Saturday, June 06, 2009

Houses of War?

Yesterday during the Friday peace vigil, a woman yelled to us from a passing car that "Without war you wouldn't have a place to live", a truly odd statement. Certainly better than the occasional upraised finger but puzzling. I'm thinking that she is referring to defending the "Homeland", the idea that foreign aggressors will attack and force me out of my home. For an American, though, that possibility is pretty remote. But the conflation of war and security is pervasive. As long as people believe that others want to dispossess them, the rationale for war will be strong. And since Americans have everything while many others have little or nothing,we will always be on guard lest "they" take what is "ours". The yelling woman believes that her home is at risk and the only way to defend it is by killing others.

Since I am not a pacifist, I can understand the utility of using force against an attacker. If you physically attack me with harmful intent, I WILL respond with equal and quite possibly greater force in order to stop the attack and preclude further danger. The same is true of nations; I don't gainsay that responsibility. But just as it makes sense for me as an individual to work with others to create an environment where we all are free from threats and the likelihood of attack is nil, so too do nations have the same responsibility to create a secure international environment.

If I could have an extended conversation with the woman, I would point out that war often creates just the opposite result: people without homes. The world has plenty of people displaced by war--Iraq, Darfur, Palestine Pakistan and many others. War seems to have done little for their living conditions. My own experience in war was of not having a place to live. Sure, I had a place to be for about a week out of each month but the rest of the time I was just wherever I was at the moment and still alive. When the war finally ended four years later, it didn't change the fact that I had a place to live.

Of course, looking back on it, the US has been at war in one form or another during my entire lifetime—Korea, Vietnam, Central America, the Middle East not to mention the Cold War and all its clandestine operations and near catastrophes. Maybe that’s what has kept a roof over my head all these years.

Ya think?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


The Jakarta Post re-wrote the story about Rose Johnson's death. The story now says Rose died after drinking adulterated alcohol. That's a good turn but all the news sources picked up the "alcohol poisoning" line and I doubt if they will carry a follow up.

The TimesOnline did a much better job of reporting the facts. And a wonderful photo of Rose in her element.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 01, 2009

My Friend, Rose

...until I heard the sudden word
that a friend of mine was dead.

--Jackson Browne
"Song for Adam"

Sudden doesn't begin to describe my shock at the news of Rose Johnson's death but it's the word that comes most readily to mind. This weekend I pulled one of her paintings out of a shipping carton and still haven't figured out where it will hang. Last night Maggie calls to tell me that something happened to Rose and she's probably dead or will be when they disconnect life support. Today I learned that she probably drank alcohol mixed with methanol in Bali and became the 23rd victim of overdone mixture. Someone concocted a lethal batch and Rose happened be in its trajectory.

Rose was one of the premier artists in Phoenix during the 90's, just as I was becoming active in Phoenix arts. She was so well established--certainly compared to my largely ignored work--that I thought of her as living in a whole other dimension. As events turned out, I came to know Rose well enough to know that she was not only an exceptional painter but also a fine person and definitely living in the same dimension as the rest of us. Within a few years, I was showing in some juried shows with Rose and she had become a part of the House Studios, where I had a space. Rose never had a studio in the House but her studio was not far away and she certainly spent her share of time there. She was part of the Grand Adventure in Phoenix, Arizona that I posted here a couple years ago.

As a photographer, Rose's work didn't influence me directly, except that she was one of several painters I knew who were very good and whose work expanded my horizons. That quality drew me into her work and I marveled at both the imagination and skill that she brought to it. In 1999 she moved to Bisbee, Arizona, a mining town reborn as a quirky,not-exactly-counterculture-but-close, collection of people and places. She painted four large scale murals in town and continued to show and sell her work. When I saw her there in 2004, she was painting the Jonquil Motel mural. She looked happy and in her element. I saw her one more time at the House, maybe at the final party or not long before. Our paths had diverged but I consider myself much the richer for having known Rose.

Like many of Phoenix artists, Rose lived in an un-air conditioned studio--hers was on East Taylor Street in central Phoenix. She had a swamp cooler, which anyone who has lived through Phoenix "monsoon" season will tell you, isn't much but it's better than nothing at all. Maggie and I were at her place on a sweltering evening just talking. When it got to the subject of the summer heat, Rose observed that the Phoenix summer was the perfect excuse for doing absolutely nothing at all. I guess she decided she needed to something, though, she moved to Bisbee.

I didn't know Rose very well; we were not confidantes. I saw her art which told me a lot. And I enjoyed her company and friendship. Even though I hadn't seen Rose much in the past decade, I find myself feeling a great sense of loss. She was more a part of me than I had imagined.

Godspeed, Rose.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 31, 2009

American Hypocrites

Fred Kaplan has a good article at Slate about the illogic of arguments against holding some Guantanamo Bay terror suspect in mainland US prisons. He informs us that these prisons already house over 300 convicted terrorists, including domestic terrorists who could actually blend into the surrounding communities if they escaped. Which no one ever does. The article is well-reasoned and accurate in its description of super max prison conditions. Kaplan rightly points out the not so small hypocrisy of the "No to Gitmo Guys in the Homeland" crowd:
There's something distasteful about the whole debate. The critics of transferring Gitmo prisoners to the United States are the same people who call on the Afghan and Pakistani leaders to crack down, at some risk, on their homegrown insurgents more fervently—and the same people who barely take notice when our armed drones mistakenly kill civilians in the crossfire of the war on terror.

But when decency requires that we take measures that appear to involve a little extra risk, they turn frantically parochial and refuse. And in this case, the measures required don't really involve risk—only responsibility. Surely they know that prisons are one thing that America does really well. Exactly what are the critics afraid of?

Equally distressing is the idea that the "one thing America does really well is prisons". A generation ago America did many things really well.