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Photo by George Cassidy Payne
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Used by the Nazis, euphemisms are alive and well today.

Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it.

~Emily Dickinson

The Nazi’s had a nasty habit of co-opting ordinary words in the German lexicon to intentionally mask the horror of the Shoah. Nazi language not only shielded reality from their victims, it also softened the truth of the Nazi involvement in mass murder. For example, the German word Sauberung literally meant “cleansing” but actually referred to the act of being sent through the death process (itself a form of euphemistic phraseology). The German word Liquidiert literally meant “liquidated” but was really a way of saying murdered or killed. And words like Badeanstalten and Leichenkeller converted descriptions of gas chambers and crematoriums into more gentle sounding terms such as “bath houses” and “corpse cellars.”

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The Nazi’s were so proficient at hijacking the German language that they could even get away with calling a nationwide official governmental policy the Judenfrei gemacht, which essentially implied that whole areas in Europe should be “made free of Jews,” and that “special treatment” and “executive measures must be enacted” to carry out the task of “exterminating” them. To be “conveyed to special measure” was just another way of saying executed, but it was so much easier to tolerate killing when that someone required an “appropriate treatment” and was viewed as a “problem in need of a solution.”

In fact, when asked how one of the most culturally advanced civilizations in human history could initiate and carry out such incomprehensible acts of sadism,  Karl Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962), the man who headed the Gestapo Department IV B4 for Jewish Affairs, and the one who served as a self proclaimed ‘Jewish specialist’ and was the man responsible for keeping the trains rolling from all over Europe to death camps during the “Final Solution,” said it was easy: “We just changed the language.”

More about Adolf Eichman

It should come as little surprise that the euphemistic manipulation of language is still practiced in the world today.  Americans, in particular, employ a whole range of verbal lies to cover up the most unpardonable acts of both state sanctioned brutality and individual crimes of greed and malice. Terms such as “human trafficking” and “domestic violence” effectively shield us from the vivid reality of the assaults being “committed” against mainly women and children. Moreover, phrases such as “under-serviced,” “public housing,” and “urban youth, serve to segregate certain groups in our society by creating a separate class that must be referred to in coded talk that is implicitly racist yet socially conventional.

Euphemisms impact all facets of American society. In our food system, for instance, we have terms like “hot dog,” “industrial farm,” and “happy meat,” to hide the grotesque slaughter of sentient creatures in ungodly dungeons. Everywhere we look it seems like we are entrapped  in a system driven by the insatiable forces of capitalistic growth and exploitation. We try to grapple with epic problems facing the destruction of our planet, but manufacture terms such as “global warming” and “climate change” to sedate and defuse our nervous response to the emergency. By giving this crisis the most sterilized and non-urgent monikers possible, it is possible to savor the status quo like a pacifier and not need to change our lifestyles.

Militarily speaking, this practice is commonplace. Civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time are documented and reported to the press as being “collateral damage”; captured suspects of “terrorist activities” are not tortured with simulated drownings, they are “interrogated with enhanced measures”; and wars of aggression are called “Operations of Freedom.”

By recognizing our human tendency to mask painful realities with euphemisms, we can begin to make conscious decisions about when we choose to use them. Perhaps there are times when euphemisms can be experienced as a genuine expression of care and compassion, but until we are able to acknowledge our propensity to hide from the horrors of our own prejudices and complicity, our society-not unlike the Nazis in the twentieth century- will continue to justify evil with the clever manipulation of syllables. Going even further, until we come to terms with our  self- inflicted reliance on euphemisms as a sanitizing balm to numb our awareness about everything from child molestation (“adult entertainment”) to targeted racism (“profiling”), we will continue to indulge our most hideous impulses and entertain our darkest fantasies.

In the words of  Thomas Pain:

“It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.”

But how exactly do we tell the truth about things we find so sickening that we can not put words to them? So what if we must lie a little to stay afloat in life? Isn’t that what gives us strength to go on? Isn’t that what protects us? Isn’t it the lie which gives us an excuse for not knowing what to do or what to say when it counts most? After-all, what can be said about the fate of child soldiers, the impending mass extinction of Monarch butterflies, the condition of imprisoned chickens, or something as gut wrenching as the refugee “migration” crisis in Syria? Are these events not beyond our comprehension let alone our control? Do words not provide a reason not to get engulfed in the infinite sadness of the world? Do they not provide all of us with an escape from this misery-perhaps the only escape we will ever be granted?

