The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine

This is like deja vu all over again.

– Yogi Berra

The Los Angeles police successfully cleared out the Occupy L.A. camp from the park around City Hall last night. The cops gathered at Dodger Stadium and then boarded over 30 buses, proceeded to downtown LA and, after some hours, eventually moved the protesters from their encampment, while managing to avoid the violent fierce confrontations that marked sweeps in Oakland and New York. Today the streets around City Hall will remain closed to traffic while they dismantle and clean up the Occupy LA camp.

As I’ve mentioned before, for me, there is a déjà vu quality to the Occupy movement. In particular, I am reminded of Chicago 1968 when police rioted against protesters who had taken to the streets as the Democratic National Convention was convening. On  the night of August 28th, police assaulted protesters in front of the Hilton Hotel while the crowd shouted a line from a Bob Dylan song, “The Whole World is Watching.” Well, most of America was, because the event was broadcast live for 17 minutes on national television.

It was the Walker Commission, appointed to investigate the events, that deemed the reaction by loaw enforcement a “police riot.” The commission’s findings were soon published in a book called “Rights in Conflict.” It was a fascinating read and the book is probably still available here and there in used books stores, Amazon, or EBay.

Eight protest leaders were put on trial for conspiracy for their part in the Chicago protests. One of the defendants was Bobby Seal whose treatment at the beginning of the trial is the basis for the line in CSN&Y’s song Chicago, “So your brother’s bound and gagged/And they’ve chained him to a chair.” Seal was later separated from the others, making the Chicago 8 the Chicago 7, and the whole thing was chronicled in a great book, “The Tales of Hoffman” (referring to Julius Hoffman the crazy right-wing judge who ran the trial), which consists mainly (if I remember correctly) of the trial transcripts.

Another one of the defendants was Abbie Hoffman, who was born on this day (November 30) in 1936. Hoffman was a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”). After the Chicago protests, the Yippies ran a pig, Pegasus, for President.

Looking back on it now, some the statements that Hoffman and his “partner-in-crime” Jerry Rubin made come off as pretty juvenile, but then, it was their intention to be as outrageous as possible. Hoffman once penned a book entitled, “Steal this Book.” I think I actually purchased my copy.

Here, for your edification, and entertainment pleasure, is a portion of Abbie Hoffman’s testimony at the Chicago Conspiracy trial. Mr. Weinglass, by the way, is the defendant’ attorney, while Mr. Schultz is a government attorney, and The Court is the aforementioned, Judge Hoffman.

 

MR. WEINGLASS: Will you please identify yourself for the record?

THE WITNESS: My name is Abbie.  I am an orphan of America.

MR. SCHULTZ: Your Honor, may the record show it is the defendant Hoffman who has taken the stand?

THE COURT: Oh, yes.  It may so indicate. . . .

MR. WEINGLASS: Where do you reside?

THE WITNESS: I live in Woodstock Nation.

MR. WEINGLASS: Will you tell the Court and jury where it is?

THE WITNESS: Yes.  It is a nation of alienated young people.  We carry it around with us as a state of mind in the same way as the Sioux Indians carried the Sioux nation around with them.  It is a nation dedicated to cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have better means of exchange than property or money, that there should be some other basis for human interaction.  It is a nation dedicated to–

THE COURT: Just where it is, that is all.

THE WITNESS: It is in my mind and in the minds of my brothers and sisters.  It does not consist of property or material but, rather, of ideas and certain values.  We believe in a society–

THE COURT: No, we want the place of residence, if he has one, place of doing business, if you have a business.  Nothing about philosophy or India, sir.  Just where you live, if you have a place to live.  Now you said Woodstock.  In what state is Woodstock?

THE WITNESS: It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters.  It is a conspiracy.  Presently, the nation is held captive, in the penitentiaries of the institutions of a decaying system.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury your present age?

THE WITNESS: My age is 33. 1 am a child of the 60s.

MR. WEINGLASS: When were you born?

THE WITNESS: Psychologically, 1960.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection, if the Court please.  I move to strike the answer.

