Saturday, April 30, 2005



As part of my continuing education on Northern Ireland, I came across a most informative perspective in the British Broadcasting Corporation online Wars and Conflict article by Professor Marianne Elliott, Director of the Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

In her essay The Plantation of Ulster: its impact on the Catholic population, Ms. Elliott observed that, "The Plantation played havoc with this intensely status-conscious [extended kinship] society. Suddenly people deemed their social inferiors (Irish and British alike) were rising in the social ladder while those who would normally have been in the elite were rapidly declining. This elitism and social snobbery of Gaelic society is frequently overlooked. But more than any loss of land it explains the sense of lost glory which later infused developing nationalist tradition."

In what perhaps best illustrates the difficulty faced by the highest levels of intellectual perspective of an occupying state in comprehending the authenticity of self-determination, Professor Elliott--absent any malice per se--continues: 'The people in general are great admirers of their pedigree,' commented an English traveller in 1674, 'and have got their genealogy so exactly by heart that though it be two hours work for them to repeat the names only from whence they are descended lineally, yet, will they not omit one word in half a dozen several repetitions; from whence I gather they say them instead of their Pater noster'. "This older lineage definition of status," says Elliott, "was to continue in Ulster Catholic society alongside the newer landed one, quite independently of wealth and property, and was undoubtedly responsible for the long memory of customary land rights."

As Ms. Elliott notes, by the 1630s some 40,000 [English and Scottish] settlers had arrived to make use of the roughly 80% of Ulster confiscated from the Irish by the Crown. In what perhaps is the understatement of the century regarding this conflict, she writes, "There may too have been a restlessness for old ways."

To Professor Elliott's credit, though, she observes that,
It would be difficult to exaggerate the social consequences of the 17th century land settlements for the future of Ulster Catholicism. Only a handful of Catholic landowners survived into the 18th century and very soon these too disappeared, most conforming to the established [Protestant] church. The net result was to place the Ulster Catholics on a lower social level than their co-religionists elsewhere in the country. The Catholics of Ulster and adjacent north Connacht were generally the poorest in the country. This, and the absence of the kind of surviving Catholic gentry which sustained an institutionalised Catholic church elsewhere, dictated its different character in Ulster. Ulster never had a significant 'Old English' class, a Catholic elite accustomed to the practice of power and politics. The absence of such a political tradition is still felt today. The Protestant gentry in Ulster never had to deal with equals, and the distance between them and the socially inferior Catholics bred unrealistic fears of subversion. .. they had lost their natural social leaders - a vacuum which was filled by the Catholic Church - and highly charged local resentments against those who got the land have festered to the present day.

For a different perspective on the organic leadership of indigenous societies, I recently read an article in Indian Country Today by John Mohawk titled Industrial Society and the Culture Wars. In his essay, Mohawk recounts,
Since time immemorial, traditional societies have existed which were dependent on elders. Indeed, true traditional societies develop leaders who serve the communities over long periods of time. Sometimes designated as chiefs, male or female, they sat in small groups of councils and presided over the community's business. A traditional society has a special place for its elders, but elders aren't simply old people. They are the old people who are steeped in the traditions, who have been paying attention to the community, who know how that community solves its problems. In semi-technical jargon, they are the keepers of the customs and customary law, the living encyclopedias of the group. In most Native societies, they were not elected but rather appointed through some process of acclamation, and they often served a lifetime.

Mohawk goes on to say, "The ancient chiefs who were famous - Sitting Bull, Seattle, Crowfoot and Chief Joseph - were such people. Traditional societies are associations of families, although they define family in diverse and distinctive ways...elders were treasured because they were the repositories of the knowledge of the history of the group and the customs of the larger group, the tribe or nation."

In trying to reconcile these different perspectives--one an advocate for modernity, the other for traditional cultures--I find myself doing what my Native American tribal leader friend once told me: "We take what's good from other cultures, while at the same time protect and preserve our own. In that way, we hope we can all learn to cooperate and to coexist. We never had all the answers; but neither did you."

Friday, April 29, 2005


New Martial Plan

It used to be when I was growing up, that when someone mentioned the Marshall Plan they were referring to the US strategy of helping rebuild the devastated economies of Germany and Japan after World War II as a means of securing a more prosperous and peaceful future for all. At least that's the way it was described by politicians, news reporters, teachers and historians.

And, to a considerable degree (as I understand it)--that's pretty much what took place.

Two generations later, the Marshall plan we're now coping with is not a budgetary item for security and cooperation, but rather a strategy of straight forward neo-imperial hubris peddled out of the Pentagon by Andrew Marshall--the brains behind Rumsfeld's policy of "Shoot first and ask questions later."

Andrew Marshall's plan--described in Asia Times Online as a variation on the concept of use it or lose it--actually appeared under Clinton's presidency, when Madeleine Albright (confronted by the barbarous bombing of Yugoslavia) complained, "What's the point of having all these weapons if we're not going to use them?" Rumsfeld's "cakewalk war" in Iraq is just the latest example of this policy in action.

Now, as the US treasury hemorrhages gazillions into the Swiss bank accounts of US politicians, lobbyists, and arms dealers, the question to ask is, "Who is going to rebuild our economy after Halliburton, Lockheed, and General Electric are through waging their bogus war?"

Thursday, April 28, 2005



I've long understood that speaking my mind is hazardous to gainful employment, but living outside the mainstream economy for so long evidently insulated me from the paranoia. Yesterday I applied to shelf books at our city
library, for which I had to agree to urinate into a beaker upon request. Today I received an application to work as a clerk at the bookstore in our community
college that requires getting fingerprinted, tested for TB , and signing a Loyalty Oath.

I'm almost afraid to ask, "Loyalty to what?" Should I hide the fact I have a French poodle?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Living with Ghosts

Part of the fun of doing one's family genealogy, is that you never know what you'll turn up. Like they say, it could be gold or ghosts.

In my case, it's a little of both. And no one exemplifies that very human contrast more than my grandmother's grandfather's grandfather, Arthur O'Neal--born in 1765 in Northern Ireland, and raised in a community of Irish immigrants around Belfast Township, South Carolina, where his father Shane ran an import/export shipping business from the docks in Georgetown.

Nine years after landing as a three-year-old child in Charleston, Arthur's first American adventure was as a scout for the French volunteers coming to the aid of the Revolutionary Army. In fact, his very first exploit was to assist a French vessel--anchored off his father's dock for supplies--in finding a safe landing. It was on this vessel that Arthur was to meet the now renowned Lafayette, who was soon after appointed Major-General by the Continental Congress, fighting alongside George Washington.

Shortly before the colonies were to become the United States, Arthur's father set up a trading post near Darlington, where he hired a Cherokee to instruct Arthur in their language. At age eighteen, Arthur struck out on his own to establish a post at Ross' Landing, Tennessee--deep in the heart of the southern Appalachias, where he lived and conducted trade with the Cherokee for several years.

After marrying and having a son, Arthur and Hannah moved back to South Carolina, had another son, and then headed out to Georgia, Alabama, and finally southern Mississippi where they remained. All the while, though, Arthur carried on his trade routes and business in the Cumberland and Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains, eventually becoming fluent in Creek and Choctaw, as well as his third tongue, Cherokee. Later--after supplying Andrew Jackson's troops in the War of 1812--Arthur was severely distraught by the ensuing Indian Wars in which many of his long-time Native American friends perished.

Without making Arthur a saint, for he--like many Southerners at the time--had African American slaves, it's still possible for me to admire his spirit of adventure, determination, and magnanimity toward the indigenous cultures he encountered in becoming an American.

It would take three more generations for the abominable institution to be eradicated, and many argue convincingly today that we've yet to make amends with the blacks and Native Americans for what transpired before, during, and after Arthur's life, but I like to think that were Arthur alive today, he would be at the forefront of a movement for meaningful reconciliation. And that's a ghost I can live with.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Deep Trance

"It was the nation as a master group-fantasy that organized and contained both the new faith in progress and its sacrificial wars, acted out in periodic cycles
of innovative, depressive, manic, and war stages. In each stage, nations follow a different psychoclass style.

In the innovative stage, the neurotic psychoclass provides new social, political, and economic progress; in the depressive stage, the depressive psychoclass is followed into economic depression; in the manic stage, narcissists take over
with their grandiose projects; and in the war stage nations follow self-destructive masochists and paranoid schizoids into violence.

Choosing earlier psychoclasses--psychological fossils--as leaders has become a constant practice in modern nations, only masked by the idealization of the public switched into their social alters. To realize that we willingly delegate to a handful of men sitting in a deep trance in the Oval Office the power to blow up much of the world depending whether they think they feel humiliated--as in the Cuban Missile Crisis--is to realize the bizarre extent of the dissociation between
fantasy and reality that continues to pervade our modern psyches."

