Monday, July 30, 2012

First Stewards #5: Natibu Amerikanu?

In choosing books for my children one of my favorite types to get for them are Native American style storybooks. Over the years I've collected several for them, each from a different tribe. When I was in Washington DC last week at the First Stewards Climate Change Symposium, I took some time out to go to the gift shop at the National Museum of the Native American Indian to see what kind of books they had. I asked my kids, Sumahi and Akli'e' what type of books they would prefer, meaning what kind of animals or stories would they like. Sumahi, as usual said she wanted horse. Sesso taiguihi i manachaamko'na na famalao'an, mankinenne' ni kabayu siha. Akli'e' is a bit more complicated and requested something about turtles. Ti hu tungo' sa' hafa ayu i ginagao-na. Sesso mama'leon gui'.

There were so many to choose from at the museum I'll admit it was difficult. I ended up picking three books. First is The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Story by Lydia Dabcovich, and tells the heartwarming story of an elderly lady who adopts a polar bear as her son. Second is Big Turtle by David Mclimans, and tells a creation story of the Iroquois, where all the world around us is built from magic soil found by a frog and placed on the back of a giant turtle. Third and finally is The Girl Who Loved Horses by Paul Goble, and it tells the story of a Plains Indian girl who loved horses so much she eventually became one of them leaving her family and village behind.

I've already started reading the stories to the kids and they love them.

One of the things that has made reading these stories difficult however is the fact that even though the book is written in English, when I read it to the kids I translate it in Chamorro and point out the action in the pictures as I speak. Most words and phrases are simple enough to translate. There are moments however where some very basic terms in English become a serious struggle to translate into Chamorro.

Sumahi truly enjoys a book titled The Ghost Dance which tells the story of Wovoka and Tavibo who were both spiritual leaders in a time of great crisis for Native Americans in the Midwest as they were losing more and more land to the US. The two men created a spiritual movement meant to re-empower their people. The movements were brutally cut down ending eventually in what is  known as the massacre at Wounded Knee.

While reading the book certain words come up where I’m not sure which way to proceed. For example, how would you translate “Native Americans” into Chamorro? The most obvious translation might be “Natibu Amerikanu” or even to get a bit fancier “Manmofo’na na Amerikanu.” But both of these are misleading because during the time period of the books tribes such as the Paiute or Sioux were not American and were being destroyed and suppressed by “Americans.” So would you name them something more indigenous, such as “taotao tano’” or “taotao natibu?” Would you just refer to them as i"taotao Sioux?" or "i taotao Paiute?" "Taotaomo'na" is another option, but this has such a fixed meaning already that few people think of it literally as the people from before, and tend to interpret it more as "spirits" or "ghosts."


Sunday, July 29, 2012

First Stewards #4: The High Talking Chief

On the last day of the First Stewards Climate Change Symposium those of us in attendance were treated to a custom of the Samoans, tulafale, or a high talking chief. A literal Samoan chief was in attendance and took the stage. He was followed by a shirtless man, wearing a wrap, holding in his hand a beautiful carved wooden staff. The chief himself didn't speak, but instead all the talking was done by the talking chief. This we were told is the way things are in Samoa. Talking chiefs are those who are trained in the art of storytelling and genealogy. Gifted with articulation and creativity they would be the ambassadors for the high chiefs, speaking to the people, inspiring to them and also listening to them and representing the chief in the best way possible.

He shared some beautiful sentiments about everyone coming together and making important connections and fighting to protect their communities. His words were translated by a member from the Samoan delegation who had a microphone in the audience. After he was done he called to the stage Micah McCarty, a tribal council member from the Makah of Washington State. The Makah along with the Hoh, Quinault and the Quileut are all Washington State tribes. They were the hosts for the symposium, and Micah in particular acted as the MC for much of the proceedings. He was one of the leaders featured in the promotional materials for the conference (such as the program) and so for many he was the "face" of the symposium.

The Talking Chief presented to Micah two beautiful presents, the staff and the whisk, a symbol of wisdom, both the essential gear of a high talking chief. 
"This is the staff of a high talking chief in Samoa. A Samoan orator. This is a symbol of authority. In our villages. In our districts...Everywhere you go in Samoa you are a high talking chief, it is a symbol of authority...I would like to present to you, Micah, in the spirit of appreciation for a job well done in organizing this symposium. 
Micah accepted the gift and was visibly choked up and emotional about it. He wanted to accept the gift, but also wanted to make sure that the proper protocols were followed. He pulled out an object that was both a rattler and a whistle and began to say a solemn chant. It was a very touching moment, for so many reasons.

One of the things that was interesting from a Chamorro perspective, was the emphasis on protocol. For any official event in Guam there are protocols, but these are ones that are more or less standard for most modern countries. These is a prayer of some sort (in the past it was Catholic, but nowadays it can be from several religions, including one that is Ancient Chamorro in spirit). There may be a dance or a song. There are mentions of the famous and political people in the audience. But for the most part there is little that is there that you could call is derived from a Chamorro experience or Chamorro history/culture.

That is to be expected in some sense because Guam has been colonized for so long and part of colonization is the hiding or the expelling of those things that become associated with the colonized. This is not a statement on how we don't have any of the authentic Chamorro things anymore and they were all lost to colonization. It is instead a question on whether or not the Chamorro feels as if they can make a mark on the world through their culture. Whether their culture is something worth asserting, especially in the company of non-Chamorros, or whether it should be hidden away and not really imposed on others. This is where the value of a sense of sovereignty is for indigenous people today.

Indigenous people tend to be very small and sometimes invisible groups. They are obscured and given subordinate places in the lands that they used to call their own. Their suppressed histories, their attacked cultures, their stolen lands all point to them having nothing and so much being taken from them. Given the realities they face it might appear to make sense for them to just give up everything and just let it all go. But that sovereignty can give you a foundation upon which you can strengthen your identity, re-infuse value into your culture and keep your ability to stand strong, fight on or decolonize alive.

For the first stewards conference there was alot of protocol implemented into our daily activities. There were certain protocol officers who participated in all cultural activities. There were witnesses whose purpose was to go back to their communities in order to communicate as best as they could the messages of the symposium. There were regular ceremonies, prayers and chants that accompanied introductions, exchanges. It was beautiful to see.

Amongst the Guam delegation attending the conference we discussed what sort of protocols we have and we traced some of what I've already mentioned. There were references to sniffing the hand of an elder, and initially refusing something that is offered to you but we couldn't come up with much more than that which is taken seriously. For some conferences and events there is an emphasis on that, but Chamorros seem to lack that feeling of sovereignty. If they are invisible in most things, inaudible in most places, it is fine, because they accept the idea that Chamorros are secondary to the United States, and so it is perfectly normal for an aura of Americanness to dominate or inundate everything.

But this is one of the most important conversations in Guam that no one wants to have. Guam has been a Chamorro homeland, as far as we know for 4000 years. It was a Spanish colony for a couple hundred. A Japanese colony for 32 months. An American colony for more than a century. But when we look at the island today, there is a cursory sort of respect for the indigenous people, but they are, like most indigenous people today, not supposed to have any sovereignty. They are supposed to give up their language and culture and land in order to make way for others, and not impose themselves on others, but allow someone greater, in this case the United States to be the neutral imposing force. Such is the most nefarious aspect of settler colonialism. Is that it appears to be so natural and invisible. It is appears to be so practical there shouldn't be anything wrong with it. Why should Chamorros have more say in Guam than anyone else? The American flag flies over Guam and that means they are in charge. The idea of respect and holding a true love or affection for the place that you live is gone by this point, all that is left is selfish settler colonialism.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Independence for Guam Beach Cleanup

Cleaning Up for an Independent Guam
Guam’s Independence Task Force to Clean West Hagåtña Beaches Sat.

