Saturday, December 24, 2011

Compassion is our New Currency ~ by Rebecca Solnit

“Nothing has been more moving to me than this desire, realized imperfectly but repeatedly, to connect across differences, to be a community, to make a better world, to embrace each other.”

By Rebecca Solnit | Nation of Change

Usually at year’s end, we’re supposed to look back at events just passed - and forward, in prediction mode, to the year to come. But just look around you! This moment is so extraordinary that it has hardly registered. People in thousands of communities across the United States and elsewhere are living in public, experimenting with direct democracy, calling things by their true names, and obliging the media and politicians to do the same.

The breadth of this movement is one thing, its depth another. It has rejected not just the particulars of our economic system, but the whole set of moral and emotional assumptions on which it’s based. Take the pair shown in a photograph from Occupy Austin in Texas. The amiable-looking elderly woman is holding a sign whose computer-printed words say, “Money has stolen our vote.” The older man next to her with the baseball cap is holding a sign handwritten on cardboard that states, “We are our brothers’ keeper.”

The photo of the two of them offers just a peek into a single moment in the remarkable period we’re living through and the astonishing movement that’s drawn in… well, if not 99% of us, then a striking enough percentage: everyone from teen pop superstar Miley Cyrus with her Occupy-homage video to Alaska Yup’ik elder Esther Green ice-fishing and holding a sign that says “Yirqa Kuik” in big letters, with the translation - “occupy the river” - in little ones below.

The woman with the stolen-votes sign is referring to them. Her companion is talking about us, all of us, and our fundamental principles. His sign comes straight out of Genesis, a denial of what that competitive entrepreneur Cain said to God after foreclosing on his brother Abel’s life. He was not, he claimed, his brother’s keeper; we are not, he insisted, beholden to each other, but separate, isolated, each of us for ourselves.

Think of Cain as the first Social Darwinist and this Occupier in Austin as his opposite, claiming, no, our operating system should be love; we are all connected; we must take care of each other. And this movement, he’s saying, is about what the Argentinian uprising that began a decade ago, on December 19, 2001, called politica afectiva, the politics of affection.

If it’s a movement about love, it’s also about the money they so unjustly took, and continue to take, from us - and about the fact that, right now, money and love are at war with each other. After all, in the American heartland, people are beginning to be imprisoned for debt, while the Occupy movement is arguing for debt forgiveness, renegotiation, and debt jubilees.

Sometimes love, or at least decency, wins. One morning late last month, 75-year-old Josephine Tolbert, who ran a daycare center from her modest San Francisco home, returned after dropping a child off at school only to find that she and the other children were locked out because she was behind in her mortgage payments. True Compass LLC, who bought her place in a short sale while she thought she was still negotiating with Bank of America, would not allow her back into her home of almost four decades, even to get her medicines or diapers for the children.

We demonstrated at her home and at True Compass’s shabby offices while they hid within, and students from Occupy San Francisco State University demonstrated outside a True Compass-owned restaurant on behalf of this African-American grandmother. Thanks to this solidarity and the media attention it garnered, Tolbert has collected her keys, moved back in, and is renegotiating the terms of her mortgage.

Hundreds of other foreclosure victims are now being defended by local branches of the Occupy movement, from West Oakland to North Minneapolis. As New York writer, filmmaker, and Occupier Astra Taylor puts it,

"Not only does the occupation of abandoned foreclosed homes connect the dots between Wall Street and Main Street, it can also lead to swift and tangible victories, something movements desperately need for momentum to be maintained. The banks, it seems, are softer targets than one might expect because so many cases are rife with legal irregularities and outright criminality. With one in five homes facing foreclosure and filings showing no sign of slowing down in the next few years, the number of people touched by the mortgage crisis - whether because they have lost their homes or because their homes are now underwater -- truly boggles the mind.”

If what’s been happening locally and globally has some of the characteristics of an uprising, then there has never been one quite so pervasive - from the scientists holding an Occupy sign in Antarctica to Occupy presences in places as far-flung as New Zealand and Australia, São Paulo, Frankfurt, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Reykjavik. And don’t forget the tiniest places, either. The other morning at the Oakland docks for the West Coast port shutdown demonstrations, I met three members of Occupy Amador County, a small rural area in California’s Sierra Nevada. Its largest town, Jackson, has a little over 4,000 inhabitants, which hasn’t stopped it from having regular outdoor Friday evening Occupy meetings.

A little girl in a red parka at the Oakland docks was carrying a sign with a quote from blind-deaf-and-articulate early twentieth-century role model Helen Keller that said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” Why quote Keller at a demonstration focused on labor and economics? The answer is clear enough: because Occupy has some of the emotional resonance of a spiritual, as well as a political, movement. Like those other upheavals it’s aligned with in Spain, Greece, Iceland (where they’re actually jailing bankers), Britain, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Chile, and most recently Russia, it wants to ask basic questions: What matters? Who matters? Who decides? On what principles?