--from The Emotional Life of Nations by Lloyd deMause

Monday, April 25, 2005


Over and Over Again

In her book Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich observes there are "two possible ways for warrior groups to resolve the problem of their dependence on large numbers of other men. One is represented by stratified societies in which a warrior elite is supported by a nonwarrior class (or classes) and, in return, undertakes to protect this subpopulation from the incursions of other warrior groups--an arrangement often described, roughly speaking, as civilization. "Alternatively," she adds, "the warrior group might not bother to maintain or protect its own laboring class and sources of materials; it might live off the land, fulfilling its needs through constant raids and conquests, that is, armed robbery."

Ehrenreich goes on to point out that, "The difference between the civilized and the barbarian approach to warfare was clearly not as great as practitioners of the former like to think. Although the warrior within a settled society might not extort every meal at sword or spear point, his dominance over the mass of toiling underlings who grew his food and forged his weapons was maintained, ultimately, by force."

This brutal logic, so clearly understood by America's rulers, explains the contempt and disdain they presently reserve for diplomacy, law, cooperation and dissent. If history is any lesson, these values will have to be purchased over and over again--by their blood and ours.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


See You in My Dreams

Funny how sometimes seemingly simple entertainment leaves little gifts to be discovered afterward. I rarely watch television, but an exhausting beach romp and late dinner yesterday left me too tired to read. By chance there was a fascinating dramatic true tale on about a network of Chileans who documented the Pinochet regime atrocities by working with sympathetic church, media and military figures, so I sat intrigued by the every day choices they made that led to their deaths and exiles and triumphs.

Of Love and Shadows, based on an Isabel Allende novel, is so believable in part because no one is more than human but matter-of-factly products of their time and place, as absurd and terrifying as it was. Class, history, and fears of all brought out some surprising acts of conscience.

So as I was about to hit the sack, a special two-hour documentary of the Concert for George came on, and I simply could not tear myself away before the rolling of the final credits to the heartwarming tune of I'll See You in my Dreams, sung by George Harrison's childhood friend Joe Brown. If you haven't seen the DVD, I recommend it, even if you weren't as big a fan of The Beatles as I was. The 2002 tribute to George Harrison by his friends assembled in the Royal Albert Hall in London was a musical delight, it's true, but the sentiments it evoked went far beyond my nostalgia for an era of innocence and joy.

Near the end of Love and Shadows, the Spanish exile father of two of the Chilean heroes about to flee Chile to Spain warns them to guard themselves from the trap of nostalgia expatriates often fall into.Watching the Concert for George and the expressions of love by his family and friends from the world of music, I was struck by the need to keep our emotion and reason in balance, even if that means occasionally succumbing to feelings of nostalgia for a time when a group of four young Brits spread cheer and goodwill and hopeful rhythm around the globe.

Friday, April 22, 2005


High and Wonderful Adventure

Lawrence LeShan's book The Psychology of War can be tedious and patronizing, but he makes some important observations about the attraction of war: It's exciting and fulfills the fundamental needs of displacing aggression, projecting self-doubts and self-hatred, giving meaning and purpose to life, and providing the sense of group belonging. LeShan also notes the shift to mythic reality in difficult times reduces stress, creates a sense of certainty--even joyfulness and optimism--as well as anticipation of war as a high and wonderful adventure.

Reading this sobering book, I'm reminded of a comment by my down-to-earth saddlemaker friend at the outbreak of the Gulf War in January 1991. In the still fresh aftermath of Reagan's notorious Iran-Contra scandal and other misdeeds in Central America and the Middle East, he observed, "We finally did something right--something we can be proud of."

Pausing to reflect, I recall the exhilaration I once felt in combatting racists and other hatemongers in my Pacific Northwest community a decade ago. Even when engaged in noble causes, conflict nourishes a need to escape from the mundane, often boring lacklusterness of everyday life. Why do you think action films are so popular?

LeShan cites Erik Erikson's claim that both the potential and tendency to shift to mythic reality are very strong in human beings, and are "only held back by the expenditure of large amounts of psychological energy--literally, by constant effort." LeShan poignantly asserts the effort required to think clearly about what we believe, what we know, and what we do not know is "lacking in the work for peace."

Thinking clearly, of course, is what it's all about in the struggle for human survival. Under a constant barrage of advertising, PR and other machinations designed to mold public opinion, the tools of reason and logic may be all that can save us. Unplugging from Fox News and connecting with authors like LeShan is a good start.


The Right to Exist

New York City's recent quarter million dollar settlement with the National Lawyer's Guild for NYC police misconduct in arresting protesters at the Republican National Convention last summer, may seem like small potatoes compared to the gazillions Republican officials are helping corporations steal from our state and federal treasuries these days, but that--in my opinion--would be misplacing the emphasis of the story.

Putting things in historical context, sometimes, requires stepping outside our provincial (or in this case, US) box. After all, it's a small world.

One good place I found to open my door to the world has, itself, a remarkable history. I first discovered during the renowned Battle in Seattle encompassing the November 1999 WTO talks. With my newly-acquired access to the internet, I was able to simultaneously watch the cable TV news blackout of the conflict (justified by news anchors' claims of violent protestors run amok) and the real time world wide web video footage of Seattle Police tear-gassing, pummeling, and pepper-spraying dissidents sitting peaceably in the street singing We Shall Overcome.

Six years later, with this vivid image of the malfeasance of corporate media still fresh in my mind, I stopped by Indymedia this morning to witness the social uprising in Ecuador against the betrayal of their government in catering to US econo-military interests. For those not familiar with what's going on in South America, I strongly recommend an Indymedia visit. What's happening in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru makes the Battle in Seattle look like child's play.

Not hard to understand, really. The majority of their populations--like Guatemala--are indigenous peoples. But unlike the first five hundred years of genocide in the Americas, this time the natives are organized, and they're not going to let US corporations, death squads, or anyone else deprive them of the right to exist without a fight.

Lest we think this movement in pursuit of the right to self-determination is a fleeting phenomenon, step outside your box sometime and stroll through the Indymedia archives to Northern Ireland, Basque Country, South Africa, Chechnya, or Palestine. And while you're there, picture a group of gasping, red-eyed young adults in Seattle, standing outside their police-ransacked office, with camcorders and cellphones and laptops transmitting via satellite to me in the comfort of my home what was really going down in the streets of America.

Thursday, April 21, 2005



I recently attended the Green Roots Workshop at my alma mater, New College of California, San Francisco. Part of the community outreach for their Irish Studies program, the workshop for Irish Americans is, in part, a guide and exchange on research in Irish genealogy. The social and cultural aspects, however, count for just as much in my book.

So when I bumped into my American Indian friend the other day in front of the school, I told him about my new quest to find relatives in Ireland. As someone who attends his peoples' Sundance every summer on Lakota reservations in South Dakota, I figured he'd be impressed. Instead, he expressed surprise at learning I was Irish. As the proud grandson of Pearl O'Neal, I asked him why, to which he answered, "I thought all Irish people were loud."

We both laughed at this, and I replied that I was also Danish. Nodding his head in comprehension, this seemed to satisfy him.

Having since read a little more on the history of Danish and Norwegian Vikings that fought my Celtic ancestors before blending into Irish society long ago, I was amused by the idea of Viking blood somehow toning down the feistiness of my Celtic DNA.

Nevertheless, the Danes probably were responsible for my Irish grandmother's red hair, and perhaps the more recent infusion of Danish moderation into the O'Neal line actually made me a more reasonable person. Still, I find all this talk of rowdy Irish kind of amusing coming from a descendant of the welcoming party from the Battle of the Little Bighorn.


Not Welcome

I usually try to refrain from doing on this day in history posts, mostly because sites like do it so well, but also because I like the freedom to write on whatever catches my fancy at the moment. But today is different--not because I personally ever suffered any form of discrimination--but because someone I knew and admired did. Plus, she was the mother of my cousin's husband- a delightful, gregarious woman until her recent death.

Many have written about the Japanese American internment camps and the indignities and losses these American families suffered, so I won't go there, as they say. What I will do is say a blessing for all their families alive today, and ask you to go to HistoryLink and read the very short essay there. And view the photos of Seattle police nailing three-foot-high posters to city telephone poles with headlines reading:
Western Defense Command and Fourth Army
Wartime Civil Control Administration
Instructions to all Persons of JAPANESE Ancestry

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Say it Loud

This week in 1967, Stokely Carmichael--the renowned civil rights organizer--spoke about "black power" to an audience of 4,000 at Garfield High School in Seattle. At the time--still a year before the assassination of Martin Luther King--the student body at my mother's old alma mater was predominantly black. Years later, Black Student Union leaders at the University of Washington and present day King County political leaders described the experience as having changed the way they looked at themselves and America. One, Larry Gossett, put it thus: "The next morning, people who had gone to hear him thinking themselves Negroes were calling themselves black."