Although I find this  enticing- somewhat like Neo refusing to take the red pill in The Matrix- there is too big a part of me which wants to address the world, to realize the world, to penetrate and become the world, and to know that my words do matter- that they physically create matter! I need to know that my words matter because they are matter; and my words matter because they are a part of me. I need to know that my words become who I am- and because I am an open, communicating, messenger with purpose, my words matter! I need to know this because it is true. Not knowing this has almost destroyed my life by turning me into a bigoted, bullying, women hating, meat eating, atheistic, self- indulgent, petty thief and incorrigible prick.

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Mural on South Avenue in Rochester, NY (Photo by George Payne)

That said, to end social practices as seditious and irrational as “racial profiling,” we can not persist in calling it that. To be automatically grouped into a special category based on an arbitrary and socially constructed idea such as race, is to take away a person’s liberty. It is the most unconstitutional act one person can do to another person. It is a crime against humanity.

Likewise, making the term “drone strike” acceptable because it describes what happens on a battlefield, is not something I can just go along with. A drone does not “strike.” A drone rips to shreds the intestines of human beings by incinerating them in a ballistic attack on their soul.

Furthermore, guns can not be “controlled” and mass killings of innocent people in restaurants, stadiums, airports, and festivals are not acts of “terrorism.” This is spiritual warfare against one’s brothers and sisters in the name of false idols. Markets are not “free,” gas is not “natural,” prisons are not “correctional facilities,” and “suicide” is not lonely.

We really need to start getting our words right. Using them wrongly is literally destroying us.

 Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

Buddha

 

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An old oak tree split by lightening in Genesee Valley Park,  Rochester, NY

 

 

 

Paul Simon’s Strange and Beautiful New Batch

If anyone thinks Paul Simon is one to coast on the reputation of his legendary resume, Stranger to Stranger demolishes that  notion into a million pieces. This is not only Simon’s most adventurous album since Rhythm of the Saints, it is his most conceptually successful effort since Graceland. At 74, Simon is not just playing music because he still can; he is actually continuing to reinvent the way his audience listens to and appreciates sound itself.

In addition to his singular vocals and reliably melodic acoustic and electric guitar, on Strangers to Strangers, Simon more than competently handles the autoharp, baritone acoustic guitar, bass harmomica, glockenspiel, harmonium, gophichand, celeste, and even the chromoelodeon (that light house siren producing machine invented by musical genius Harry Partch). To say that he is pushing the boundaries of international music is an understatement. No one else out there on the scene today is mixing polyrhythmic samba beats with trance beats and country western swing. I mean really, what other artist has thought to enlist the services of Italian electronic dance artist Clap ! Clap! to produce sounds that encompass and underscore the ancient melodies of Bengali strings and Gil Goldstein piano scales- and to do it while singing lullabies and pop ballads about metaphorical werewolves, negro league baseball heroes, street hustlers and insomniacs. Only Simon.

Harry Partch’s Instruments

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The album begins with the inventive “Wearwolf,” which has a slowed down tempo of Peruvian percussion and enough sound effects to make even the church music and hand clapping seem overdubbed. With a full moon craziness that is only embellished by that most primitive of Indian string instruments the gopichand, it has a twang which lends the track a laid back frenzy that is both paradoxical and fun. “Life is a lottery, most people lose” is as cheerful as Simon wants to be, as he glibly warns, “Ignorance and arrogance / it’s a national debate” and now, “The wearwolf is coming/ he is prowling and howling on the hill.” There is an impending breakdown of civilization in this track. The rich “eat all the nuggets/ and they order extra fries,” sings Simon, as the pipe organ at the end manufactures a B horror flick atmosphere, while managing to remain evocative and serious at the same time.

The rollicking, pulsating, hoedown of percussion and clapping that is “Wristband,” works to showcase Simon’s limitless playfulness as a curator of rhythms. After stepping outside the “backstage door to greet some nicotine,” not even beat boxing is out of his wheelhouse. This track has a Harry Nilsson vibe to it, which is propelled forward by a robust sax, hand shakers and hand claps, electric blues guitar, and Simon’s insatiable lyrics. Cut with a Memphis edge, the conga drums and tambourine on this track remind Simon fans why The Song of the Capeman was such a triumph. But here the moral contest is less ambiguous. It’s all about entrance and access; it’s about who has a voice and who is silenced. ” If you don’t have a wristband you don’t get in the door.” In this David vs. Goliath tale, Simon is metaphorically referring to everything from political dictatorships to corporate tycoons- and they all better look out. Music is his slingshot and no wristband is going to change the fact that the underdogs have power if they refuse to get pushed around. “Wrist band?/ I don’t need no wristband/ My band is on the bandstand/ my ax is on the ax stand.” 

