February 26th, 2011

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining…We demand this fraud be stopped.”
—Martin Luther King, speaking on right-to-work laws in 1961

I wanted to put this piece up again—an interview with Han Dongfang—given the times in the Middle East and North Africa and the United States, Wisconsin in particular. It’s interesting to compare what is happening universally and see what questions the news begs.

A trade unionist I also interviewed from Iraq made it clear how important (and difficult—ie people being murdered) the right to organize is. Colombia is a nightmare for unions. In China, in 1989, Han Dongfang risked his life for the hope of one day having an independent union with collective bargaining (basically the right to have the right to negotiate grievances with an employer). Across North Africa and the Middle East, one can be certain if any freedom opens up, groups will be fighting for similar rights. And in the U.S., in several States, in contrast to all these places, legislatures are voting to make collective bargaining illegal.

It was really something unsurprising yet alarming to hear—in a telephone sting—Governor Walker admit that he thought about using “troublemakers”, so-called agent provocateurs, to infiltrate protests.

Han has said before that China has a so-called union—The All-China Federation of Trade Unions—but it doesn’t have collective bargaining, and thus has nothing.

The labor movement means just this: It is the last noble protest of the American people against the power of incorporated wealth.
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), American abolitionist and orator

Whatever one’s thoughts on labour and worker’s rights and dignity, this is food for thought.


BENJAMIN LAY: The Quaker Comet and Old Time Radical Non-Violence

February 23rd, 2011

I mentioned a few of those radical Quakers a few posts ago, but I have to do it again. I was able to get my hands on an article published in that blustery and at times brutal year, worldwide, of 1968. Upon reading the paper entitled Henry Dawkins and the Quaker Comet, how could I not post a little about Benjamin Lay, who was a Quaker so relentlessly annoying he even annoyed the Quakers?


Born in 1681, Lay was barely over four feet tall, it is said, and a hunchback, as was his wife Sarah. Born in England, he later lived in Barbados, but his hatred for slavery was deeply “obnoxious” to most everybody there—except, I am sure, the slaves.

So Lay and his wife then moved to Abington, Pennsylvania, where he continued to be utterly obnoxious with his fervent anti-slavery ideas and his attack, mostly, on the leaders of congregations, who held slaves and did other things he found utterly wrong and hypocritical.

But consider the time, the early to mid 1700s. Nearly a hundred years before slavery was abolished in England. A hundred and fifty years before the American Civil War.

And his radicalism didn’t stop at slavery. Indeed, he may have been a hero had he lived in 1968, though undoubtedly still on the fringes. Actually, despite his radicalism, he was far too restrained in other obvious ways for the 1960s.

[Benjamin Lay] wore plain clothing made of tow and linen of his own weaving, refused to ride a horse or coach, and eschewed the use of any meat or other product of animal suffering. He was an ardent student of the Bible and religious literature, and was reputed to have collected an unusually large library. He objected to capital punishment, arguing that wantonness and idleness were sinful and might be reformed in prison, but that no repentance was possible from the grave.

To these ideals few Friends could object in principle, but his fulminations against slavery kept him continually at odds with the Quaker community.

Lay’s objection to slavery was on moral and humanitarian grounds, and his campaigns were carried on with great fervor. He lost no opportunity to prick the consciences of Quaker slaveowners and rub them with the salt of his own anguish.

He harangued Meetings with annoying length and frequency, and more than once was forbidden entry to Meetings or bodily removed for harassing brethren and ministers who were testifying.

An example to us all! Including the ‘ministers’ of the financial sector and alld the political ministers. Lay’s conviction goes even farther. According to Wikipedia:

He would wear nothing, nor eat anything made from the loss of animal life or provided by any degree by slave labor. He was distinguished less for his eccentricities than for his philanthropy. He published over 200 pamphlets, most of which were impassioned polemics against various social institutions of the time.

Also, he and a few others wouldn’t even buy goods that were taxed, because the taxes went to military build-up. Who would even consider that today? How can one even dream of avoiding the consumer ethos—heck, how could one survive without it, if only to a small degree. Sometimes it surprises me when I realize food doesn’t grow in cans.

Kidding. But Lay? Wow.

A proclamation he wrote, printed by none other than Benjamin Franklin, around the year of our Lord, 1737:

ALL SLAVE KEEPERS that keep the Innocent in Bondage, APOSTATES Pretending to Lay Claim to the Pure & Holy Christian Religion; of what Congregation so ever; but especially in their Ministers, by whose example the filthy Leprosy and Apostacy is spread far and near; it is a notorious Sin, which many of the true Friends of Christ, and his pure Truth, Called Quakers, has been for many Years and still are concern’d to write and bear Testimony against; as a Practice so gross and hurtful to Religion, and destructive to Government, beyond what Words can set forth, or can be declared of by Men or Angels, and yet lived in by Ministers and Magistrates in AMERICA. THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE CAUSE THEM TO ERR. Written for a General Service, by him that truly and sincerely desires the present and eternal Welfare and Happiness of all Mankind, all the World over, of all Colours, and Nations, as his own Soul; BENJAMIN LAY

I have to run out. Might add more later, but I thought you’d appreciate it. Lay died in 1760.

Lots of love. And good luck making your own clothes, harassing the folks and leaders in your congregation, eating only milk and vegetable products that you grow yourself, and not buying any consumer goods. Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, throw in kyphosis. Here’s to you, Benjamin Lay, and Sarah, for giving it all you had…

Pete xo



February 22nd, 2011

This is the spirit [behind] all the great struggles of the workers to improve their working conditions: Liberty and freedom for collective bargaining is what they want and what they must have.
Mary Anderson (August 27, 1872-1964)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to crush collective bargaining in that state. In 1949, Mao Tse-tung crushed any ideas of collective bargaining and independent unions in China. For my liking, that’s way too similar—and a spit in the face to all American workers over the last 120 years. Maybe Governor Walker and Chairman Mao have similar ‘five-year-plans,’ too.

Whatever one thinks of labour unions, it is self-evident that to destroy the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining with the employer is to set back the rights of workers (ie almost all of us) to the turn of the century. And I mean 1900.

Last summer I interviewed the courageous and articulate Chinese trade unionist Han Dongfang at the ITUC World Congress in Vancouver. He was adamant about the absolute necessity for workers to have the right to collective bargaining in China and all over the world. Indeed, at Tiananmen Square in 1989, he risked his life for it.

Without collective bargaining, he said, human rights downgrade to animal rights, where all the employee can do is hope he or she is treated like a human being. All over the world, the result is often a working hell.

Check out this piece, as Han talks passionately about collective bargaining, workers rights, opposing the regime at Tiananmen Square, globalization, and being one of the “top ten luckiest” people in the world.

Wishing everybody more discernment, more justice, more love—and the right of workers to have a dignified say in their working conditions,

Pete x



February 21st, 2011

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
—Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

First of all, I hope Sidney Crosby’s head is going to be okay. These contact sports are certainly tough on the old noodle, as countless injury reports attest. Ironically, cheerleading kills more people every year than UFC. I actually read that. But what I’m talking about here is how Sidney’s overtime goal in the 2010 Olympics, giving the Canadian team the 3-2 gold medal win over the US in hockey, stopped a revolution.

