For The Vets

I honor my father’s generation, the guys who dragged the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Imperial Japanese Empire down to destruction,

and I bear no ill will towards the guys of the current generation who are fighting for something – who knows what – in Afghanistan (someone knows!).

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But on this Veterans’ Day, I particularly want to remember the brave G.I.’s of my own generation, the guys who refused to kill women and children in Viet Nam and went to prison for their belief in what was right.  They refused to pull the trigger on babies and old ladies to up the week’s body count, they saw for themselves how wrong the war in Viet Nam was, and they fought to tell America what we should have known all along.  Today I want to honor those brave G.I.s.


I can’t think of a better way to honor veterans today than to sit home and watch the 2006 documentary ‘Sir!  No Sir!’ If you’re in my generation, you’ll remember what really went down before terminal amnesia sets in.  If you’re younger, you can be inspired to mobilize against the power even if you feel powerless.  If you’ve been brought up to believe America is always right, always brave, always the good guys – like I was raised – you can honor the vets by growing up.


Are Biofuels A Crime Against Humanity?

That’s what Jean Ziegler thinks. He’s a professor at the University of Geneva and the Sorbonne over in Europe. And he’s the UN’s Special Big Shot on the Right to Food. His job is to screech when he sees human rights violations in the area of food production. He’s expected to figure out how to solve the problem if he can. And he’s not paid. I don’t know, maybe he gets great perks, or maybe he cares.

UN Watch, the watchdog organization created by the American Jewish Committee, doesn’t like him much. They call him a “certified apologist to dictators.” But I have to think any guy who says things like, “I vowed never again, not even by chance, to side with the hangmen.” and Every child who dies of hunger in today’s world has been murdered” is on my side in the war of the rich against the poor. So I take him seriously.

He says, if I understand him rightly, that the goals of biofuel production are fine – “more jobs, a cleaner environment and greater independence from the whims of the oil market”, but the benefits will come at a terrible price. He says, “the effect of transforming hundreds and hundreds of thousands of tons of maize, of wheat, of beans, of palm oil, into agricultural fuel is absolutely catastrophic for the hungry people.” He also said that the rise in demand for grain has led to the world price of wheat doubling in one year. The price of corn has quadrupled. The world’s poor don’t have money to buy at those prices.

Ziegler’s calling for a moratorium on biofuel production for five years to research ways to turn agricultural waste and arid land crops that are no good for food into biofuel. Until then – hey, sell your car! Why not? Lets get radical here.

You don’t like that idea? I don’t either. But what are we going to do? Are you really okay with your travel freedom being based on the death of even one little kid?

What if we gave up a little bit of that freedom for five years? We could revive gas rationing. It worked in World War II. We could still use our cars for shopping and errands we needed to do. Then maybe car pooling to work would finally take off. It’s time to think out of the box. I think we need to get radical here.

In Zieglers’ words, “It’s a crime against humanity to devote agricultural land to biofuel production…We have to stop this growing catastrophe: the massacre (by) hunger in the world.”

Photo credit: Plan 59

The Pig Turns Movie Critic

I don’t do film reviews. There’s already enough guys out there peddling important opinions. But I do do recommendations if they fit into the general theme of the Pigsty. What? You didn’t know there was a theme?

First – Amazing Grace, which Patrushka and I saw yesterday. An amazing, powerful film about William Wilberforce, who fought the British parliament for thirty years to outlaw slavery. He didn’t give up for thirty years and he WON! It’s the story of how he did it. OK, it’s marred by a corny subplot about a nice old couple who are trying to fix him up with raving red haired beauty Romola Garai. And I don’t like the marketing campaign which is trying to make it into a Christian movie. It’s not. It’s a movie about a guy who is a Christian. The movie’s about standing up to fight to end slavery against all odds – and winning. I came out inspired, revved up – thinking I’ll never give up either! If its playing in your town, go see it and then check in, okay? Highly Recommended.

Second is The Lives of Others. A German film about a little man, a functionary in the East German secret police, who grows up into a big man at the cost of his career. It ain’t pretty – but it’s beautiful. Emotionally exhausting. I staggered out of the theater completely drained. Had to hie to Starbuck’s and sit in a stupor till the caffeine kicked in. After seeing it, I thought, “Thank God for Glasnost. Man, the world really did change for the better.” Highly recommended. And hurray for AMC Theaters, who brings movies like this to a parochial burg like Spokane!

