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100! Whatever. Here are some words.

Most of the horrors we are forced to live with have been caused by respectable — even great — men who themselves most often have clean hands….if you are a god you can kill from afar, and if you kill from afar you can maintain in your own mind the objectivity necessary to believe that those you are killing are objects, or, better, you can think of them not at all.”

– Derrick Jensen

..the poor of the world are not causal products of human history. No. Poverty results from the actions of other human beings.”

– Jon Sobrino

Words

So I’ll be trying to do a poem/quotation/excerpt thing on as regular a basis as possible. I should have gotten something out of all the fucking books I’ve read, amiright? So here’s the first.

The Nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way.

Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.

Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.

Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.

Who don’t have culture, but folklore.

Who are not human beings, but human resources.

Who do not have faces, but arms.

Who do not have names, but numbers.

Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper.

The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”

-Eduardo Galeano

An Excerpt

I recently finished reading Derrick Jensen’s The Culture of Make-Believe. It was intense.

Towards the end of the book he extensively quoted from the testimony of a German engineer at the Nuremburg Trials, which Jensen read as a young man in William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Jensen wrote that this testimony, this scene, has stayed with him over the decades. I can understand why. In a world full of so many constructed horrors, and living in a culture with so many obscene trivialities (a phrase from his book Endgame, and both the phrase and the book are excellent), this is a terrible, grim, heart-breaking testimony. So I’m going to copy it down here.

The people who had got off the trucks – men, women, and children of all ages – had to undress upon order of an S.S. man, who carried a riding or dog whip. They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing, and underclothing. I saw a heap of shoes of about 800 or 1,000 pairs, great piles of under-linen and clothing.

“Without screaming or weeping, these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells and waited for a sign from another S.S. man, who stood near the pit, also with a whip in his hand. During the fifteen minutes that I stood near the pit I heard no complaint or plea for mercy…

“An old woman with snow-white hair was holding a one-year-old child in her arms and singing to it and tickling it. The child was cooing with delight. The parents were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy about 10 years old and speaking to him softly: the boy was fighting his tears. The father pointed to the sky, stroked his head and seemed to explain something to him.

“At that moment the S.S. man at the pit shouted something to his comrade. The latter counted off about twenty persons and instructed them to go behind the earth mound… I well remember a girl, slim with black hair, who, as she passed close to me, pointed to herself and said ‘twenty-three years old.’

“I walked around the mound and found myself confronted by a tremendous grave. People were closely wedged together and lying on top of each other so that only their heads were visible. Nearly all had blood running over their shoulders from their heads. Some of the people were still moving. Some were lifting their arms and turning their heads to show that they were still alive. The pit was nearly two-thirds full. I estimated that it contained about a thousand people. I looked for the man who did the shooting. He was an S.S. man who sat at the narrow edge of the pit, his feet dangling into the pit. He had a tommy gun on his knees, and was smoking a cigarette.

“The people, completely naked, went down some steps and clambered over their heads of the people lying there to the place where the S.S. man directed them. They lay down in front of the dead or wounded people; some caressed those who were still alive and spoke to them in a low voice. Then I heard a series of shots. I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying already motionless on top of their bodies that lay beneath them. Blood was running from their necks.

“The next batch was approaching already. They went down into the pit, lined themselves up against the previous victims and were shot.”

I do not understand anymore. I’ve known of these horrors for years. We all know of those in the past, we make movies about them. But it happens still, it is happening all the time, it is happening right now. There are horrors at this moment – women raped in the Congo (where we get coltan for our cell phones), girls bought and raped by businessmen in Thailand, people slaughtered with chainsaws in Colombia, men kidnapped and made into slaves in Brazil, priests and their congregations burned alive in El Salvador, toddlers working and dying as bricklayer slaves in Pakistan. We know of people raising machetes, chasing them down now. We know of factory workers in China committing suicide, of machine guns casually lifted and spraying bullets now, of depleted uranium poured down from the skies and then babies are born in Iraq without faces.

I know who ‘benefits.’ I do. You do. These acts don’t happen because of a few bad apples. They happen because our civilization is insane. The rich and the powerful benefit more than anyone, and are the most culpable – they know it, they don’t care, and they will mow down anyone who gets in their way, including You and I. But still… what about people like us, who know, who hear witnesses, who turn away? What do we talk about? Sustainable farming? I suppose that’s better than nothing. But most of the people I know go to bars, watch football, discuss Mad Men, read Gawker, check out new restaurants, fly somewhere exotic every once in a while. The world is burning. We say if we elect Democrats it will improve. I believed this once. How could it ever get better when the fundamentals stay the same? Our culture can’t even admit we live on stolen land. It just keeps pillaging from others, albeit at different rates.