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Paul Simon performs with Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song ceremony honoring Simon in Washington, DC, Wednesday night, May 23rd.

“The Clock” is an interlude to give the other songs ample room to breath.  Dark Side of the Moon always comes to mind when I hear clocks on a rock album, but Simon is actually playing them!

“Street Angel” is where the genius of Clap! Clap! is emphasized most dramatically. It has a whimsical, bebop riff that is accelerated by a rush of energized drums, synthesizers and even cloud chamber bells. Discovered in a radiation lab at Berkeley, these “bells”are glass plates crafted into some of the most precious instruments in the world. Although they can achieve a wonderfully alive tone, they are also susceptible to losing their tone instantly and creating a dead silence. (Another masterly invention by the brilliant Harry Partch, try imagining carillon bells as if they were engineered out of atomic elements and played in the jungles of Peru by hallucinating shamans.) 

 Always the poet, the title track is one of Simon’s most hauntingly beautiful songs ever penned. When he croons that, “I can not be held accountable for the things I say and do/ I’m jittery/ it’s just the way of dealing with my joy,” the serene and poignant horns dance salaciously with the keyboards and organs. It is a song that should be played in a dark Barcelona cafe, under triangular orbs of green skylight with a bottle of good sherry. Simon ruminates about, “words and melodies that can tear your heart apart,” before he confesses, “Most of the time it’s just hard working the same piece of clay/ day after day / year after year.” More of a lamentation than a serenade, he is singing about lost opportunities, the routine carnage of our lives, and the failure to really see each other as more than strangers. 

African analogue instrumentation is felt all over the Congolese strutting “In a Parade.” Incorporating Digi G’alessio’s  digitals and more from musical theorist Partch, the zoomoozophone adds chromatic shades to the beats in surprising ways. It is a piece which feels like a cell phone call on amphetamines while catching up with the second line at a jazz funeral in New Orleans.

“Proof of Love” may be the most technically produced track on this album, which is a very good thing when you are collaborating with Roy Halee. For his 13th studio album, Simon called on his 81 year old friend- and record producing icon- to infuse these tracks with his uncanny flair for blithe chamber echo. This track in particular refers to the original sonic textures and funky grooves of Simon and Garfunkel (which Halee produced in 1964) but brings in so many unique layers of experimental pitches that it makes Simon’s early work seem lethargic and unfilled in comparison. The pipes, flutes, string guitars, drums, bells, and hand clapping, all mix together to concoct something perennially hip and ozzing with exuberant gratitude.

“In the Garden of Edie” is another interlude that also serves as a romantic overture to his wife Edie Brickell. Look out for the lovely and warm autoharp on this one. 

“The Riverbank” has a verbal tempo unlike anything else on this record. Tom Moon of NPR Music rightly observed: “You can’t read the lyrics to these songs and expect to “get” them; you have to surrender to the slurpy backward vocals, the sharp crack of drumsticks, the whole experience.” On this track, Simon’s voice comes across as well trodden yet totally uncharted.

If any track will transport listeners back to Simon’s landmark album Graceland, it’s the shoulder rotating, feet shuffling, chest thumping, “Cool Papa Bell.” This song has an inimitable South African beat that must be felt in order to be heard. When Simon declares, “I don’t worry/  I don’t think/ it’s not my job to worry or think,” you know that this verse has a thousand different meanings but just one point of view. It is wild and fun and full of joyful acceptance. Jazz tubist Marcus Rojas is excellent here.

The concluding track has a dusty attic feel to it. The autoharp, the tes, and Haylee’s tinkering, work to add a drunken, waltzing quality to an arrangement that is slightly nostalgic but tonally more interesting than 90% of the material ranking on Billboard today. A solid way to finish an immensely fascinating journey.

This is Simon at his most spiritually restless and musically confident. Fortunately for the rest of us that means we get to hear lyrics and notes that no one else will be able to make again.

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Generated by IJG JPEG Library

 

 

 

Kelsey’s Landing Should Join National Network to Freedom of the National Park Service.

To the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site Selection Committee:

We are writing on behalf of the Lower Falls Foundation to offer our endorsement of the proposal to include the historical Kelsey’s Landing site in the National Network to Freedom of the National Park Service.

