Avatar: a story that is a story is allying, or a story that is appropriating?

by Thea Lim ♦ acronym march 2010
note: this article was originally published at Racialicious

How do you know when a story is allying, versus appropriating?

In other words, if someone of privilege writes a story about the political oppression of a group they do not belong to, what is the difference between:

a) a story that brings marginalised voices to a wider platform and advocates for their rights, versus
b) a story that simply appropriates a political conflict for a writer’s own end, taking advantage of the fact that communities who experience marginalisation are rarely ever allowed to speak for themselves?

Apart from the fact that a story that appropriates usually winds up grossly misrepresenting a marginalised group, this is my yardstick for telling friends from foes:  one of the central purposes of a story that acts as ally, is to use one’s own privilege to tell another’s story, in the hopes of ameliorating the others’ situation.  Meanwhile, a story that appropriates just wants to spin a good yarn, get some adulation, and uses another’s story in order to do so.  An ally story is giving, an appropriating story is taking.

Quit jabbering Thea, you may say.  It’s easy to tell the difference between stories that appropriate, and stories that ally! We don’t need a yardstick!

Not true.  At least within mainstream opinion, it is startling and depressing how many stories that appropriate get passed off as political progressive, as allies.  Like Not Without My Daughter.  Or the documentary Born into Brothels, which purported to tell the story of the children of sex workers in Calcutta, but really just seemed more interested in showcasing the magnanimity of the American photographer who worked with the children.* Or another documentary, Paris is Burning, about the black trans/gay vogueing community of New York City, which brought immense praise on the white outsider director, but painted the community as tragic and hopeless, while bringing little benefit to them.  I’m sure you can think of loads more films like this.

Including…(drumroll)…Avatar. Which I finally saw last week, in all its headsplitting 3D glory.  And it fulfilled all the negative press I had read over countless months, from anti-racist and anti-ableist camps among many others.  But seeing how my esteemed peers did a lot of the deconstructing work for me, I was left to ponder another question.  If Cameron is as leftist as claimed, why didn’t he tell the story of an actual conflict between big business (or colonialists) and an indigenous group? Why use blue allegory?

Hollywood films have a generally untapped power to sway how people think about political events.   Packaging a political story within the rhetoric of emotion (and also I guess, within face-blasting special effects) is often the best way to get people to swallow arguments they would otherwise reject.  Hence a movie that – at least at face value – is very anti-war, anti-military and anti-capitalist is demolishing box office records with hardly a peep from conservative viewers.

Can you imagine the impact that a movie like Avatar could have, if Cameron had used all the CGI to recreate (for example) any area of the Americas the way it looked before first contact with the Europeans, and instead told the real story of an indigenous group struggling to protect themselves from genocide?  Imagine the kind of support it could create for indigenous rights.

So why not go all the way Cameron, and tell a true story, instead of inventing a weird, azure copy of a familiar history?

Well, because Avatar ain’t allying. It’s appropriating.  Along with the fact that Cameron’s version of indigenous people is quite insulting (they are monochromatically spiritual but stupid, and would die without a cunning but smart “civilised man” to save them) the answers to my question make it clear that Avatar is an appropriator, not an ally.

And responses to this question include but are not limited to:

1) Because making a movie about a real indigenous group would require work and resources that Cameron preferred to devote to special effects.

2) Because it’s one thing to do as Avatar does and make an argument that has already gained mainstream popularity – i.e. the war in Iraq is bad, our rate of consumption is untenable, people should be concerned about the environment** – it’s another to go way out on a limb and make an argument that is considered childish leftist faffing: i.e. that some meaningful political action should be taken to improve the conditions under which many indigenous people live, conditions that are a direct result of colonisation.

I am hard pressed to find a card-carrying liberal who will say “The native genocide on which our country is based is an atrocity that we all continue to be benefit from,” without hedging statements like “but hey, what are we going to do, move back to England?”  That kind of zero-sum reasoning distracts away from the fact that many First Nations people in Canada, my own country, live under third world conditions in a first world country,*** meaning (among many other things) poor access to clean water and safe housing, with suicide rates 2 times and infant mortality rate that is 1.5 times the rest of the country.  Throw in the fact that communities are still reeling from the residential school system which only came to an end around 1996, and the horrifying numbers of indigenous women that go missing or are murdered yearly, while the justice system does very little about it.

