Saturday, February 26, 2011

Litterbugs, Part 9: Junk v. Garbage

"Some people, they don't know junk," says Rosskam, a character in William Kennedy's Ironweed. "It ain't garbage. And garbage, it ain't junk."




Rosskam collected junk – was a "rag man," a collector of cast-off stuff that still had some value or use. And that is what he meant by "junk." He rode around Albany, New York in a horse-drawn wagon, collecting the stuff.

Rosskam's distinction between garbage and junk is useful, at least to me, as I continue my anti-littering crusade.

My intolerance toward litter has grown considerably over the last year. Starting in the summer of 2010 I began taking a shopping bag with me on bike rides, a bag made with ties allowing it to be worn backpack-style. I'd fill it with the discarded bottles and cans I'd find along my bike routes.

A typical haul

Then, toward the end of the year, I began picking up stuff during my walks. Mostly I pick up cans and bottles I later drop into a recycling bin. But I also pick up trash, like candy wrappers and fast food bags. I just can't pass it by anymore. Litter offends me; it's appalling how badly people treat this planet.

Sometimes I come across stuff I won't pick up, as much as it might need it. Cigarette butts are a good example. I did a little Googling and read that four and a half trillion butts are dropped on the ground each year in the United States. (I don't buy that number; it's just too staggering.)

And I don't pick up wet, nasty stuff. I might consider it, but I'd have to bring rubber gloves. You gotta draw the line somewhere.

After my walks, I always sort out the trash from the recyclables and place each in the proper container.

Then I wash my hands.


Literary note: Read Ironweed. It's one of my favorite novels, a truly brilliant piece of work.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Freedom Riders

few days ago I tried to see Freedom Riders, a 2009 documentary being shown at the Boulder International Film Festival. As it developed the showing had been sold out for a couple of days, so I didn't get in. But the film is on Netflix, and I've put it in my queue.
Directed by Stanley Nelson, Freedom Riders tells one of the most harrowing stories from the Civil Rights era. In the spring of 1961, volunteers began testing a Supreme Court ruling that banned discrimination in interstate travel and commerce. This included bus stations, so "freedom rides" on buses crossing state lines was an ideal means of testing the law.

The actions of the Freedom Riders were deliberately provocative. In most southern states, local custom (i.e. entrenched racism) trumped any Supreme Court ruling. "We felt we could then count on the racists of the south to create a crisis," said CORE's James Farmer, "so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce federal law."
There were numerous violent confrontations during the course of the Freedom Rides. One of the most infamous came in Alabama (above photo), when buses were firebombed and riders savagely beaten by white mobs. The Freedom Riders got no police protection and none of the attackers were arrested.

The Freedom Riders knew exactly what they were getting into. In later years some of them said they were prepared to die. This is courage of an order I can only marvel at. I have to ratchet up my nerve just for a job interview.

One of the draws from the recent Boulder screening was a personal appearance by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), a participant in the Freedom Rides. I had hoped to hear some Q&A with him, maybe ask a question and take his picture. I had to settle for a photo of the marquee.


Sources for this post include The New York Times, Dec. 6, 1960, "Bus Terminal Segregation Curbed by Supreme Court;" The Struggle for Black Equality, by Harvard Sitkoff, pp. 88-89, Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, edited by Clayborne Carson et al, p. 124; Voices of Freedom, edited by Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer, p. 75 (James Farmer quote); Freedom Bound, by Robert Weisbrot, pp. 55-63; and My Soul Is Rested, by Howell Raines.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Litterbugs, Part 8: Freegans




We throw away so much stuff in this world that an entire subculture sustains itself from it.

It's called Freeganism, and its proponents meet virtually all of their needs from dumpster diving. Or as some more politely call it, urban foraging.

"Freegan" is a hybrid word, a fusion of free and vegan. Freegans come in a range of stripes and shadings. At their most militant, they are both pragmatic and political, involved in "a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations."
Freegans say they can obtain just about any consumer good you can think of from dumpsters, and that these goods are clean, safe, and perfectly useable. A long list presented on their web site (freegan.info) includes food, furniture, books, toiletries and electronics. In short, if you can throw it out – and we certainly can – then a freegan can recover and use it.