The Independence Task Force Committee and the Hagåtña Mayor’s Office are working together to clean the beaches along the Liberation Day parade route this Saturday morning.

The cleanup will begin at 6 a.m. at the beach across from the GCIC building. It is one of the first community events the recently revived Independence Task Force has organized, and it reflects an important goal of the group – to work toward a sustainable future for Guam.

“Our group is concerned about the well-being of our community,” says Jon Guerrero, who organized the cleanup. “This beach cleanup will not only help beautify our community, but it will also be a great opportunity to learn more about our right to self-determination, and to learn what independence for Guahan would look like for our community.”  

The Independence Task Force is inviting members of the community to join them in the cleanup, and to learn more about Guam’s need for self-determination. The Hagåtña Mayor’s Office will dispose of all the trash collected at the cleanup.

Beach Cleanup Details
Location: West Hagåtña Beach (Across GCIC Building)
Date: Saturday, July 28, 2012
Time: 6:00 a.m.
Sponsors: Independence Task Force Committee and Hagåtna Mayor's Office


Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Dark Knight in Aurora...


A Dark Knight in Aurora, A Dark Day for America...

By Tom Magstadt

The basic outlines of the “dark knight” massacre in Aurora, Colorado, are now well known.  A 24-year-old medical school dropout named James Egan Holmes acting alone opened fire with an assault rifle in a crowded theater, killing 12 people and wounding 59.

A lot of good the Department of Homeland Security did in Aurora that night as “The Dark Knight” was emerging from his booby-trapped spider hole.  There’s plenty of obvious irony in the subtitle of that damned movie:  “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Irony is one thing; tragedy leaves an altogether different taste in one’s mouth.   A bitter taste like poison-laced lemon peels.

Living in Colorado, when I heard the first news stories on the BBC within minutes of the shootings, I thought of a high school, another massacre, and a lone shooter.   Columbine.   So, of course, did people all over the world from Copenhagen to Cairo, from Toronto to Tokyo.  The Columbine horror happened only about a dozen years ago; it’s the kind of thing that remains lodged in the world’s collective memory for a long, long time.

Aurora and Columbine are within shouting distance of each other, less than 20 miles apart as the crow flies.   That’s too close for comfort, but in fact these two crimes are obviously a lot closer from a sociological perspective.   Google Maps is a great tool but it has nothing to say about pathological killers, or about a society that defines terrorism in a way that excludes the terrorist next door.

Any mass murderer – from Adolf Hitler to Osama bin Laden – is a deranged individual, of course.  The fact is there are LOTS of deranged individuals among us, lots of nut cases.  What was once  abnormal behavior can (has?) become the new normal.  Who really knows what’s normal, anyway?  And who decides?  Calling a mass murderer deranged doesn’t prove or solve anything.

The central tragedy in this tapestry of tragedies is not about the wasted life of a young man with a bright future nor about the senseless death of a dozen innocent people (including Veronica Moser, aged six) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but rather in the fact that there was a federal law on the books banning the sale and manufacture of semi-automatic weapons.  The law, the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB,) – aka the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act – was passed in 1994.

The Assault Weapons Ban act was inadequate because it did not apply to assault weapons manufactured before 1994 and because it contained an expiration date (a decade).   But it was a step in the right direction and provided time for the public and Congress to “get religion” and tighten the provisions of this half-good law.  At least that was the hope.

But in 2004, after 9-11 handed the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) a public relations howitzer, Congress in its wisdom allowed the law to lapse.  The result is plain to see:  victims of crimes that ought to be impossible to carry out.  One individual simply can’t shoot 71 people in a matter of seconds with a hunting rifle.  The gun used in the Aurora shooting was reportedly a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic similar to the AR-15; the latter is modeled after the M-16.

My hunting rifle, by the way, is a single shot.  If you can hit the broad side of barn that’s all you need, that plus an ounce or two of common sense.  The latter, however, is a rare commodity inside the beltway where private money trumps public morality and integrity is like a lawmaker’s illicit affair – embraced but not loved.

Seldom will an esteemed member of that institution dare to offend against the NRA.  When the only thing that really matters is getting re-elected, it’s not hard to be soft on guns.  And to wrap yourself in the flag while you’re bending over to receive your reward. 

After all, lethal weaponry takes a back seat to only one amendment in the Bill of Rights.  It was apparently the second thing the founders thought of right after they thought of liberty.  It’s perfectly logical: citizens need guns to preserve liberty and prevent government from taking away rights, like the right to own guns. Get it?

But the staunch and ever-so-patriotic defenders of the absolute right to bear firearms never talk about the context of the Second Amendment.  They never talk about the state of the union or the world or weapons technology in the late 1700s.  They never mention that automatic weapons didn’t exist then.  Ditto for semi-automatic weapons and even repeating rifles.  And they never point out that hunting in early post-colonial America wasn’t a sport so much as a way of – and here I’ll quote the inimitable George W. Bush – “putting food on your family”.

Batman III is yet another in a long line of fantasy/action films about a twisted and tormented killer – the evil villain – and, of course, a fearless, indomitable superhero.  These films are all the same:  following a lot of murder and mayhem, justice prevails in the end, and everyone lives happily ever after.   Except, of course, the evil villain’s victims.

In real life, there’s no happy ending.  And as long as politicians, preachers, judges, and self-appointed guardians of liberty continue to pretend that there’s no legal or moral – or lethal – difference between, for example, hunting rifles designed to kill deer or elk one at a time and military-style weapons designed to kill scores of people in a minute or less (the AR-15, for example, can use a high density magazine containing more than 30 rounds) there will continue to be “tragedies” like the ones in Columbine and Aurora.  And that’s the real tragedy.

This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/dark-knight-aurora-dark-day-america-1343142256. All rights are reserved.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First Stewards #3: Gi Tinituhun

As part of my responsibilities at the First Steward Climate Change Symposium I had to chant and dance at the National Museum of the Native American Indian.

Ya-hu kumanta, ya-hu bumaila, lao ti ya-hu umuyu este na dos gi me'nan un linhayan estrangheru siha.

These chants were to be performed at certain points during the symposium where different tribes and islander groups would share some cultural expression that is appropriate for the moment. Some said prayers. Some sang and danced. Some shared parts of their histories. These ceremonies were important in breaking up the ice between communities and also breaking up the sometimes very dry format of panels and presentations.

The song that people most enjoyed was a chant from Guma' Palu Li'e', today known as I Fanlalai'an. It is titled "Gi Tinituhun" or "In the Beginning." The language is beautiful and more abstract than usual for a Chamorro song, and that is part of the reason that it appealed to me. It makes reference to a God or a deity of the Chamorro people, who in his imagining brings together the pieces of matter to form the world.

For Chamorros the question of "God" is always an interesting one. The word for God that we use today is "Yu'us" and "Si Yu'us." There are debates over whether this word comes from the Spanish term "dios" or not. It most likely does in my opinion as Chamorros also copied the format that the Spanish used for saying good-bye. In Spanish to say goodbye you say "adios." In Chamorro to say "wave" or "wave at" you would use the term "ayu'us" which is structurally very similar to "adios."

Fu'una and Puntan are both deities that Chamorro stories and histories mention, but other than their names, what is the word that Chamorro might have used to describe their position in relation to normal humans? "Maga'aniti" is one option since it refers to a "high spirit" or an "arch spirit." Sometimes when referring to Gods I use the term "yi'us" in order to distinguish whether you are referring to "The God" or "gods." For me it functions the same way capitalization does in terms of marking the Proper quality of what you are mentioning.

