Radical Second Things

"Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea." +Elder Sophrony of Essex

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tension in Berkeley

I have pictures of shenanigans in Berkeley, taken from a safe distance (I'm not stupid and stay very close to law enforcement at these things) today - April 14, 2014. The protest was not the 1960s or 70s again. Right wingers were chanting statements against Jared Kushner and left wingers were throwing garbage and yelling stuff like "sacrifice your body, bitch!"

The Trump crowd in Berkeley was crass, cringe inducing, blatantly anti-Semitic (one sign by a guy chanting "Fire Kushner!" said "Da Goys Knows" next to a cross) and on par with the crowd at a smaller comic book convention in presentation. Some who tried to look intimidating looked more like the professional wrestler Big Boss Man. These types might be good for occupying a wildlife reserve or attacking random minorities they're ignorant about but they only succeed in getting used by a guy like Donald Trump - there's no coordinated political movement to them.

The black bloc anarchists types, however, with masks, coordination and even marching going on were the closest I have ever seen in the US to totalitarians. "Protect Trans Youth" shirts alongside full black garb and skinhead style boots showed that SJW ideology has, at least for that crowd, morphed in to some sort of authoritarian ideology. Communists in the developing world were never really on the LGBT bandwagon so who knows how that would translate in to a serious militant cause.
There is still great inspiration in this troubled world - just not from either of those crowds in my opinion. A big purpose of this blog is to highlight constructive ideologies and social movements in the world.

America is in a very, very, very dark place with all the dynamics of the Great Patriotic War. I suggest people who want to make it through and in to something else face what that reality means for them.  I also suggest people here who have someplace better they are from leave. If you are here, I suggest disengaging as much as is possible - these pictures I take are for posterity and don't reflect a stake in either side.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Practicing Photography in Berkeley Part One

I did not go to art school and I did not take even one photography course in college. My knowledge of photography is completely from observation - I had a friend when I was in my late teens who took excellent photography on a family visit to Auschwitz (her family was Jewish), which I profiled on my website at the time. That gave me some idea of what a good photo looks like.

My roommate of this past year helped me to purchase a proper camera and also told me of the skills he acquired from photography courses, primarily the "rule of thirds." I have been very fortunate to practice my profession of photography in a city like Berkeley. The university campus itself seems as if it was designed for the sake of photography. I was able to get beautiful shots of the spectacular campus. I did succeed in getting paid for this twice this year and hope to do so again.

I am a big fan of the neo-traditionalist wave of art that seems to be picking up steam in many circles. I am not yet good enough at art to take part but I have dedicated a good amount of my photography to getting shots of sculpture and iconography that most people probably do not even notice in urban areas and that were produced before the postmodern wave.

Please take a look at my photos of the Bay Area and let me know what you think. I am open to constructive criticism as well. Unlike the previous photos I posted, these are not with the intent to amuse or show how nutty the Bay Area is. The intent here is to show its beauty.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stars of Courage: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - A Godfather of Liberation Theology

It is a bit clich├ęd to take Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and acclimate his message to whatever the message of whatever person is. He has been made to be everything from a conservative Republican and gun nut to a firebrand socialist. Radical Second Things comes out of many different things but its most consistent basis is liberation theology. I hope this bio explores how his gospel was a prelude toward liberation theology and how his push toward LT was part of his social environment.

During the civil rights era of the 1960s, there were a great many different African American activists who made it to the mainstream forefront. A stark chasm at least seemed to initially exist between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam and Dr. Martin Luther King. One was urban, hostile and embracing a religion that certainly is not alien to blacks in America or elsewhere but was fairly alien to midcentury America. The other, in King's movement, was rural, Christian and challenging the broader culture, not overtly hostile to it.

In to this plays a Marxist observation - the alienation of capitalism. Spike Lee's movie about Malcolm X is essentially the story of alienation. Malcolm, after losing his father to the Ku Klux Klan, spends his youth selling drugs and sleeping with a white woman, then eventually serving prison time, knowing full well what's problematic to him about each of these situations. When he finds the Nation of Islam, the community that he finds there is a diaspora for him within a largely uncaring urban environment. The Nation becomes hostile and, like all nationalist movements, may genuinely provide some relief to its adherents while only bringing hate toward anyone outside of it. Nevertheless, it provides something Malcolm couldn't find anywhere else, causing him both to cling to it and to feel intimately betrayed when the falling out occurs.