Okay, Sidney’s goal didn’t stop the revolution. There was never going to be a revolution. This is Vancouver, for god’s sake. But the emotional timbre of the city pre-Olympics was undeniably bleak (can a timbre be bleak?). The sickening and inconceivable billion-dollar security bill was a shock from the original estimate of $175 million, blatant RCMP spying on anti-Olympics protesters was disconcerting, the utter lack of snow anywhere was like an omen, and the tragic death of a Georgian luger hours before the opening ceremony was simply painful to see.

People were ornery. People were edgy. Heck, some even grumbled.

Okay, in the end, let’s face it, it wasn’t only Crosby’s goal that changed the mood of the city. The revolution that was to be an uprising against political fiscal idiocy, corporate control of B.C. mind space and Big Brother, was also put on hold because Canada won a record number of gold medals in the Vancouver Olympics, and with each win our collective angst turned to pride, showing how fickle is the human mind. With every victory we the people became more sedated than the folks sucking back super-sized Soma in Brave New World.

And Crosby’s overtime goal clinched the mood, convincing us all, unabashedly, that the athletes’ victories were identical to our own: we all won gold, right? I think that collective deluded belief among sports fans, that they, too, win when their team does, actually has a medical name. If it doesn’t, it should. Either way, all I know is I personally didn’t get one endorsement out of the Olympics. Not even a phone call. Never signed an autograph.

And the other truth is, Vancouver just isn’t a revolting kind of place. Okay, little uprisings in the early ’70s and the IWW in the 1910s and the March to Ottawa in the dirty ’30s, and somebody broke a window when the Canucks lost in game 7 in 1994, and maybe a few others.

But the fact is, my friends, we’ve got used to good times, and a good standard of living, and our revolting boots are somewhere way at the back of our multi-car garages.


This particular post is actually about the idea that the massive economic windfall of prosperity predicted if the Olympics came to town—early projections were ten billion dollars by key business players and local politicians—may have been Goebbelian propaganda (in the repeated ‘big lie’ sense).

In short, according to an article in the Tyee:

The Feb. 17, 2009 budget claimed the economic impact would be $10 billion. By Oct. 28, 2009, Small Business Minister Iain Black told the legislature that the Games would be “a $4 billion revenue-generating spectacular.”

For those keeping track at home, that’s a $6 billion drop in 8 months, which is twice what I made last year, after taxes.

But here’s the worst part about the Tyee article: it turns out folks with high IQs have actually studied the anti-climactic economic fallout of mega events in great detail.

One group from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts studied the economic realities of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics. Afterwards, in 2006, the results were sent out as a warning call to governments. Politicians were urged to “…view with caution any economic impact estimates.”

I guess that warning, like the one Brooksley Born offered Alan Greenspan at the Fed, got lost in the convenient shuffle. I’m only kidding—I’m sure it was read. They just didn’t give a crap.

And it’s not that I am even one iota surprised about this extraordinary dislocation between tax-payer expenditures and limited return. Are you? Is anybody anymore? The North American bail-outs made the “rules of rip-off” even more extreme, cynical, up front and plundering.

Victor Matheson from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts offers this:

“While most sports boosters claim that mega-events provide host cites with large economic returns, these same boosters present these figures as justification for receiving substantial public subsidies for hosting the games. The vast majority of independent academic studies of mega-events show the benefits to be a fraction of those claimed by event organizers.

Isn’t that fraud? Or is it the Stalin syndrome: Kill one person, it’s murder; kill a million it’s a statistic. Kill twenty million it’s Mao. Steal a trillion, it’s Wall Street.

As for debt, it’s more like a cancer. Even diagnosed, we may not particularly feel it. But evidently it can be extremely painful when the debt collector cometh. Has he got an ETA?

The report said:

A May 2010 Holy Cross report found Salt Lake 2002 “had a modest short-run impact on employment and no significant impact on total employment in the long run.” That followed a Nov. 2008 report that found hotels and restaurants gained $70.6 million, but general merchandise sales fell $167.4 million. This happened, they say, because the Games caused local residents to alter consumption patterns and local residents and regular visitors were displaced by those attending the event.

And then a closer-to-home-truth from Vancouver.

Fast forward to Dec. 17, 2010, long after the last athlete went home and all the banners were gone. PricewaterhouseCoopers—in a study paid for and scheduled by Ottawa and Victoria [the tax-payer again—it never ends!]—downgraded its estimate, saying only $2.3 billion was generated over seven years. This, in a province where the Gross Domestic Product was worth almost $198 billion last year.

So there were gains, but galaxies away from the estimate. And what of the cost? Will outright manipulation, even lying, and costing the tax-payer billions of increasingly devalued dollars ever be considered fraud or illegal? Likely not, as long as it’s done by a certain group of people. The system is set up with endless technicalities as excuses and almost never any clear person or persons can be found to be blamed.

But it sounds again like public-subsidy for private gain.

Ah, politics. Ah, Wall Street. Ah, so-called free markets. Ah, mega-events.

The only hope now is, once again, Sidney Crosby. Sid the Kid. Gold medal magic. If he can’t come back to the NHL, which would be tragic, maybe he’ll lead the revolution, which would also be tragic. But it would be good for press.

And if that doesn’t work, we can always Twitter. Hey, it works in the Middle East and North Africa, or so we are told. Personally, and call me crazy, but I would think that the world-wide economic crisis and the inability of people in Northern Africa and the Middle East to afford food was probably even more important than Twitter (and so-called democracy), but maybe I’m just annoyingly old-school.

What a world—and so much beauty, too! I need a glass of Soma. Anybody else?

Pete xo



February 20th, 2011

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
—Mark Twain

I have said or written many times how important I think it is to specifically define the subject you are talking about before you plough in with the diatribe (yes, I’m talking to myself here). In other words, if you are talking about such massive subjects as, say, God or democracy or Christianity or freedom or free-market or Left Wing or pacifism or globalization et cetera, make clear what you actually mean by the word. Without doing so, our talks are more confusing and less enlightening than we may suppose.

To wit:

All I can think to add is the same advice I gave my 13 [now 18] year old niece:

Whenever somebody asks, “Do you believe in God [or abortion or evolution]?” or, “Are you a Socialist or a Democrat or a Republican?” I strongly recommend getting their definition on whatever they’re asking you so you don’t get immediately boxed in to someone else’s agenda. Because everybody has their take on “God”, and God is a very loaded term, and before you know it you’re caught in a mini-Crusade, and theoretically you could end up on the side of the infidels. But with a little sweetness of speech, a conversation may just begin that serves both people.

On that note, this little youtube piece sent to me from my multi-talented friend Andrea. My god, we went to grad together—which was just before John A. McDonald ran for Prime Minister (sorry, Andrea), the Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup, and even before I had finally grown a full-blown mullet).

The piece is, like, pretty, like, you know, entertaining? Actually, so is the short essay about, like, my mullet.

Love ya!

Ol’ Pete (and by love, I mean, you know, like, on a deep cosmic sort of level and unity and and also I hope your life is going well and also I love ya, that’s all).

If the youtube piece didn’t make you laugh, or left you laughing but wanting more, and the mullet-piece did or didn’t do the same, maybe you’d like to listen to this read-out-loud excerpt from Understanding Ken, a novel I wrote after my mullet had been amputated, yet possibly when John A. McDonald was still boozing it up, god rest his pickled liver.



February 19th, 2011

“The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us.”
—Quentin Crisp

In a Reddit interview with famed evolutionary biologist and staunch atheist Richard Dawkins, Richard was asked:

Reddit: In your opinion, what are the three most important unanswered questions in biology?

Richard Dawkins:

How does consciousness evolve and what is consciousness?

