Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monarch on Mexican Sunflower

Photo by Leonard P. Johnson, Royal Oak, Michigan, taken in his yard with a Nikon.

Like the Monarch I'm migrating south to where it is warm. Soon I'll be back in New Zealand where it is summer. Tonight is my last night in the U.S. I've been saying goodbye to friends and New York. I had one last dinner with Dana this evening in a Mexican restaurant in Hoboken while it rained softly and we talked about how much we will miss each other. This is my fourth trip. NY to LA. LA to Auckland. Auckland to Wellington. The tough part is LA to Auckland, about 13 hours over the ocean.

Only one person made a comment to my inquiry if anyone would like to join me in not buying anything advertised for a week. Helen in Wellington, New Zealand, posted a comment saying she imagines it will be easy and so it will. My friends in NZ are more evolved than US of A Americans in their consumerism.

I'm inspired by the anti consumerism that is getting some attention these days, in particular the movie "What would Jesus Buy?" I've seen some excerpts with the Reverend preaching against buying. It is inspiring to see this downtown minister performance artist -- Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping -- be documented for the big screen. Right on Brother!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Ad for vodka in front of Organic Health Food Store, Washington Street, Hoboken.

I may not get every image I see -- after all, most ads are created by 20-something white boys who come from some place else and land in New York thinking everyone owes them something, BUT for the life of me, (what an expression, what does it mean?) what the hell does this ad mean?

Is it saying?
Get drunk and take a cab and let your ride home be as thrilling as bunging jumping?

I would like to know what a cab driver thinks of this ad. Most cab drivers have had to clean up forms of puke and other body fluids in the back of their vehicle.

I practice, to the best of my ability, to deliberately not buy anything that is advertised. This is easier than you think. More and more people are getting pissed off about inferior un-regulated imported Chinese products. And it's not just China. Gap clothes are made by children working 16 hours a day in India. To be fair to the Gap they did issue a statement saying how shocked they were that this is going on!!

What we can do is buy local -- as much as possible, food from farmers and not over priced Whole Foods whose policies of identifying organic and non organic food is suspect (my own testing is solely based on taste,) I only trust Integral Yoga on West 13th Street, in part because Whole Foods is trying to put these smaller stores out of business.

Anyone want to join me in trying to not buy anything advertised for a week? For a day? It's fun.

Subway Art

Before getting on the Path at 9th Street in Chelsea, I stopped to admire some ceramic tile art. Beautiful and a gentle reminder that we don't need to rush to get to the next thing.

Laraine Goodman

"A Brief Look @ Everything and Nothing" by Laraine Goodman, LaMaMa e.t.c., East Village. LaMaMa has been bringing cutting edge theatre to New York for 46 years. It feels like Ellen Stewart's theatre will be there forever. And this is a good thing. "A Brief Look..." was a two-night extravaganza of dance and song, and a little spoken word. Called "Tapping into the intersection of Art, Science, Spirituality and the Cosmos in a vaudeville state of mind." The experience though is beyond vaudeville as I watched all the performers, from ages ten to 70 dance, sing and move to a live all-female band in addition to some recorded music. Laraine performed and directed. Her show was a celebration of life and art and turning 60! Not one to shy away from a birthday that most people ignore, or think they will never become, Laraine entertained by going beyond her own tapping. Some of the performers took my breath away. It's gone but will live in my heart as another beautiful example of how this city owes so much to people like Ellen Stewart and of course, Larraine Goodman

Chavisa Woods

"Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind" by Chavisa Woods. Book launch at Bluestockings Bookstore, Allen Street, Manhattan. Published by Fly By Night Presss, a subsidiary of Gathering of the Tribes. A wonderful reading by a beautiful writer took place on the Lower East Side again. This town is so full of talent. I am amazed that everywhere I go someone is doing something beautiful. Steve Canon, the man behind this book is the only blind man in New York who can see more than most. Bravo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


On thanksgiving we give thanks and gratitude. It's a day of peace.

Today you can adopt a turkey at www.adoptaturkey.org/adopt.htm

Thanksgiving is also a day when 46 million extra turkeys are slaughtered just for this one holiday. Join me with others on THANKSGIVING DAY in enjoying a vegan and vegetarian diet to honor each other and all sentient beings.

