Saturday, August 27, 2011

Riverside's Mine' Okubo

Mine´ Okubo, internationally acclaimed artist, illustrator, and author, was born in Riverside, California, in a rented house on Eleventh and Kansas Streets, on June 27, 1912. The site of her birth is now part of Bobby Bonds Park, but while Mine´ was growing up, the house was surrounded on three sides by citrus groves. She loved playing in the water of the groves’ irrigation ditches, found pollywogs there, and sometimes brought them home in a pail, just to watch them swim. Hers was a world of fragrance and color, in a city founded by idealists and dreamers. Like many other residents, her parents crossed an ocean to build a new life.

She was the fourth child in a family that would number seven. Her father, a scholar of Japanese history and philosophy, named her after the Japanese creation goddess Mine, [pronounced mee-neh], a great honor. However, most people in her hometown, unfamiliar with the creation goddess, called her “Minnie.”

Mine´ Okubo attended Riverside schools: Longfellow Elementary and Poly High. Her parents offered to send her to Casa Blanca’s Japanese language school, too, but she declined, saying, “I don’t need to learn Japanese! I’m an American!”

She learned Japanese culture at home, anyway. Mama taught her calligraphy, and Father endowed her with the Japanese philosophy of the Four Noble Truths, a guide to ethics.

In 1931, when Mine´ enrolled in college, she rode her bicycle past citrus groves and smudge pots, down the arroyo, then back up the hill, to the not-yet-completed Riverside Junior College, where she studied with the school’s first generation of teachers.

Richard M. Allman, Professor of Art, quickly recognized Miss Okubo’s potential. She had talent and had learned discipline from her artist mother, who assigned her, early on, to paint a different cat every day, making sure to capture the cat’s personality, as well as its shape and color.

Dr. Allman encouraged the shy, quiet girl to illustrate for the school’s newspaper and become art editor of her class of 1933 yearbook. He said she should also pursue advanced study, preferably at the University of California at Berkeley. Mine´ didn’t know where Berkeley was, and didn’t think she or her family could afford it. Dr. Allman recommended her, anyway, Berkeley accepted her, awarded her a scholarship, and,with her part-time jobs, she could afford to study among some of America’s finest art teachers. John Haley, founder of the Berkeley School of Art, became her friend for life.

Mine´ distinguished herself at Berkeley, but missed Riverside, especially Mama. When Mine´ felt lonely, she pictured Riverside as she remembered it, then painted what she loved most – a serene image of Mama, seated in front of her neighborhood church, Bible in her lap, a cat at her side. That painting, “Mama with Cat, featured in exhibitions, books and magazines, now rests in a place of honor at Oakland Museum.

Graduating from Berkeley in 1937 with a Master’s degree in both Art and Anthropology, Mine´ won their prestigious Bertha Taussig Traveling Art Fellowship, to study art in Europe. The frugal Miss Okubo chose to take a freighter across the Atlantic, rather than travel via passenger ship, saying there weren’t many passengers on board the freighter, but plenty of grain!

She bought a used bicycle as soon as she got to France, rode it all over Paris, and parked by the Louvre, where she could study original art by The Great Masters.

In France, she learned new art perspectives in social realism, and she came to know those helpful guides to pronunciation, French accent marks. She quickly appropriated one for her own name, and, from then on, signed her work with an accent mark.

As she traveled throughout Europe, she often packed lunch and art supplies into her bicycle’s big basket, pedaled to a place that interested her, and stopped to internalize what she saw. Then, she created her own image of the place’s meaning, its artistic truth. She traveled in over a dozen different European countries while on fellowship.

By September, 1939, however, war was coming to Europe. Friends urged her to go home, where it was safer, but she continued to work, until the day she received a telegram from Riverside, saying Mama was very sick. Mine´ should come home right away.

She had little money with her in Switzerland, her belongings were back in France, and the Swiss-French border was already sealed. Leaving seemed almost impossible, but her Swiss friends loaned her money to travel, and, somehow, she got back to France and worked her way aboard the last American passenger ship leaving Bordeaux, France. Along with terrified refugees hurrying to leave Europe before bombs started falling, Mine´ headed home, crossing an Atlantic full of unseen dangers. World War II in Europe was declared while they were still at sea.