How did life itself begin from non-life? What was the origin of the first self-replicating molecule? The first gene, in effect. That would be the second one.

And the third one would be, why do we have sex?

I found it interesting that these questions are not only deep biological questions, but deep spiritual questions.

“If you thought that science was certain—well, that is just an error on your part.”
—Richard P. Feynman

Feel free to comment by giving answers that actually are the absolute truth. Anything less will be deleted or mocked. Ironically, so might the absolute truth.


For question two, to describe life from non-life as Richard did, almost sounds unscientific. Sort of like the idea of the creation of something from nothing sounds unscientific. Or the religious argument that says there had to be a God to get the whole thing going which, of course, begs the question of who begat God.

Clearly this mass of energy called existence has inconceivably, and thus eternally, always been here, just in different forms. In other words, scientifically speaking, how could existence have not been here and then be here now?

“There is a point where in the mystery of existence contradictions meet; where movement is not all movement and stillness is not all stillness; where the idea and the form, the within and the without, are united; where infinite becomes finite, yet not.”
—Rabindranath Tagore

And for three, the answer ‘Because it feels good,’ only gets part marks—depending of course, on just how good it feels, including a strict definition of what is meant by ‘good.’ But too much information will result in a loss of marks. Good luck!

“Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.”
—Erich Fromm

Here’s to the mystery, and joy, and lots of lookin’ out for the other fella, too.



THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC of WISCONSIN: How Important Is The Right To Collective Bargaining? How Important are the Rights and Dignity of the Worker?

February 18th, 2011

I don’t know much about what’s going on in Wisconsin, but I just read this article by Lauren Knapp, entitled Wisconsin, Other State Legislatures Consider Eliminating Collective Bargaining. Knapp writes:

Republican state senators in Wisconsin tried for a second day Friday to vote on a bill that would take collective bargaining rights from public workers.

The fight over Wisconsin state workers’ right to collective bargaining came to a dramatic halt on Thursday when fourteen democratic state senators left the state to avoid voting on the controversial bill. The state senate issued a “Call of the House,” which allows them to send out state troopers to retrieve the missing senators.

The bill, proposed by newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker, would strip government workers of their right to collective bargaining and require that workers pay for half the cost of their pensions and 12.6% of their health coverage.


Consider, in the same conservation, the following:

In 1989, in Tiananmen Square, 26-year-old railway electrician Han Dongfang helped form the first independent trade union in China in 40 years, and fight for the right to have collective bargaining. For his trouble, Han spent 22 months in prison, was treated brutally, and in the process, acquired TB and lost a lung.

Han Dongfang

That 40 years without independent unions, of course, is just one of the many putrid side-effects of Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese communists coming to power in 1949. Improved literacy was a positive. Mass murder another negative.


For those who choose to see, the Chinese communists and the Soviet Union offer us prime examples of the absurdity of so-called Left and Right politics.


Are Unions of the Left or Right? Left. Right?

Are the Soviet Union and communist China considered Left or Right? Very Left. Exactly. That’s completely right.

What did these two politically Left nations do? They smashed and crushed anything resembling a labour union, anything resembling workplace democracy, anything resembling the right of assembly, and at times murdered or imprisoned those who tried to gain rights for workers.

But heck, I thought the Left were in favour of labour unions. Turns out the Communist Chinese and the Soviet Union both despised labour unions.

So repeat after me:

What we’re left with here is the mistreatment of workers that isn’t right.

But not being right doesn’t make it Left, right? Unless you’re Right and you hate the Left, which is the right way to be Right. Then you think that anything that’s left with the Right that isn’t right is Left.

But the Left thinks that things that aren’t right aren’t Left but Right, right? Either way, how can it be right to be left with this Chinese/Soviet Right-hating Communist disdain for labour unions being called Left, when that’s the right way to think to be called Right, and what’s left to the Left is unions, because those who are right on the Left say labour unions are right, and it’s the Right who hate labour unions because they’re “supposedly” Left, right?

So the right meanings of Left and Right are left meaningless by Right and Left ideologues and the mainstream press, Left and Right, who left the right nuance too far behind to grasp that we don’t know what’s right or what’s left—let alone what’s Left with the Right and Right with the Left, right?



I had the chance to interview the gracious Han Dongfang last summer (I have a short clip that I will post soon). Here’s what he said, referring to collective bargaining and the dictatorship of China:

In my understanding, democracy should be meaning, in the workplace, the workers should have the equal position, in front of the employer. The chance to speak, the chance to discuss about our salary, our benefits, so it’s a mutual respect relationship based on collective bargaining.

The [2010] Honda Factory Worker strike [in southern China broke] the ice completely and the labour movement in China now looks much brighter than ever. The most important message they brought out was the idea of collective bargaining.

We have at least 500 million workers in China. If one-third of them have the rights to have real, workplace collective bargaining, we will be able to change the whole way that globalization develops and the whole world develops based on cheap labour without workers’ unions.


There are, of course, unions and union employees who actually contribute to some of the negative ways people and the press speak about unions. A guy I know, for example, a temporary shop steward in his union, was able to end the shift for his workers an hour early one day. A couple of folks happened to have to work, literally, a few minutes more to finish up. For having done so, they filed a grievance.

This kind of bullshit, evidently, is not unusual, and limits external empathy. I would be a liar not to admit that.

Some teachers that I know, and damn good teachers, feel little or no affiliation or solidarity between themselves (as the rank and file) and their Union (as bureaucracy). The relationship, for many, has gone cold. So Unions have problems and a lot of work to do, and maybe size is one of the problems (those teachers are, nonetheless, guaranteed a lot of union-fought-for advantages).

In the same vein, the massive bureaucracy and the non-democratic nature of some unions or aspects of unions definitely bother me, along with the corruption of some unions. The Teamsters leap to mind—for everyone. But there are many others, worse, as a rule, in the US than in Canada or Europe. Corruption sucks.

And, of course, wages that are too large for a company to pay, and still compete, are a problem. Of course, they’re competing with other companies working in dictatorships where their workers are treated like beasts of burden—poverty cheap pay under horrifically long hours and inhuman conditions. So is the problem actually high wages or competing with slave wages?

And these same companies, of course, while fighting unions, and fighting minimum wage laws, are also constantly fighting to put caps on CEO pay and bonuses (see the Financial Sector pre- and post-bailout), and shareholder profits.

The last half of that sentence (the italicized part) was unadulterated sarcasm.

And in that bleeding vein of CEO bonuses, how much of this attack in Wisconsin simply serves as a fantastic distraction from the truly criminal stealing and ongoing thievery by large parts of the financial sector on Wall Street and all over the world?


But the essence of unions, it needs to be remembered, has been and always will be (or should be), as I have been told over and over, “a self-defence mechanism against the brutality of Power.” History shows this to be so often true.


One could then rightly ask, ‘Well, what about a good employer? Is that not enough?’ I asked Han the same question. His answer was enlightening. He said human beings are not equal if they have to hope to have an employer who treats them well, who hopefully allows communication et cetera.

And granted, some non-union employers are fantastic. But hoping for a fantastic employer is not human rights, or civil rights, Han told me, this is animal rights—where hopefully the animal is treated well (and you’ll notice how often animals are treated brutally).

For humans to have a semblance of equality, of dignity, they need to have the right (and the opportunity) to freely and safely air grievances—in this case with their employer. This is, by definition, collective bargaining. The right to negotiate collectively with the employer.