Surely there is a political option to remedy this beyond shameful situation, between ignoring it and moving back to England.  (Speaking of political options of even the most lipservicey variety: in 2007 when the UN tried to pass the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People the US and Canada were among only four countries to refuse to sign.)

While Cameron is willing to dabble in native politics, he’s not willing to commit.

3) Because you might have to get permission from the native group you were representing to tell their story, if you wanted to do it in a way that still allowed you to look “progressive”.  You might even have to let them get involved in the filmmaking, God forbid! And this would mean that…

4) Because you wouldn’t be able to manipulate the story for your own purposes.   Though we should note that representing real life indigenous people and doing research into their plight did not stop Mel Gibson from grotesquely skewing the history of the Mayans in Apocalypto.

5) And most of all, because writing about real life indigenous people would prevent the kind of feel-good, Disneyfied ending that Cameron wanted for Avatar. While four hundred years later, First Nations people in the Americas continue to survive and resist the ongoing erosion of their cultures, it is a massive understatement to say that things did not  turn out for them the way they did for the Na’vi.

In other words, if Cameron had based Avatar on real people rather than blue ones, he would not have been able to use that story for his own purposes.  Again, for his own purposes.

While Avatar has more subtext than it knows what to do with, its biggest facade is that it is a political movie.  It most definitely is not, because it has zero interest in mobilising political action.  Its storyline is much too farfetched to be giving any kind of clear instruction on what the average viewer can do to stop environmental degradation, the war in Iraq or work for native rights.

It is a movie that hijacks the ongoing struggles of real people with far less privilege than Cameron, in order to hook as many audiences as possible.  But how is a story of native struggle an easy sell to worldwide audiences, you ask?  The tale of swarthy white man saving unenlightened savages is such an old cultural meme that it quickly hooks our brains.  That’s why Avatar has drawn countless comparisons (and multiple accusations of plagiarism): it’s a common story for our culture, a story we can’t get past because those of us who are settlers cannot reconcile ourselves to the horror of our history.  But don’t be fooled; that doesn’t mean Cameron is interested in that history.  He’s just capitalising on the story’s draw.

This is what theft is, in intellectual or artistic terms – rather than get someone’s permission to tell their story, tell a corrupted version of their story and then pass it off as original genius. Cue accolades.

In recent weeks we’ve heard stories of how indigenous people have begun using Avatar to talk about their own struggles.   Most famously, indigenous Bolivian president Evo Morales has shown unreserved praise for the film.  This article from Survival, an international organisation devoted to advocacy for tribal peoples, talks about how multiple Indigenous groups are trying to make clear the parallels between their own histories, and the fictional Na’vi:

A Penan man from Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, told Survival, ‘The Penan people cannot live without the rainforest. The forest looks after us, and we look after it. We understand the plants and the animals because we have lived here for many, many years, since the time of our ancestors.

‘The Na’vi people in ‘Avatar’ cry because their forest is destroyed. It’s the same with the Penan. Logging companies are chopping down our big trees and polluting our rivers, and the animals we hunt are dying.’

The photo at the top of this article is from a protest by Palestinians against an Israeli separation barrier, where Palestinians dressed up as Na’vi to get their point across.

It just goes to show that when resistance is a way of life, you make the most of imperfect advocacy, of stories that are only pretending to be your ally.

Sympathy or even empathy that is not coupled with power-sharing is meaningless.  Any story that purports to show solidarity or uplift marginalised groups, but is not willing to let us tell our own stories in our own way, is not a friend.


Some notes:

* The reason why I say this is because I was troubled by the lack of context the film gave for the children’s situation. Rather than looking at the poverty and pressure their parents were under, it seemed to demonise the parents for not wanting their children to get an education, without looking at the reason’s for that behaviour.  It was willing to show the cute and loveable children, but their parents were apparently not photogenic enough for the camera.