It’s not going to get better, and it is not going to change itself until the air is choked and we cannot breathe and things cannot grow and the machines which need energy to run sputter and fail.

I don’t want to talk anymore about adorable clothing, or whether women should change their last name, or about baseball players on steroids, or the skyrocketing costs of college. I don’t want to listen to witty banter or hear banal, superficial complaints. I don’t want to see movies rife with ennui or drink amazing wine. It comes to me with blood.

Tomorrow I have to go back to being me. Hell, I might even walk away from this and watch It’s Always Sunny. I’ll set my alarm clock and drive to work. I’ll play with the kids and go to the park. I’ll have a beer on the weekend and play badminton, and joke around with people I care about. I’ll wake up with this knowledge, and I’ll somehow have to integrate it into the way I live my life. Maybe one day we’ll do something that matters. But it doesn’t feel right. The suffering continues, I need a new cell phone, and the murder and rape in the Congo are far away. I can’t hear the screams, and those who even try to walk away from this culture are labeled nuts themselves (if not worse).

I don’t want to understand anymore. I can’t. It could be such a lovely, beautiful world. But it has been overrun by insanity.

All I want to do is stand beside those who comfort the dying while knowing the machine gun is coming to them momentarily. To stand with snow-white haired ladies who coo to babies, who fill their last moments with radiance, defying the men with cigarettes and guns. There is nothing, nothing else that matters.

Here are some things I have been thinking about:

It is a really, really bad idea to have our political debate reduced to focusing on how insane the far right is. When we simply stare with our mouths hanging open, shocked, we don’t really make things better. The right wing is gaining traction because we’re too busy reacting, and trying to fight racist, world-destroying assholes with logic. It doesn’t work. Those bitches be crazy. They are suffering from an age-old disease, and they have no ability to relate meaningful to other people and the Earth. They are wetikos.

We need to not give them any attention. We need to focus on real issues. I am not interested in debating the stimulus, or health care, or even cap and trade. The Earth is being destroyed. That means there will be no place for people. We are collectively committing suicide. Well, not we. A small cadre of insane, greedy cannibals, who are supported by emotionally/mentally crippled individuals.

We need to not just ignore them, but urgently present our own narrative. For example, Jon Stewart (and I like the guy) should stop reacting to Glenn Beck. You know what is more depressingly hilarious then listening to insane individuals on Fox News? The fact that hundreds of species are going extinct everyday. I mean, that’s not hilarious at all, but the collective obliviousness and carelessness sort of is (well not really, but I’m sure there are good jokes to be made nonetheless). Or Keith Olbermann to any of these nutcases. Left-wing blogs to Sarah Palin. These people are nuts, and the best defense is a good offense. They know that, and it’s time we put that into action ourselves.

So that’s what I’m for. More real depressing stories, and less reactions to the depressing tantrums of stunted individuals. Let’s do it.

This isn’t 19th-century Russia. It feels a whole lot more depressing than that. Just look around. But still, it’s apt: What is to be done? From Paul Krugman:

The lights are going out all over America — literally. Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno.

Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.

And a nation that once prized education — that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children — is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead.

We’re told that we have no choice, that basic government functions — essential services that have been provided for generations — are no longer affordable. And it’s true that state and local governments, hit hard by the recession, are cash-strapped. But they wouldn’t be quite as cash-strapped if their politicians were willing to consider at least some tax increases.”

People like Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein and Digby have succinctly and eloquently highlighted what is happening.

But I don’t think blogging or talking about it is enough. Huge segments of the population don’t think the President was born in our country. People are freaking out about mosques and the 14th Amendment. This is absolutely, utterly, maddeningly bat-shit insane.

Talking amongst ourselves is all well and good, but the fact is that large swathes of our population are not being remotely adequately informed about issues, and yet are organizing and protesting. I think it’s high time we middle-and-upper-class liberals realize we have to get up and walk out of our homes and engage the public and try to peacefully get attention. We need to be protesting the deadlock in the Senate, we need to be out in front of Goldman Sachs and pointing to why so many Americans are suffering. Our technology is disconnecting us from activism. People didn’t get the eight-hour work day (how I miss it) by blogging and chatting up fellow believers at dinner parties. They did it by striking and protesting and risking their lives against a System which considered them worthless. But slowly, slowly, slowly change came.