The God that the chant refers to is not just any God, but the one who's presence and who's thoughts create the world as we know it. Guma' Palu Li'e' came up with an interesting way of trying to convey the epic and foundational importance of this particular deity, and so they referred to it as "I Yahululu'"

For those of you don't know, the grammatical form of "ya- + final syllable reduplication" works as follows. It works in tandem with directional terms, such as mo'na (front), tatte (back), hulo' (up), pappa' (below). When you add the ya- form to it, it changes the meaning to mean "the furthest in that direction." If you ask someone which of the things he likes most, he may respond "i yatatate" or the furthest one in the back. If you are feeling very very depressed and feel like life, the world and everything else is out to get you, you may assert that "gaige yu' gi yapapapa'" or that I am at the lowest point.

So I Yahululu' translates to "the one that is the highest" or "the one that is the most high." It is an interesting way of referring to an all-mighty, all-knowing Chamorro deity. Given the way Chamorro cosmology works the construction "I Yamo'na'na" would have also been an interesting possibility. Mo'na is a word that holds an incredible sort of everyday epistemological meaning in Chamorro life. They say that the name Fu'una, the goddess who helped create the Chamorro people, her name is derived from Fo'na. Mo'na is best known for its use in the word "taotaomo'na" which refers to spirits, but translates literally to "the people of before" or the "people in the front." Although taotaomo'na can refer to Ancient Chamorros and the ancestral spirits of Chamorros living today, it is so heavily associated with generic evil or untrustworthy spirits that it would be difficult at present to use it otherwise.

A word that is becoming more and more commonly used to fill the gap is "i manmofo'na na taotao" or "i manmofo'na." This first started to gain credence as it was used in the title of Scott Russell's comprehensive overview of Ancient Chamorro life and culture in the Northern Marianas Islands I Tiempon i Manmofo'na. The term can be translated to "those in front" or "those who are first."

Other than this mo'na is just such an interesting and highly charged and flexible concept. If you were to ask most Chamorros to translate it, they would say it means "front" or "before" but its actual use extends far beyond that. In one of my articles for the online encyclopedia I wrote about the different uses of mo'na:

The term “mo’na” can mean the “front” or used to described something which is in front or “before” something in space. If something is “gi me’na’-mu” it is “in front of you.” The word sanme’na is used to describe the front of something. “Gi me’nan Yu’os” is a common phrase which translates to “before God.” Mo’na and another form of it, fo’na, can also be used as directional terms to indicate the direction in front of you, or a command to move forward.

But mo’na is also used as a temporal term to describe things “before” you in time and history, and it is here where the cyclical elements emerge. Mo’na and fo’na capture the meaning of “before” in both senses temporally. They refer to the time and that which is before us (or in front of us) in time, that which lies ahead of us, but also that which is behind us, that which came before we did.

There are certain explicit ways in which term fo’na takes on both the sense of something being before in time and in space. For instance when it is combined with the causative na’- prefix, it becomes na’fo’na which means to “send ahead” or “push to the front” and can carry the meaning of letting someone cut ahead of you in line, or letting someone do something before you in time. Fo’naigue is another form, which means to “do something ahead of someone else,” such as Ha fonaigue yu’ gi che’cho, which translates to “He did the work before me.”

But mo’na can also take on a strictly future sense. “Para mo’na” for example is the Chamorro phrase meaning “from now on” or “from this point forward.” Mo’na is also attached to words in order to indicate this sort of transitioning point and the permanence of the statement or action into the future. When used with a verb, the terms gains the extra significance of something that will be carried on into the future and is not only for this moment.

At the same time, mo’na and fo’na are both used to also articulate that which is from the past, that which came before us. They are both used to talk about something which has come before, or something which happened before the present moment. For instance, if two friends are talking about who graduated from high school first, they might say “Mo’na hao,” meaning you were in front or you came first.

Fo’na, when using the nominalizing infix –in-, becomes fine’nina and is regularly used in Chamorro to indicate something being “first.” In this sense the term is used to describe what happened first or who was the first to do something. Incidentally, fine’nina can also be used to reference the first of something to be done in the future. As when talking about what will happen, fine’nina also means what will happen or be accomplished first.

 I concluded that the term mo'na gives us this insight into Chamorro cosmology.

Although the use of mo’na in these words most explicitly refers to their being from the past, or coming before the present, they still carry with them the future and forward in time implications of the term. They intimate to the ancestral spirits of Chamorros not only being behind us, but also before us. According to Chamorro historian Anne Perez Hattori, the key to understanding the Chamorro world view is found in the multiple meanings of mo’na. 

This multiple meaning is intriguing because it reveals a unique aspect of the Chamorro world view, what would be called the Chamorro epistemology .  In this definition of mo’na as both the front and the past, what is revealed is the Chamorro cultural perspective that history is not what is behind us, but rather, history is in front of us.

Given this history and significance "I Yamo'na'na" could have been an equally beautiful variation. It would mean "the very first" or the one who is furthest forward. But because of the circular view of Chamorro epistemology that the term mo'na alludes to, it would also mean that this great deity is also the furthest ahead in time, in the future. The great being in this chant would therefore be the one who created everything in the past, but also waits for the Chamorro people ahead in time.

This is not to take anything away from the use of the metaphor of height or aboveness in their creation of the deity. Height also plays a very important role in imagining the world of Chamorros, and so to refer to a God as the highest is a very serious metaphor in and of itself.

For those interested here are the lyrics for the chant.

Gi tinituhun, i tinituhun
Ge'halom hinasson i Yahululu'
Mane'etnon i hinafa siha
Taihinekkok yan taichi
Ge'halom hinasson i Yahululu'
Ge'halom hinasson Ge'halom hinasson i Yahululu'
Taihinekkok yan taichi

Friday, July 20, 2012

First Stewards #2: Sunrise Ceremonies

Each morning of the First Stewards symposium, members of the delegations from across the Pacific and the Western United States would gather at the main entrance to the Museum of the Native American Indian. As the sun was rising different delegations would take on the task of welcoming the day, welcoming each other, and forming spiritual and cultural bonds. These gatherings would take place before 6 am, and so it was sometimes difficult for everyone to make it. But for those of us who did, we were fortunate enough to participate in some of the most quiet, solemn and beautiful moments. The symposium had a lot of discussions, alot of exchanges of information, a lot connections based on explicit comprehension. English is the means of common communication and so we can all speak to each other and try to get each other to learn and understand.

But these sunrise ceremonies were something different. At the ceremonies nothing was in English. Very little was explained in English. Each group contributed to the moment. What was so inspirational was how the lack of explanation, the lack of discussion didn't really detract from the moment. During the symposium, we would gather around and talk about how similar we are. At the ceremony we would feel so similar. It wouldn't be based on anything that was clearly communicated for those who couldn't understand, but perhaps for that reason it would feel as if it were more real than regular talking.