Martin Luther King, on the other hand, came from a rural environment in which oppression was certainly hot but enough space and air had been given so that African Americans were able to develop their own civil society, able to birth a man as full of empathy and warmth as Dr. King. King saw the danger in identity politics (that phrase not yet being in vogue) and spoke out against white nationalism and black nationalism and speaking of "the better angels of our nature" while the Nation spoke of "white devils." Both Malcolm, who was originally born in Nebraska (where his father was killed), and King came from similar rural backgrounds originally - the contrast occurred in the answers they found for similarly awful circumstances.

The divorce in approach of both King and the Nation of Islam (products of the less developed southern United States and the hyper-developed American inner city, respectively) reflected, in many ways, the sharp contrast between the third wordlist movements of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia in contrast with the erratic and self-interested nationalist movements that seem to be having a rebirth in the developed world.

Certainly not free of problems and with less material wealth, the "third world" (a patently racist term of its own) nonetheless has social infrastructure where the developed world has depleted theirs. While first world religious leaders fan hatred and even its supposedly progressive leaders cheer on endless wars abroad, the third world regularly produces Mother Theresas, Oscar Romeros and Pope Francises. Capitalism alienates us more as it becomes more developed - only where it is undeveloped does humanity still reside. King himself got the chasm that exists - his speech explaining his opposition to the Vietnam war, at the time straining a possible relationship with Lyndon Johnson, is amongst his best work.

Liberation theology became a thing only shortly after Dr. King was assassinated. While it's not mentioned that much, I am sure that Gustavo Gutierrez was inspired by King on some level, even minute. The beautiful displays of interfaith spirituality that Pope Francis regularly engages in greatly reflect the arm in arm marches that King performed with pastors and rabbis of deferring denominations.

Liberation theology took off in the black community at least on a small level with the like of Cornel West. In our challenging times, perhaps it will be greater embraced.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Stars of Courage: Hate Man

Jordan Denato produced a good amount of artwork for this series but I had to skip ahead for this one as the figure is a close one for me.

Back in 2014, while living in Berkeley, a thing I do periodically in life because of the ease of life there, I lived in a hostel for a few months where I got pretty involved in the community there. I ended up helping to move stuff for Hate Man, real name Mark Hawthorne, an elderly man who spent four decades on the streets of Berkeley, living primarily in Berkeley's well known "People's Park."

Hate Man had not always been homeless - he had been successful enough in standard society to have a staff reporter position at the New York Times. Like a more oddball version of a monk (and without the system that monks have), he chose a life away from normal convention. Homelessness was not a misfortune for him. He said of it, "“I’m addicted to it. It’s fresh air. It’s exciting. It’s very Zen. There are problems with it, but it’s very immediate — whether it’s weather or a ticket or a psycho. Whereas rent, those are longer-term problems.

As someone who has lived at length in Berkeley, California without being enrolled in UC Berkeley, I can tell you that the city allows for a strange ecosystem of tolerance for the most strange and erratic among us. There are alot of homeless in the city and some of them are the strangest people you have ever seen - ranging from punk kids that look like they jumped out of a 1970s movie, one man who dresses precisely like someone from Pirates of the Caribbean and another who has literally made pretty solid footwear out of material from a dumpster.

Hate Man was respected among these misfits and amongst the broader community. As he was sick and ailing toward his death, a good number of people traveled to Berkeley to see him. He was unique and had an inner philosophy that genuinely made some sense. He avoided drugs and alcohol - dispelling that reasoning for his unique life choice. He lived a long life - having been born in 1936 or thereabouts, he was 80-81 years old when he passed.

When I first met him, he asked me to push my fists against his as hard as I could. This was part of a philosophy he had of bringing negative emotions out in to the open (in a constructive manner, clearly). Hate Man said in interviews, "For me to trust a person and be comfortable with them, they have to be willing to say ‘I hate you ..." The idea is to avoid negative conflict by bringing such differences out in the open, rather than creating situations where people rob or con one another for what they want.”