Mine´ made it back to Riverside in time to see her mother alive, in time to share with her and give thanks, but Mama died in 1940. Her remains lie in Riverside’s Olive Wood Cemetery, beneath stone calligraphy designed and executed by family friend Tyrus Wong, the Chinese fine artist who illustrated the forest in the Disney film, Bambi.

After mourning her mother, Mine looked for work. In response to the Depression, America had implemented the WPA, a series of Federal employment programs. They hired artists. Mine returned to the Bay Area, where people knew her work. The WPA was happy to hire a person of her professional stature, and assigned her to create murals for luxury liners, frescoes for military bases Treasure Island and Fort Ord, and to work in conjunction with the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, in San Francisco.

Glad to be earning money as an artist on important projects, Mine´ was also pleased to be sharing an apartment with her younger brother, Toku, now a Berkeley student. It was good to be with family again.

But on December seventh, 1941, Japan launched a surprise bomb attack on Pearl Harbor. Many Americans, stunned, no longer trusted anybody of Japanese heritage, even those formerly known personally as good neighbors. War changed everything.

People were edgy. Violence against Asians made headlines. A series of Presidential decrees ordered people of Japanese heritage to register, then to settle their affairs, prepare for mandatory evacuation from their homes. They must dispose of all belongings, pack as if going to camp, and bring only what each could carry. Nobody knew how long they would be away.

Mine´ and her brother were given three days’ notice to report. At their Berkeley assembly center, they were assigned collective family number 13660, and were never again referred to by officialdom by their given names. Under armed guard, with other evacuees, they boarded a bus and were driven over a bridge to San Bruno’s former race track, Tanforan, now an assembly center, where they lived for six months, in a horse stall.

Cameras were forbidden to internees, but Miss Okubo, knowing Americans wouldn’t believe what was happening unless they saw it for themselves, determined to document every day she spent behind barbed wire. Carrying her sketch pad throughout the camp, she carefully recorded all she saw and experienced.

After six months at Tanforan, she was shipped to Topaz, an internment camp in the high, alkaline desert of central Utah. Behind another set of barbed wire, she meticulously committed to paper all aspects of internment. She also taught art to interned children and illustrated covers for the three issues of Trek, the newsmagazine produced by and for the camp’s internees.

From her first week in internment to her last, she kept up extensive correspondence with friends outside. She even entered a Berkeley art contest by mail. She won! That brought her to the attention of editors of Fortune Magazine, in New York City, who were planning a special April 1944 issue, featuring Japanese culture. They offered Miss Okubo a job, illustrating their special edition. They asked her to please come to New York City within three days.

To leave Topaz, she had to undergo extensive security and loyalty checks. When finally cleared and en route to New York City, she reflected on her years of incarceration and regimentation, and wondered how she’d be able to adjust to open society again.
Fortune Magazine’s editors welcomed her, helped find an apartment, and put her right to work. When they saw her camp drawings, they were so impressed they dedicated a full-blown illustrated article on internment camps, the first published in a national magazine.

After the special issue came out, the most trusted man in news, Walter Cronkite, gave his entire nationally-televised CBS program to his interview with Miss Okubo. The shy girl from Riverside had become a national phenomenon.

Urged to publish her camp drawings as a book, Mine´ added short captions and called the book Citizen 13660. Columbia University Press published it in 1946, to great reviews, after which Mine´ toured the country, telling her story, exhibiting her art, making a special stop to see friends at Riverside Public Library.

She taught art at U C Berkeley for two years, then returned to New York to devote full time to her own art. Her commercial illustrations appeared in major magazines, newspapers and scientific books, and her fine art was exhibited from Boston to Tokyo.

She hosted memorable salons in her third-floor Greenwich Village apartment. Artists and intellectuals from Harlem to Stuttgart flocked there, to discuss the latest artworks.