The most committed freegans not only harvest consumer goods from dumpsters. They also squat in abandoned buildings, and advocate getting rid of cars in favor of bikes, rollerblades, or walking. (Presumably public transportation is okay.)

But enough of all this. Let's watch TV!



See additional comments about litter, waste, and environmental matters at my Trash Talk blog.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The War Prayer


Excerpted from Twain's prose poem of the same name, this is the most devastating anti-war statement I've ever read.

The War Prayer
By Mark Twain

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;

help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;

help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;

help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;

help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it –

for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask of one who is the Spirit of love and who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset, and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

Grant our prayer, O Lord, and Thine shall be the praise and honor and glory now and ever.

Amen.

"The War Prayer" was not published during Twain's lifetime. "I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world," Twain said. Quoted in Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, A Biography, by Justin Kaplan, p. 367, citing Albert Bigelow Paine, "Mark Twain, A Biography," 3 vols. New York: Harper Brothers, 1912.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Litterbugs, Part 7: Trash Talk


One of the themes running through this blog is litter and trash.

So far there have been six posts about this stuff, in one form or another. The title of each is prefixed by the word "Litterbugs."

I've begun cross-posting these entries. Henceforth they will appear both here, and on a blog by themselves. Blogger, the commercial site on which "Lung" resides, allows you multiple blogs.

The new blog is called Trash Talk.

Another roadside attraction
I had a little trouble establishing the Trash Talk URL. I wanted it to be memorable – that is, easy to remember. My first choice, litter.blogspot.com, was already taken. (The blog name and its URL don't necessarily have to match.)

So I tried "litterbug.blogspot.com." That too was in use. I pluralized it to "litterbugs." Same story.

Then I got clever and tried litterature, litterate, and litterati. Even the bad puns were already taken!

I tried trashtalk and talkingtrash. Both in use.

Finally I tried litter101. Jackpot!
Here's the kicker. I got curious about all of those unavailable URLs. So I typed in "litter.blogspot.com" and found a site that had not been updated since 2003! This blog had nothing to do with litter or the environment. Instead it consisted of the scribblings of some techno-dweeb who fights with his wife a lot.

The site with "litterate" in the URL had not been updated since 2006. Same with "Litterati." litterbugs.blogspot.com had not been posted to since 2005, while both trashtalk.blogspot.com and talkingtrash.blogspot.com haven't been used since way back in 2003! (The talkingtrash blog consists, in toto, of three words: "The inaugural post." Its final post, too.)

But the oldest of these sites, each of which is abandoned but has a URL I covet, dates back to 2002. This would be litterature.blogspot.com. It is written in French, apparently out of Quebec. Lo and behold, "littérature" is, literally, "literature" in French – which pig-ignorant, mono-cultural moi did not previously know.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Litterbugs, Part 6: John Breaux

The first of these "Litterbugs" posts made reference to a guy who used to bike around my town picking up litter and recyclables.

His name was John Breaux, and it's been just over two years since he died. Two articles about him appeared recently in the local press: first in a community weekly, and second in the daily paper.

Both articles told essentially the same story. A local tavern has set up a webcam that streams a live view of an adjacent courtyard, where a statue in John Breaux's memory is on public display.


Breaux died on January 30, 2009, after being struck by an automobile as he picked up litter along the side of the road. The community responded with a tremendous outpouring of grief.
The statue at the time of its dedication




Breaux was one of those people everyone in this town knew on sight, but few actually knew. Almost every day, he spent long hours riding around town on his mountain bike, collecting litter and discarded recyclable cans and bottles.

He was also known for random acts of kindness, like the bumper stickers suggest.

John Breaux suffered from schizophrenia but seems to have been harmless. When I first saw him some years back I thought he was a wandering old hippie. Others thought he was a vagrant, but he lived with his brother.

In death, John Breaux has been lauded as a sort of saint, and maybe he was – a selfless man whose kind and generous soul belied his shaggy appearance. The very day he was killed – within a few hours – someone created a tribute page to him on Facebook:


"It's amazing how many people he's touched," says the owner of the tavern.