Without this, it is a dictatorship—even if a benevolent one. It is certainly not democracy, and it is not free speech. Many massive corporations already exclude or de facto exclude this right of negotiation—a situation deeply exacerbated for workers when only no or limited or unenforced legislation is available, like in much of the Third World—or even with, say, Canada’s own Orwellian-labelled Permanent-Temporary workforce.

This explanation between Animal Rights and Human Rights from Han Dongfang—who risked everything to fight for what Wisconsin is trying to end—made sense to me.

And whether one agrees with ‘unions’ or not, name a single country in the world with decent workers’ rights that doesn’t have a decent union history and unions in place today.

I can’t.

Unions need to evolve, of course, but they were and are themselves a vital part of the evolution of the West towards free speech, towards the right of assembly, the right to discuss freely with one’s employer, and all that offers.

These rights are vital to plant the necessary seeds for even the semblance of a decent society, for dignity amongst the largest portion of the population.

To say it again, you’ll notice that countries without unions are invariably (always?) really shitty countries that also don’t have, for example, freedom of speech or any tangible legal recourse for the non-elites. That, in my opinion, is not a coincidence.


Finally, this questionnaire came from the Wall Street Journal on-line, and is typically disjointed:

Ohio and Wisconsin are considering a bill which would strip state’s public employees of most collective-bargaining rights. What do you think? Would the end of collective bargaining for public workers means [sic] new savings and efficiencies for taxpayers? Or would it be unfair to state workers?

Sounds fair?

First of all, only a newspaper as unjournalistic as the Wall Street Journal (and all the others) would make this an and/or question.


Question One—Would the end of collective bargaining for public workers means[sic] new savings and efficiencies for taxpayers?—is controversial, but let’s just leave it alone for now.

Question Two—Or would it be unfair to state workers?—is simply an intentionally misleading, manipulative question that separates the worker here from almost everybody else (who just so happen to be workers, too).

To echo the brutally-lived experience of Han Dongfang—not to mention millions of workers in the Canadian and American past and, yes, present—the Question could just as easily be:

Would it be unfair to state workers to give up their human rights (the right and opportunity to safely negotiate grievances with an employer is collective bargaining) and thus abandon gains fought for over centuries to live instead under ‘animal rights,’ where the worker, at best, can only hope and pray for a decent employer?

I, personally, have limited faith in some benevolent dictator curing, say, the misery inside factory farms. Indeed, the reality of Power (backed by the State) is why Unions formed in the first place. I have not seen any sort of systemic, innate benelovence by multi-national corporations working in the Third World, either, when First World laws no longer apply. Have you? The main function of a corporation, for better or worse, is to maximize profit, and profit expands wherever it can. That is the DNA of profit.

For CBS News, I’m Dan Rather, as in Rather Concerned. Actually, I’m Pete McCormack, and I hope a little of Han Dongfang’s story makes us pause.

Love more! Fight for the innocent underdog!




February 17th, 2011

“That draft-dodger will never fight in my state, period.”
California governor Ronald Reagan supposedly said this when Muhammad Ali was attempting to return to the ring.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned in an ironic, sarcastic way, that Ronald Reagan was a ‘union man’:

As for fuel conservation, here’s President Carter’s energy conservation speech of 1977. It certainly didn’t help with his re-election, and the solar panels he put up on the roof of the White House were taken down by the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, President of the Screen Actors Guild (a big union man, clearly).

So here is a little about Reagan’s time as seven-time president of the Screen Actors Guild of America, including during the awful and staining House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings and the shameful blacklisting of Hollywood talent for communist or alleged communist ties.

One-time New Deal and FDR supporter and president of the Screen Actors Guild Ronald Reagan testifies before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

From the Screen Actors Guild themselves:

[Reagan] would serve a total of seven presidential terms, including six one-year terms elected by the membership in November 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1959. Issues—Guild, national, and international—during Reagan’s presidencies and board terms, 1946-1960, were among the most vast and complicated in the Guild’s history…

[Reagan oversaw] the Guild’s first three strikes (1952-53, 1955, and 1960); the first residuals for filmed television programs; first residuals for films sold to television; and the creation of the pension and health plan.

Pension and health plan! What? Handouts! Aaagh! Socialism!

Health plan, indeed. Well, for some, anyway.

Of course, in 1981, as President of the United States, he set a different sort of precedent when he fired over 11,000 (ostensibly illegally) striking Air Traffic Control Workers, for not returning to work within 48 hours of his order.

According to Labor Law Professor Charles Craver at George Washington University, in an article in the Baltimore Sun:

“The biggest thing that that [mass firing] did was it sent a message to the private employer community that it would be all right to go up against the unions. Whether he intended to do that, I don’t know.”

From Gary Chaison, industrial relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the same article:

I do think that Reagan showed the labor movement how important it is to have a friend in the White House and how vulnerable the labor movement can be if they have someone who’s not a friend because there were no labor law reforms passed, the minimum wage laws were not changed, foreign competition grew tremendously and ate away union jobs.”

Either way, given his two different positions—President of the Screen Actors Guild, by definition pro-Union, and the President of the United States, by most people who talk of Reagan’s two terms, strongly anti-union—what is clear is that Ronald Reagan was a truly natural political being.

As for the mention of having friends in high political places, I did some independent interviews with people from different countries at the World Labour Congress in Vancouver last year. While there, I was told that British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell had been asked to speak at the Conference, but declined. I don’t actually know the details, but if true, that speaks volumes. Imagine the climate when the Premier of British Columbia, regardless of his political stance, can’t find a way or even a good spin to celebrate workers in general. After all, workers have only built the province and its economy.

On route to the G-20 in Toronto, Argentinian leader Cristina Kirchner took time out to stop in Vancouver and give a greatly appreciated talk. What does that say?

Anyway, a little trivia: Ronald Reagan, Union Man for the ages. Now if only he’d kept those solar panels up. And it sure is a shame about the massive expansion of his country’s debt while he was leader. And Central America was brutalized. Ah, who am I kidding, so were unions. Yet through it all he made Americans feel good about themselves. Now that’s talent.



February 17th, 2011

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
—Frederick Douglass on escaping from slavery

I mentioned Frederick Douglass (February, 1818—February 20, 1895) in a recent blog, and then saw these two quotes. Douglass was born a slave, escaped (and wrote about it) and went on to become a great American social reformer, deeply involved in the abolitionist movement, a writer and statesman, known for (as the quotes below show) fiery and clear oration.

With the following quotes, think of the West in many, many instances, think of Frederick Douglass’ own fight, think of today even—think with great care and discernment. Power and Rights are always in flux, regardless of what tyrants say, or what legislation says. And, of course, think of the present uprisings across the generally dictatorial North Africa and the Middle East:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.

And this one, with that wondrous freedom—freedom of speech:

Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down.

The hilarious Rick Mercer, who is host of CBC’s aptly titled show The Rick Mercer Report, said about the 4,000-year-old Dire Straits song Money for Nothing, which was recently, pathetically and idiotically censored in Canada for use of the word ‘faggot’:

“…the song doesn’t offend me, because it’s all about context, and it’s a character line spoken by an ignorant person who is jealous of a glam rock and roll star.”

Now Rick might only be saying why the song doesn’t offend him, because it’s all about context. That’s fair, of course. But we’re in a country that espouses freedom and free speech. Real, tangible, practicing, vibrant freedom of speech actually has almost nothing (verging on nothing) to do with context. There may, of course, be some exceptions. But true free speech rests precisely on the right to say god-awful things, and to have that right defended (the right, not what’s being said) by others—even if we despise what is being said, and the person is an ignorant, hateful knob.