In 1981, she testified on behalf of internees at New York City’s Congressional hearings of The U. S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, presenting commissioners a copy of Citizen 13660.

Miss Okubo received many honors for her work and her commitment. In 1973, Oakland Museum hosted a major retrospective of her work; in 1974, Riverside Community College named her Alumna of the Year; in 1987, The California State Department of Education featured her as one of twelve California women pioneers in The History of California (1800 to Present), on their large classroom poster, California Women: Courage, Compassion, Conviction, and in An Activities Guide for Kindergarten Through Grade 12; in 1991, she received Washington, D. C.s National Museum for Women in the Arts’ Women’s Caucus for Art Honor Award; in 1993, Japan featured her in their 2006 National High School yearbook, used in all Japanese schools; and in the same year, Riverside Community College paid her tribute by renaming a street on campus after her and featuring the original play, Mine’: A Name for Herself, at their Landis Performing Arts Center. The Smithsonian Institution later selected that play for its 2007 Day of Remembrance, and sponsored its performance in Washington, D. C.

Mine´ Okubo dedicated her life to art. Using Great Masters’ principles, she portrayed truth and beauty with integrity, and she did it with such simplicity that a child of seven could appreciate and understand her renderings. Betty La Duke, Professor of Art at University of Southern Oregon, describes her later paintings as “serene, Buddha-like.”

When Miss Okubo died on February 1, 2001, obituaries appeared in newspapers from New York to New Zealand. Memorials were held in New York City, Oakland, and Riverside. She left a legacy of courage, discipline, and love.
Her work continues to enlighten and to challenge. Her artwork hangs in major galleries and is treasured by collectors worldwide; her book, Citizen 13660, continues to be studied in classrooms across America and Canada. Recently, The Hague, in Holland, selected it as their choice for their summer discussion series.

Recognizing the lasting value of art over the ages, Mine´ Okubo bequeathed major pieces of her art and personal belongings to her first alma mater, Riverside Community College. Students and the public will have access to selections of the Okubo Collection at the College’s new Museum of Social Justice, scheduled to open June 27, 2012, the hundredth anniversary of Miss Okubo’s birth.

Mary H. Curtin

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Decision fatigue, Anyone

Among the several enlightening articles around last weekend, one stood out for me: John Tierney’s 8/17 NY Times piece on Decision Fatigue. It’s something everyone feels, but few of us understand that it’s a real syndrome, with roots in brain chemistry. That means that it’s not just some anecdotal phenomenon of people who complain, after shopping till dropping, that they’re exhausted—although that’s probably the most common experience for most of us. It’s far more general than that, and, apparently, far more universal (I always thought it was just me who hated shopping at whatever time of the year.) What this means is that the brain actually gets depleted of energy when it has to make lots of decisions—whether or not to eat another donut; whether or not to go online for a few more minutes; whether or not, as a judge, to grant parole to an inmate before you.

According to Tierney, the latter situation was a key one examined recently. In a report this year, two researchers looked into the decisions judges make, in an effort to account for why they rendered different judgments for defendants with identical records. After looking at the usual suspects (racism, other biases), they started to zero in on the time of day the judges made their decisions, and found that judges who made their rulings early in the day were far more likely to grant parole than those who saw a defendant late in the day. Looking even more closely, they found that if you were unlucky enough to appear before a judge just before the noon break, or just before closing time, you would likely have your parole plea rejected; if you saw the judge at the beginning of the day, or right after lunch, you were more likely to get your parole granted. The cause: decision fatigue. As the researchers noted, “the mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever their individual merits, wore them down.”

