Category Archives: Public Spaces

Jerusalem Cable Car Project Passes Over Objections from Many Quarters

East Jerusalem has received new impetus from the rise of the Israeli far right and Washington’s decision to move its embassy to the city. But if completed, critics say, the long-running proposal would contribute to erasing the visibility of Palestinians in the city they hope to make their capital.

Planning for the $55 million tourism project continues despite unifying archaeologists, architects, Palestinians, and a tiny community of Jews against it – in a sign of Israel’s ever-growing confidence in making unilateral moves in occupied parts of Jerusalem.

Critics say the cable car will help hide the local Palestinian population from the roughly 3 million tourists who visit Jerusalem each year, turning the city into a “Disneyland” focused on promoting Israeli interests.

“The advantage for Israel is that visitors can be prevented from having any dealings with Palestinians,” said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

“The local population will be largely erased from the experience of visiting Jerusalem. Tourists will pass over Palestinian residents, via the cable car, and then pass under them via tunnels.”

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism dismissed the criticism. In a statement to The National, the ministry said the cable car project was “a significant milestone in the promotion of Jerusalem and the strengthening of its status as a world tourism capital”.

Settler-run tours

The cable car, the largest project of its type undertaken by Israel, could be completed as early as in two years, its destination the slopes in occupied East Jerusalem just below the Old City, next to Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Some 72 cabins have the capacity to ferry up to 3,000 visitors an hour above mainly Palestinian homes.

Tourists will be channelled from the cable car into a visitor centre run by Jewish settlers in the heart of the crowded Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. They will be led by settler-approved guides underground, through tunnels under Palestinian homes to the foot of the Western Wall.

Blueprints show that visitors will be able to shop in the tunnels, bypassing local Palestinian traders in the Old City market who have long depended on tourism. Israeli officials accelerated the project by bypassing routine planning procedures, even though urban planning specialists warn that it will damage the Jerusalem skyline and archaeological sites revealing the origins of modern civilisation.

Equally important, critics say, the Benjamin Netanyahu government and settler groups view the cable car as helping block any possibility of a Palestinian state emerging with East Jerusalem as its capital. They have been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It should set off alarm bells that a huge state project like this is being intertwined with a private settler organisation, physically forcing visitors to go through its visitor centre, channelling them into its attractions and activities,” Mr Tartasky said.

He said the cable car was one of the ways Israel was connecting disparate settler compounds in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied Jerusalem.

“It will physically strengthen these settler areas, and mean their organisations have an even greater influence on Israeli authorities.”

Encircling Al-Aqsa

The project has been forcefully promoted by the Israeli tourism ministry, headed by Yariv Levin, an ally of Mr Netanyahu, and Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Lion. Tenders will be issued as soon as the National Planning Council approves the project, which is expected to be a formality.

In violation of international law, Israel has treated East Jerusalem as annexed territory since it occupied the city in 1967. More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have moved there over subsequent decades

Hanna Swaid, a Palestinian planning specialist and former member of the Israeli parliament, said the cable car was illegal because international law allows major changes in occupied territory only out of military necessity or for the benefit of the population under occupation.

“Even in its own planning justifications, the Israeli authorities are clear the cable car is designed only for the benefit of tourists, Israeli developers and the settler groups overseeing it, not the local Palestinian population. In fact, it will serve to actively harm Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Mr Swaid said.

“It will parachute tourists to Jewish sites like the Western Wall, and marginalise Muslim and Christian sites,” he added.

Palestinians are concerned that the cable car will serve to tighten Israel’s control over access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the highly sensitive holy site in the Old City. For decades Israeli authorities have moved to weaken the control of Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf, on Al Aqsa, contributing to repeated clashes at the site.

Jews believe the mosque is built over the ruins of a major Jewish temple. The Western Wall, which supports the mosque compound, was originally a retaining wall of the long-lost temple.

“The cable car looks suspiciously like another means for encircling Al Aqsa, for laying siege to it,” Mr Swaid said.

Tunnels under Palestinians

According to official plans, dozens of cabins will run hourly along a 1.5-kilometre route from West Jerusalem, inside Israel’s recognised borders, to the occupied Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls and in the shadow of Al Aqsa.

Tourists will disembark in Silwan into a large visitor centre, the Kedem compound, to be run by a settler organisation called Elad that has close ties with the Israeli government.

The Kedem centre is the latest venture in the City of David complex, an archaeological site that the settlers of Elad have been using for more than two decades as a base to seize control of the Palestinian neighbourhood.

Visitors will be taken on tours to explore Jerusalem, moving through ancient sewage tunnels that run under Palestinian homes and reach to walls of Al Aqsa.

Additional plans will eventually see the cable car alight at other sites in East Jerusalem. Among them are the Mount of Olives, which includes an ancient Jewish cemetery; the Church of Gethsemane, at the reputed site where Judas betrayed Jesus; and the Pool of Siloam, a bathing area referred to in the Old and New Testaments.

Yonatan Mizrahi, the director of Emek Shaveh, a group of Israeli archaeologists opposed to the misuse of archaeology and tourism by Israel, said: “The purpose is to offer tourists a one-dimensional narrative about Jerusalem and its history. They should see all layers of the city’s rich history. Instead they will hear only the parts that relate to Jewish history.”

Mr Mizrahi has been among those leading the criticism of the project. “No other historic city in the world has built a cable car – and for very good reason,” he said.

Jerusalem ‘not Disneyland’

In March about 30 international architects – some of whom have worked on projects in Jerusalem – wrote to Mr Netanyahu urging him not to pursue what they called short-term interests.

“The project is being promoted by powerful interest groups who put tourism and political agendas above responsibility for safeguarding Jerusalem’s cultural treasures,” the letter said.

The letter followed a statement by 70 Israeli archaeologists, architects and public figures against the cable car in November, when the project was speeded up. They said: “Jerusalem is not Disneyland, and its landscape and heritage are not for sale.”

A French firm, Safege, which worked on the initial feasibility study, pulled out in 2015, reportedly under pressure from the French government over concerns that the project violated international law.

In an apparent bid to ensure the project would go through, the previous Netanyahu government changed planning laws to remove the cable car from local and regional oversight. It also ensured the public could not submit objections.

Instead the scheme is being treated as a “national infrastructure” project, similar to a new railway line or gas pipeline. The National Planning Council offered a curtailed period for organisations to lodge reservations that ended on March 31.

Mr Swaid, who is the director of the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning, drew up a list of reservations on behalf of the Supreme Religious Council of Muslims in Israel.

Other critical comments were submitted by lawyers for the Silwan neighbourhood, the archaeologists of Emek Shaveh, the planning group Bimkom, a Palestinian merchant association in the Old City, and a tour guides group.

The Karaites, a small Jewish sect whose ancient cemetery lies in the path of the cable car, in the Biblical Hinnom Valley, said the project showed “contemptuous disregard for the dignity of the deceased and the Karaite community in general”.

Benjamin Kedar, a former chairman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, lodged a protest too.

Loss of all privacy

One of the Silwan homes in the path of the cable car belongs to the Karameh family. The cabins may pass only four metres above the flat roof where toddlers play and the family of 20 hang their washing. Support columns for the cable car may end up being driven into the family’s garden, one of the few green spots in Silwan.

“Nowhere in Israel do cable cars travel over houses, let alone a few metres above,” said Mr Mizrahi. “It seems clear why in this case. Because the houses belong to Palestinians.”

Samer Karameh, a 24-year-old lorry driver, said everyone in Silwan was opposed to the cable car, as it would be helping settler groups like Elad trying to take over their neighbourhood. But he was shocked to learn that it would pass so close to his house.

“We’ll lose all privacy. We won’t be able to open the windows without being seen by thousands of strangers. And it can’t be safe to have these cars travelling just over the heads of our children,” Mr Karameh said.

“We know we won’t be the beneficiaries,” he added. “The authorities won’t give us a permit to build anything here, so all the business will go to the settlers.”

• A version of this article first appeared in The National

How Israel is Working to Remove Palestinians from Jerusalem

The 350,000 Palestinian inhabitants of occupied East Jerusalem are caught between a rock and hard place, as Israel works ever harder to remove them from the holy city in which they were born, analysts and residents warn.

That process, they say, has only accelerated in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision a year ago to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, effectively endorsing the city as Israel’s exclusive capital.

“Israel wants Palestinians in Jerusalem to understand that they are trapped, that they are being strangled, in the hope they will conclude that life is better outside the city,” said Amneh Badran, a politics professor at Jerusalem’s Al Quds university.

Since Israel seized the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967 and then illegally annexed it in 1981, it has intentionally left the status of its Palestinian population unresolved.

Israeli officials have made Palestinians there “permanent residents,” though, in practice, their residency is easily revoked. According to Israel’s own figures, more than 14,500 Palestinians have been expelled from the city of their birth since 1967, often compelling their families to join them in exile.

Further, Israel finished its concrete wall slicing through East Jerusalem three years ago, cutting some 140,000 Palestinian residents off from the rest of the city.

A raft of well-documented policies – including house demolitions, a chronic shortage of classrooms, lack of public services, municipal underfunding, land seizures, home evictions by Jewish settlers, denial of family unification, and police and settler violence – have intensified over the years.

At the same time, Israel has denied the Palestinian Authority, a supposed government-in-waiting in the West Bank, any role in East Jerusalem, leaving the city’s Palestinians even more isolated and weak.

All of these factors are designed to pressure Palestinians to leave, usually to areas outside the wall or to nearby West Bank cities like Ramallah or Bethlehem.

“In Jerusalem, Israel’s overriding aim is at its most transparent: to take control of the land but without its Palestinian inhabitants,” said Daoud Alg’ol, a researcher on Jerusalem.

Like others, Mr Alg’ol noted that Israel had stepped up its ‘Judaisation’ policies in Jerusalem since the US relocated its embassy. “Israel is working more quickly, more confidently and more intensively because it believes Trump has given his blessing,” he said.

Demographic concerns dominated Israel’s thinking from the moment it occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, and subordinated it to the control of Jewish officials in West Jerusalem – in what Israel termed its newly “united capital”.

City boundaries were expanded eastwards to attach additional Palestinian lands to Jerusalem and then fill in the empty spaces with a ring of large Jewish settlements, said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

The goal, he added, was to shore up a permanent three-quarters Jewish majority – to ensure Palestinians could not stake a claim to the city and to allay Israeli fears that one day the Palestinians might gain control of the municipality through elections.

Israel has nonetheless faced a shrinking Jewish majority because of higher Palestinian birth rates. Today, Palestinians comprise about 40 per cent of the total population of this artificially enlarged Jerusalem.

Israel has therefore been aggressively pursuing a twin-pronged approach, according to analysts.

On one side, wide-ranging discriminatory policies – that harm Palestinians and favour Jewish settlers – have been designed to erode Palestinians’ connection to Jerusalem, encouraging them to leave. And, on the other, revocation of residency rights and the gradual redrawing of municipal boundaries have forcibly placed Palestinians outside the city – in what some experts term a “silent transfer” or administrative ethnic cleansing.

Israel’s efforts to disconnect Palestinians from Jerusalem are most visibly expressed in the change of Arabic script on road signs. The city’s Arabic name, Al Quds (the Holy), has been gradually replaced by the Israeli name, Urshalim, transliterated into Arabic.

The lack of services and municipal funding and high unemployment mean that three-quarters of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live below the poverty line. That compares to only 15 per cent for Israeli Jews nationally.

Despite these abysmal figures, the municipality has provided four social services offices in the city for Palestinians, compared to 19 for Israeli Jews.

Only half of Palestinian residents are provided with access to the water grid. There are similar deficiencies in postal services, road infrastructure, pavements and cultural centres.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have noted that East Jerusalem lacks at least 2,000 classrooms for Palestinian children, and that the condition of 43 per cent of existing rooms is inadequate. A third of pupils fail to complete basic schooling.

But the biggest pressure on Palestinian residents has been inflicted through grossly discriminatory planning rules, said Mr Tartasky.

In the areas outside the wall, Palestinians have been abandoned by the municipality – and receive no services or policing at all.

Israel’s long-term aim, said Mr Tartasky, had been exposed in a leak of private comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015. He had proposed revoking the residency of the 140,000 Palestinians outside the wall.

“At the moment, the government is discussing putting these residents under the responsibility of the army,” Mr Tartasky said.

That would make them equivalent to Palestinians living in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank and sever their last connections to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, on the inner side of the wall, Palestinian neighbourhoods have been tightly constrained, with much of the land declared either “scenic areas” or national parks, in which construction is illegal, or reserved for Jewish settlements. The inevitable result has been extreme overcrowding.

In addition, Israel has denied most Palestinian neighbourhoods’ masterplans, making it all but impossible to get building permits.

“The advantage for Israel is that planning regulations don’t look brutal – in fact, they can be presented as simple law enforcement,” said Mr Tartasky. “But if you have no place to live in Jerusalem, in the end you’ll have to move out of the city.”

An estimated 20,000 houses – about 40 per cent of the city’s Palestinian housing stock – are illegal and under threat of demolition. More than 800 homes, some housing several families, have been razed since 2004.

As well as the large purpose-built Jewish settlements located on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, several thousand extremist settlers have taken over properties inside Palestinian neighbourhoods, often with the backing of the Israeli courts.

Mr Tartasky noted that Israel has been accelerating legal efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes over the past year, with close to 200 families in and around the Old City currently facing court battles.

When settlers move in following such evictions, Ms Badran said, the character of the Palestinian neighbourhoods rapidly changes.

“The settlers arrive, and then so do the police, the army, private security guards and municipal inspectors. The settlers have a machine behind them whose role is to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Palestinians. The message is: ‘You either accept your subjugation or leave’.”

In Silwan, where settler groups have established a touristic archaeological park in the midst of a densely populated Palestinian community just outside the Old City walls, life has been especially tough.

Mr Alg’ol, who lives in Silwan, noted that fortified settler compounds had been established throughout the area, many dozens more Palestinian families were facing evictions, excavations were taking place under Palestinian homes, closed-circuit TV watched residents 24 hours a day, and the security services were a constant presence. Many hundreds of children had been arrested in recent years, usually accused of stone throwing.

Israel’s newest move is the announcement of a cable car to bring tourists from West Jerusalem through Palestinian neighbourhoods like Silwan to the holy sites of the Old City.

Mr Tartasky said touristic initiatives had become another planning weapon against Palestinians. “These projects, from the cable car to a series of promenades, are ways to connect one settlement to the next, bisecting Palestinian space. They strengthen the settlements and break apart Palestinian neighbourhoods.”

