Saturday, November 30, 2013

one wish

I often wonder......

I hear people say that if they could only win the lottery..... (then they would be happy supposedly).  But what if you were granted a one-time wish for one thing you always wanted or one thing that would make you happy, what would you wish for (no price limit)?

Would you wish for a job; for a house; for a new car; for a trip to Disney Land? 
If you could have what you wish for, would it make you happy?

I have thought about this and I have tried on many wishes in my mind.  If I had a new car, would it eventually age and I would be right back with an old car.

If I had a new house, would I be able to afford maintenance and decorating it, the taxes?

If I had a trip to Disney Land, it would be only once.

If I had a vacation home somewhere, would I be able to afford to maintain it and to travel to it?

I feel I would be likewise disappointed or burdened if I had a new boat, a swimming pool, a shopping spree, a luxury of any kind.  What could I wish for that would truly make me happy? 

What I would really want is good health, to see my children and grandchildren more often, for may husband’s health, to spend more time with friends and family. 

Please advise me.  Share the one-time wish you would have. 

Mary Brenner

thoughts on anniversary of JFK's assassination

from Mary Brenner

United States of America is no longer the land of opportunity.  As we approach the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, we mourn the loss of Camelot.  And more, we morn the loss of hope for the future and faith in the greatness and goodness of our country.  As we watch government’s decay and disfunction, we wonder where to look for reform.  And as we cope with decreasing well-being, we fear the worst is yet to come.  Already we can see that the promises of ‘democracy’, capitalism’, ‘unity’ and the ‘rule of law’ are washed away in the flood of modern trends, we can truly say that the civics lessons of our schooling are lies.  The promises of our constitution are obliterated.  The United States is no longer the home of the brave and the land of the free. 

Statistically most middle class families have had their real standard of living fall below that of their parents; and it is still falling.  Things are not as good as they used to be.  Now mom and dad both have to work just to get by.  

Start your own business on a shoe string.... it is not going to happen now.  There are too many taxes, rules and regulations that favor the big businesses and multinationals. 

Work hard and get ahead?  No longer.  As pay rates stagnate, well-paid factory work is outsourced or replaced by technology, the productivity of American workers improves to the point where we no longer need as many workers, or as many full-time workers.  Unions flounder in the face of growing competition from abroad, declining blue collar jobs, high technological inputs and increasing costs of health care and retirement benefits.

Higher education opens doors to upward mobility?  Costs of college have increased exponentially.  Student loans burden graduates with payments that often outpace the resultant good-paying jobs.... if they can find jobs in their fields.  Only the upper class continues to profit from education, only the graduates of prestigious universities get the opportunities promised to graduates.

Justice..... is still only for the rich.

Upward mobility?  No.  The class system is more rigid now than at any time in our past. 

Safety net?  With 47% of our citizens in need of transfer payments, ranging from Social Security (an earned insurance) to unemployment insurance (temporary), food stamps (inadequate), housing subsidies (under-funded), health care (if you are lucky), disability, and child-care subsidies (resented by anyone who happens to not need such help).  Despite the huge need and huge costs, there is not enough assistance to meet the need.  The downward spirals of poverty continue desperate social problems of low birth rate, hunger, drug addiction, alcoholism, ill health, crime and loss of hope.

The other end of the spiral is the concentration of wealth in 1% of the very rich.  Not only do these rich few not share, they are not fairly taxed.  Wall Street concentrates wealth in the stock-trading manipulations that remove most of the money from the productive economy and ties it up.  The gains of capitalism are not being re-invested in the public infrastructure of our country, and now we do not even have enough money to continue needed maintenance and repairs of our infrastructure.  We are witnessing decay all around us and should be ashamed of our public spaces and buildings, highways, airports, transportation systems, bridges, schools, and hospitals.   The glitz of a few downtown centers or suburban shopping islands and tourist areas are increasingly isolated from the mainstream. 