What this and other experiments have demonstrated is that each of us possesses “a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control.” And self-control requires that old bugaboo “will power”—a form of mental energy that can, and often is, exhausted. If you’ve spent your day resisting desire—whether it’s a yen for a cigarette, a candy bar, or a trip onto the internet—you’re less capable of resisting other temptations. Nor is this just a curious finding. What researchers argue is that this kind of decision fatigue is “a major—and hitherto ignored—factor in trapping people in poverty.” People who are poor, that is, constantly have to make that hardest of decisions, the trade-off (can I afford this? can I afford that? Should I pay the gas bill or buy good food?), and such decisions sap their energies for other efforts like school, work or improving their job prospects. This is confirmed by images that have long been used to condemn the poor for their failure of effort: welfare mothers buying junk food, or indulging in snacks while shopping. Far from being a condemnation of “weak character,” however, such activities often indicate decision fatigue, which the poor experience more than the rich because of the increased number of trade-offs their lives require, and hence the decreased willpower left them to resist impulse buying.

The big surprise in this research, though, comes with the brain studies. Everyone knows that the brain is a great consumer of sugar, or glucose, for energy. But what no one had expected was the specific connection between glucose supply and willpower. In a series of experiments, researchers tested this by refueling the brains of some subjects performing tasks with sugary lemonade (glucose), and some with lemonade sweetened with diet sweetener (no glucose.) The results were clear: those who got the glucose found their willpower restored, and thus their ability to exercise self-control augmented. They made better choices, and even when asked to make financial decisions, they focused on long-term strategy rather than opting for a quick payoff. In short, more mental energy allowed them to persist in whatever task was at hand. Even more to the point, the researchers found that the effect of glucose was specific to certain areas of the brain. As Tierney puts it:

Your brain does not stop working when glucose is low. It stops doing some things and starts doing others. It responds more strongly to immediate rewards, and pays less attention to long-term prospects.
This is critical information, especially in our choice-and-distraction-filled culture. Yet another study in Germany, where subjects were monitored by frequently reporting their activity via their Blackberries, concluded that people at work spend as much as 4 hours a day “resisting desire.” The most common of these desires were “urges to eat and sleep, followed by the urge for leisure” (i.e. taking a break by playing a computer game, etc.). Sexual urges were next on the list, slightly higher than checking Facebook or email. The most popular general type of desire was to find a distraction—and of course, the workplace of large numbers of people these days centers on the computer, that click-of-the-mouse distraction machine.

And the trouble with all this is that willpower depletion doesn’t manifest with a specific symptom, like a runny nose, or a pain in the gut. As Tierney says:

Ego depletion manifests itself not as one feeling but rather as a propensity to experience everything more intensely. When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. Impulses to eat, drink, spend and say stupid things feel more powerful.
Perhaps this is why tired politicians so often say, and do stupid things. Not to mention the howlers of our physicians, our generals, our corporate execs, and our media pundits. Perhaps, too, it explains why Ronald Reagan always kept a jar of jellybeans on his desk—though it is true that his decision-making stemmed from a malady of a different sort.

In any case, the lesson from all this might be: take breaks. Eat candy (or better still, protein). And don’t make important decisions when you’re exhausted (like responding to that nasty email). Most decisions can wait, and will profit from a glucose-rich, rather than a glucose-depleted brain.

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Fear of Flying

Where did the fireman go
Now that we need him so?
And where is the meat inspector
Ensuring our food’s not infected
And the maintenance director
Who saw that our planes were inspected?
Don’t they know we are dying
Instead of just flying?
And who are we to judge it
If we are not in the budget?
And budget is high in the protocol
But why do we subsidize alcohol?

