Tag Archives: fracking

Bradley Manning

27 Dec

“How come most people don’t vote in this country in elections?  In Australia voting is compulsory.  You have to vote or you get fined.  So when people vote they find out why they vote and they generally vote for their best interests such as free medical care, free education, decent old-age pensions, care for the mentally ill and the indigent.  Therefore the people vote for their taxes to be used to their benefit.  When people don’t vote here, they leave a huge vacuum.  Into the vacuum pour the multinationals.  So your tax dollars are used for corporate benefit.  The best way to make a buck in this country if you’re a corporation is to build weapons, because they make 75% profit.  There’s no competition.  It’s a cost-plus industry, whereas if you make cars you only make 15% profit.  So you can’t afford not to be making nuclear weapons and delivery systems if you are a corporation in this country.  Therefore, every company, directly or indirectly, is involved in making weapons of mass destruction, even General Foods, who make cereals, etc.  How come?  They sell their products to the military.

“So the corporations have you by a stranglehold.  It’s a corporate White House.  Who does Bush represent?  He represents corporations.  Who did Reagan represent?  I don’t know if he knew who he represented.  I think he still doesn’t, but he did represent the corporations.  He was like Chauncey Gardner in Being There…I can say that now.  If I’d said that a few years ago some of you would have had my throat.  I met him in the White House in 1983 and spent 1 1/4 hours with him, and it was a very devastating experience, about the most devastating of my life.  We spent an hour and a quarter in intense dialogue, mostly coming from me.  He said some things but they were all wrong.  I had to hold his hand so that he could be a bit relaxed because he got quite uptight and he quoted me from the Reader’s Digest…He was a nice old man.  He’s not senile.  He’s always been like this.  His I.Q. clinically was about 100, and that’s the truth.  You have to wonder how come a man of that caliber got to be running your country and could press the button if he so desired.  It’s a very serious situation.

Drone, Gold Bars, Uzi, Poppy, Oil Drum, Diamond. Set of six color pencil and pen-and-ink drawings on Bristol paper, 3 x 3 in. ea., from 96 drawings used for performance, Dress for Success, at Jonathan Shorr Gallery, New York, on July 8, 2006; involved built costume and movement, in collaboration with sculptor John Landino.

“So here is a corporate President, and so is Bush.  The Congress is a corporate Congress.  It costs $60 million to run for the Presidency, $30 million to get to the Senate, and $2-$3 million to get to the House of Representatives.  So, you can’t get there unless you’re a millionaire or unless you’re bought out by corporate money before you get there.  That’s not right.  That’s not democracy.  So something has to change.

“”The Pentagon is run by the corporations.  The Department of Energy, which runs the nuclear power plants and builds all the nuclear weapons is run by the corporations.  This last week, as I’ve been traveling the country, reading the New York Times in the airplanes as I fly, articles about the fact that the DOE is run by corporations and the people who are employed by government virtually don’t know what’s going on.  James Watkins, the Secretary of Energy, was embarrassed recently to find a report he gave to Congress about building nuclear weapons was written by one of the corporations who makes the nuclear weapons.  He was really embarrassed.  So the DOE is run by the corporations.  It’s a pretense to think that the American government is run of the people, by the people and for the people.  Now theretofore you need another revolution…And that doesn’t mean sitting on your bottoms writing letters.  It’s [sic] doesn’t mean lobbying Senator Hatfield and whoever else.  It means actually getting out there and putting your bodies on the line like Gandhi did. It means the equivalent of the salt marches.  It means taking over the Department of Energy in Washington and staying there, like the students did in the 1960s, taking over the administrations.  It means taking over the Pentagon, getting in there.  It’s your Pentagon.  Take it over.  It means getting into military facilities and taking them over.  It means dismantling equipment that kills people and other species…” — Dr. Helen Caldicott, excerpted paragraphs from “Helen Caldicott: Lecture given on November 12, 1989, National Radio Broadcast, Portland, Oregon USA,” Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, Pamphlet No. 4 (1991), pages 1-2.

