John Muir: the power of memory

JohnMuir

A short piece in the L.A. Times on Monday the 11th got past me until today.

A giant sequoia tree is dying in Martinez, California. It was planted in 1883 by John Muir, the father of the environmental conservation movement in the United States. Muir started the Sierra Club and wrote extensively about his explorations of nature, especially in Yosemite. He inspired Theodore Roosevelt to create the National Park system. For much of his life, Muir lived in the old growth forests of the Sierra Nevada, trekking through the shadows of the huge redwoods, a bit of an eccentric visionary.

Muir brought this sequoia back from one of his journeys as a seedling and planted it on his homestead in Martinez, now the John Muir National Historic Site. The 70-foot tall redwood is today dying from an airborne fungal infection, but a fascinating non-profit in Copemish, Michigan aptly named Archangel has successfully cloned the tree and will send a new, genetically identical seedling back to the Muir site for planting.

Archangel’s mission is to propagate the world’s most important old growth trees before they are gone and to reforest the earth with their offspring. According to the co-founder of Archangel, David Milarch, there will be many more clones available soon for planting around the country.

Now, all this may seem a bit quaint in a world of ongoing economic crisis, senseless war, and global environmental destruction, but I see it as one of the more hopeful signs in my lifetime. First the National Park Service—a governmental agency for God’s sake—revealed itself to be smart and sensitive in preserving the memory of John Muir and his environmental activism. And, more importantly, Archangel’s mission might be one of the most revolutionary movements in our sordid history of stewardship to the Earth’s environment.

I encourage you to visit Archangel’s website and read up on them. Re-planting forests is a radical act of environmental activism that, if successful, could at least begin to mitigate the damage our corporate greedheads have done to the planet. And, as a happy consequence, it may shed light into all our hearts through the efforts of one lonely man whose footsteps among the giant sequoias have left a monument to their preservation.

Advertisements

Coup d’etat

constitution

Who can make sense of the government shut down; the debt ceiling crisis on the horizon; the NSA sucking up data on all of us at an alarming rate; and elected representatives left, right, and center pointing fingers about who is wrong. It is a merry-go-round made of nightmares. As someone wrote on my FB page, the government has told us clearly who matters in this world: the military continues to be funded, oil exploration continues on National Park lands closed to the public, and Congress and Senate continue to get their paychecks. But citizens? Fuck you.

History will show that the post 9-11 Bush-Cheney years were when America as we once knew it was completely destroyed. Wars were fought under false pretenses with only conquest of oil reserves as their purpose. Torture was legalized. The rights of citizens were tossed aside in favor of the rights of corporations. The Constitution was subverted to eliminate freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, right of privacy, and freedom from illegal search and seizure. Habeous corpus was discarded so that anyone accused of anything could be imprisoned indefinitely.

History will also show that Osama bin Laden succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was in the spy agency when 9-11 occurred, said on Democracy Now today that after 9-11 America underwent a constitutional coup d’etat. He could not be more right. All bin Laden had to do was mount one attack and America willingly destroyed itself.

It requires great effort not to be pessimistic about the way our country looks today, but, in fact, there may be no way out of America’s dilemma. The country has descended into a kind of fascist corporate state in which the rights of citizens, the environment, and the very spirit of our nobel experiment in freedom is crushed under the weight of totalitarian greed and a mindless obsession with security. It is a truism that all things change. Our sad transformation is a clear sign we are moving out of the mainstream and into the twilight of great civilizations.

Punishing the victims

syriaboyinrubble

What an embarrassment we have become in the world, that we bluster and threaten to rain destruction on a country already in ruins in the midst of a civil war. Our justification is to punish a bully by killing his victims. Doubtless we will be told that our air strikes and cruise missile attacks will be precisely targeted surgical strikes.

This is bullshit.

Recall the surgical precision with which we showered Baghdad with “Shock and Awe” while killing thousands of civilians. Recall the surgical precision of our attack helicopters the Iraq war in Collateral Murder, or our drone attacks in Afganistan. I do not believe that we will do any better this time. There is no safe way to wage war. No matter our motives, civilians will die because we have suddenly become high and mighty.

syriadroneattack

Or is there something else we want? Like control of a region bordering Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Iran—effectively isolating Iran. Or oil or natural gas? We always have a reason for being nobel.

Attacking Syria to punish Bashar al-Assad for the use of chemical weapons on his own citizens by killing more citizens positions American foreign policy directly on the cutting edge of hypocrisy. Our president, vice president, secretary of state, and the rest of the power structure want us to believe this is really complicated. That is how they stay in power. But ask any third grader if it makes sense to discipline a bully by beating up his victims and they will tell you the answer.

Of course not.

It is the futile gesture of a crumbling empire.