A member of the Yupiit tribe from Alaska performed a purification ceremony, lighting some sage and walking around letting the smoke flow over each of us. A member of the Hoh Tribe of Washington chanted, shaking a rattle as he sang. One morning, the Makah people, also of Washington state were supposed to conduct a ceremony, but their delegation was incomplete and they weren't prepared. As a result the other delegations each contributed to fill the gap. The Native Hawaiians performed a chant and told the story of how the rainy and dry seasons in Hawai'i were created, after a great warrior fought the sun thus giving people a rest during half the year from its heat. The Samoan and Refalauwasch delegations each said prayers of their own. Us from Guam contributed by singing part of the I Fanlalai'an chant "Tumotoghe i Lahi." The part that we sung went as follows:

Ginnen lagu na manmatto
Hugiyai nga'fulu na la'yak
Manmamakno' i tammong gi tasi
Fannangga gi sagua' haga'na
Fannangga i maga'haga'
Fannangga yan fanekungok
Fanekungok i katen kulo'
Sa' mane'etnon i manaina

At the end of the ceremony a leader from the Makah thanked everyone who had performed something to fill the space left by his tribe. As he spoke you could tell he was very emotional and he admitted to being touched by the morning's ceremony. It was not necessarily the chants and songs themselves as he couldn't understand them literally. What touched him was the fact that we had all shown the importance of indigenous people and of what we offer the world. Indigenous people support each other, take care of each other, and give so freely and willingly to those who are in need. This is true in history, true today and in that moment, the leader argued, he had felt it, and for that he was grateful. It was beautiful to see something that he felt, and that we all felt, illustrated in such a solemn and gracious way.


First Stewards

I am attending the First Stewards Climate Change symposium at the Museum of the Native American Indian in Washington D.C. It has been an inspiring and informative experience as I've gotten to meet Native peoples from across the United States and the Pacific. Every native community that has gathered here has had a close relationship to the ocean for thousands of years. Fishing is an essential part of how they have developed as a people and who they are today. As a result climate change is not something silly and abstract that only environmentalists care about. It is something that literally means life or death very soon. Over the course of the past week indigenous people from the Western Pacific to Alaska to Hawai'i and to the US West Coast shared stories of how rising waters and changing temperatures are causing increasing problems.

The symposium is not just about these pertinent issues, but is also about cultural and spiritual exchanges. As part of my job this week I helped with an exhibit of cultural and natural resources from Guam and also, to the surprise of many, chanted and sang. Other native groups also shared artifacts, history, information, prayers and songs.

I'm pasting more information of the even below, and I'll hopefully be writing a few posts of my time here as well.

The website for the event is: First stewards.org 

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About the Symposium

The symposium will bring together four regional panels; one each for the West Coast states; Alaska; the U.S. Pacific states and territories; and the Great Lakes, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Gulf of Mexico states. Each day will include opening and closing cultural ceremonies and one or two regional panels. On the second day, a nationally recognized keynote speaker will discuss how coastal indigenous cultures can become more directly engaged in U.S. climate change policy formulation. On the last day, the symposium witnesses — those recognized for their knowledge of indigenous culture, language and tradition — will share their insights on how coastal indigenous cultures and the nation as a whole are being affected by, and will need to adapt to, our changing climate.

First Stewards is being held in tandem with the Living Earth Festival that will run through the weekend. Living Earth Festival will also feature aspects of the Pacific Islands culture carried forward from the symposium.

Uniting for Quality of Life

Climate change—the variation in the Earth’s climate over time—is a pressing issue for coastal indigenous cultures, other coastal communities, and coastal and ocean resource managers. Some of the most dramatic and economically important effects include heat waves and drought in some areas and changing ocean conditions that affect sea life that cultures depend on in others.
Because of their unique vulnerability, coastal indigenous cultures are leaders in societal adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change impacts. Exploring their experiences may hold great value and provide guidance as communities across the nation respond to our changing climate.

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Originally published Monday, July 16, 2012 at 9:17 PM

NW tribes examine climate change as threat to Native Americans

Four Washington coastal Indian tribes are hosting a climate-change conference in Washington, D.C., beginning Tuesday. Native Americans may be among those most affected by changes in temperature and weather, they say.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Members of four Washington coastal Indian tribes will host a conference in Washington, D.C., this week on how climate change is threatening coastal Native-American populations from Maine to Guam.

The conference, which will be held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, aims to cover the variety of ways in which climate change is affecting Native Americans, from rising sea levels to melting glaciers, from vanishing permafrost in Alaska to the increasingly acidic Pacific Ocean.

Along the Washington coast, the four tribes hosting the symposium — the Hoh, the Makah, the Quileute and the Quinault — say they are feeling the effects of climate change.

The Anderson Glacier, which feeds the Quinault River, has shrunk to a fraction of its former size, making it harder for salmon to spawn. Ocean acidification is hurting shellfish that many of the tribes' members depend on for food.

The conference, which starts Tuesday and will include tribal representatives from all over the country, also attempts to bridge the gap between scientists who work on climate change and Native Americans, who may be disproportionately affected by such changes.

"Tribal perspectives on climate are really valuable to understand," said Jan Newton, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who has worked with Indian tribes studying climate change for a decade.

Because Washington's coastal tribes have lived in the same place for generations, she said, they are often well positioned to notice minute changes to the environment that could be caused by a warming climate.

The Quinault tribe, for instance, has seen massive fish kills on Grenville Bay, said Ed Johnstone, who helped organize the conference. He suspects the "dead zone" could be linked to ocean acidification.
"We have no history, oral or written, that talks about dead zones," said Johnstone, fisheries-policy spokesman for the Quinaults.

Native Americans are especially likely to be affected by climate change, said Garrit Voggesser, national director of tribal partnerships at the National Wildlife Federation, which issued a report on the topic last year.

Native people often depend on animal populations for food, he said, and such populations have been disrupted around the U.S., "whether it's moose in Minnesota, salmon in the Northwest, or trout in the West."

Washington's coastal tribes have noticed such disruptions.

"When you look into the sky and see all these pelicans and look into the sea and see all these Humboldt squid — that's not normal," said Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah Tribal Council, who will lead a panel discussion at the conference.

Climate change is having an impact on people and animals. The Quileute, Johnstone said, are moving part of their coastal village to higher ground to protect it from increased ocean storm surges.
The tribes have provided more than just anecdotal evidence, said Newton, the UW oceanographer. "They were on the ground making some of the measurements the university scientists couldn't get out to do."

Newton, who is attending the conference, said she hopes it will encourage further cooperation in the future: "I'm hoping it really is a steppingstone."

Theodoric Meyer: 206-464-2985 or tmeyer@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tax Adultery

I'm in Washington D.C. right now and so watching MSNBC and Fox News carries a very different significance when your hotel is within walking distance from the Capitol. The Presidential race is heating up now, but something that caught my eye earlier today really interested me. It was about a ongoing spat between tax avenger and government revenue denier Grover Norquist and Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, most famous for attacking environmental science and putting phantom holds on bills in the Senate in order to stall and drag down legislation. The issue itself doesn't really matter to me, although I will place the op-ed from the New York Times that was the immediate cause of the spat. What really interested me was the random, bizarre yan na'aburido response that Norquist gave when he was trying to illustrate the dimensions of the fight. In addition to the quote below he also suggested that the Oklahoma Senator had "gone native" or was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

I'll paste it here and then the op-ed afterwards. Buente sina hao muna'klaruyi hao hafa i sinangangan-na gi este:

 “It is like a couple that is having a fight and one of them tries to drag a third party in. Like the preacher who gave a speech last week against adultery. ‘Hey, this is your fault!’  ‘No, no, no! You promised her you would behave, you didn’t promise me. You explain to her why you get to make decisions on adultery.’ ”

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Norquist’s Phantom Army

WHEN the antitax lobbyist Grover G. Norquist made a visit to Capitol Hill recently, leading Democrats welcomed the chance to build up their favorite boogeyman. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said Mr. Norquist has “the entire Republican party in the palm of his hand.” A spokeswoman for Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said Mr. Norquist — who is famous for getting lawmakers to pledge not to support tax hikes or deficit reduction that is paired with revenue increases — was coming to give the G.O.P. its “marching orders.” 