After writing this paragraph I looked up the film on Wikipedia, and found more depressing news:

However, Partha Banerjee, who worked on the film as an interpreter, has disputed the claim that the children’s lives have been improved. In a February 2005 letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he says that many of them ended up in worse circumstances than they had been in before their involvement in photography classes. Critics argued that the lives and family circumstances of these children were too complex to be revolutionized by educating one family member in photography, or even by sending them to boarding school.

**I’m not saying that all these precepts are beliefs everyone holds.  Lord knows there are countless people who continue to support the war and believe global warming is either a myth or a natural occurence that has nothing to do with how humans use resources.  However the cultural trend right now is that many more people oppose the war than when it first began, and that people should care about the environment; even if only in the most silly ways, like Walmart’s Sustainability Goals or buying a hybrid H3.  There is no cultural trend to support native land rights.

***We usually use the term “global south” at Racialicious in favour of “third world” – I used “third world” because it is the term that First Nations people themselves use to describe conditions on reserves.

Earth to Obama: 5 Reasons Nuclear is Nowhere Near Sustainable

by Alex Knightacronym march 2010

Last week President Obama announced an $8.3 billion loan of taxpayer dollars for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia. He has also proposed tripling the loans for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion in his 2011 budget.

In his announcement he argued, “To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple.”

Sadly, Mr. Obama is mistaken on all points.

If by “we” the President means to speak on behalf of his Wall St. advisers and the industrial capitalist system he represents, “our” energy needs are not growing. They’re shrinking along with the economy. And while preventing the worst consequences of climate change is necessary, nuclear power is not.  It’s not necessary by any stretch of the imagination.

Here are 5 simple reasons why nuclear is not a sustainable solution to the energy woes of the 21st Century:

1. Nuclear is Too Expensive.

In economic hard times such as ours, we need cheap, readily-available sources of energy to create jobs and keep the lights on.  Nuclear is the opposite. Nuclear reactors require billions of dollars of government subsidies just to be built, because no private investor wants to throw their money into an expensive and dangerous project that might never produce a return.

To grab those government subsidies, nuclear companies regularly low-ball their price tags, knowing they’ll have to beg for more money later and that the feds will always give in. The recent TIME article “Why Obama’s Nuclear Bet Won’t Pay Off” explains:

If you want to understand why the U.S. hasn’t built a nuclear reactor in three decades, the Vogtle power plant outside Atlanta is an excellent reminder of the insanity of nuclear economics. The plant’s original cost estimate was less than $1 billion for four reactors. Its eventual price tag in 1989 was nearly $9 billion, for only two reactors. But now there’s widespread chatter about a nuclear renaissance, so the Southern Co. is finally trying to build the other two reactors at Vogtle. The estimated cost: $14 billion. And you can be sure that number is way too low, because nuclear cost estimates are always way too low.

Environment America’s report, “Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming”, explains nuclear’s faulty economics further:

Market forces have done far more to damage nuclear power than anti-nuclear activists ever did. The dramatic collapse of the nuclear industry in the early 1980s – described by Forbes magazine as the most expensive debacle since the Vietnam War – was caused in large measure by massive cost overruns driven by expensive safety upgrades after the Three Mile Island accident revealed shortcomings in nuclear plant design. These made nuclear power plants far more expensive than they were supposed to be. Some U.S. power companies were driven into bankruptcy and others spent years restoring their balance sheets.

At the end of the day, there are much cheaper and better ways to produce energy.  The TIME article points out, “Recent studies have priced new nuclear power at 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, about four times the cost of producing juice with new wind or coal plants, or 10 times the cost of reducing the need for electricity through investments in efficiency.”

Instead of pouring billions of dollars into something the market wants to keep its distance from, why not spend that money on efficiency improvements or wind and solar, for which there is a growing market and massive public support?

2. Nuclear is Too Inefficient.

A big part of why nuclear is so expensive is that it’s incredibly inefficient as an energy source, requiring a high proportion of energy inputs as compared to what it produces in output.  Between the cost of building the plants and equipment (tons of steel, concrete, and intricate machinery), mining the uranium, enriching the uranium, operating under stringent safety regulations, disposing the radioactive waste, and eventually decommissioning the plants, there is a tremendous about of energy and money poured in to nuclear reactors, making the energy they produce proportionaly less impressive than is often touted.