Made in America?  Not even possible to ascertain anymore.. Due to globalization, nothing is purely made in America anymore.  As consumerism rules, poorer and poorer quality of products lead to obsolescence.  And no public entity can regulate or oversee multinational corporations to protect us from excesses of slave labor, sweat shops, unhealthy products, environmentally ruinous production, unfair trade. 

State militias were usurped by the federal government when the Council of Governors gave up the control of state ‘national’ guard after Katrina.  Now the federal government with little of no legislative or state oversight can send our young men and women into harms way anywhere in the world, leaving no one to serve local communities in time of natural disasters.  Through ‘standardization’ regulations and federal grants the federal government sets the agenda for the dominance of the national security agenda over significant local issues.  Such militarization extends to control of the internet, of information and of all areas within 100 miles of a national border (half of Vermont). 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Surreal" Opening December 7 at The 99

   I'm really looking forward to the art at our next show "Surreal". Purists may find that  not all pieces are strictly surrealist, but all definitely interesting and unusual. Artists include Mary Brenner, the late Seattle artist Donald Peel, Sam Thurston, Christine Hudson, Theresa Peura, Bradleigh Stockwell, Mel Hastings,  Mandy Roberts and Phyllis Hammond. There will be a wine and cheese opening reception at 6 PM.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


  There it was in front of me on the bathroom wall as I was washing my hands at the end of a 12 hour shift-----the productivity chart. There was the blue upper limit line and the red lower limit line and the dashed black line snaking up and down and then---up! Congratulations, you have met your productivity goals this month!  My employer had hired a consulting firm to help them figure out how to save money. My suggestion would be to start with not hiring consulting firms, but that's just me.

   Productivity sounds like a good thing, like doing something worthwhile, not wasting your time. But what it really means is getting more product from your employees per unit of time. What it sometimes  means for me is heart-pounding stress, hunger pangs and being too busy to go to the bathroom. If my employer had  to pay me based on my stress level, I'd be making a fortune and I'm one of the less stressed out ones. But I digress. This isn't about me or my job, which actually, I really like.

   This about people I know who don't have jobs. They're on public assistance, and it's barely keeping them going. Some of these folks smoke, or drink, but not more than better off people I know. Most are really nice, as honest as the next fellow. Some are quite smart and some are very creative. They can't work because, in a competitive profit driven system where the only thing that most employers care about is productivity, they have lost the productivity race. Some are physically unable to walk, or are just a little slow. They are or disorganized in their thinking, or unable to focus or process information  fast enough, or don't think logically, or don't get other people's emotions, maybe some of them just don't want to get chest pain while their working, or don't work well in structured situations. Or find suffering unpleasant. The job will always go to the other guy.

   They say about kids with hyperactivity that the problem isn't the kids, it's the system. They'd be fine running around the woods in a pre-industrial society, but put them in chairs behind a desk all day and, oh my gosh!, they can't sit still.  In this world there is much work to be done. But when the only goal of employment is profit for the employer, only those who win the productivity race will be employed. The problem isn't the less competitive worker, the problem is the system. It needs to be changed.


Monday, November 11, 2013

One of the great pieces of music that inspired the name of the gallery and center.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Introduction to Watercolors at The 99: Instructor Mary says, "Watercolors are not for control freaks!"

 Students at the free beginning watercolor class at The 99 Saturday came away with this philosophical message: Just let go and have fun with it. Watercolors are a challenging medium, but instructor Mary Brenner told students to just relax, experiment with color and composition and  various effects.

  She also demonstrated the basics of color mixing, how to choose a subject and compose it on the page, and showed different materials and how the beginner can best use them. Some students came to the class with expertise  in photography, drawing or painting, which they hoped to apply to a new mode of expression. Others were trying out their artistic talents for the first time. Everybody took Mary's advice and had fun!