But this story is utterly false. Senate Republicans — and many House Republicans — have repeatedly rejected Mr. Norquist’s strict interpretation of his own pledge, a reading that requires them to defend every loophole and spending program hidden in the tax code. While most Republicans do, of course, oppose tax increases, they are hardly the mindless robots Democrats say they are.
What the narrative does, however, is let Democrats off the hook. If they can make out Republicans as uncompromising ideologues, they can continue refusing to offer detailed plans to reform entitlement programs. That is the real obstacle to a grand bargain on spending, not Mr. Norquist’s pledge. 

Consider the evidence: I recently proposed amendments to end tax earmarks for movie producers and the ethanol industry. Mr. Norquist charged that those measures would be tax hikes unless paired with dollar-for-dollar rate reductions. And yet all but six of the 41 Senate Republicans who had signed his pledge voted for my amendments. 

Those 35 Republican pledge-violators are hardly soft on taxes. Rather, they understand that the tax code is riddled with special-interest provisions that are merely spending by another name. If asked to eliminate earmarks for things like Nascar, the tackle-box industry or Eskimo whaling captains — all of which are actual tax “breaks” — most of my colleagues would be embarrassed to demand dollar-for-dollar rate reductions, and rightly so. 

As a result, rather than forcing Republicans to bow to him, Mr. Norquist is the one who is increasingly isolated politically. For instance, while his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, was calling my ethanol amendment a tax hike, the Club for Growth, which is far more influential among conservative lawmakers, endorsed my amendment outright

What’s more, my colleagues have repeatedly rejected Mr. Norquist’s demand that Republicans walk away from any grand bargain on the deficit that includes even a penny of new revenue. Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, who calls Mr. Norquist “some random person,” offered to trade revenue increases for entitlement reform in talks with the White House last summer. Republicans on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform made a similar offer, as did Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, during last year’s deficit supercommittee negotiations. My colleagues, by and large, know that doing nothing to confront our fiscal challenges would mean an automatic tax increase and a cut to entitlement programs. 

The problem with the pledge is that it is powerless to prevent future automatic tax increases and has failed to restrain past spending. The “starve the beast” strategy to shrink the size of the federal government by cutting revenue but not spending was a disaster. Every dollar we borrow is a tax increase on the next generation. 

And in a debt crisis, higher interest rates and the debasement of our currency would be additional tax hikes. In that sense, no one is doing more to violate the spirit of the pledge than Mr. Norquist himself, who is asking Republicans to reject the very type of agreement that could prevent future tax increases. 

What unifies Republicans is not Mr. Norquist’s tortured definition of tax purity but the idea of a Reagan- or Kennedy-style tax reform that lowers rates and broadens the tax base by getting rid of loopholes and deductions. It’s true that Republicans would prefer to lower rates as much as possible, and it’s true that Republicans believe smart tax reform will generate more, not less, revenue for the federal government. But Republicans would not walk away from a grand bargain on entitlements and tax reform that would devote a penny of revenue to deficit reduction instead of rate reduction.
Free-market conservatives have repeatedly given openings to Democrats that they have chosen to ignore. The president, for instance, knows that his calls to raise taxes on earnings over $250,000, which follows his gimmicky Buffett Rule, is a nonstarter unless paired with fundamental tax and entitlement reform. 

The majority of Democrats and Republicans understand the severity of our economic challenges. They know they have to put everything on the table and make hard choices. Legislators who would rather foster political boogeymen only delay those critical reforms. 

Tom Coburn is a Republican senator from Oklahoma and the author of “The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

The English Supremacy

Here are some of my thoughts on the Chamorro language today.

Fihu ma faisen yu' put i hinasso-ku siha gi este na klasin asunto, pues pine'lo-ku maolek na para bai hu pegga siha guini para u mali'e' yan mataitai.

Ti hu kekesangan na impottante yu' gi i diniskuti put este, lao guaha inimpottante gi i sinangan-hu siha. Ko'lo'lo'na ayu nai put i lenguahi ni' i pumalu siha ti ma admimite.

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1. Chamorro is an official language of Guam along with English. This is something people often forget.

2. It is important to teach, practice and preserve the Chamorro language because it is part of the unique heritage of Guam and the Marianas. If Chamorros and non-Chamorros allow the Chamorro language to disappear then it means (gi minagahet) that we are a sad and pathetic community. This island likes to say that respect is important here, but the majority of people on Guam (and this includes Chamorros) have little to no respect for the language of this island. Manairespetu i meggaina na taotao put i mismo na lenguahin este na isla. The pervasiveness and the power of English has brought us to the point where we don’t take that part of our heritage seriously and actually attack people who try to preserve or revitalize it. That is a symptom of a society which is denial about its past and would probably rather erase its history than accept it. The power of the United States in Guam, over the minds and the identities of people is clear in the way English has become so dominant and been infused with far more social and economic value than it actually has. As a result Guam has become a terribly disrespectful place where in the name of Americanization and the elevation of English, we constantly decide to trash what actually makes this island unique.

3.     A common issue that holds the language back is the question of whether it is tairespetu or not to use the Chamorro language in front of people who can't speak it. How tairespetu and disgusting was it to prohibit a language? How disgust and reprehensible was it for families to then believe the lies of Americanization and actively prevent their children from learning the language? It is surreal as a Chamorro speaker to look at Chamorros today and see how just two generations ago the majority of Chamorros spoke the language fluently, and English was a second language for only about half. Today, all Chamorros speak English and Chamorro is a language which is only spoken by about 20% of the people. So much has changed, to the point where Chamorros can actually advocate for the language which helped bring their own language to the point of near death. They have come to accept that language more than their own. Such is the power of English, that it even brings people to the point where they believe the most ridiculous lies about monolingualism and English as guaranteeing your dreams or the dreams of your children come true. English opens doorways but it guarantees nothing. It is not a golden ticket. As I like to remind people, there are plenty of poor people who speak English and there are plenty of unhappy people who speak English. The colonial promise has never been real, and it is so sad that Chamorros at one point believed it so fervently.

4.    Do others on Guam act so coyly and shyly about speaking their language in front of others? Not really. This happens all the time on Guam. In restaurants, in stores, simply walking from place to place. It doesn’t bother me at all. It doesn't bother most people, but should Chamorros be mansen delikao put este? Most people believe that communities are supposed to be monolingual, which has never ever been historically true of anywhere. Even communities which appear to be isolated have linguistic connections to other places and have their own forms of diversity. My problem with this issue is that somehow it is wrong in the minds of some people for Chamorro to be used as an official language of Guam. It is intriguing how because Chamorros are the indigenous people of Guam, they get to shoulder a different kind of racism. Migrants from other islands or countries who speak their language on Guam get a certain stigma, but a Chamorro who refuses to speak English becomes a more nefarious sort of racist conspiracy on the island.

5.     A practical question is of whether it would be more unifying or harmonious to share a single language together on the island and that should be English obviously. Part of the assumption of this topic stems from the old archaic never actually true nationalist assumption that unity is based on a single, simple means of communication. That is why in the making of many nations and empires there was an emphasis on smashing and destroying other languages. Nations which purport to speak a single language, despite having much ethnic diversity are not actually better off, and don’t actually have less problems than those that are bilingual or multilingual. Part of the reason that the Chamorro language is close to death is because the US had long exported the fantasy that it is an English-only-speaking nation (despite this never actually being true), and so in the case of Guam in order for it to fully follow the US example it had to kill off Chamorro to make sure English had no competition. Guam should nurture first a bilingualism, supporting both English and Chamorro and can also further down the road nurture a multilingual identity as well. But first that dominance of English must be challenged. 