We are rapidly, rapidly, rapidly moving backward. We had enough problems where we were. How can we peacefully help stop what is happening and regain control of the narrative?

This summer has been fantastic so far, mostly because Boyfriend and I have been able to visit bookstores all over the place. When we went from Seattle to San Francisco, we plotted our stops based on proximity to certain bookstores. Being in all these wonderful places (and reading a recent list of some of the best bookstores in the nation) made me think I should make my own list. Because I really, really like books. And I really, really love being in a bookstore. Without thinking about it too much over the years, I’ve somehow come up with this whole philosophy on what makes a wonderful bookstore. There’s lots of subjectivity involved here: for instance, I do not enjoy The Strand in New York. Feeling packed in like a sardine among infinite stacks of books under grim fluorescent lights is not my idea of pleasant. No, a good bookstore in my opinion is a sort of lovely space between your home and books and mind, and another’s; there’s peace and recognition, excitement, shabby old books that break your heart, chatty and spacey owners who love their books like the sleepy dogs at their feet. Here are the ones I love most, and a few extra things.

Honorable Mentions

*Cellar Stories 111 Mathewson St., Providence, RI

Providence is a sorta darling town, or at least that’s my impression from driving through it every now and again. I like this place, though it does tend to be daunting when I’m either loaded down with new books on my way back South, or about to be loaded down with new books. But I’m drawn in nonetheless.

*Kramerbooks 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC

I’ve grown up with Kramer Books, and I still have a lot of love for this place. I’m no longer young and unemployed or working odd hours, and so going in there around six to look at books and have some wine is sort of terrifying for me. But it will always be wonderful to wander in here after midnight in September, have some pie, and wander off again with three or four new books.

*The Globe Corner Bookstore 90 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, MA

I love everything about this place. Browsing an entire bookshelf dedicated to Afghanistan? Finding my dearly loved Blue is the Colour of Heaven on the shelf? The Afghan Amulet? The Way of the World? If you like to look at dreamy, gorgeous cookbooks, or obscure books on the Middle East, Central Asia, Bolivia, Berlin, Cairo; really, anywhere in the world: this is the place. Expensive, but well-worth it, and the staff has always been super nice.

10. Powell’s Books 1005 W Burnside, Portland, OR

I can see the arguments for placing Powell’s higher on this list. And I admit, it’s something. Powell’s is just this enormous, sign-filled Goliath. I followed Blue Signs, and Gold Signs, and found entire shelves dedicated to Native American Literature, found one of the best science fiction stockings I’ve yet seen (though the former Book Alcove is always in my heart). The problem is just that it’s too big. It is overwhelming in a way I find cold. I like to know the people at a bookstore, to recognize them, to know these particular owners are passionate about Mid-Western cookbooks and bird-watching. Powell’s, on the other hand, takes up city blocks. It’s here for it’s fantastic, incredible selection that truly blew me away. It’s number ten though, because I need more than that.

9. East Village Books 99 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY

East Village has maybe 1/1000 of Powell’s selection, but what they have is pretty impeccable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down in there and picked up a book I was utterly unfamiliar with, bought it, and fallen in love with it. Most recently I got all gooey over The Dud Avocado. But it happens all the time. Maybe I love it because it feels so intimate and low-key after I get dragged to The Strand. I’m sure there are cheaper bookstores with broader selections in New York, but this is the one I know best, and I’m glad of it.

8. Octavia Books 513 Octavia St., New Orleans, LA

One of our roommates in New Orleans complained to us about how no one in that city likes to read, which drove me crazy because that is so not true. People in New Orleans do everything overblown, and of course they do some things like drinking and porching more than others. But they also produce incredible literature. Note the italics: incredible. Not only has New Orleans and the rest of the South produced some of the finest writers in the United States, but New Orleans also happens to have some charming bookstores. There’s a lovely shop in the Quarter owned by a former lawyer who scours the country for books. It’s hideously expensive, but I still frequent it just to sort of breathe the air.  There’s some terrific used bookstores as well (I recommend McKeown’s); but my heart belongs to Octavia. The sunlight! The bakery next door! The fine Southern Literature section! The cookbooks! The history and political science books! Whoever selects the books for Octavia is doing an incredible job.

7. City Lights 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco CA

City Lights is airy and lovely just like San Francisco. What a wonderful, perfect city full of wonderful, perfect bookstores. And what wonderful, perfect books City Lights is filled with; and isn’t their poetry selection stunning, and yes, I was insanely filled with book-lust as I looked upon all of Rebecca Solnit’s essays lining the shelves, and yes the light and the sky were other-worldly. Well, la-di-da. Yeah, I’m maddeningly jealous of people who get to live near City Lights. Someone tell me about Oakland. That seems like my kind of town.

