Monday, December 30, 2013

End of 2013

2013 was not a great year, but there were a few exciting highlights, such as my great trip to Ecuador. As I expected, I loved this small South American republic. I stayed nearly the whole time in Cuenca (except for the first night in the capital city of Quito), which is rapidly becoming a major haven for ex-pats from the U.S. and Canada. It is a charming small city, about one-third the size of D.C. I can easily see myself retiring here in a city with several museums, where you can buy fresh produce from an amazing farmer's market, and have a three-course lunch for under $3. Where you can relax in a nice park next to a huge cathedral for hours and then wander the streets until you find a quaint cafe where you can have a cafe con tinto for $1.50.

2014 will be a better year. I am sure of it. After seven months of unemployment, next week I will begin a digital archives job in downtown D.C. I also plan to begin yoga regularly and continue to live frugally in order to save some money for my next trip to South America. I am very glad I am getting back into the field I want to continue with (archives), and I am also on the host committee for the Society of American Archivists 2014 Conference, which will be here in my hometown this year.

I won't be as stressed out about bills and transportation costs. I think Bruno and I will continue to be happy. Activism will still be around, but it won't dominate my life. Look forward to more gaming and more healthy living!

Here's a great recipe that went over well for Christmas when I made it... Cranberry & Quinoa Bread!

While I continue to worry about the people of the U.S., I am generally happy with the direction my life is going in. But I think it is terrible, and a crime, that unemployment benefits were suddenly cut off for 1.3 million of my fellow citizens over this past weekend. And I am aware that between 50 and 60 million of my fellow citizens are living in poverty. Meanwhile the richest 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth. Here's a great data visualization illustrating the wealth inequality. A significant, and revolutionary, change is over due.

Now I am looking forward to ringing in the New Year. And having brunch with my buddy Steve and a couple other friends on 1/1/14! Cheers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Anarchism vs. The Green Party

"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal." ~ Emma Goldman, anarchist leader and philosopher
"It's time to bring the global pro-democracy movement into the belly of the beast." ~ Howie Hawkins, co-founder of the Green Party U.S.

During the last three years, I have on occasion described myself politically as an anarchist. And now I have a confession to make. I am not a very good anarchist. I write this now, as I believe there is still some utility to voting within the current capitalist-imperialist structure of the U.S. government. I vote for Green Party candidates. I have thought for a while now about this internal conflict of mine. I do believe that most humans have come to a point in their evolution where they don't really need a large centralized government managing their social customs, enacting laws over their lives. We certainly can now handle direct democracy and find it far more preferable over the corrupt and quite literally broken (well, it's not broken for the elite) form of representative government we have here in Washington, D.C. Well, we citizens of the District of Columbia don't even have that representation. So, why do I vote Green, and why am I recently becoming more involved with the local D.C. Statehood-Green Party if I call myself an anarchist?

Philosophically there is a lot in anarchism that I deeply agree with. However, I am not convinced that our society has completely lost all need for government. I think our society no longer needs, nor deserves, this current government. I think the poor and most vulnerable, and the most oppressed by The State, deserve protection. They deserve support from the community as a whole. And, no, small collective communities practicing their own direct democracy assemblies are not adequate at this point to fulfill these needs on their own. Perhaps sometime in the distant future when we have reverted, or are in a post-revolution landscape, have gone back to smaller, mostly agrarian communities we will be able to do this. But we don't have this capacity, or sadly in many cases, the willpower to provide this safety net.

Here in the imperial U.S. we live in a highly materialistic society where we love our small electronic gadgets built from minerals mined in places such as the Congo (the most violent place in the world thanks to armies owned by various corporations) and constructed by near-slave labor in China. I sometimes find it absurd and tragic when I find myself bemoaning materialism and what drives it -- capitalism -- with my other progressive friends via our smartphones. And this current capitalist-imperialist government continually gives corporate tax breaks and subsidies to these same multinational corporations who violate human rights in the name of profit.

Even many of my progressive friends who have adopted and supposedly fully embraced anarchism, pay taxes. They may not vote, but they still pay taxes -- lest they be put away inside the prison industrial complex in the imperial U.S. Why vote if you don't want to support or partake in "the system," but yet you still pay taxes to this monster which spends more than 50 percent of its discretionary spending on past, present and future wars abroad, and the police/surveillance state here at home?

I guess I vote, because I want to overturn the current imperial-capitalist structure by any means necessary. Yes, any means. I still protest. I still organize with others from various backgrounds and groups/organizations. And I see my involvement in the D.C. Statehood-Green Party also as an avenue to organize for a far more progressive, non-capitalist future, beyond simply the ballot box. [Because this coming revolution will rely on good old fashioned people power.] Although the ballot box is still part of my picture. I also, quite frankly, find myself in full agreement with the Green Party's Ten Key Values.

