, the bulk of whom are given food stamp applications in their employment packets. Certainly not sharing it with on projects to benefit the poor, who so willingly flock to their stores because they can’t afford to shop at those with higher prices. Certainly not in the ways that other billionaires, such as Bill & Melinda Gates, have sought to fund projects for the betterment of humanity. Of course not. If you eliminate poverty, you eliminate Mall Wart’s success. L’Estat suddenly doesn’t live at the blood bank anymore.

And the blood of the poor is splashed all over this money. The Evil Empire is famous for its low-paying, insecure jobs, lack of benefits, and dearth of respect for its workers. People take these jobs because desperate times have made them desperate to feed their families. In earlier times, this principle was known as “taking advantage of people” and was generally frowned on. But no. Wally’s overt greed in the million jobs they control has meant that parents can barely feed themselves and their children, kids go without medical care, and mom and dad are frequently not home because they’re working 2 or more jobs. When Walmart fails to offer proper health insurance, families must turn to public health assistance, which shifts the burden onto American taxpayers. In addition, local governments routinely hand Uncle Wally your dollars in tax breaks (totaling $1.2 billion in 2007; much higher now).

When you have more than 100 bill sitting in the bank, is it really so very onerous to pay your workers a living wage? In 2010, Walmart CEO Michael Duke earned roughly $16,827 per HOUR. The average Walmart employee, even working full-time, would come home with that per YEAR. How is that OK? Why has the state of Arkansas not passed a minimum wage bill that would prevent Walmart from exploiting its workers? Three guesses.

When someone does manage to wrench benjamins from the fists of these Arkansas dough boys, it’s mainly in the form of matching grants. Meaning that the nonprofits must do great amounts of fundraising as well, taking away from the time they can devote to helping others. And while I’m sure the Waltons are busily patting themselves on the back for attempting to widen educational opportunities for the low-income residents of their home state (whose poverty they continue to perpetuate), what would a school run by Cheapo Depot really look like? Teachers making 6 bucks an hour? No frills like desks and blackboards? A cafeteria serving factory-farmed, pesticide-, transfat- and sodium-laden food (which will ultimately fuel many future visits to the Walmart pharmacy)? The Mall Wart logo draped over everything? Civics classes in how the Republicans made America great? Teachers teaching whatever history the Waltons deem appropriate, whatever Creationist crap they decide to offer, with lots of economics classes on how to make a buck off the backs of the poor, how to put other families' businesses out of business, and how to tyrannize your vendors?

Maybe when you’re part of one of the richest families that’s ever lived, what you really owe the world is a little more than foisting your completely-out-of-touch ideas on their school systems. And maybe you owe the world a bit more than sitting around raising cutting horses, like Alice Walton.

As for the humble proletariat, what we need to do is put the fat cats at Waldemort on a massive diet. This involves a personal commitment not to feed the predators. There are plenty of other stores selling the wares that Wally does. It might just be worth a few extra cents to shop elsewhere and send the message to the exploitation machine that we know and care about their shameful actions, and we’re not going to let them get away with grossly increasing poverty in our lifetime.

As Frederick Douglass noted, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

Let the riots begin.