Marching toward a dream

marchonwashington

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” –James Madison

“We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that law and order can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered, for whatever good reason, are freedoms lost.” –Walter Cronkite

On the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington, D.C. you will search in vain for any significant crowds in our capitol celebrating the event. The National Mall is deserted today, in contrast to the masses of protesters gathered there in August 1963. The streets are not clogged with marchers carrying signs, and the air does not ring with We Shall Overcome.

A protest on the magnitude of the one in 1963 would be impossible today. What we once thought of as our democracy has declined to the point that real activism in the streets is inconceivable without police military violence to suppress it. In 1963 the District of Columbia police were terrified of what might happen with so many protesters on their way from all corners of the nation, but it happened more or less without incident.

While the mainstream news media celebrates the march’s anniversary with special programs and remembrances of Dr. King’s words, the fundamental purpose of the protest against black oppression in America has long since been obscured and co-opted by the popular culture. It is now used to keep us in line rather than to inspire.

If faced with a protest of that size today a red terror alert would be issued and martial law declared, legitimizing the president to order troops, tanks, and air support to seal off the city. We would be told that foreign and domestic terrorists were planning events that would threaten public safety. We would be regaled on the news with a couple of investigations, plots would be hinted at but never revealed for “security reasons.” Great lip service would be paid to the right of everyone to protest, even while regrettably they must be prevented from doing so for their own protection.

Citizens today are unable to hold accountable their government officials or the corporations that own them without being subject to savage reprisals. The fact is that the attacks on September 11, 2001 succeeded beyond Osama Bin Laden’s wildest dreams. Americans were driven so far into paranoia by that tragedy that they willingly gave up their liberties for the myth of security. The result is we live day-to-day under the scrutiny of a spy state deluded by the notion that safety can be had by clandestinely sifting through people’s private lives for key words and shared associations.

There was a time in 1950s America when any change to the white oppression of people of color was impossible to imagine. But Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, and others dreamed that things could be different. And they took to the streets to make their dreams become reality. Today it seems impossible to imagine a change in the status quo of our oppressive, corporate-owned, dangerously obsessed surveillance state. But someone out there is dreaming right this moment of a different world. For the sake of all of us, may your dream come true.

Democracy, it’s been nice to know you

spying

That crashing sound you hear is the last vestige of our democracy hitting the wall of surveillance and fascism constructed by the corporate American empire. This morning Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail for releasing classified documents that revealed our government was engaged in torture, wholesale killing of civilians, and abuses such as the one shown in the collateral murder video posted first on the Wikileaks website.

Then on Monday there was the detention by U.K. authorities of David Medina, partner of Guardian reporter Glen Greenwald, at Heathrow airport in London. This was clearly an act of retaliation against Greenwald for his reporting of Edward Snowden’s revelations about massive spying on US citizens by the NSA. Medina was in the transit area at Heathrow on his way from Berlin, where he had been working with filmmaker Laura Poitras, to his and Greenwald’s home in Brazil. Poitras has aided Greenwald in the Snowden releases and is making a documentary on the American surveillance state.

While the US government denies that they had a hand in detaining David Medina, they admit that they knew in advance it would happen. Medina was questioned and threatened for nine hours at Heathrow. His computer, cell phone, hard drives, and watch were confiscated because the British claimed he might be in possession of stolen material that could aid terrorists.

You can only stand by in horror at the sight of our government going street rat crazy with fear that we, the citizenry, have become aware of its brutally deceitful secret life. Like the discovery of a lover’s betrayal, the first anger and sadness gives way to an empty ache in your gut, and you wake in the morning light to wonder what new outrage the day holds.

Sadly for all of us, no claims by our government that we are now being told the truth can remove the persistent doubt that we are only being fed more lies. The fact is our government can’t be trusted.

This is not cynicism. It is vigilance.

Erotica and the male brain

maewest

This post is dedicated to the memory of Mae West, on her 120th birthday. Mae paved the way for rest of us who would be glamorous. Her humor and intelligence have been an inspiration to me and I continue to do my part to keep her spirit alive. Mae was also the subject of scandal, rejection, and censorship and she was smart enough to make all of it work for her. She once said, “I’m all for censorship. I’ve made a fortune from it.” Happy birthday, Mae. Sleep well.

You may have noticed that guys like to look at porn. This is a unique feature of the human mind: using the imagination to titillate and encourage sex. Other members of the animal kingdom do it in a more direct manner: see or smell female in heat—chase down female—have sex with female—go to sleep. Simple, direct, and to the point. I never met a man that didn’t want it that way too.