Although I have often shared the cynicism and rage against Election Day that Emma Goldman posits in the first quote in this essay, I think voting does/can make a significant difference in society, particularly to those most vulnerable. I spent a good part of today with Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, as they were recognizing that today was Human Rights Day; 65 years ago the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights was enacted. They demanded that the out of control military budget be cut, so that rights -- such as a right to food and a right to health care be preserved. Nearly half of all Americans are now living in poverty. That should be an eyeopener if it isn't already.

I also want to recognize the importance of anarchy in many social movements from the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, to more recently Occupy. However, Occupy was not inspired by anarchy -- although its form of organizing and decision making borrows from the anarchist model. It was inspired largely by the pro-democracy movements happening around the globe, most notably the Arab Spring. Those movements were driven primarily by young people, many anti-authoritarian, but I would suggest they were not anarchist. They simply wanted to overthrow outdated, horribly corrupt, elitist regimes. As do I.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Turning over the autumn leaf, remembering Ecuador, and other ramblings...

OK, I desperately want to do some wildly creative things, as well as land a job that doesn't drive me insane, pays me a salary above the poverty line, and is at least someway related to an archives or a library's special collection. But more on the job hunt later. So with the long neglected creative side of my persona yearning to be unleashed, I decided I am going to write in this here blog a lot more frequently, and I am going to make a second attempt at working through my sci-fi, near-future dystopian novel. I might also try and get back into meditation and poetry. Meditation, I think I need to bring more peace and discipline into my life. And poetry just would help me express myself new ways, bringing me more joy; something I used to do more -- before I became obsessed with a quest to save the world, or at least the empire from itself. That struggle, I am convinced, slowly took over my life and enslaved me to my own hubris.

So, let me state quite clearly here: I will become more creative, less dogmatic. More accepting of myself and worrying a lot less about fighting battles, which cannot be won. I am going to have more fun with life. I am going to start taking reading, writing and improving my knowledge of the archival world more seriously. I am going to continue with my job search, but I am going to do so with more patience and less fear.

About that novel that I started writing, my friend Bill (one of the gamers) told me November is some sort of write a novel month. I already have a 3,500 word head-start. Should be fun and exciting. I am not going to give away my plot here, but I will give a few updates as the work progresses during the month.

A lot of folks have asked about the trip my friend Debbie and I took to Ecuador. It was fabulous! I think I enjoyed it more than Debbie, as she broke her shoulder a week before and felt sick for part of the trip. We were in Cuenca, the nation's third largest city -- located in the Andes -- and somewhat of a center for expats from the U.S. The temperatures are springlike, the people are friendly and kind, there's cool public art, interesting mercados [markets], charming architecture, and the prices on most things are like one-fifth the price of things here. I think I still want to retire there... And I could do so and live quite comfortably. I will continue practicing mi espanol and will return to Ecuador at least a couple more times before that enormous move.

Someone on Facebook, who has given me a few useful pointers during the job hunt, asked me about civil resistance/civil disobedience when I said that many of these actions, some of which ended in convictions, I now regret. This regret is due to the pervasive background checks to get a job in the Washington metro area. I think many of these actions were not well organized, lacked a greater strategic plan, and were not even covered well (or at all) by the media. I hate to say it folks, but I am rather desperate to get a job and reconnect with my career as an archivist, or some sort of librarian. I went to graduate school for Library and Information Science for a reason, and I passed the Certified Archivist exam for a reason. I feel like I did my part in the world of progressive activism, but that segment of my life has now drawn to a close.

I think civil resistance/civil disobedience can bring about a more just and peaceful world, but it has to draw enormous numbers, have systems of support in place (intentional, loving communities of resistance), and be part of larger strategic campaigns. Too often activists, and I put myself in this category at least for a couple years, feel that they are the superstars making a huge difference in the world, and that more folks should just be more like them. Sorry to say it but in some ways these folks are borderline delusional and are failing to connect with others who either sympathize with them but cannot afford to put themselves at risk, or those they claim to speak for but they don't even know. Far too often these actions completely lack any larger strategic vision, or any tangible goals. They are often pursued by an extremely small group of self-righteous individuals, although on some level they "mean well." That's not how civil resistance/civil disobedience will help bring about positive change in our lifetime.

I guess those above two paragraphs might truly annoy and/or upset people I still consider rather close to me and dear to my heart. I speak from my own experience and feel that I am being truthful with my perspective. I feel that the hour to truly disassemble the empire and completely reform our society has most likely already passed. And this is why I look forward to the day when I have maybe done 10 years of what I want in an archives or the special collections of a library, and I can move out of the empire. I want to fulfill some of my own personal goals, and then cease being a part of this place.