Like most white power institutions of the day, the Seattle School Board had denied Carmichael the use of the Garfield High School auditorium. In the name of free speech, a judge overruled their decision. Carmichael--who'd spent the previous six years with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Freedom Riders challenging Southern segregation--was accustomed to such obstacles and worse.

In Mississippi and Alabama--where he and his compatriots assisted local blacks in voter registration drives and freedom schools--they often had to recruit former veterans for self-defense against armed violence perpetrated by both the Klan and local law enforcement. In an attempt to undermine Carmichael, much hay was made in the white-owned press of this supposed split over nonviolence between SNCC and King's Southern Christian Leadership Council, but truth be told, even King at times kept a handgun handy, and the two leaders in reality continued a close, respectful association throughout the struggle.

Even when a month after the Garfield High speech he became affiliated with the more militant Black Panther Party, Carmichael--who knew black history--retained a credibility with blacks starved for information to make them proud of who they were. For anyone curious about the details of daily life of the times and people involved in black liberation in America, Carmichael's book Ready for Revolution is refreshingly revealing.

[Thanks again to for archival support.]


A Time to Celebrate

I read in the online obituary today a name I might have known thirty years ago, when I worked as a tenderman for companies around the San Juan Archipelago that processed the salmon caught by Croatian-American and American Indian fishing fleets. I could be mistaken, but even so the i-c-h ending of his surname was a giveaway; someone in his extended family of Adriatic immigrants was bound to have been a fisherman.

A dozen years after I left the collapsing salmon industry, I helped author a Natural Heritage Plan for Whatcom County that opened with a reference to preserving a northwest way of life made possible in part by the environmental stewardship of our Native American hosts. There are, of course, many interpretations of what that way of life might entail, but when we wrote those words, I was thinking of the period of time I spent loading salmon from seiners and skiffs into our iced hold and running our vessel through the night to docks in Anacortes or Blaine or La Conner. I was recalling the evenings at anchor listening to salty storytellers conjure sudden storms and outlandish characters and deckload catches that threatened to sink their boats.

But of course we were all nonconformist or eccentric in our own ways: playing trumpet on the Ajax in Mitchell Bay; smoking cigars on the Fishhawk by Lummi Rocks; listening to the World Series while mending nets and cooking Yugoslavian tomato sauce on the Del Rio near Deception Pass. That was the whole point. We were free to be odd, wandering around in the fog and tide, making a big haul or getting skunked, breaking down or giving a tow, and always able to laugh at misfortune as well as narrow escapes.

Many of those I knew had never done anything else, and never wanted to. Some had climbed on deck as soon as they could walk and learned to swim later, if at all. They still marveled at sunsets and eagles and Dahl's Porpoise and phosphorescent wakes, and were content to spend time off sitting around harbor cafes in flannel shirts and deck slippers talking about those of us who were most quirky of all.

It is certainly sad to see them go, but even sadder the way of life we all shared, and saddest of all, the orcas and kings and sockeye we celebrated and cheered and raised totems to. Our work was in our soul, and buoyed our spirits even when we stared at their foreboding. How can you convey that in words?

Monday, April 18, 2005


Moving On

In his 1981 book The Primal Mind, author Jamake Highwater quotes Edward F. Edinger who claims, "Western society no longer has a viable, functioning myth. It therefore has no basis to affirm life." Taking heart from what he calls today's deeply felt and daringly facilitated humanism, though, Highwater himself asserts the first shockwaves of a "cultural earthquake" are awakening Western humankind to the dizzying realization that it is not alone.

Quoting from Daniel G. Freedman's Human Sociobiology, he observes that, "striking differences in temperament and behavior among ethnic groups show up in babies only a few days old." Indeed, Highwater writes that according to Paul Radin, To the Indian...everything that is perceived by the senses, thought of, felt, and dreamed of, truly exists for inseparable aspects of the real. An image is a visual counterpart of that reality. There are many ways of making and expressing fact, instances [occur] in which the fundamental mentality of peoples is so dissimilar that they cannot understand the means (let alone the messages) by which experience becomes transformed into expression in an alien culture. As Highwater puts it, "For Indians, images are a means of celebrating mystery and not a manner of explaining it."

To illustrate his observation that a culture's mode of thought is both illustrated and limited by the manner of its speech and writing, Highwater quotes Black Elk:
While I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw: for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

Dorothy Lee in Freedom and Culture says, "His experience is that of a reality shaped by his perception and conceptualization. Beyond it is the timeless design to which his experience has given temporality. He believes in it and he taps it through his ritual acts and his magic, seeking luck to reinforce and validate his experiential skills and knowledge, to endow his acts with effectiveness." As Highwater describes it, the teller's or writer's story is a means of raising one's self to a higher level of achieved power.

Looking at the post-colonial conflicts between nations and states, Highwater asserts that, "Never has the interpretation of cultures been so worldwide, or disintegration so universal." F.S.C. Northrop clarifies: Unless we are protected by poetry...the mind of man becomes overstimulated while his spirit dies.

Cautioning against the false isolation of individualism, Highwater proposes that "Freedom is not the right to express yourself, but the far more fundamental right to be yourself...The abiding principle of tribalism is the vision of both nature and a society which provides a place for absolutely everything and everyone."

Addressing the UN in 1977, the Six Nations spoke of native peoples being among the world's surviving proprietors of that kind of consciousness. "The great hope," as Epes Brown states, "is that a true and open dialogue may be established through which...each [society] may ultimately regain and reaffirm the sacred dimensions of their own respective traditions."

As Highwater concludes, in the past it has been the resources of the world of primal peoples which have given impetus to the rise of human cultures and the many social cycles that evolved. Now, from the brief rise of primal peoples, he predicts, comes a new culture that replaces the exhausted one. "That is the ultimate irony of our era," he notes. "Those who have been most utterly defeated have become most influential. Another that the most linear and material minds are not aware that history has relentlessly moved past them, putting their values in a new perspective which they cannot yet see."


Brink of a Cataclysm

"We came into contact with archaic mythical forces, a kind of dark subconscious the meaning of which we did not know, nor do we know it to this day...These were journeys of the imagination, lies and ruses, which only deep irrational drives could have invented."
--Aharon Appelfeld, from Shop Talk by Philip Roth

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Dreams to Remember

In the spring of 1972, I began helping out at the Fairhaven Cooperative Flourmill milling supplies for the Bellingham Food Co-op. Like other cottage industries that sprouted in those days, the flourmill was pretty low-key. That summer, the hippie economy was thriving: Sur Lado Taco--where my future partner Marianne worked--joined the Fairhaven Tavern and Fast Eddie’s sandwiches as new endeavors. Brett and Daugert, Attorneys at Law (hippie sympathizers) hung out their shingle in front of the ramshackle Terminal Building where they occupied a suite upstairs above Tony’s Coffee.

Early that fall, rumors started to circulate about a California developer buying up the old Fairhaven buildings that housed such going concerns as Toad Hall Pizza, Bank Books, Fairhaven Post Office, and the Kulshan Tavern. Just when America started to read about the Watergate break-in, we suddenly became aware of how vulnerable our alternative community was. Come October, after these mainstays of our cultural identity had been evicted, the cheery mood of our counter-cultural summer had turned as apprehensive as the first chilling rains of autumn.

Were it not for the Good Earth Building--Fairhaven’s incubator of cooperative industry and alternative press--the Whole Earth movement in Bellingham might have died out. Instead, it became more focused and intense: gardener Sven started what would be the first of Bellingham’s official community gardens; the Fairhaven Cooperative Mill expanded production; Bellingham Food Co-operative added new product lines in response to the growing demand for organic and whole foods.

One Sunday morning, a truck with a bulldozer towed behind pulled up and parked next to the flower and shrub nursery. While most of Fairhaven was still waking up, a couple of my friends and I were sharing a pot of coffee and cinnamon rolls at the co-op before opening the store. Outside in the lot next door, waiting members played with their kids and shooed their dogs out of the co-op garden.

The driver got out of his truck and walked over to the people playing and started talking with them. When the expressions and gestures became animated, I went out to see what was going on. One of the guys I knew came over and said, “He’s gonna bulldoze the garden!” When I got close enough to hear the conversation, the co-op members were explaining to the equipment operator that we had a lease on the land with the lady who ran the post office, and that no one had said anything to us about a new owner, let alone that the garden would need to be removed.