But man is a strange animal. He is not only, as Mark Twain said, the only animal that blushes or needs to, he is also the only animal that will have sex with no one else in the room. No doubt this dates back to the dawn of our species. One imagines cavemen drawing pictures of nude cavewomen on their walls and jerking off by the fire in the corner. Centuries ago some of the world’s most artful pornography was created in Asia in the form of beautiful silk paintings of people having sex. The ancient Chinese and Japanese accepted this quirk of the male psyche and were early believers in the power of pictures to crank up a nice stiffy. Magazines like Playboy and Hustler are the heirs to this grand tradition. And, of course, the Internet opened up all sorts of new porn possibilities.

JapaneseEroticFantasies10

I never paid much attention to erotic pictures or literature. Most of the time I was too busy living it. But I have a unique view of erotica, having been the occasional object of it. I have been photographed nude, semi-nude, and fully clothed more often than any other actress, I think. And, according to the fan mail I get, my pictures and movies do the trick. I have been told soooo many times by male fans that I was their first fantasy, or that I, by way of one of my movies at a drive-in theater, was responsible for a couple’s shotgun wedding or love child. An awesome responsibility.

The advent of the Internet, even more than the invention of the VCR, brought porn into the home where it belongs. (The VCR at least got people out of those damp seats in the Pussycat Theater.) Because Dad or older brother didn’t need to hide a magazine in a sock drawer anymore, porn quietly slithered in through the Internet connection, grabbed a box of Kleenex, and made itself comfortable. And a populist movement was created in pornography. For better or worse, not only could anyone look at porn, but anyone with a cheap camera, computer, and a streak of exhibitionism could make porn.

Some religious folks think that all this looking at pictures is wrong, and that somehow if children get a look at those bared breasts, bottoms, and beavers it would mean eternal damnation for all concerned. If it really was wrong, you would think that they could have managed to stamp it out a long time ago, what with God on their side and all. Like the comedian Brother Dave Gardner said back in the 1960s (you can Google him; he was way, WAY ahead of his time comedically): “Let those that don’t want none have memories of not getting’ any. Let that not be their punishment but their reward!”

Men are more likely to enjoy pornography than women. Your brains are wired up in a fashion that transmits the emotion of a picture directly to your sex organ, often bypassing all notions of propriety or common sense. Women like sexy pictures too, make no mistake, but for the most part, we don’t make a hobby of it.

Mind you, I’m not saying that this is bad. I consider myself a feminist, but, unlike many others flying those colors, I don’t think that a girl getting paid for posing naked is necessarily being exploited. It happens, of course, but often the girls are the ones doing the exploiting, understanding that men will pay and pay for just one glimpse of whatever their particular fetish happens to be. Still, girls, like guys, allow themselves to be exploited for a variety of reasons from needing money for a drug habit to medicine for a sick baby to paying for college tuition to just for the fun of it. Shit happens.

Outright pornography has always been out of the question for me, but I love being photographed nude. There’s an attitude, a feeling that I get when I am photographed naked. I construct a kind of instant fantasy of my own for the camera, not unlike, I imagine, the fantasy that you boys construct when looking at pictures. Of course, if my fantasy is successful, the result is a photograph that transmits that fantasy to you. If yours is successful, the result is, well, sticky.

The continuing assault of the surveillance state

cryptography

Because of an important development in the news today, I’m postponing the blog post about Sandy Koufax I promised yesterday. I will publish it tomorrow.

Glen Greenwald of the Guardian in the U.K., Democracy Now, ZDNet, and others have reported that the encrypted email provider Lavabit which Edward Snowden used, has voluntarily shut down rather than comply with a government investigation. Lavabit posted a letter from its founder, Ladar Levinson, in which he wrote that he was legally restrained from sharing the events that led to his decision to shutter his company after 10 successful years. Levinson concluded, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

Another email encryption service, Silent Mail, has also shut down its service, its founder Phil Zimmerman stating that he sees the writing on the wall, “…and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.”

These two events may seem small in themselves, but looked at against the background of what we know about the abuses of NSA and the surveillance state it commands, they become ominous. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out that secret court orders demanding encryption keys and email addresses of those who may have communicated with Edward Snowden have been served on Lavabit.

An attack on a perfectly legal encryption service to violate the privacy of its users, and the gag orders to compromise the free speech rights of the company owners to explain what is happening, smacks of the actions of a corrupt and coercive police state. Those actions fall right in line with the seizure a few months ago of the contact information of sources of national security reporters at AP and Fox. And of the DEA receiving secret NSA intercepts to launch criminal investigations and then being instructed to “recreate” an investigative trail to cover up the sources of their information.

America’s assault on its own freedom of speech and privacy is going on behind the scenes, but you can bet that we will continue to see more examples of our government’s totalitarian behavior.

The U.S. government and Obama’s administration are doing their best to hide the many ways they are spying on Americans, even as they hypocritically insist that they seek to reform the NSA, the FISA court, and the Patriot Act.

In the end, it’s all just the shit you feed the folks at home to keep them quiet, while dismantling the last vestiges of their personal freedom and privacy.