MR. WEINGLASS: What is the actual date of your birth?

THE WITNESS: November 30,1936.

MR. WEINGLASS: Between the date of your birth, November 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?

THE WITNESS: Nothing.  I believe it is called an American education.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection.

THE WITNESS: Huh?

MR. WEINGLASS: Abbie, could you tell the Court and jury–

MR. SCHULTZ: His name isn’t Abbie.  I object to this informality.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury what is your present occupation?

THE WITNESS: I am a cultural revolutionary.  Well, I am really a defendant—full-time.

MR. WEINGLASS: What do you mean by the phrase “cultural revolutionary?”

THE WITNESS: Well, I suppose it is a person who tries to shape and participate in the values, and the mores, the customs and the style of living of new people who eventually become inhabitants of a new nation and a new society through art and poetry, theater, and music.

Lemme tell ya, that trial was a laff riot, which is always much preferable to a police riot or any other kind. At the same time, it painted a portrait of the shape of things in the United States at the time, and it wasn’t pretty. Nor is it now.

So, what, you may ask, is The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine? Well, I’m not at liberty to tell you that. All I’m allowed to say is that it’s similar to Mister Peabody’s “Way Back Machine.”

“Oh, Mister Peabody!!”

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TGIBF: Thank God, it’s Black Friday!?

Here’s the headline in today’s LA Times: “Shootings, pepper-spray attack mar Wal-Mart Black Friday sales.” I’ll wager that before the day is through, there will be plenty more.

Shootings? Pepper-spray? Shopping rage? No wonder it’s called Black Friday. But why? Shopping on this day is supposed to be a positive experience. It’s supposed to be fun, with everyone full of the holiday spirit. Black Friday sounds horrific. Like the 1940 film by the same name where mad scientist Boris Karloff implants the brain of a gangster into a professor’s.

Since the day is the official start of the Christmas season, you’d think they’d call it Red and Green Friday or anything less depressing.

And yes, it is starting to look a lot like Christmas, unfortunately. Yesterday, as I traveled back and forth to a vegetarian pot-luck dinner, I noticed quite a few street corner lots being set up for Christmas tree sales. It reminded me of this poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from his volume of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, first published in 1958:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manager
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated singles
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
he awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the craziest
of Second Comings

Frankly, I have my doubts about Christ coming back anytime soon. Assuming that he did indeed ascend from the earth some 2000 years ago, by my calculations, if he was moving at the speed of light he would have only traveled 11,749,203,343,584,000 miles so far. Now, it takes 100,000 years just to travel across the Milky Way, which is about 5,878,570,000,000,000,000 miles wide. So, sad to say, it looks as though Christ is

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World Toilet Day

I couldn’t resist it. Today, November 19, is World Toilet Day. Seriously. There’s even a web site.

The World Toilet Organization, sponsors of World Toilet Day, say that 2.6 billion people, “or roughly 40 per cent of the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation.” The idea behind World Toilet Day is to raise awareness. It’s the perfect set-up for some bad jokes of course, but in reality, it’s a serious matter.

CNN reports,

This sanitation crisis is not only an affront to dignity. It results in the release of hundreds of tons of feces and urine each day directly into rivers, lakes, landfills and oceans, creating an immense human and environmental health hazard. Every day more than 4,000 young children die from sanitation-related illness. Fully half of the hospital beds in the developing world are occupied by people whose ailments can be traced to poor sanitation.”

In the past, toilets and related issues were not talked about. There was a time when they couldn’t even show toilets in movies and on television. Some of us are old enough to remember those commercials with Mr. Whipple (see below), who had to whisper the words “toilet paper.” I guess now that we can talk about toilets openly, it’s means we’ve evolved as a culture.

But the severe lack of toilets worldwide is just one aspect of a greater sanitation issue. The World Water Council, an international intergovernmental and NGO network dealing with water policy topics, says that

[More] than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, namely 1.1 billion people, and more than two out of six lack adequate sanitation, namely 2.6 billion people (Estimation for 2002, by the WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2004).”