Bobby Kennedy On Not Bombing the Innocents

Writing about my old Fidelista pal Bob Kaffke got me wanting to learn more about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. So I checked out Thirteen Days, Robert Kennedy’s memoir of the period. I just have to share this scene with you…

JFK has just found out the Russians are placing missiles with atomic warheads all over Cuba. Right away, he calls a meeting of his staff. What are we going to do about it?

The military guys, led by General Curtis LeMay, want an immediate surprise attack, followed by an invasion. Blast every one of those suckers before they have a chance to arm the missiles, but we’ll inevitably miss some so we’ll have to follow up by invading the country.

The other side, led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, favors a total blockade of Cuba. Keep out everybody, Russian ships, Russian submarines, merchant ships – everybody until the Russians back off or until something else happens. It’s a first step. Let’s avoid an all-out war if we can.

Here’s what Robert Kennedy says as he thinks over the possibilities, and I quote,

“…I could not accept the idea that the United States would rain bombs on Cuba, killing thousands and thousands of civilians in a surprise attack. Maybe the alternatives were not very palatable, but I simply did not see how we could accept that course of action for our country…

“Whatever military reasons he (Dean Acheson) and others could marshal, they were nevertheless, in the last analysis, advocating a surprise attack by a very large nation against a very small one. This, I said, could not be undertaken by the U.S. if we were to maintain our moral position at home and around the globe. Our struggle against Communism throughout the world was far more than physical survival – it had as its essence our heritage and our ideals, and these we must not destroy.”

Just burns me up to think how we have squandered that moral position. Squandered it!


Car Washes and Genocide

Look, I’m a peaceful pig. I like to write stories about Playland-at-the-Beach and write silly things that make people laugh and tell stories of when I was a little kid in San Francisco’s Richmond District or a big kid in the Haight-Ashbury.

The trouble is I tend to also be a restless and disgruntled pig.

I hate seeing people suffer.

I hate reading about the Janjaweed throwing babies on bonfires in Darfur.

I can’t just walk away. Didn’t anybody else around here see Hotel Rwanda? Did you think it never really happened? Then why aren’t we all out screaming? The bad guys in Sudan have been killing innocents mercilessly by the tens of thousands for years and our government couldn’t care less. The media? How many times have you had your nose rubbed in the Darfur genocide this month? Once? Nonce? Maybe if you watch PBS.

I don’t know. Guess I’ll write to my Congresswoman Cathy again, even though she is a Bush yes-woman don’t care loyalist.

Anyway, here’s a story about some people who got off their ass – Nick Kristof’s column this morning, called Car Washes and Genocide. I’d recommend reading it, even if you have to sign up for the NY Times. It’s a hopeful story.

It’s up to us. When you lend a struggling blacksmith in Ecuador twenty-five bucks to help expand his business, when you stick a “Save Darfur” sign in your front yard, when you send ten bucks a month to a family in Cambodia to bribe them into keeping their daughter in school for another year if she keeps perfect attendance (I’m going to tell you how to do this in an upcoming post) – when you say to yourself, “I’m just not going to stand for this bullshit anymore.”…then…you won’t be standing for this bullshit anymore.

I know this is an existential act. The world’s not going to change. Some new evil will arise. Some new monster will put his pleasure and power above innocents’ suffering. So what? While I live, I fight. Join me.

Some Simple After-Christmas Wishes

Here are my after-Christmas wishes for you, dear reader…

May your life be blessed as mine has been…
In fact, may all your children live to become adults.
May you love them as adults.
And may you care for your grandchildren because…they’re still alive.