We continue to hear the cry from the right for ”less government.” It sounds compelling, especially if you have just been pulled over by the Highway Patrol, but we need to drill a little deeper and examine where this cry comes from and where it is likely to go. It is essentially a Libertarian chant and not Republican in origin although the GOP has amplified the sound and added its own lyrics. This is where analogies get tenuous and less meaningful. Libertarians propose to limit government to the barest essentials such as providing for the common defense. I doubt they would believe that traffic lights are essential except where citizens did not jump out and voluntarily direct traffic. If nobody volunteered, they might have a car wash to pay for a traffic light. Eventually, they might contract with some vendor to provide a light but no government for safety. Most Libertarians dream of restoring the gold based monetary system with a few stalwarts actually insisting on using gold directly for financial transactions. Libertarians would restore “Caveat Emptor” to the fullest degree to take government out of any responsibility for any inspection or oversight. Hence, if somebody sold you a package labeled “Pure Beef,” and it was actually pork or canine in origin, you would have to take his word for it or sue in court if you somehow determined that fraud was committed. While that may seem easy enough for something you could taste, it might be difficult to determine that the medicine you purchased from a vendor contained the ingredients promised without a laboratory supporting your aspirin purchase. Still worse, if other unseen perils such as Salmonella or E. coli were included in your transaction, you would have to investigate and prove that in court, if you were lucky enough to live and could afford the research and lawsuit. Note that you no longer buy federally stamped inspected meat and poultry. That service was eliminated during Reagan’s tenure as President. During WW II when black market meat crept into the market, horse flesh was often substituted for beef. Government inspectors could not keep up with black market vendors. Libertarians are sometimes called ”pot smoking Republicans” because of their penchant for individual freedom over the common good or “commonwealth.” I once served on a school board for ten years and the district was fortunate enough to have a physician volunteer to conduct all entry and sports physicals for the trivial sum of $500 per year for the high and junior high schools. A Libertarian on the board insisted that we fire him and that individual families bear the cost of the required physicals which, then, cost about $150 each. Obviously, that was not a smooth economic move for the common good, but it highlighted individual responsibility, another Libertarian tenet.

Now we also have Republicans who hold many basic philosophies similar to Libertarians, but they have morphed into a different animal over time. While Libertarians simply feel that government should take on very few functions, Republicans in the past thirty years have become so distrustful of government, that they are attacking it and accusing government of some kind of willful attempt to annoy and even harm citizens. Government is described as incompetent and incapable of efficiency or effective systems or behavior. Government has become an almost mythical self that is capable of willful actions and it has become de-linked from the live people who actually run and constitute our government. This leads to some humorous situations when politicians and the hired mechanics of government criticize it as though they were having an out-of-body experience. We frequently hear and see elected Washington politicians speak of “Washington” not acknowledging that they themselves work in Washington. The pronoun “they” is almost always used and “we” is never used. Unlike Libertarians, Republicans have found that by joining together, they can become more powerful and can select those functions that are better implemented by the federal government such as having women take lectures on abortion paid for by government or perhaps government subsidy of religious counseling clinics such as that run by Marcus Bachman (Michele’s husband) that includes “curing” homosexuals. Separation of Church and State applies to Muslims, but not fundamentalist Christians. They boast of a “moral” agenda that has bankrolled legislation like stopping funding for NPR and Planned Parenthood while simultaneously demonstrating outrage at reducing funding for corporations who support their campaigns. So we are in one breath able to decry the waste of a few million dollars for NPR and defend both the Billions in subsidies for corn/ethanol production and the tariff that discourages importation of ethanol. And this is from the party of “free trade.” Ideology reigns supreme. Less humorous is the drastic reduction of police and firemen across the nation due to shriveled budgets.

Taxes are evil because they only encourage government that is inherently wasteful and evil and yet income to offset the condition of an unbalanced budget is also evil. Free trade is the only way out, unless it might diminish campaign financing. In the Republican frenzy to “kill the beast” (government), they have taken an oath to Grover Norquist) a non-elected person who has become famous for his statement that he does not want to kill government but only to shrink it to a point where it can be dragged into the bathroom and drowned in the bathtub. While most of us would see an inherent conflict in his statement since drowning is killing, there are sincere Republicans who hold the Norquist oath at least as seriously as their oath of office. Defining “tax” then becomes a delightful fantasy where stripping any subsidy to a friend of the party is tax-like and removing the subsidy is anathema. So GE gets $ 1 Billion in subsidies and can shift its work overseas with impunity as is true for Exxon-Mobil and dozens of other large firms. Not coincidentally, negotiations with persons not party to the oath are a charade because no “new” income will be permitted by the GOP in budget talks. This total intransigence has recently been in the spotlight as we both cut the budget as raised the debt ceiling. The GOP refused to consider even a dollar of income. And this is in the time of the lowest taxes since 1928. Our system of government assumed compromise for the common good, but it is no longer common. The first decline of our national credit rating noted the inability of our elected officials to reach agreement during the process. The $4.7 trillion promoted by Obama was rejected by House Republicans because it contained “income enhancements,” and yet that is the general figure that Standard and Poors saw we needed for AAA.

