Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Camping: The ultimate American melting pot

    Tired of doing the same old thing every day, me and my family decided to pack up our car with tents, coolers, bathing suits and hot dogs and go off camping last weekend.  To a campground.  In a national forest.  And, no, we didn't run into Cliven Bundy either.  Thank God! 

     But we did meet a whole bunch of rednecks. 

     "So, Jane, how did that go?" you might ask, knowing me to be a leftie Berkeley liberal who actually believes all that psycho-babel nonsense that Jesus used to spout about being kind and all that other anti-NRA crap.  Well, actually, it went really well.  As long as we didn't talk about politics with our new camping neighbors, everything was great.  I learned that a lot of rednecks were really nice people (and also that having beer for breakfast was an honored American tradition).

     I also learned that rednecks suffer from unemployment just like the rest of us do -- and I also learned where to get an awesome tattoo.  Their kids all played with my granddaughter Mena.  They told us where the best hiking trails were.  And I told them how pissed off I was that Yuppies are now taking over Berkeley -- and how I had been in Iraq with the Marines.

     All those self-proclaimed "redneck" campers in the tents all around us were actually very nice.  They made good camping neighbors.  We had lots of common interests.  We bonded over stuff.  As long as we didn't talk about politics, we were good.  They were Americans.  I was American.  There was lots of friendship material here to work with.  It was like the Germans and the Brits having a Christmas truce in the trenches during World War I.  We all really could get along if push came to shove. 

     If only our politicians and media would stop telling us how much we need to hate each other, I could see a way through.  http://billmoyers.com/episode/ian-haney-lopez-on-the-dog-whistle-politics-of-race/

     Rednecks.  Blacks.  Mexicans.  Asians.  We are all Americans now.  And we should all learn to act like Americans too.  And we all need to start working together to solve our mutual problems ASAP -- or else there is going to be no America left for us to fight over.

PS:  The American Civil War of 1860 was the deadliest war ever fought by Americans.  Ever.  (That is, if you don't count the untold millions of men, women and children who died in the Native American holocaust)

     According to my recent Google research project, "The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict.  The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike.  Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War.  Hundreds of thousands died of disease.  Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty.  Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls."  http://www.civilwar.org/education/civil-war-casualties.html

      That's approximately one-third more rotting dead bodies here on American soil than the number of Americans killed in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.  Over 51,000 Americans were killed, wounded, captured or missing after just three days of battle at Gettysburg alone.  7,000 of them were just plain outright dead.

     And how easily all that could be engineered to happen again.  And it's already started happening, in fact.

PPS:  "But illegals stole all our jobs!" the redneck at my picnic table might have said if I had asked him. 

     "No, that's not true," I might have replied if we hadn't all been camping and thus on neutral ground.  "Our jobs were all stolen by huge corporations that outsourced all our jobs to Latin America, India and Asia.  But also our jobs are being stolen by robots.  Robots do our jobs better than we used to do.  Plus robots aren't human, don't have to eat anything, don't have families to care for and don't complain."  And also, if we are in the military, our jobs are also being outsourced to drones. 

PPS:  Hope you had a nice Memorial Day.  Always remember our military dead -- and the humongous corporate profits they died for.  http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/mike-whitney/56066/iraq-the-biggest-petroleum-heist-in-history

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Capitalism, Socialism & my trip to the Maker Faire

     What is capitalism?  "Buy low, sell high," you might say.  Well, yeah. 

     But, sadly, no "modern" definition of capitalism seems to include a morality clause too.  Wherever money is involved, all of our normally decent human values that we are so proud of seem to fly straight out the door.  Thus capitalism these days happily encourages the more greedy among us to follow the immoral examples of WalMart, Monsanto and Massey Coal without feeling even the tiniest twinge of conscience or guilt. 

     "It's just business."

     But capitalism also strongly revolves around the idea that if one person or company is mass-producing a product, then that saves the rest of us from having to go to the time and trouble to individually produce this product ourselves too, down in our basements each night. 

     But, hey, isn't that also the definition of socialism too? 

