Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ammon Bundy, Joni and Me...

The government's response to the Right Wing Occupiers up in Oregon, where disgruntled Yeehawistas have taken over a bird refuge, is quite underwhelming. Whereas it is reported that the Bundy clan and other armed, anti-government cowboys aren't well liked by the locals, I have seen photos of the local sheriff shaking hands with the lead Bundy, Ammon--even offering  him safe passage out of the state.

No SWAT team has been deployed. No National Guard. Where are they?

I had my own little Occupation a couple years ago. When the government closed down Lassen National Park, I climbed Mount Harkness within the Park's boundary ignoring the park's closure order. I did it to write a story about for the CNR about Ed Abbey, as he completed his seminal work, Desert Solitaire, in the Mount Harkness fire tower back in 1967. If you ever get the chance to be the only person in a national park, I suggest you take advantage of the situation. It was glorious.

The Lassen National Park Rangers didn't take my silly little occupation lightly: they dispatched a Ranger, on the government dime, to drive 5 hours round trip to drive to my home in order to give me a ticket for illegal camping and refusing to obey a park closure rule. I had to pay two hundred fifty dollars.

A year before that, I had a Modoc County sheriff threaten to arrest me for simply trying to cover an illegal coyote hunt on federal land up in Aiden, California. He even threatened to throw my 12 year-old granddaughter in jail for trying to buy a soda.

My spouse had her own Occupation of federal land. Back in 1992, the forest service was going to allow logging on a huge grove of 500 year old Englemann spruce in Colorado's South San Juan National Forest. The trees were located at 9,000 feet; a replacement stand of trees would take hundreds of years to reach any considerable size. Joni didn't care much for this, so she climbed a tree and zipped around the tree canopy, frustrating logging attempts and holding back the operation for a few days. The forest service brought in a SWAT team, armed with automatic weapons and night vision goggles, to apprehend one tree sitter (my wife) and break up a small support encampment of a dozen hippies with bongos. Joni ended up going to prison for a month.

Both Joni and I have gotten more severe penalties from the government for our lowly occupations than the armed Oath Keeper's and the Bundy's have received thus far. But then again, Joni and I are left wing, unarmed enviros, the sorts of people the government has no problem arresting and ticketing. We must be dangerous people.

Let's hope Ammon Bundy has to pay a fine of at least $250. Actually, I hope they send him to jail for a long, long time. The birds deserve that.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Some Words in Defense of Jesus...

Drive around Paradise, California and you will see more churches than fast food restaurants, thrift stores, and pickup trucks combined. The churches are everywhere. The biggest one is called the "CMA", and it is monstrous. It is probably the biggest building in Paradise and is certainly in better repair than the high school that serves 1,200 students. The church is so big, they have their own gym. The parking lot is gigantic enough to host a farmers' market every Thursday with ample parking.

On the Church's website, spend some time poking through the sermons archive and you get a nauseating combination of self-help tripe combined with simplistic steps to take to solve any problem. It is a church for white families who own Chevy Tahoes. It's one of those popular churches that are in vogue for people who are lonely and find life without meaning. A meaningless, lonely life sucks and I don't think it is an awful thing to go to church to place a little salve on it.

What I do object to is the ostentatiousness of the Church. Turns my stomach. I'm not so certain that Jesus wouldn't be nauseated by the whole thing too.

I consider myself a Christian. Although I find most of the post resurrection stuff about Jesus as a work of fiction. Dead people do not become alive again. Atonement for sins is silly. I don't want anyone paying the price for my sins but me: I deserve it. It is called cause and effect. To me grace is just luck.

I don't believe Jesus was born of a virgin while three wise men followed a star to his cradle. That's a beautiful story, but it is a myth.

I don't believe Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, I doubt any body was ever recovered. Generally crucified people were fed to the dogs.

I don't believe Jesus is coming again. I don't believe he was God. Some say he didn't even exist. I think he did.

That doesn't really leave much of the Apostle's or the Nicene Creed to recite. All that stuff comes from the Post Resurrection Jesus. The Post Resurrection Jesus is responsible for a whole lot of problems. I like the Pre-Resurrection Jesus. The historical Jesus. The one that Jesus scholars have been uncovering, like an archaeological dig. That Jesus excites me. That Jesus makes me proud to say I'm a Christian.