Mr Alg’ol’s family was one of many in Silwan that had been told their lands were being confiscated for the cable car and a new police station.

“They want to turn our community into an archaeological Disneyland,” he said. “And we are in the way. They plan to keep going until we are all removed.”

First published in The National

A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

Special for Dissident Voice and LA Progressive, part of National Poetry Month, 2019

*****

I’m thinking a lot about creativity. About young people, 6 or 7 years of age, so ripe for learning and how we as mentors and teachers should not only respect how their inner voices count, but allow them that exploratory space.  Words as expressions of rebellion. Empathy. Rage. Regret. Laments.

Words, sold now as marketing tools, have less and less power as we have devolved into a country of business-speak, unheralded words of death-ray politicians, tweeting twats and Tweedledum’s and Tweedledee’s. Words even in creative writing programs are branded, marketed and sold as, hmm, a type of group think. MFA (masters of fine arts) programs are destructive to the outsider’s realm of seeing, hearing, touching and his or her own consciousness and subconsciousness.

Poetry, of all the practices, seems the least understood and many times destroyed the most by instructors and teachers attempting to over-analyze or over-classify what it is they think poetry – and a poet – is.

Here, early on, I’ll forward a big slash to the market of the MFA – creative writing programs, their in-house literary journals, and the bourgeoises siphoning off any remarkable revolutionary thought in creative writing.

Rebellion, and Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas fighting against the dirty and perverted capitalist dictator, Somoza. Here, first, revolutionary, Gioconda Belli.

What Are You, Nicaragua?

What are you—
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you—
a flight of birds
guardabarrancos
cenzontles
hummingbirds?

What are you
a roar of rivers
bearing polished, shiny stones
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you—
A women’s breasts made of earth
Smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you—
Singing of leaves in gigantic trees
Green, tangled and filled with doves?

What are you—
Pain and dust and screams in the afternoon
“screams like those of women giving birth”?

What are you—
Clenched fist and loaded gun?

What are you, Nicaragua
To cause me such pain?

Thinking like a kid is what the credo should be for adults, especially in this lobotomized world of consumption and endless war and digital dungeons. Dreaming like a child. Sketching worlds and fantastical dreams like a youth.

Instead, many MFA programs are like buttoned-down harbingers of the generalized professing: “Believe us professors and grad students as we are the key to creative writing, and do not stray, as we are the arbiters of fine arts, the word, poetry, life.”

John Steppling:

The practice of writing, the philosophy is, Firstly, a resistance to formulas and solutions. Writing and art pose questions, and if the mystery leaves the work, leaves the process, then usually, the work has died. Institutional forces demand standardized steps and conditions in their creative writing programs … because the institution knows, deep down, that art is there to destroy it. Even the word “creative” is probably suspect, but such are the conditions under which writing is taught. It is an intuitive and unconscious process, and even if done, for some film work, in partnership – it is still solitary.

One cannot write outlines and then follow them. This is what CPAs do, or insurance salesmen preparing their district conference sales quota speech. If one were to know where a narrative was going, one would have a stillborn project on one’s hands. The play or screenplay has within its narrative, an idea of itself. Narrative provides a space for character. The truth of a character is at once indelible and totally opaque. This idea is the reason, I suspect, we have art at all.

Art is not about communication, nor is it about moral instruction. It is about awakening. But it is also a discipline, and a practice. Those Neanderthal cave paintings, found in places where only one person might see them, at a time, is worth keeping in mind, at least when audience questions arise. You don’t write for an audience. Nor do you write for yourself. That is the paradox and the riddle.

Being able to recognize the truthful from kitsch is the basic foundation for starting on having a practice.

I’ve been a poet a long time, since, of course, virginal youth, and then into my teens, until death do me part. My journey has been, as Steppling states above (referencing story and play/screen writing), a series of awakenings.

The shadow of lamentations, too. Nothing heroic is happy and set upon a political or moral frame without first forcing us all to ask primal questions – questions about self in a world that’s insane. At least now, from pre-Industrial, or I imagine, starting with the ripping of tribal tides with so-called conquest societies, colonizers, we have to ask those age-old questions how to live through the mother and father haven been ripped up by superstitious and perverted religious and economic principles (sic). Insanity now, but our own relocation of the disconnected, by artists, is our sanity in an insane system, capitalism.

Words expressed – poetry – is the shaping of the amphora on the potter’s wheel. That wet healing clay, squished between fingers and synapses. The remarkable lifting of sediments from earth into the shape of creation, imagined first, then reimagined with each pump of the pedal of the wheel, each turning, each fingering and palming of clay into a work of art. Poetry.

National Poetry Month Poster 2019

This month, April, has been generally deemed as National Poetry Month. In the schools I’ve taught at. In some of the libraries I’ve perused, the posters and highlighted books are prominent. In many ways, pushing the word, and celebrating this form of creative expression is both herculean in the sense that almost everything in the USA has been co-opted by consumerism and blatant crass middling thinking and presentation; and it’s worthy of effort to have people leave the business world, the world of making money, into one of making stanzas. In addition, many slam poetry or spoken word events have been tied to the National Poetry Month, started almost a quarter of a century ago in the USA.

Here, National Academy of Poets has the month branded:

National Poetry Month each April is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.

While we celebrate poets and poetry year-round, the Academy of American Poets was inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), and founded National Poetry Month in April 1996 with an aim to:

  • highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
  • encourage the reading of poems,
  • assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
  • increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,

I’ve had some good opportunities to be around poets and live with them and their words. Heck, just a few weeks ago, here I was, in the Central Oregon coast, with Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford, whose own skin is tattooed with the words of his famous poet father’s literary gravitas – William Stafford. Here, my piece in LA Progressive and elsewhere, including the literary journal, Cirque“A Poet, the Pacific Flyway, and a Sonora Flash Flood Memory.”  And my poem about reconnecting to Stafford’s son, Kim, here on the Oregon Coast, a new home for me: “Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from ‘Oregon Trail’

Over the years I have front and center cajoled with poets, seeing myself as one of their peers while living in precarity and calling forth lamentations as a poet. It started seriously when I was an 18-year-old in Tucson hanging out with poets and fiction writers, as part of the University of Arizona’s poets/writers series. I used to hang out at and take classes in rooms at the Poetry Center at the U of A. I’ve helped out poet Richard Shelton with his writer’s workshop at the Arizona State Prison, and he wrote a book about his big project that involved many different cohorts and writers with some tough-living inmates: Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer.

Here I was, still a youth in 1975, when Shelton taught me in poetry classes and started his trips up to death row at the Arizona State prison. I got to be a part of that, Richard’s prison workshops. Not so ironically, shortly after graduating and becoming a journalist and part-time college faculty, I started incorporating that “prison workshop” ethos in so many other of my writing gigs with my own students in a federal prison, La Tuna, NM. I’ve done writing workshops, including poetry, with gifted and talented students in Austin, TX, and with gang-influenced youth in Segundo Barrio, El Paso. I’ve carried through with writing workshops in a life-long learning program at the University of Texas—El Paso, where I had, as an example of some of my students’ histories,  survivors of Dachau write about their lives, and women who knew Pancho Villa, and other interesting older folk, write poems while we worked on their memoirs. Writing workshops for just-released inmates in a homeless program in Portland, and writing projects with homeless veterans and their families, and poetry workshops for fourth graders, and more, have cascaded into my life.

Poetry teaching was always the razor edge way to get people to open up that creative and deeply drawn area of their humanity that is more etched with meaning than their own epigenetics or more fluid of their self-worth than the corpuscles flowing inside– the embedded humanity and horror of being alone in this world. Poetry, as Sapphire shows, can be triumph, momentarily, over evil and the scars evil produce in us all.

Here, though, some quick turn of words to express what poetry is from poets themselves:

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before. —Audre Lorde

I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. —Pablo Neruda

Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness. —Alice Walker

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful. –Rita Dove

As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor – those great tools of thought – and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world. —Naomi Shihab Nye

Luckily, Angie with Dissident Voice and Dick with LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive are opening up the digital venues for my limited standing column (in the month of April), as a format for some musings and personal and monumental ideas around the power of the word, poetry. Call it a cry out for something more real than the echo chambers of modern America.

More real than all the stuff I end up writing about in LA Progressive’s Terminal Velocity – Man Lost of Tribe or for Angie at DV which usually is tied to the politics of negotiating our own humanity and community and self inside the war that is killer capitalism. The most creative and psychologically real and satisfying things come to me as people I’ve touched and who have touched me, and, of course, learning to think like a mountain, as Aldo Leopold calls it in his Sand Country Almanac – imagine the poetry in this excerpt by Leopold, one of the fathers of conservation and environmental sanity:

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

It’s not a quaint thing, this poetry. Actually, many people do write poems, and see themselves as poets. Really, not just MFA students or older ladies waxing religious rhymes, but plumbers, construction workers, nurses, bookkeepers, and every form of human life.

The poem is a distilled world, as Rita Dove says. Neruda also has it right – it’s where you are from, inside the body of the world, as in forests, oceans, inside rain: that’s the germination of a poem. And, poetry should be rebellious and about revolution as Alice Walker states, and lived, as she told me twice when I’ve been to her readings and workshops.  That poetry is a bridge over fears, as Lourde states, makes so much sense. Bridging humanity over the troubled waters of the inhumane.

The direct line to human feeling . . . . and making our lives deeper in confidence, so much so there is transformation, even for the oppressed and imprisoned, giving meaning in the world and life is meaningful, no matter the circumstance, as Shihab Nye states.

I remember talking with Czeslaw Milosz at a reading in Austin, Texas. I was trying to drill down what poetry was, how I could parachute into the lives of gang members, spooks (inhalers of volatile compounds like gasoline), homeless war vets, young adults with developmental disabilities, survivors of sexual assault and invoke some solid concepts on why the poem – no matter what form it takes – is what Naomi states: imaging life as it can or should be or is honoring the word and creative practice of language in the art of detailing.

He was near the end of his life when he told me, In reality, whatever the poet attempts to say, all words are a type of lamentation. Despair, maybe, colored by something else that pushes down the blackness of humanity in this age of destruction.  Something like that. He went deeper, though. As seen in this interview in the Paris Review:

Of course, it’s true that people talk too much and without restraint. But poetry imposes certain restraints. Nevertheless, there is always the feeling that you didn’t unveil yourself enough. A book is finished and appears and I feel, Well, next time I will unveil myself. And when the next book appears, I have the same feeling. And then your life ends, and that’s it.

Two poems by Czeslaw Milosz to start the month:

In Black Despair

In grayish doubt and black despair,
I drafted hymns to the earth and the air,
pretending to joy, although I lacked it.
The age had made lament redundant.

So here’s the question — who can answer it —
Was he a brave man or a hypocrite?

A Felicitous Life

His old age fell on years of abundant harvest.
There were no earthquakes, droughts or floods.
It seemed as if the turning of the seasons gained in constancy,
Stars waxed strong and the sun increased its might.
Even in remote provinces no war was waged.
Generations grew up friendly to fellow men.
The rational nature of man was not a subject of derision.
It was bitter to say farewell to the earth so renewed.
He was envious and ashamed of his doubt,
Content that his lacerated memory would vanish with him.

Two days after his death a hurricane razed the coasts.
Smoke came from volcanoes inactive for a hundred years.
Lava sprawled over forests, vineyards, and towns.
And war began with a battle on the islands.

Next: Poetry as environmental sanity and rebellion!

Professor Pablo and Fourth Grade Enlightenment in Lincoln City

The shape of learning comes in all sizes, all forms. We know what not learning is — texting, emailing, You Tube videos, a world of Teletubbies, from birth to death.

I know what education planners are not — hedge fund billionaires, charter school profiteers, down home religious bigotry and stupidity ignoramuses, the lady from McDonald’s funding all these looped back and forth non-profits and shell NGOs and their two-year-in-the-making white papers after reports after white papers.

The fourth graders I taught Friday have a sponge for a brain, and they want something better than what they get — bells and announcements blaring throughout the day, rote memory assignments, the same old tired little book stories, little math problems, red-orange-yellow drills, lock-downs, health warnings, and on and on and on. They know that’s not real life, though — in compliant and nanny-state and rule-making America, hmm, maybe school is the launching pad.

They need mentors in the school, not just the poor flagging teachers who have taken these silly classes in college taught by even more silly professors who actually know squat about children struggling, and less about the roots of the struggle: mass culture which is mass incarceration set loose by the Capitalists, the very people who should be denigrated and egged daily (as in chicken ovum in their faces), everywhere and anywhere they pollute the world. They need schools that are of the world — beaches to clean up and learn from; corporations that spend more time nurturing humanity than maximizing profits; government officials that love them as opposed to hating them; parents who aren’t afraid of their own shadows; and revolutionary teachers.

This can only be done with the death of Capitalism. Only done with revolutionary acts daily, collectively. Only with calling a spade a spade.

You know, America and Western White Civilization stink to high heaven. I’ll get to what it is that allows me to survive without going Ted Kaczynski or Going Postal on the closest thing that deserves RIP justice.

Poetry.

But first, here, a comment from Joe from Merced, commenting on my previous post:

Yup! Source.

May I add that education should be something available to all age groups wishing to learn when they are ready to learn, whether that be at six years of age or thirty six years of age. Also the idea that the only place one can learn is in a designated school during designated hours is preposterous and itself a form of unexamined conformity and subservience to power. The fact that knowledge is only knowledge if it comes from, or is acknowledged by academia, is narcissistic and pathological in itself. For many education comes from tagging along and being exposed to some old timer with tons of experience and watching and doing as advised.

Maybe most importantly the quest for more knowledge and technological advancement itself is a progress trap that leads civilization into a box canyon to nowhere. Just because man can think it, doesn’t mean he should act on it. An example of that being the development of damned near every modern advancement in the fields of chemistry which has unleashed incredible pollution onto the environment. Nuclear energy development that has contaminated the whole world and is yet poised to complete the job of annihilation of the planet. The development of plastics that are killing the ocean sea life.

If education leads to life destructive products or customs, then maybe education ought to be about humility and self examination of outcomes rather than our current model of economic self fulfillment which never questions outcomes in its quest for profits. Maybe the best most simple idea for learning came from Gandhi and needs no tweaking, only adoption into modern curricula as the foundation of our educational system.

Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)
Science Without Humanity
Religion Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principle

He’s so right, and alas, the problem of weaker and more intellectually- challenged and physically- imperiled generation after generation produced by this perverted society is solved with real mettle, real individual change, family collective change, community change, national change.

Calling the spade a spade.

Yesterday, we looked at plastics in their lives, in their blood, in their hormone-disrupting growth cycles, inside a turtle’s nose, and wrapped around the necks of birds and sea lions.

We looked at Chris Jordan’s work on consumption — how many plastic straws are consumed each second on planet earth or the number of disposable cups thrown away just on airlines per hour.

They had just come back from lunch, and those without responsible parents and charges who made decent lunches had to eat in the cafeteria — deep fried potatoes, fatty meat, ketchup and ranch dressing on EVERYTHING, doughy pretzels, sugared canned peaches, chocolate milk, stringy cheese.

This is not even prison food, and the place I taught, on the outside, could have used a good coat of community (yes, Mayor and Council and Chamber) paint, a mural project for the outside, new playground equipment, and more more more to engender learning — goats, fish, yurts, greenhouses, apple trees, flowers, a hedge maze, and more more more.

I stay sane by recognizing the insanity and drill down into it. Here’s the real ugliness of capitalism. Below, this person, all white and female, all middle/upper middle class, all just right in her captured make-over photo, gives squat about the children of Oregon and Coos Bay. Yet, her life is to dispose of liquid natural (sic) gas through the black snake of Canadian extractive fossil fuel industries. Her life is about injecting as much CO2 into the atmosphere as her white female-loving excetionalist life can tolerate.

These people are evil, more evil than Pence or Trump or Pelosi or Hillary. Look at the woman’s white-white face, that death twinkle in her eyes. PR wizard (grim reaper for us) for a Canadian company ready to push a pipeline through Oregon to peddle more climate-warming LNG crap for China. Through Oregon:

Tasha Cadotte

Tasha Cadotte — Jordan Cove Guest Opinion/ Mar 15, 2019

Her job is to lie-lie-lie, like all PR flacks for corporations, governments and non-profits. The opinion piece shows her education, her k12 upbringing, her college cred. She is part of the devil’s brigade.

This woman probably has a degree in communications, in psychological management, institutional leadership, or some such. Her goal in life is to be The Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Pembina. Or Enbridge. Killers of ecosystems, people, cultures. She might have even gotten herself a college degree in un-Journalism.

Corp Watch Always do the corporation watch, every single one that comes into your community to spill death words and Orwellian cancer onto the land.

This Tasha has blood on her hands. Whale blood, bird blood, and the blood of future generations on her hands. Children’s blood. However, the sane people fight the insanity with one group at a time, up against multiple millions in bribe money from the companies this Tasha loves to represent.

But the fight is far from over. In 2017, not long after FERC denied the project a permit the year prior, Don Althoff, then-CEO of the parent company Veresen (now Pembina), met with President Donald Trump and the founding director of Trump’s National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, of Goldman Sachs.

Shortly thereafter, Cohn announced: “The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to permit an LNG export facility in the Northwest.”

Support from the fossil fuel industry spans the length of the pipeline, from Colorado to Oregon. Pac/West, a major pro-fracking lobbying and communications firm active in Colorado has also been operating in Oregon. The firm has gone so far as to have Oregon state legislation proposed officially on its behalf, which would have blocked local governments from interfering with fossil fuel infrastructure projects, such as Jordan Cove.

This legislation was in response to a 2017 county “Community Bill of Rights” ballot initiative in Coos County, Oregon, the site of the proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal. If passed, the local law would have outlawed industrial fossil fuel projects and established legally enforceable rights for local ecosystems. Jordan Cove LNG spent an unprecedented $596,155 in cash and in-kind contributions to help defeat measure, according to the Oregon Secretary of State website.

Murals opposing the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline hang near the site of the Jackson County Department of State Lands hearing.

Murals opposing the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline hang near the site of the Jackson County Department of State Lands hearing.

This woman makes how much for her Faustian Bargain, her Josef Goebbels lies?

She could be working for the plastics industry:

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She could move on and work for the pharmaceutical genocide leaders:

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OXYCONTIN MAKER QUIETLY WORKED TO WEAKEN LEGAL DOCTRINE THAT COULD LEAD TO JAIL TIME FOR EXECUTIVES

These Little-to-Big Eichmanns get big bucks for their lousy BA in communications degree: Around $95,494 to $136,893 . . . $150K a year? $164,000 annual base salary? Plus perks, plus stocks, plus travel. What’re the sins Gandhi stated which she is smack at the center of living and abiding by? In bold:

Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)
Science Without Humanity
Religion Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principle

Well, well, this is the result of a powerful un-education system, rigged for sinners, rigged by Little Eichmanns working for the rich as we all have had to read about the past week with the so-called scandal of the rich paying bribes for their little Johnny and Sally to get into Harvard or Yale or Stanford!


More of the white-white rich American, wanting a triple-rigged system. I bet this untalented millionaire actress has her own little stable of Little Eichmann’s like Ms. Tasha working to pollute Oregon! College scandals, or fossil fuel felons? Which is worse?

From Democracy Now: Journalist Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. His book examines how the so-called elite class of America have worked the system to maintain and consolidate power and wealth, even while claiming to help people and “change the world” through charity. On Wednesday, Giridharadas tweeted: “The college bribery scam is not a college bribery scam. It is a master class in how America—governed by a cheater, ruled by rule breakers, managed by a class that confuses its privilege for merit—functions.”

And what we learned is, as you cover on this show, America is, in many ways, rigged for the wealthy and powerful. And we know that. We have a tax code that is rigged for the wealthy and powerful. We have anti-trust enforcement that’s rigged for the wealthy and powerful. We fund public education according to property taxes, so the nicer mommy or daddy’s house, the better the school you get. America is already rigged for rich people.

The problem is, for some rich people, all that rigging that I just described is shared equally among rich people. Right? You have the same first-class seat on the commercial jet that everybody—all the other rich people have. And what we found in this case was, some rich people are not satisfied with the generalized rigging that they have to share with everybody else. They want special, private, bespoke, bottle-service rigging over and above the standard rigging that rich people receive.

And I read the indictment. This Rick Singer guy is a great character, and he really understood the psychology of these rich people. People like him in that kind role, who are service providers, often do. And he says, “You know, the people I work for, they don’t want to do a million-dollar check and then hope their kid gets a second look. The people I work for, the wealthiest families in America, they want a guarantee. They want this thing done,” he said.

And so, I think this is a phenomenal glimpse, because what—as someone who’s been writing about this plutocracy for a few years, what these folks say when they hear critics like me is, “Don’t be negative. Don’t be zero-sum. We can empower the least among us. We can fight for the poor. And we can benefit and get rich. Right? It’s not zero-sum.” And you know what really is actually zero-sum? When there is one college seat, and a hard-working kid from a poor neighborhood, whose family has never sent anybody to college, but now they have a shot at that seat—they’ve worked hard, their parents took many buses to many jobs, they might be eligible for that seat—and they don’t get that seat, because someone like Bill McGlashan, private equity baron, impact investing impresario, who had a $2 billion impact fund with Bono, has locked up that seat for his son.

So, daily, I try to instill into youth — aged 6 to 18 — to begin loving the fight, and to learn how to be IN the fight, with self-sacrifice as the underpinning of their lives; to instill in them they are the answer, that they themselves hold the key to happiness, and, contrary to capitalist thinking, happiness cannot be gained on the backs of hundreds of millions, or several billion, toiling for the rich countries; that happiness is not what they should be seeking but rather social justice/economic justice/environmental justice. Which is not all fun and games to undertake, and could be a life of poverty and recriminations from every corner, especially from family members. To the contrary as we all looked at Jordan’s film Albatross there are no happy endings if that’s all one seeks — pleasure, wealth, superficiality, pop culture, consumerism, exceptionalism in the way of America’s mythology.

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The kids want something more. They just can’t get it, because America is about feeding the rich and powerful. America is about shining the spotlight on the rich and powerful. America is about hating the poor and future generations and loving the rich and powerful.

I hope not one child I teach comes out the educational grinder even with a sliver of the propaganda plague the Tasha’s of the world possess.

Poetry, man, poetry, we also talked about. How the 62 year old substitute, who they called “Professor Pablo” is really about embracing that child, that youth, that young man. Inner child and those around me.

So, at the same age, more or less, 7th grade, here I was in Tucson, running through the desert barefooted, wrestling, tripping to Mexico and diving. Cutting down billboards and burning down development model homes.

And, taking in the spirit cells of poets, the voices deep outside the human capacity to kill, maim, incarcerate, exploit. Maybe that’s the answer to insanity of Western Culture. Poetry!

In any case, my tribute to W.S Merwin, age 91, gone, supreme anti-Vietnam War activist, and activist against the continual desecration of Hawaii by consumerism and pollution.

Just getting young people to think like a poet, draw like a scientist, believe like a sage, and work in the world like a water protector or Thoreau, we as keepers of a new and back-to-the-simple civilization, this is our course in life. Mine at least.

Now that’s the work no PR flak could ever understand in her or his colonized mind! PR firms spin America into war, spin coups, spin Americans to feed toxins to their children, and PR firms are the Faustian Bargain of the rich-rich wanting total control of all humanity, from cradle to grave, from brain to stem cell.

Scrawled Lightness of Remembrance

upon the death of W.S. Merwin (9/30/1927—3/15/2019)

those bucket bearers
word carriers bees lifting barrels
he sent benediction into boy’s
blood Sonora riot recounting
Bob Dylan Stafford Peter Gabriel
WS Merwin busted knees from
blasting Suzuki into
desert realms dogeared
Carrier of Ladders old US
Army rucksack — Neruda, Borges,
Marquez, Octovio Paz
“for the anniversary of my death”

his poem I prophesied
nineteen with sister
slain on road from Kamloops
to Tucson sideswiped
Harley skidded-over
now his death silent “tireless
traveler”

juxtapositions made
his words boy to man
reckless wrestling burning
billboards boy’s own music
treble cleft of poet Merwin
until my 20th birthday
tall man there Tucson
reading to whispering
crowd turtle neck dashing
really nothing like my dread-locks
hard sun skin at 20
yet he sang to me treble and bass
no tribal Yusef Komunyakaa drum

Merwin’s vines stilled anger
touched thin bone near heart
my rage bullets into Mexican night
turned to free-tail bats
famous poet sickened with
full force of Vietnam War
tucked inside my rucksack
next to .44 magnum

WS Merwin me with tumbler
of whiskey 1977
he said something like
“stay concealed in
your hate
of wars in our name
stay hard with sinew
for love of desert
ecosystems”

poet refused laurels
Pulitzer Vietnam war like acid
on his tongue

Now this —
We are the shadow of Sirius
There is the other side of
as we talk to each other we see the light
and we see these faces
but we know that behind that
there’s the other side
which we never know

those falling embers
once rockets to Sirius
coal black ash to soil
I touch living poet
“tireless traveler
like beam of a lightless star”
Merwin’s shape whale spray
I now seize in Oregon

death is no glowing dove
nothing bright moving as shapes
above WS Merwin like
all tribes from each book
travel with me
Merwin me that is for
sure even whiskey tequila
the shape of his eyes
setting upon me thirty
years his junior
but my brother
his words coffin bearers over
and over starting with a dead sister:

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Note: “For the Anniversary of My Death,” by Merwin.

Psychopathology of Not Teaching, Not Feeding, Not Embracing Our Youth

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

We only think when confronted with a problem.

John Dewey, 1938, Experience and Education (Vol. no. 10). New York: The Macmillan Company &  1933, How We Think. Boston, MA: D. C. Heath and Co

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There’s a lot of magical thinking going on in the world, largely laid at the feet of the marketers, arbiters of propaganda, the flim-flam of Capitalism and Consumerism.

Finding solace in the next President’s Day sale or Black Friday.

Except every day in America is a Black Friday. Fire sale for the social services, for all the safety nets, for the bedrock of a democracy – education, power of the people to hold the commons and to control the benefits of the community’s needs over some punk like Musk or Sir Richard or Zuckerberg or Trump-Clinton-Obama, all same sides of the one-sided coin.

More and more people I engage with are lost, really, pushing their little broom and lifting their little dustbin to attempt to clean up the smashed walls and halls and schoolhouses and hallowed things of the people.

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Feudalism is back in style, and for each community – city block or city border or urban growth boundary – the endless brooming and dust-binning will never make a dent in what must be done: the cancer must be removed.

Oh, I know, the pacifists want the arc of social justice to come catapulting back and somehow laying bare and rendering impotent the millions of bad hombres who control the purse strings, who control the black ditches of polluting industries, who control the daily trillion loads of toxins and carcinogens and structural violence bombs put upon the majority.

The chaos and fluency of their penetration of pain on all levels of society and in all societies is amazing those rotten-to-the-core billionaires and multinational thugs who have the sociopath’s luxury of being extremely effective, especially in predatory-parasitic-extractive-casino Capitalism, where the burdens of externalities and the millions upon millions of negative and costly outgrowths of Capitalism are the burden of the masses while the extreme comforts/power bases/economic controls are privatized to a very small swath of humankind.

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These traits are the characterizations of the typical CEO, typical of the boardroom winners, so typical of the so-called powerful:

  • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
  • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
  • Authoritarian
  • Secretive
  • Paranoid
  • Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
  • Conventional appearance
  • Goal of enslavement of their victim (s)
  • Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim’s life
  • Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim’s affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  • Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  • Incapable of real human attachment to another
  • Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  • Extreme narcissism and grandiose
  • May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

Variations on a theme. Just put in a powerful and famous/infamous person’s name, and the fifteen traits above get checked off pretty easily and readily.

Erik Prince or Betsy Devos, or the Democratic Party honchos or the boot-licking Republican reprobates. Now, we are in a world where the sociopath and psychopath and self-aggrandizing are foisted upon the stage and klieg lights pointed at them so all of us in this barbarous spectacle have to be exposed to not only their felonious and pathological deeds and beliefs daily, but we now have to subvert our own humanness and life by their rules . . . all the while paying to follow their rules.

Unfortunately, most people are not crippled with a malignant personality disorder, yet the young and the disposed/dispossessed and the struggling and the downtrodden in a capitalist society have very few shields or antibodies to avert from these pathological souls who have infected all levels of the corporation, the legal system, the education system, the military industrial complex, government, national politics, religion:

These people are mentally ill and extremely dangerous! We can take many precautions to protect us from the destructive acts of which they are capable.

First, to recognize them, keep the following guidelines in mind.