By the time he had the bulldozer off his trailer, a crowd of hippies had gathered and about a dozen decided to stand their ground. When he drove his dozer across Harris Street, the group met him at the sidewalk and refused to budge. As onlookers cheered on the defiant ones, he shut off his machine and walked across the street to the pay phone booth next to Tony’s. During the break in the action, someone built a campfire and started cooking soup in a large kettle, tossing in vegetables from the garden, while others created a festive mood by playing guitars and singing songs.

By the time people in the neighborhood started going to church, the scene began to resemble a very small scale, laid-back version of Woodstock merged with Chicago 1968. For some of us who’d missed both, it was another chance to express our dissatisfactions. Then, city transit busses filled with riot-equipped cops rolled into the intersection, and the Chief of Police ordered the crowd to disperse. No further discussion like earlier in the day would take place under his command; the officers simply walked into the crowd and starting making arrests.

I was surprised how peaceably it went, that is, until some resistors began going limp and sitting down. As one officer escorted me to one of the buses, I glanced back and saw a policeman striking the co-op manager with a baton. Moments later, handcuffed and guarded by our own personal cops, we sat on the buses headed for the jail at the rear of Bellingham City Hall. Sitting in the holding cells, I wondered what we’d gotten into over some broccoli and cabbage.

After we got released, we headed back to the co-op. The garden was gone, and the lot of freshly-dozed dirt sat waiting in anticipation. The next morning, we had an appointment with Dean Brett to begin making a list of witnesses. When we met with him, he asked if any of us would like to assist in researching the legal issues of our case. Three of us volunteered, and spent the next week poring through law books on the floor of his office.

As the case developed, it became clear not all the cops were on the same page. Statements from the Chief and Mayor were incoherent. The co-op manager came up with an idea. As a philosophy student, he had become friends with a logic professor. The plan they concocted was to show by use of logic that if one identity was mistaken, then all identities were in doubt. We liked that a lot.

Once the prosecutor completed his opening remarks and examination of the police, Dean cross-examined them and began getting conflicting testimony, as we expected. He then called on the professor to diagram the illogic of the prosecution’s case on a blackboard. To our surprise, the judge informed our attorney that if he wanted to call another witness, that would be fine, but that he was not interested in logic. He wanted witnesses—not professors. Later, when Dean announced to the court that a Fairhaven College student had come forward with film of the day’s event, the judge called a recess for the day.

We never saw the film. The prosecutor dropped all charges other than trespassing, asking for twenty-five dollar fines, no jail time. The judge concurred. We went back to stacking firewood for winter and telling the tale over tea at Tony’s. Later, the Northwest Passage would dub us the“Fairhaven Eight.”

With the closing of the Kulshan, Toad Hall and Bank Books, 1973 was a pivotal year for many of us. Our dependable lorry driver went to work for Burlington Northern Railroad. Our bookkeeper moved out in the country to raise goats. Several of the co-op irregulars moved away or enrolled in college. Many of the “mothers” of our young community began to raise families of their own.

That summer, as U.S. Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina captured our attention in the Watergate hearings, the Northwest Passage relocated to Seattle, and I went to work on one of their writer's campaign for public office. In that tumultuous year of revelations of high crimes in the Oval Office and OPECs debut oil embargo, we imagined ourselves like the founding fathers striking out to set things right and build a new, more accountable America. For some of us, that dream never died.

--Jay Taber


State of Disrepair

In reading The Outlaw Sea: A World Of Freedom, Chaos,and Crime, by William Langewiesche, the stories of piracy and terrorism were less disturbing than those of simple but widespread malfeasance. One story in particular, about the tragic sinking of the Baltic passenger ferry Estonia, is a classic study in why almost any modern resolution of public controversy is doomed from the outset by communication-challenged bureaucrats, ethically bereft businessmen, and emotionally confused consumers of mass media.

The possibility that we are forever hopelessly vulnerable to accident, disaster, sabotage, terrorism, revenge, and reckless indifference, places communication on the frontlines of the fight for public health and safety. It is, unfortunately--as this story illustrates--not a task we can confidently entrust to institutions, no matter how well intentioned. Rather, as a practical matter, we are now forced to view states, markets, and other gatekeepers and purveyors of information as yet additional obstacles to overcome in understanding social problems. Maybe it was always that way.

In a very real sense, the Estonia conflict serves as metaphor for the human world today: perhaps poorly designed and constructed; undeniably abused and mishandled; and unconscionably maintained in a perpetual state of disrepair. An intriguing read, but not a book to lift your spirits.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Unfinished Business

Last Standing Woman, Winona LaDuke's first novel, is every tribe's story. Powerful tales, loaded with grief to the gunnels, yet full and fair and spiced with the joy of resistance, we can catch a glimpse of the hope embodied in the natives of the continents we call Americas. Superbly crafted, it is worthy of literary acclaim; as authentic history, it is a beacon calling us to our unfinished business--that of making amends with the host nations on whose lands we find sustenance.


Exercising Political Influence

[Ed. note: This commentary originally ran in various print publications in March 2004. We thought it worth repeating.]

Yesterday evening, while preparing dinner in my studio apartment, I listened to KQED San Francisco advising commuters to avoid routes between the Castro District and Civic Center due to a march of protesters headed for the California Supreme Court, which had just ordered Mayor Gavin Newsom to cease issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. A week from tomorrow, tens of thousands are expected to march up Market Street boulevard from the ferry terminal to city hall to express opposition to the US occupation of Iraq. A month after that is the women’s march in Washington, D.C. to rally against the Christian fundamentalist policies of the Bush Administration that threaten the lives of women and children.

Entering the fourth year of Bush II, many Americans are cynical about the prospects for salvaging democracy, prosperity, or hope for a better world. Indeed, they may be right; all indicators point to a downward trend in quality of life. So why bother?

Well, for one, it’s something to do, and that always beats whining as an activity. But while we might have diminished expectations compared to those who struggled for equality throughout the previous century, we can certainly imagine the degradation of our society to intolerable conditions far worse than those of the present. Just look at Africa.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in his book Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia, observes that the inability to distinguish between bravery and cowardice is symptomatic of autism and the loss of conviction. He quotes Hannah Arendt who wrote about the period between the two world wars:

I suspect there has never been a shortage of hate in the world; but…[by now] it had grown to become a deciding political factor in all public affairs…This hate could not be targeted at any one person or thing. No one could be made responsible—neither the government, nor the bourgeoisie, nor the foreign powers of the time. And so it seeped into the pores of everyday life and spread out in all directions, taking on the most fantastical, unimaginable forms…Here it was everyone against everyone else, and above all against his neighbour…
What distinguishes the masses today from the mob is their selflessness, their complete disinterest in their own well-being…Selflessness not as a positive attribute, but as a lack: the feeling that you yourself are not affected by events, that you can be replaced at any time, anywhere, by someone else…This phenomenon of a radical loss of self, this cynical or bored indifference with which the masses approached their own destruction, was completely unexpected…People were beginning to lose their normal common sense and their powers of discrimination, and at the same time were suffering from a no less radical failure of the most elementary survival instinct.

Enzensberger proposes that today’s protagonists have no need for rituals, and can survive without a Fuhrer. Simply put, he says, “Hatred on its own is enough.” Comparing every carriage on the underground to a miniature Bosnia, he notes that not to conform is to risk death.

Speaking of ordinary people in their everyday lives today, “Aggression,” he observes, “is not directed only at others, but at themselves. It is as if it were all the same to them not only whether they live or die, but whether they had ever been born, or had seen the light of day.” He goes on to assert that,

However huge the genetic pool of stupidity might be, it is not big enough to explain this urge to violent self-destructiveness…The only conclusion one can draw is that this collective self-mutilation [over such things as loss of jobs or identity] is not simply a side-effect of the conflict, a risk the protagonists are prepared to run, it is what they are actually aiming to achieve.

Referring to the apparently senseless destruction we’ve seen take place in places like the Balkans and Somalia, what he terms collective running amok, Enzensberger asserts the concept of ‘future’ disappears: “Only the present matters. Consequences do not exist. The instinct for self-preservation, with the restraining influence it brings to bear, is knocked out of action.”

The author cautiously warns that when censorship, fear, and blackmail rule, institutions retreat and normal living conditions dissolve. Resulting criminality in many regions of the world, he claims, has radically altered public standards. Writing in 1990, he somewhat prophetically (at least as far as we in the US are concerned) recognized that with the epidemic of wars, aggression and defense become indistinguishable: “More and more people are pulled into the whirlpool of fear and hate until the situation becomes quintessentially antisocial.”