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Alexander Kelsey and associates built Kelsey’s Landing around 1844 at the Lower Falls along banks of the Genesee River. Cargo steam ships conveyed lumber and flour across Lake Ontario to Detroit and Canadian markets. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman led freedom seekers onto these same ships, arriving from as far West as Ohio and as East as Maryland. After several private owners and recreational ventures, the City of Rochester purchased the land in 1904 and commissioned the Olmsted Brothers firm to design a park encompassing this historic and popular recreational area with a view of the Lower Falls. The site stands today as Seneca Park West, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

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The City of Rochester enjoys a prominent and long-standing relationship with the legacy of Frederick Douglass. This relationship is the foundation of our nomination. Douglass first published his North Star newspaper in 1847 at the first African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at Spring and Favor Streets in Rochester, NY. The church was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. Douglass lived in Rochester until 1872. Many of the individual pieces of the mosaic of the historical figure of Douglass were set during his residency in Rochester. Douglass hosted politician and philanthropist Gerritt Smith, fellow publisher William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist Susan B. Anthony, and activist John Brown. In 1851, he met Harriet Tubman and sheltered freedom seekers at his Alexander Street residence in Rochester, NY. Douglass himself traveled this route, fleeing for his safety after being implicated in the John Brown Raid. Douglass, the conductor, orator and publisher, found himself at Kelsey’s Landing, accompanied by the Post family members, being himself conducted to Canada and later England to escape arrest on charges of conspiracy with John Brown.

The City also features the Frederick Douglass monument, made a majestic 9-foot tall bronzed likeness of Douglass that is the first public statue erected to honor an African American. The gravesite of Frederick Douglass is located at the Victorian Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY. Mount Hope Cemetery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.

douglassThe designation of the Kelsey’s Landing as a Network to Freedom Site would enhance the compelling storytelling already underway in our community and would embolden our efforts to articulate the legacy of this critical time in our history.

The Lower Falls Foundation Staff

www.lowerfallsfdn.com

Message from Bernie Sanders to Supporters

I am writing you today to express my deep pride in the movement – the political revolution – you and I have created together over the last 15 months. When we began this historic campaign, we were considered fringe players by the political, economic and media establishment. Well, we proved them wrong.

We showed that the American people support a bold, progressive agenda that takes on the billionaire class, that fights for racial, social, economic and environmental justice and that seeks to create a government that works for all of us and not just the big campaign donors.

We mobilized over 13 million voters across the country. We won 23 Democratic primary and caucus contests. We had literally hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country. And we showed – in a way that can change politics in America forever – that you can run a competitive national grassroots campaign without begging millionaires and billionaires for campaign contributions.

Most importantly, we elevated the critical issues facing our country – issues the establishment has pushed under the rug for too long. We focused attention on the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in this country and the importance of breaking up the large banks who brought our economy to the brink of collapse. We exposed our horrendous trade policies, our broken criminal justice system, and our people’s lack of access to affordable health care and higher education. We fought aggressively to address the crisis of climate change, the need for real comprehensive immigration reform, the importance of developing a foreign policy that values diplomacy over war, and so much more.

We have shown throughout this election that these are issues that are important to voters and that progressive solutions energize people in the fight for real change. What we have accomplished so far is historic – but our work is far from over.

This movement of ours – this political revolution – must continue. We cannot let all of the momentum we have achieved in the fight to transform America be lost. We will never stop fighting for what is right.

It is true that in terms of winning the Democratic nomination, we did come up short. But this election was never about me or any candidate. It was about the powerful coming together of millions of people to take their country back from the billionaire class. That was the strength of our campaign and it will be the strength of our movement going forward in the months and years ahead.

In the coming weeks, I will be announcing the creation of successor organizations to carry on the struggle that we have been a part of these past 15 months. I hope you will continue to be involved in fighting to transform America. Our goal will be to advance the progressive agenda that we believe in and to elect like-minded candidates at the federal, state and local levels who are committed to accomplishing our goals.

In terms of the presidential election this November, there is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump as president would be a devastating blow to all that we are fighting for. His openly bigoted and pro-billionaire campaign could precipitate the same decades-long rightward shift in American politics that happened after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. That rightward shift after Reagan’s election infected not just politics as a whole but led to the ascendancy of the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party – an era from which we are still recovering.

I cannot in good conscience let that happen.

To have all of the work we have done in elevating our progressive ideals be dashed away by a complete Republican takeover of Washington – a takeover headed by a candidate that demonizes Latinos, Muslims, women, African Americans, veterans, and others – would be unthinkable.