So what is there to love about Jesus? Jesus was a poor, Mediterranean peasant who preached radical egalitarianism, was critical of the rich, and was full of wisdom. He practiced free healing and the one ritual he created was a common meal. What's not to love about fish, bread and wine? What's not to love about making a ritual out of such a simple meal? What's not to love about providing access to healthcare?

Every indication states he was a practitioner of non-violence. He resisted becoming a Che' Guevara to the Roman Occupation. That doesn't mean he didn't rebel against it: it was the Romans that ultimately killed him.

The stories in the gospels are thrilling. Some real; many fictional. What is real, I believe, are his humble upbringing, his healing, his wisdom, his charisma, his common meal, his devotion to service, his devotion to his God, his poverty, his travels by foot (he was a hiker), his act of civil disobedience in the Temple that led to his death.

He was a real man. Not some fictitious character that overcame death and lived as a god. Somehow that cheapens the story for me. A real Jesus, standing up to the temple, to the Romans, to the elites of the Temple who take in the donations and side entirely with empire---getting pissed off in the Temple, causing a demonstration and then dying a political death because of that: that is real. That is courage. That is worthy of worship. A man like that is worth following. That's not the man they worship at the CMA Paradise Alliance Church in Paradise.

So that's who I follow. I don't mind celebrating such a person's birth at this time of the year. Even if all the nativity sets have wise men there. Wise men and women will listen to this man's powerful story and, hopefully, emulate it.

And for hikers, there is a new "Jesus Trail" in Galilee that connects Jesus' two home towns: Nazareth and Capernaum. That's an adventure for the bucket list.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Let's Quit Calling Hateful Killers People Who Were "Radicalized"

Lately the media, acting like a galloping herd, likes to state over and over again that various Islamic extremists became "radicalized" in order to do the awful things they have done. And so the couple in San Bernardino were "radicalized". The shooters in Paris were "radicalized". We worry about normal devout Muslim people becoming "radicalized". 

It is an easy way to talk about a brain-washing conversion process, that takes normal people, possibly weak-minded or with psychopathic traits, and turns them into monsters. And yet, nobody said the Planned Parenthood shooter was "radicalized". We seem to save the term for violent extremists, usually of the type that we love to hate. The process seems to be reserved for Islamists and Leftists.

The Islamic State is an awful thing. Don't get me wrong. Their methods of recruitment are ingenious and prey upon weak minds that are susceptible to evil. But I find it curious that we use this notion of becoming "radicalized" to describe the followers of the most repugnant political movement since Fascism.

There are radicals and there are radicals. We have seen many fine "radical" journalists: Alex Cockburn, Izzy Stone, Glen Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges, Claud Cockburn, Jack Reed, Hunter Thompson: they all would fit easily into the term. We have many fine radical political commentators: Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Doug Henwood, John Bellamy Foster.

Then there are the off the chart radicals, of the Left and the Right: you find them in the Anti-Vax Movement, or in the Libertarian tradition, in the Truthers and the Birthers. The kooks and the weirdoes.

I've heard Jesus called a "radical egalitarian" who practiced "radical non-violence". Would you say that his followers were "radicalized"?

We save the process of "radicalization" for those we hate. Mostly Leftists and Islamists.

Look at the Republican Party this year. Is there anybody out there saying that Donald Trump is "radicalizing" the party? After all, he is calling economic refugees "rapists" and calls for tracking and registering all Muslims in this country. How about the Tea Party? Do we say the local gun toting Obama Hater is a person who was radicalized? Why not?

Because we save the term for Leftists and Islamists.

Lenin said once: "Be as radical as reality". That's what real radicals try to do: Describe reality and complement that with a vision of something better. Radicals don't tinker; radicals create.

Ed Abbey almost single handedly created the Radical Environmental Movement. I fancy myself a Radical in many ways and I ascribe myself into a radical tradition that includes many thinkers that I admire. I find myself politically someplace between Ed Abbey and Che' Guevara.