I like what was said by actor and comedian Scott Thompson, who is not only funny but gay. He was disgusted by the censorship:

“When you ban a word, you make the word more powerful. All this banning that’s going on just makes (the hate) go deeper and deeper into the soul, where it festers. Let it it out. I want to know what you really think. I can handle it.”

That’s an important point: by pushing this kind of pathetic, moralistic enforcement above the power of free speech, the ‘state/government’ is playing ‘parent,’ coercively, and to me, sickeningly, all the while increasing their Big Brother Power. This is, of course, worst in dictatorships. Either way, to play parent to adults is offensive to freedom: they are of course not parents at all. But when they attempt to play the role (and by definition that is the state), they even fail miserably at that. The worst parents by definition: constantly squabbling, lying, distant and largely unaccountable, rarely if ever apologizing (unless it’s politically expedient), making countless rules that very few people believe in and, of course, they are infantile, even criminal, with money. Imagine leaving so much debt that you’re actually stealing from your grandchildren!


We actually used a quote from Frederick Douglass at the opening of Uganda Rising, about the brutal war in Northern Uganda:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

I would not like to mess with Frederick Douglass—although I am sure he would allow and defend my free speech.

A ten-minute clip from Uganda Rising—this portion mostly about colonialism and the so-called Scramble for Africa.

Here’s to protecting everybody’s freedom, with intelligence and discernment, and expansive thought. A grand irony of freedom is that it requires stunning and intelligent restraint.

Pete xo


THE MIDDLE EAST, 1973: Oil, Occupied Territories, Nixon, Kissinger, Threats and Jimmy Carter (1977)

February 16th, 2011

As the intense changes happen across the Middle East in this winter of 2011, I happened to see this news clip from the OPEC imposed Energy Crisis during the Yom Kippur War in October, 1973. It’s interesting to see. By summer 1974, I recall, gas station line-ups were massive. People used up more gas waiting to get to the pump than they were able to get from the pump itself. That’s the same feeling I get when I believe an advertisement.

This is so long ago, Tom Brokaw was a journalist, my boyhood hockey hero Yvan Cournoyer had won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player in the NHL Play-offs and Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn was the years number one song (1973). Good times.

As for fuel conservation, here’s President Carter’s energy conservation speech of 1977. It certainly didn’t help with his re-election, and the solar panels he put up on the roof of the White House were taken down by the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, President of the Screen Actors Guild (a big union man, clearly).

Carter’s speech begins with the inspiring:

“Good evening. Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you…”

Ah yes, the material world, constantly changing, constantly staying the same.


I had this hockey card in a drawer, with tons of other ones. One day, something happened, and all the cards were gone, along with my animal bone collection. I’m still looking for clues. If you know anything, please call…


JOSHUA EVANS: Christian, Abolitionist, Vegetarian, Tax-Refuser and all round Committed Guy

February 16th, 2011

Joshua Evans (1731-1798) was a radical Quaker, an abolitionist, a vegetarian, and he refused to pay taxes that went to war efforts. He wouldn’t even buy import goods so as to not pay an excise tax that would then contribute to military spending. That guy’s serious.

As for Evan’s worldview, you surely won’t hear it in these ‘modern’ days from, say, the Christian Right (or most any other religious group). Indeed, libertarian/conservative Ron Paul was just removed from the advisory board of the conservative (so-called) organization Young Americans for Freedom, largely for his anti-war/foreign policy beliefs.

Anyway, Evans wrote in his journal, around the time of the American Revolution:

I cannot see how to reconcile war, in any shape or color, with the mild spirit of christianity; nor that devouring disposition, with the peaceable, lamblike nature of our blessed Saviour. It seems to me we might as well suppose, theft and murder do not contradict his royal law, which enjoins the doing to others as we would have them do to us.

That view that doesn’t actually really exist anymore, ironically, at least not in places of Power and even most religious organizations. When a vote was taken after the 9/11 tragedy to give more or less all going-to-war powers to then President George Bush, Democrats and Republicans voted 518-1 in favour. Barbara Lee’s solo vote was the only one in opposition. For this she received immediate death threats, and had a bodyguard put on duty to protect her life.

Here’s to the great and early abolitionists, from all over.



ANIMAL SPECTRUM: Domination, Domestication and Slavery

February 15th, 2011

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

The above statement, of course, assumes that if animals are treated well, humans will be treated very well.

Big and complex food for thought in an article I just read. And unlike the rapid slaughter at the assembly line at a slaughterhouse, I actually can’t quickly process what is being said, or even conclude what I perceive as the article’s merits and faults, let alone if there are inaccuracies in the facts. Nonetheless, it made me twist my thinking cap…

So I’ll just briefly describe the author’s point, and cut and paste a few quotes. It’s an article from 2007 by a guy named Jason Hribal—whom I don’t know anything about. He’s the author of a recent book (2011) called Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance. The book’s thesis is that attacks and escapes by animals in captivity are often done deliberately and with intent—by the animals.

In the article, called Fear of an Animal Planet, Hribal describes, among other things, the very sensitive idea of a relationship between slavery (of humans) and the domination (or slavery) of animals. That’s controversial point number one. You can read the article to see if any of it resounds with you.

An excerpt:

In [Frederick] Douglass‘s descriptions about his days trapped in slavery, he often made direct comparisons between the treatment and use of other animals and that of himself…

“I now saw, in my situation, several points of similarity with that of the oxen. They were property, so was I; they were to be broken, so was I; Convey was to break me, I was to break them; break and be broken—such is life.”

But Douglass was not alone in making these recognitions of commonality, as such thinking was routine among African-American slaves.

But Douglass and most other abolitionists also didn’t go so far as to include, in their outrage, the ‘slavery’ of animals. Hribal describes a few who did:

The 17th century Philadelphian Quakers [actually 17th and 18th century]—Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, John Woolman, and Joshua Evans—were not just radicals who advocated for the abolition of slavery. They were not just the ones who influenced Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and John Wesley. Rather they were the radicals who advocated against the oppression and exploitation of all animals: human, pig, horse, and dog.

Their actions took the form of writing pamphlets, preaching in the Southern States, schooling African-American children, using means of civil disobedience, boycotting of products, campaigning for the poor waged-laborer, refusing to eat the flesh of another creature, and refusing to ride in a horse-operated carriage. Indeed, named after the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras [an early ‘western’ vegetarian, supposedly influenced in India], these Pythagorean Quakers were part of a larger movement, one that stretched from the English Revolution through the French Revolution.

See the Bloodless Revolution for more of these ideas.

Hribal includes present-day (and deceased) activist John Africa (MOVE) with the above. I don’t know much about John Africa and the MOVE movement, but awhile I saw this material at the Philadelphia Enquirer on MOVE and the FBI actions.

For Hribal, if I understand Hribal’s last paragraph, Africa paid for this belief with his life when in 1985, the FBI dropped a bomb on Africa’s house and killed eleven humans and a lot of dogs and cats:

[Frederick] Douglass and [John] Africa did not fear an animal planet, for both fully understood the systemic nature of social oppression and economic exploitation. And, in the case of John Africa, one of them did something about it. These are lessons to be learned.