(1) They are habitual liars. They seem incapable of either knowing or telling the truth about anything.
(2) They are egotistical to the point of narcissism. They really believe they are set apart from the rest of humanity by some special grace.
(3) They scapegoat; they are incapable of either having the insight or willingness to accept responsibility for anything they do. Whatever the problem, it is always someone else’s fault.
(4) They are remorselessly vindictive when thwarted or exposed.
(5) Genuine religious, moral, or other values play no part in their lives.

They have no empathy for others and are capable of violence. Under older psychological terminology, they fall into the category of psychopath or sociopath, but unlike the typical psychopath, their behavior is masked by a superficial social facade.

The psychopath’s world is one where the communal and cooperative laws of human interaction and also the more lofty laws of human emotion and interaction do not apply. It’s been said that psychopathy serves as a “reality” for a good portion of humanity. The hypothesis that one man in every 100 and one woman in every 300 are born a clinical psychopath is troubling, to be sure.

Some of the literature states that psychopathy is so common that each person reading this article knows one and then a significant proportion of readers are most likely psychopaths themselves.

Interesting, the age old battle of nature versus nurture, and vice versa!

I know this is beating a dead horse, but feminist and writer Susan Sontag, in a fit of lucidity, stated the obvious:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far…. The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al, don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

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So, who the hell knows about that 1 in 100/300 psychopathy in any given population. I might say, sure, for the white race, seems correct. Africa Source:

The pineal gland is responsible for the production of melatonin, a hormone that is secreted in response to darkness, and is also the site in the brain where the highest levels of Serotonin can be found (Sun et al, 2001). In the pineal, 5-HT (Serotonin) concentration displays a remarkable diurnal pattern, with day levels much higher than night levels. Serotonin plays an important role in sleep, perception, memory, cardiovascular activity, respiratory activity, motor output, sensory and neuroendocrine function.

Racial differences have been noted in the rate of pineal calcification as seen in plain skull radiographs. In Caucasians, calcified pineal is visualized in about 50% of adult skull radiographs after the age of 40 years (Wurtman et al, 1964); other scholars argue that Caucasians, in general, may have rates of pineal gland calcification as high as ­60-80% (King, 2001). Murphy (1968) reported a radiological pineal calcification rate of 2% from Uganda, while Daramola and Olowu (1972) in Lagos, Nigeria found a rate of 5%. Adeloye and Felson (1974) found that calcified pineal was twice as common in White Americans as in Blacks in the same city, strengthening a suspicion that there may be a true racial difference with respect to this apparatus. In India a frequency of 13.6% was found (Pande et al, 1984). Calcified pineal gland is a common finding in plain skull radiographs and its value in identifying the midline is still complementary to modern neuroradiological imaging.

Scholars believe the reduction in melatonin with age may be contributory to aging and the onset of age-related diseases. This theory is based on the observation that melatonin is the most potent hydroxyl radical scavenger thus far discovered (Reiter, 1995). Prominent theories of aging attributes the rate of aging to accumulated free radical damage (Proctor, 1989; Reiter, 1995), and as Caucasians have higher rates of pineal calcification, which produces melatonin which is a vital free radical scavenger, some suspect that people of European descent may actually age faster than those from other continents.

Pineal gland calcification has also been implicated in the onset of Multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves. Neuroradiological research has shown the pineal gland to be involved in the pathophysiology of Multiple Sclerosis. In a 1991 study by Sandyk R, and Awerbuch G.I published in the “International Journal of Neuroscience”, it was shown that Pineal Calcification was found in 100 % of MS patients. The strikingly high prevalence of pineal calcification in Multiple sclerosis provides indirect support for an association between MS and abnormalities of the pineal gland (Sandyk and Awerbuch, 1991). Multiple Sclerosis tends to affect Caucasians disproportionately, and is nearly unheard of in Africa and is rare among African Americans. A high prevalence of pineal calcification has also been linked to bipolar disorder.

Now my article will boomerang back to my world directly – writing and teaching, this go-round inside the K12 arena; alas, the world of a teacher is a road strewn with broken-down trucks and scattered tailpipe assemblies and transmissions and oil slicks and sheared-off wheels.

The height of America now is the constant chatter and recriminations against the education system, against teachers, against students, against the entire project of working with the young to assist them in developing critical thinking skills.

Believe you me, I should be where Betsy DeVos is, but billionaires have no expertise, no 10,000 hours of practice to give them some level of mastery, whether it’s tennis, general scholarship, educating youth, doing anything worthy of a worthwhile society. Hence, the ones leading the so-called education debate, Gates or DeVos, have zilch experience in the classroom, zero experience working. You’ll never see a fellow like me at any table.

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The idea of my time on earth has always been being on the ground, and some people liken it to ground truthing, the realities of intellectual thought sewn in the fields of those areas where we as a people consider disciplines. What better way to understand what needs to be done to fix (sic) the US education than being in it, albeit like a hired gun going from school to school grade as a substitute teacher.

Hands down, after doing this educational ground truthing a large part of my life, since 1983 when I first started a teaching assistanceship at the University of Texas-El Paso, through to today, this society will never put me at the table, so to speak, of the policy wonks and political operatives. Do they want the real minds there, those of us who just might be able to inject reality and true systems thinking in how to solve the so-called “education problem.”

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I know it’s easy to see that anything associated with neoliberalism, libertarianism, the assault of communities large and small by the elite, the super-super minority, is part of the failings of education, and all parts of society, the so-called intellectual, spiritual, built environment, natural, community commons.

The reality is capitalism IS the failure, and CAPITALISM is the education PROBLEM, and my years parachuting into schools and into school districts have shown me there are many deficits, many shortcomings and many hurdles around our public schools.

A raft of problems can be rattled off and highlighted in white paper after special NPR report. The brain trust is the children, however, not Mark Cuban and his ilk. Certainly, the systems of oppression and structural violence and mob rule of the late stage consumer culture and forced acquiescence as a pound of flesh carved out for the elites, the marketers, the flimflam artists who have wrested control of all branches of government, the Fourth estate, the Shadow Government, the corporate heads with their sycophants and armies for hire HAVE done their deep-deep damage.

As if the cultural DNA has been stripped of any normalcy, these citizens — elementary, junior and high schoolers — they already have three strikes against them, yet somehow in the chaos and poorly delivered education there are standouts.

The problem is we need education for the children and for the adults, cooperative education and co-ops of learning, for all generations. How stupid is it to continue feeding mush to children? How stupid is it to have them penned up in classrooms? How ridiculous is it to have a few disruptive youth and inattentive students run wild in a classroom? How is it that the major industries and the business roundtable folk and the movers and shakers and the parents aren’t held to task for not getting truly involved in their futures? These young people’s futures?

Experiential learning, outside the box, far-far away from standardized teaching, common core, rote memorization.

Even in this onslaught of crass, creepy psychologically-damaging crap youth have to step through daily – a land mine field every day – we can still get back the narrative, and flip the script, so to speak.

I have been in 1st grade classes, and been teaching music to elementary aged students and science and math to high school students, and everything in between. The vast majority of youth feel and know and sense they have been sold a bill of goods, and lies, and they want leaders and mentors, people who can bring to them a sense of destiny, a sense of rebellion for the good of humankind, and a real set of educational tools to help them educate themselves for life.

It is not some hippie or alternative new age spasm to say that students need hands on reality – how to grow food, how to paint murals, how to build tables, how to construct solar panels for their homes, how to chart the stars, how to speak several languages, how to wire a short wave radio, how to set up and nurture a catfish pond, how to cut flowers and how to talk to old people and the disabled in situ.

We could be using our smarts and collective action and solving our rural communities’ issues and those of our cities; problem solved by having youth brigades with their mentors and their parents working daily to make the changes necessary for resiliency. The youth want to know why they can’t give me hugs or display hugs in the school yard, so we talk about the newer research on the skin and on touching people, daily, as a way of healing, of pushing melatonin in the body, as a way to heal inflamed arteries.

On the surface or to a passerby, the children might be lost causes, already colonized by Big Mac, Disneyland, Marvel Comics, glittery inept millionaire performers and fancy falling pixels in their next orgasmic video game.

They may already be too far gone to weather climate disruption, economic wars, the battlefields coming soon, because of their multiple issues tied to chronic diseases and mental disturbances.

Ah-ha, so wrong, so wrong!

I guarantee if a school house and school grounds were set up like great rendezvous points for artists, acrobats, farmers, trades people, international visitors, under the direction of First Nations elders; I guarantee if students were there with their parents part of the week learning about history, untold stories, about how to tell a story and film a documentary; I guarantee if we shifted ground by enforcing the philosophy that we are what we eat, what we read, what we do, what we think, what we believe, what we hope for, what we want, what we imagine, and that there are direct repercussions (negative) to the individual’s mental, intellectual and physical well being with the wrong stuff in, which leads to the wrong stuff out. . . . I guarantee the conversations will change, the enlightenments will spark, the involvement on every level of the community will increase, and the individual and collective narratives will move toward that arc of not only social justice, but humanity living within our means, and understanding the value of simplicity, small ecological footprints and smelling the roses and watching the stars through the flight patterns of owls, fireflies and moths.

What a silly set of idealistic ideas on how to re-form the education system.

The fact is that students are hungry for honesty, and hungry to see how it all connects, how one piece of the puzzle is actually the link to the whole, and how all things are related. They get it, and many times there are 10-year-old skeptics, grizzled in their thinking, scabbed over in their imaginations.

Everything in school, now, under the current models of suppression, then, is to learn 9 to 5, Monday through Friday enslavement.

Children and juveniles and late age teens want nothing of that enslavement, but they have no choice in a hobbling system of people like the Gates duo or the Betsy-Donald duo, coming up with insane and self-fulfilling concepts to keep kids so down that they will abide by anything the levelers and capitalists demand of them – demands (pistols to the heads, rather) in their communities, in their purchases, in their indebtedness, in their reading and eating material, in their subservience to the company or corporation or organization.

We need legions of nurses, social workers, teachers, solutions-driven people with their heads screwed on tight and their hearts alight in the shine of innocence lost and new innocence gained. We need a world of STEAM – daftly blended Sciences Technology Engineering Arts Math for more than capitalist survival, but rather for the impending systems of collapse we have wreaked havoc on the planet, on our own souls, and now on young souls not even given a chance to push out of chrysalis.

We know what must be done: rework all public schools. Add greenhouse, ponds, rows of corn, second and third floor ropes courses, commercial kitchens, husbandry stalls, more. Rip up the pavement, get the kids to use rickshaws, learn how to be entrepreneurial geniuses with coffee stands and juice stands run by parents and students. Outdoor education on our beaches, in our city parks, inside empty warehouses.

We know what to do! And we can do it. Again, cut away the cancer — destroy capitalism!

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Small-town America is the only Solution

Image result for artwork of young students climate change

I’ve been straddling the void, so to speak: I have had a disgust with this Imperial Society so long that down looks up, man. Slip streaming through the wastelands of America, first, as a kid wrestling in Tucson and having huge confrontations with fellow high school punks, racists against the Mexican-Americans on the other side of town, racists against the Native Americans up north, and racists against the African Americans recruited by the hometown basketball and football teams – University of Arizona Wildcats.

I hated and fought the bulldozers tearing up the Sonora, hated and fought the trappers wanting every god-damned coyote and other vermin cleared from the land, hated and fought the people on both sides of the foolish Tupperware or Rubbermaid parties who backed the baby killers and old lady rapers called US Uniformed Services.

The Minutemen along the border, shooting up crossers and holding at gunpoint, again grannies, old men and women, I hated them and did things to some of their crusades. .

I had nothing in common with the haters, the levelers, the people who gushed over July 4th bombs bursting in air, gushed over the Superbowl, gushed over the Oscars, gushed over the cheap flights to Vegas and Honolulu and Mazatlan. I knew even before Tucson and the border and my work in Mexico that the project of Empire was based on Puritanical lies, slavery of the mind, and the Mad Men in every branch of government and all sectors of the economy doing that soft shoe bait and switch akimbo with the minds and tax coffers of more and more distracted dumb-downed deluded magical thinking members of this sideshow carnival society.

Blind allegiance to something, that’s the American way, even those who see themselves as stripes of another zebra. Capitalism as a system of putting on the backs of the majority the pain and suffering and failures of the elite’s project to accumulate more and more wealth, land, power, industries, economies of scale toward human obsolescence, well, that was weighing on the 15-year-old’s heart, wrestling my way through anger in Southern Arizona with people who were not of my tribe, people from an alternative belief system, or at least I was from some alternative universe.

I felt like shit living in the skin of a teenage boy in Arizona, anywhere, in the US of A, and I had zilch in common with more and more people. Older people, that’s who I gravitated toward. Misbegotten hobos, they called themselves, or outlaws – bad check writers, credit union and small time hold up artists, drug dealers, Vietnam vets in motorcycle clubs or living in trailers out in nowhere Sonora Desert. Shitkickers who wanted nothing of US government, US lifestyles, US consumerism, US ideals.

I gravitated toward Mexicans who lived tight with other Mexicans, illegal crossers who seemed to know how poverty is the system designed to divide and conquer, as the once poor, with enough toil or scamming, get to play in the land of the middle class.

God, country, apple pie, and mother? Schools were are joke, because the idealism that young people should have garnered, the rebellion and the anti-authority tendencies we have as youth, creativity, genius, those were the things that the powers that be fought against.

Whew, that was then, 1972, and here I am struggling in Oregon, meeting the riptide of humanity along the Oregon Coast, a hardscrabble existence of boom or bust, displaced people, and old timers who have seen the entire place transformed into dichotomous America in microcosm: those who have put down roots, did the logging and fishing and crabbing thing, and then those who have wads of cash from California or Texas or Portland who have set up dream summer homes along one of the more incredible coastlines along this country’s two sides of the land mass.

Here I am doing the education thing again, teaching, right in the middle of the muck – some of my first gigs as substitute teacher have been right in the middle of grades 1 through 6, an emotional-intellectual-spiritual tender for those vulnerable years, those formative years, the years where the real difference in a child’s life could be enhanced by a society that throws its all into education, into teaching instead of training, mentoring instead of dictating, embracing creativity instead of stifling free thinking.

What a perfect time for young people to finally get the hands-on work of artists, historians, biologists, nurses and doctors, writers, farmers, tradesmen/tradeswomen. What a perfect time to help youth learn cooperative thinking, communitarian ideals, and have a chance to learn about and practice revolutionary thought.