Here's a website for vegan recipes: www.GoVeg.com
And to learn more about animals and how they are raised for food check out, www.GoVeg.com/factoryfarming
Other recipes: www.vegcooking.com/f-thanks And /

Peace to all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Olivia Beens - New Work

Olivia Beens has been a working artist since I met her back in the 80's. She works in all media including sculpture, painting a found objects. We collaborated on a few performances in New York in group and one-person shows. Her most recent work is beautiful fired clay. The Beirut/Baghdad piece was part of an anti-war group exhibit at 128 Rivington this past summer. This piece which evoked a column of tears spanned an entire corner of the gallery from floor to celing.


Mesopotamian Landscape

Prague Spring (detail)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ismael Cosme at Fusion Museum

"God Loves Fish" is the name of this one-person show by Ismael Cosme at the Fusion Museum. Check out this one-person show on the Lower East Side at the most interesting gallery by contemporary artists in Manhattan. Fusion Arts showcases one of it's own, Ismael Cosme with his amazing work from November 15 - December 13th. I had the good fortune to meet Ismael at the opening on November 15th. His humility and sense of humour in his work should make collectors and critics alike to take notice. Ismael takes found objects and transforms them into art from deep within his soul, a personal vision that is at once universal. From the press release:

"The Art of Ismael Cosme embodies the ideals of compassion, reverence, love of nature and spirituality."

Here are a few photos of Ismael with his work

Ismael between "Raid Lamp" and "Deep Dark Night"

"Urban Cowboy"

Ismael with his Twin Towers 9/11 piece

"Memories of My Long Lost Love" a beautiful piece which sold opening night!

Fusion Arts
57 Stanton Street
NY NY 10002 212 995-5290
Tues & Wed 1 pm - 6 pm
Thurs & Sun: 1 pm - 7 pm

And of course, "What the Hell is It Ethel?" continues in the main gallery until November 29th. A group exhibit that transforms every day objects into....what else, ART!! I have two pieces of my own in this show ("Your Suicide is No Longer About You" & "All Roads Lead to Wal Mart". And, NO, this is not a conflict of interest. If we don't support each other, then what kind of a world is this Ethel?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Susan Sherman America's Child

"America's Child, a woman's journey through the radical sixties, a memoir" by Susan Sherman, published by Curbstone Press, 2007

I attended the book launch for Sherman's new memoir at Bluestockings Book Store on Allen Street, below Houston, on November 13th. This is the only woman-run bookstore in Manhattan. The place was packed, they were crammed in the back trying to find a seat.

I am enjoying reading this book very much. Buy this book!!!

From the first page you know you are in the hands of someone who loves words. And Music. America's Child is a memoir, written in prose by an award-winning poet and playwright. Sherman is a master of words. She brings a sense of rhythm to her story. It's like the perfect song, it captures your heart and at the same time opens you to new experiences, full of unexpected visual and other sensory cues. Read what it was like in Sherman's 60's and be prepared to go beyond sex drugs and rock and roll. You will enjoy seeing Sherman's Berkley in the 50's and her introduction to radical politics. Follow her innocence in Cuba and an extraordinary meeting with Fidel Castro. And laugh with her at her FBI file which she recounts with a knowing sense of humour. Most of all, be prepared to ask yourself, how much has changed?

Her own words best illustrate Sherman's love for each and every word.
This is from the first page, before the list of contents:

Always you will live here, close as the blood that flows
through the veins of my had. As I walk into the desert.
Father, mother, country. The dream clutched tight to my
body, like a lover.

The following are excerpts of advanced praise as printed on the back cover:

"So much of this book touches on events of my own life. The friends we made protesting that war -- 'Angry Arts,' The Deux Megots poets' cafe -- might be with us still, the portraits are so vivid. This chronicle reads like an adventure story told with modesty and feeling." Grace Paley

"America's Child enables us to locate, still beating like a heart within the thick-skinned body of the present, the complex, turbulent, light-filled spirit of a season in our history when we endeavored to accelerate the rate at which we traveled from who we were toward who we could become." Chuck Wachtel.