Because of all the secrecy and bureaucracy involved in nuclear operations, we have no thorough documentations of exactly how much energy must be invested in order to produce a return (this fraction is sometimes called Energy Returned on Energy Invested – EROEI).

Gene Tyner carried out one such study called “Net Energy from Nuclear Power” and estimated that “an ‘optimistic’ one‑plant analysis shows that one plant may yield about 3.8 times as much energy as is input to the system over a 40‑year period.” The “pessimistic” estimate was just 1.86, meaning less than twice the energy expended is returned through electricity.

Once again, these statistics are significantly worse than for wind, solar, or increased efficiency, each of which would produce much more net energy with the same level of inputs. Wind, for example, could reach in excess of 50:1 EROEI.

Nuclear’s energy numbers are only going to get worse as time goes on and the quantity of high-concentration uranium in the world continues to be depleted. Mining lower-quality uranium, in more difficult environments, will further reduce the net energy that nuclear can produce. Indeed, this is a whole separate problem, but nuclear is unlikely to be any kind of replacement for fossil fuels in the long run anyway, with studies stating that Peak Uranium will be here “before 2040 at the latest.”

3. Nuclear Emits Too Much CO2 and Other Chemicals.

Nuclear is often touted by corporations and politicians as a “clean” energy source because the electricity generation process itself produces little to no carbon dioxide, the most notorious greenhouse gas responsible for driving our climate into chaos. However, nuclear does emit substantial greenhouse gas pollution, of both carbon dioxide and other chemicals, if we look at its complete production profile:

the nuclear fuel cycle does release CO2 during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most CO2 intensive industrial operations and as demand for uranium grows CO2 emissions are expected to rise as core grades decline. According to calculations by the Öko-Institute, 34 grams of CO2 are emitted per generated kWh in Germany. The results from other international research studies show much higher figures – up to 60 grams of CO2 per kWh. In total, a nuclear power station of standard size (1,250MW operating at 6,500 hours/annum) indirectly emits between 376,000 million tonnes (Germany) and 1,300,000 million tonnes (other countries) of CO2 per year. In comparison to renewable energy, nuclear power releases 4-5 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced taking account of the whole fuel cycle.

Aside from radioactive wastes, other waste and pollutants from the manufacture of nuclear reactor fuel include mercury, arsenic and cadmium, which are disposed of on and off site, and hydrochloric acid aerosols, fluorine and chlorine gas, which are released into the air.

None of this pollution is acceptable. Mercury and arsenic in particular are known carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer, along with birth defects and other devastating illnesses. The location of the plants, as is typical, tends to distribute the negative health effects primarily to poor communities and communities of color, making this an environmental justice issue as well.

It just doesn’t make sense. Why invest in a technology that is excessively dirty when compared to genuinely clean sources of energy like wind or solar?

Quoting once more from Environment America’s report:

Building 100 new reactors would require an up-front investment on the order of $600 billion dollars – money which could cut at least twice as much carbon pollution by 2030 if invested in clean energy. Taking into account the ongoing costs of running the nuclear plants, clean energy could deliver as much as 5 times more pollution-cutting progress per dollar overall.

4. Nuclear Risks Radioactive Disaster.

So far we haven’t mentioned the traditional argument against nuclear reactors, that they 1) produce radioactive waste which we have nowhere to put, and 2) have the potential to melt down or be struck by a terrorist attack, which could cause almost inconceivable ecological calamity.

Few Americans realize how close we came to having to evacuate most of the Eastern Seaboard if the partial meltdown of the reactor at Three Mile Island in 1979 had caused an explosion in the core.  This nearly happened, and the warning that the Three Mile Island disaster has given us about the extreme danger of nuclear reactors needs to be recalled today.

The reality is that even without an apocalyptic Chernobyl-style or 9/11-style event, nuclear fission everyday produces hundreds of poisonous and radioactive toxins which did not exist on Earth before the 1940s. Each nuclear plant creates approximately 1,000 metric tons of high- and low-level waste yearly, which will not fully degrade for literally thousands of years. And this is only the most controlled aspect of the problem.