   The 99 Gallery and Center promotes community skills sharing as a way of increasing free access to knowledge and strengthening the community. We would love to hear your suggestions for classes you would like to come to or teach. Instructors supply materials though we are happy to contribute, and the gallery will publicize the class.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hey Elites, You Just Don't Get It: A Primer in Occupy Culture

On the eight hour train ride back to Vermont from S17, the 1st anniversary of Occupy Wall St, I had plenty of time to fume about the generally dismissive press coverage of the event, though between us and the police (but mostly the police), we had created a good deal of traffic slowdown in the financial district if not the actual stoppage we had hoped for.
Pundits keep writing that Occupy is dead and why didn't we work to get people elected to Congress who would further our agenda like the Tea Party did. As if it was the same old same old about getting power and then using it to get what your special interest group wants. Did anybody ever stop to think that Occupy isn't doing this because we don't want to? Yes folks, Occupy is not about your hierarchical power trip game of seeing who can get the most influence in Congress. In fact, Occupy is hardly about politics at all. We're just not interested in electing people to public office. Occupy is much broader and more radical than that, nothing short of rethinking our social structure, our value system and the we relate to one another and the planet.
To understand Occupy, you have to understand Occupy culture. It's pretty clear from the way Occupy culture coalesced fairly rapidly amongst a few hundred people camped out in a park that the ideas behind it have been brewing for awhile. Of course, you say, utopian ideas about a freer, more just and loving world are nothing new. Some of them have even managed to get a fair amount of traction before hardening into totalitarianism or contracting into inward looking communities that soon evaporate into the general population. What do we hope to accomplish? Except that something else is happening to human culture right now that might make all the difference in the world. That profound change is the Digital Revolution, the biggest thing to hit human social organization in the last 10,000 years.
To understand why this is so, here's a long complicated story very briefly....Human beings evolved in fairly small social groups and it is in fairly small face to face social groups that we function best and most morally. Recent research by social scientists, especially the relatively new science of behavioral economics, suggests that we are wired to be cooperative, most (but not all) of us are team players and we are blessed with an innate sense of social justice. For a very very long time there weren't very many of us. And then, for reasons outside the scope of this discussion, the applecart was upset by exponential population growth, pressure on resources and the problem of how to get things done in a orderly way in the midst of very large populations. All this set the stage for the development of new social structures, hierarchical, stratified and unequal.
Archeologists have discovered something very interesting about stratified societies, and that is that even very early on, the culture of elites was more alike across political and ethnic boundaries than it was like that of the people they ruled. This is still true and it's because, with more access to resources and control of the flow of resources, the relatively small group of elites was much better able to communicate with one another across space. Those lower on the social totem pole got their information from above, but were mostly unable to share information broadly in a horizontal direction. In hierarchical societies, information and goods flow up and down between elites and masses within political boundaries (wealth mostly flows up), but back and forth between elites across political boundaries.
The problem with this structure is that all the safety checks on the proliferation of pathological behavior by rogue humans developed in small face to face societies. They rely on people knowing what other people are doing and punishing non-team player behavior before it proliferates and destroys group cohesion. “Had a good day hunting, did you? Killed that big buck? You haven't forgotten about your village mates and how much we all depend on each other, have you? Because if you have, we'll be dropping by to remind you.” In large stratified societies, these mechanisms fall apart, largely because communication is fragmented and controlled at key points by individuals in the hierarchy. So maybe you can see how radical changes in communication could allow for radical changes in structure.
Much of Occupy culture is in fact very old culture. It is pre-stratified culture. It still hangs out in our brains because it is “normal” human culture. We have an idea that sharing is good. But we also have an idea that accumulating is good. These two competing cultural values (old and new) exist side by side and somehow find their separate expressions in the way we conduct our lives. Occupy would argue that the newer values are the non-team player values proliferated by an elite who are pathological accumulators. These individuals, having gotten control of the pathways of communication, teach their values to others. Humans, being very teachable (learning and sharing ideas is after all what we do best), have been good students. The doctrine of accumulation now permeates world culture.