Instead the schools look like old Army post barracks, and the lackluster curriculum is so dumb-downed that so many potentially fantastically creative and smart youth end up passing through the sieve of standardized education.

Yes, that age, 6, 7, 8, 9 squirrelly, but really, collectively in 2019, the entire mess is busted. Parents working three jobs, parents arguing about when to finally pull up stakes or drag in the anchor and head out of these small coastal towns. Fractured families, now, with 1 out of 1.9 marriages in disunion by 5 years in. This is the time of reckoning for young people, yet we are teaching them the hate of the country, the values of bombing other people, the ideals of dog-eat-dog capitalism, having them celebritize and honor the luxuries of the rich, and thereby forcing young kids to even give a shit about multimillionaire talent-less singers, movie idols and arbiters of crass culture.

Pizza and French fries lathered up in ketchup and ranch dressing in the cafeteria. Lunch rooms that are so loud it seems like an election night announcement that Hillary won. These little people are shuffled from recess to special reading classes, and from lunch room to classroom.

Children can’t sit still, and many are on the spectrum; and, really, there is no respect at all taught to them about elders, teachers, groups of other people. It is all for one — me-myself-and-I. How can we blame them with leaders like Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump!?

We know how to do things right; there’s no big black hole of head scratching on “how to solve the education crisis” bullshit. We know that experiential learning works. We know that smaller hands-on classes work. We know that having mentors in the families’ homes mentoring parents works. We know that parents having mandatory and company-supported days off for co-learning in the schools works. We know that music and second and third languages work before age 12. We know that art and science blended together works.

We know that the face of a nation, or the globe, is dependent on the next and the next generation and next ones after those “getting it.” We know that more learning works, and more cultural crack cocaine leads to more zoned-out and zombie-like adults. So no more crack cocaine pop culture, consumer-mad-men junk to consume and electing idiots who bag the money and run away from the real solutions.

We know that today, low wages and high living expenses and barely scrapping by and no public safety nets reap more and more scattered thinking, more and more survival of the fittest mindset, more and more children who can’t learn, won’t read, don’t know how to think.

We set upon our youth a firestorm of false ideologies of consumerism, false beliefs in might makes right, a false religion that America is the only nation to count and all the rest are against us.

Hey, so, here’s this truism: many of the venues I teach at I am the ONLY male instructor, and the staff and children alike wonder when I am putting in my application for full-time work. “Sir, we have been trying to get a male teacher hired on here for years,” is a common refrain from fellow teachers. High fives from the full-time staff for me, a guy, making it through a full day of 2nd graders.

Managed chaos. So many young children with behavioral plans. So many children with learning disabilities, with anxiety disorders, with self-esteem issues, with socialization complexes and with family burdens.

Of course, a society can be judged harshly on how it treats its children and elderly and infirm. Of course, a society can be judged on how many permissible levels of toxins, heavy metals, particulates, VOCs, neurological disrupters, endocrine scramblers end up in the soil, air, water, food of our youngest and most vulnerable of citizens.

Input, output. Mindless and meaningless and dehumanizing consumerism and popular culture (sic). Output, input.

Meaning in one’s life means a full-force commitment to the vulnerable, to youth, to individuals and families who are the backbone of labor, community, the arts. Meaningfulness means food security, economic opportunities at the local level, a real sense of a downtown and real town, no matter how rural the place might be.

Health clinics that serve the poor and the middle class alike. More and more interactive teaching and cross-discipline scholarship; and real work on stopping the lacerations against the poor, the working poor, the poor and aging, the sick and aging and poor, the young and homeless and poor, the enlightened youth and college aged adults who have solutions that the pigs of politics in those chambers of death could only imagine in their most enlightened moment.

So, interestingly, what I am a conjuring up is probably stuck in my brain and heart, and my gut gets it. But nothing that I say will work in capitalism, inside this out-of-balance society. Ironically, I started off wanting to go off on this insipid piece of journalism (sic) in New York Magazine.

Somehow this five-year old article got stuck in one of my hundreds of feeds, the one tied to urban planning, land use, New Urbanism, etc.  5 Reasons Cities Are Getting Better, and Everywhere Else Is Getting Worse.

As cities grow, their advantages of scale will grow, too. From 2012 to 2013, U.S. metropolitan areas of more than 1 million people grew twice as fast as cities with fewer than 250,000 residents. Downtown areas — the places where density is highest — are growing even faster. And millennials, who both start tech companies and form much of the consumer base for tech products, are flocking to cities in record numbers. The convergence of these trends means that large cities are not only going to get bigger in the coming years, but better.

I’ve lived in big cities, in suburbs, and in rural towns. All three have their charms. But new research shows that cities are much more likely to benefit from today’s massive wave of consumer tech investment — think delivery drones, self-driving cars, and green-energy innovations. The fact that many of these technologies are being developed and deployed first in densely populated urban zones, rather than in the countryside, means that in the future, cities are going to pull further away from rural and suburban areas economically, and carry a much higher quality-of-life premium than smaller towns.

A new report about so-called “innovation zones” is one of the clearest so far on the subject of urban tech growth. The report, by Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner of the Brookings Institution, claims that while innovation used to take place in loosely packed suburban areas like Silicon Valley, innovation in the 21st century is moving into large cities, which have several major advantages:

Physical assets
Economic assets
Network effects and cross-pollination
Density as a service
Special status

So much is wrong with anything coming out of the East Coast, really. The media and the so-called Press and the Publishers make a grown man cry with how out of touch and mean-to-the-rest-of-flyover-USA these pathetic souls can be in their hip and urbane bullshit. And what they take as god’s truth is so messed up that another trail of tears has to be shed just to get through the thought processes and elitism these freak-on-vators believe.

First, the stupidity of promoting these five “advantages” as if this is headline news; it shows the shallowness of the East Coast and their echo chambers – all those Ivy League and East Coast prime colleges loaded to the rafters with shallow thinkers and white paper tigers and endless department captains selling the same story ever told.

The takeaway for this magazine piece? “Move to a city.”

Maybe it would take me writing a book about the illogic of these captains of industry and Richard Florida bums who believe that innovation, high tech, and dense cities are the only places that count. As they depend on all the natural and agricultural and mined and harvested resources of the hinterland. Of these rural small towns, burbs, towns and townships.

We need more rural towns and burbs thriving, not less. Imagine, cities like Newport and Lincoln City or Coos Bay, as sanctuaries of people I write about all the time – the misbegotten, the retired-but-poor-as-Grapes-of-Wrath, the people of the land, the innovators in agroecology, the stewards of forest, estuary, reef, river. Imagine, green buses that transport big city people to green small rural communities where tulips are grown and apples thrive, and where that feta cheese is produced and that fresh air is filled with DNA-enhancing ions. Imagine real quaint communities and real meaningful places where the city or its harbingers are not the centerpiece of everything.

Where pounding nails into homemade furniture is the value added, not some robotics-fueled IKEA madness. Imagine small is better homes, hummingbird feeders fashioned out of old pickle jars, passive solar and incredible community and community-served private gardens. Aging in place and young people starting in life on the same properties. Imagine reading, hiking, fishing, identifying every tree, bush, insect marine life as values, as opposed to hipster, bullshit tech-centric crap tied to the industrial finance-military-surveillance-banking-prison-indentured-debt complex?

I’m thinking of these kids on the coast and some miles inland from the coast, small-towns, and a society that says this ain’t no place to stay, no place to raise a family, no place to see the world, no place to advance, no place for big dreams and tech wannabes.

Talk about a systemic existential crisis, this bullshit America of the billionaire Mafia president and the multimillionaires like Feinstein. Speaking of which, this DiFi, can’t even talk to fourth graders and other students of high school age.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) net worth: 2004: $61,768,616; 2014: $94,202,571. Increase in 10 years: $32,433,955 (+52.58%).

That speaks volumes now, and so, flyover states, the decrepit places, the struggling masses, the majority of Americans who actually have been colonized by mindless marketers of Lucky Charms and Lady Gaga and New England Patriots, they, with the right E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N, these people on both sides of the political dung heap, and those now in the dozen-plus vying for the Democrat nomination, it speaks volumes how they will forever court the high tech god of salvation.

Image result for artwork of young students climate change

We know how to solve climate change. We know how to solve homelessness. We know how to educate the right way. We know how to eat well, live fine and thrive in a holistic and preventative health care frame.

We know what a healthy family is, what a healthy community is, and what a good “nation” should be. We know how to think globally, act globally and be that diversity quilt of a million colors.

We know that treating us “bumpkins” in these small towns and those children in those small-town schools with the same dignity and seriousness as one treats a Bostonian or New Yorker is the right way to be an American.

We have solutions, those of us who are disenfranchised, those of us who have lived a fuller and more complete life than any Georgetown University creep could even dream of in their wildest imaginations.

The solutions and solutionaries are right here, everywhere, any place, where the pigs of capital failed to look or acknowledge our existence because they are so big city inbred they can’t hit a solution to this madness with their apocalyptic- inspired ICBMs.

Filming in the Most Depressing City on Earth: Jakarta

It stinks, it is the most polluted city on earth, but that is not the most terrible thing about it.

You can drive for ten or even twenty kilometers through it, and see only ugliness, fences and broken pavements. But there are many miserable cities on this planet, and I have worked in almost all of them, in 160 countries.

So why is ‘Jakarta killing me’?  Why am I overwhelmed by depression whenever I decide to film here, or to write about the state in which its citizens are forced to live? Why, really, do I feel so desperate, so hopeless?

I am tough. I hardly succumb to depression even in such places like the war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, or in the middle of the toughest slums of Africa.

So, what is it, really, about Jakarta?

Here, I often speak about ‘immorality’, but again, what do I mean by this term? I am not a moralist, far from it. I have no religion, and I very rarely pass ‘moral judgments’, unless something truly outrageous unveils in front of my eyes.

So why, as so many others, do I land in this city in good spirits, and leave one or two weeks sick, broken, literally shitting my pants, full of wrath, despair?

Why? The Western mass media and local servile sheets are constantly bombarding the world, describing Jakarta as a ‘sprawling metropolis’, or to use the terminology of the Australian National University, as a ‘normal city’.

But it is not. In fact, it is the most ‘immoral’ place on earth that I know. It is one enormous monument to fascism, intellectual collapse, Western neo-colonialism and turbo-capitalism.

This time, right here, I will explain, briefly and determinately, why!

*****

You can actually avoid feeling this way, if you decide to land in Jakarta, work for a week or two surrounded by local ‘elites’ (usually shameless thugs), sail through life here with half-closed eyes. Or if you get paid well ‘not to see’. You can also be a Western journo who lives in one of high-rise condominiums, gets himself local bimbo for a girlfriend, and collects his ‘news’ from official briefings and press conferences.

Such foreign ‘visitors’ are warmly welcomed in Jakarta, and they get incorporated into the life of local tsars, of feudal ‘cream’, of bandits who double as business people or politicians.

It is not so difficult! You land at that lavish Terminal 3 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (half of things do not work here, already, or ‘yet’, but the terminal does look lavish), you can take a luxury limo to one of so many 5-star hotels, have meetings at a steel-and-glass office tower, dine in a posh mall where nobody shops (a money laundering concept), but where those with unlimited budgets, often dine. After all this you can leave thinking that Jakarta is just cool – bit ‘shallow’, too loud and too vulgar – but a ‘kind of cool’ city.

And you can, if you choose to never learn that about 90% of its citizens are actually living in slums.

That is, if ‘international standards’ for what is a ‘slum’ and what is ‘poverty’ or extreme poverty, were to apply here.

You see, ‘officially’, according to the treasonous Indonesian regime, only 9.9% of Indonesians are ‘poor’.

In Indonesia, you are not really ‘poor’, not necessarily, if you or your children are shitting into canal, and that canal is literally toxic from chemical, medical or other waste, and if, just a few meters ‘down the stream’, someone is washing clothes, or even brushing teeth, getting bit of your excrement. You are not ‘poor’ if you have no access to clean water, or to a decent electricity supply (almost nobody does in Jakarta, as the voltage fluctuates and destroys almost all electric appliances in no time). You are not poor if your children cannot afford to eat milk products and become physically or mentally ill from a lack of vitamins, minerals, or out rightly suffering from malnutrition. You are not poor if you are ‘functionally illiterate’, cannot compare and know close to nothing about the world.

In Indonesia, you are poor if your income is below Rp.400.000 per month (the definition applied since March, 2018). That is, as I write this essay, the equivalent of US$26 per month. Even the most cynical ‘absolute poverty’ line stands at US$1.25.

According to the UN declaration that resulted from the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, absolute poverty is “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information. It depends not only on income, but also on access to services.”

If this definition were to be applied to Jakarta, at least, but probably more, than 90% of the population would have to be considered as ‘absolutely poor’. And most likely between 95 and 98 percent of people all over the entire archipelago.

But this whole country is wrapped in a duvet of lies and fabrications. Several years ago, when I was writing my big book about Indonesia Archipelago of Fear, Pluto, UK), I spoke to several leading statisticians from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), which is based in Montreal, Canada. I was told, on the record, that Indonesia does not have 245 million people as was commonly reported, but more than 300 million. However, all international and local statisticians are strongly discouraged from disclosing the real numbers. Why? Because those 60 or probably millions of more people simply ‘do not exist’.

If they ‘do not exist’, the state, the government, the regime, do not have to take care of them, to feed them, to even bother registering them. These are the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable individuals.

Almost everywhere in the world, poor countries are addressing their social problems publicly, because they want to raise awareness of the plight of their people. Some nations are then combating their problems themselves (like China or Venezuela), or they are asking the international community for help.

In Indonesia, the rulers are covering-up the true horrors of the Indonesian reality. Why?

Because they don’t give a damn about the poor. They couldn’t care less about the great majority that actually lives in destitution. They don’t need ‘help’, because the people do not matter. What matters is the profits of the few who are from the ‘elites’, as well as servitude and prostitution to the Western rulers. After all, it was the West that triggered the 1965 coup in which between 1-3 million intellectuals, ‘atheists’, Communists and unionists lost their lives. And so, the Indonesian treasonous business ‘heads’, the military generals, religious leaders as well as the servile scholars and media ‘stars’ are merrily prostituting themselves, eternally grateful to Washington, London and Riyadh, for saving them from the just and egalitarian society, which the great father of the nation Soekarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were aiming at.

