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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tired but writing...

Good evening one and all... I am at home writing for my Traveller campaign, and getting a start on a novella. This story will be dear to my heart.It is a look at a future where we have lost basically all of our civil liberties, and corporations control our food, our media, our politicians. Doesn't sound far off from what we have now!

But anyhow, I am re-committing myself to supporting local businesses. You will soon see more restaurant reviews/shout-outs here. Why am I excited about turning my back on some major corporations? Well, one is the recent expression of blatant and outrageous greediness of Papa John's owner and CEO. He refuses to raise the price of his pizza 11 to 14 cents in order to help cover his worker's health insurance. In fact, he is slashing all of their hours so there's no way they could qualify as full-time employees entitled to some important benefits in a civilized society that actually begins to care about its workers. This callous creature has been gaining more and more profits each year, lives in a 40,000 square foot mansion and has something like a 20+ car garage. These people are a menace to our country.

OK, glad to have gotten that off my chest. But here's a link to the petition directed at this asshole.

Glad I have begun to write more. It's a good feeling to create, and exercise my mind. Hope many of you find sometime soon to utilize your creativity and tap into your talents. Big smile as Bruno rests his head on my left foot, as if encouraging me to do what I enjoy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Political Abstractions and Good Food

Winter seems to be rolling in about a month early here in DC, and yesterday was the election. One wing of the corporate party won more electoral college points than the other. More drone wars killing thousands of civilians, more off-shore drilling furthering our fossil fuel addiction, and more jobs will now be shipped overseas with the soon-to-be signed Trans-Pacific Free Trade Pact. Sadly, the American people and the future of our planet is not benefiting from the destructive and exploitive nature of our current political system. As Americans, we are also harshly divided over vague and outdated ideologies, which are little more than abstract and little understood titles we hang on one another -- chief among these are capitalism and socialism. Neither in any of their original purity exist in reality today.

In better news, I have been enjoying some meals here in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC. One of my favorite food haunts is Tortilla Cafe, 210 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Owned and operated by and El Salvadoran family, their papusas are delicately made and delicious, their burritos are generous in size and filled with fresh ingredients, but one of my favorite items now since I have been cutting way down on my meat intake is their vegetarian taco salad -- good sized, cheaply priced and mouth-watering! If you haven't tried this humble in appearance eatery, across from the historical Eastern Market, please visit and enjoy! 

Also, want a good pizza delivery place in this area -- try NY Pizza! Cheap, delicious. I was also impressed they delivered to me during Hurricane Sandy! For Chinese delivery try Hunan Dynasty. They also have decent sushi and their Mongolian Lamb is simply mouth-watering goodness!

This may be a cold winter ahead. I hope to write more often in this blog. Bruno seems to be enjoying the cold more than me. However, when we are on the couch he curls up closer to me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Less activism, more work!

Hello dear readers,

I am sorry that I have written so little on this blog during 2012. No, I am not going to comment on the presidential race between the two wings of the corporate party. I will say that Presidential Green candidate Jill Stein will of course get my vote, and I am pleased that she will appear on more state ballots than any other Green presidential candidate before (I think the number is above 40 now). I landed a much better paying job, which I enjoy. I am continuing to game. I am the GM of a cool Traveller campaign, which will have its first full-length session later today.

I guess you will now see more writings about role-playing games, movies, and restaurants here. But let me pull your attention toward the wonderful canoe trip I just came back from in Maine. I enjoyed canoeing down the Penobscot River with college buddy Matt, before enjoying two nights and three days on the Maine coast in and around Acadia National Park. If you have never been to Maine -- go! It's a fantastic and gorgeous corner of the world. Mainers are nice, the seafood is great, and the sites sounds and smells are memorable.

One little town we spent some time in is Winter Harbor. We enjoyed some wonderful home-styled cooking at Chase's restaurant, and wandered into the charming library, which is a former chapel built by stones carried to the site by many townspeople more than 200 years ago. The Penobscot was fun, too although we got rained on a bit. We saw a total of four moose, lots of loons, a couple ospreys, a blue heron, and a bald eagle! It was a good time, and I would recommend Katahdin Outfitters if you want to do a similar excursion.

I am back home now with Bruno the best Basset, and rather happy if less politically active. My friend Matt had a blast; his first time in Maine.

Restaurant reviews coming soon -- a focus on my neighborhood here in Eastern Market!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Visited Ecuadorian Embassy, expressed support for Julian Assange

Today was a very small protest at the Ecuadorian Embassy, as part of a campaign pleading with that country's president to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder and journalist Julian Assange. Currently Assange is staying inside the London embassy waiting for a decision.