Tunisians honor Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation sparked a revolution

Stop for a moment and consider just how unforeseen and unforeseeable all of this was when, on December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable vendor in Sidi Bouzid, an out-of-the-way, impoverished city, immolated himself. He was protesting the dead-end life that the 1% economy run by Tunisia’s autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali and his corrupt family allotted him, and the police brutality that went with it, two things that have remained front and center ever since. Above all, as his mother has since testified, he was for human dignity, for a world, that is, where the primary system of value is not money.

“Compassion is our new currency,” was the message scrawled on a pizza-box lid at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan - held by a pensive-looking young man in Jeremy Ayers’s great photo portrait. But what can you buy with compassion?

Quite a lot, it turns out, including a global movement, and even pizza, which can arrive at that movement’s campground as a gift of solidarity. A few days into Occupy Wall Street’s surprise success, a call for pizza went out and $2,600 in pizzas came in within an hour, just as earlier this year the occupiers of Wisconsin’s state house had been copiously supplied with pizza - including pies paid for and dispatched by Egyptian revolutionaries.

[Read the full article here.]

"The ad hoc invention of the people’s mic by the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, which requires everyone to listen, repeat, and amplify what’s being said, has only strengthened this sense of presence."

Friday, December 23, 2011

RAP NEWS UPDATE: State of Planet Earth as we lurch drunkenly or sleepwalk towards 2012...

The Juice Media RAP News series is the brilliant brainchild of Hugo Farrant and Giordano Nanni. In the last year or so subscribers to their YouTube channel have skyrocketed.

I'm happy to have met Hugo Farrant (who plays Robert Foster and almost every character in RAP News) in September 2010 when he was stuck in Malaysia waiting for his agent to sort out his Australian visa. While sojourning at Magick River, Hugo received an email from Julian Assange (of WikiLeaks), inviting him to record a special episode of RAP News in London. Soon after that the hit counter on The Juice Media channel went berserk...

These guys are absolutely, mindbogglingly amazing... standing ovation, folks!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Children of Pertak in glorious black&white...

Kimas with a photograph of herself
Mugging for the camera
Partners in grime
Future politician
Poster boys
Chairman of the Bored
With Ljuba Schmiedel, a young German living in Amsterdam
Friendly adult attention is a scarce resource in Pertak Village
Paper cut-outs & YouTube
An introduction to digital photography
Photographing the photographer
With Luis Gonzalez Medina, a yoga teacher from Chile
Kimas's feral beauty captured
Eye contact

These expressive black&white portraits were taken on 8 December 2011 by Lennart Naurholm (right), a 27-year-old photographer from Denmark whose dream is to become a kindergarten teacher somewhere in Asia.

In Thailand recently, he found himself a temporary job teaching kindergarten kids and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He decided to dedicate his life to working with children and support himself with photography. Some of his abstract landscapes are already decorating homes and offices in many European cities.

Take a tour of Lennart Naurholm's photo gallery on FlickR and if any of his powerful images catches your eye, you can buy a mural-sized quality print by emailing him directly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I miss my Uncle Frank! Happy Solstice, Folks...

FRANK ZAPPA (21 December 1940 ~ 4 December 1993): I was a true fan
Munich 1978

New York 1978, featuring Terry Bozzio on drums

City of Tiny Lights, New York 1978, featuring Adrian Belew on guitar & lead vocal

Rome 1982, featuring Steve Vai

Steve Vai gets spanked

Black Napkins @ The Palladium, New York, 1981

Chick Corea jams with Dweezil Zappa, 26 August 2011, in Kansas City

Last interview: Frank Zappa talks about his friend, Nicholas Slonimsky

Stravinsky conducts Zappa (just a clever and charming spoof, Zappa was a great fan of Igor who died in April 1971, long before Zappa wrote "Strictly Genteel")
“Music is the only religion that delivers the goods.” ~ Frank Zappa
“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.” ~ Frank Zappa

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.” ~ Frank Zappa

“I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.” ~ Frank Zappa

“There's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.” ~ Frank Zappa

“Take the Kama Sutra. How many people died from the Kama Sutra as opposed to the Bible? Who wins?” ~ Frank Zappa

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.” ~ Frank Zappa

“A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.” ~ Frank Zappa

“Government is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.” ~ Frank Zappa

“Anybody who wants religion is welcome to it, as far as I'm concerned - I support your right to enjoy it. However, I would appreciate it if you exhibited more respect for the rights of those people who do not wish to share your dogma, rapture, or necrodestination.” ~ Frank Zappa

“May your shit come to life and kiss you on the face.” ~ Frank Zappa

“The essence of Christianity is told us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the tree of knowledge. The subtext is, all the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn't asked any questions.” ~ Frank Zappa

Pauline Butcher with Frank Zappa backstage in Anaheim in 1968 (Plexus Books)
Zappa's one-time personal assistant, Pauline Butcher, has written a book, titled Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa - 43 years after she relocated from London to Laurel Canyon, a suburb of Los Angeles, to work for the man with whom she was utterly besotted. She subsequently returned to England, continued her studies, and married a guy named Bird, who's now a banker with Rothschild's, based in Singapore.