Now for something a little different -- a couple recipes:

My Morning Strawberry-Banana Smoothie
2 crushed ice cubes
2 tablespoons whey protein powder
1/2 cup organic apple juice
3/4 cup organic almond milk
1 banana
3 average-sized strawberries
- Puree in blender for 30 to 40 seconds

Granny's Buttermilk Cornbread
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8 inch square pan.

Melt butter in large skillet. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Quickly add eggs and beat until well blended. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stir into mixture in pan. Stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpickinserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chelsea Manning and Ecuador

Three and a half days ago Col. Denise Lind sentenced Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning to 35 years imprisonment for releasing information to the public, which exposed war crimes, massive wrongdoing and knowledge of deep-seated corruption of regimes our government long supported. There was of course the famous Apache Helicopter video from Baghdad, dubbed "Collateral Murder," but there was also State Department cables such as the one about the severely corrupt ruling family in Tunisia which helped spark the Arab Spring, as well as information on Guantanamo prisoners, most of whom are still being held in this gulag despite being cleared for release, and more accurate civilian casualty counts from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than had ever previously been released. Much of this information was indeed embarrassing to the U.S. government, but no one was directly harmed by the releases, despite the prosecution's best efforts (even in closed door sessions from what Manning's attorney David Coombs has indicated) to suggest.

35 years was close to the prediction I formulated in my mind, having attended 12 days of the trial. There were many who attended far more of the trial than me -- some predicted a longer sentence, others predicted shorter hoping against hope that Lind, who is being promoted, would show mercy to this young, courageous, deeply ethical humanist who was disturbed and disgusted by the dehumanization of people on the other side of the globe we have been told we were somehow "liberating" by destroying their infrastructures, and bombing their communities. Chelsea wanted to spark meaningful debate and hoped for some reform within the heart of the U.S. Empire. And now we must demand a pardon for her after a three and half year pre-trial prison term she has already served. There is a petition requesting President Obama quickly issue a Pardon for Manning. Hopefully more mainstream Democrats will get behind this campaign, in part launched by Amnesty International and now endorsed by media darlings, The Young Turks.

I do think the struggle to liberate Chelsea Manning will continue. It is surprising how many Americans have not heard, or have forgotten about political prisoners in the U.S. such as Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Well now we have another prominent political prisoner, probably the greatest U.S. whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg. And while the U.S. Empire spends time and resources (although Obama has at times tried to downplay this effort) trying to track down and arrest Edward Snowden, another great whistleblower, Manning will be in the military prison in Ft. Leavenworth. Although some liberals seem to praise Snowden and condemn Manning, I would like to say that Manning showed more courage and honor, by pleading guilty, a.k.a. accepting full responsibility for 20 charges filed against her at the beginning of the trial. But I don't blame Snowden, I would have also left, having seen what happened with Manning, especially during her stay at Quantico.

If you want to learn more about Manning's case, please watch this in-depth interview of defense attorney Coombs conducted by Alexa O'Brien.

Speaking of leaving, in one week my friend Debbie and I will be in Ecuador. We will be touring the beautiful Andean city of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and making plans for the future. I have heard wonderful things about this city and its people. Also, we like President Correa and it's pretty awesome that this small South American nation kicked out the U.S. military in 2008. We are excited about our trip, and I'll be taking many pictures.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Unemployment and the Struggle to Save Manning

One week ago I was laid off from a job I did not enjoy. Yes, I loved the salary and was quite enthusiastic about landing this job nine and a half months ago. The pay was significantly greater than I had ever earned before. My friends and former co-workers seemed surprised when I started looking for a new job, and then my unmasked relief of actually being laid off and seizing the opportunity to collect unemployment. Yes, it was related to library science, but it was not in a library or an archives (my specialty). It was also boring, I did not like the unpredictability of contracts, and frankly didn't really care for some of the big name clients our firm had (and in fact a couple I worked on). I also felt a little out of place, and don't think I ever want to do private consultancy work again. Ever. Unless it's later in my career and I am providing some consulting work for an archives and historical collection.

That's enough about me. I am job searching for something in an archives, library, or an interesting nonprofit that I can believe in and can pay me enough so Bruno and I can survive and keep a roof over our heads.

This week was the first of Bradley Manning's long-awaited trial. He has been in pre-trial imprisonment for four years. This is for exposing war crimes, causing embarrassment to the imperial government of the U.S., and quite honestly for doing the courageous and moral thing of saying something when he saw something wrong.

Let's recap what Bradley Manning, now by his own admission, did to bring the full weight of the military and government down upon himself. He saw widespread government corruption (that the State Dept. knew about and helped cover up), he saw the military he was a part of detain and torture political scholars -- not violent terrorists, and he witnessed the war crime captured in the infamous Apache video. He first tried to go to his superior officers, and was told to shut up. He confided in a pathological felon ex-hacker who betrayed him. He also tried to approach the New York Times and Washington Post, because he thought the American citizenry should know the malfeasance and downright criminality committed in their names with their tax dollars. These two major newspapers ignored him, and then he turned to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks although often criticized by these same news outlets is often a crucial source in mildly investigative news stories they in turn publish.

This week this young man's trial began. The government is pursuing life in prison for him. Manning never committed a crime previously. And he has plead to 10 lesser charges, but the government is hell bent on pursuing the "Aiding The Enemy" charge, which is contained in a 1917 law. The same law utilized to execute the Rosenbergs in 1953. It's what the government tried to get Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) on, but failed.

In this week's testimony it was revealed that Bradley Manning never mentioned any intent of aiding the enemy, and that he never expressed a hatred of the U.S. Government. However witnesses commented on his intelligence, talent with computers, and ability to provide other military intelligence analysts with useful data. But we are continually being told by the military and government that he is a traitor, a criminal worthy of disdain.

I am disgusted by the imperial government. I plan to move to Ecuador, as soon as I enter retirement (hopefully an early one). This government wants to destroy this young private's life for wanting to improve the world in some small way, according to the chat log's which were used to betray him, he said: "Hopefully [this leads to] worldwide discussion, debate, and reforms..." Manning loved his nation and believed it could be improved. I am afraid he is being proved wrong.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Guantanamo and Manning

It has been far too long since last I wrote in my blog. I have been working very hard at a job for which I am now losing all enthusiasm. I also have little hope that living conditions will improve for most Americans within the existing paradigm, and that prospects appear dim for any sort of major shift away from the existing status quo. My friend Debbie and I will be scouting out our future home in Ecuador at the end of the summer.

However, I find myself compelled to write finally. This past week, the Washington Peace Center celebrated its 50th anniversary. I am proud to have been associated with this great small progressive org. There were times when it appears this org would not make it to 50 years of life, but it did. And I would say a lot of the credit goes to the activists associated with it for so long, its generous donors, and its past and present board members. They have never given up hope that positive social change could occur through the vision and organizational leadership of the Washington Peace Center, even when the org was nearly out of funds and operating out of a board member's living room. Here's to another 50 years!

Some promising news recently: After years of protests, direct actions, and citizen lobbying it appears there is in fact some strong momentum now to shut down our military's own immoral and unlawful gulag, Guantanamo Bay. There has been a petition circling widely written by a former military prosecutor demanding Obama use his executive power (and there is a clause within the NDAA which expressly states this ability) to bypass Congress and immediately shut it down. There are 86 men there who have been cleared for release by the military for years now. The fact this place is still open approximately 5 years after Obama pledged to close it is his own great shame.

Here is a link to this petition (currently it has about 200,000 signatures) drafted by Morris Davis, former Air Force prosecutor at Guantanamo: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-obama-close-detention-facility-at-guantanamo-bay. There was a press conference Friday on Capitol Hill about the ongoing hunger strike by prisoners who have lost hope about ever being able to again walk with their friends and family as free men, and the renewed energy to close this hell on earth.

Also, since I last wrote, Bradley Manning has plead guilty to lesser charges for releasing thousands of government and military memos and reports to WikiLeaks. This move was not received well by the government and military who have vowed to continue pursuing the Aiding the Enemy charge, which could very well leave Manning in jail for the rest of his life. Public support for Manning as a courageous whistle blower has also been on the increase.

Manning's trial is expected to finally begin June 1. That's four years Manning has been in jail for exposing war crimes and massive government corruption around the globe. This event, similar to Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers, except this material was classified at a lower secrecy level, has earned Manning several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is widely believed that news reports in Tunisia based on some of these releases helped spark the people's uprising, also known as the Arab Spring. There will be a large rally at Ft. Meade that first day of the trial.

Next time I will share some more restaurant reviews/tips and maybe a recipe I have used recently. Note: I made some delicious cornbread two weeks ago. Until then!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Violence in America as seen yesterday

Troubled white male guns down 20 schoolchildren is a headline that shouldn't happen. But it does. I am truly sickened and exhausted by what happened yesterday in Connecticut. I plan on retiring to Ecuador and the commonality of gun violence in America is just one reason. Our foreign policy (which is also terribly violent) is another reason. The natural beauty and lower cost of living in the Andes are two more reasons. There are some more reasons for my Ecuador plans, but I digress. I want to deeply discuss and try and make some sort of sense out of this mass shooting of innocents by -- the first three words I wrote.