     "Socialism is when the government owns the means of production," you might reply, "instead it being owned by capitalists".  Yeah, but....  Whether the government supplies the product or whether capitalists supply the product, the most important result is the same -- that you yourself don't have to reinvent the wheel down in your basement each night.  And to go it alone.  Someone else is reinventing the wheel for you.  And then manufacturing it too.  All you gotta do is pay for it.

     Both capitalism's and socialism's basic concepts revolve around the production of products -- be they flat-screen TVs or healthcare -- all being all bundled together to save us from individually having to re-create what we need.  Because that would take each of us forever, right?

     Thus, as I see it, the only true difference between capitalism and socialism is where the money ends up.  With socialism, the wealth that is created by bundling together our resources and labor to make a product will then be spread around among all of us -- while in capitalism, the wealth created by bundling together our resources and labor to create a product is not.

     There's a moral here somewhere.  That you should hand-make everything that you need all by yourself?  That it's okay for the government to make products if they don't charge too much but capitalists should be allowed to charge as much blood as they possibly can squeeze out of us turnips? 

      Who knows.

    But the main point that I am trying to make here is that capitalism and socialism are both cut from the same cloth -- the human need to band together to survive and to thrive.  And socialism seems to help us all thrive better -- whereas capitalism only helps a few to survive and thrive.  So it's up to us to make our choice as to which one we like best.  Or else to design a benevolent combination of the two where everyone wins. 

      And also we need to decide whether morality is important to us or not.

PS:  Recently I went off to attend the 2014 Maker Faire in San Mateo -- me and approximately 50,000 others.  Lately, I'd been hearing a lot about the so-called "Maker" movement and was anxious to go see what this was all about.

     Basically, Makers are saying that they can replace large American factories and companies by once again bringing back the concept of cottage industries and making things on a smaller scale.  Thanks to the internet, 3-D printers and such, inventors can roll out their products and sell them to us as easy as pie.

     If this is true, then we won't have to rely on the huge manufacturing capacity of industrial monsters like General Motors in order for America to stay in the manufacturing loop, right?

    Well, the Maker Faire was both interesting and fun, but I sure wouldn't count on some of these products to replace Hewlett-Packard or Boeing any time soon.  The 3-D printers they had there were pretty much turning out costume jewelry and Lego wannabes.  One booth had a Ford car on display, which got me totally excited.  "You made this car with a 3-D printer?" I asked hopefully.  No.  Not even close.

     And if you weren't a nerd, it was hard to sort out what all the exhibits at the fair were about.  And I was not a nerd.  So most of us non-nerds just focused on the two things that were focus-able-on:  Food concessions and steam-punk booths!

     Although I did enjoy the fair a lot and was glad that I went, don't be looking for America's new Makers movement to be replacing all those massive Chinese manufacturing foundries and factories any time soon.

PPS:  I'm also currently reading Chris Anderson's book, "Makers," and he sez I got it all wrong -- and that the Maker type of production does involve more than just printing out glorified Legos on our Staples 3-D printers in our home office.  "Countless micro-manufacturers will help drive the next big movement in the global economy" because, according to Anderson, "anyone with an idea can set assembly lines in motion."  In motion in China?

PPPS:  On a more local level, here in my home town of Berkeley, "Maker" seems to be just another word for "Developer" these days -- as our beautiful city is being systematically gutted to make way for all sorts of expensive new high-rises and condos.  And to protect ourselves from these new "Maker" developers, we have started to put all sorts of voter-generated initiatives on the ballot.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God, Mothers Day & the Yosemite Rim Fire

  To celebrate Mothers Day this year, my wonderful children drove me up to visit the north rim of the Yosemite National Forest.  It was the perfect road trip -- not too long of a drive, yet exotic enough for us to know that we've Been Somewhere.

     First we drove across California's great central valley, and then up Highway 120 via Old Priest Grade, past Groveland and Buck Meadows, to the scene of last year's horrific Yosemite Rim Fire.  It was an awesome sight -- and actually quite beautiful in a sort of post-apocalypticical way. 