Nearly every major local newspaper in the Bay Area, from SF Gate to Berkeleyside to UCB's daily publication The Daily Californian, reported on the passing of Hate Man. His impact was enough that people would take note. Rest in power.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Stars of Courage: Narayanan Krishnan

India is a huge, populous country composed of a billion people, many of whom regularly are struggling to survive against adverse circumstances. Many Indians, fortunate enough to escape the poverty, often buy on hard to the materialism of the west when they arrive here. It's very common for people from that country (think Dinesh D'souza) to latch on to conservatism, libertarianism or other frameworks for western wealth as they lock also in to elite western jobs with a hunger their western counterparts may lack.

Narayanan Krishnan may have been slated for just that transition. In the early 2000s, only in his early 20s, he had been hired for an elite job in Switzerland. While gearing up to travel for the job, he saw a very distressing incident - the sight of a very elderly man literally eating his own defecation for lack of genuine sustenance. While, having grown up in India, he had certainly already been exposed to poverty, the disparity between his situation and this old man's got to him. He quickly gathered food and brought it to the man, later noting that he never saw someone eat so fast.

An elite career was soon discarded and Krishnan embraced a life of philanthropy. He started the Akshaya Trust in 2003, located in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner for a recurring mass of approximately 425 people.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Stars of Courage: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Despite its ultimate failure, the rise of National Socialism in Germany caused great damage. It killed 6 million Jews and reportedly 30 million plus in the Soviet Union, along with a great deal of Germans, Poles, Americans and others who became embroiled in the conflict with fascism.

Like the petty authoritarianism that engulfed Latin America in the 1970s and 80s, the totalitarianism of WW2 era Europe reached a lethal point with established religion, the institutions that stood in the way of groups like the Nazis having total influence and control.

The widely quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer played a similar role to Oscar Romero in the story of Nazism. Bonhoeffer was implicated, along with family members, several times in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was an explicit critic both of the euthanasia policy (which was rooted in eugenics and had some infamous participants) and genocidal ambitions toward the Jewish population of the German Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in 1945, just as the regime was collapsing.

There is much to say about Bonhoeffer - he is quoted often and has many fans. One of his American admirers is none other than independent conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, who quotes him often in his books and talk show. What isn't mentioned enough is his time in America and the unexpected way in which his time there informed his intellectual independence and empathy for the maligned, rejected and downtrodden.

While studying in the United States, Bonhoeffer studied at the Union Theological Seminary, an erstwhile institution that has since, much, much later, become home to the like of Dr. Cornel West. Bonhoeffer said that the view of Christ he received while in the United States gave him a view "from below," from the perspective of those who had experienced oppression. He specifically said of his time in the United States, "Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God...the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision."

The "black church" had many of the same elements of identity and alienation that make American racial politics so difficult today but, likewise, it provided the seedlings of what later became the successful movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When reading of Bonhoeffer spoke of his experience with the black church, I couldn't help but think of Oscar Romero walking through the slums in El Salvador, noting that he saw Christ in the poorest amongst us. Bonhoeffer said similar things and suffered a similar fate to Romero, ultimately to be venerated and remembered in history.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Stars of Courage: Allan Law

At any given point in the day, someone in America's cities is reaching out to America's impoverished and its underclass with collected resources. Synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and non-profit groups of all sorts collect and purchased or donated food or prepare it themselves to distribute to people who can't regularly afford to eat.

I knew nothing of such things until I ended college. There's a bunch of reasons why I don't really vear from publishing and editing of some kind in work - my situation does lead to food insecurity at times but is still much more privileged than many people. I choose to frequent many charity feeds even when I can afford not to - it informs a project like Radical Second Things to see every day both the people that liberation theology is meant to speak of and the people who are making the "preferential option" real. For people who never encounter such organizations, the true value of them will remain invisible - for some organizations like Food Not Bombs, healthy, vegan food is made available daily even to middle class people for whom fast food would be the most likely alternative.

For those people, the forgotten and nameless that live on the streets of America's cities, the non-profits that feed them are the only thing keeping them from pulling food out of dumpsters or begging the whole day for something from McDonald's. They provide a semblance of dignity by reminding the poor that someone still remembers them.

For Allan Law, an awareness of this lead to a personal mission. After retiring from a decades long career in education, he made it his personal mission to feed the poor of Minneapolis. In one year, he reportedly distributed 520,000 sandwiches. Check it out:

Among expressions of gratitude, Law frequently says that he will do this the rest of his life. Men (and women, as many young women were shown involved in packing his food and clothes for distribution) like him are the living example of a "preferential option for the poor," affiliation with an established church or not. They are hope manifest.