Louisiana

Louisiana is culturally so special. Historically Native American and then French, the genteel manners of the French are everywhere apparent with the French penchant for excellent cuisine and cooking everything. Admittedly, there is not too much that is vegetarian-Kosher (crawfish, catfish, crabs, frog legs, alligator tail, boudin). One has the same problem in France… The Native American cultural part comes in with the fishing and gaming. Although the people are generally not wealthy, like the French, they enjoy a licentious good time, and give them a boat, they are happy to be out all day catching their food and cooking it in their small homes. I listen to the slow creole banter on the radio, trying to find a place to pitch a tent. I ask the local fire station, and the fireman thinks there might be a place up the road. I move hopefully a few miles up the road, following his direction, only to find it to be a trailer park across from the fireman’s training station… I remember too late that he had said that “they might let me pitch a tent there.” His accent was thick with the local patois.  I wondered if he had ever been much further than the trip from the fireman’s training station to the fire house. Still, it was kind of nice that he thought I might pitch my tent among the trailers however awkward that might be.

A nice bike ride with the pups through the swamp,

and then deep into Acadia. The overnight facilities are closed at the campground. 20 years after Katrina, they are still trying to rebuild after the floods. It is ancestral Native American. I visit the Chitimacha tribe and learn how they plant the cane that they use to double weave their baskets. Their language was archived many many years ago, and although all who spoke the language had passed, the tribe has gone through an extensive effort to “revive the language from its sleep”. It is now being taught in the schools in their tribe. Beautiful stories are woven by tribal members to describe their land and their culture. I watch one tribe member (a writer) describe how the boat he fishes from has to be wooden (otherwise it is not living), and listen to the granddaughter of one of the many tribal members who had been sent off to boarding schools in Pennsylvania as children. Her grandmother had run away.  Back in the day, she had hopped trains to get back.

As I move through the Atchafalaya Basin and its aquatic culture, I am quite aware that this really is ground zero for global warming.  The beaches along the coast, still not rebuilt after the hurricane, contain residue from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  People lounge on the beach, swimming in the water, with the oil rigs in the background, as one half of the state stands on the edge of being submerged and/or releveled by the next natural disaster.  The Chitimacha belong to the Mississippian mound culture and I had asked whether any of their mounds had survived all of the flattening of the land.  They answered yes.  But I truly wonder how many more disasters this land will survive, and whether it has passed into a chronic stage of illness where one no longer really hopes for recovery – just a good death at the end.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What it’s Worth

Living out of a car, and yet having the enormous compassion with those who have lost everything, motivated me 15 years ago to drive down to Louisiana and help to rebuild after both Katrina and Rita. I was part of a team of Latinos who worked cities with open sewage flooding the fields and streets, mosquitoes so dense you could not see your skin underneath them, unbearable humidity without air-conditioning, no toilets, no running water (we were hauling it in from an hour and a half away on streets with no street signs, no electricity, etc.) I was there sometimes living out of my car with my dogs, sometimes staying in black-mold covered abandoned housing, working 10 hour days to rebuild roofs, hotels, and apartments. I was among a handful of people who did show up.

It hurts so much when the same hotel, that I had brought all of the goodwill in the world to try to help, will not rent me a room today with my dogs. They have adopted a no-pet policy.  Hurts to the point of wanting to vomit. I gave comparatively so much of what I had at the time when they had nothing. It makes me question ever helping anyone again.

So I realize that many undocumented Latinos are in a similar situation. They have worked extensively to build a country that is now deporting them.

This is also a legacy of slavery. The belief that some people should work for someone and something that they will never be allowed (out of principle) to enjoy. I had the option of going to visit the estate of a freed Black who became a slaveowner in Natchez. I think not. It might make some feel better to know that the slave line crossed racial divisions. I don’t doubt that under “extreme vetting” you can get some people to cross. The psychology of mistreatment in extreme situations is not something I would rather revisit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bondage and Legacy

I’m down in the deep South now, coming over the Natchez trace. A long time ago, someone had pointed out to me the relationship between slavery and criminal justice systems, and I had dismissed it as an oversensitivity to the race question. With a little more wisdom and experience, however, I have come to see the 2 issues as deeply related. Both of them are fundamentally about exercising power over human beings, and when slavery was abolished, the legacy and grooming for control had to be satisfied in other ways. Although the institution left, individuals groomed to participate in it, found other ways of satisfying the roles that felt comfortable to them with any little vulnerability that arose in a situation. So, it is no accident that the number of executions in Southern states outweighs the rest of the country by a lot. The criminal justice system is designed to empower some individuals over others the same way that slavery traditionally did.

Why did people enslave? I don’t know exactly, but some of it is a legacy of war – also manifest in criminal justice. Those we have declared to be enemies to the point of lethal conflict with them are socially demoted to a lack of ability to participate as equals in society once the war is over. And when external wars are not available, the bar is raised and “a war on crime” or “a war on terror” is declared so that the development effort for war is justified and people can use the technologies that have been developed. Some class of people are given “criminal records” to socially and economically disable a class of people so that power drives can be satisfied.

So the point here, is that the legacy of slavery extends beyond the question of race.

How to avoid war to begin with? In the case of North Korea, I find it important to note that their system of governance has been self-contained with the exception of one attempt to unify the Korean peninsula that resulted in the Korean war. I don’t feel that the temperament testing that the military uses to articulate the dance between power and response is right. I feel that it does psychological harm to the other side with stress and destabilization.