Here is an email, I sent out earlier this evening to other activists:

Hi all,

Well, despite the low numbers I consider it a success! Within the first 10 minutes David, Steve and myself were invited into the embassy where we met with the Deputy Chief of the Mission Efrain Baus Palacios. He listened to what each of us had to say, and was very sympathetic. He said the embassy is receiving thousands of e-mails every single day supporting Assange, and urging Ecuador to grant him asylum. He said Pres. Correa is presently reviewing all legal issues connected to the case, and is not sure when a decision will be announced. He also said Assange has his own bathroom with a shower and a bed, but it is indeed just an office building and there's not much space. He was very polite and thanked us for coming. He did say all of our concerns have been reflected in the thousands of e-mails received. We expressed heartfelt disenchantment with our own government (David even stated the government does not represent him), and cited the abuse of Bradley Manning as proof of both the military and federals', criminal behavior. We ended it by thanking him and I complimented him on his country and his home town of Quito, also the capital.

We were each given his business card. I plan on staying in touch as this proceeds. I think there will be twists and turns ahead in this saga. 

In peace and resistance,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Reflections on Reality and Fantasy

Super diva Donna Summer, 63, passed this week. I should have known I was gay when I enjoyed dancing to her inspirational and soulful singing when I was 10 years-old. Beyond her glorious days of disco, Ms. Summer never quite made a successful comeback, nor was she ultimately successful in battling cancer. That's the beautiful and sad reality of many lives; great but often unfulfilled and over far too soon.

On the activism front, I am still on my sabbatical, however, a few weeks ago a major highlight thus far this year for me was attending a pre-trial court hearing for Pvt. Bradley Manning, the greatest government whistle blower since Daniel Ellsberg. He is once again being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, although his own government is trying to put him away for life. I was overjoyed to see Bradley smiling in court and engaging in detailed conversations with his attorney. He seemed engaged and a bit hopeful during the proceedings.

At one point, Bradley entered the court from near the back and therefore had to pass by where we were sitting, I was standing and facing him at this moment and brief eye contact with this brave young American. I smiled and nodded at him, he seemed to notice and met my gaze for a couple seconds.

Although the defense is not yet winning many rulings from the judge (the most serious Aiding the Enemy charge remains), I would like to think Bradley remains hopeful. I know that I would need any tiny piece of hope to cling onto if I was facing life in prison. Such as reality these days in the USA: Tell the truth, try inform others of the truth -- and you could be punished severely.

So, I guess I am once again escaping reality by playing more games. And having a blast while I am at it! Besides it is a wonderful creative outlet and a good opportunity to mix it up with like minded geeks.

I have loved Dungeons and Dragons ever since I was 12 years-old. But I do not care for 4th edition, nor do millions of other geeks. That's why many of us have fallen in love with Pathfinder! Paizo who created Pathfinder is in many ways stealing D&D from D&D's owners at Wizards of The Coast (Hasbro). I understand it is now outselling D&D 4E!

So, in regards to Pathfinder, my campaign has been suspended for the near future, and Dave from our Arlington troupe has started running a campaign for us using the Carrion Crown published mods. I am having a fantastic time playing a young passionate, and impetuous, bard. Good fun for the whole geeky family -- zombies included!

As part of my fun escapism I am planning a Traveller campaign right after the release of the forthcoming Ridley Scott film, "Prometheus"! Not sure yet if I will use Mongoose Classic Traveller or the Cthonian Stars setting (which is a lot closer to our current time. Regardless it will have a lot of sexy intrigue and horror in traditional Lovecraft-style.

So, anyhow, game on! Imagine and create fantastic worlds... I know I will be for sometime to come -- until I can't resist the urge to get involved in a movement once again which will be about building a better reality in our own world.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trayvon Martin and Justice Denied....

I went to a rally for Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen who was murdered in late February by a violent racist for being himself, yesterday in front of DC City Hall. At the time, Martin was wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of skittles. 

Under the insanely fascist "Castle Law" in that state (and I believe a dozen others), his murderer, George Zimmerman, remains free. Carrying a gun, Zimmerman uttered a racial slur ("f#@king coons") and said "these assholes always get away" into his cell phone during his 911 call. You can listen to the recording

A 17 year-old walking home and chatting with his girlfriend on his cell phone should never be murdered. And yet it happens. What is so horribly wrong here is George Zimmerman has not been prosecuted. Shame on Florida. And shame on us if we let this stand.

My hope is that people will really be motivated to act. At the rally yesterday there was a lot of urging people to vote. That is not what we need. We need people to organize their communities, get truly involved, and act. We cannot allow these insane Orwellian laws become reality, and if they do we should revolt. The people, truly united, will never be defeated.

An associate of mine, Corryn, a great young Howard University student is driving down to Florida today with a few friends to offer support to Martin's parents and be part of the intense organizing going on in Florida right now.

I think some folks were actually beginning to believe we lived in some sort of "post-racial" society, but then the unjust execution of Troy Davis by Georgia happened, and now this case in Florida. I never believed such a fantasy, but I think a few "liberals" were heading down this road. This must all be a very rude wake up call for them.

We must demand far greater justice in this country. And we must demand it now...

The following words are from the Magna Carta (which our tradition of jurisprudence is based on): "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice." The phrase "Justice delayed is justice denied" originated from this maxim.