"...a book of interior and exterior voyages, a book of transformations, ..." Claribel Alegria

"....she connects us all to her struggle to find her place in a chaotic decade. Her memoir is a moving, sensitive, and insightful look at both a remarkable time and a woman growing into wisdom."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monarch at Pt. Pelee National Park, Ontario

Point Pelee National Park, pit stop for the Monarch Butterly. Most southern part of Canada; same latitude as Northern California.

Karen and Dad at the Point. (notice the legs)

Point now gone, 2007

Mary and Leonard enjoying the wind

Largest Beauty School in Canada

Marvel, Chatham, Ontario.
Summer 2007


Belle River Marina, Lake St. Clare, Ontario, Canada

6,500 birds, including turkeys, ducks and geese will be slaughtered today in the UK due to an H5N1 virus found in the birds.

May these beauitful beings die with thoughts of compassion from those who believe all life is precious. May seeds of compassion fall everywhere.

As humans continue to raise animals for food in unnatural, unsafe and dirty environments, this situation will grow. For facts and information about disease and life-threatening danger in food, check out: Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, from Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are 5,000 (known) deaths a year in the U.S. from food. There are 200 known diseases transmitted from food.

Public Toilets in New York

Jefferson Market Library, Manhattan.

WARNING. Be sure you go to the bathroom before you visit the PUBLIC Jefferson Market Library on Sixth Avenue and 9th Street. After hanging out and enjoying books, basically using what my tax dollars pay for, I thought I would take a break and take a leak after consuming a few cups of tea that morning.

Where are the bathrooms please?
We don't have bathrooms for the PUBLIC.
We don't have bathrooms for the PUBLIC.

I knew this didn't include children. Children are not public. I hopped off to the children's room and found a sign with two stick figures letting me know there were toilets behind that door.

Excuse Me Miss!
I'm going to the bathroom.
It's only for children.
You have a toilet behind that door and your telling me I can't use it?
This is an historical building and all historical buildings do not have public toilets. It's the law.

An outrage. I took myself down the street to find a cafe. It was being cleaned. I had always found it difficult to find a public toilet when my daughter was small, I remember telling her to hold it while riding the subway and then frantically looking for a toilet while she whined (I have to go). Often the only solution was to take her into a bar or restaurant, where I was told toilets for customers only, so I had to buy a drink before taking her to the toilet. New Yorkers are surprised when I tell them there are plenty of public toilets in New Zealand, there are even public showers on Lambton Quay.

(AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN) WHERE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE PASS EVERY DAY. If you need to use the toilet at 4 a.m. as I did recently, you can forgetaboutit.
The women's bathroom is closed for cleaning every day from about 3.00 a.m. to about 5 a.m., a police officer told me. (I asked him where there was another bathroom and he said that was it!) It was bad enough I had to wake up at 2 a.m. and drink two cuppas to get to where I was going to find I couldn't go to the bathroom. Penn Station is open 24 hours a day, there are many fast food restaurants open as well, but the only bathroom for women closes for cleaning but not for men. I stood outside the men's bathroom wondering if I should chance it when a woman came out giggling. The police officer was watching me (I know men have been arrested for using women's bathrooms in Penn Station, but what about the other way around? In fact a transsexual was arrested at Penn Station a few years ago and she took them to court. She won her right to use the women's bathroom, the problem was, she looked like a man to those who watch the bathroom to be sure men don't use it.)

I walked down 8th Avenue and found a McDonald's a few blocks away. I never eat the food but it had toilets. Inside I saw a barricade of trash cans and a security guard in front of the bathroom entrance. The young man looked at me (he must have seen the piss rising in my eyeballs), stepped aside and said go ahead. After, I saw he had bigger issues to deal with. A young woman, well groomed and dressed in very chic black mini skirt, tights et al, was sitting on the floor eating a big Mac. The security guard was explaining to her she had to sit at a table. She held her hands up to him and said okay, but she stayed on the floor. The guard was just doing his job but the woman wasn't budging. Later I imagined her being dragged off and I thought of Carol Ann Gotbaum, the woman at the Phoenix airport who was on her way to a rehab center. She was dragged off for raising her voice and died minutes later in custody. I saw the video footage of the incident. She didn't look provoking at all. It was said she accidentally strangled herself with her cuffed hands because she was drunk.