As Harvey Wasserman explained on Democracy Now! Thursday, lesser-known radioactive leaks are sadly a regular occurance at nuclear facilities:

There’s a huge fight going on, by the way, in Vermont right now, where the people of the state of Vermont are trying to shut the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which has been leaking tritium. And if you’re not aware of this, twenty-seven of the 104 nuclear plants in the United States have been confirmed to be leaking tritium now. These are plants that have been around for twenty, thirty years. If they can’t control more than a quarter of the operating reactors in the United States and prevent them from leaking tritium, what are they doing turning around with this technology and pouring many more billions of dollars of our money into it? It’s an absolute catastrophe, and we will stand up to it.

An update on Wasserman’s story – yesterday (2/24) the Vermont Senate voted to close the Yankee plant in part due to these concerns about radioative leaks.

The bottom line is that while billions of dollars can be spent to secure the radioactive fuels and waste, there will always be a risk that things will go wrong due to technological breakdown or human error, and the consequences could be dire.

The only safe way to deal with nuclear reactors is to shut them down.

5. Funding Nuclear is Another Corporate Bailout.

So if nuclear energy is too expensive, too inefficient, too polluting, and too dangerous, why in the world are our well-intentioned political leaders like President Obama promoting such a technology? Have they lost their minds? No. The better question, as is usually the case in Washington, is who stands to benefit from this decision?

And the obvious answer is the nuclear industry, which has relied on government subsidies for half a century, and continues to swindle the public out of our hard-earned tax dollars with outdated lies about cheap, abundant, clean nuclear power.

Just like the defense industry or the banks, nuclear companies like Exelon use their high-placed connections in Washington to secure government contracts, loans and bailouts behind the backs of the public, and it doesn’t really matter whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in the White House.

Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! reported on the Obama Administration’s ties to Big Nuclear:

Exelon is not just a nuclear power industry generator, it’s the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the United States. I think it has seventeen. And the firm was a major—has historically been a major backer of President Obama. And two of his chief aides have ties to Exelon. Rahm Emanuel, as an investment banker, helped put together the deal that eventually merged, created Exelon. And David Axelrod was a lobbyist for Exelon. So there are very close ties between the chairman of Exelon, John Rowe, and the Obama administration.

We need to understand the actions of politicians within their context. The context for President Obama’s announcement of $8 billion in loans to a nuclear reactor in Georgia and tripling the federal government’s funding of nuclear energy in his 2011 budget, is a nuclear industry that’s been on the run from its crippling problems for 30 years, and needs a big boost from the taxpayers in order to compete with less expensive, less controversial energy sources like wind and solar.

Then you have the reality of a failed political system that relies far more on corporate donations and advertising than it does on genuine democratic participation, so that politicians like Obama are structurally dependent on pandering to corporate/financial donors to get elected and stay elected, and you have a recipe for systemic corruption and giveaways.

Ben Schreiber, climate and energy tax analyst of Friends of the Earth, put it succinctly, “The last thing Americans want is another government bailout for a failing industry, but that’s exactly what they’re getting from the Obama administration.”

So what should the government be putting its (our) money into instead?

I’ve made the obvious suggestion of wind and solar power, which are cheaper and produce energy more efficiently than nuclear. Wind and solar also have the added benefit of being appropriate for local, small-scale energy production. Given the resources and trained in the skills, communities can install wind towers and solar cells, maintain them, and distribute their output themselves, without the intermediaries of corporations or government. This not only creates many thousands of jobs, it also opens up possibilities for a 21st Century that could be more democratic, locally-rooted, and decentralized than the last one.

What are your ideas? What would YOU do if you were in Obama’s position and could throw $50-some billion around towards an actually sustainable economy?

Alex Knight

February 25, 2010

Angels, Aliens and Accountability

By Anonymous ♦ acronym march 2010

Many rhetorical quips have been chirped out across media venues all over the United States in recent months.  Such pearls of common sense justice and morality can be found in blogs and emails across the web; catch phrases like “fiscal responsibility”, “financial accountability”, “self-discipline in spending” and all other manner of popular cliché’s as they relate to people’s individual spending behavior and the economic downturns we’ve been experiencing since 2008.