Hribal also talks about the role of blood-sports (blood-sports being sports that include violence to animals):

There are two primary purposes to the blood-sports of dog-fighting, bull-baiting, and cock-fighting [the second is money]. The first was defined succinctly by the past British War Minister, William Windham:

“When the spirit of a proud people is aroused by a call upon their honor, or even by a favorite war-cry, it is not difficult to bring them en masse in action; but no such armies could have been raised in such a space of time, had not the arts of military life been much cultivated throughout the land.”

Blood-sports, Windham defended and endorsed, functioned as to promote killing in the service of the state.

Themistocles, the Greek politician, once staged a cock-fight on the eve of war with Xerxes as a direct means to instill a sanguinary thirst among his troops.

In the film documentary, Winter Soldier, a Vietnam combat veteran described to the audience the final act of basic training. The commander appeared before his squad with a bunny, and proceeded to tear off the rabbit’s head and gut the creature.

Indeed, the dog-fighter Michael Vick was not so much a victim of societal violence, as the cause of it. Blood-sports lead to war—not the other way around.

This begs many questions. For example:

1) Is war as necessary as it appears to be by its plentiful use?

2) Could war in fact even be undertaken without an ongoing method or means to rile up a willingness to kill a so-called enemy?

Finally, Hribal writes:

There is a growing consensus among the scholars of slave-studies that the origins of human slavery itself can be traced to the domestication of cattle, pigs, and horses. In other words, the enslavement of humans first appeared in those ancient societies where other animals had recently been domesticated. Slavery begets slavery. Would have either Frederick Douglass or John Africa been surprised or offended to learn of this? No.

This, of course, begs all kinds of questions about who we are as human beings.

Like I said, serious (and seriously controversial) food for thought. And for some people, when all else has been taken, thought is the last stand for freedom—and perhaps the biggest one.

Love more,



JAKE SHIELDS and MIXED MARTIAL ARTS: Fighting the Good Fight against the Systemic Mistreatment of Animals

February 13th, 2011

“Our task must be to free ourselves…by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”
—Albert Einstein

It’s strange the beliefs that go along for people about other people who live a vegetarian lifestyle (and, of course, sometimes vice-versa). People still ask, in 2011 no less:

“Well, then what do you eat?”

And they’re serious. Sometimes I say things like, ‘I actually strain plankton through my teeth, in the bathtub, and when that runs out I gnaw on plastic, because that’s all there is.’

For the record, my favourite person in the entire world, including the rest of the universe, follows a vegan diet (no meat, no eggs and no dairy—except for a rare, slight, unstoppable flexibility with dessert). Wait, there’s more! She’s a poster child for vegan mothers: she gave birth to the most beautiful baby in history, according to recent polls—and for what it’s worth (which, I know, isn’t much), this little guy (with medium size folks) is in the 97th percentile in weight and height at the tender age of five months. Plus, he can run the 100 meters in 9.3 seconds. Okay, I made up the last sentence (he ran it in 10.3 seconds), but it’s good to see a few myths crumble.

Speaking of crumble, I love apple crumble. And blueberry crumble.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about the dispelling of incorrect assumptions and confronting systemic cruelty to countless animals—including animals that feel everything our pets feel. And how would we feel if our pets were brutalized? Horrified. Furious. Heart-broken. Vengeful. And yet…

My prediction: It will take a serious percentage of pet-lovers grasping this terrible irony, and truly caring, and opposing this brutality, to finally lessen the systemic cruelty to factory-farm animals. Without this awareness, how will enough people care?

In other words, to stop the relentless cruelty of factory farms, pet-lovers must become animal lovers.


And here’s one story that, I must say, surprised me. Regardless of how one feels about mixed martial arts fighting (and it brings up a lot of different feelings), the UFC mixed martial arts fighter Jake Shields, riding a fifteen-fight-winning streak, is a life-long vegetarian. Granted, he’s in for a super tough fight with world champion Canadian Georges St. Pierre in the summer. But isn’t that impressive? Who would guess it?

It was interesting to hear his point of view, and his disdain for the relentless brutality inflicted on billions of factory farm animals every year. Yes, there is irony in that the MMA fights are in themselves often brutal and sometimes bloody but, hey, much of life is ironic. It’s probably what makes British humour humorous and a fly in your Chardonnay bearable. Or maybe not, given the price of Chardonnay.

Also, unlike imposed, full-time cruelty against unprotected animals all the way up to their butchering, MMA fights are consensual, relatively brief (except for those fighting), and head injuries are surprisingly limited for a combat sport—and, finally, many of those involved appear to really like and want to do it.

So evidently you can be a great and competitive mixed martial artist and be a vegetarian. The great thing is, on the flip-side, and in case you didn’t know, you can be a vegetarian and it doesn’t mean you have to fight in an eight-sided cage against seriously tough people. In fact, you don’t have to fight at all. Except, if you so desire, for the better treatment of animals.

Here’s to more love and more kindness,




February 13th, 2011

I wouldn’t even know—and I spent three years in the CIA—I wouldn’t even know how you’d start a covert action program in a place like Iran. It would be extraordinarily difficult.
Frank Carlucci

Maybe by reading a little classified and/or even declassified history.

I’ve written about this bit of history in Iran before in my unlearned way, but here is a piece of it (I only watched the first part) that is a reminder of how compelling that period, up to the present, is; an historical thriller, with great intrigue and danger, and deceit, and power, except it’s all real, and real people, citizens, with hearts and families are indirectly yet seriously involved—as always with history.

This first part begins in the 1920s, when the last Shah’s military father (Reza Shah) came to power via a coup, overthrowing the monarchy and proclaiming himself Shah; the occupation of Iran by the British and the Russians in WWII, and their eventual forced overthrow of the leader with the replacement of his son, the Shah (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi); the overthrow of the parliamentary elected Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh in the early ’50s (with big help from British and American Intelligence) and leading to the return of the Shah, in 1953, to Iran.

What it all means about the Iranian Revolution in 1979/80, the brutal Islamic leadership thereafter up to the present, and any honest discussion about democracy, is any one’s guess, and much according to one’s particular political leaning.

Heck, almost all of us are simply rambling less-than-understood or inspired positions from our proverbial and comfortable armchairs. Nonetheless, as humans we do this, and must do it, due to our large brain and perhaps, to a degree, the wonders of refrigeration and the time it left for intrigue and conversation amongst the unwashed masses. Okay, I showered this morning, but you get my point.

May kindness, compassion, discernment, love and humour be on the side you choose—oh, and as the conservative Jimmy Stewart said in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:

“I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness—and a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too.”



February 11th, 2011

Werner Herzog has made a lot of terrific, original, passionate films, and he’s a fascinating character, and he actually seems friendly in interview. I thought Grizzly Man was simply great, riveting from start to finish. I mean how often do you see two massive grizzly bears go at it ferociously on a beach, and in the intensity, one craps itself—and keeps fighting? UFC on Animal Planet.

In an interview, I once commented about something Werner had said in the narration of Grizzly Man (Werner narrated the film, with the perfect voice for it, melancholic German:

I saw recently Werner Herzog in his fascinating documentary Grizzly Man—which I really enjoyed. He said, “I believe the universe is based in hostility, murder and chaos.” Then when he listened to the tape [recording] of the guy being eaten by the bear, it terrified him, petrified him, made him shake.

And I thought, if you [Werner] believe the world is truly based in chaos and horror and murder, you shouldn’t be shaking when that happens because that’s a natural state to be in. But it is not, and I don’t agree with Herzog at all in that. I think he is a great director but I don’t agree with that conclusion and I know that he doesn’t deep down agree with it either. Otherwise he wouldn’t shake when he heard someone being eaten by a bear, because we don’t want to be eaten by bears—bears being in that moment a metaphor for chaos or brutality or death or whatever.