6. This is not a Chamorro supremacy argument. I am not arguing that only Chamorro should be spoken and taught in schools. But if you want to know what is holding the Chamorro language back today, it is the notion of English supremacy. English is the most important international language today, but that value does not destroy all other value and doesn't mean that all things should be sacrificed in a feverish or passive way upon the altar of its supremacy! Bringing a language back to life requires work, but since Chamorros and others on Guam cannot let go of the supremacy of English, they can't bring themselves to invest their time and energy in something that while they may argue to your face is important, but truly feel in their hearts that it is pointless. The fact that Chamorros still accept that colonial fiction continues to hold us back. We can continue to speak English proudly, but why should that pride destroy what is actually ours? Why should that pride prevent us from reviving what has been here for thousands of years before American even existed?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

History and Happiness

History is important because it holds the truth. The problem, like everything else dealing with the truth, is the uncertainty over what people should do with truths they don't like. History is filled with things you will like, things you won't really care about, and things you will hate hearing about. There are things that fill you with inspiration, love, hope and faith in the world around you, and things that make the world around you feel hollow, terrible, disgusting and make you wish you could leave it all behind, time travel or be sent to another universe.

One of my favorite quotes about history is the notion that "Happy people have no history." This is something that I don't agree with as something that produces happiness, but I do believe that many people relate to the concept and force of history with this in mind. The less you know or the narrower your knowledge is about history, the happier you might seem to be. If you come from a community with a violent past, one where the world today is built upon the systems of oppression that your ancestors engineered and then casually maintained for centuries than history is filled with stuff you’d probably rather forget. If you come from a community where your privilege today is clearly based on a historical oppression of others, than it would make sense that history would be your enemy. History would implicate your ancestors and it could implicate your identity and your comfort today. It would implicate you in so many ways and may make it difficult for you to enjoy your life and your position today.

But the problem is that there is no clear path for what to do about traumatic or unjust past events. It can be argued over whether they are truly past, whether they are ever really over, but none of that helps you deal with the issue of redress or restitution. If it can be proven that your privilege and place today was built on the oppression of others, what are you supposed to do? You can't turn back the clock, you don't want to do anything really since for you so much of this is behind you or never had anything to do with you. French Philosopher places Justice beside several other things that humans must attempt to reach and address, but nonetheless remain impossible concepts.

That is why most people choose to do nothing, and actively attempt to not know history. They work to know as little as possible so that a convenient fantasy can stand in place for their history. It is a fantasy that can fill in the gaps in the way that makes easier to digest and accept. That is the reason why for Chamorros today there is no holiday to celebrate the American takeover in 1898. There is no real way that Chamorros memorialize that moment despite it being the precise exchange that leads Guam to first becoming an American territory. Why is that?

Why is it that Chamorros work so hard to commemorate and memorialize World War II, and pretend that it is the moment Guam becomes really American, when Guam had been a US territory for more than 40 years already by that point? The reason is because World War II offers a plethora of moments that carve into your mind a great, desperate desire by Chamorros to have America close to them. This is a moment that is ideal for building patriotism to the US, and for crafting a historical argument that the second-class citizenship of Chamorros and the colonial status of Guam are just fine, since they allow us to be a part of the US!

1898 and the transfer of power offers no such opportunities. It is barely known about, rarely discussed and even less imagined. Everything we know about it indicates that most Chamorros were not enthusiastic about it and were worried about what American control would mean for the island. For the next 40 years they were absolutely right to worry as Chamorros would have less freedom and liberties than they had under the Spanish. It wasn’t until 1950 that Chamorros were afforded even the most basic rights as humans or even subjects attached to the US. For those today looking at the history of this island, it can cause problems understanding why this union might feel great now, but why Chamorros were treated so poorly for so long from the start? The rawness of Guam’s history at points might make patriotism feel strange, and so as a result you forget what complicates and remember what complements.
That's why July is so important in Guam. The spectacle of America saving and Chamorros sacrificing all help fill the complicating parts of Guam's history. It all helps to fill them in a way that is meant to result in less discomfort and more historically digestible happiness.

Chamorro Public service Post # 21: Gi Kanadan Guinife

When you look at the pantheon of Chamorro legends and epic stories, there is quite a bit of love there. Unfortunately much of the love is of the tragic variety. All of the various versions of I Puntan Dos Amantes or The Two Lovers all end badly with a lovers suicide taking place in Tumon. Guam's own version of Romeo and Juliet that tells us how the Atbot det Fuego got its red leaves. Even the story of the white lady in Ma'ina has versions about true love gone awry.

It makes me wonder sometimes if Ancient Chamorros truly had such a dim and depressing view of love, or if the tragic effects of young love is something that comes after the Spanish and their attacks on Chamorro sexuality and culture? The Spanish accounts talk about the deep love that Chamorros of opposite sexes would have for each other. How they would put that affection into beautiful songs and poems.

Once Catholicism dominates Guam and Chamorro life this changes. The love is still there, but now an incredible amount of everyday barriers are thrown up between young lalahi and famalao'an. They sneak peeks at each other, they imagine whole conversations with each other, they design a cathedral for their shared love high up in the sky without every having a real conversation with each other. You don't get to know someone before you are arranged to marry them, and once you are hitched you are never supposed to be unhitched, no matter how terrible you are together. Chamorros still feel great love, but now it seems mixed with sadness, mixed with a lack of recognition.

JD Crutch is known for embodying this principle very well. Amidst all of his many songs, it seems sometimes that the ratio is 1 happy in love song for every 5 sad in love because I love you so much but you either don't know I exist or just don't love in return and are actually in love with someone else. JD Crutch is well known for his song that are so beautiful and heartfelt, but are for the most part sad and depressing. A girl who you feel so much for won't give you the time of day. A girl whose parents come between you and her. A girl who no longer loves you. A girl who is in love with your friend and not you. Chamorros have made it a habit of seeing enthusiastically along with JD Crtuch's songs, with smiles on their faces, even as the lyrics themselves are so depressing.

One of the most famous older Chamorro love songs today is "I Kapiya"  Pale' Eric Forbes wrote about it recently on his blog. He notes it was originally recorded by the Four Winds in 1971. Johnny Sablan has his own version of it and some other artists also have covers. JD Crutch has his own as well, titled "Madandan i Kampana" which changes the meaning very significantly.

In the original song, the chapel where the singer was married is transported into a magical place, i kanadan guinife, the valley of dreams. He recalls kneeling there before the altar, marrying his love. It is a quaint and simple song, something ideal for wedding or for special "love-inspired" gatherings.

In the JD Crutch version, the ringing of the bells in the chapel isn't something that soothes the soul of the singer, but instead taunts him. The bells aren't ringing for him and the girl he loves, they are ringing for the girl he loves and someone else. It is interesting the way a song that was once a beautiful ode to the birth of a loving and happy relationship, is transformed into a gut-wrench dirge over love walking down the aisle with someone else and not you.

Although I prefer the Johnny Sablan version over the original (although the changes are minor), but I thought I'd post her the lyrics and translation that Pale' Eric provided on his blog:

I kapiya, i kapiya
(the chapel, the chapel)
gi kañådan guinife
(in the valley of dreams)
annai atmonio dumadådandan guihe.
(where the organ plays.)
Guaha un kantora yan si påle'
(There is a singer and the priest)
na sumåsaga guihe
(who stay there)
gi kapiya gi kañådan guinife.
(in the chapel in the valley of dreams.)