6. Normals 425 E. 31st, Baltimore, MD

A bookstore where one has to step over a dog to get to the cash register and everyone is moving slow and calm: Yes. The hours are peculiar and strict. The selection is odd and fascinating. The vinyl collection is sterling. I’ve gotten some of the most interesting books in my life from Normal’s. This little place in Baltimore is never crowded. Like Baltimore itself, it’s an overlooked gem. An afternoon at Normal’s is to browse through obscure (and I mean obscure) science fiction and fantasy, great fiction, history, an enormous record collection, and to watch the dog never move. I love that dog. I love this place. Normal’s is fantastic and over-looked, but as long as they’re getting by and doing well, that’s fine with me.

Continue Reading »

I have been doing a lot of reading on ecology and indigenous peoples recently. It is very, very fascinating. How sad to think of all the time wasted in schools when we could have been learning how to grow things, study soil, how to fix and mend our goods, where our goods come from, how all things are connected. Instead we got a lot of computer classes, math quizzes, pep-talks about the new and intense global economy, and read lots of books by white men. What a bummer. Anytime we talked about indigenous peoples it went something like: “How sad they are all gone now. We should try to save the rainforest or something. Now let’s have a bake sale for the newspaper, drive over to the game twenty miles away tonight, and waste lots of resources!!”

Digression aside, I’ve come across all sorts of inspiring actions and movements I knew nothing about, such as the incredible International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. They are wonderful.

Their lives and work are so phenomenal. All the bad news, the repetitive mantras of “economy, free market, deficits, Afghanistan, terrorism, security, unemployment, tea parties, filibusters…” it goes on and on and it doesn’t seem to stop. When I came across these women I felt a breath of relief for a moment. Here is something good happening. Here is something older than all of our fleeting concerns, here is something sustainable, here is something totally inspiring.

Here is the briefest of sketches: these women come from indigenous tribes, and they are the preservers of a wisdom which conflicts with much of our modern culture’s narratives. They apparently are the fulfillment of ancient prophecies among their respective peoples which speaks of the coming together of 13 grandmothers from all over the world. They speak profoundly about the loss of memory, the loss of much wisdom, about serving as guardians of the Earth, about the importance of prayer and connection to the land and our communities.

Here is their Statement of Alliance taken from their website:

WE ARE THIRTEEN INDIGENOUS GRANDMOTHERS who came together for the first time from October 11 through October 17, 2004, in Phoenicia, New York. We gathered from the four directions in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy. We come here from the Amazon rainforest, the Alaskan Tundra of North America, the great forest of the American northwest, the vast plains of North America, the highlands of central America, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountains of Oaxaca, the desert of the American southwest, the mountains of Tibet and from the rainforest of Central Africa.

Affirming our relations with traditional medicine peoples and communities throughout the world, we have been brought together by a common vision to form a new global alliance.

We are the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. We have united as one. Ours is an alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children and for the next seven generations to come.

We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth, the contamination of our air, waters and soil, the atrocities of war, the global scourge of poverty, the threat of nuclear weapons and waste, the prevailing culture of materialism, the epidemics which threaten the health of the Earth’s peoples, the exploitation of indigenous medicines, and with the destruction of indigenous ways of life.

We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, believe that our ancestral ways of prayer, peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. We come together to nurture, educate and train our children. We come together to uphold the practice of our ceremonies and affirm the right to use our plant medicines free of legal restriction. We come together to protect the lands where our peoples live and upon which our cultures depend, to safeguard the collective heritage of traditional medicines, and to defend the earth Herself. We believe that the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.

We join with all those who honor the Creator, and to all who work and pray for our children, for world peace, and for the healing of our Mother Earth.

For all our relations.

Margaret Behan-Cheyenne-Arapahoe Rita Pitkta Blumenstein–Yup’ik  Aama Bombo–Tamang,,Nepal Julieta Casimiro-Mazatec  Flordemayo-Mayan  Maria Alice Campos Freire-Brazil Tsering Dolma Gyaltong-Tibetan  Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota  Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota Agnes Pilgrim– Takelma Siletz Mona Polacca-Hopi/ Havasupai  Clara Shinobu Iura-Brazil  Bernadette Rebienot- Omyene”

I just can’t more highly recommend reading up more about what these women are doing, where they are coming from, and what they stand for.