If you have been to an Occupy General Assembly and have observed the strange rituals there, you will have an idea of Occupy culture. If you have been to an Occupy action and have observed the place flooded with cell phones, cameras and microphones, you will have an idea of how Occupy culture is evolving in the midst of the Digital Revolution.
Cultural Value 1: There are no leaders. No, really, there are no leaders. Like in a small scale society, there are task specific leaders, people that others defer to because they have the time, energy or good ideas to get things done, but these can change in a flash, as some other talented, committed person steps up to do the job. Occupy's unfailing commitment to equality makes for some tedious discussions and constant nervous questioning as to whether “everybody is OK with this”. And yes, in the midst of situations where rapid action is required, dedication to nobody hogging the decision-making process can lead to a bit of confusion. Or a lot of confusion. Occupy wants everybody to have a voice. Not everybody may like your idea, but at least you'll have a chance to express it. And we will politely listen, twinkling our fingers in the air to show our support. Or we may actually have differences of opinion, in which case it may take a long time or never to get anything done. Not unlike the U. S. Congress.
There are a couple of good things about no leaders. It makes it less likely that anyone will accumulate power, which deters pathological wealth accumulators. Also, in a movement which might expect to be harassed or even persecuted by the powers that be, it prevents co-option through corruption of leaders as well as attempts to destroy the movement by picking off the leadership. Someone compared trying to destroy Occupy by destroying its leaders to broom multiplication in “The Sorcerer's Apprentice”. Or, as someone more colorfully expressed it in a sign at Zuccotti Park, “Screw Us and We Multiply”.

Cultural Value 2: Horizontal Organization. Oddly, in a movement composed largely of technologically savvy younger people, the basis for Occupy organization is small, face to face community groups who meet in real space, not cyberspace. These groups approximate the band organization that feels comfortable to humans. There are hundreds of such Occupy groups across the U.S. and in many other countries. They are autonomous decision-making units and are working on local problems. These groups are linked horizontally through the internet, a huge receptacle of bubbling ideas where nobody calls the shots but where ideas that appeal to people catch on and spread practically instantaneously. It remains to be seen whether wisdom will be found in this decision-making by crowd popularity. It presumes a good deal of capable thinking by individual humans, and that they will, if having followed bad suggestions and suffered bad consequences, learn to make better choices. No such confidence has ever before been placed in the decision-making ability of the general public by our hierarchical systems, where it is usually assumed that “father knows best”.
How does horizontal organization work if you need to get lots of real people together in real space to get something done? Theoretically very easily now that large numbers of people can communicate rapidly with each other via cell phone, texting and Twitter. In practice, it took about an hour to get 150 people together for a not previously planned action during the September 17 anniversary, including a couple of false starts, a period of time which seemed way too long. I have a feeling that this will improve rapidly with rapidly changing technology.
How can resources move, if not up and down the hierarchy? Right now we get resources where we need them mostly by paying resources (money) up the hierarchy, and then having the hierarchy make decisions about allocating them out to where they're needed. There is some entropy involved with this, not to mention outright graft. If oil companies had to appeal directly to the American people for subsidies, how much do you suppose they would get? If you are making billions in profit, could you really make a case for donations? Yet amazingly millions of dollars sent up the hierarchy by Americans end up as subsidies to oil companies.
Direct funding of large projects on a big scale has been made much easier by the internet (for example Kickstarter) but it's still in it's infancy. Undoubtedly there will be a lot of problems still to work out.
I imagine that looking at Occupy's issues, conservatives may assume these are a bunch of liberals and therefore “big government” people. That would be a wrong assumption. Occupiers are not big government people. They are “very little government” people. But before those of you wishing to get away with making totally unregulated fortunes at everybody else's expense start jumping on the Occupy bandwagon, you should know that Occupy has a plan to prevent you from doing that. It's called:

Cultural Value 3: Transparency. At S17, marching along on the sidewalk, listening to the band playing “When the Saints Come Marching In” with confetti in my hair, everybody in a generally festive mood, I spied a couple of policemen wading into the crowd, I moved back a bit, then there was a gasp from the crowd, a thud as a body hit the sidewalk, the crowd surged backwards and then regrouped around the person being handcuffed. Everybody started chanting Shame! Shame! The whole world is watching! And with about a bizillion cameras, cell phones and video cameras aimed at the police, the whole world was watching. It only took a few days for photos and videos of many illegal arrests and unnecessarily harsh police activity to flood the internet.
Occupy is committed to openness in what it does (and whether or not people in the movement are being sufficiently open can be a point of contention) but more generally, it is committed to exposing anybody who tries to scam the system or dominate others. The new model for social control is not that Big Brother is watching you. It's that everybody is watching you. And there is a moral component to this—You should be ashamed of your behavior. This is the social control of the small scale society on a very large scale, possible only now because reality is so easy to capture and communicate rapidly to others. The generation growing up with social media seems comfortable with a degree of social exposure similar to that of a village where your neighbors know what you're up to most of the time. How can we balance this kind of social control with respect for people's privacy?

Cultural Value 4: I'm OK, You're OK. Occupy people are a highly individualistic lot who value creativity. Occupy's creativity is one of it's greatest strengths. Occupy people like drama, they like costumes, they like music and they like art. Chalk is a lot of fun. We're a movement that just keeps coming up with new, inventive and cheap ways to get our message out. Because we value creativity, Occupy tries very hard to respect individual differences. In Occupy, different behavior is creative behavior, and creative behavior is potentially a solution to a problem. Sometimes Occupy tries so hard to respect individual differences that it is almost comical, but we take it seriously because we know it's important. This too is a value of many small scale societies, where people depend on other people and if you are merely different, but not harmful to the group, an effort is made create an acceptable social role for you. People power is too valuable a resource to waste when you don't have very many people. Under these circumstances, where people are more accepting of a wide range of individual differences, there is less need for privacy.

Cultural Value 5: Greed is bad. At the heart of Occupy culture is a rejection of the worship of wealth. When Occupy talks about CEOs making billions of dollars, they aren't talking about the need for a new law that takes away rich people's money and gives it to poor people as some sort of convenient way to move money around and solve the problem of poverty. They are talking about morality, that people who make that much money should be ashamed, that this is a kind of pathological hoarding behavior and that people who have this problem don't need a new law, they need an intervention. Real humans care about other humans, feel empathy and realize we are all in this together. They are team players. Occupy groups, though they themselves have little resources, are involved in a lot of activities at the community level that involve giving things away---free food, free stuff, free services. This isn't because they think that people shouldn't have to work for things, it's an educational and spiritual exercise in letting go of materialism and valuing people over profit. Occupy groups are working hard to educate people that life is just not all about money. In this respect Occupy is stepping in to fill a moral void left by many modern churches who have seemingly contracted their notion of morality to include only regulating other peoples' sex lives. Occupy has received support from courageous faith leaders who are bucking this trend, some of whom were among the first arrested at the S17 action.

Cultural Value 6: Use=Ownership. A long time ago and in small scale societies, people's idea of ownership was tied to the relationship they had to the thing owned. Later people developed an abstract idea of ownership in which a person could own something they didn't use and could extract resources from others for the privilege of using it, a concept that would have seemed nonsensical to people for most of human history.
Occupy is fond of talking about the People's this and that. This doesn't mean that everything should belong to something nebulous called the People, which might devolve into belonging to a few people called the State. It means that this is something lots of (actual) people use, and therefore it is owned by lots of (actual) people. Worker owned businesses make a lot of sense in Occupy culture. Things everybody needs and uses, like water, roads or healthcare, should belong to everybody. This means that everybody should have responsibility for their cost and maintenance, and everybody should be able to use them. One person owning six houses doesn't make sense in Occupy culture, nor does thousands of vacant houses owned by banks who don't maintain them, while people who could maintain them are homeless.