We don't need to say "Radical Extremists" Just say violent Extremists. It is all in how you look at the use of violence, it isn't about your social criticism. We don't need to say the couple in San Bernardino were "radicalized". They were brainwashed into following a sick tradition that is willing to kill innocent people and abandon their own children.

Yes, we talk about the radical wings of both parties. It is a way of justifying the status quo. A radical critique is one that seeks truth. And it points to something better. Lenin (although certainly no saint) is right: reality is radical. And America has a fine Radical Tradition. A fine non-violent Radical Tradition. Let's not ruin that word.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Requiem for Rocky..

With all the senseless killing going on--Paris, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino---the death of one pet, on one homestead, in the middle of the woods, seems trivial. Unless it is your pet. Our 12 year old cat, Rocky, has been missing for four days. We fear the worst.

Rocky was a fantastic cat. Fiercely independent. He held his own with three very large dogs who tormented him daily. He spent his days and nights outside, coming to and fro through a cat door we built into the cobb of the house. I would spot him on my wildlife camera---sauntering along before the camera, sometimes just an hour or two before or after a coyote or a fox was in the area.

Rocky had grown more affectionate lately. Both Joni and I noticed it. On Sunday night, he slept on my lap as I sat in the Lazy Boy---something he almost never did. He was in good shape for being twelve, but Joni speculated that he knew his reflexes were slowing; eyesight not as keen; getting older. His increased affection lately makes me think that he wanted to say: "Thank you. Thanks for the good life. Thanks for letting me roam in these woods. For letting me be an outdoor/indoor cat. For inviting me into your lives."

Joni cried all day when Rocky didn't come home. I was at work, talking to clients about their troubles, yet I could barely listen. I was troubled by my dear cat being gone.

Joni and I have gotten older while living with Rocky. We were young when we got him. Now age and girth have caught up with me. I've grown slower too. And those predators are on my tail: the predators of the American Lifestyle, signified by an ever increasing A1C and an ever growing medication list. Sooner or later, the predators will get you. A lesson.

Kylie holds out hope that Rocky will return: "He is a mountain cat", she says. "He'll come back".


God bless Rocky. You are missed.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015---My Women Caretakers.

The Industrial Revolution came to my hometown in 1963, just a couple years after I was born. The Revolution came in the form of a factory. A feeder factory for GM. General Motors (called "Governmental Motors" after Obama bailed out the company in 2009). The factory in Rushford made the switch that turned on the heat in all the General Motors cars from the model years 1964 until 1992. That factory meant jobs for my impoverished town. It meant jobs for the whole county, which, last I checked, was the poorest county in Minnesota.

My mom and dad were scraping out a living in the 1950's. They rented a farm and mom stayed home with my brother and sister. Dad worked in town during the day at the Tri County Oil Cooperative (a great socialist institution). In the evening dad came home and worked on the farm. My mom told me once those impoverished farm years were the best years of her life.

Working that hard must have been tough on dad so they moved to town. And when the factory opened, my mom was there on the first day on the assembly line. From there she spent the next 30 years or so putting GM switches together. If you owned a GM car in those decades, my mom might have made you warmer by making the heater switch. I still feel guilty for owning a couple of Japanese cars. GM paid the bills when I was a kid.

And thanks to the first Clinton and NAFTA, the factory was moved to Mexico in the early 90's. And just to show how greedy Multinationals have become, even Mexican labor got to be too expensive, so they moved the whole damned thing again to China where a young Chinese lady now works, doing the same thing my mom did. Except I doubt the work pays enough to feed a family.

Factory work for mom, meant they had to find daycare for me. And so mom and dad hired my grandmother "Olga" to watch me while mom sat on the assembly line. Grandma was a simple woman. She followed the old adages like Monday being washday, Tuesday bread day and so on. Grandpa and Grandma Klungtvedt ate out of their garden. They canned their food. Harvested walnuts. They spoke Norwegian in the home and I'm told I could speak a bit of it with them. They eeked out a living before retirement by renting a farm. Money was never in abundance and, in fact, it wasn't until they collected Social Security that they could buy their first home (Thank God for FDR!). They supplemented that money by watching me, although I never knew that.