Public comments on many blogs (by anonymous people of course) are very cruel about her death, saying she brought her own death upon herself, but look at the video, she didn't attack anyone.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sumayyah Samaha

Sumayyah Samaha with a new work "Cosmic" (Water color/charcoal)at her one-person show. Wilmer Jennings Gallery, NYC

Samaha works large and small: from large oil paintings to beautifully executed smaller works using watercolor, ink and various media. Water color is elusive and it's use is not often seen in the way Samaha works with it in abstract imagery creating tiny worlds that are universal. Her work is political as well as she "stiches" both manually and with various media her ideas, her impressions, and love for her home country of Lebanon. Some works use poetry from ancient poets and Arabic symbols wander through her work. You must see the work to appreciate how she is able to use words, color and form to create truly unique works of art. If you are wandering through the Lower East Side this is a show not to be missed, two full rooms of beautiful images that will raise your own appreciation for contemporary art. Each work is an individual statement that will ask you questions about bigger issues, like war and our connection to each other.
November 7 - December 29, 2007, 219 East Second St (at Ave B), NYC 212 674-3939

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Damien Hirst art installation

"We didn't kill anything. Everything was destined for food."

Damien Hirst was thus quoted in NYTimes (11/9/2007)about his recent exhibit in Manhattan. Mr. Hirst, a British artist, born in 1965, says this as if we should get beyond THAT issue and just see his work for what it is -- an exhibit with dead animals -- in which he was paid ten million dollars.

Hirst is best known for exhibiting dead cows and sharks in formaldehyde in galleries and museums (because his paintings suck). Now on view in New York you can see his work right through a building window. On view in the Lever Building at Park Avenue and 54th Street in Manhattan, the artist exhibits 30 dead sheep, a shark and portions of beef along with sausages and stuff. Not interested? Then don't go near the corner because it will be illuminated 24 hours a day by fluorescent light.

The work was commissioned for 10 million dollars by real estate developer Aby Rosen who owns Lever House, the Seagram Building and the Grammercy Park Hotel (who else could afford 10 million for one art installation than a real estate developer?) and Alberto Mugrabi, a Manhattan dealer.

Notice Hirst's statement: "We didn't kill anything." He doesn't say we didn't kill any animals, 'thing' is a better word, a thing doesn't breath, doesn't feel, doesn't look you in the eye, doesn't love or cry in pain. A thing is not his mother/father/sister/brother/daughter/son or beloved pet. Therefore, it is okay? But I have to ask, at what expense to others do we degrade and put on display other species; and what do we loose in our own compassion for others when we participate in taking away another being's choice to live?

What about the argument: "they were already killed for food"? We didn't raise it, we didn't' slaughter it, we didn't buy it in plastic at the grocery store, and we didn't eat it. BUT if someone else did these things, then it's okay to look at it in a million dollar exhibit?

What's next for Damien Hirst? A dead man in formaldehyde? Will he say, he was already on death row? Or, the dead man walking agreed to it and lots of money was given to the poor man's family?

This exhibit already exists.

BODIES THE EXHIBITION. All Chinese bodies. This is a very disturbing exhibit. There are many protests and accusations that the bodies are coming from an unregulated China where people are arrested and executed without due process. Some of these exhibits have closed down due to problems (leaky bodies) and human rights issues. The Chinese Government has been accused of cooperating with the exportation of body organs from executed prisoners. This is touchy. The US economy, it is believed by some, would collapse if we stopped buying merchandise at dollar stores and Wal Mart (everything in Wal Mart comes from China). New Zealand would be in trouble as well. Its economy is so tied to China, Helen Clark did not meet with the Dali Lama this past May due to pressure from the Chinese government. Clark claims it is not so. BUT it is a fact that the Chinese government told the PM not to meet with His Holiness. I guess she wasn't going to anyhow.