‘Positive statistics’, which are actually easily detectable lies, bring ‘more investment’ for their enterprises. Or so they believe. The Indonesian economy is almost exclusively based on the plunder of natural resources by foreign multi-nationals, as well as local companies. Profits end up in the pockets of very few. The business of the savage plundering of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra and Papua has been monumental. The country has been almost fully stripped of its forests; it has leveled to the ground entire mountains and polluted mighty rivers. But the loot flows abroad, or it stays in the pockets of Jakarta’s chosen few.  Apart from ‘commodities’, Indonesia produces almost nothing of value. Its scientific research is basically nil, and its intellectual output minimal. Even judged by Western standards: the 4th most populous country on the planet, does not have one single Noble Prize laureate, and not one internationally recognizable thinker or a writer.

And so, there are those 5-star hotel towers, office buildings, and ridiculously overpriced malls and supermarkets (most of them designed and built by foreign companies), basically catering for those who steal, and never had to work for their money.

Living in slums that are not called slums

But in between, there are the so-called kampungs – ‘villages’ – where the great majority of Jakarta’s citizens live. A Kampung sounds romantic, but in reality, it is not – anywhere else on earth it would be called a slum. The slums of Jakarta and, in fact, of the entire Indonesia, are rat-infested, open sewage colossuses, with dark narrow alleys, toxic canals, and extremely limited access to drinking water (water in the capital was privatized by French and British companies, and as a result, the quality dropped and prices became unrealistically steep for the majority of people).

Except for just a few tiny dirty specks of green areas, and the most of the time closed small square in the center of the city called Monas, Jakarta has no public parks. Forget about public playgrounds for children, or public exercise machines! In fact, Jakarta has nothing ‘public’ left. Nothing ‘belongs to people’ – as everything was sold, corrupted, grabbed and privatized. A family of 4 has to pay around 7 USD to even enter Ancol, the only available beach area, despite the fact that Jakarta is theoretically a maritime city. But even in Ancol, despite the entrance fee, the tiny beach is littered with garbage, and a narrow promenade is broken and outrageously filthy. Otherwise – there is nothing!

A tiny public space a la Jakarta

In one enormous slum (sorry, kampung), I recently filmed hundreds of children playing in the middle of a cemetery, simply because they have no other places to go.

On the other hand, Jakarta has more mosques per square kilometer than any other city on earth that I know (and I have visited almost all Muslim countries). Mosques and small mushollahs, are literally growing on every street, often taking over land that should be intended for public use. But unlike in Malaysia or Turkey, these religious institutions do not provide playgrounds for children, or a ‘public space’.

The contrast between the tiny minority of extremely rich, and the destitute majority (I don’t believe that Jakarta has any substantial ‘middle class’, anymore), is so tremendous, that these two groups appear to be living on two absolutely different planets, while inhabiting the same city. The structure of Jakarta is such that the two realities often never even meet. And it is considered normal, by both the exploiters and the deprived masses.

Poor are used to being poor, obedient and ‘entrusting their fate into God’s hands’, in the Indonesian language called pasrah. And the rich are secretly laughing at the poor, all the way to the bank. I know them, the rich of Indonesia, too. I worked, for decades, with Indonesians from across the spectrum – from the poorest of the poor, to the richest of the rich.

*****

So why do I feel as I do? Why do I want to throw up?

Haven’t I worked in Mathare and the other tremendous slums of Nairobi, Kenya, or in Uganda, or India?

Yes, of course. I made films about the misery in Africa. But it is different there. In the entire city of Nairobi, which is the so-called service center of East Africa (much of the money from Uganda, Rwanda and even DRC Congo is being washed there), there is only one truly huge luxury mall, of which Jakarta has dozens. Comparing the palaces (ugly, vulgar, but palaces) that the Indonesians are building from the blood and sweat of the poor and from the theft of the natural resources, with those in Africa, the African ‘elites’ at least have some shame left. They don’t make contrasts so visible. They intuitively know that what they are doing is wrong, and often try to hide their wealth.

And in Africa, slums are called slums, and every slum dweller knows that his or her life is shit.

In India, things are bad, almost as bad as in Indonesia, but at least there is some true resistance, and the Communist Parties are regularly in control of various Indian states. Left-wing guerillas are fighting a civil war all over the sub-continent, and the country has some true great thinkers and intellectuals, most of them from the left.

The Indonesian poor have no idea that they are poor, they ‘thank God’ for what they have, or, more precisely ‘do not have’. And the super-rich looters are proud of their achievements. They are hiding nothing. On the contrary – they flash their wealth, knowing that they are above the law, or any moral principles. They drive their Mercedes limos right next to the slums, without fear. They are actually respected, not only feared. The more they steal, the more they are admired.

And if they are crossed, they kill.

They kill human rights activists, peasants who refuse to give up their land, or anyone who stands in their way.

Justice is totally corrupted. Actually, everything is. Only those who pay are protected.

To even just irritate the true owners of the city can lead to death. In Archipelago of Fear I wrote about the case of an owner of the former Hilton Hotel, who shot a waiter point-blank in his own establishment. Why? Because he had humbly dared to inform the owner’s girlfriend that her credit card had been declined. For the murder he only got a few years, and he bribed himself out just a few months after being put behind bars.

Not long ago, they put into prison the former moderately left-wing governor of Jakarta, known as Ahok, for trying to improve the infrastructure, sanitation and public transportation. The official charge: “insulting Islam”. A bad joke, really, as almost all Indonesian linguists agreed that there was no insult whatsoever. But again, it worked: to do something for the people, one risks being branded as a socialist, or a Communist (which here is illegal). To pay too much attention to the wellbeing of the common citizens may brand you as an atheist, which is also illegal. So, if you build a few new train lines, a few sidewalks, erect a couple of parks; you are risking ending up deep behind bars. Religions – be they Wahhabism or Pentecostal Christianity – have, for decades, been fully encouraged by the West, which is gaining greatly from destitution, ignorance and the obedience of the Indonesian masses.

Yes, I have seen a lot of horrors in this world, and faced indescribable cynicism. But Indonesia is truly ‘unique’, and so is its capital city.

It is like a huge, decaying carcass of a fish, inside which 12 million people breathe the most polluted air on earth, surrounded by indescribably ugliness, gloominess and pop-ridden meaninglessness.

And there is no fight, no true rebellion against this totally fascist arrangement of the city and the society.

The poor ‘know their place’. They have obediently accepted their fate. They steal from each other, insult and oppress each other. They do not dare to take on the real usurpers and bandit rulers. Or more precisely: they do not find them to be the real reason of their plight. In Jakarta, there is so much tension and hatred, but it is not directed against those who brought the city and the nation to their knees.

All this, while the rich do not even bother to look down at the masses. They actually do not even notice that the masses even exist. They make sure of not counting the tens of millions of monstrously poor human beings.

And the West lies, its media lies, and so do its economists.

Read the US and European newspapers and you will be told that Jakarta is a ‘sprawling metropolis’, that Indonesia is the ‘third biggest democracy’ (my god, according to them, India is No. 1), and that the Indonesian religions are moderate and tolerant.

*****

Jakarta is a shameless fusion of fascism and feudalism. As the great Australian painter George Burchett (the son of the legendary left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett) once told me: “Cities are usually built for the people. But the Indonesian cities, particularly Jakarta, are built against the people.”

Ciputra Mall

I have written many times about Jakarta’s ‘cultural offering’. With 12 million inhabitants, it has not one permanent concert hall, its cinemas exclusively showing Hollywood junk, with some variations of Southeast Asian horrors and other garbage. The only art cinema at TIM has only around 30 seats and a very sporadic schedule. The few modern art museums are all privately owned, and avoid all social topics, or any criticism of capitalism and Western imperialism. But there are, of course, the paintings of Warhol and a few decadent Chinese artists mocking Communism, hanging on their walls. This way, the local elites can get even further indoctrinated, while taking their selfies.

Deeper thoughts are discouraged. Pop culture – its lowest grade – is literally everywhere. Intellectually, the city has been ruined since 1965.

Noise is everywhere, too. Loud, aggressive noise. Monstrous decibels that would be banned anywhere else in the world, beat people who are visiting malls. Mosques all over the city are, unlike their counterparts even in the Middle East or Malaysia, broadcasting entire sermons over the Orwellian-style loudspeakers, at least five hours a day, but sometimes much longer. Churches of extreme right-wing orientations preach ‘Prosperity Gospel’, periodically telling the worshipers that “God loves the rich and that is why they are rich, while hating the poor and that is the reason why they are poor.” To escape religions is impossible. To escape noise is impossible. It often appears that the people of Jakarta are terrified of silence. Silence would make them think, and thinking could lead to some extremely frightening conclusions.

*****

And therefore, I film.

I film broken pavements – tiny narrow sidewalks made from unmatched tiles, polluting scooters and unhygienic eateries blocking the way of the few daring pedestrians. Why is all that happening? Because nothing public is respected or put together well. Everything that is not for a fee, is simply dreadful. And it is designed to remain that way.

I am filming slums. I am filming filth, such filth which these days hardly exists even on the Sub-Continent. I cannot believe my own eyes, and so I film. I always believe my lenses.

Bus way stop — doors not working, people often fall to their death

I know the arteries of the city, big and small. I know the corners, back alleys, clogged waterways. I know the humiliated, imprisoned waterways, surrounded by miserable dwellings.

I know the old city – Kota Tua, built by the Dutch and so badly restored, that UNESCO recently refused to put it on its prestigious World Heritage Sites list.

It is easy to accuse me of being anti-capitalist, or “anti-Indonesian regime” of thieves and of barefaced collaborators. But it is impossible to accuse me of not knowing the country and its capital city. I have literally been everywhere, covering every conflict here, for more than twenty years, witnessing the atrocities committed against the people, nature and the culture.

Wherever I go in this world, I speak about Indonesia and Jakarta. It is my warning to the world.

The Indonesian nightmarish scenario has already been implemented in many parts of the world, by Western imperialism, but, has often failed as it was too monstrous for other people to swallow. The West tried to replicate Jakarta in those countries that I deeply love and call home: they tried it in Pinochet’s Chile (“Watch out, comrades, Jakarta is coming”, Allende’s people were told), but Chile rose and both the regime and the fascist system were smashed. They tried it in Yeltsin’s Russia, and again, the people rejected this horrible extremist horror show.

Jakarta is not just a city – it is a concept. Perhaps it should one day become a verb – “to Jakarta”. That would mean, to sacrifice people to greed, corruption, business, religion and foreign interests.

But it is not omnipotent. It can be confronted and defeated. We fought against Jakarta in both Santiago de Chile and Moscow. And we won.

And we will win elsewhere, too. Maybe even in Jakarta itself, one day…

All this explains why I often come to both Borneo and Jakarta – to work on films, to define and document the horror, to warn the world what has already been done to the Indonesian nation.

I try to cut through lies. I try to explain that Dilma Rousseff, the former President of Brazil who was impeached (during a constitutional coup) because of the ‘massaging of statistics’ before the elections (something that is commonly done in many countries including those in the West) would have to be, theoretically, executed by a firing squad, or quartered by a mob, if she were to do proportionally what the government of Indonesia is doing without any scruples or second thought. In Jakarta, they do not ‘massage’ – they pervert, lie, and call black, white, and day, night. And they get away with everything. No one dares to challenge them. And they get rewarded by the West – as long as they rob the country and its people of everything, and deliver huge part of the loot to the gates of Washington, Canberra, Paris and London.

I get exhausted. And ‘broke’ once in a while (because almost nobody wants to read about Indonesia, or watch films about it). And once in a while I get thoroughly depressed, temporarily losing faith in humanity. And I shit from the terrible food. And I get sick from the pollution. And I get exhausted from constant racist insults of the passers-by in this, one of the most racist countries on earth, which in just a bit over half a century has committed 3 monstrous genocides: in 1965, against the people of East Timor, and now against the Papuans. It is constant ‘bule’ (albino, or worse), but I am lucky, as my Chinese comrades suffer much worse insults, and, of course, my African comrades do as well, not to speak of my Papuan brothers!

Fascist Jakarta is a tough adversary. But I am tough, too. And so I go, drive and crawl through the dirt, noise and insults. Because it is needed. Because here is buried the key to the countless other conflicts that the West has implanted all over the world.

The Economist once described Indonesia as the least documented large country on earth. Right. And there are many reasons for it. I often describe 1965 as a “Cultural Hiroshima”, because almost all the intellectuals were either, killed, imprisoned or muzzled – overnight, and on the direct suggestions and orders from the West.

This is the most intellectually and mentally damaged country on earth, which often feels like one huge mental asylum. It is the biggest untold story of the 20th Century. Too many people got killed here. Too many people had killed. Everybody fears everything. But nobody dares to speak or to define things.

Jakarta is a city where people ‘don’t know’, or they simply refuse to know that they are being robbed of everything, that they have been fooled, and that they had been thoroughly brainwashed.

Here, cheap pop culture, Western junk food and forced dependency on filthy scooters and private cars are called ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. Watching European football is a ‘sign of progress’. Mobile phones and text messages double as culture, and so do video games. Nobody reads books.

You ask the poor about poverty, and what do you hear? Women ‘put their fate in the hands of God’. Men begin ‘analyzing’, speaking like the IMF, using business jargon: “exchange rates, global economic situation, support for small businesses…”

In reality, the majority of local families, according to my own survey, lives on US$2-3 dollars a day (family of 4-5). Food in supermarkets costs 2-8 times more than in places like Germany. Therefore, the supermarkets are empty. The Majority of people shop at pasars – markets, where food is often full of cancerogenic chemicals, and filth is everywhere.

But most of people do not feel poor. They feel insulted when they are told that they live in misery. All without exception answer that they have nothing against capitalism. Most of them know nothing about the world; they have never been taught to compare.

Anti-Communist Museum

Everybody ‘hates Communists”, as demanded by the West and by the local rulers. There are entire anti-Communist museums here, and people going out to go there, even paying from their own pocket to get further indoctrinated. If you tell them that all they see is one huge lie, they get mad, angry, sometimes even violent. Their entire lives are based on myths. Their lives depend on them, psychologically. If myths were to be taken away, their entire lives would collapse, as they would lose meaning. That is why there is too much noise, and no substance. People are scared. But they don’t know what frightens them.

Everybody thinks the same. There is hardly any variety. It is scary. Indonesia feels like North Korea, as it is presented by the West and its propaganda. But North Korea is actually totally different – there I found definitely much more intellectual diversity than in Jakarta!