The majority of people tend to point their fingers at “big banks” and other large corporate entities and cry out, “villain”, “thief” and “elite tyrants” with an almost psychopathic glee.  While the second largest target of this self-righteous finger pointing are minorities, particularly “welfare” recipients and illegal aliens. And of course the ever familiar chanting from the right about, “Those damn liberals – all they want to do is throw our hard earned money at worthless causes and losers” or from the left, “Those neo-conservatives have their proverbial sticks so far up their proverbial asses they don’t give a crap about saving their fellow man.”  There is so much blaming and hyperbole flowing through the digital soup, it makes one likely to feel sick to their stomach after a spoonful or two.

But yet NO ONE seems to wish to unclothe the emperor or call out the real mammoth in the room.  Denial, mirroring and projection seem to be the new addiction and epidemic in this fine country of ours for which the only cure seems to be in the total and complete annihilation of our current societal structure.

Most people (and I say that loosely, because another propensity of current human culture is to find every reason under the sun to disagree with each other just for the sake of being disagreeable or proving “the other guy” wrong) are not willing to take a long, hard look at their own complicity in the impending death of humanity.  You may think I am some fringer or nut in saying and completely believing that, but I think it is practical, not prescient, to understand that unless something HUGE and significantly culturally altering occurs in the very near future we each will be responsible for helping usher in the literal destruction of humanity as we know it.  NONE of us are willing to take an inventory of our own contributions this horrible miasma of crap we created, nor are most of us willing to make the simplest of changes in how we view each other or the world around us.  We want what we want, and dammit, it’s our RIGHT and not only is it OUR right, but it’s ALWAYS the other guy’s fault.

So I ask you, please, to consider the following for a moment.  Hate on me if you like, vilify me and scrutinize every word I’ve written to find some righteous justification to bare your fangs and rip another piece of flesh from a fellow human being.  But please, all I ask, is that before you do that…at least take a few minutes to really READ what I’m suggesting below and let it sink in enough to consider it.

1) The idea that this planet can produce infinite, unending resources is a denial myth.  No matter how quickly we try to come up with ways to extend the FINITE resources this planet provides, no savior of religion, science of technology can perform alchemy by changing “finite limits” into “the infinite”.  And simply pretending this is not a problem does not cause some angel or fairy or yet-to-be-seen aliens to come and wave their magic wands or energy rods to magically replenish this planet with resources every time we bankrupt them.  When we have depleted every square inch of soil, polluted every ounce of water and killed off every edible living thing there simply will be NO MORE.  And then, rich or poor, wise or silly, religious or completely faithless – we will all cease to be.

2) Understanding that population control – a responsible willingness by all to realize this planet can only sustain so many living, breathing humans on it at any given time – is not an agenda item at the latest ‘elitist conspiracy convention’.  It is not the rhetoric of some diabolical and godless minion of the ‘evil one’ nor is it simply a talking point for some dippy hippy.  It is a simple and immutable FACT. Think of the world as a pizza, and all of us as guests at one giant pizza party.  Bottom line is no matter how much we deny it isn’t so, that pizza can only serve so many people. No matter how small you cut the slices, eventually, if the number of guests invited to the party continues to grow, there will be no more pizza left for anyone.

3) NO ONE is born better or less than anyone else.  NO ONE has a value that is greater than another’s. You can think this rhetorical crap all you want – but THIS thinking is the greatest evil we have ever foisted upon one another.  The idea that any one living, breathing being is MORE valuable or LESS valuable than another may have originated from instinct and the biological constant of “survival” – but ultimately serves our continuing movement toward self-destruction.  As we slide down the slippery slope of obfuscation by applying any number of complex arguments and situations to this simple ideal, we lose sight of the basic facts.  Whether you wish you were the only person alive, or you think only you and people LIKE you deserve <insert resource or benefit here> it does not CHANGE empirical evidence.  WE ARE ALL EQUALLY valuable and EQUALLY expendable.

And yet, cannot survive without one another.  Yes, each of us, individually, can indeed do many things – but we learned long ago, since the time we first walked erect, that traveling and working together in groups, extended our chances for survival against wild beasts and the elements exponentially.

