Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the spectrum of peace: what my father taught me

In the 1960s, my father's heroes and mine included two men. One said, "Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. "


The other said, "I don't call it violence when it's self-defense, I call it intelligence."


My dad thought Martin Luther King was one of the bravest men alive, but for pursuing justice, Dad preferred El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the former Malcolm X. When Mom taught me Jesus's advice to turn the other cheek, Dad taught me Gene Autry's Cowboy Code: "The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage." Dad believed that if someone hit you, you hit back. If you couldn't win, you made losing so hard for your enemy that he would never want to win again.

Dad was a civil rights activist in Florida. When the word came that the Ku Klux Klan planned to burn our home, Dad let people know he had served in World War II and Korea, and anyone who wanted trouble would find it if they came. Dad taught me how to bring the shotgun to him, but I never had to. Maybe the Klan's threats had been bluster; they did not always follow through. Maybe Dad's shotgun made the difference.

But when I think of meeting violence with violence, I remember something that happened years later, when my parents had moved to northern Ontario to run a trading post near an Ojibwe reservation, and I had come to work for them. One day, two drunken white men, hunters or fishermen on vacation, drove up to the store. They didn't have time to get out of their car before Dad told them to come back when they were sober. The men started yelling that they only wanted to buy a few things, but they finally drove up to the road, and I, having run up when the yelling began, thought it was over.

But then their car turned down our second driveway, coming back fast, swerving on the gravel. Dad jumped out of the way as they braked. The men were cussing him for not selling them the little things they wanted, some cigarettes and bread, I think. The passenger began opening his door, saying he was so going to get served, that he had a right to be served.

Dad shoved the car door, telling the men to drive away. The passenger pushed back hard, still swearing, and the driver leaped out of the car and started running around it. Dad yanked the passenger door wide. As the passenger, off-balance, came forward, Dad threw him to the ground.

I was maybe a hundred feet away and running toward them without the slightest idea what I would do. I can't remember exactly what happened next. Maybe Dad hit the driver. Maybe he shoved him hard, knocking him down. All I know is by the time I was close, the second man was on the ground, and Dad was yelling at them to stay down and yelling for Mom to call the Ontario Provincial Police.

In some part of his mind, Dad had to be flashing back to something that happened to him thirty-some years before in Germany, just after World War II: two Germans jumped him, and Dad got on top of one, holding him by the neck while the other kicked Dad's head. Every time the one kicked him, Dad slammed the other's head against the ground. That ended, I think, with soldiers dragging the fighters apart.

So as the driver tried to rise again, Dad shoved him down again, and yelled at me to make sure the passenger stayed down, too.

That's probably when Dad saw what I saw. The passenger lay on the ground, unable to get up. His legs were twisted, maybe from birth, maybe from something that happened to him long ago. I can't remember if there was a cane by the passenger seat or crutches.

The driver was saying something about how they didn't want trouble, they only wanted some groceries. The passenger was begging for his cane or his crutches.

I've never asked Dad about that day. I just remember his face as he saw the crippled man, and the story changed in our heads: the men were drunk, and the car was being driven too quickly, but the yelling was only bravado, a drunk's sense of entitlement. When the driver came around the car, he wasn't coming to attack Dad. He was coming to help his crippled friend.

Today, I can't say anyone is wrong to defend themselves. I believe the spectrum of peace includes those who think like Malcolm X, Gene Autry, and my dad. But I know those who think like Martin Luther King, Thoreau, and Gandhi never have to wonder if they went too far.

—cross-posted from paxpac and it's all one thing

Monday, September 28, 2009

US caste system and why dictionaries matter

Two comments I made elsewhere that I may expand on someday:

1. At metafilter: Ten Dollars an Hour, buzzman said, "I can not discourage enough a belief that if you are born poor you will remain poor. What kind of image is that for people to read and believe in? A veritible caste system via reasearch?

I answered, "We do have a caste system in the US. It begins with inferior schools and worse health care for the 40% who own none of the US's wealth. Its markers include bad teeth and dialects that are mocked on television."

2. At whatever: A General Observation, John Scalzi said, "The Internet does seem to be full of people whose knowledge of complex concepts appears limited to a dictionary definition. Some of them seem to be proud of that."

I answered, "When the Bush regime says something is “extreme interrogation” and not “torture,” I’m not happy. Yes, definitions evolve, but the motives of those who reject dictionary definitions should always be questioned."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

skillet pizza: roasted chiles

I've been making pizza in a skillet lately because I'm lazy:

1. If you use commercial pizza dough (cheap and good from Trader Joe's), set it out to warm up about half an hour before Step 2. I flatten the dough in the bag so it will begin to relax.

2. About half an hour before you want to eat, start heating the oven to 450 degrees F.

3. Spread olive oil in the bottom of the skillet.

4. Put the dough in the skillet and flatten it.

5. Cut open the awesome roasted chiles that you got from a chile festival (or roasted outdoors on a grill) and wash them, rubbing away the burned bit and seeds.

6. Chop the chiles.

7. Flatten the dough in the skillet again.

8. Pour on spaghetti or pizza sauce. Add your favorite seasonings; I usually go with garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne.

9. Add your toppings. In this case, I just went with one or two chiles and a few handfulls of cheddar and parmesan soy cheeses.

10. Bake for about eight minutes, look in the oven so you feel responsible, then bake for a few minutes more to get a nice crust.


P.S. Make sure your skillet is safe to use in an oven! I use cast iron, so I don't have to worry about that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Song In Time of Depression

I found the art here. I have no idea how accurate the translation is; the "transcriber" is Mary Hunter Austin.


Now all my singing Dreams are gone
But none knows where they are fled
Nor by what trail they have left me.

Return, O Dreams of my heart,
And sing in the summer twilight,
By the creek and the almond thicket
And the field that is bordered with lupins!

Now is my refuge to seek
In the hollow of friendly shoulders,
Since the singing is stopped in my pulse
And the earth and the sky refuse me;
Now must I hold by the eyes of a friend
When the high white stars are unfriendly.

Over sweet is the refuge of trusting;
Return and sing, O my Dreams,
In the dewy and palpitant pastures,
Till the love of living awakes
And the strength of the hills to uphold me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Disney's Song of the South

Disney's Song of the South should not be avoided because it is racist. It should be avoided because it has one good song in it. Otherwise, it's the worst thing art can be: boring.

This is as good as it gets:

I kept wishing it had been made by the Looney Tunes crew.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

permanently deleting a Facebook account

I've deleted mine, because I'm a lemming in search of the new cool. Uh, no. Because it's distracting. Life may be long, but the time to make art is always short.

I seem to have found the secret directions for permanently deleting a Facebook account here:
Go to this page:

Click "Submit" and follow the instructions.

Your account will be deactivated for two weeks, and if you don't log in during that period, your account is permanently deleted.

This method is official and should be complete, i.e. no need to delete individual photos, comments, messages or items from your profile or anywhere else on Facebook!