Bobongbong i korason-ho
(My heart was beating)
annai ma dådandan i kampåna
(when the bells were ringing)
dumimo yo' gi me'nan i attat
(I knelt before the altar)
annai para ta asagua.
(when we were to be wed.)

Ya iyo-mo yo' ya iyo-ko hao
(And I am yours and you are mine)
sa' man hula' hit guihe
(because we made our vows there)
gi kapiya gi kañådan guinife.
(in the chapel in the valley of dreams.)
 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Taigue Yu'

I neglected this blog for almost an entire week so far because things just because too busy the past few days. I'm currently in Washington D.C. where I will attend the First stewards Climate Change symposium next week. I left Guam in a mess of stress and business. I had to teach my classes and prepare for next week when I'll be gone and a sub will take over. I also had the honor of being followed around by a film crew from NHK in Japan. For those who don't know, NHK is Japan's public broadcasting company. I will be writing more about the crew and what they are working on later, but it was both fun and stressful trying to accommodate the crew, teach my classes and keep up with all my other commitments (grandparents, kids, Chamorro classes, etc.) The grueling day long travel from Guam to Washington D.C. actually felt like a much deserved break. I got to read two books on the flights over and also got to watch four movies. The symposium starts on Monday and so this weekend I have two articles I need to wrap up and send out.

After a week of so much stress, I'm looking forward to focusing again on both this blog and my other writing projects.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Portrait of Inequality

Some Outrageous Facts about Inequality

 
Studying inequality in America reveals some facts that are truly hard to believe. Amidst all the absurdity a few stand out.



1. U.S. companies in total pay a smaller percentage of taxes than the lowest-income 20% of Americans.

Total corporate profits for 2011 were $1.97 trillion. Corporations paid $181 billion in federal taxes (9%) and $40 billion in state taxes (2%), for a total tax burden of 11%. The poorest 20% of American citizens pay 17.4% in federal, state, and local taxes.

2. The high-profit, tax-avoiding tech industry was built on publicly-funded research.

The technology sector has been more dependent on government research and development than any other industry. The U.S. government provided about half of the funding for basic research in technology and communications well into the 1980s. Even today, federal grants support about 60 percent of research performed at universities.

IBM was founded in 1911, Hewlett-Packard in 1947, Intel in 1968, Microsoft in 1975, Apple and Oracle in 1977, Cisco in 1984. All relied on government and military innovations. The more recently incorporated Google, which started in 1996, grew out of the Defense Department's ARPANET system and the National Science Foundation's Digital Library Initiative.

The combined 2011 federal tax payment for the eight companies was just 10.6%.

3. The sales tax on a quadrillion dollars of financial sales is ZERO.

The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that total annual derivatives trades were $1.14 quadrillion. The same year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of $1.2 quadrillion.

A quadrillion dollars is the entire world economy, 12 times over. It's enough to give 3 million dollars to every person in the United States. But in a sense it's not real money. Most of it is high-volume nanosecond computer trading, the type that almost crashed our economy. So it's a good candidate for a tiny sales tax. But there is no sales tax.

Go out and buy shoes or an iPhone and you pay up to a 10% sales tax. But walk over to Wall Street and buy a million dollar high-risk credit default swap and pay 0%.

4. Many Americans get just a penny on the dollar.
  • For every dollar of NON-HOME wealth owned by white families, people of color have only one cent.
     
  • For every dollar the richest .1% earned in 1980, they've added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added one cent.
     
  • For every dollar of financial securities (e.g., bonds) in the U.S., the bottom 90% of Americans have a penny and a half's worth.
     
  • For every dollar of 2008-2010 profits from Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, General Electric, and Dow Chemicals, the American public got a penny in taxes.
5. Our society allows one man or one family to possess enough money to feed EVERY hungry person on earth.

The United Nations estimates that $30 billion per year is needed to eradicate hunger. Several individuals have more than this amount in personal wealth.

There are 925 million people in the world with insufficient food. According to the World Food Program, it takes about $100 a year to feed a human being. That's $92 billion, about equal to the fortune of the six Wal-Mart heirs.

One Final Outrage...

In 2007 a hedge fund manager (John Paulson) conspired with a financial company (Goldman Sachs) to create packages of risky subprime mortgages, so that in anticipation of a housing crash he could use other people's money to bet against his personally designed sure-to-fail financial instruments. His successful gamble paid him $3.7 billion. Three years later he made another $5 billion, which in the real world would have been enough to pay the salaries of 100,000 health care workers.

As an added insult to middle-class taxpayers, the tax rate on most of Paulson's income was just 15%. As a double insult, he may have paid no tax at all, since hedge fund profits can be deferred indefinitely. As a triple insult, some of his payoff came from the middle-class taxpayers themselves, who bailed out the company (AIG) that had to pay off his bets.

And the people we elect to protect our interests are unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

Paul Buchheit
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Berserk is Back

After months of nothing there are finally some new issues of Berserk. 

I only read 3 mangas, Gantz, Naruto and Berserk. The other two are released regularly and are slowly moving towards their conclusions as a series. Berserk is supposed to be in a similar twilight phase, but sometimes there are months between chapters. The excitement of the plot itself has long since dissipated as the characters and the investment in the story becomes to fade in my mind since it has been so long since they last visited me.

The most recent issues of Berserk don't continue the main story arc, but instead give us a view of the main character Guts when he was a child mercenary. The story is interesting, although it is only three issues long, but I look forward the main story arc being kick started again.

I was so happy to be reading Berserk this morning that I decided to do something I haven't done in quite a while. I took the latest issue of Berserk and translated it into Chamorro. It was fun, putting both my translating and Photoshopping skills to work. Here's a page of my fanslation below:


Friday, July 06, 2012

The Hunger Games

Meggai dimasiao na spoilers gi este na post!!!

Last year I read The Hunger Games trilogy and I greatly enjoyed the books and was ultimately irritated at them. I am never someone to say that time was wasted with reading or watching something that is terrible. I am proud to say that I have only ever walked out of one movie and that wasn't my choice. It was The Tuxedo starring Jackie Chan and it was because the people I was watching it with were appalled at how stupid it was and wanted to leave. I pouted since I hate walking out of movies, but ultimately I was riding with them and had to leave.

I am notorious for being able to find some value in almost any ridiculous thing. Terrible movies hold interesting political and critical insights. Terrible books hold a similar empowering analytical social value. I remember a friend asking me if Tron: Legacy was a good movie. I said with a smile, yes it was, I would definitely recommend it. My friend and his girlfriend ended up watching it and later complained to me that the movie was terrible and they weren't sure why I would have recommended it. I thought hard about it, and admitted it was a poor movie, but I still had fun, and still thought it was an interesting continuation of the original Tron. The first movie didn't have a serious bone in its celluloid body, and this one attempted to be too serious in a way that wasn't much fun. But I still thought of it as enjoyable and beautiful in the way in which thinks that are overthought and overdone can sometimes be interesting to watch, precisely for the reasons that things are supposed to not be fun to watch. My friend was not amused by my confusing response.

I started to read The Hunger Games because my girlfriend's mother was using it in her class last fall. I had heard some of the hype about it, but had never given it much thought. I started to read it because it sounded to similar to a Japanese series I had read before Battle Royale. In that series a high school class in Japan is chosen every year to kill each other until there is a single survivor. It was later made into a manga and a movie. I also hoped that The Hunger Games might be something I could incorporate into my EN 111 class if I felt that it would be a good thing for students to analyze and write about.