There is a myth about poor people being happy with the simple things. That's bullshit. Poverty sucks, no matter how you slice it and my grandma and grandpa weren't overly happy people. I don't remember much laughter. I do remember summer days listening to the Minnesota Twins on the radio and playing endless games of dominoes with my grandma. Grandpa Klungtvedt was a World War 1 veteran. A private. He was in those god awful trenches with the Mustard gas and came back permanently emotionally wounded from that experience. I only heard him talk about the trenches once. About getting lost and how horrible it was to see the dead bodies. When President Johnson sent men into Vietnam, grandpa Klungtvedt railed against it. "Sending all those innocent kids to die", I remember him saying.

But mostly I was cared for by the women in my family. Mom. Grandma. And Ruth.

Ruth, my elder sister by 10 years, got stuck watching me a couple of summers. I'm sure it was no fun for a 16 year old to be stuck having a 6 year old tagging along for most everything. But she did it. I remember walking barefoot with her on the streets of our town. Going to the diners. When Ruth turned 18, she moved to far northern Minnesota and pretty much disappeared from my life. Older siblings often do that when they are corralled into doing childcare against their will.

Ruth died of cancer a couple years ago, and I was lucky enough to see her on the last good weekend she had alive. Breast cancer. My own theory about all these baby boomer women who die of breast cancer is that they are paying the price for the above ground nuclear bomb tests we had in the 1950's. All that milk that Ruth drank on the farm from a couple of dairy cows in the 50's contaminated with strontium and the like. Eating local and organic wasn't an expensive, nor a trendy thing to do back then: it was just called food. Sure, it was organic; but if you had a garden or a dairy cow, it also was radioactive as hell.

Ruth was born on Thanksgiving. November 23, 1950.

Grandma Klungtvedt died on Thanksgiving. November 22, 1990.

My wonderful mother died on Thanksgiving. November 25, 1999.

Thanksgiving is special to me because of the Thanksgiving connection with the women who shaped my attitude towards life: simplicity from my Grandmother; devotion to mind numbing work done for love of family from my Mother; and a love of the Beatles, organ music, and even a bit of curiosity about politics from watching my sister put a scrapbook together of JFK's assassination---from my sister: all have helped shape who I am.

And so on Thanksgiving, I celebrate the women who shaped me. A bittersweet day as they are gone. Two died on this day; one was born on this day. They are gone now. Gone, but not forgotten.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Homelessness and the Inheritance Tax...

Chico has a homeless problem. That much is obvious. The whole region has a homeless problem. Today I walked my dog on the trail in Paradise where a homeless couple smoked cigarettes and drank beer, hiding in the shade of a tree. Drive anyplace in the region and you will see men with backpacks, sometimes with dogs on a leash, walking and thumbing it on the side of the road. And we've all seen the "Hungry" and "God Bless" cardboard signs held by sometimes very young people, often with dogs in tow, who also are subjected to the life of wandering. Unless it is all one big scam.

The Chico City Council adopted a "get tough" approach to the problem of homeless camps and trash. Many letters-to-the-editor have been written, both for and against, the new "get tough" approach. People are passionate about the issue because it involves everything from public safety to environmental degradation.

But isn't it obvious that with our low wage economy, we would have a homeless problem? The roots of this crises can be traced back to trade policies and the fact that the minimum wage doesn't enable anyone to survive. Over the last 35 years, we have done away with inheritance taxes and have let the minimum wage lie dormant. It is almost as if the cultural elites think a job is just a hobby; the real money comes from inheritances.

Call it class war, of sorts. Working for a living is devalued; investments are barely taxed and inheritances aren't taxed at all. Isn't that just the way a person from an upper class background would like it?

And so the poor you see out there, scraping by, all have different reasons for being homeless. Substance abuse? Sure. Inability to hold a job or a desire not to work for peanuts because you wind up homeless anyway? Probably.

But one thing unites all of the homeless: They probably don't have an inheritance check coming in the mail.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Take on Hunter Thompson

I've been trying to figure out why people have a fascination with Hunter Thompson for a couple of years now. I used to work with another nurse who idolized Hunter. He even looked like Hunter and his idea of a "flight of wine" was to get three 750 ml bottles of wine and drink them in quick succession. Spending a night with this nurse friend, or once, a drunken expedition into San Francisco, was like spending time with the real Doctor. He even mumbled, when drunk, like the his idol.