Cultural Value 7: Another World is Possible. So where are all the issues, all the demands? Occupy has a lot of issues and many of them are similar to issues and demands of established “liberal” groups, but Occupy is neither politically liberal nor politically conservative. Occupy encompasses people of widely varying political ideologies, and working things out in the midst of this will tax Occupy's culture of respect for all and giving all a voice to the extreme. The saving grace of Occupy culture will be a reliance on small group dynamics at the community level, where people of different backgrounds and viewpoints have to work together in face to face situations. Just like in the ancient village, in Occupy culture, people are too precious a resource to write off.

As the generally festive Occupy marchers encircled the financial district on S17, this despite brutal police harassment, the guys in suits looking down on us were neither laughing at us, nor with us. They looked worried, as well they should be, because there is no room for elitism in Occupy culture. But should they be worried that something bad will happen to them? No. Occupy is revolutionary, but it's not the kind of revolution you think of when you think about one group wanting to take power away from another group. It's a revolution of the heart and mind.
The police repression Occupy continues to experience is a bad strategy for those in power to pursue. We chanted “We are the 99%, you are the 99%” to the police, because we want to include these hard working Americans in the movement, but it's hard to watch officers who are supposed to be protecting citizens bloody the faces of peaceful unarmed people and not dislike them. Intended to intimidate, brutality just makes people who value justice angrier and more determined.
And Occupy is full of people who value justice.
My advice is to just lay off. Maybe Occupy is only another idealistic movement that will evaporate. Or maybe it really is a harbinger of the shape of human societies post-Digital Revolution, where we will return to structures with which we feel comfortable and within which we can be our most human and most moral. Would that be so bad?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

ADVICE TO MILLENNIALS: WEANING OURSELVES OFF CORPORATE CONTROL (It's like caffeine withdrawal. It'll be painful at first, but healthier in the long run.)

Walk out your front door:
• Look to the right. Is there a neighbor who is elderly and on a fixed income or low income? Do they need help with home repair they can no longer do themselves or afford to hire someone to do? Do they need transportation to a doctor’s, a grocery, a friend’s? Are they included in community events? Are they lonely? 
• Look to the left. Is there a neighbor who has suffered a recent set-back: injury, sickness, loss of a job, family disruption, accident, unexpected expenses? Is there a child in a single parent household who needs a mentor, a ride, a winter coat?
• Look to your child’s school. How many children are on free/reduced lunch? Are they still hungry on weekends? Do they have proper clothing? Are they involved in community events? Are they discriminated against? Are there children with learning disabilities who could use some further assistance? Are their volunteer opportunities to read to children, tutor, mentor, support health and sports activities, community organizations (little league, scouts, after-school care)?
• Look at your community. Is there a Habitat for Humanity program? Senior Meals? Scouts? Food bank? Drug rehabilitation? Alcohol counseling? Public transportation? Bike paths and free recreational opportunities? Recycling programs? Environmental programs? A community garden? Get involved in local community service organizations. Help a veteran.
• Look at your home. Can you conserve energy, reduce consumerism, eat more healthily, enjoy the out-of-doors, get off your electronics, expand your family activities?
• Look inward. Can you face up to and change your attitudes towards consumerism, fast food, energy use, and dependence on corporate interference? Can you examine and eliminate your prejudices: religious, racial, class-based?

What you can do:
buy local
buy organic foods
use whole foods; avoid anything in a package or can or freezer shelves
avoid plastic containers and other petroleum based products
recycle, reuse, repair
downsize living 
reduce consumerism (if it is advertised on TV, it is probably not necessary)
share - free swap; sharing economy
participate in local community
conserve energy and carbon based products
make it yourself
question authority
teach and learn

Below: Serving donated food during the occupation of Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street, 2011

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Art Keeps on Coming---at The 99

   We'll be offering our next  class "Introduction to Watercolors" taught by NEK watercolorist Mary Alice Brenner, on Saturday, November 9 from 1 to 4 PM at the gallery and center. This is a free beginner class for the community. Come join us for this creative, fun learning opportunity.
   We're also looking for artists for our next show "Surreal" opening the first week in December. See the Call to Artists below.