As a caution to fellow journalists, Enzensberger maintains, “To a certain extent, the media magnify the person who has become unreal, and give him a kind of proof of existence.” As an entreaty to all humanity, he remarks, “When the moral demands made on an individual are consistently out of proportion to his scope for action, he will eventually go on strike and deny all responsibility. Here lie the seeds of brutalization, which may escalate to raging aggression.”

Friday, April 15, 2005


Crossing the Pond

Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine, grew up on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from me, in what I often call the city of refugees--San Francisco. In fact, at the time of the gathering there of the delegations to form the UN shortly after World War II, his grandfather was Mayor of San Francisco, and frequently played host to the numerous dignitaries assembled across the street from city hall in the opera house. As I recall, Lapham--then in elementary school--often tagged along with his grandfather to watch as the war-weary countries of the world crafted such noteworthy documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Knowing this little bit of history, when walking through UN Plaza on my way to the San Francisco Public Library, I sometimes stop to read the inlaid granite monuments to their noble aspirations, and try to imagine those days when Lapham rubbed elbows with those ambassadors of peace. I have also read all the books by Lapham's long-departed friend Walter Karp, and try not to miss any of Lapham's thoughtful columns in Harper's.

In the current issue, Lapham writes about his trip to attend the opening sessions of this year's European Parliament, and compares their practice of democratic government with what he'd seen a month earlier on Capitol Hill. Probably the most striking difference between the European Parliament and the American Congress, was, as he said, "Only once in three days did I hear anybody mention the word terrorism." And that was only a commentary on the American fear of the future.

In his column, Lapham also observed the diverse character of the 732 members--30% of whom are women-- (including journalists, musicians, and scholars) representing Conservative, Socialist, Green, Liberal Democratic, and Communist voting blocs, elected in their own countries to represent an intellectual rather than a regional or economic interest.

What I found most interesting were what Lapham called the statistics that establish the exchange rate between the currencies of the private and the public good--

one American adult in every five living in a state of poverty, as opposed to one in every fifteen in Italy; the quality of America's health-care services ranked thirty-seventh among the world's industrial nations; the disparity in the incomes of a CEO and a common laborer standing at a ratio of 475 to 1 in America, 15 to 1 in France, 13 to 1 in Sweden.

As Lapham notes, "Europe in the twentieth century had twice attempted suicide, and nobody was eager to repeat the performance." The most telling phrase in his comparison, though, was his confession that he took heart from Europe's willingness to learn from experience, to find its security in the health, courage, and intelligence of its citizens.


Living Legends

[Publisher's note: Due to the large volume of e-mails received clamoring for more short stories, the Skookum Editorial Board has obtained permission from the author to republish the following story which first ran in the February 2002 issue of Pacific Fishing magazine. No additional stories from the forthcoming collection Life As Festival will appear here. We hope our readers will understand.]


For those of us who’ve suffered the anxiety of gearing up physically and psychologically for an intensive fishery, such as the West coast roe herring harvests, the postponement of the first opening of the season can be either tormenting, or a welcome relief—a chance to double check gear and plans, as well as to do a little socializing at anchor. There’s something invigorating about the sense of anticipation and camaraderie of the fleet—seiners, gillnetters, and tenders—as they wait on the fishing grounds for the word from Fish and Game.

The roe herring fishery fleet in Washington state, during the mid 1970s when I participated as a tenderman, was primarily based in Anacortes, Bellingham, and Blaine, east and north of the San Juan Islands. The fleet was split between mostly non-Indian seiners, and mostly Indian gillnetters. The seine boats averaged around 40 feet, with a crew of five. The gillnetters were a mix of one and two man boats, ranging from 25-foot boats with cabins, down to 16-foot open skiffs with outboard motors.

A group of Lummi Indians, most of whom fished from these plywood skiffs, often loading them to the point where waves threatened to swamp them, were my charge, if you will, one particular May. By this, I mean, they had contracted to sell their catch to the seafood broker who’d hired a fleet of tenders--including mine--to serve them. Our job was to go where they went or keep track of where they were by radio if they split up, and attend to their various needs, which might include replacing a net, fixing an outboard, resupplying fuel, relaying messages to their shore support, keeping coffee hot and beer cold, as well as testing and unloading their fish expeditiously.

As such, we became adept at spotting our fleet of skiffs, as they raced up and down the coast, dumping their nets into schools just offshore. Being that most of these skiffs were identical in shape and size--having been built by a local craftsman who specialized in them--we were aided in identification by the distinctive colors and names given these vessels by their owners. Additionally, after working with Fuzzy, Skipe, Gabe, Toby, and the other fishermen for a while, we were able to recognize their profiles as they sped around standing in the stern of their skiffs with their hand on the throttle of their outboards.

It was on a serene May evening in 1975, at anchor in the fleet of tenders with skiffs tied along side, that our familiarity with the color-coding of our fleet would come in most handy. We were between openings, reveling in the rest and relaxation of food, beer, card games, and storytelling on the foredeck, and marveling at the beauty of Lummi Island from Hales Passage, between the island and the Lummi Indian Reservation. Only occasional eagles flying by, or radio messages from other vessels interrupted our solitude.

Nixon had resigned the previous year; herring prices were great; and the new fad of “streaking” was at its peak—life couldn’t have been better.

As I was about to help our cook, a lady named Joan, unload another pot of steamed clams that Gabe had dug, we heard an outboard off in the distance at full throttle. We turned to look down the passage toward the boatlift at Gooseberry Point, and could just make out a skiff heading our way. While I grabbed another round of beers off the tote of ice in front of the wheelhouse, Joan got on the radio to invite some ladies on the other tenders over for steamers. Meanwhile, Gabe’s stories on deck had everyone in stitches, and I headed back to get in on the tale.

As all the ladies were standing by at the railings of their vessels, waiting for one of the skiffs to taxi them over to our party, the skiff in the distance was closing on us rapidly. Anticipating good news about the next opening, another case of beer, or perhaps both, we all paused and stood to greet the new arrival.

Ordinarily, when approaching other vessels at anchor, it is customary to slow way down so as not to rock everyone with your wake, as well as to give everyone a chance to hail each other in a dialect unique to maritime culture. But this skiff was bearing down on us at full speed, or baring down, if you prefer, as the operator of the vessel standing at the throttle was completely naked. Unless, of course, you counted the paper grocery bag with two eyeholes draped over his head as attire.

The belly profile looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite make out the skiff, that is, until it turned to run circles around our vessels at high speed, sending us all into hysterics. The boat had no name painted on the bow, but had a black hand print on the stern, the only skiff so painted in the fleet. By this identification, it was obvious this was Joe Labeau, a playful, uncomplicated, Lummi fisherman, who would now go down in the Streak Hall of Fame. But not as quickly as his outboard—evidently in his haste to perform his newly-found talent, Joe had neglected to chain his outboard to the transom, and as he made a third pass, this time right through the middle of the boats, his outboard jumped free of his boat and promptly sank to the bottom, leaving a not-very-well-disguised Joe standing before us—buck naked, and dead in the water.

In time, Joe recovered from this embarrassment, and even made an unscheduled “appearance” at a local tavern, but after being chased out by a broom-wielding barmaid, he retired his mask and sneakers. But he’ll always live in the memories of those of us who were present at his debut, at anchor, one evening, in May of ’75.

--Jay Taber

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Salmon Bellies

[The following story was a Finalist in the 2004 Indiana Review '1/2 K' Prize for short-shorts. It is also included in the collection Life as Festival by Jay Taber.]


We sat on Clayton beach near the tidal-sculpted sandstone outcropping and ate the salmon the seal gave us. The small blackmouth--a resident King of the Salish Sea (inside Vancouver Island) that chooses not to roam the Pacific Ocean with its much larger cousins—was just enough for two after our roan relative had bitten off the rich, egg-laden belly. The taste of its alder-smoked fat went well with our Irish breakfast tea.

The night before, drummers down the beach kept us awake till the stars began to fade. The evening before that, we ate Port Townsend Waterfront Pizza on the Whidbey Island bluff, engulfed in a lingering vermilion sunset that painted the placid Strait of Juan de Fuca in reflection of the brilliant hot-coal clouds, stopping unsuspecting tourists and campers dead in their tracks, their mouths and eyes agape in awe.

Even the elegant forest of delicate pink wild rhododendrons--interspersed among the madrona and salal surrounding our campsite--absorbed the blazing orange hue, rendering us bounded by a benign, smokeless wildfire.