It is the responsibility of all humans to consider others in all our actions. Even when we buy a cup of coffee, do we know how it got into our hands? Is this any different than looking at art? Don't we have an obligation for what we consume? For what we take into our heads and hearts as well as what we eat and wear? Who was it that said, 'I'd rather live in poverty without hurting others than make millions off the backs of those who had no choice.'

I once owned a book (I don't own books anymore because I don't have a home) about the connection between how we treat animals and slavery. It was chilling. "The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery" by Marjorie Spiegel. It shows a compelling relationship between how we treat animals and consequently our treatment for fellow human beings. There are other books (which I haven't read) that claim the holocaust was only possible because of how we treated animals.

I don't believe in censorship, but If we continue to support people like Damien Hirst we loose our compassion not only for animals, but for each other. A case in point: Michael Ross was a convicted serial killer from Connecticut. (He was executed in 2005). Psychiatrists spent years interviewing and studying him to see if they could understand him, to see if they could discover an evil gene. He raped and killed eight young women from 1981-1984 without any remorse, and did it for sexual pleasure. Ross grew up on an egg farm and from the young age of six, it was his job to kill the weak baby chicks by wringing their necks. While attending Cornell University he began to rape and kill young women. He strangulated them with his bare hands. He called these women chicks and he left all of them dead face down. He never killed any of his girlfriends. He said he could not kill the women he loved, or anyone he knew.

See the connection? No? Then imagine your pet in formaldehyde. Don't have a pet? How about your father? Many Chinese mothers, wives, sons and daughters are living with that right now.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Elvis is Alive and in Hoboken New Jersey

Vali Myers

Photo: Dana holding book in front of the Chelsea Hotel.

Vali Myers: A Memoir by Gianni Menichetti
published by the Golda Foundation

Read this book. It is a biography by Vali's lover and slave of many years. Vali Myers was an Australian (and half New Zealand) artist who didn't discover her Maori blood until close to her death at the age of 73 in 2003. My friend Robert (Bobby) Yarra was responsible for making the book happen through the Golda Foundation which is named after his mother. I had the good fortunate to be in New York in October for the book launch at the Chelsea Hotel where I first met Vali (and some of the wild characters written about in the book) many years ago when I helped Bobby get Vali's working visa to stay and work in New York. Vali was a free spirit who loved life and animals. She was an amazing gypsy who lived her beliefs -- all of them.

"Vali's dogs, Vali's trees, Vali's donkey, the birds, the flowers, the caves, the spiders of Vali. We have seen for the first time the old skeleton of nature." - Bernardo Bertolucci, film-maker, "Last Tango in Paris", "Stealing Beauty".

"It was like being friends with some angel who had gotten kicked out for lewd behavior..."Chris Stein, musician, Blondie.

"This book has been a labor of love for me, as publisher...Returning to Melbourne after an absence of over forty years, she discovered to her delight that she had become a legend in her native country. But she often went back to 'Il Porto' to be withi Gianni in the wilderness. Gianni still loves there, and it is in 'Il Porto' that he wrote this wonderful book." Robert Yarra

The Golda Foundation
6594 N. First Street, Suite 103
Fresno, CA 93710
You can purchase the book by credit card at the website: www.goldafoundation.org

La Vie en Rose - a review in Lumiere

Musicians at Gallery Opening, Canyon Road, New Mexico. (Musician in center has the help of oxygen for the gig.)

"La Vie en Rose" by Olivier Dahan. French with English subtitles.
A review by Diane Spodarek

The film "La Vie en Rose" is about France's most well-known nightclub singer, Edith Piaf, the Little Sparrow. Piaf was only forty-seven years old when she died in 1963. Marian Cotillard, a beautiful and versatile actor captures Piaf's genius, gestures and her drugged and drunken life. Olivier Dahan wrote and directed the film matching the unique sound of Piaf's voice with brilliant cinematography lush with detail and colors that make you feel as if you are plunged into a deep womb. The film is beautiful, a sensory experience about love and music that arouses laughter and tears.
To read the complete review in Lumiere Reader click: http://www.lumiere.net.nz/reader/item/1364

Let's Get Political

Cannibal Baby: Left Wing or Right Wing?
Photo taken on Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ, USA

The Next U.S. President: A Prediction

Rudolph Giuliani will win the Republican Nomination.
Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic Nomination.

The Winner: Rudolph Giuliani.
It will be a close race. Hillary will win but Giuliani will be named as the winner and the next President of the U.S. Just as George Bush won in the last two elections, the election will be stolen again.


Hillary Clinton will demand an investigation. She will be able to do this because she is not a member of the "skull and bones" a secret society that takes care of its own. (Bush and John Kerry are/were members. This is also the only explanation of why Kerry conceded before the votes were all accounted for in 2004, in particular, the state of Ohio, which was the deciding state.) This is a popular belief; there are numerous reports on this sad crime.

Following the above US citizens will have had enough. Finally. And they will take to the streets. The Republican Rule will declare marshal law and find something to distract the people, like arresting terrorists, or raising oil prices or making something important scarce, like food. The Democrats will say they are against THEM but there is no choice.

I am optimistic that the truth will reign in the end.

The Republican problem is: they don't have a clean man for the job. (They should have picked C. Rice.) Giuliani is the only person the Republicans think can win. Yesterday, November 8th it was reported (front page NY Times photo) that Pat Robertson is giving his support to Rudolph Giuliani. This is bizarre. Guiliani is in support of abortion and gay rights. Robertson (the founder of the Christian TV network in the U.S., with a huge following) blames homosexuality and women having abortions for just about anything bad including all foreign terrorists and 9/11. Recently Robertson recanted his suggestion to assassinate the President of Venezuela.

Right-wing Christians are behind the most bizarre demonstration ever. They are demonstrating at the funerals of military men and women who died serving their country in Iraq in the belief that since the U.S. didn't win the war when they attacked Iraq in 2003 that God is now punishing by killing U.S. soldiers because men love men and women love women, including some in the military. (If any one can explain Christians to me; i.e., how they can support the troops in Iraq but then demonstrate against them at their funerals; and how they are for capital punishment and against abortion; and that God punishes by killing, please, please post a comment.)

Today Giuliani's good good friend Bernard Kerik will be indicted on criminal charges to include: tax fraud, corruption and conspiracy -- apparently, his actions were committed while he was the NY Police Commissioner. (It is a fact that Guiliani was apprised of Mr. Kerik's mob connections before he appointed him police commissioner.) According to NPR news on November 8th Kerik was handpicked by Giuliani who mentored him. Kerik who doesn't appear to have any education beyond grade school (possibly high school), grew up as a 'boys will be boys' kind of kid: always getting into trouble, breaking other kids' fingers and stealing lunch money in the play ground. In 2004, Giuliani recommended Kerik to President George Bush who nominated him for the position of secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. His nomination fell apart when it was learned that he did not pay taxes on a nanny who cared for his children. There's a New York jail named after Kerik. His name was recently removed from the outside of the building.

The above facts are just a few good reasons not to support Giuliani. Not that Hillary Clinton has no skeletons (I wouldn't want to live with Bill Clinton myself.) However, I don't think she ever used a bullhorn to work up a group of drunks --who happened to be police officers demonstrating in front of city hall -- into a testosterone frenzy mob while screaming the "F" word like Giuliani did. Giuliani: once a bully, always a bully. I am not the only New York resident who felt the presence of a near police state while Giuliani was mayor. People said then, like they do now: "But crime fell when he was mayor!" But I ask: "At what cost?" Giuliani's work as a prosecuting attorney and attorney general was all about DRUGS. So he put drug addicts in jail. Big deal. It isn't hard to find poor black drug addicts in New York and put them and their girlfriends and wives in jail and then brag about the number of people you prosecuted! In New York you can go to jail for life for possessing two ounces of cocaine or marijuana. (Based on the Rockefeller drug laws, which other states have adopted as their own, like Michigan.) You get less time if you kill someone!! Someone tell Britney Spears to stay away from New York, not to mention all the other celebrities who seem to be caught in a revolving rehab door.