None of them drank dirty dysentery water and died…
None of your four year olds caught measles and died, like they still do in Africa…

May you all love your children as much as that woman in Somalia does whose baby died of malaria because all the cheap new wonder drugs were somewhere else…

When your kids get sick, may there be a good doctor and good medicine somewhere nearby…

May your children never be brain damaged because you never heard of iodized salt. And you couldn’t buy any anyway because there was no iodized salt in a hundred miles…

And may all your children learn to read and write and do arithmetic. If they decide to go to college, may you have a decent university in your land and may you be able to pay the fees…

May your children never be raped and beaten by a brutal stepfather or left to go hungry by an uncaring stepmother because you were blown up by a mine when you walked across the meadow…

May none of your daughters have to choose prostitution so they can feed their children…

And here’s my Christmas wish for all of us…

May each one of us in the rich countries, the overweight countries, the properly insured countries…
may we wake up, stand up, reach out, stand out, lend
a stupid hand, a clumsy hand, a trying to hand, a soft hand, any kind of hand,
whatever I can do, whatever you can dream up, a boring idea will work,
but a helping hand… a little band for the wretched ones
who never heard of KIVA,
whose homes were blown up by the Islamacists, the supremacists, the pragmatists, the takers, the fakers, the deliverers with guns in their quivers and hate in their livers,
the grabbers, the stabbers, the strong who grow stronger because they took it all and the weak ones got none…

I’m sitting her in my comfortable warm bungalow with Joanie Baez whispering, “Show me the famine, show me the frail eyes with
no future that show how we failed,
And I’ll show you the children with so many reasons why,
There but for fortune, go you or I”….
and now Carly Simon comes on singing,
“I’ve got to learn from the greats,
Earn my right to be living,
With every breath that I take,
Every heartbeat, And I — I want to get there
I — I want to be one, one who is touched by the sun,
One who is touched by the sun…

and I…just an ordinary…barnyard variety pig…feel like…I..might…want to be touched by the sun too!

God, I pray that for all of us this day.

Photo by Y.K. Lee. Nduli, Western Cape, South Africa, 2002


The Myths I Live By

Hey, you should see my mailbox! I’m overwhelmed with letters saying the world would be a better place if only I would write more about beach parties, Gidget and Moondoggie.

I, too, am craving more sights of that cute brown-eyed blonde in her itchy bitchy teenie weeny yellow polka dot bikini and all those buff actor studs who knew how to surf before there were wet suits.

But, before we open the gates to Jollity Farm, I have a few words to say about ‘Myth’ with a capital M. As an beatnik hippie English major at San Francisco State, I read a lot about it. A Myth is neither a computer game nor just a story that isn’t true, as many people think. Not to put too fine a point to it, myths are stories we need to believe in order to arrange our lives into a meaningful pattern.

So that our lives will make sense to ourselves.

I write about my personal myth from time to time, as I have fashioned it over the years. Seeking for meaning in my early years, hanging out with Gidget and Moondoggie, struggling to raise a family in the middle years as a world-famous lecturer on ginseng root, now a rootless wanderer wintering in Antwerp, and, of course, I’m a pig. My Patrushka, as you know, also looms large. The possibility of true love forever is a major strand of my myth.

Another myth I have glommed onto is the one about my homeland, America. Land of the Brave and Home of the Free. I speak without irony. America, crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea. America, the apple of the world’s eye where reign Liberty and Justice for all.
In my mythic America there could never be a story myth about about how Roosevelt or some other president authorized torture camps to extract information from enemy prisoners. Americans would never do that. That’s what the Nazis and the Japs did (forgive me, my Japanese readers, I’m using the words of my childhood myth-making time). In fact, it would be the most unAmerican thing I could think of.

All you Native Americans please shut up about our nineteenth century policies of genocide. All you Afro-American readers please be quiet about one hundred years of segregation by government policy. And I would prefer it if you wouldn’t mention the thousands of loyal Japanese-Americans who sat out WWII in concentration camps.

They don’t fit my myth, which I sometimes have to hold on to for dear life. If I begin to believe that the American government, by policy, has authorized torture as a method to gain information from terrorists, I have two choices. One, I can let my myth crumble and rebuild it with another myth about an America where all that stuff about Honor and Justice is bullshit. A lot of people do that.

Or I can start screaming LET’S FIND OUT! IS IT REALLY TRUE? IF IT IS, THEN BRING THOSE BASTARDS DOWN! Light the freedom torch again! Bring out the evidence. Let’s start the hearings. Because I need my Myth of America. And I’ll fight for it.