I wish that the provocations would stop, and that boundaries could be respected among countries.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Worth More

How to express the disappointment I feel at the Arkansas system… They executed a man who professed his innocence up to the minute of his execution, who asked for communion for his last meal. They executed him because “the system” could not be found wrong, and they were worried about the expiration date on the pharmaceuticals.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Passover

I got the kitchen clean for Passover. No flour or yeast in my possession. Admittedly, I missed the night before deadline, and ended up doing some cleaning in the morning before the first Seder. I figured that the Jews in their ancient wisdom had planned for people like me to “get it right” as I imagined in the old days the Rabbi coming over the night before to inspect the house, shaking his head, and saying, I’ll come back right before Pesach…

This was one of the nicest Seders I’ve had in a while. I celebrated it quickly and properly (with all the prayers) with my dogs who each got some matzos from the soup. As I had cleaned out the fridge, I had found some pickled beets I had made from last summer (I think they are called Torsha? I know they are Jewish). I used this for the lamb shank bone. Vegetarians substitute a beet as the rabbis say we are supposed to. It may be supposed to be roasted, but I was very interested to see how the raw beet had turned out with just salt after all this time.

As I laid out the cooked egg, the beet, the bitter herb pesto, the charoset (mix of apple and nuts), the karpas (that I had cut off of some overgrown onions), and the matzo, I thought to myself that the bare necessities for a balanced meal were present (and sufficient) on the Seder plate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Changing a Hard Line to a Dance

When we can see some of ourself in the other, the need to destroy is not so strong.

There is a unifying argument to be made between the Arkansas death penalty cases, the Syria attacks, the Afghanistan bombing, and the potential threat in the North Korean conflict.

One could argue that the maximum “legal” force used in the situation in Afghanistan to “end all conflict” would be justified in terms of lives saved if one wishes to sanctify the value of human life and force peace. I see the chemicals that were deployed – trinitrotoluene TNT – in the explosions as massive damage to the environment – fracking and pollution to the point of loss of 33 human beings who had families, loves, passions, and value.

G_d gave each of us individually the choice in how to use force. Society additionally constrains or empowers some relative to others. Maximum irreversible force to solve a problem can always be substituted with elegant artful small movements. Ask any engineer – it’s the nature of the game! To apply your mind to create a solution to a problem that could otherwise be solved with a sledgehammer.

The principle of minimum force creates the most jobs and saves the most lives except in an emergency. In Jesus’ times, when the ascetics lived up in the cliffs where the dead sea scrolls were buried, if fighting had destroyed the very cliffs that offered sanctuary…

And force almost always leaves a legacy which ultimately must be confronted (see slavery).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Rights

I’ve been thinking a little about the aftermath of Syria. Chemical weapons are wrong. I did not see the pictures, but I feel horrified that they were reported to be used. That said, they have been extensively used since World War I, by all sides in wars. There were no good guys and bad guys relative to their use in the past. It is the United Nations role to police this since the Geneva convention was signed. There was an agreement not to use them. Many were removed, and Russia was to some extent responsible for making sure that they did not get used anymore in Syria.

What we have seen is that there is difficulty in some situations to create 100% secure environments, and the more repressive the government is in this regard, the more likely there are to be breaches. It is the nature of the balance between security and expression. Syria is far from a secure environment, so the fact that the weapons were apparently still there, makes it vulnerable to security breaches even if Russia is overseeing it.

I agree with Putin that there were much better ways of handling this. I disagree with him when he says that all rebels are terrorists. Although I am nonviolent, I do accept that there are others who may wish to fight with their life rather than verbally discuss their differences. So, no the rebels are not terrorists, and no the Assad regime forces are not terrorists either. Assad is a trained medical doctor. I think that what happened, was “an Arab spring” started a movement that was very destabilizing for Syria. Then people took arms up to fight for “nationhood” which is not new, almost every country has had to do this in order to have a border and leadership. So, many years later they are still fighting. Most of the people who did not want to fight have been allowed to leave. Some rules of conflict have been breached, as is likely to happen in insecure environments. It is up to the UN to decide in the overall scheme of conflict how it will address this with Syria.

It would be tragic to use this vulnerable situation as a power grab, either for Russia or the United States. I don’t think puppet governments are fair to the people in place. So, if either Russia or the United States is supporting a leader that cannot sustain him or herself with respect to his or her own people, then that needs to be addressed by the UN.

So, the antiwar movement needs to start now and early – now that we have seen that 58/60 very expensive missiles could be deployed, and the ship has moved out to the Korean peninsula. I wish I could hug a North Korean and tell them it will be ok. But, to be honest, I don’t trust either government to stay out of a conflict at this point. It is up to us to let our governments know that their is NO POLITICAL WILL for a war, that elections will be lost if they go to war. The protests must start.  We can’t wait until a “surprise” war happens.

The right-wing media is trying to scare people away from protesting. I’m not anti right-wing, but when every protest is portrayed as a violent leftist “black lives matters” event… the voice for peace is being distorted.

See here.

Regardless of my affiliations, I’m politically savvy enough to realize that the peace base is being eroded by forcing polarizing labels onto it. And no, black lives matter is not violent or leftist. There are many MLK advocates for nonviolence who also participate in BLM.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment