Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Boston and Anarchy

Occupy Boston is said to be organized by anarchists. It has been a peaceful protest so far, and its tendrils have grown to include Tufts and Harvard students, along with the Nurses' Union. When I think of anarchy I think of young men in black ski masks smashing shop windows, but that's not what Occupy Boston anarchists seem like so far.

I think capitalism works, but disenfranchised people have to find creative ways to make it work for them. In his book Let Justice Roll Down, John Perkins talks about organizing cooperatives in the South. These are faith-based, partly educational and partly economic. Such cooperatives seem to work congruently with capitalism. When churches and community groups work toward bettering people by developing their education and broadening their opportunities, it can be powerful.

We are at a crossroads in terms of jobs. It's going to freeze everything over if more and more people can't find work. Putting pressure on the powers that be is good, but in addition we have more power as consumers. I'm not really one for punishing other workers in other countries who produce our goods, but maybe it is time to buy local. This way we form a type of cooperative by supporting the merchants and artisans within our own towns. The most brilliant creators like Steve Jobs will always find an eager international market, but there's really nothing special or brilliant about name brand banks, is there?

Is that modern anarchy? I still don't know. I'm watching the tweets and trying to figure it out.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sagamore Hill, Hill of Kings

I live on a hill by the ocean. At the peak of its modest height, you can see rooftops, boats on the horizon, and the surf crashing the shore. Have you ever wondered why a street sign holds a certain name?  I never thought twice about why it was called Sagamore Hill until one day, and I'm not sure why I started looking into it. A "sagamore" is an Indian chief. Through local research, I found that the hill was once called the Hill of Kings for the sagamore who lived on it with his people.

The Indians of this region, on the North Shore of Massachusetts, were called the Pawtuckets, part of the greater Massachusetts Federation. They fell under the leadership of Great Nanapashmet (New Moon) of Saugus. One of his sons, Montowampate, controlled this territory all the way to the Charles River. He was given the English name of James by the settlers and thus was called Sagamore James.

Here's a little history adapted from New England's Prospect by William Wood in 1634.

•The Pawtuckets were comfortable with quite a bit less clothing than the English, as is commonly pictured throughout history.  William Wood writes that they would “cover that which modesty commands to be hid.”  In the winter time they wore “leather drawers, in form like Irish trousers” and shoes of moose hide.

•“Many of them wear skins about them, in the form of an Irish mantle, and of these some be bear’s skins, moose’s skins, beaver skins sewed together, otter skins, and raccoon skins.”

•They wore “pendants in the ears, as forms of birds, beasts and fishes, carved out of bone, shells and stone.”

•"They have incised in their faces portraitures of bears, deers, mooses, wolves, eagles and hawks."

•"Wampum shells were used for necklaces."

•"In the wintertime they ate all manner of fowls and beasts of the land and water; roots, beans and clams.  They bowl, roast or turn their meat on a spit."

•"In the summer they had all manner of seafood with all sorts of berries."

•"They did not make cake of their corn, but cooked it like beans."

•"It was their fashion to eat all at sometimes and then not eat for two or three days."

•"When they travelled they would eat nocake (as they called it), which was Indian corn parched in hot ashes, sifted and ground to a powder.  They would eat about ten spoonfuls a day."

•"The Indians were healthier and hardier than the settlers."

•"Their bodies were strong and apart from diseases such as smallpox which were imported from Europe, they were seldom sick."

•"They lived longer lives than the settlers."

•They had good medicine for healing.  “Such wounds as would be sudden death to the Englishman would be nothing to them….[they would heal their wounds] by their rare skill in the use of vegetatives or diabolical charms….”

•"If it were possible to recount the courtesies they have showed the English since their first arrival in those parts, it would not only steady belief that they were loving people, but also win the love of those that never saw them, and wipe off that needless fear….”

•"These Indians are of affable, courteous and well-disposed natures….As he that kills a deer sends for his friends and eats it merrily, so he that receives but a piece of bread from an English hand parts it equally between himself and his comrades…. In a word, a friend can command his house and whatever is his (saving his wife), and have it freely."

The Pawtuckets also apparently felt that the way the settlers treated their wives was both disturbing and amusing as the Pawtuckets neither claimed nor desired such control and command of their wives!

The friendly nature of the Pawtuckets lead them to make many trades for the use of land.  A story most people in these parts know is the story that Sagamore James traded the peninsula of Nahant for a nice suit of clothes.  According to historians, the Pawtuckets did not not have the same idea of land-ownership.  They thought they were trading "use of the land."  This created many disputes among the settlers of Nahant because  the Pawtuckets made similar trades with a few people.

Sadly, this tribe died out by the end of the 1600's due to the introduction of smallpox.  Knowing the history of this hill has permanently changed my perception of it. I have some mixed emotions when I think about how it must have been for that tribe to see sails on the horizon, settlers cutting out roads, and clearing trees for crops and pastures.  I try to imagine a clear view down to the ocean and a circle of wigwams.  I think about their curious interactions with the English.  I wish I had their knowledge of "vegetative" cures as William Wood calls it.  There was an amazing tribe here, now gone.  Sometimes when I cross the parking lot, I wonder what lies beneath, and what remnants could be found there.

For whatever it's worth, research of Sagamore Hill opened my imagination to this old world.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Turntables, Eight-Tracks and Bookstores?

The woman behind the counter of Borders is incredibly amazing.  She's helped us hundreds of times.

She's not the sort of person who gives you a glazed over look because she's tired of you; tired of trying to find those titles and authors not quite complete in your thoughts.

Typical: "I'm not sure.  The author's name has something to do with breakfast.  I was just at Red's staring at my plate but I couldn't think of it."
"Could it be...Dave Eggers?"
"Yes! The title of the book is weird too."
"That'd be What is the What. I'll be right back."  She smiles. She's gone.

As I walk through the aisles thinking about this amazing clerk and this convenient store, my eyes well up.  I feel really silly for crying.

There were bright yellow signs everywhere saying 40-50% off, and price stickers on fixtures.  Everything must go.  I was listening to her talking about a wonderful, independent bookstore a couple of miles away when I had a vision straight out of Inception.

The carpet was sliding, book stacks falling, glass shattering, whirlwinds blowing: oh gravity...the whole bookstore was sucked into the vortex.  All moving.  Unremitting destruction. A whole industry is lurching sideways in a creaking hulk behind this little bookstore with a big, corporate name.

My attention turns to a lone shelf still wavering in the spiral.  Leathery-looking vinyl e-book cases are slightly wobbling.

She's telling someone about how she'll be okay.  She's going to stay home with her young son, and she's never been able to do that.  She's really glad it seems.

I can still hear her voice, as if she isn't already gone.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mortgage Principal Write-Downs

The Riven Owler team was recently visiting Anytown, USA. There on a mission to help elderly residents by doing some interior painting, we entered a neighborhood that had obviously at one time been grand, with large homes built circa 1920. Everywhere though were signs saying "We Buy Homes." Rows of such homes were boarded up and dilapidated.

We have not given you the real name of the city we visited because we do not wish to denigrate a particular locale, but let's just say that the place was in serious decline. By the end of the week after getting to know and help our 93-year-old resident, we hoped and prayed she would be safe from the crime element we noticed.

Our African-American resident's husband is a 94-year-old veteran of two wars. They sacrificed for us, and then they sacrificed more so their children could each go to college. They are so proud of their children who all work in the medical field in four different far-flung states.

Why should people like this lose the value in their homes and neighborhoods? Where is the outcry from the American people? We are 751 billion underwater. Give us a candidate...Republican, Democrat, Independent...anyone who will put real value back into working and middle class homes.

We need a leader who will not let others define the conversation at our expense. We need a leader with true regard for the American people.