Nobody wants to change things – at least not the system, the essence. People want “more money and better life”. Is their life bad now? “No!” Do they hold their elites responsible? “For what?” They don’t understand – they don’t know what I am talking about, or pretend they don’t know, when I ask such questions.

And the rich? Their kids are in the US, Japan or Europe, studying how to screw their own population even more, after returning back. For them, the greatest pride is to work for some foreign company, or to be awarded with the Western diplomas, and to be given some reward from Europe or the United States.

And the city is choking on its own gasses, garbage and excrement. While the rich have their condos and villas in Australia, California, Singapore and Hong Kong. They can get out of Indonesia whenever they want, as they have already stolen millions, billions of dollars. When they come back to Indonesia, it is to rob even more.

I have to admit, it is all ‘a little bit tiring’. Fine, honestly: it is exhausting. Documenting all this is deadly. So now you know.

And I also have to admit, it is often lonely working here. No one in his or her sane mind would come here to work. The expenses, both financial but also related to mental sanity and physical health, are tremendous. Rewards are near zero. The West does not allow the truth about Indonesia to reach the world, and therefore, no powerful criticism of the country can ever by aired by the mainstream media.

But it is my duty to speak. Therefore, I speak. And write. And film. And as my maternal Russian and Chinese grandparents did – I fight against fascism, regardless of the cost!

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

The Banality of Evil Creeps into those Who Believe They Are Good

I was at a city hall meeting in Beaverton, Oregon, the other day when a few questions I had for the presenters dropped jaws. We’ll get to that later, the jaw-dropping effect I and those of my ilk have when we end up in the controlled boardrooms and chambers of the controllers – bureaucrats, public-private clubs like Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and both political operatives and those who liken themselves as the great planners of the world moving communities and housing and public commons around a giant chessboard to make things better for and more efficient in spite of us.

Look, I am now a social worker who once was a print journalist who once was a part-time college instructor (freeway flyer adjunct teaching double the load of a tenured faculty) facilitating literature, writing, rhetoric classes, and others. The power of those “planners” and “institutional leadership wonks” and those Deanlets and Admin Class and HR pros and VPs and Provosts to swat down a radical but effective teacher/faculty/instructor/lecturer isn’t (or wasn’t then) so surprising. I was one of hundreds of thousands of faculty, adjunct,  hit with 11th Hour appointments, Just-in-Time gigs and called one-week-into-the-semester with offers to teach temporarily. Then, the next logical step of precarity was when a dean or department head or someone higher got wind of a disgruntled student, or helicopter (now drone) parent who didn’t like me teaching Sapphire or Chalmers Johnson or Earth Liberation Front or Ward Churchill in critical thinking classes, it was common to get only one or many times no classes the following semester. De facto fired. They fought and fought against unemployment benefits.

Here’s one paragraph that got me sanctioned while teaching in Spokane, at both Gonzaga and the community college:

As for those in the World Trade Center… Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

We are talking 17 years ago, Ward Churchill. The Little Eichmann reference goes back to the 1960s, and the root of it goes to Hannah Ardent looking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, more or a less a middle man who helped get Jews into trains and eventually onto concentration camps and then marched into gas chambers. The banality of evil was her term from a 1963 book. So this Eichmann relied on propaganda against Jews and radicals and other undesirables rather than thinking for himself. Careerism at its ugliest, doing the bureaucratic work to advance a career and then at the Trial, displayed this “Common” personality that did not belie a psychopathic tendency. Of course, Ardent got raked over the coals for this observation and for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

When I use the term, Little Eichmann, I broadly hinge it to the persons that live that more or less sacred American Mad Men lifestyle, with 401k’s, trips to Hawaii, cabins at the lake, who sometimes are the poverty pimps in the social services, but who indeed make daily decisions that negatively and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. In the case of tanned Vail skiers who work for Raytheon developing guidance systems and sophisticated satellite tethers and surveillance systems, who vote democrat and do triathlons, that Little Eichmann archetype also comes to mind. Evil, well, that is a tougher analysis  – mal, well, that succinctly means bad. I see evil or bad or maladaptive and malicious on a spectrum, like autism spectrum disorders.

Back to Beaverton City Hall: As I said, last week I was at this meeting about a “safe parking” policy, a pilot program for this city hooked to the Portland Metro area, where Intel is sited, and in one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon. Safe parking is all a jumbo in its implications: but for the city of Beaverton the program’s intent is to get three spaces, parking slots from each entity participating, for homeless people to set up their vehicles from which to live and dine and recreate. Old Taurus sedans, beat-up Dodge vans, maybe a 20-foot 1985 RV covered in black mold or Pacific Northwest moss. The City will put in $30,000 for a non-profit to manage these 15 or 20 spaces, and the city will put in a porta-potty and a small storage pod (in the fourth space) for belongings on each property.

This is how Portland’s tri-city locale plans to “solve” the homeless problem: live in your vehicles, with all manner of physical ailments (number one for Americans, bad backs) and all manner of mental health issues and all manner of work schedules. Cars, the new normal for housing in the world’s number one super power.

This is the band-aid on the sucking chest wound. This is a bizarre thing in a state with Nike as its brand, that Phil Knight throwing millions into a Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor’s coffers. Of course, the necessity of getting churches and large non-profits with a few empty parking spaces for houseless persons is based on more of the Little Eichmann syndrome – the city fathers and mothers, the business community, the cops, and all those elites and NIMBYs (not in my backyard) voted to make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle along the public right away, or, along streets and alleys. That’s the rub, the law was passed, and now it’s $300 fine, more upon second offense, and then, 30 days in jail for repeat offense: for sleeping off a 12-hour shift at Amazon warehouse or 14-hour shift as forklift operator for Safeway distribution center.

So these overpaid uniformed bureaucrats with SWAT armament and armored vehicles and $50 an hour overtime gigs and retirement accounts will be knocking on the fogged-over windows of our sisters/ brothers, aunties/uncles, cousins, moms/dads, grandparents, daughters/sons living the Life of Riley in their two-door Honda Accords.

Hmm, more than 12 million empty homes in the richest country in the world. Millions of other buildings empty. Plots of land by the gazillion. And, we have several million homeless, and tens of millions one layoff, one heart-attack, one arrest away from homelessness.

The first question was why we aren’t working on shutting down the illegal and inhumane law that even allows the police to harass people living in their cars? The next question was why parking spaces for cars? Certainly, all that overstock inventory in all those Pacific Northwest travel trailer and camper lots would be a source of a better living space moved to those vaunted few (20) parking spaces: or what about all those used trailers up for sale on Craig’s List? You think Nike Boy could help get his brethren to pony up a few million for trailers? What worse way to treat diabetic houseless people with cramped quarters? What fine way to treat a PTSD survivor with six windows in a Chevy with eight by four living space for two humans, a dog, and all their belongings and food.

The people at this meeting, well, I know most are empathetic, but even those have minds colonized by the cotton-ball-on-the-head wound solution thinking. All this energy, all the Power Points, all the meeting after meeting, all the solicitation and begging for 20 parking spaces and they hope for a shower source, too, as well as an internet link (for job hunting, etc.)  and maybe a place to cook a meal.

While housing vacancy has long been a problem in America, especially in economically distressed places, vacancies surged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. The number of unoccupied homes jumped by 26 percent—from 9.5 to 12 million between 2005 and 2010. Many people (and many urbanists) see vacancy and abandoned housing as problems of distressed cities, but small towns and rural communities have vacancy rates that are roughly double that of metropolitan areas, according to the study.

This is the insanity of these Little Eichmanns: The number of cities that have made homelessness a crime! Then, getting a few churches to open up parking slots for a few people to “try and get resources and wrap around services to end their homelessness.” Here are the facts — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states there are over 200 cities that have created these Little Eichmann (my terminology) municipal bans on camping or sleeping outside, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Theses bans include various human survival and daily activities of living processes, from camping and sitting in particular outdoor places, to loitering and begging in public to sleeping in vehicles.

I am living hand to mouth, so to speak. I make $17 an hour with two master’s degrees and a shit load of experience and depth of both character and solutions-driven energy. This is the way of the world, brother, age 61, and living the dream in Hops-Blazers-Nike City, in the state of no return Nike/Oregon Ducks. Man oh man, those gridlock days commuting to and from work. Man, all those people outside my apartment building living in their vehicles (I live in Vancouver) and all those people who have to rotate where they live, while calling Ford minivan home, moving their stuff every week, so the Clark County Sheriff Department doesn’t ticket, bust and worse, impound.

I have gotten a few teeth – dentures — for some of these people. Finding funding to have a pretty rancid and nasty old guy in Portland measure, model and mold for a fitting. That’s, of course, if the people have their teeth already pulled out.

Abscesses and limps and back braces and walkers and nephritic livers and dying flesh and scabies and, hell, just plain old BO. Yet, these folk are working the FedEx conveyor belts, packaging those Harry and David apples, folding and stacking all those Black Friday flyers.

Living the high life. And, yet, these Little Eichmanns would attempt to say, or ask, “Why do they all have smart phones . . . they smoke and vape and some of them drink? Wasteful, no wonder they are homeless.”

So that line of thinking comes and goes, from the deplorables of the Trump species to the so-self vaunted elite. They drink after a hard day’s work, these houseless people. Yet, all those put-together Portlanders with two-income heads of household, double Prius driveways, all that REI gear ready for ski season, well, I bicycle those ‘hoods and see the recycle bins on trash day, filled to the brim with IPA bottles, affordable local wine bottles, and bottles from those enticing brews in the spirit world.

So self-medicating with $250K dual incomes, fancy home, hipster lifestyles, but they’d begrudge houseless amputees who have to work the cash register at a Plaid Pantry on 12 hour shifts?

I have been recriminated for not having tenure, for not being an editor, for not retired with a pension, for not having that Oprah Pick in bookstores, for not having a steady career, for working long-ass hours as a social worker. The recrimination is magnificent and goes around all corners of this flagging empire. Pre-Trump, Pre-Obama, Pre-Clinton, Pre-Bush. Oh, man, that Ray-gun:

He had a villain, who was not a real welfare cheat or emblamtic of people needing welfare assistance to live back then in a troubling world of Gilded Age haves and haves not. That was January 1976, when Reagan announced that this Welfare Queen was using ”80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Four decades later, we have the same dude in office, the aberration of neoliberalism and collective amnesia and incessant ignorance in what I deem now as Homo Consumopithecus and Homo Retailapithecus. Reagan had that crowd eating out of his hands as he used his B-Grade Thespian licks to stress the numbers – “one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Poverty rose to the top of the public agenda in the 1960s, in part spurred by the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Harrington’s 1962 book made a claim that shocked the nation at a time when it was experiencing a period of unprecedented affluence: based on the best available evidence, between 40 million and 50 million Americans—20 to 25 percent of the nation’s population—still lived in poverty, suffering from “inadequate housing, medicine, food, and opportunity.”

Shedding light on the lives of the poor from New York to Appalachia to the Deep South, Harrington’s book asked how it was possible that so much poverty existed in a land of such prosperity. It challenged the country to ask what it was prepared to do about it.

So, somehow, all those people reminding me that my job history has been all based on my passions, my avocations, my dreams, that I should be proud being able to work at poverty level incomes as a small town newspaper reporter, or that I was able to teach so many people in gang reduction programs, at universities and colleges, in alternative schools, in prisons and elsewhere, at poverty wages; or that I was able to get poems published here and stories published there and that I have a short story collection coming out in 2019 at zero profit, or that I am doing God’s work as a homeless veterans counselor, again, at those Trump-loving, Bezos-embracing poverty wages.

Oh, man, oh man, all those countries I visited and worked in, all those people whose lives I changed, and here I am, one motorcycle accident away from the poor house, except there is no poor house.

Daily, I see the results of military sexual trauma, of incessant physical abuse as active duty military, infinite anxiety and cognitive disorders, a truck load of amputated feet and legs, and unending COPD, congestive heart failure, and overall bodies of a 70-year-old hampering 30-year-old men and women veterans.

They get this old radical environmentalist, vegan, in-your-face teacher, and a huge case of heart and passion, and I challenge them to think hard about how they have been duped, but for the most part, none of the ex-soldiers have even heard of the (two-star) Major General who wrote the small tome, War is a Racket:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War I a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy?

How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.

They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

More fitting now than ever, General Butler’s words. Structural violence is also the war of the billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us, marks and suckers born every nanosecond in their eyes. Disaster Capitalism is violence. Parasitic investing is war. Hostile takeovers are was. Hedge funds poisoning retirement funds and billions wasted/stolen to manage (sic) this dirty money are war. Forced arbitration is war. PayDay loans are war. Wells Fargo stealing homes is war. Lead in New Jersey cities’ pipes is war. Hog  excrement/toxins/blood/aborted fetuses pound scum sprayed onto land near poor communities is war. Fence lining polluting industries against poor and minority populations is war.

So is making it illegal to sit on a curb, hold a sign asking for a handout;  so is the fact there are millions of empty buildings collecting black mold and tax deferments. War is offshore accounts, and war is a society plugged into forced, perceived and planned obsolescence.

Some of us are battle weary, and others trudge on, soldiers against the machine, against the fascism of the market place, the fascism of the tools of the propagandists.

Some of us ask the tricky questions at meetings and conferences and confabs: When are you big wigs, honchos, going to give up a few hours a week pay for others to get in on the pay? When are you going to open up that old truck depot for homeless to build tiny homes?

When are you going to have the balls to get the heads of Boeing, Nike, Adidas, Intel, the lot of them, to come to our fogged-up station wagon windows in your safe parking zones to show them how some of their mainline workers and tangential workers who support their billions in profits really live?

How many millionaires are chain migrating from California or Texas, coming into the Portland arena who might have the heart to help fund 15 or 30 acres out there in Beavercreek (Clackamas, Oregon) to set up intentional communities for both veterans and non veterans, inter-generational population, with permaculture, therapy dog training, you name it, around a prayer circle, a sweat lodge, and community garden and commercial kitchen to sell those herbs and veggies to those two-income wonders who scoff at my bottle of cheap Vodka while they fly around and bike around on their wine tours and whiskey bar rounds? Micro homes and tiny homes.

My old man was in the Air Force for 12 years, which got the family to the Azores, Albuquerque, Maryland, and then he got an officer commission in the Army, for 20 years, which got the family to Germany, UK, Paris, Spain and other locales, and I know hands down he’d be spinning and turning in his grave if he was alive and here to witness not only the mistreatment of schmucks out of the military with horrendous ailments, but also the mistreatment of college students with $80K loans to be nurses or social workers. He’d be his own energy source spinning in his grave at Fort Huachuca if he was around, after being shot in Korea and twice in Vietnam, to witness social security on the chopping block, real wages at 1970 levels, old people begging on the streets, library hours waning, public education being privatized and dumb downed, and millions of acres of public sold to the “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge” big energy thugs.