When I crawled out of our tent into the soft powdery sand that dawn, while Marianne and our dog Ajax slept, the seal rose from the brine barely offshore with our breakfast, and staring at me momentarily, flipped the blackmouth within reach of my fingertips next to the smoldering ashes of last night’s campfire. After gathering a handful of smooth, sun-bleached alder sticks to rekindle the fire, I slit the breast of the little Chinook and butterflied it on stakes around the dancing yellow flames before wandering into the woods to look for salmonberries and redcaps to round out the morning’s menu.

Returning to our camp, Marianne and Ajax were seated next to the fire boiling water in our charred kettle and wondering how I caught a fish without a pole or net. I said, “It just dropped in my lap, like the cinnabar sky and countless carcasses our ancestors scavenged before they became predators and upset the balance.”

She mulled that over a moment and then responded, “So what happened to the belly?”

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Way of Life

I was wondering the other day about whether a short story I submitted last fall to a local history contest at Skagit Valley College ever got included in their quarterly, the name of which escapes me. Nevertheless, the story--about my encounter with a Skagit Indian at the upper falls of a tributary of the Skagit River that flows out of the rugged North Cascades National Park--mentioned in passing my youth on the Columbia River, where, at a very early age I went with my father to watch Yakama Indians dipnet salmon from lashed together platforms hanging out over the untamed turbulence.

I'm not certain, but it's possible that the falls I vaguely remember was Celilo, the spectacular series of cataracts below the basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge separating Washington and Oregon that served as one of the most famous rendezvous for Native American fishing, trade, and cultural exchange on the continent, until 1957, when the falls were inundated by the Dalles Dam, one of the chain of hydroelectric power plants I witnessed under construction as a young boy.

Seventeen years after that family picnic with our aboriginal neighbors, I found myself in the midst of this contest between civilizations, when the Salish fishermen I worked with in the San Juan Islands of northern Puget Sound were assaulted and vilified as a result of the February 12, 1974 treaty fishing rights ruling by Federal Judge George Boldt. Twenty-one years after that tumultuous summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Nisqually tribal elder Billy Frank, who between 1964 and 1974 had conducted the "fish-ins" campaign on the Puyallup River in defiance of the State of Washington, which in turn led to the federal decision that affirmed the tribes' "right to manage what had always belonged to them."

The occasion for our introduction in March 1996 was a conference--hosted by the Center for World Indigenous Studies--at the Daybreak Star Center, held to discuss the The Politics of Land and Bigotry, brought on in part by the vengeful, Anti-Indian acts of then US Senator Slade Gorton, the former Washington State Attorney General who'd lost the case to deprive Indian tribes of their treaty fishing rights.

But what prompted this flood of memories recently of my associations with Indian peoples of the Pacific Northwest was a small article I noticed on HistoryLink about the gathering at Kettle Falls on June 13, 1940, where

an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Native Americans gathered for a three-day "Ceremony of Tears" to mark the end of a way of life that had developed over thousands of years.

Located near the Canadian border, Kettle Falls ( Shonitkwu in Salish language) was second only to Celilo Falls as a fishing and gathering place along the Columbia. In June 1940, these ancestral fishing grounds were about to be flooded by what was at the time described as "The Eighth Wonder of the World"--the Grand Coulee Dam. The U.S. Department of Interior had ordered the closure of the Kettle Falls fishery; the Spokane and Colville Confederated Tribes had weeks earlier been forced to leave their homes.

What grabbed my attention, though, was the description of life there by historian William Layman, who wrote of the fishermen catching 3,000 fish in a day. Layman says, "When fish were running, Kettle Falls was a place of excitement and festivity, drawing more than a thousand people annually. The camps bustled with activity--a rich assortment of families sharing the work of fishing by day and the pleasure of singing, dancing, and gambling at night." As Patti Stone, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes put it in 2002, "This is where people met, got married, had babies, settled disputes."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Timing is Everything

Say what you want about Italians, but when it comes to expressing their grievances or disapproval, they have a gift for making themselves heard. The recent ruckus in the streets of Rome over Bush's visit to the Vatican--like the earlier anti-war demonstrations there--warmed my Italian-by-association heart. I mean, can you imagine if Baghdad was a Sicilian enclave?

Not to get too personal, but for some strange unexplainable reason, when I saw the photo of 300,000 anti-Occupation protesters in Baghdad last week, I thought of my uncle who died some thirty years ago, and the time in the late 1960s when he was president of the school board. He was, incidentally, married to an Italian immigrant, but that had nothing to do with why he and his neighbor decided to drive across the tracks into the black ghetto to witness the Martin Luther King assassination riots in progress.

As a high-school sophomore at the time, there was a lot I didn't understand about the world then, especially about my uncle's generation, but I remember clearly his calm, respectful demeanor, his willingness to listen attentively, and his nonchalant acceptance of my newly-acquired hippie counterculture attire.

Now that I'm approximately the age he was then, I like to think he simply wanted to see for himself what was going on, and might even have desired to engage some participants in an enlightening discussion on racism in America. Maybe it's my inclination to fight for lost causes that makes me laugh recalling his neighbor's recount of the experience, who, when under a bombardment of flying bricks and rocks he shouted, "Those aren't bibles they're throwing--let's get the hell out of here!"

Monday, April 11, 2005


Life as Festival

Hakim Bey, in 1985, wrote on the notion of autonomous zones. In his most eloquent exploration of economic and cultural utopias—ranging from the Roanoke colonists to 18th century Caribbean pirate enclaves to worker-owned corporations in the 20th century, Hakim examined the essence of “intentional communities” as mini-societies often living consciously outside the law and determined to keep it up, even if only for a short but merry life.

With the decay of our political systems today, independent enclaves or liberated zones of economic and cultural activity are again cropping up. They can be seen in Argentine worker factories salvaged from the ruins of IMF policy, and in Italian social centers where whole neighborhoods of reclaimed buildings have been occupied by the underclass who’ve created out of nothing their own institutions, including schools and commerce.

Once thought of as anarchic, such islands in the 21st century have become a matter of necessity--not luxury—in surviving the malign neglect of the market. Bey, unlike adherents of cults or sects that sought to withdraw from the barbarities of dominant societies, views autonomous zones as a means to evade the violence of the modern state, as well as havens from which “life as festival” can emerge.

Sunday, April 10, 2005



Writing in his book Step by Step, Maha Ghosananda focuses on the personal and political practicalities of nonviolent engagement in social change. In making the claim that our goal as humans is to realize our universal brotherhood, he explores some of the hindrances in reaching it, such as enmity, anger, and especially ignorance.

Ghosananda reports Gandhi as having said that in overcoming the ill-will caused by ignorance, the essence of nonviolent action is to end antagonism—by appealing to the best in people, we achieve peace. As such, Ghosananda says wise ones wish for neither victory nor defeat. Rather, through generosity, wisdom, and kindness, we will create peace.

Despite seemingly naive statements, such as “With loving kindness, all enmity is transformed”, Ghosananda convincingly argues that kindness will create peace. Reading further, it becomes clear that what he is getting at is that, while conflict is likely to continue, and reconciliation does not mean surrendering rights and conditions, the only way out of endless cycles of retaliation, hatred, and revenge, is to use love in negotiating resolutions to these inevitable conflicts. In so doing, he says, “we uplift ignorance into light.”

Suggesting that we accept and live only according what will enable us to see truth face to face, Ghosananda warns that when anger controls us [perhaps as our awareness of and indignation at injustice grows], we harm ourselves and the people around us. As Ghosananda eloquently puts it, “Compassion without wisdom can cause great suffering.”

Peacemaking, says Ghosananda, requires wisdom; “It is not an aimless wandering...[but] the conscious meeting of humanitarian needs and political realities. It means compassion without concession, and peace without appeasement.” Recognizing this, he says, “Great beings arouse their energy by keeping the welfare of others at heart. Through this energy they attain courage and patience. They do not deceive, but are unshakeably committed.”

If one desires to more effectively act for progressive social change, one might consider the method of Kalle Lasn. Kalle Lasn, cofounder of the Media Foundation, writes in the July/August 2001 issue of Adbusters magazine, that
"We've watched the battle of the mind intensify to the point where thousands of commercial messages per day are now discharged into the average American brain. We've tracked the rise of addictions, anxieties and mood disorders as they have grown into what some public health officials now describe as an "epidemic of despair."

Lasn notes that a number of groundbreaking psychosocial studies point to a growing toxicity in American culture, where cultural toxins have reached dangerously high levels.

William Vega, an American public health researcher at Rutgers, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1998, observed that Mexican immigrants have roughly half the incidence of psychological dysfunction as Americans. After 13 years, though, these immigrants develop depression, anxiety and drug problems at the same level as the general population (32%). Additional studies have extended these findings to other ethnic groups, leading to the conclusion, that "socialization into American culture and society increase susceptibility to psychiatric disorders."