I have to admit that I was immediately hooked on The Hunger Games after just a few chapters. Once it got into the terrifying politics of a world where districts offer up random children each year to slaughter each other in order to appease a central government they once attempted to overthrow, I was determined to read the entire thing as soon as possible. The character of Katniss Everdeen was so paper thin in terms her creation by the author it was astounding. But then when you really paid attention to the world that Suzanne Collins was creating, especially when it begins in district 12, it was very empty, very bland, very sad. So in a way the emptiness through which she gives us Katniss is expected, she reflects the world she lives in.

But, at the same time, unlike almost everyone else in the world, she gives Katniss purpose. She gives her a sense of responsibility and obligation to her sister, which is strengthened by a will to survive. Everyone else (with the exception of Gale) appears to just quietly accept the world and the way things are. Katniss doesn't have any grand designs for social change in the first book, but she chaffs against it in a way that she herself doesn't even appear to understand sometimes. Part of the genius of the first book for myself at least, was how the character of Katniss felt very real in terms of being a strong, yet generic teenager in an impossible situation. She had a very strong, tough spirit. Esta mesngon gui', esta sugat na palao'an. But at the same time there was an almost pathetic quality to her. She didn't understand much of what was going on around her. She resisted things in irrational ways. She was both self-sacrificing one moment and incredibly selfish and self-absorbed the next. In a life and death situation she was consumed with thoughts of her feelings and her love. In other words she was acting pretty much like a teenager.

Given the way the story is told, through the mind and eyes of Katniss, the emptiness in her, is the emptiness in the world. She hasn't figured much out yet, and so the blankness of the world is a part of the fact that she hasn't really made many choices to define herself yet, and that for much of her life she's had to live for others, to support others. As she is thrown into this situation, she struggles to find space for herself, with the eyes of all, the hopes of many and the hate of a few all pinning her down.

In the first book this style works very well. There is tension, drama, and even if Katniss can sometimes be irritating in the very raw, confusing and self-obsessed emotions she feels, it is so understandable given the terrifying situation she is in. This changes however as the trilogy continues. The second book Catching Fire is much more interesting that the first, as things become much more complicated. The drama over whether Katniss will be with Gale or Peeta is irritating, but thankfully there is enough tension elsewhere to distract you from this. Part of the problem with Catching Fire is the self-awareness that Katniss soon creates, which leads to her becoming the character that was simply unreadable for me in the final book. In The Hunger Games she is shoved into the limelight and sometimes uses it to her advantage in the same way a child might perform a trick for its family in order to appease or please them. She makes use of her role at the center of all gazes, but she doesn't obsess about it. In fact, in the first book as she imagines the gaze that is following them, that is identifying with her and Peeta's struggle, she learns to manipulate it. She does this though with a careful and important distance. The gaze is there and she knows she can move it, she can make it follow her and she can influence those on the other side, but she does not make it her fetish, she generally hates it, but she does not feel overly oppressed by it. Ti ha dochon i sanhalom-na, it doesn't pierce her and who she is.

In Catching Fire this changes. Todu ma a'atan gui', ya ma atatani gui'. In English what that means is that "everyone is looking at her, and everyone is hammering her," because of an interesting form in Chamorro where the word "to look at" also means "to hammer." The gaze becomes oppressive and as a result she becomes overly obsessive. By the time we are introduced to Katniss in Mockingjay, she is a completely different person. she hasn't grown up mind you, she hasn't really found a way to define herself, but instead she just constantly gripes and struggles as other people seek to define her. An entire universe of meaning is given to her, a chance to help people, to lead the fight to change the world. Her response to all of this is obsessiveness over not wanting to do it and not liking to do it. she is consumed by a guilt over what happens to Peeta in the Capitol, and that prevents her from accepting her role as the hope and the symbol for many. Even as so many others sacrifice themselves for her, including other former tributes, she remains fixed on both herself and on her obsession with Peeta.

Although Mockingjay is an exciting book, it was almost impossible to read. The voice that Collins gave Katniss in the first two books that felt so authentic, becomes overly tiresome and irritating in the third installment. It is real in a way. It probably does reflect the way a child would react into being thrown into an important role they may not feel themselves ready for. I am not arguing that there is anything wrong with this, it is, given the way the author created the character the way she should sound and react. The problem is its just such a bore to read. With revolutions happening everywhere, and the world on the verge of radical change or oblivion, we get this exciting world in tiny chunks, drenched in endless pages of self-recrimination, self-doubt, self-hate, apathy, loathing. While it is very real, it just sucks to read. The revolution takes place with Katniss at the center, but while she appreciates this role in the abstract, she never achieves a consciousness where she can actually take on the Mockingjay role. In simpler terms, she never accepts the responsibility she is given, and thus chafes against it for page after page, refusing to ever accept the fact that a new world is being born around her, and she is playing a role in creating it.

The story appears to give us the reason for her resistance, and that is an aversion to violence after her experience in The Hunger Games. We are made to understand this in the way in which the love triangle between Katniss - Gale - Peeta is resolved, with Katniss cutting her ties with Gale and instead finally accepting her love for Peeta. While the bond between Gale and Katniss is much stronger at the beginning, and her connection to Peeta always frustratingly teeters between just being fact and being something that might be real, she slowly moves away from Gale, because of the fact that while he can "be there" for her, he wasn't really there for her in the Games. Peeta was. This eternally puts Gale outside of the postgames self that we follow in the second and third books. While she can love Gale for the history they share, she cannot ever feel understood by him. Only Peeta holds that power. While Gale and her may have fought off starvation and suffering so many times together, they didn't balance on the edge of a knife blade before the eager eyes of millions.

Over the course of the three books Gale and Katniss tragically grow apart. Katniss experiences the most grisly form of combat and wants to shun it and move away from it. Gale however finds new purpose in revolution and starts to move towards it, using his hunting skills to help the cause in terms of developing new strategies and weapons. Although Katniss is at the center of the Cause and gives it life and form, the Cause is not within her, she is a void inside, searching only for meaning outside of the Cause that is oppressing her. Peeta, who is victimized in so many ways is the answer to her void. As someone who faked loved her and really loved her, someone who would no doubt swear off the Cause, abandon everything for her, he is what she needs and craves. This becomes saddening as the position Katniss takes is akin to the "mas paire yu' kinu umeskuela" or her being too cool for school. Her resistance to so many is the fact that they "believe" in something; guaha hinenggen-niha, which as we see in the duplicity and Janus nature of President Coin, is not something you can actually live your life according to. The heroes are just as bad as the villains when they believe in a great cause, and so Katniss rejects such things, choosing to only believe in the limited few she sees as "with her."

Ultimately the message of the trilogy is an anti-war message. Katniss avers war, even when it is in her own name. Even after her side has won, she cannot give herself over to it, she cannot celebrate it, she cannot enjoy it. The costs of war, the costs of violence are too great. They should not be celebrated, they should be forgotten, they should be moved on from. But at the same time, it is only through this violence that Katniss discovers the bonds that eventually sustain, nurture and inspire her. Peeta, Haymitch and herself create a book to commemorate those who were killed in The Hunger Games. There is no compulsion to create a book for those who died in overthrowing the Capitol. There is no nagging feeling that she needs to commemorate those, non-tributes who saved her from the Quarter Quell. The bonds of those who worshiped and looked up to her don't matter. The bonds with those who sacrificed for her don't matter. The bonds of those trying to create a better world don't matter. The only ones to be valued are those she shared with in the terrors of the Hunger Games. While Katniss continual resists violence and war and obsessively works to see no value in it, she at the same time cherishes the understanding that only emerges from those who share such violence together.

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