The WTO calls World Toilet Day a time to celebrate. I guess that means that while it is a somber issue overall, it’s still okay to have some fun with it. So here goes . . .

Some great toilet quotes:

“Castro couldn’t even go to the bathroom unless the Soviet Union put the nickel in the toilet.”

Richard M. Nixon

“It is better to have a relationship with someone who cheats on you than with someone who does not flush the toilet.”

Uma Thurman

“It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”

Rod Serling

 “All my good reading, you might say, was done in the toilet. There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet – if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content.”

Henry Miller

“You know an odd feeling? Sitting on the toilet eating a chocolate candy bar.”

George Carlin

Some famous toilets:

The original cover for the Rolling Stones album "Beggar's Banquet"

 

Marcel Duchamp turned the toilet into art with "Fountain"

 

John Lennon's toilet fetched $14,740 at auction in 2010

 

NASA's space toilet cost $19 million

 

Some famous Toileteers:

Phi Zappa Krappa

 

Angelina Jolie posing

 

Comedian Lenny Bruce died while shooting up on the toilet

 

Finally:

Mr. Whipple: "Please don't squeeze the Charmin!"

 

BTW, if you are into this, you might want to visit  The Toilet Museum.

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Out in the Streets

Look what’s happening out in the streets
got a revolution got to revolution
Hey I’m dancing down the streets
got a revolution got to revolution

Jefferson Airplane

Marking two months of protests, Thursday was declared a “Day of Action” by the Occupy Wall Street movement with demonstrations across major cities nationwide remonstrating against financial greed and corruption. In Southern California, the LA Times reported: “In what police called an ‘orchestrated series of arrests,’ nearly 100 police in riot gear moved in to arrest 23 protesters who locked arms around tents in the middle of Figueroa Street . . .”

Meditator arrested in Oakland

“Orchestrated series of arrests” is another way to say “civil disobedience.” More about that below, but first, the city of Oakland, California has taken a hard line against the protesters. There has been violence and then Monday, police forcibly evicted demonstrators from their camp in the downtown area. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Oakland police arrested [Pancho] Ramos Stierle before dawn on Monday as riot police were clearing out the Occupy encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. He and two other activists had been meditating for hours in the plaza’s amphitheater as police surrounded the camp and ordered everyone to disperse.”

Criminal charges against Stierle have been dropped, but because he is an immigrant, the cops turned him over to ICE. As of Thursday he has either been released or will be released pending a hearing before a judge. In either case, he is facing deportation. His case has become a bit of a cause célèbre (Free Pancho).

I don’t know if Stierle is connected with any particular spiritual group or whether he’s just a guy who wants to meditate for peace. It doesn really matter to me, and I certainly support his aim and his actions as far as the protest goes. I am not, however, all that sympathetic to his status as an immigrant. Apparently Stierle’s visa expired in 2008, which, as far as I understand things, makes him illegal. I know this is an unpopular view, but frankly I’m not convinced that people who are in this country illegally should enjoy the same rights as citizens and legal immigrants.

That aside, when you engage in civil disobedience you have to expect some consequences. The authorities do not like civil disobedience. That’s an eternal truth. I wish Stierle the best, but I assume that he is an intelligent person and knew what he was getting into.

At the same time, I do wonder if everyone really understands what civil disobedience is all about.

Civil disobedience is the time-honored act of the “professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.” (Wikipedia) In this current movement, we’re talking about multinational powers.

I think it is safe to say that a good majority of acts of civil disobedience are designed to provoke an “orchestrated” arrest. At the very least, those who engage in such actions should be cognizant of the possibility of arrest and/or persecution by the authorities. To put it in Buddhist terms, civil disobedience is Bodhisattva action. It invites suffering for the purpose of making a statement against suffering.