Studies from the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2000, as well as from the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992 and 1996, document that the overall rate of depression in the US has doubled since World War II; for women, it doubled between 1970 and 1992. Even more startling, "American school children today are taking four times as many psychiatric meds as all of the rest of the world combined."

The World Health Organization has found that schizophrenia in developing nations is up 45% from 1985, due primarily from "significant disruptions in cultural practices, social routines, and traditional roles in work and family." The WHO predicts that "depression will become one of the most common disabling disorders in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease."

The roots of these disorders: rising expectations from media saturation, and reduced satisfaction from loss of collective family and community life, says Lasn, help to explain shootings, drug use, domestic violence, obesity, rage, cynicism and the hopelessness enveloping our culture.

In a July 2001 interview in The Sun magazine, Lasn talks about his organization's use of "mindbombs" or "subvertisements": advertisements aimed at subverting consumer culture. Central to his work, is the fight against corporate control of hearts and minds, through disinformation and pollution of the mental commons.

An ex-advertising executive living in British Columbia, Canada, Lasn started the Media Foundation in 1989, when he found that television networks would not sell him time to counter industry propaganda. Alluding to the insidious effects of advertising, Lasn believes that, "the really important battle of the future might not be over race or gender or the environment...What it might be, instead, [is] the fight to control the culture. ...Our overconsumption, our hollow lifestyles, our lack of democracy--we [see] these as parts of the same package."

Lasn's solution for breaking out of the media trance and creating authentic culture, through what he calls "culture jamming", involves hacking, pranking and provoking to "break up the seamless charade our culture has become." Noting that communities, traditions, and entire cultures are being replaced by American consumer culture, he remarks, "It's a measure of the depth of our consumer trance that the death of the planet is not sufficient to break it."

Lasn candidly describes culture jamming as "jamming the signals that put us in this trance in the first place. It's about creating cognitive dissonance, disseminating as many seeds of truth to as many people as you can, with the ultimate goal of toppling existing power structures..." Referring to his television, radio, Internet and billboard uncommercials, during the Battle in Seattle in November 1999, Lasn proudly speaks "of a new kind of pincers strategy that combines street action with sophisticated mass-media thrusts."

He notes that the old activist movements relied heavily on text, but that jamming is driven by images, sounds, and video which " slip easily into the collective psyche." Lasn unapologetically states "Once you realize that consumer capitalism is by its nature unethical, then you realize that it's not unethical to jam it any way you can."

Lasn describes the corporate-driven artificial, violent environment children grow up in as abuse, with psychic scars that last a lifetime. He says the European Situationists call our consumer culture a spectacle, described as "a form of mental slavery where we're free to resist, but it never occurs to us to do so." Lasn explains that culture jamming is just a way to stop the flow of spectacle long enough for people to remember that they have their own lives.

Observing that whole classes of information have been systematically kept off the airwaves, Lasn predicts a groundswell of support in the "battle to make the right to communicate a fundamental human right of every person on earth."

--Jay Taber

[This essay is included in the book War of Ideas.]


The Awakening

The fourth weekend of September 2001, San Francisco was shrouded in fog; not an unusual climatic condition for Fog City that time of year, but a particularly poignant one in the baffling aftermath of the events of the preceding eleven days. Early Sunday morning, as I glided south, cutting through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge, staring at towers and cables that disappeared into the mist; from my seat on the starboard side of the bus I stretched to look down at the current tugging at the channel buoy.

I was still savoring the richness, the profundity, and the texture, of the most heartfelt emotions revealed by my new classmates the previous morning. The humanity, the dignity, the love of these scholars: immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Europe, refugees who had felt the terror of war, America’s privileged, as well as the descendants of slaves; would congeal later that morning into a new poem, recited line by line in turn, around the circle of this new tribe that was just beginning to open itself to the notion of new ideas of obligation, responsibility, and the very important work that implies.

For America, these past 11 days had been an awakening to the grievous injuries our country has inflicted on the world. For those of us converging on New College this Sunday morning, it would become an awakening to our roles in healing these wounds.

Seeking to explain the disturbing degree of hysteria and war fever, it was noted by our instructor “War has a different connotation for those who haven’t experienced it.” Those in the room who had, confirmed the lasting scars war leaves on the psyche, the haunting dreams of children crying for their mothers, the terrible powerlessness one feels as bombs rain indiscriminately from the heavens.

About a week after the spectacular events in New York and Washington, I found particular poignancy and inspiration in the writings of Muriel Rukeyser. In fact, I e-mailed the introduction to her book The Life of Poetry to my colleagues around the world. I found myself haunted by phrases like “They had seen how, as foreigners, we were deprived; how we were kept from, and wanted, above all things one: our responsibility”, and especially, “…we spoke as if we were shadows on that deck, shadows cast backward by some future fire of
explosion” It almost seemed as though she had written the following last week, rather than in 1949: “The acute scenes were still on our eyes, immediate and clear in their passion…Everything we had heard, some of all we loved and feared, had begun to be acted out. Our realization was fresh and young, we had seen the parts of our lives in a new arrangement”.

Her comment about the meanings of poetry helping to make whole the spirit, recognized in primitive peoples’ “ability to dance their shared foreboding” brought to mind visions of my Lummi Indian friends, holding hands, stepping sideways to the drumbeat, in a vast circle of Indian women, children, elders, and veterans, encompassing an entire city street intersection, four drummers and singers huddled over the large drum in the middle.

This tribe of Northwest Washington Indians, whose territory takes in the San Juan Islands and the Mount Baker volcano, had been threatened by then US Senator Slade Gorton with loss of their funding for senior health care and Head Start pre-school education, if they continued to seek enforcement of treaty obligations in preventing the extirpation of native salmon runs on the Nooksack River. In spite of their complete vulnerability to the whims of Congress, they nevertheless danced and sang their claim to human dignity before the towering courthouse of the dominant society, sending shivers up the spine of elected officials and faceless bureaucrats, the hair on the back of their necks standing on edge. “The vanquished in war”, as Rukeyser warns, “may still, years later, invade the fears of a victor nation…The knowledge of this gift [of connection] is very powerful…its ignorance is fatal”.

Rukeyser speaks of the sense, in 1949, of an age disclosing, “undefined possibilities” and “new meanings for unity.” Yet, she tells us, “Poetry will not answer these needs …rather, it prepares us for thought. [Without action], you will be left with nothing but illusion”.

The breakdown of communication, she cautions, is the death of culture. As our values lose obligating power, she notes, “we make a criterion of adjustment, which… denies time, possibility, and the human spirit”. I say let the culture of silence and adjustment die. Let us dance to its death. Let us bury the forms of weakness, these forms of the corruption of consciousness. Out of our shared sense of peril, let us find a greater possibility of communication.

Let us rejoice in the awakening!

--Jay Taber

[This essay about the Sunday September 22, 2001 BA Completion seminar with Professor Ani Mander is included in the book War of Ideas.]

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Without Their Consent


--U.S. Congress, Northwest Ordinance, 1787

On the twenty-second day of January, 1855, Isaac I. Stevens, Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Washington—acting on the part of the United States—made a treaty with the Indians of what is known today as Puget Sound, thereby alienating most of what is now western Washington state from its native population. Language barriers aside, the couple thousand delegates of the first nations of the region who negotiated with Stevens and his military entourage on the beach at Mukilteo, in all likelihood grasped the implicit threat should they choose not to accept Stevens’ offer of reservations and the right to fish, hunt, and gather roots and berries at usual and accustomed grounds.

Article VII of the treaty helps to put in perspective the power imbalance at play during this winter parley, noting, “The President may hereafter, when in his opinion the interests of the Territory shall require and the welfare of the said Indians be promoted, remove them from either or all of the special reservations …as he may deem fit…” The TREATY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND THE DWAMISH, SUQUAMISH AND OTHER ALLIED AND SUBORDINATE TRIBES OF INDIANS IN WASHINGTON TERRITORY—otherwise known as the Treaty of Point Elliott—concluded with eighty-two “Xs” initialed by the Native Americans who could not read or write English.

One hundred forty-one years later, the Samish Indian Nation—one of the aboriginal inhabitants of the renowned San Juan Islands, and signatory to the Point Elliott treaty—finally gained the federal recognition necessary to begin their quest for a reservation. In retrospect, it’s hard to know exactly what the one hundred thirteen Samish present at Mukilteo a century and a half ago envisioned for their descendants seven generations later, but it’s unlikely they could imagine the horrors of economic, social, and cultural annihilation they’d have to endure on their way to once again having a homeland.