I first listened to Dr. Caldicott lecture on nuclear disarmament watching a film directed by Terre Nash called If You Love This Planet (1982).  Caldicott is an Australian pediatrician and a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The excerpted text above displays a wonderful randomness and the entire speech at times approaches an incoherence that most listeners would probably find difficult to follow.  Yet, her language is direct and simple and meant to reach those not within the halls of power she speaks of above.  This is how I want to remember Ronald Reagan, the same president who did not publicly speak about AIDS until May 31, 1987 with 36,058 Americans diagnosed with the disease, 20,849 dead, and the spread of the disease to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases (see Allen White, “Reagan’s AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death,” sfgate [June 8, 2004]; http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-06-08/opinion/17428849_1_aids-in-san-francisco-aids-research-education-cases; accessed 12/26/2011).  (Dale Carpenter argues that Reagan was prompted by a question from a reporter regarding inadequate funding to speak about the pandemic during a press conference in September 1985.  Carpenter’s article first appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on June 24, 2004 and is available at: http://igfculturewatch.com/2004/06/24/reagan-and-aids-a-reassessment/.  As a man who has lived through the pandemic since its beginning, Reagan’s silence as thousands of people died was palpable.)

What Caldicott teaches us is that nothing is random in the world of politics.  Everything is connected.  Consumer Americans should take into account speech like this because nothing that is presented on their behalf otherwise makes these important connections.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex before he left office.  Since then the term has been expanded by some to the military-industrial-media complex.  The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a perfect example of the non-complex terms with which this cyclopean is rendered for American public consumption.  Americans thrilled to scripted visual narratives of a military that bombed its way to the center of Baghdad.  Yet, this public had not been informed by the same media end of the military-industrial complex of prior military incursions into Iraq to destroy vital energy grids and other infrastructure for the purposes of setting up business post-invasion.  This was, after all, a corporate war, including Dick Cheney’s profiteering by sending his company Halliburton to “reconstruct” the damage that the United States had inflicted to Iraq over time.

This particular war was scripted from the very beginning.  President George W. Bush, Jr. depended upon scripted narratives based on false assertions leading up to his decision to engage our country in the invasion of another.  “Weapons of mass destruction” was the war cry, one which Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated to the United Nations to justify our action to the world.  As Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistle blower of the Vietnam War era, explains in his memoir of that period, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking, 2002), any truism that secrets cannot be kept within government is false (page 43).  As a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, John T. McNaughton, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ellsberg had an insider’s view to the Gulf of Tonkin “attacks” on U.S. warships in August 1964.  These incidents as they were portrayed by the military were important because they allowed the President to press Congress to agree to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.  This gave the President vague, but wide, discretionary power to choose aggressive action against North Vietnam, including direct combat involvement.  Heretofore, the United States was limited to providing military personnel as advisors in the field to South Vietnam according to the 1954 Geneva Accords.  The Accords were based on agreement made during conference in Geneva, Switzerland between the Soviet Union, the United States, France, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and other countries, addressing not only the First Indochina War between France and the Viet Minh, but also the reunification of Korea.  Ellsberg’s account is enlightening.  Although the reports of attacks against U.S. ships were contradictory and dubious, official word up the line to the President, and thence to the American public, portrayed North Vietnam in terms of “naked aggression.”  It was not until years later that these reports were totally debunked.  And, in fact, Ellsberg details what were deliberate actions by our government to provoke North Vietnam (see pages 7-20), actions being withheld from public knowledge.

In 1964, as a liberal Cold War warrior, Ellsberg supported this kind of governmental secrecy and manipulation of truth: “self-discipline in sharing information…and a capability for dissimulation in the interests of discretion were fundamental requirements for a great many jobs…The result was an apparatus of secrecy…that permitted the president to arrive at and execute a secret foreign policy, to a degree that went far beyond what even relatively informed outsiders, including journalists and members of Congress, could imagine” (page 43).  By 1969, Ellsberg was willing to tell the truth to Congress and the press, “to give up clearances and political access, the chance of serving future presidents, [his] whole career, and to accept the prospect of a life behind bars” (page IX).

In 2004, I was outraged when revelations about the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to public attention, through a 60 Minutes II news report (April 28) and an article by Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker magazine (posted online on April 30 and published days later in the May 10 issue).  Although at the time of this media release of information an initial criminal investigation was underway by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, resulting in the Taguba Report, it is easy to imagine a different trajectory if whistleblower, Army Reservist Sgt. Joseph Darby, had not taken a CD containing images of torture to higher command in January of that year.  Darby was given a CD as a memento by one of the torturers, Army Spc. Charles Graner, who would receive a sentence of ten years in prison (see “Introduction: The Abu Ghraib files,” Salon [March 14, 2006], http://www.salon.com/2006/03/14/introduction_2/, and,  Michele Norris, “Abu Ghraib Whistleblower Speaks Out,” NPR [April 15, 2006], http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5651609; both accessed December 20, 2011).  What was especially troubling was the fact that sexual humiliation was within the arsenal of torture techniques under employ by the Army and CIA.  As a gay man, I knew too much of the history of discrimination against gay men and lesbian women in the armed forces.