We have some serious problems to solve in our republic. When any party, but mainly the GOP in the past 30 years, hews to partisan advantage OVER public good, problems become insurmountable. Over these past 30 years we have seen partisan use of a war to denounce critics, even in the case of Iraq that was a war of choice against a country that had never attacked us and yet criticism was assailed as unpatriotic. This constant attack mode had Senator Mitch McConnell openly stating that his number one goal is to make President Obama a one term president. Polls consistently indicate that about 70% of all voters and more than half of registered Republicans favor an elimination of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and yet the mantra for no “tax increase” remains strident and strong despite the people’s wishes.

Most recently, besides the debt ceiling fiasco, the GOP blocked funding the FAA because they wanted no unions. As a result, aircraft safety inspections were threatened, over 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed and over 70,000 construction workers at dozens of airports also were idled. The issue Republicans claimed blocked agreement was the voting rule for union recognition. The GOP wanted a rule where absence from voting would be considered a “NO” vote (instead of majority rule). Can you imagine what that would mean in any election? It also cost our republic $400 Million in uncollected ticket taxes that became a windfall for airlines (except Alaska and Spirit). But beyond that side partisan attack on unions is the frontal assault on the safety of the flying public. Do you fear flying? Given current events, maybe you should.

George Giacoppe
7 August 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Waka in Bolinas

I was just finishing morning meditation when my neighbor Walter knocked on the door. Toting two cameras, he said, “Come on. You have to see this.” I asked what, as I was getting my shoes on, thinking it might be a large yacht or perhaps some monster pieces of the Bay Bridge nearing completion (we saw some heading to the Golden Gate a couple years ago, shipped in from China where they’d been fabricated). He said nope, and we walked across the field to the cliff overlooking Bolinas Bay. And there lined up was a fleet of seven boats, with these strange double sails that looked a bit like felucca sails on the old fishing boats Italians used to fish San Francisco bay with. Walter had his high-powered binoculars on a tripod so I was able to get a pretty good look. We could see crews on board each strangely marked boat, plus a white yacht accompanying them. At least one Bolinas fishing boat motored out to talk to them and, I found out later, bring them ice cream. Then it became apparent that these were catamarans, double canoes of traditional Maori design, their red sails and prows decorated with fantastic Maori art forms.

Walter explained what he knew. The boats were from New Zealand, and they were on a Pacific voyage to try to draw attention, via traditional sailing craft, to the plight of the oceans and the related plight of many Pacific Islanders threatened by global warming. They were sailing to San Francisco today, to take part in a World Oceans conference for a week. Then they’d head back to New Zealand, probably stopping again at Hawaii where they’d already been, and other Pacific islands from which their crews had come. That they’d decided to stop in Bolinas for the night added a bit of local pride to the visual thrill. Walter had actually seen them yesterday when fishing for salmon (some of which he gave me) out beyond Point Reyes.

I did a little search on the web and eventually found several accounts of what now seemed an almost magical voyage. What I learned was that the Waka (or vaka; the name of their boats) voyagers had left New Zealand on April 13, after traditional ceremonies, and headed for several other islands as well as Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. According to Hoturoa Kerr, chief of the Haunui waka,