But it seemed to me then, and seems to me now, that members of this community tried to out-do each other with praise for him. Much was made of his Christianity. There was talk of naming a park in his honor, and creating a "John Breaux Law" to punish litterbugs with mandatory sentences of picking up trash along the side of the road. (No one suggested we stop littering so damned much in the first place.)
This photo was apparently the model for the statue
In the end, they made the statue. I can't remember how it got funded, but the sculptor donated her services. The city unveiled it on the first anniversary of Breaux's death.

I think all of this, while well intentioned, was merely a stunned and saddened community's reaction to senseless loss. Most of the praise for John Breaux, I suspect, was withheld during his lifetime.

Now two years have passed, and things have reverted to the way they were. But for a brief period many of us here treated each other with a little extra kindness -- in John Breaux's memory, perhaps, or in the name of our shared humanity. It is an ideal discarded as easily as a beer can, but one we should pick up, and use again, and strive for every day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

JFK: The Lincoln Parallels

First, a disclaimer. I am not an authority on the Lincoln assassination. Not even close.

But close your eyes for a moment and imagine I'm some bigmouth in his cups, down at the end of the bar. (Never mind that you can't read if you close your eyes.)

I've noticed an odd parallel between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

There's an old Ann Landers column about curiosities between the two assassinations. You've probably seen it: Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Both secretaries warned their boss not to attend what turned out to be a rendezvous with death. Both slain presidents were succeeded by men named Johnson, and blah blah blah.

Cue the creepy music.

I'm not talking about the Ann Landers stuff.

No, I'm talking about similarities that to me, at least, suggest a pattern.
Historians know no more than the information made available to them, and for many years the United States War Department kept the records on Lincoln's assassination locked in files marked "secret."
This quotation is from a 1959 book called The Web of Conspiracy, by Theodore Roscoe. It was the first thing in that book to really get my attention. Readers familiar with the JFK case know that classifying much of the evidence "secret" is precisely what happened after the Warren Commission concluded its work in 1964.
Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged Kennedy assassin, was of course shot down by Jack Ruby a few days after the assassination. No trial.

In the Lincoln case, John Wilkes Booth escaped the scene of the crime and evaded authorities for about twelve days, before finally being cornered and killed in a Virginia barn.

Yet in this instance, there was a trial. Not only did Booth have co-conspirators who were captured alive; they carried out coordinated attacks on several other government officials, including Vice-President Andrew Johnson, at nearly the same moment Booth was killing Lincoln.
This is sometimes overlooked. We learn, of course, about Booth shooting Lincoln. But these other crimes are downplayed, as is the fact of conspiracy. I don't think I learned there was a Lincoln conspiracy until my teen years, and only then because I had a book of historic photographs. It included pictures of the execution of four of the eight conspirators (above).

The other four received prison sentences.
Although trial proceedings were published at the time, the Bureau of Military Justice sat on a great deal of conspiracy information, and the Army chiefs refused to release much of the data on the assassination and the pursuit of the conspirators. Not until the mid-1930s were pertinent War Department records placed in the public domain. 
The mid-1930s!

Why were these records suppressed for so long? Theodore Roscoe argued that within, say, twenty-five years of Lincoln's killing, no Civil War-era intelligence secrets could have been compromised.
What could be compromised was the security of a myth, or the reputation of an institution, or the concealment of some figure or group who had been party to a heinous crime.
Roscoe continued:
The military censors had a field day with the Lincoln murder case. From the outset [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton held that many of the facts relating to the assassination were "not in the public interest." Eventually so much of the truth was tampered with that no one could learn the truth. Thus an immense deception was imposed and a stupendous crime was covered...
Today the cover-up is conceded by at least one Government agency which tells us in its official literature that "confusion and mystery" cloak Lincoln's assassination and "we probably shall never know all the facts"...
Does any of this sound familiar? "So much of the truth was tampered with that no one could learn the truth."

I'm seeing some definite parallels between Lincoln and JFK. It is tempting to conclude that the similarities reveal a model for the clandestine removal of a president of these United States, but I think that would be reckless.

And anyway, I'm just the loudmouth drunk down at the end of the bar.


Most of the material presented here comes from a single source: The Web of Conspiracy, by Theodore Roscoe (Prentice-Hall, 1959). I turned to Wikipedia for a few factoids, such as the location of Booth's death.



Saturday, February 5, 2011

Litterbugs, Part Five – The Dump Festival

Just imagine: an entire festival celebrating garbage!