Chris Clary, 52-Card Pick-Up, installation for Body Commodities / Queer Packaging, Works/San José (2006). Printed photographs on card deck, dimensions variable.

We have today what we had during the Vietnam War: a government and military that lies and covers up.  State secrets are the excuse for preventing an American public from knowing what torture techniques were used, by whom and under whose authority, at what facilities, and for how long.  Soldiers on the lowest rung of military hierarchy were the only individuals convicted of wrongdoing in a few, of a vast number, of incidents, that were actually tried in military court; their superiors were never convicted of crimes.  Classifying information that effectively shuts it away from public scrutiny is good business for corporations as well.  The public is not allowed to know what chemicals are used for the dangerous process known as “fracking” that extracts natural gas from the ground.  So there are corporate secrets that are as powerful as state secrets.

It was troubling, then, for me to know that Pfc. Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, imprisoned since July 2010, and not formally charged with crimes until March 2011, was to be tried for “aiding the enemy” by purportedly sharing classified government documents with WikiLeaks.  The military pretrial hearing began on Friday, December 16, 2011.  The presiding officer, Paul Almanza, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, actually works as a Department of Justice prosecutor in civilian life, for the same government agency that is  conducting a criminal investigation against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder.   No wonder that Bradley’s defense team argued on day one that Almanza should recuse himself because he was biased.  Also questionable is Almanza’s decision to accept unsworn statements from the “original classification authorities,” denying the defense team a request to question these individuals as to why the documents published by WikiLeaks had been classified as secret material (see David Dishneau and Pauline Jelinek, “Manning Hearing Bogs Down Over Dispute,” Associated Press; http://www.salon.com/2011/12/16/manning_hearing_bogs_down_over_dispute/; accessed 12/16/2011).

What is most troubling to me about the hearing is the defense argument that Bradley suffered from gender identity confusion during the time he was sharing documents.  I accept as business as usual that the government would put in place a presiding officer that is working on its behalf to move closer to their real target, a man who was not on trial here (the hearing ended with closing statements on Thursday, December 22nd; for fuller information, visit the website http://www.bradleymanning.org/).  And, of course, the American public should never know about “Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver” (Dishneau and Jelinek).  Oh, no.  But the world knows better now than the American people would ever really want to know about how this government and other governments have acted in collusion.  We can thank this leaked information, in part, for the sudden and unexpected Arab Spring.  And, thus, the current unrest exhibited by the Occupy movement.  I want to think that any individual so brave or foolish to release this kind of information has the integrity of a Daniel Ellsberg.  For what Ellsberg knew, and others have known, is that we are not living in a democracy when secrecy at the highest level of government propels us into wars we have not chosen.  The button pushers Caldicott refers to indeed have the power to initiate or expand nuclear war, but instead exercise a more insidious form of directive by sending us into endless war for the sole purpose of rewarding corporations with obscene profit.  I stand by Bradley Manning, confused or not.

The above photographs without captions are from the performance Detainee, organized and performed by the author at The Roger Smith Hotel, New York, from January 29 to February 3, 2007, in collaboration with Beverly Richey (image projection), Max Yawney (wall painting and performance), Patrick Todd (sound composition) and a host of artists and non-artists who participated as interrogators.  The photographs are unattributed.  The performance was filmed by a bystander and posted at YouTube.  It can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFlQv7XeMys

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Planet Home: Part II

12 Nov

“…a staid old house, where hoops and powder and patches, embroidered coats rolled stockings ruffles and swords, had had their court days many a time.  Some ancient trees before the house were still cut into fashions as formal and unnatural as the hoops and wigs and stiff skirts; but their own allotted places in the great procession of the dead were not far off, and they would soon drop into them and go the silent way of the rest.” — Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“The negro [sic] has an artistic charm that the white man has not.  The negro has inherited the charm of music, the love of nature and the simplicity of life.” — “A Talk Given by Mr. Louis P. Wilson in the Salon of the Art Center Association,” typescript, 2 pp. Scrapbook 293: Exhibit of work of negro artists (first of two scrapbooks), The Records of the Harmon Foundation (Box No. 121, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