“We’ve got people here whose islands have been covered by rising water levels and their fishing grounds are no longer as abundant. We’re trying to raise awareness to people who live thousands of miles away that what they do affects ordinary people who are, in some cases, subsistence living.” (Otago Daily Times, April 13, 2011).
Kerr also pointed out the “eco friendly” nature of the boats, constructed of carved wood and twine, and which use sail power supplemented by solar-powered motors for harbor navigation. Their food would consist of a great deal (they hoped) of caught fish, plus canned and dried goods and locally-produced organic food. They intended, said Dieter Paulmann, filming the voyage for a documentary, to “map their way in the wake of their ancestors, using the stars, sun, wind, and wildlife as their guides.” The plan was to reach Hawaii by early June where the crews would attend the Kava Bowl Summit 2011 for discussions with scientists, media, political and corporate leaders to create ways to move toward the sustainable use of the ocean’s resources. Then it was on to San Francisco for another ocean conference on Treasure Island, with the return via numerous other Pacific islands, and the 11th Pacific Arts Festival on the Solomon Islands in 2012.

By the time we saw them in Bolinas, the wakas had already labored through the Pacific gyre where a revolting “continent” of plastic debris has taken up residence (see my June 6, 2008, blog, “Plastics etc.”). They had been through storms and food deprivation, as well as space deprivation (16 crew members on each 22-foot craft don’t have much space). But they were clear about their mission. The voyage was a kind of dress rehearsal for what humans were going to have to do on a larger scale: adapt to dwindling natural resources. Here are a few entries from their website-- blogs:

After a few minutes of deep breathing and relaxing my mind I got the image of a whale’s tail in my head.
It slapped the water.
Listen to the breathing of the tides and know that all the world beats with one heart, breathes with one breath.
I started getting distracted by the music and noise behind me.
Slap, slap, slap.
“Listen, listen, listen!
You (humanity, the waka crews, us as individuals) have a special place.
You are the Key….
We do have a special place. It is by our hand that the world and the creatures in it will live or die….
We’ve been becalmed for two days and for two days we’ve been surrounded by all the Life in the sea. Well, seals, dolphins and whales, lots of them. Last night the seals were coming in like aquabats (acrobats with a speech impediment) zigzagging in formation thru the phosphorescence leaving trails of stars behind them. They’ve scared the girls by popping up beside the canoe and barking loudly. They’ve entertained us with their showing off, leaping and jumping, one even going so far as climbing on board the Samoan canoe and sitting on the bow doing nothing and barking at the captain whenever he talked to it (just like the rest of the crew so he tells me)….
And if we hadn’t been halted by the wind we would’ve missed it all. We would’ve zoomed on thru as we do for most of lives, distracted by the music and the white noise of the modern world and really just missing the point.
“Listen, listen, listen!”
and another:
We were told today in an email (thank you Shantparv) that our entry has coincided perfectly with a phase described in the Mayan calendar wherein a great unfolding of consciousness is seen for the first time. I’m all for that! I think a great unfolding of consciousness is somewhat overdue. I think our consciousness has been folded for a very long time. It’s time to take out the creases and realise we’re all on the same page! The healing of the planet will by necessity include the healing of ourselves. We are all essentially the same. We experience all the same stuff in human terms. The words we use to describe Life, the Universe and Everything don’t really matter.
Some lovely photos and quite a few videos are available for viewing on the Pacific Voyage website ( That’s probably the best way to get a sense of the visual impact these boats and their crews make. Indeed, it’s something no one should miss—though I have to admit that seeing them off my own home coast gave it added juice for me. But you can also “join” they voyage by following along online and sending messages to the crew; they truly appreciate the support and the knowledge that someone is paying attention. And hadn’t we all better do that? The time for action is getting very very short.