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But there used to be something very much like that in Kennebunkport, Maine. They called it the Dump Festival – I kid you not – and it was an annual thing. As founder Ed Mayo said, "We're honoring the importance of the old-fashioned town dump."

I'm piecing this together from scraps, so my info may be a little off. But it appears the Dump Festival was, at least in part, meant to raise awareness about littering. You could say it was ahead of its time: it began back in 1965.

A highlight of the Dump Festival was the crowning of "Miss Dumpy," the winner of a beauty pageant whose contestants wore outfits assembled from stuff mined out of the local dump.

The Miss Dumpy pageant: good, clean fun

The above photo is from an old issue of National Geographic magazine, which mentioned the Dump Festival in an article about trash and recycling. This woman placed second in the 1981 contest. The winner, whose photo did not scan well, was truly repulsive: her face and arms smeared with green goop, dead fish hanging from a mangled basket covering her upper torso, and – well, you don't want to know the rest.

The Dump Festival featured a parade, too. Like Miss Dumpy's ensemble, floats were constructed from (or at least decorated with) stuff excavated from the landfill.

I first heard of the Dump Festival in that National Geographic article, which dates to 1983. I remembered it when I started the litter and trash theme running through this blog, so I dug it out. Then I turned to the Internet. According to an item I found via Google, the festival was deemed unsafe in the early nineties, so the powers-that-be pulled the plug.

Ed Mayo told Nat Graph that the festival had a simple message: "Litter belongs at the dump, not along the road."

I second that!



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

JFK: The 50th Anniversary

The most recent public opinion polls I've seen on the JFK assassination are a little dusty. They go back nearly eight years, to November 2003, when ABC reported that 70% of those who were asked "suspect a plot."

We'll see some new surveys as we approach the fiftieth anniversary. Assuming they are honest (a risky assumption), there shouldn't be much change. The numbers have fluctuated somewhat over the years, but have consistently shown that at very least, the majority of Americans "suspect a plot."

Far more important is how many people still care. Most, I humbly submit, do not.

This is due largely to the passage of so much time. Most people now alive were not yet born when the assassination happened. Oliver Stone's JFK energized us for a time, but that has long since passed. Anymore, the Kennedy assassination is just a history lesson – and a confusing one, at that.

The Warren Commission said one guy did it. Fifteen years later the House Select Committee concluded there was "probably" a conspiracy. The Assassination Records Review Board skirted the matter, emphasizing the release of assassination records and – gulp! – restoring government credibility.

All along, there has been a deluge of books promoting often-conflicting theories. The not surprising result of all this is uncertainty. "One of the primary means of immobilizing the American people politically today," wrote E. Martin Schotz in 1992, "is to hold them in a state of confusion in which anything can be believed but nothing can be known, nothing of significance that is."

And that leaves us in a curious place. Most people believe there was a conspiracy to kill a duly elected president, but don't know its nature. It was a long time ago, though, so who cares?


Even though we know there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, those of us actively studying it seem unable to make much difference. We can't crack the media and we can't ignite the masses.

Instead of objective analyses of our issues, the media keeps feeding us leftovers: assassination re-enactments, new tests to prove the single bullet theory, and new attempts to shoot three rounds in six seconds from a third-rate weapon.

This is a great danger. To those who haven't read much in the field, and who don't much care to begin with, some of the lone nut nonsense might just seem plausible.

With the Internet, we can become the media. This is no small thing; David, after all, slew Goliath. But the Internet can be made to disappear, as it did in Egypt.

And then there is the lack of unity within our ranks. This is aggravated by some of our luminaries, who assume proprietary attitudes toward certain issues. Even worse is the promotion of ideas that make us all look ridiculous. In some ways we're our own worst enemy.

The fiftieth anniversary is still more than two years away, but we are already in a crucial phase. We must find a way to stand as one in the name of truth. We must emphasize those matters we have in common, since we share a common goal. We must find a way to make people care.

The propaganda war is on, and will only intensify as we near November 22, 2013. For as we reach the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, the primary objective of our opponents will be to bury this case once and for all.

They are the enemies of truth.


The quotation "One of the primary means of immobilizing..." is from History Will Not Absolve Us, by E. Martin Schotz.