I have come to detest lawns.  My step-father decided that a rock garden with shrubbery was preferable to a lawn as he designed the front landscape for our home in Southern California.  Still, the back yard featured a lawn with lovely jacaranda trees and a border of mint.  Very few neighbors on the block understood that an arid climate would not naturally support the production of lawns, and so, also cultivated rock gardening with heat and drought tolerant plants.  With an unlimited supply of water diverted from and piped in from sources hundreds of miles away, what resident would think about their use of an absolutely precious commodity?  Los Angeles and the history of its misuse of water is widely known.  Still to this day, over a century since it exhausted its own water tables, the city and county consumes water from afar.  The battle for the survival of Mono Lake (http://www.itvs.org/films/battle-for-mono-lake and http://www.monolake.org/about/film) is epic in proportions, a water source that, quoting the second website cited here, underwent dramatic change: “From 1941 until 1990, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) diverted excessive amounts of water from Mono Basin streams. Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet, lost half its volume, and doubled in salinity.”  Activists were able to stop the death of this lake.

The problem of natural resources is not confined to the illogic of pumping water to a naturally waterless terrain.  Communities across the planet are now fighting against the incursion of global corporations that have usurped local rights to water, begging the question, “Is water a human right or a commodity to be bought and sold in a global marketplace?” (http://www.thirstthemovie.org/).  Waterways have been besieged for decades by pollution at our hands.  When I was a child growing up, the use of natural gas seemed absolutely benign.  It is only now, in very recent time, that I understand that the extraction of natural gas through “fracking” pollutes water tables and waterways (http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking).

My interest here in the extraction of resources, though, cannot be separated from man’s desire to transform environments into aesthetic and fashionable enclosures for the pursuit of comfort and pleasure.  Man has separated himself from nature during a very long history.  The separation between civilization and wilderness, between communal ecosystems and forest and other natural ecosystems is age old and universal.  Man’s fear and abhorrence of nature runs deep.

Within the United States, the encroachment of industrialization produced an irrational formulation of a pre-industrial man representing a oneness with nature.  By the 1920s, finding a symbol for this mythic being was directed at African Americans.  Observing the effects of the industrial age, Daniel Gregory Mason, in his book The Dilemma of American Music, wrote: “Perhaps the  most insidious one is the jaded emotional state…The fatigue-poisoned mind and body, too dull to enjoy quiet beauty and true thought, crave the crude excitements so abused among us; restless speeding in motor cars from nowhere to nowhere;…violent plastic arts using harsh angles and garish colors; noisy, mechanical, over-accented music.  The ‘jazz age’…is a joyless age, incapable of the happy serenity of creative leisure.” (William Heard Kilpatrick quoting Mason in Our Educational Task As Illustrated in the Changing South [Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1930], pages 61-2).  Thus, the Negro, to use the term applied extensively at the time, long before popular usage of Afro-American or African American, was singled out for being an emotion-centered being, childlike, “primitive,” and, so, as close to nature as man could be.  The evidence of this belief could be found in the extensive writings of the period praising the qualities of Negro spirituals.  Never mind that popular music such as ragtime and jazz were also cultural products of African American creativity.  Music critics and musicologists before 1930, such as European American song collector William Francis Allen or European pianist and folklorist Albert Friedenthal, predominantly found in this output of musical creation another type of the “primitive,” an expressed belief by some in a “savagery” that could be linked back to Africa.  African American writer Benjamin Brawley perceived even in the spiritual something akin to the primitive.  Critiquing London-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Brawley found his music based on Negro folk-songs to be “characteristic of the melancholy beauty, the barbaric color, and the passion of the true Negro music” (Brawley, The Negro in Literature and Art in the United States [New York: AMS Press Inc., 1971; reprint of 1930 edition published by Duffield & Company, New York], pages 164-5).