4) For all our so-called advances in science, technology, industry, manufacturing – all of these and any others you can name, NONE OF THEM can make a valid, fact-based case that nullifies the concept that simplicity IS a sustainable means to an end.  The layers of complexity in our quest for becoming more “advanced” or “sophisticated” are nothing more than our ridiculous and selfish desire to conquer the unconquerable – DEATH.  No scientific discovery, no re-engineered cells, no dark matter or Boson Higgs particle will CHANGE yet another immutable fact – to everything there IS A SEASON and to EVERYTHING there is a beginning and an END.  Understanding and accepting this FACT with a sense of seasoned responsibility and dignity, will ultimately be our SALVATION, not our destruction.

This planet was once populated by large groups of indigenous “simple livers” – Native Americans, the Inuit, the Aborigines, the San Bushmen to name a few. But instead of learning powerful wisdom and practical application from understanding how these groups lived so well in tandem with the world around them in a sustainable fashion, we destroyed their simple way of life to replace it with a “better” more “sophisticated” quality of life.

We teach our children to “follow the golden rule” and that there are consequences for each choice and action we take, both good and bad, and yet somehow, as adults, we seem to lose sight of these teachings.  In the ultimate example of “Do as I say, not as I do” (and we know how effective that is), we deny the truth of these statements as we cross the socially movable line of childhood to adulthood.  Apparently these things are nothing more than whimsical, rhetorical quotes and ideological frosting best served on cupcakes for kids.

Until each of us takes responsibility for our own contributions to the horrible downward spiral we’re all swept up in, nothing can save us.  Blaming the other guy for the ills of the world may serve to mollify our self-righteous indignation or may help us feel less guilty as we continue to take actions and make decisions that fatten each of us individually, while starving others, but it will do nothing to help stem the pandemic we’ve created.  So the next time you point that very shiny, steady and glowing index finger of “responsibility” and “accountability” at someone, make sure that the same measurement tool by which you use to judge the guilt of another is the exact same measurement tool by which you can be judged and called to account.

Corporations are FAT because we ALL purchase their goods and services.  The evil and biased media is created and sustained by our continuing to tune in and be spectators and collaborators of their content.  Real Estate moguls who “ripped us off” do so because we are their consumers.  Big pharma and medical companies reap unholy riches off of our willingness and desire to defeat mortality and live forever and government is corrupt because we continue to allow them to be.  So the next time you call out “thief”, “crook” or “charlatan”, how about taking a look in the mirror of your own soul.  While painful, it can be both a humbling and enlightening experience.  And one that will likely change you forever, enabling you to become a part of a potential solution, rather than an aider and abettor to the on-going decay of life on this planet as we know it.

Ah Is Not a Whore, Mamma!

by Flo Joeacronym march 2010

Ah’s so mad at Mamma right now, ah could spit! Yesterdy when ah droppt of tha kids so’s ah could go on ma date wit Carl Wayne an his girlfriend, Mamma was asleepin’ so’s ah tolt tha kids to shush theyselves an not ta drink her whiskey ‘gain ’cause they’s teachers got mad tha last time ah took ‘em ta Wendsdy night Sundy school drunk, even when ah tolt ‘em it were a assident. Jes’ as ah sees Becky Rea at tha Waffle House like we was plannin’ so’s we could grab some grub ‘fore bowlin’, here comes Mamma running up tha road in she’s nightgown a cussin’ up a storm. “Goddammit Flo Joe,” she yelt, “Getcher whorin’ ass here, right now! Ah tolt yoouu, ah’s gotta date a mah own t’night wit Reverend Dean an ah cain’t watch yer sorry brats t’day!” Well, ah don’ gotta go on an on like a billy goat stuck in a cattle guard ta tell yoouu, ah coulda kilt her, specially ’cause Becky Rea saw tha whole thang and she already thinks she’s all high ‘n mighty ’cause a tha fact that she gets ta live wit’ Carl Wayne.

Ah tolt Mamma ah don’ need her sorry ass anyway and ta send tha kids along then. When they ran up, they was sayin’, “Mamamamama, can we go o’ver to cousin Gene’s? Meemaw says they gots a pig an ay wanna ride it sooo bad! Mamamamama, please!” “Now Carl Wayne, Jr. yoouu knows Carl Wayne cain’t take yoouu in his El Camino all tha ways o’ver there jes’ so’s you can see a pig!” Ah tolt him, but he wouldn’t see no sense. Then Ray Jean started in , “Please, please, please, Mammma Joe?” “Cut it out!” they made me yell. Ah done had enough. “Now sit yer asses down in the booth so’s you can get you can get yer waffle.”