I might be embarrassed if he was around, me at age 61, wasted three college degrees, living the dream of apartment life, no 401k or state retirement balloon payment on the horizon, no real estate or stocks and bonds stashed away, nothing, after all of this toil to actually have given to society, in all my communist, atheistic glory.

But there is no shame in that, in my bones, working my ass off until the last breath, and on my t-shirt, I’d have a stick figure, with a stack of free bus tickets, journalism awards, and housing vouchers all piled around me with the (thanks National Rifle Association) meme stenciled on my back:

You can have my social worker and teaching credentials and press passes when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

Public Spaces Private Control

Some time ago I found myself in Paddington Central, a development of office and residential buildings near Paddington train station in London. I’d accidentally walked into the glass and metal concave and what appeared to be a public space, albeit one surrounded by the usual corporate outlets; green grass, a sort of amphitheater, people sitting around eating and drinking and a busker packing up. It appeared pleasant, but there was something artificial and menacing here. Upon investigation I discovered that it was not really a public space at all, but a privately owned square subject to undisclosed laws and regulations laid down by the corporation that owns it.

The commercialization of public spaces in British cities and elsewhere in the industrialized world is going on apace. It is a key element in the movement to lay claim to our cities and neighborhoods, and whilst the curse of gentrification is hard to miss, privatization of public spaces goes largely unnoticed by a weary populous beaten down by the relentless pressures of modern living, unaware of the devious ways of big business and the corporate state that supports it.

Peaceful Protest Denied

Unsurprisingly, the privatization of public spaces (POPS) in Britain began during the Thatcher years (1980’s), and, over the past few decades, The Guardian reports, “almost every major redevelopment in London has resulted in the privatization of public space, including areas around the Olympic Stadium, King’s Cross and Nine Elms.” One of the most notable areas of privately owned public space in the capital is ‘More London’ on the South Bank of the River Thames where City Hall sits surrounded by what looks like open public space. The 13-acre site is, in fact, owned by St. Martins, a Kuwait property company, who bought it in 2013 for £1.7bn. As described by the More London agent, the “development is a modern 13-acre business destination, situated on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Designed by Foster and Partners, the development comprises City Hall, a diverse mix of grade A office space, shops, restaurants, bars, a Hilton hotel, a theatre, a unique open-air music and entertainment amphitheater.” Further down their repugnant sales speak they make clear that the public space and what takes place there is, in fact, under corporate control, stating that, “the local community, up and coming arts organizations and charities are encouraged to use the space for free.”

Within these suffocating corporate spaces behavior and access is controlled and landowners are empowered to deny the public the right to peacefully protest. This was evidenced in 2011 when the Occupy Movement set up camp in Paternoster Square (renamed Tahrir Square by protestors) outside the London Stock Exchange, only to be forcibly moved on by police who secured a high court injunction against public access. To the shock and confusion of many of us, it transpired that the Mitsubishi Estate Company, a massive Japanese property developer actually owned the ‘public’ square.

The sterile environment of POPS promotes a false image of contemporary living that marginalizes the disadvantaged and ignores the reality of poverty and social injustice, while being a fundamental part of a system that perpetuates both. In such sanitized spaces certain ‘types’ of people, buskers, skateboarders, cyclists – the undesirable – are unwelcome; homeless people are shunned, their existence denied, and ‘hostile architecture’ – benches with arms making lying down impossible, studded doorways, sloped window sills and anti-homeless spikes – aggressively reinforce the message of exclusion.

POPS is part of a major change in the nature of our cities as governments justify the sale of public land and buildings as economic prudence, and industrial sites are developed and converted into residential properties or refashioned as commercial units, studio spaces, ‘Class A’ offices, etc. This disturbing undemocratic “wave of urban change is characterized by certain key trends,” says Anna Minton, author of The Privatisation of Public Space’, “relating this time to the private ownership and management of the public realm.” Minton cites an enormous regeneration scheme in Liverpool allowing Grosvenor Estates (headed by the Duke of Westminster, estimated to be worth around £9 billion) to “redevelop 35 streets in the heart of the city, replacing traditional rights of way with ‘public realm arrangements’, policed by US-style ‘quartermasters’ or ‘Sheriffs’.” Begging, skateboarding and rollerblading will be banned and “any form of demonstration will require police permission.” Systems of control more akin to fascism than democracy, but then corporate institutions are not at all interested in democratic principles, they are totalitarian institutions that have been granted extraordinary powers by indolent governments.

Landowners are free to draft the regulations for these pseudo public spaces, which are not subject to local authority bylaws. Like shopping centers and gated communities POPS are policed by unaccountable private security firms, the relevant rules do not have to be publicly posted and can be used indiscriminately to deny public access; free speech is certainly not part of the corporate model of public ownership, which suits the government very well.

In keeping with the homogenized high streets up and down the country all POPS look and feel alike, creating a disturbing sense of uniformity. Streets and squares without character, all color and diversity eradicated, ‘corporatized’; individuality crushed, social conformity demanded. Captured under the umbrella of consumerism people are reduced to mere customers, divided into bands of affluence or need, towns, cities and countries spoken of as market places, the world seen as one giant shopping center in which the values of the market – greed and exploitation, division and selfishness – are promoted in day and night.

The creation of quasi-public spaces, and the selling off of previously authentic public spaces, is one more insidious step in the commercialization of all aspects of contemporary life, and the erosion of democracy; democracy that is already completely inadequate. The massive sale of common space that is taking place in British cities has, the Guardian states, “been strategically engineered to seem necessary, benign and even inconsequential.” It is happening within the broader construct of urban re-generation schemes, which take place without any democratic participation; land is sold off in secret, and the voices of local residents, small businesses, social and cultural centers go unheard.

Public spaces serve a range of purposes. They provide a platform for free assembly and collective action and, within cities, where most people live, they are an ever-precious resource. The world of Neoliberalism attempts to reduce everything to a commodity, but public spaces are not simply a financial asset to be sold off to the highest bidder: like libraries, playing fields and community centers they are an essential social democratic resource that must be fiercely defended and re-claimed as ours.

Public Space and the Bicycle: Copenhagenizing Cities

Indian cities are in crisis. Spend any length of time in a large city there and you will notice the overcrowding, the power and water shortages and, during monsoon, the streets that transform into stinking, litter-strewn rivers. At times, these cities can be almost unbearable to live in. Little wonder then that the concept of ‘smart cities’ is taking hold among policy makers, however flawed the notion might seem to be.

And, not least, of course, there is the horrendous traffic chaos and congestion, the choking pollution and the increasing number of massive concrete flyovers: monstrosities that have taken their place among numerous other planning disasters that blight so many Indian cities.

A couple of years back, Delhi introduced an ‘odd-even’ traffic policy whereby vehicles with certain registration numbers were allowed on the road only on designated days to try to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution. But this failed to solve the underlying problem that stems from a model of ‘development’ that associates a (wholly unnecessary) push for urbanisation and car ownership with progress.

Despite the problems, the greater the urban sprawl and the more road building that takes place, the happier are the real estate, construction and car manufacturing sectors. That’s not idle speculation: the documentary How Big Oil Conquered the World describes how the car and oil industry criminally conspired to undermine public transport systems in US cities to get the population and urban planners hooked on the car.

As long as urban planners prioritise the car and wrong-headed notions of ‘development’ governed by powerful players continue, Indian cities will not only sprawl ever outwards and be defined by traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, but residents will experience an ever-worsening decline in their quality of life and increasing dependency on motorized transport.

Indian planners might wish to take note of a recent New York Times article which highlighted that Los Angeles has decided against adding lanes to a freeway. Although Andre Gorz noted this back in 1973, policy makers are waking up to the fact that building extra lanes merely means more cars, more pollution and journey times increasing. As soon as you build a highway or add lanes to a freeway, cars show up to fill the available capacity (known as induced traffic demand).

This induced demand imposes costs on us all in terms of degraded public space and serious health risks (recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children).

Just as some countries are now realising the folly of widening and building ever more roads and jamming cities with cars, Indian planners carry on regardless by blighting the urban landscape with ever more huge concrete flyovers and expressways snaking across cities and dividing and destroying communities.

Smart thinking

A day before Delhi implemented the second phase of its ‘odd-even’ vehicle policy, the city announced it wanted to support the construction of more roads to solve congestion by enhancing road capacity via new roads, road widening, elevated corridors, flyovers and underpasses.

One would have thought that smart cities call for smart thinking. Not so in Delhi.

If there is one city that seems to be on the right track, it is Copenhagen. The city believes that cycling should be the foundation for sustainable transport strategies and is key to making cities clean, green and liveable. Copenhagen’s urban transport solution gives space to cars but more importantly to bicycles, pedestrians and public transport.

Back in the early 1970s, Copenhagen was just as traffic-clogged as anywhere. Now it has around 400 km of cycle paths. The city’s 2017 Annual Bicycle Report confirms that cycling is the preferred mode of transport for the city’s inhabitants. Each day, some 62% of Copenhageners use their bikes to go to work or school/college.

Copenhagen has in recent years been voted the ‘best city for cyclists’ and the ‘world’s most liveable city’. Throughout the world, there is now a desire to improve public health and combat climate change. As a result, Copenhagen’s renowned cycle-friendly policies are serving as a template for some of the world’s most congested cities.

Aside from health and environmental considerations, an effective urban transport policy should be democratic. Unlike cars, even the poorest segments of society can gain access to a bicycle. The bicycle is indeed democratic, not just for those who cycle but also for the rest of the population who are too often impacted by planning blight, pollution and the colonisation of urban space as a result of planning that privileges car users ahead of everyone else.

However, the bicycle is only truly democratic when spatial segregation is limited and bike lanes and appropriate cycle-friendly infrastructure exist to properly connect all areas. Inspired by Copenhagen, Mexico City’s bicycle strategy is attempting to address this issue through a comprehensive cycle path network, which aims to create mobility through areas that have been closed off due to previous planning strategies.

The arrogance of space

For cities to fully embrace the bicycle, city planners must stop thinking like motorists or capitulating to powerful lobby groups and plan for the needs of cyclists. In Denmark, for example, the Copenhagen-Albertslund route is the first of a planned network that will comprise 26 Cycle Super Highways, covering a total of 300 km. The network is predicted to reduce public expenditure by €40.3 million annually thanks to improved health.

Consider that in Europe 50% of most city land is dedicated to streets and roads, parking, service stations, driveways, signals and traffic signs. And yet the average European car is parked for 92% of the time. Of the other 8% of time, 1.5% is spent looking for a parking space, 1% in congestion and just 5% is spent driving. There are 30,000 deaths per year on European roads and four times as many disabling injuries. Consider too that an average European car has five seats but carries 1.5 persons per journey.

In Copenhagen, city planners tend to give an adequate proportion of road space to cyclists: proper cycle lanes with curbs that separate cycling space from car space; cycle lanes that are usually also sufficiently wide. After all, why should cars hog so much road space when the majority of road users are cyclists?

In the article ‘The Arrogance of Space’, it says:

We have a tendency to give cities human character traits when we describe them. It’s a friendly city. A dynamic city. A boring city. Perhaps then a city can be arrogant. Arrogant, for example, with its distribution of space.

For too long the arrogance of car-obsessed urban planners has degraded our health and our quality of life. But when you have good-quality public transport and the opportunity to cycle thanks to appropriate infrastructure, there is no need to hand over excess space to cars and produce endless concrete sprawl for car parks.

Walk (or cycle) around Copenhagen and you will immediately appreciate there is much less traffic noise and pollution compared with other cities. It is indeed a spatially friendly and a compact city – and a less “arrogant city”. It is also less hectic and more tranquil than many other cities and – taking things even further – arguably more community-oriented.

The slow life

Of course, community-oriented living isn’t just due to transport strategies, although Andre Gorz said that to love your place or space, it must first of all be made liveable, not trafficable. He went on to state that the neighbourhood or community should be shaped by and for all human activities, “where people can work, live, relax, learn, communicate, and knock about, and which they manage together as the place of their life in common.”

In Copenhagen, the municipality encourages outdoor living by offering open-access communal table tennis tables, basketball facilities, well thought out kids’ parks, landscaped parkland and lakes. Even during cold weather, Copenhageners congregate on the streets and in the parks to socialise and embrace the concept of ‘hygge’, probably best defined as: a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and the ability to recognise and enjoy the present. Get to know the city and you will soon realise that hygge isn’t just a cliché.

The key word in that definition is ‘slowness’ because from there we arrive at the concept of ‘slow living’.

Writing in 1973, activist and writer Ivan Illich stated:

The use of the bicycle… allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance… In contrast, the accelerating individual capsule [the car] enabled societies to engage in a ritual of progressively paralyzing speed.

Modern culture is an advocate of speed, epitomised by car worship. Cars, speed and high-energy living have become essential facts of life. In the process, our communities have become disjointed and dispersed. We have sacrificed ‘slow living’ – in terms of intimacy, friendship and neighbourliness – for a more impersonal way of accelerated living.

Where would be the need for the car when work, school or healthcare facilities are close by? Less need for ugly flyovers or six lane highways that rip up communities in their path. Getting from A to B would not require a race against the clock on the highway that cuts through a series of localities that are never to be visited, never to be regarded as anything but an inconvenience to be passed through.

Instead, how about an enjoyable walk or cycle ride through an urban environment defined by community and intimacy? An environment free from traffic pollution or noise and where ‘neighbourhood’ has not been deadened and stripped of its neighbourliness, local stores and facilities.

Clearly, many of the problems associated with modern cities are not just due to cars or transport systems. Urban planning and the colonisation of space mirrors capitalism and the needs of powerful corporations.

By focusing on capitalism and how culture reflects the division of labour, Andre Gorz said:

It cuts a person into slices, it cuts our time, our life, into separate slices so that in each one you are a passive consumer at the mercy of the merchants, so that it never occurs to you that work, culture, communication, pleasure, satisfaction of needs, and personal life can and should be one and the same thing: a unified life, sustained by the social fabric of the community.

Although it would be naïve and misguided to think that the bicycle (and cultural change) could transform the social relations of capitalism, it is at least emblematic of a different form of urban planning and smart thinking.