The modern Western mind has been searching for the primitive font of wisdom for several centuries.  Frances S. Connelly’s book, The Sleep of Reason: Primitivism in Modern European Art and Aesthetics, 1725-1907, is a good source for reading about eighteenth and nineteenth century attempts to derive inspiration from “primitive” cultural sources.  The cultures of Archaic Greece, Gothic Europe, even European folk cultures, served towards this end.  By the advent of Cubism early in the twentieth century, the artifacts of non-Western cultures were already being aggressively plumbed for aesthetic borrowing. Two occasions in New York during 1985 redirected my thinking about the use of cultural artifacts.  With the occasion of Te Maori: Maori Art from New Zealand Collections, an exhibition organized by The American Federation of Arts, the process of interpretation was no longer a Western enterprise.  Maori writers and spokesmen shaped both the exhibition and catalogue.  I saw this incredibly beautiful show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Through the catalogue, I learned of a Maori oral tradition, which accomplished the feat of recording Maori history for posterity over centuries.  By contrast, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) offered “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: The Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, with a team of cultural analysts seemingly replaying the tropes of Western cultural appropriation and manufacture.  Although both exhibitions were breathtaking, MoMA’s show stirred considerable controversy, with criticism, such as Thomas McEvilley’s now classic essay, “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art,” questioning the very basis of placing Western and non-Western cultural objects within a comparative analytic framework.  The entire enterprise of colonialism in a post-colonial world had become suspect, and the narrative of great Western artists deriving inspiration from the forms of colonial subject manufacture had become hollow.  As much as I love African art, I knew then that, taken out of cultural context, objects considered art by Western standards did not speak for the culture from which these objects sprang.  The standard art history textbooks at the time relegated African art to a minor chapter.  These objects were described as fetish objects without any clues to the nature of the spirits they supposedly represented nor the character of the ancestors they supposedly worshipped.  The only obvious factor involved was that Westerners were fetishizing objects from outside their realm of experience.

This is why I greeted the film Oka! with mild concern.  That I wanted to see it was certain.  I just did not want my enthusiasm to be distracted by the burdens of representation.  The film was recently playing here in San Francisco for a very short time.  Based on ethnomusicologist Louis Sarno’s more than twenty-five years among the BaAka, or Bayaka, (“Pygmy”) in Yandoumbe, Central African Republic, the story tells of one Larry Whitman, played by Kris Marshall, who travels to Africa to record the music of this community.  The BaAka play the characters of this story, characters who represent people in Sarno’s life from an earlier generation.  Directed by Lavinia Currier, and co-written by Currier and Sarno, the film is filled with rich acoustic and visual textures.  The performance by a group of non-actors is excellent.  I am reminded of earlier attempts to film stories within traditional cultures using non-actors.  Director F.W. Murnau’s Tabu, a Story of the South Seas (1931) advertised the fact that only native-born South Sea islanders, “half-castes,” and Chinese played the roles portrayed in the film.  Michael Powell directed The Edge of the World (1937) at Foula on the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, focusing on two families that are torn between preserving their native island culture and younger members leaving for a modern world.  Powell did use professional actors but drew the acting corps from true islanders.  Salt of the Earth (1954), directed by blacklist victim Herbert J. Biberman, involved actual Mexican American miners and their families in telling the story of the 1951 strike against Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico.  Director Gillo Pontecorvo strove for realism in The Battle of Algiers (1966) by employing Algerian non-actors.  Rolf de Heer’s production of Ten Canoes (2006) involved an Arnhem Land, Australia community casting themselves as actors based on a 1936 photograph taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson and shown to director De Heer by actor David Gulpilil.  The BaAka are master storytellers, as Sarno relates in his memoir, Song from the Forest: My Life Among the Ba-Benjellé Pygmies (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1993).  The acting demanded of them for the film ushered in a new dimension of story telling and required a different understanding than their familiarity with the documentary film process (refer to http://okamovie.com/).

My only experience with Pygmy music was through Deep Forest, Michel Sanchez and Eric Mouquet’s 1993 debut album.  The musicians combined New Age electronics with UNESCO field recordings of music from Zaire, the Solomon Islands, Burundi, Tibesti and the Sahel.  The vocal recordings of the Pygmy on the album are enchanting.  In the film Oka!, the title taken from the Benjellé meaning “listen,” the music of the people and the sounds of the forest merge and separate in subtle ways, an orchestration that makes this film an aural pleasure.  Steeped in the love of music, having once had the boyhood ambition of later becoming a composer, Sarno was reawakened by a song heard on a Flemish radio station.  Leaving from Paris with a one-way ticket and what remained of his savings, Sarno traveled to Bangui in Central African Repulblic.