A last note about my other home that I love: New Zealand. During the election for Prime Minister in 2005 I remember that it was briefly reported that George Bush advisors personally trained Don Brash --who was running for Prime Minister with the National Party. Brash lost the race in part because he took money from the Exclusive Brethren group (which are very similar to the religious right which helped to get Bush elected.) The National party learned a lot about that loss and are working to bring Helen Clark and the Labour Party down next time around.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Petruska & Dombrowski

Mary Petruska: "Sky2" Oil on Canvas, 2007

Driveway to Mary & Bob's Home, rural Georgia

Bob Dombrowski, "Totemic Raven" carved marble
Commissioned by Trenton, GA 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Kudzu and Wal-Mart

PHOTO CREDITS for kudzu and truck with kudzu: yahoolavista.com

A Wal-Mart Story as told to me by Mary Petruska.

Mary Petruska recently saw my Wal-Mart book review and emailed me about her own Wal-Mart community story. Mary and her partner Bob Dombrowski are the real heroes in the U.S., people who are trying to make a difference in their own community.

Mary and Bob live in Trenton Georgia. They made the move to Georgia about five years ago after living in their artists' loft in the Flower District of New York City for over thirty years.

Bob and Mary are two wonderful artists who practice their beliefs. Not just content to live on the farm they rent and make art, (see photos of their art in 11/8/07 blog), they got involved in their community and quickly became known and admired as those weird artists from up north.

The adjacent community of Tiftonia, Tennessee, eight miles from Trenton was picked by Wal-Mart to be the new location. Dade County was given an opportunity to voice their views about Wal-Mart before it was built. Dade County, Georgia, where Mary and Bob live, had rejected a Wal-Mart twenty years ago. The new location was seen as some as pay back and has had a negative effect on the surrounding communities. Bob and Mary researched the effects of Wal-Mart stores and brought the information to the local meetings and distributed a two-page flyer. This is what happened as told to me by Mary's email:

"Read the Wal-Mart blog - I fought them here - and lost... but did a great campaign likening them to Kudzu! -

Here's an excerpt:

"During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu. While it helped prevent erosion, the vine also destroyed valuable forests. These vines will destroy everything in their path over a period of time if no attempt is made to control their growth.

"Wal-Mart first enters a community promising growth, tax benefits, and jobs. It subsequently destroys whatever local businesses are in that area. It alters the environment completely and if profits do not meet expectations because the local economy has already been sucked dry - they leave. THIRTY Wal-Marts have already closed in the state of Tennessee."

I love the KUDZU analogy. Mary said Bob used it at a community meeting, throwing out a hook to get the community to remember the effects Wal-Mart would create if the super center went forward. Mary used it in a two- page flyer and Wal-Mart showed up with a 12-page document rebuking the arguments. At the meeting Mary said, "You got to think about a company that comes prepared with 12 pages of rebuttals..." "But," she said, "it fell on deaf ears, just like kudzu - the community thought it would bring prosperity and jobs."

"The Wal-Mart Super Center was built in 2004. Everything around the Wal-Mart is closed and holding. The property values got ahead of their time and it looks like a wasteland."

Not to hide her difficulty to live in a world without being part of the problem, Mary says she goes to the plaza to eat at the China Buffet which offers all you can eat sushi for $8.95. "What can I say?" Mary says in an email, "I miss sushi."

It's nice to remember our obligation to others before we buy. Since the death of pets and more recently the lead in toys and the zero regulation policy of pharmaceuticals in the U.S., I am not buying anything from China. It's not easy. A recent attempt to buy canvas shoes proved impossible. On the bottom of every shoe I looked at in over ten stores in New York, was marked "Made in China." Everything in Wal-Mart is made in China. See my review here in my blog, or better yet read "The Wal-Mart Effect" by Charles Fishman. It's chilling. He shops at Wal-Mart. His wife doesn't.

“Wal-Mart has become the most powerful, most influential company in the world.”
"The Wal-Mart Effect"

Kudzu is it's own amazing story. Since it's introduction to the U.S. from Japan in the 1930's it has destroyed millions of hectares of ecosystems. The threat has begun in New Zealand with invasions in the North Island.