     At a vista point called "Rim of the World," overlooking the ghostly outlines of thousands of dead trees, we read a sign that told us how many square miles had been burned (400!) and that the cost of putting out the fire alone had been 127 million dollars -- not to mention the amount of property and natural resources that had gone up in smoke as well.

      Someone we met at the vista point also informed us that, "Aside from high drought conditions last year, one of the chief causes of this area's extreme vulnerability to fire had been that the 2013 federal Sequester had cut the National Forest Service’s land-management budget by over $115 million."  And that information really pissed me off -- that in order to save $115 million, we had lost $127 million instead.

     But what pissed me off even more was the obviously-inebriated pseudo-Christian standing next to me at the Rim of the World, who was loudly proclaiming, "This was God's will!"  No it wasn't. 

     It was the will of those idiotic and greedy RepubliDem/Tea Party idiots in Washington who came up with that dumb Sequester budget idea in the first place -- and it was also the will of those surly international corporate thugs who are currently killing our planet on such a grand scale due to climate change.  Is climate change caused by God's will?  Really?  I thought it was just caused by greed.  http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/republicans-deadly-political-strategy-damage-country-and-you-damage-democratic

    Then my family and I went for a walk in a nearby grove of woods, in a magically-wonderful place where the trees had been saved.
     "This is God's blessing," said yet another "born-again" tourist we met.  No it wasn't. 

     It was the blessing of approximately 5,000 firefighters risking their lives that stopped this rapacious fire, no thanks to the "Christian" wingnuts who cut our national park budgets right and left so that corporations won't have to pay taxes and the Pentagon can fight Endless Wars on our dime instead.  http://www.palestiniandiaries.com/node/9

     It was a perfect Mothers Day for me, however.  "Thanks, kids!"  The view from the vista point was so spectacular that we could have sat there for hours just drinking it in.  Plus I was given even more political insights to write about for my blog.  A win-win situation.

PS:  I really really like the idea of a benevolent universe/higher power that rejoices whenever Mankind finally manages to do something good -- and that also views with alarm whenever Mankind screws up and resorts to greed and war.  http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/navigating-syria-impossible-indispensable-mission

     But to say that "God" smiles down on idiots like, say, Cliven Bundy or Michele Bachmann as they completely lose touch with such concepts as "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" -- or who smiles down on the good "Christian" violence-obsessed militarists in Washington who pay hundreds of billions of our hard-earned dollars to support Islamist fanatics who behead people in Syria, to support military juntas who hang protesters in Egypt, to support neo-fascists who burn people alive in Ukraine and/or to support drug lords who import crack-cocaine from Latin America and heroin from Afghanistan?   http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/12/look-whos-calling-voting-divisive-and-illegal/ 

     That's stretching my credibility way too far.  That's far too much for me to believe.

PPS:  And speaking of higher powers, exactly what kind of God allows Auschwitz and Hiroshima and the Nakba to happen?

     And how can God possibly agree to smile down on America, a country founded on slavery and genocide?

    How come God hates Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo but loves the Islamic inquisitionists that America's War Street gleefully pays whatever it costs to behead Christian civilians in Syria?

     How come God used to hate the Nazis in Hitler Germany but now loves American-sponsored neo-fascists Cossacks currently rampaging through Ukraine and burning people alive on the Odessa Steps? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C7Pu-3JzjA 

     How come God frowns on organic farmers but blesses the spilled blood of Monsanto?

     I just don't get it -- unless of course Wall Street and War Street now have the hubris and chutzpah to set their own selves up as God.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Lynne Stewart & her not-so-free "Get out of jail" card

    I can't believe that the famous civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was actually in Berkeley this week! 

     Berkeley used to be so very cutting-edge modern -- but thanks to our current mayor and city council, my beloved city has degenerated into just one more developer's paradise and wannabee suburb.  So it did my heart good to see Lynne Stewart visiting our town. http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2014-03-21/article/41950?headline=Suing-Self-is-Senseless-and-Silly--By-Councilmember-Kriss-Worthington

     Stewart, if you remember, was given an unusually harsh sentence in a Texas jailhouse by a Bush administration kangaroo court for doing what she has done best for the last 50 years -- representing people who have no one else to represent them (even people who took scurrilousness advantage of her representation).  And she was only released from this stiff jail sentence when it became clear that she was dying of cancer while incarcerated. 