The journey that Sarno (and Whitman) take is problematic for its exploration of an exotic people.  Sarno’s first impression at the camp where the BaAka live, is that “the Pygmies of Amopolo had strayed far from their roots and had degenerated into a decultured people” (Sarno, 46).  But, like the narratives within Tabu and The Edge of the World, there are forces from the outside world greater than a people can merely deflect.  Amopolo is a government-directed community, the BaAka considered uncivilized by their Bantu neighbors.  They have been forced to leave their ancestral home in the forest in order to live a civilized life, which also does not permit them to hunt.  Amopolo is near the Sangha-sangha village Bomandjombo, where the BaAka depend on a steady supply of manioc, cigarettes, marijuana, and mbaku, a locally produced moonshine.  In exchange, the Sangha-sangha depend upon the BaAka for meat (illegally hunted) and raffia.  Sarno’s relationship to his hosts is problematic for the fact that from the beginning he provides money and other goods in exchange for the privilege of living with and recording the music of the BaAka.  As Sarno himself muses, “Yet what, I now wondered, could I have brought such a culture but corruption, jealousy, and rivalry, with my cigarettes and gifts?  What could I have been to them but a kind of Pandora’s box, unleashing hungers that could never be satiated?” (Sarno, 291).

Sarno’s place within his adopted community gradually changes, so much so that he enables the BaAka to return to the forest.  In the film, shaman Sataka and wife Ekadi, played by Mapumba and Essanje, respectively, live continuously in the forest, refusing to partake in the Bantu’s terms of civilization.  They function as a mythic ancestral couple.  Unlike Adam and Eve of the garden who did not know their god, they know the forest and the spirits within.  It is their wisdom that draws the BaAka away from conditions that are unhealthy.  In Sarno’s narrative, the forest-cleared, sandy encampments that the BaAka live in are rife with mosquitoes and chigoes, sand fleas that burrow into human flesh.  Malaria kills a number of people.  Excessive mbaku consumption and other forms of aberrant behavior are rampant.

Another thread within both Sarno’s narrative and the film’s focuses on the destruction of the forest by non-African logging interests.  When Sarno first arrived in Bomandjombo, the logging company was run by Yugoslavians.  Their business eventually failed.  An attempt to revive the sawmill failed in 1989.  In the film, the Chinese businessman Mr. Yi, played by Will Yun Lee, who manages the mill, has a keen interest in hunting animals, and hopes, through a corrupt Bantu mayor, to implicate the BaAka in an elephant hunt, forcing them permanently off the reserve for the crime of poaching and, thus, opening the land to unlimited logging.

I recently attended a SF Debate event hosted by the Commonwealth Club.  The resolution posed to the group was: “This House supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”  Opening pro and con arguments were formally presented by two members.  Thereafter, discussion was opened to attendees.  One of the criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street Movement was that the movement’s concern over income inequality was misguided.  A young person, by my consideration, of little practical experience or knowledge of history, offered his insight to correct this.  Outside of the homeless, a “miniscule” portion of people in our society (those apparently dispossessed of possessions), people in poverty still had many consumer goods, including flat screen TVs.  Obviously this was a sign that our economy was healthy.  Of course, as a person who is temporarily housed, but still homeless, I challenged the ability of anyone present to accurately assert the number of people homeless.  But I also challenged the notion that wealth could be measured in terms of the production of consumer goods.  Where is our moral compass when a health prognoses upon our society is based on common access to  a select group of goods within a steady stream of consumption?  The poor in this context are so much like the BaAka under the civilizing terms of Bantu supervision.

I often think in mythic terms when questioning the viability of an earth mastered and run by a human population with an unlimited appetite for its resources.  In San Francisco, I see signs of engagement with the earth that envisions a symbiosis not based on exploitation for the material consumption of plastic goods and electronic gadgets.  During many Sundays in 2010, I participated in communal activities at Hayes Valley Farm, a volunteer-run farm on land temporarily leased by the city (http://www.hayesvalleyfarm.com/).  The push there is to regenerate soil through practices that do not take healthy soil from other areas of the state; the products of the farm are simply handed out.  There is a green movement afoot that I want to see succeed, that will take us, in Joni Mitchell’s words, “back to the garden.”  A garden conceived in our own moral health and the health of the natural world surrounding us.

Untitled, digital photograph, Felton, California, 2006.