As for Herzog’s melancholic German voice and unique Eyore perspective on the world, somebody faked his voice (or is it Werner himself?) and did a Where’s Waldo? according to Werner—in short, chaos and nihilism. Priceless. Here it is, and in the meantime, may Egypt prove more organized for kindness than random chaos, and may exterior forces help more than hinder.

May you find yourself, if not Waldo,

Pete xo


Great Advancements in Technology: GUITAR LESSONS with LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM

February 10th, 2011

I get by with a little help from my friends.
—John Lennon

This is a quick post for passionate guitar nerds.

When I was first learning guitar in my very late teens, early twenties, like 1985, that was an explosive, joyful, crazy time. I played no music growing up (and it showed), so to become enveloped and imbued with a longing to write songs was like a religious conversion. Music became a best friend—and so it was with writing songs.


As for learning cover songs and practicing etc., I recall the inimitable Paul Simon had the worst songbooks ever—at least from a guitar/folky point of view. A super-talented and underrated guitar player, and a truly brilliant cross-generational songwriter, all Simon’s sheet music (and Simon and Garfunkel’s) offered only bad piano chords, offering none of the nuance with which he plays guitar. I’m still heated about it. For example, and this is from memory, but the gorgeous America (“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together”) uses a capo on third fret, played in 3/4 time, with a standard descending bass note off the top: C, C/B, Am7, C/G kind of thing. But the sheet music would give you Eb and no hint of the descending bass notes, if I remember it correctly. Bummer! I felt so cheated. So denied. So alone. Okay, maybe not so alone.


On the other hand, James Taylor’s Greatest Hits songbook, and his anthologies, were often great, detailed, the correct capoed fret, the bass notes on the chords, and all that jazz. Heaven! And he is such a distinct picker. Who can’t tell a James Taylor hammer-on? So I learned those songs in detail: Something in the Way she Moves, Carolina in my Mind, You Can Close Your Eyes etc.


But today, my fellow plucky friends? Youtube! No wonder it’s so addicting—all the dreams of a 1970s pop culture fiend. I just saw the supremely underrated no-pick guitar player/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham (from Fleetwood Mac) give a guitar lesson for his tour-de-force song Big Love*.

How cool is that, and how cool is that of Lindsey Buckingham for doing it? Very cool. He also gives a quick lesson for the simple yet beautiful Stevie Nick’s classic, Landslide, and a couple of others. That, I tell you, for a young guitar player—or an old one like me, now—is musical crack— or in my case, musical chai and melodic dark chocolate.

Anyway, here’s a version of Lindsey playing the song live, on his own. And below it is the instruction. *A quick note: Lindsey doesn’t capo the guitar on the lesson, as he plays it live. I think it’s fourth fret. I’m waiting for Paul Simon to do this. By the way, one can tell what a great performer Buckingham is—he actually plays it more smoothly and better live than in the lesson. It might be the guitar, or it might be the adrenalin, or it might be well-rehearsed, or it might be a mixture.

Big Love Lesson

Have fun strumming or pickin’ or clunkin’.


UNINTELLIGENT BY DESIGN: Cruel Rhetoric Continues Unabated, But Literacy…?

February 9th, 2011

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

Put another way:

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
—Groucho Marx

As most anybody knows, Sarah Palin was accused by some of having encouraged the tragic shooting in Arizona via her comments: evidently she twittered, Don’t retreat, RELOAD!, and on her website she had ‘crosshairs’ on a map put over certain districts across the country where she disagreed with politicians from that area. Included in the ‘crosshairs’ was the political district of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who, along with several other heart-breakingly unfortunate people, was tragically gunned down in Tucson on January 8, 2011. Shot in the head, Gifford remains miraculously alive and recovering, on what her husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, calls a “rough road ahead.”

Months before the shooting, Giffords spoke presciently about the dangers in office and threats in her area, particularly over her support for the Health Care Bill. As all who have followed the tragedy know, before the shooting, she also mentioned the Sarah Palin ‘cross-hairs’:

“We need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and—you know, even, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But, the thing is that, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.”


The truth is, and this tragedy notwithstanding, volatile rhetoric in the US is not even mildly new historically (nor, in the US, are striking per capita death rates by shooting). Sarah Palin said as much in her post-shooting statement, in which she was clearly careful to not mention her use of ‘cross-hairs’ targeting certain politicians.

Palin said:

There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?

Whatever its political intention, this statement is not inaccurate. I mentioned this historicity of spiteful rhetoric a while ago, and showed some examples via a startling yet funny youtube piece. And the “dueling pistols” Palin mentions may be referring to the jaw-dropping historical moment when Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed in a mutually agreed upon duel with Aaron Burr in 1804 (and we think MMA is brutal).

Hamilton is generally considered Thomas Jefferson’s opposition or counterpoint amongst Founding Fathers, and has been on many a stamp, and his face graces the rapidly devaluing American ten dollar bill.

Speaking of Jefferson and high-octane attacks, his ‘propaganda team’ called US President John Adams, for example:

“….[a] hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

No offence to hermaphrodites, but that is meant to be insulting. Vitriol, 1800s style. And I mean early 1800s. Maybe even very late 1700s.

And let’s be honest, the Internet has provided a magnificent new forum for truly democratized verbal violence and cruelty, which simultaneously makes us believe we are proudly exercising free speech. We may be, but we’re certainly not maximizing free speech’s potential**.


So if political rhetoric has always been polarized and aggressive, has anything changed (other than female emancipation, the end of slavery, rock ‘n roll and high-speed internet)? I’ve been reading Chris Hedges’ intense yet depressing book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, and it turns out an analysis of certain presidential scripts by the Princeton Review perhaps offers a clue:

[Back in the late 1850s, pre-Civil War] In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln spoke at the educational level of an eleventh grader (11.2), and Douglas addressed the crowd using a vocabulary suitable (12.0) for a high-school graduate. In the Kennedy-Nixon debate [1960], the candidates spoke in language accessible to tenth graders. In the 1992 debates, Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did Perot (6.3). During the 2000 debates, Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Gore at a high seventh-grade level (7.6).

In short, over the last 150 years, according to this small sample, we may be stupider. Whether its the chicken or the egg first, or whether it relates to an ever-expanding constituency (getting the vote was tough to come by 200 years yore), political candidates have dumbed down their presidential rhetoric considerably.

What does this mean in light of present day madness? I can’t say for sure, but we may just be devolving from something much worse than a “….hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman…”. We may, as a whole, be all that and illiterate. To simplify, given the demands of the modern world, we is stupider.

We’re being talked down to! Who would’ve thunk? And we’ve not been able to demand, collectively, something more like detail, clarity and insight. This is disconcerting. I say, toss around insults all you want, but do it with some panache! Is that the word?

Hedges did say that the Obama speeches may have pushed up the discourse a grade or so—so we’re finally in high school again. And they say you can never go back again. Just listen to the Presidential debates or the evening news, and you’ll have an outbreak of acne and anxiety. Hey, I still get that.

So what about the level of our political discourse? Well, the fact is, according to Hedges (pg 44):

Functional illiteracy in North America is epidemic…Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate—a figure that is growing by more than two million a year.

How that works, I don’t know, but could it have something to do with immigration? Hedges continues:

A third of high-school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and neither do 42% of college graduates.