Troubled. White. Male. Adam Lanza a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, was quite young himself, 20, and lived with his mother who was a teacher. Not much else is known about him.

What is known though from the reports coming out now was that he was severely socially awkward, avoided eye contact, had been on medication for some time; many neighbors said he was a "weird" kid. He had few to no friends. He and his older brother Ryan did not take their parents' breakup and divorce well. However Ryan moved on and became an accountant like his father. Adam did not. He stayed with his mother who apparently collected guns. Apparently he was in honors classes, but was difficult to interact with. These reports are all coming from neighbors and former classmates who knew the Lanzas.

I think the troubled nature of Adam Lanza contributed to the horror that erupted in the Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was troubled and those who interacted with him knew it. They didn't think he was violent, but I also seriously doubt they tried very hard to reach this young man. Many of us in our daily lives bypass, or totally ignore those who are mentally ill. We refuse to directly interact with those who (due to being "troubled") have been ignored for a long time. They are ostracized, their ailments are stigmatized, and they are pushed further away from any human interaction which could lead to assistance and care. I think in our culture if you are not fiercely independent and fully functional and motivated you are pushed to the outer limits of society. You are seen as an outsider. The sense of not belonging is simply reinforced and codified. I fear that Adam Lanza needed continual medication, therapy, as well as a community of loving and supporting friends and family. He didn't have any of that. 

I don't care much for the reports that describe the shooter as evil. This is outrageously simplistic, distances us from this kind of violence, and yet again reinforces the different outsider who people avoid and refuse to engage with.

Adam Lanza was white. White western culture is the most violent the world has seen in modern (last 1,000 years) times. We have enslaved others, we have waged genocide against indigenous populations, we exploit the earth and each other. Violence is a common tool in the white population. Wars are seen as noble and justified when most often they are neither. Whiteness carries a lot of privilege and arrogance with it. You don't see mass murderers of other races usually (the black Washington Beltway sniper was a rare exception, and the Asian guy at Virginia tech was also a rarity). Whiteness seems to reward individualism, minimizes community, rewards greed, minimizes cooperation. You take what you want. You look out for number one. Violence can often be justified, even more so if it is done against an "other."

The White world continues its legacy of violence and exploitation. We subjugate others for their labor and their lands' natural resources. Middle East, Africa, the list goes on. However, I think I have made my point about White acceptance and rewards of violence.

Adam was a young man, barely outside of boyhood. He was a male. Now that trait is even more common to mass murderers than their race or ethnicity. Once again, similar to whiteness, Maleness rewards violence and dominance over others. Hunting, competitive sports, going to war -- all have long been and in many ways continue to be the realm of manhood. An attractive, virile male is one who can fight violently for himself, his family, his "own." He can defend himself and his "own" against "outsiders."  If one's sense of masculinity, their manliness is insulted or questioned -- violence, traditionally often a duel, is fully acceptable and implicitly praised. 

Perhaps in Newtown, this "troubled" kid viewed as an "outsider" living with his mom needed to prove something. He needed to prove to everyone that he would no longer be insulted, ignored, called "weird." He was now a man. Probably an angry and disturbed man who had access to weapons. 

I am sure there are other elements in this case I have not touched on, but I thought I would just give a thoughtful overview as many are desperately looking to make some sense out of the seemingly senseless. I do think there are some answers to be found coming out of this. We will probably never fully know what was in Adam Lanza's mind when he went to the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th. But we can get a better sense of what most likely led him to that point.

I do think greater gun control, if not an outright repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S.Constitution are part of the answer, but only part. I do think greater access to mental health services and associated medication is part of the answer, but only part. I think instilling a greater sense of community (and in the end these community instincts did in some ways kick in in Newtown) where we look out for one another, directly engage one another, listen and share with one another -- not ostracize and ignore each other is part of the answer, but not the only part. I think ending the acceptance and use of violence in our country and abroad -- condemning violence rather than justifying and rewarding it -- is part of the answer, but only part.

I guess in the end something must be done. As I have often said aloud and in my writings, the status quo is no longer tolerable. If the government does not act -- the people must. Conditions will not improve on their own... On this issue, eight of the 10 deadliest shootings in the U.S. have happened during my lifetime. All 10 happened within the last 100 years. Yesterday was the second deadliest ever.

I wish everyone the best of luck as they struggle for an improvement in all of our lives here in the U.S., but I'm still going to Ecuador.