Lawrence DiStasi


Monday, August 01, 2011

The Real GOP Agenda

In the crisis over approving a rise in the debt ceiling which they themselves created, the Republican Party has reached a new high in hypocrisy and cruelty, not to mention madness. But since calling someone “insane” tends to let him or her off the hook (see Anders Breivik and his 1500-page manifesto), I’ll table that as well as the hypocrisy and get to the point. The GOP has a clear agenda—to cut government to the bone—and that is what needs to be examined. This is because it is obvious that the GOP doesn’t seem to have any problem with government handouts—so long as the handouts go to banks/Wall Street execs, military contractors, weapons manufacturers, oil companies, big Pharma and giant agribusinesses. They also don’t seem to have any axe to grind when it comes to government privileges for their favorite fundamentalist churches and anti-science wackadoos. What they have set their sights on are “entitlement” programs for the poor, the elderly, the underprivileged: you know, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Nevermind that Social Security is paid for over a lifetime of labor by those who get it (providing, by the way, a handy fund for the politicians themselves to “borrow” from whenever they need a little extra cash for a war they refuse to pay for). Nevermind that without Medicare, millions would be deprived of the minimal care that can’t even approach the luxurious health plan the pols have crafted for themselves. The most visible targets are government agencies like the EPA, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Parks, the Department of Education, Head Start, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, OSHA etc; and at the local level, the public schools, the public colleges, the parole and prison departments, and all departments that service, again, the poor, the unprivileged young, the elderly, the handicapped. What they can’t get rid of, they will try to privatize—again for the benefit of their corporate funders.

Consider a few lines from a piece by Nicholas Kristof (“Republicans, Zealots and Our Security”) in last Sunday’s NY Times. He first quotes Congresswoman Rosa Di Lauro:

“The attack on literacy programs reflects a broader assault on education programs,” said Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut. She notes that Republicans want to cut everything from early childhood programs to Pell grants for college students. Republican proposals have singled out some 43 education programs for elimination, but it’s not seen as equally essential to end tax loopholes on hedge fund managers.
So let’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.
What struck me in this last line was Kristof’s qualifier: “however unintentional.” The truth is, the GOP’s rampage against “bloated government” is both quite rational and viciously intentional (again, Anders Breivik comes to mind). It is to gut every program put together by Democrats from FDR’s Depression programs to LBJ’s Great Society, programs to provide not just a minimal safety net for the least fortunate Americans, but opportunity for all those who have been able, finally, to gain a tentative purchase on a decent life by finding government jobs at various levels. This is the whole point of the GOP’s coordinated campaign to destroy unions, “cut waste from government,” and cut taxes. It’s about eliminating the revenue source for those government jobs. It’s about cutting off the voter base—mostly Democrat—that those government jobs represent. And at its core, it’s about putting back in their place—at the lowest levels of society—all those “uppity” minorities who, through government equal-employment mandates, have ‘risen above their station.’ This includes blacks, Hispanics, and women, as well as the lefties and liberals who have long argued for the inclusion of such minorities in America’s prosperity.

It is this that most grates on the Republican zealots—now concentrated more than ever in the South and the West/Midwest. They hate the fact that teachers have tenure and all those “luxurious” pension plans. They hate the perceived “laziness” of government workers with “cushy” jobs and pension plans. Though it may bring them down as well (and it is doing just that; the massive loss of government jobs in the wake of the 2008 collapse is responsible for a large part of the high and persistent unemployment rate), they are willing to sacrifice their own well-being in order to appease their toxic resentment. This resentment is clear in the symbolic language (“to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”) used by the guru of this movement, Grover Norquist. Drown it in the bathtub? What is the size Norquist means here? Baby size? Are we to imagine an infant drowned in a bathtub? Who would use such imagery? A privatizing Republican zealot, that’s who. An artist of propaganda, of revenge, of cruelty. The heir to those massive crowds in the pre- and post-Civil War South who could relish the spectacle of torturing, burning, hanging a human being who had dared to transgress their sacred code of two worlds that could never, ever meet.

And with a black man in the White House, that resentment has only festered and grown more virulent, more ugly. Of course not even the most conservative of GOP leaders can come right out and give this voice. So they use the symbolic language of cutting taxes to cut government spending.

But don’t be fooled. If you’re wondering why the GOP is hell-bent on destroying government (even as Republicans and their corporate masters suck from the tit of that same government, and display a fierce determination to re-take its most visible power source), you can start with two simple but toxic causes: racism and resentment. Then add the infinite greed and casual cruelty of the elite (the top 1% of Americans now control more wealth than the bottom 90% combined; median wealth of Anglo households is now 20 times that of black households—see July 27 Pew Research report), and you’re pretty much there.

Lawrence DiStasi