Let there be justice for Trayvon Martin. Let there be equal justice for all.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Tale of Two Occupations: Democracy is Not Tidy

At the beginning of October, I met a couple of the folks who were in their first week of occupying McPherson Square, located along the corporate lobbying corridor of K Street in my hometown of DC. They were determined to stay and spread a message about income inequality, crony capitalism, and the wrong direction our government was headed.

They stayed and they multiplied. At the time I was attending The Stop Machine multi-day rally at Freedom Plaza. I had earlier been associated with helping to organize this older, more strictly anti-war mobilization, but I had withdrawn from the steering committee both because of constraints on my time (busy work days and moving to a new apartment with my dog) and disagreements with the organizing style of others involved. I fell in love with Occupy DC at McPherson Square and even as I attended Stop the Machine at Freedom Plaza, I became even more disenchanted with them.

This is my story about the two occupations in DC, and how one has always been more true to the Occupy movement, warts and all, and how the other has struggled with identity and clumsily trying to fit in with the younger crowd.

The second week in October my college buddy Matt and I spent a week touring Arizona. It was the first time I had ever been in the Southwest. I was not expecting much for either occupation when I returned. But I remember listening to the radio in the rental car in amazement -- as occupies were popping up all over the country, including one in Phoenix.

When I returned to DC. The Occupy DC/K Street was easily five times the size it was when I had left town. I remember emerging from the McPherson Square Metro station and being filled with joy when I saw 75% of the park filled with tents. It was indeed a mostly under 35 crowd and they were full of energy and sincere hope.

Freedom Plaza seemed to maintain a somewhat smaller size, but nothing minuscule by any means. However, they had a more formal leadership structure than McPherson, which really had no leaders. Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers who had played crucial roles in the Stop Machine steering committee retained much power over finances and the setting of the initial agenda (a rather large set of policy demands and principles).

Over the next couple weeks, McPherson seemed to be doing more actions than Freedom Plaza. One focus was clearly the banks, directly following the lead from Occupy Wall Street (which had captured the nation's attention while hunkering down in Zuccotti -- I and a couple friends visited it the day the famous march to the Brooklyn Bridge resulted in approximately 700 arrests). Another focus was the enormous influence the K Street corporate lobbyists have over the government.

A march to the Washington Convention Center, where the villainous Koch brothers were hunkered down with right wing pundits and politicians (including a couple presidential candidates), was a powerful action I attended. We were able to block all the intersections surrounding the convention center, and even block the parking garage. This was fantastic, despite some rather overly-aggressive tactics at the convention center's doors and an unfortunate hit-and-run which probably could have been avoided. I witnessed at least one argument between protesters and car drivers trying to get home who had absolutely nothing to do with the Koch bothers' party.

In contrast, the Freedom Plaza folks seemed to be a bit more passive. And, yes, certainly older. These differences persist to this day, even through the Park Police's semi-eviction of both occupies.While the younger folks lack experience and sometimes get into rather unnecessary and unfortunate confrontations with the police (hint: let the police initiate physical contact, otherwise it will likely be a felony), the Freedom Plaza folks are too easy to accommodate the authorities. This accommodation is most clearly expressed through permits it has acquired (and extended) to have a rally. McPherson, much more akin to other occupies, has never had a permit and apparently never will.

In recent weeks, Kevin and Margaret were politely asked to start handing over the reigns to folks who have been living 24/7 at Freedom Plaza. There is still a rather close working relationship but the dynamic has changed, as the pair has leased two houses where a few activists, including themselves, live at this point. Kevin has oddly called living in a house "an encampment," and thus clearly part of the Occupy movement. Many in McPherson disagree. One of the two houses is the former Peace House on 12th Street NW.

Although the Park Police's violent crackdown on occupiers this past weekend in McPherson has dissuaded people from actually sleeping there, it did attract some newcommers and general assemblies continue to be held every night. This younger set has also experienced some arrests for nonviolent civil resistance (most notably the OccuBarn, blocking K Street during a large march, and the most recent day of eviction), many continue to be very determined to stay with the movement until the political-economic-social climate in this nation improves.

Freedom Plaza, which was initiated by many old-time anti-war folks has quickly adopted much of the language of the Occupy movement. However, it continues to be a slightly different phenomenon with still a very heavy emphasis on anti-war themes (Veterans for Peace still playing a huge role), and the generational gap between the two occupies is startling. It still seems a little awkward that these folks have clung onto Occupy, but perhaps they will begin to fit in if they truly have eschewed leadership structures and operate in a much more horizontal fashion, which is a hallmark of Occupy.

Although I know there are no official leaders of Occupy DC -- I do want to give a shout out to some great folks who have stepped up to the plate -- my sincere thanks to them for the hard work in creating a better future:
Adrian P. -- Thank you for the hard work and sacrifice for my hometown's dignity and rights.
Ali S. -- Come back we need you!
Caty M. -- You rock the facilitation scene!
Drew V. -- Great thinker, great organizer.
Marc S. -- You show up everywhere and you usually do so while live-streaming!
R.B. Lash -- I love you man, and I think a lot of folks love you!
Ricky L. -- Same as Caty,
Sam J. -- The media man, the message man.