Unfortunately, their story is not unique. The official acts of Congress aimed at eliminating the American Indian between 1887 and the present are the subject of this nightmare. Only by honoring this story can we begin reconciliation between our peoples.


Letter from Lisbon

After dinner on April 25, 1999, the streets of Lisbon were filled with Portuguese wearing red carnations. Those in traditional regional costumes danced, sang, and played lovely stringed instruments and drums. Then, at precisely midnight, in the large public square on the Tagus River, slides of army and police attacking Portuguese civilians were projected onto the three-story buildings that enclosed the other three sides of the square. A soundtrack of gunfire, screams, and sirens was broadcast from the top floor windows. All the dancing stopped. Fifty thousand people stood in silence, old and young, remembering together.

The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, when the Portuguese Army defied orders by refusing to fire on their own people who were protesting in the streets. All over Portugal, tens of thousands had marched in city after city to express opposition to Portugal’s colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique, and East Timor that were hemorrhaging the national treasury and slaughtering innocent people at home and abroad.

In 1974, young army officers quietly organized the Carnation Revolution; instead of loading their weapons with bullets, they placed red carnations in the barrels. The dictatorship was over.

In April 1999, a new protest was underway in Portugal. Banners hung across boulevards, and graffiti graced city walls. This protest was against the NATO bombing recently begun in Yugoslavia. For the Portuguese, there was no glory, no smug satisfaction, and no marvel at "smart bombs” striking terror into the hearts of innocent civilians.

The Portuguese had come to treasure freedom, democracy, peace, and kindness. Americans could learn a lot from them.



My northwest tribe Cinel Eoghan was salmon people. The Great Silver
Argatmor—who leaps from the underworld as Goll the mythical salmon, metamorphosed from the red horizon of the sun that sinks off Connacht and Donegal—is emblazoned on my O'Neal family flag. For thousands of years they have celebrated the late winter returns to Lough Derg and Lough Erne by roasting the Ess Ruaid salmon at the Falls of Assaroe.

In their mythology, the first human child was fathered by salmon and born at the winter resting-place of the sun goddess Aine, Grianan Ailech, overlooking the Lough Foyle saltwater sound where the fat spring run of Atlantic salmon could be seen coming home.

The new human order told in these oldest of Erin tales--modeled on the salmon’s habitat—connects earth to sea and fish with people and people with deities as one family, of which the Celts of northwest Eire, and their kin of Galicia in northwest Spain, understood the simple, profound truths of coexistence I later rediscovered fishing Pacific salmon with the Salish Indians of northwest America.

It is not a complicated tale, but it is a common one told by tribal peoples about a time long ago when humans neglected their fish and animal relatives, supposedly at the behest of gods who they said gave them dominion over our earthly world in recognition of humanity’s great wisdom. As our sacred family of life is slowly extinguished, does it not seem far-fetched that such tall tales of human superiority are still believed?



Recent discoveries and interpretations of my ancestors' graves in Southern France, associated with cave paintings from fifty thousand years ago, gave me
pause to think about modern notions of what it means to be human.The enduring beauty of the depictions of animals that inhabited the region then--including bison and reindeer--is all the more remarkable in that these
works of art went undisturbed through so many generations, enabling us to "communicate" so to speak with those who expressed themselves so eloquently
given the mediums available.

What was previously viewed by many as simply art, or perhaps magic ritual to ensure successful hunting, was enlightened by the discovery of a meticulously arranged burial site suggesting the noble leader interred facing the painting had been charged in death with a task of communicating with the spirit world--an ambassadorial task if you will--the gratitude of his people for all the animals that provided for their material and psychic needs. Oddly, it is possibly the message conveyed to their descendants that is of greatest importance
today. Maybe their primitive ways weren't so ignorant after all.


The Honoring

The gathering of young musicians to play a benefit for the work of my former associate was not arranged in the fashion employed by the more conventional corporations of the environmental advocacy industry. Rather, it appeared to converge serendipitously through some undetermined convergence of harmonious spirit, nurtured by a loose combination of inspired and exemplary conduct, a fledgling alternative press, and an elusive but pervasive presence of earth reverence in the generation modeling after us.

When I arrived at the hall that served as the venue for the event, I was initially disappointed by the small number in attendance, noting the handful of elders and paucity of middle-aged folks like us for what had been intended as a means of raising funds. But as the evening progressed, I came to realize the need of these loving young people to honor their non-traditional elders who—unlike most—openly rejected a culture of materialism and were willing to make personal sacrifices to reinsert sacredness into ourway of life.

In fact, the hall spontaneously became an impromptu ceremonial center as sacred music flowed from the violin of a Lummi Indian youth recently returned to his reservation after a generation removed. To me, his fusion of ancestral tones and rhythms with Western melody and technique was a beautiful weaving of grief and gratitude and grace in finding acceptance and forgiveness for the injustice of his dispossession as well as the suffering of his grandparents who’d traded their land to feed his parents. The music enveloping us was his way of simultaneously wrapping a blanket around his ancestors, humanity, and all the mothers of the Earth.

A year later, seated in the Lummi Nation’s Wex Li Em community center, I listened as a tribal elder spoke of the 1930s, when children were kidnapped by religious and government schools, and whole families were evicted from the reservation by an Indian Health Service doctor who illegally obtained title to their properties in exchange for medical treatment guaranteed them by treaty. And I thought of the generosity of the young violinist and his coming home and his debut performance in the land of his ancestors in a small, sparsely-attended hall, playing with all his heart and soul in praise of all the Earth mothers and guardians of life in the world. And I felt blessed by this knowledge that the fires of understanding and wisdom and innocence and trust have been tended in anticipation of our return.

Friday, April 08, 2005


Montana Wisdom

We held in common one major theory about street-fighting--if it looks like a fight is coming, get in the first punch. We both thought that most bastards aren't so tough as they talk--even bastards who look as well as talk tough. If suddenly they feel a few teeth loose, they will rub their ribs, look at the blood on their hands, and offer to buy a drink for the house. But even if they still feel like fighting, as my brother said, you are one big punch ahead when the fight starts.

There is just one trouble with this theory--it is only statistically true. Every once in a while you run into some guy who likes to fight as much as you do and is better at it. If you start off by loosening a few of his teeth he may try to kill you.
--from A River Runs Through It by Norman MaClean


Nations and States

I'm just finishing The Distorted Past by Josep Fontana, a refreshing look at European history that questions notions of development as mechanical. He also introduces the idea of cultural ecology through social technology.

I recently read In Pursuit of the Right to Self-determination edited by Kly & Kly, which, if not naively hopeful, at least points in the right direction with some encouraging accounts from the Fourth World.

Lots more about the changing relations between nations and states in the Center for World Indigenous Studies online archives.


Walking Through Time

At the end of the forested canyon where I live is a footpath that follows a cascading stream up a flank of the mountain to a ridge that looks down on a valley of old-growth redwoods known as Muir Woods National Monument. Beyond that is the Pacific Ocean.

When the largest of the trees in Muir Woods were young, one third of the population of Europe and the Middle East were dying from the Black Plague, and suffering greatly from social and religious hysteria. Their economies and governments were in turmoil; corruption and depravity were rampant; recovery from these traumas was doubtful.

Across the Pacific at the time they were seedlings, gunpowder had been in use for as long as they have now lived. The loudest noise that reverberated through the valley would have been the rare thunder or perhaps drums of the Miwok inhabitants whose nation extended from these mountainous headlands to the high sierras of what is now Yosemite National Park.

Just before dark on New Year’s Day, I walked through the monument with visiting friends who were startled by the copper silver flashes of salmon and trout splashing their way through the rippled spawning redds in muted spotlights of dusk. They were surprised Coho and Steelhead still returned from feeding in the Pacific to this creek where they were born.

Watching the ocean fog sail overhead this morning, I ponder thoughts of recovery and return and what they hold in store for the seedlings I see walking through time.


Collective Foreboding

The recent announcement that roughly 25% of the species now present are anticipated for extinction over the next hundred years has me wondering if we are prepared for the impact on our collective human psyche of this and other tragedies that now seem inevitable.

The epidemic of despair American public health authorities alerted us to in the 1990s pointed to anxieties over unmet expectations generated in part by media and our toxic mainstream culture. Even the despondency we are now wading in as a consequence ofmoral depravity in our country's leadership appears easily surmountable, though, by comparison with what could possibly follow the convergence of oil depletion, microbial pandemics, and environmental system failures. I mean, how will human psyches cope with this in say 50 years?

For myself, I'm a cheerful person, but many are not, and I wonder if we wouldn't be wise to develop a collective dance of atonement for honoring our animal relations that will be passing on, and how we might do this in a way that doesn't exacerbate already catastrophic levels of depression.

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