After Jina Paige brought us we’s Dr. Peppers, ah tried to figger out what we’s gonna do. By this time, Becky Rae’s boyfriend was sittin’ wit us. Carl Wayne was gonna be there any minute an’ we knew iffin’ we didn’t figure this shit out, an quick, then they’s gonna be hell ta pay when Carl Wayne showt up. When it were time ta pay, ah pullt ma money from ma pocket and wondert why we’s total was $9.34 instead of $12.27, the usual, and realized ah didn’t know where Avery Ron were. Ah yelt, “Has anyone seen ma baby?” Jes’ then, ah saw Carl Wayne’s orange El Camino pull inta tha parkin’ lot and all’s ah could do was run.

While ah wuz runnin’, ah figgert only Jesus could help me out of this mess an ah jumpt behind a bush an’ waited ‘til Carl Wayne was passt ‘fore ah started ta pray. “Dear Jesus, Ah’s in a bind an’ ah need yoouu ta send me an angel.” Jesus whispert in ma ear, “Yer mamma would help ya right now, but she thinks yer a whore fer sleepin’ with Reverend Dean, so ah’s sorry, Florence Joe, you’s gonna hafta figger it out fer youself.” “Shit, Jesus. Go fuck yerself,” ah yellt. When ah saw tha coast was clear, ah ran o’er ta tha Circle K an’ callt ma Sugerdaddy Fred Rick an he came an pict me up in his pickup. Later, when we was fuckin’ ah jes’ had ta yell, “Ah is not a whore, Mamma!”

TRAVEL: Tom Waits Opens The Get Out Inn, A New “Couch & Lunch” Establishment

By Ara Von Niv (originally published at The Umpteenth Times) ♦ acronym march 2010

You know, there are some nights where you just don’t want to head home and be hassled by your old lady,” said singer, Tom Waits. “And some nights you don’t want the formality of a bed.  And you sure as hell don’t want to be up before 1:00 pm.  That’s what drives the ‘couch & lunch’ concept.   You need a place to crash and it ain’t home.”

imagesThe new establishment, located in New York’s Chinatown, is aimed at gentlemen who have lost the keys to their hotel room, can’t recall which city they’re in, or who are not presently welcome at home.

Waits explains, “This just sort of came to me one night, out of the blue. Surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.”

Amelia Gladbonnet, editor of Bed & Breakfast Weekly, expressed a distaste for such a concept and insisted her magazine “refuse to evaluate this particular establishment. It is most likely as unseemly as it sounds. I shudder at the thought of such a place. I daresay the crumpets will be stale.”

“We don’t have crumpets,” Waits responded, upon hearing of Ms. Gladbonnet’s opinion. “We’ll have a couple of Bibles lying around, just in case some of the, you know, customers need a little something The Get Out Inn can’t provide. Bibles and crossbows.”

The decor of The Get Out Inn consists of second-hand store couches, a hook for your hat, and thick, heavy curtains that are always drawn, keeping the sunlight from getting in.

Lunch consists of a sandwich, some coffee, and no conversation.

Waits: “Your troubles are your business. You need to talk to somebody? Go see last night’s bartender. They already know your story. We’re not keen on hearing yesterday’s news, even if it’s happening today.”

The ‘couch & lunch’ is managed by a one-handed former South Pacific pirate named Tong, who Waits once met at a bodega in Queens, N.Y., one day when buying a copy of The Daily News. “I like Tong. He doesn’t talk all that much. It’s all business with him, and everything runs likes your grandpa’s pocket watch.”

Patrons of the Inn are also provided some degree of anonymity during their stay.

“We’re not keeping much of a guest registry here. First names only, no dates allowed, cash preferred,” explained Waits. “Just a place for the fellas to come and sleep it off. Not a cave, exactly, but you’re not imposing upon anybody at The Get Out Inn. That said, we like our visitors to adhere to our two-night policy. Anything more than that and you either need to read the roommate-wanted list or drag a sizable cardboard box to the park.”