I just finished a couple of biographies of the real Hunter Thompson. And I also got around to reading "Hey Rube" which is a collection of his sports pieces from ESPN. Hey Rube is worth it solely for his often quoted sage-like musings the day after 9/11.

Thompson wrote:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

So why the fascination with Hunter? Because he helped to create a genre'. For Hunter the story was found in getting the story. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the classic exaggerated high point of the genre' and also the best example of this literary device. Every writer in every alternative weekly (including this free-lancer) owes him a bit of thanks for creating his gutsy GONZO style when Thompson took up shop with Rolling Stone. Hunter is every journalist's ID, as in the Freudian term. And his opinion of most everyone, except those he saw as being pure (McGovern and Carter are on that list)---are that we are just sex starved, power hungry degenerates who long for that next drink, orgasm, or line of coke. We are all fiends in Thompson's view.

His celebrity got him connections. He was kind of like the journalistic version of Paris Hilton. Once a following is created, he could publish most anything and make it sell. His behavior on the expense accounts of magazines is legendary. And real.

Thompson wrote the way many journalists wish they could. No holds barred. Just bear down and write whatever comes to mind. Let your imagination fly----helped along by a whole shitload of pharmaceuticals. I'm sure many straight news writers, bored to tears by keeping themselves out of the story, using whatever connections they have to quote, responsibly, and with no malice or bias, BOTH sides of a story---wish they could just once, do a line and type what they really think. Journalism suffers from this silly idea of neutral, sterile balance. There are always just two sides of a story. Never three, four, five or sixteen sides of a story. Always just two.  Balance, they call it. Boring. It's the ying/yang of news. A dialectic borrowed from Hegel and all those other emotionless, stoic German Rationalists.

Along comes Hunter playing the role of the independent free-lancer. And succeeding at it. The rest of us need day jobs, usually teaching English or Journalism. Some stoop to becoming an editor---a chore that destroys any love of the English language. Editors are good people; it's just hard to edit and then go home and write something decent after following all the rules from the Hegelian paragraph above.

I do think Hunter Thompson was a bit of a psychopath. He was nearly arrested for vandalism by the FBI as a young child. He almost went to jail once after some youthful burglary but was told to go into the military instead. If not a psychopath, he was, at the very least, unscrupulous with other people's money (witness Fear and Loathing), with his fascination with things that blow up, and with his penchant for young women (a trait shared with Edward Abbey).

The women of Thompson's life? Always the 24 year old assistant leggy female journalism student hired to research, read and edit his stuff. The relationships always ended acrimoniously (with the exception of his first marriage). The 24 year old wouldn't be able to keep up with the lifestyle and the partying and would move on only to have her (and it was always a her) job filled by another 24 year old, female journalism student.

Yes, Hunter was an original. He became part of the journalism's upper tiered tribe. Lucky SOB. A great drinking buddy for the 60 Minutes set. And the Hollywood Elites (their roles are more and more mingled: just witness the guest list of the annual Journalist's Washington Dinner).

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail from the 72 race is every Lefty/Liberal political junkies favorite campaign book. Or at least it should be. He could be wildly inaccurate and sometimes dabbled in downright kookdom, such as his friendly words he wrote about George Wallace or at the end of his life when he dabbled a bit in what was to become the 9/11 Truth Movement. The kind words for George can be traced to his working class, white kid Kentucky Roots; his 9/11 conspiracy thinking must be nothing more than drug paranoia.

Reading through every letter and exchange that is published out there by Hunter is like wading through a garden of clovers looking for one with four leaves. It takes awhile, but you will find one eventually.

What a lucky guy. He arose in the afternoon to peruse all the major newspapers. That's followed by conversations with pundits and connections. All while drinking and carrying on from his holdout in the Rocky Mountains. He'd start writing around midnight and would continue writing, and calling friends, until dawn.

And the suicide? A natural conclusion to a life filled with substance abuse and guns.