      And now here she is, about to give us a talk on the trials and tribulations one has to go through in order to stand up for the underdog these days.  And as we sat there waiting for the event to begin, someone who didn't know what Stewart looked like came up to her and said, "Would you like to sign my fair-housing petition?  Do you live in Berkeley or Oakland?"

     "I live in Brooklyn!" Stewart happily replied.  And that's how we met her.  Fragile but still tough.

     Then another person started making small talk with Stewart about the food that being served at this pot-luck brunch.  Really?  You get a chance to talk to one of the greatest civil rights attorneys of the American century and you want to discuss recipes?  Well, I wanted to discuss recipes too!  "What was prison food like?" I asked her.


     "Any vegetables served?"

     "They gave us tough stalks of broccoli -- which in an aging prison population with no teeth, this was a problem."  Then Lynne smiled.  No bottom teeth. 

     "Mass incarceration needs to be forced off the map," said the speaker who introduced Stewart.  "We are so happy that you are here."  Me too.  I was so pleased to see that Stewart was healthy enough to make it to Berkeley -- and then make it up the stairs to the second floor of the Unitarian church, which was almost more than I could do.

     "There are so many things going on in the Bay Area right now, that I'll be glad to finally go back to Brooklyn where it is quiet.  But I am here on a mission of gratitude, because it was people like you who got me out of jail.  And while I'm not exactly a Luddite, I'm not at home in the electronic world either -- but so many of you went online for me.  You downloaded petitions and had people sign them.  Over 50,000 people signed petitions to bring me home."

    And speaking of the internet, I just can't resist pointing out that the loss of net neutrality will be (yet another) huge blow to democracy and freedom everywhere.  And all those lies that neo-cons can't resist telling us will continue to go unchallenged -- And we would never have have become aware that Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, etc. have all been just one gigantic Pat Tillman scandal after another -- only writ large.  "I am not a crook" just doesn't wash any more, thanks to the internet!  http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article38413.htm  But I digress.

     However it wasn't until Stewart got cancer, changing the conversation away from her being a political prisoner to being more about her personal story, that she was allowed to be released.  Yet the issue of political prisoners is still dear to her heart.

     "Being imprisoned has made me impassioned to work for both political prisoners and for women prisoners too -- those who have no one to protect or represent them.  All they have is four walls."

     The folks who put her in jail in the first place were all worried about what Stewart would do when she got out.  "So they wanted me to sign a 'remorse' letter, saying I was sorry.  And I wrestled with this because I did want to get out, to see my grandchildren.  But my husband Ralph said that he would back me regarding whatever decision I finally made. 'You do what you need to do'.  But in the final analysis, I didn't sign it.  I just couldn't let all the people who supported me down."

     How could she say to all the young lawyers who looked up to her, "Oh I didn't really mean it, didn't really stand up for my rights."

     Then Ralph Poynter spoke.  "I was flying down to Texas for a New Years Day visit and I got this call while waiting in line at the rental car counter.  'Lynne is free!  She's waiting for you in the parking lot!'  And I was so excited that I couldn't even start my rental car and couldn't even remember where the jail was!"  And then he changed up his rental Ford for a Cadillac.

     Poynter then talked about his own battle to get Stewart released.  For months on end he had stood in front of the White House, and had collected signatures from across the world on her behalf.  "Lynne has worked for 50 years, helping people in need -- battered women, gays, victims of civil rights violations -- so it was easy to get people to help her too.  All of you have saved her life.  And it has been a race to save her life.  The poor-quality medical care she received in prison?  They tried to kill her!

     "But when Lynne started getting over a hundred letters a day, the pressure to have her released became serious.  And when Lynne finally came home, she didn't have MediCare.  She had planned to go to Sloan-Kettering, but her MediCare had been cancelled while she was in jail because she had become 'inactive' and she would have had to wait eight months for her enrollment period to come around again."  Eight more months without treatment would have killed her for sure.