Gandhi, whom we can look to as sort of an expert on civil disobedience, called his revolution ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (truth). His brand of protest was grounded in spirituality, and marked with the force of compassion and acceptance of resulting suffering. Gandhi wrote,

Complete civil disobedience is rebellion without the element of violence in it. An out- and-out civil resister simply ignores the authority of the State. He never uses force and never resists force when it is used against him. In Fact, he invites imprisonment and other uses of force against himself . . .

Civil disobedience means capacity for unlimited suffering without the intoxicating excitement of killing.”

Nearly a hundred years earlier, Henry David Thoreau, in his 1849 essay, On Civil Disobedience, put it bluntly:

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles.”

Gandhi behind bars

Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay what he believed was an unjust tax. Gandhi was imprisoned in 1922, 1930, 1933 and in 1942. All together, he spent 7 years in prison. In the early days of Gandhi’s activism, in South Africa, he tried to organize resistance against the Registration Act. On September 11, 1906, at a mass meeting with some 3000 Indians, Gandhi warned the assembled to expect repercussions: imprisonment, beatings, fines, and even, deportation. He also told them,

I can declare with certainty that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can be only one end to the struggle, and that is victory.”

Goldman Sachs on trial

 

The OWS is calling their movement an “American Revolution.” Chris Hedges is an American journalist who has specialized in writing about the Middle East and is now involved with OWS. Last Thursday, Hedges, Cornel West and others held a mock trial of Goldman Sachs in Zuccotti Park. Hedges was arrested. Tuesday, he wrote on Truthdig,

Welcome to the revolution. Our elites have exposed their hand. They have nothing to offer. They can destroy but they cannot build. They can repress but they cannot lead. They can steal but they cannot share. They can talk but they cannot speak. They are as dead and useless to us as the water-soaked books, tents, sleeping bags, suitcases, food boxes and clothes that were tossed by sanitation workers Tuesday morning into garbage trucks in New York City. They have no ideas, no plans and no vision for the future.

I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I only hope everyone understands what it really takes to engage in civil disobedience, what it means to be a revolutionary. I hope the mistake that was made in the 1960’s is not made again. The Anti-War movement disintegrated after the Kent State massacre in 1970. All of the sudden protest kids realized, “Hey, you can get killed doing this!” I think in our collective unconscious we decided it might be better to just stay home with Sweet Jane.

Both Thoreau and Gandhi would no doubt subscribe to the notion that it is every person’s duty to protest injustice. That also belongs to the eternal, ultimate truth. But in the conventional world, let’s face it, not everyone is going to join in, and perhaps some should not join on the front lines. Those who have a lot to lose by catching the attention of law enforcement maybe should think twice about putting themselves at risk as Stierle did. I would imagine there are numerous ways that someone can support OWS, and in the future, if the movement comes together and gains a measure of organization, some of the most important roles will be played behind the scenes.

The iconic revolutionary

But if you are going to take center stage, man the barricades, stand on the front lines, then you’d better know that, as CSN&Y sang, to find the cost of freedom, you must “lay your body down.”

Revolution is serious business. Che Guevara once said,

In a revolution, one wins or one dies.”

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you, lay your body down

– Crosby, Still, Nash and Young

 

Street photo: occupylosangeles.org
Stierle photo: occupyoakland.org
Hedges/West photo: occupywallst.org

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The Two Truths

Although he credited the Buddha with the doctrine of the Two Truths (it is mentioned in the early suttas and in a few commentaries to the Abhidharma), it was really Nagarjuna who developed this concept of two levels of truth.

Why are the Two Truths important? A primary cause for suffering is that we do not see reality as it truly is, and by reality, we mean first and foremost the reality of our everyday world, the realm of appearance and experience we inhabit. Although doctrinal discussions of the Two Truths may be wrapped around such subjects as being and non-being, the actual focus, as far as we are concerned, is on daily life.

Our basic tendency is to hold onto “things” (dharmas) as though they were real and endowed with some sort of self-nature. It might be the sense of self, or some other person, possessions, our preferences or prejudices. Buddhism teaches that when we seize upon these things and cling to them, we invite suffering into our lives. This point alone could be dealt with in depth, but for now it is suffice to say that the Two Truths are a tool to help us understand the actual nature of “things” and end the confusion that causes seizing and clinging, and gives rise to suffering.

In Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, Nagarjuna says,

The Buddha’s dharma is based on two truths: the relative or conventional truth and the ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the relationship between the two do not understand the profound point of the Buddha’s teachings.”

It is very important to understand that the Two Truths do not posit two separate realities (the world and some other “ultimate” reality), rather, this concept deals with how we perceive reality and the “things” in it. The first kind of truth that we call relative, conventional, mundane, worldly, veiled, and so on is valid for the practical affairs of daily life. However, our perception of the everyday world is often based on the mis-perception that “things” have an existence or self-nature independent from other things. From the view of the ultimate truth, all things are produced by causes and conditions, and are thereby interdependent, and without self-nature. So, in this way, they are said to be impermanent and “unreal.”

In Nagarjuna’s logic, if there is no self-nature, then it follows that there is no “other-nature” as well. And, as he says in the Middle Verses,

Further, how can a thing exist without either self-nature or other-nature. Existing things can only be maintained when there is self-nature and other-nature.”

David Kalupahana, in Nagarjuna, The Philosophy of the Middle Way, notes, “It is not merely self-nature and other-nature that are rejected, but also existence and non-existence.” About this, Nagarjuna says,

Those who perceive self-nature and other-nature, as well as existence and non-existence, do not understand the truth of the Buddha’s teaching.”

First, Nagarjuna show us that there are two ways of perceiving the world. In terms of the conventional truth, things exist – they are real. In terms of the ultimate truth, they are unreal. Not only are they unreal, but Nagarjuna systematically removes the foundations on which we perceive them, and as well, any basis upon which we can seize and cling.

Nagarjuna rejects the perception of existing and non-existing things,and he also rejects all views, concepts, designations, modes of thought – all things (dharmas) are null and void. Things do not exist by themselves, from their own side. Yet, as Karl Jaspers writes in his essay on Nagarjuna,

[At] the same time, they are not nothing. They are midway between being and nonbeing, but they are empty. There is no dharma that has come into being independently, hence all dharmas are empty.”

They are empty of self-nature. But, while emptiness may be the ultimate nature of things, it is not the ultimate truth. Nagarjuna understands emptiness to be another “view,” another thought construction. The ultimate truth is not any view. In the ultimate truth, all views dissolve into silence. So, in the end, Nagarjuna rejects emptiness itself: sunyata-sunyata – the emptiness of emptiness.

Because we seem to be hard-wired to look at things dualistically, there are those who mistake the Two Truths to be separate.

Nagarjuna says,

The ultimate truth cannot be taught except in the context of the conventional truth, and unless the ultimate truth is comprehended, liberation is not possible.”

In other words, we use the relative to convey the ultimate, and we use the ultimate to understand the relative. Here we should see that the point is not so much that in this sense the relative is false, it’s more about being be able to skillfully use knowledge of the ultimate in order to understand the relative world, and to able to live more fully in it, without clinging to either truth. The trick is to know when the ultimate applies and when it does not.

While there are certainly distinctions between the relative and the ultimate, in the end, there is just one truth, one reality. The relative and the ultimate are but two sides of the same coin.

It is within nirvana that liberation from suffering is obtained, so nirvana is one of many terms used to express the ultimate. Nagarjuna makes clear, though, that there is no separation between the ultimate truth of nirvana and the conventional world:

Whatever is the extreme of nirvana is also the extreme of conventional existence. There is not the slightest bit of difference between the two.

Conventional existence is represented as the world of samsara – the world of suffering, misperception, of seizing and clinging. But we say, “Samsara is nirvana.” When there is a difference between the two, it is a matter of perception, or perhaps we should say an error of perception, because it makes no sense take a principle that points to the non-dual nature of reality and then look at it dualistically.

So that is a kind of brief overview of the subject, and I certainly don’t offer it as any kind of final word. It’s just my take, as far as my understanding goes.

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