That is depressing. I would be lost without reading, not to mention illiterate. And finally:

And it is not much better beyond our borders. Canada has an illiterate and semiliterate population estimated at 42 percent of the whole, a proportion that mirrors that of the United States.

There you have it. Forgive my own grammatical indiscretions, not to mention my countless typos and just the general disease of being a dough-head.

My friends, take back your intellectual district. Intellectual self-defense is up to you. On the other hand, there may be something good on TV tonight, so screw it.

And in all honesty, remember this: this political bandwidth of rhetoric, and politics in general—although they seem to smother and control our entire lives, delivered via the mainstream press and made sacred by the manipulation of the word democracy—they are actually a tiny section of a deeper, more complete bandwidth that is actually our life. Sure, this political bandwidth wears suits and ties and increases pensions and so on, which makes it look bigger and smarter than it is, but in so many integral ways this bandwidth lacks real understanding of being a person. It lacks tenderness, mystery, long-term thinking, depth of character, honesty, integrity and authenticity.

All I can say is we are so much more than this bandwidth. So change the station a little more often. Think more, read more—we are and can be more discerning, more brilliant, than we even imagine. And may violence decrease, and clear, non-manipulative communication increase, and may Gabrielle Giffords’ recovery continue* (and all others shattered by this madness).

Love more,

Pete x

* I just got word in a comment that Gabrielle Giffords has been talking, asking for toast. It sounds strange, but my dad would do the same thing, with butter and marmalade. What the body can endure.

**I hasten to add the Internet is also mind-boggling with stunning potential for freedom, as an information and ideas source, and the sharing of said ideas.


CAPITALISTS-COMMUNISTS, BOLSHEVIKS, HITLER and WALL STREET: Sweeping Definitions into the Dustbins of History

February 7th, 2011

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.
—George Orwell

I am repeatedly amazed by how little I know, or how much I forget. So, likely, are most of my readers. For that I apologize. But this is interesting. I was reading today and stumbled upon the name of Anthony C. Sutton (February 14, 1925 – June 17, 2002), who was a British-born ‘conservative’ economist, historian, writer and research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute.

Sutton wrote books like Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution and Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler.


I don’t know if Sutton was every debunked—he was certainly ignored, right through the Kissinger/Nixon era—but listening to what he says is highly revealing, and begs countless other questions about Big Business and Big Government collusion. Now that domestic collusion is well-known, through lobbyists, politics, and every other way to the point of nausea. Less known is the collusion across ideologies and so-called enemy countries, all in the pursuit of power and massive wealth, funded in large part by tax-payers. It gives even more sinister meaning to the term multinational.

Of course Henry Ford’s ugly anti-semitism and ties to Adolf Hitler are well known. Both men were enamoured with the other, and Hitler even presented Ford with:

“…in 1938, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, which was the highest award given to a foreigner by the Nazi regime. Hitler, for the record, in 1931 called Henry Ford his “inspiration.” Ford’s genius notwithstanding, think assembly lines, humans as cogs etc…”

The above is quoting myself, by the way. But it links to Henry Ford.

But the following direct commercial links between massive Western corporations and the Bolsheviks in Soviet Russia for some reason even surprised me. And there were many other Western and specifically American massive corporations besides Ford—Standard Oil, for example—who did the same, both in Hitler’s Germany and in Soviet Russia. This went on all the way through to the time when the Soviets were arming the North Vietnamese (massive loans to the Soviets to be used to purchase American weaponry to be used by the North Vietnamese in Vietnam against American soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers and citizens).


This from Wikipedia on the so-called Gorky Plant or GAZ, in Russia:

In May 1929 the Soviet Union signed an agreement with the Ford Motor Company. Under its terms, the Soviets agreed to purchase $13 million worth of automobiles and parts, while Ford agreed to give technical assistance until 1938 to construct an integrated automobile-manufacturing plant at Nizhny Novgorod. Production started on January 1, 1932, and the factory and marque was titled Nizhegorodsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or NAZ, but also displayed the “Ford” sign. GAZ’s first vehicle was the medium-priced Ford Model A, sold as the NAZ-A, and a light truck, the Ford Model AA (NAZ-AA). NAZ-A production commenced in 1932 and lasted until 1936, during which time over 100,000 examples were built.

1929 until 1936. Heck, Woodrow Wilson’s ‘Red Scare’ and the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920 had long been launched, evidently only against the little guys, folks fighting for workers rights and other peons.

Four parts of a very rare interview with Anthony Sutton, about Wall Street’s and Big Business’ connection to Hitler and the Bolsheviks are here: One, Two, Three (Gorky Plant talked about), and Four. Again, I don’t know anything about Sutton, or how respected he is, but he seems to know these details pretty well.

From Part Three—and Armand Hammer is but one example, and by now this is somewhat known.

SUTTON: Armand Hammer is a very interesting example. Armand Hammer received the first foreign concession in 1922 [I assume foreign meaning concession to do business with the Soviet Union] in asbestos in the Ural Mountains—and he also conducted for the Soviets a number of other enterprises, right down to pens and pencil manufacturing, for example.

But Armand Hammer is interesting because his father—although Armand Hammer today is chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corporation—his father was Julius Hammer, who in 1919 was Secretary General of the Communist Party of the USA, which emphasizes the arguments I made throughout my books: that at the top level, there’s no difference between your top communists and your top capitalists, they interlink…

INTERVIEWER: So it’s basically a power grab?

SUTTON: It’s a power grab, an international power grab.

Just a little information to contemplate on the propaganda we’re fed. Truth can set us free, or at least make us think.




February 6th, 2011

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.
—Shirley Abbott

My dear friend and wonderful director Jesse James Miller just posted his really beautiful film called My American Exodus. Actually, Jesse’s the director, writer, editor, producer, narrator and road crew of this film, which is quite a feat. It’s about himself, and his folks, and the reasons they left America in the late ’60s, in the volatility of the Vietnam War, and moved to a tiny place on Vancouver Island, with no water, no electricity, a beautiful view, and then what happened after that…

It’s like a tender poem, a little love story to a moment—a moment not unlike the moment we’re in today but with a different sensibility than today. It’s nostalgic, hopeful, bittersweet, funny, informative and highly original. What more can you ask for?

Jesse’s brilliant. He’s directed and edited a lot of stuff, and he’s about to direct a film he also wrote, called Becoming Redwood. We directed Uganda Rising together. And with great skill, Jesse was also the editor behind Facing Ali, bringing all kinds of gifts to that project. And way back before we were even born, he edited my first film, See Grace Fly.

My American Exodus is in five parts—about an hour long all in. Each part’s a little treasure; the story, the archive, the music, editing, sound, his dad’s photos, Jesse’s narration.

The five parts are here.

It’s also here on Facebook.

Pass it onto others, but only those who ever had or have a family.

Lots of love to you and yours on the ol’ journey…




February 5th, 2011

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
—Henry David Thoreau

The video and audio quality below are as weak as a young chicken, but this is a draft of a song I sorta finished the other, other night. I recorded it into the ol’ Mac Photo Booth via my computer with a built in mic (serious low-fi) to remember it, and then thought, ‘Ah, what the heck, I’ll post it.’ Gosh I wish it sounded better. Gosh I wish a lot of things. Meanwhile, don’t forget the miracle of it all. And write yourself a poem in one of a million forms—dance, whispers, doodles, verse—and then we’ll pick it up where we left off.