     Finally, after two months spent solely on trying to cut through bureaucratic red tape, Stewart finally got Medicaid.

     "I started right in with chemo," she told us, "once we got my prison medical records sorted out.  The prison doctors never talked to the outside specialists in Texas and it was all a big mess.  'Why does everything take so long,' my New York doctor asked when he finally saw my prison records.  And because of this lack of communication, many women in prison die as a result."

     When she was in prison, Stewart tried to help her fellow inmates as much as she could.  "And I still try to help them now.  And it hurt then and it hurts now -- to see them suffer.  I still send them books that I think they will like.  No note.  But they know who it is from."  All prison mail is censored.

     "People now say to me, 'Lynne, you look so good!  I thought you were dying!'  but I am still as bad as I was -- except now I have liver cancer as well.  But with cancer, there are so many things you can still do, so right now I am active.  Good cancer doctors always say, 'If you think you can do it, then do it!'  And I wanted to take this chance to see all the people who helped me for so many years."  Her activism gives her a great reason to fight to stay alive.

     "And what about lawyers these days," Stewart then asked.  So many people are being arrested -- and then they all sink below the waves.  The quality of defense lawyering for the women she met in prison sucked eggs.  "They lied and they were corrupt."

     "There used to be a raft of activist lawyers.  Now there are none.  It's appalling.  I myself have been disbarred.  I can't even work in a law office now, not even to do filing.  Someday I hope to get my law license back."

     Then Stewart read a short poem by Bertolt Brecht entitled "And I always thought":

And I always thought
The very simplest words
Must be enough. 
When I say what things are like
Everyone's heart must be torn to shreds. 
That you'll go down if you don't stand up for yourself. 
Surely you see that.

PS:  Stewart's audience at the church was composed mostly of older white people such as myself -- we were all survivors from The Greatest Generation, the horrible McCarthy era and the hopeful reforms of the 1960s.  We in the audience were all idealists with hope for a better world, bravely still fighting against the mish-mash of greed, unnecessary war, pollution and election fraud that the world is stuck with right now.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCS-g3HwXdc

    Which leads me to my next question:  How come we, like Lynne Stewart, became such hopeful idealists -- while the rest of our generation became just a sad bunch of useless couch potatoes, mindlessly cheering on racism, sexism, fascism, and various lies from Fox News?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tly9JqU0Lfw


Advertizements for myself: In these hard times of brutal (and illegal) corporatist ball-busting socialism-for-the-rich-only, I am doing whatever I can to make a spare dollar. Here are some of my current alternate-economy schemes that never seem to work -- but I keep hoping!

If anyone ever wants to hire me on as a travel writer (or war correspondent), "Have laptop, will travel!"
  And I would really like to go back to Iraq to see how things are now.  Or to Timbuktu.  Never been there.  Or Ukraine or Syria -- or Oklahoma, Hawaii or Milwaukee.  Never been there either.  But can't afford to go on my own.  PS:  Here's a great GX tour of Oklahoma on July 6 that I would love to go on:  http://www.globalexchange.org/reality-tours#id=the-radical-tour-of-oklahoma

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Need an actor to play an older woman in your movie?
Then I'm your man! I can portray all kinds of older women -- from judges, business execs and other insane zombies to bag ladies, cancer patients, kindly grandmothers and dying patients in rest homes. I've played them all. So send me a script and let's do this. Hollywood, here we come! Here's my new 2014 reel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uad0XDU_cXg&feature=youtube_gdata

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I recently got my Notary Public commission!

Need a Notary Public? Have seal, will travel. E-mail me at jpstillwater@yahoo.com and I'll stamp your document, make it official and only charge $10. Of course if you live outside of Berkeley, I may have to charge travel expenses -- but am well worth it!

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"Imagine a world where EVERY child is wanted, nurtured, protected and loved: World peace in one generation!"
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"Life is a competition. The winners are the ones who do the most good deeds."
You can also buy T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, truckers' caps, baby gear and/or teddy bears with this logo printed on them. They make great gifts, especially for those of us who are still idealists in these troubled times. To purchase, just click here: http://www.cafepress.com/StillTWaters