Today, I endorsed Hillary Clinton to be our next president. I know that some of you will be disappointed with that decision. But I believe that, at this moment, our country, our values, and our common vision for a transformed America, are best served by the defeat of Donald Trump and the election of Hillary Clinton.

You should know that in the weeks since the last primary, both campaigns have worked together in good faith to bridge some of the policy issues that divided us during the election. Did we come to agreement on everything? Of course not. But we made important steps forward.

Hillary Clinton released a debt free college plan that we developed together which now includes free tuition at public colleges and universities for working families. This was a major part of our campaign’s agenda and a proposal that, if enacted into law, would revolutionize higher education in this country.

Secretary Clinton has also publicly committed to massive investments in health care for communities across this country that will increase primary care, including mental health care, dental care, and low-cost prescription drug access for an additional 25 million people. Importantly, she has also endorsed the enactment of a so-called public option to allow everyone in this country to participate in a public insurance program. This idea was killed by the insurance industry during consideration of President Obama’s health care program.

During the Democratic platform proceedings in St. Louis and Orlando, we were victorious in including amendments to make it a clear priority of the Democratic Party to fight for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, expand Social Security, abolish the death penalty, put a price on carbon, establish a path toward the legalization of marijuana, enact major criminal justice reforms, pass comprehensive immigration reform, end for-profit prisons and detention facilities, break up too-big-to-fail banks and create a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, close loopholes that allow big companies to avoid taxes by stashing their cash in offshore tax havens and use that revenue to rebuild America, approve the most expansive agenda ever for protecting Native American rights and so much more.

All of these progressive policies were at the heart of our campaign. The truth is our movement is responsible for the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of our country. All of that is the direct result of the work that our members of the platform committee did in the meetings and that you have been doing over the last 15 months.

But none of these initiatives will happen if we do not elect a Democratic president in November. None! In fact, we will go backward. We must elect the Democratic nominee in November and progressive Democrats up and down the ballot so that we ensure that these policy commitments can advance.

It is extremely important that we keep our movement together, that we hold public officials accountable and that we elect progressive candidates to office at the federal, state, and local level who will stand with us.

As part of that effort, we still have a tremendous amount of work left to do in the Democratic Rules Committee that will be meeting in the coming weeks. We have to enact the kinds of reforms to the Democratic Party and to the electoral process that will provide us the tools to elect progressive candidates, to allow new voices and new energy into the Party, and to break up the excessive power that the economic and political elites in the Party currently have. As with our fights on the platform committee, that will only be possible if we stand together.

You should know that I intend to be actively campaigning throughout this election season to elect candidates who will stand by our agenda. I hope to see many of you at events from coast to coast.

In conclusion, I again want to express my pride in what we have accomplished together over the last year. But so much more must be done to make our vision a reality. Now more than ever our country needs our movement – our political revolution. As you have throughout this historic campaign, I ask for your ongoing support as we continue through the fall and beyond.

On a personal note, I cannot say with words how appreciative Jane and I are of the kindness, dedication and love we experienced from so many people across the country. We are deeply touched by it and will never, ever forget it.

Please let me know that you will stand with me to defeat Donald Trump, and to elect candidates who will stand by our agenda as part of the future of our political revolution. Add your name now.

Forever committed, forever fighting, forever forward,

Bernie SandersIMG_20160412_082953521_HDR

The birth of American democracy and the enduring political wisdom of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy.

According to the National Park Service’s attractive and information rich website

“The Five Nations, comprised of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, united in confederation about the year A.D. 1200. This unification took place under the “Great Tree of Peace” and each nation gave its pledge not to war with other members of the confederation. Around 1720, the Tuscarora nation was admitted into the league as the sixth member. Confederacy members referred to themselves as “Haudenosaunee,” which translates to “The People of the Longhouse.” They saw their confederacy as a symbolic version of their traditional longhouse dwellings, stretching across most of what is today New York State. The Mohawks were the guardians of the eastern door in the lower Mohawk Valley area. The Oneidas occupied the upper Mohawk Valley and the area of modern day Oneida, NY. The Onondagas were the keepers of the council fire in the center of the “longhouse,” in the modern day greater Syracuse area. The Cayugas occupied the finger-lakes area and the Seneca were the guardians of the western door in the modern Rochester-Buffalo NY area.”

The Six Nations Confederacy

In principle, if not overt recognition, the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy is the model for the United States Constitution. Firstly, it had well thought out elastic clauses which kept the confederacy adaptable and relevant over the centuries. Secondly, it had a robust system of checks and balances installed to mitigate the proclivity towards autocratic control by powerful chiefs and clans alike. Significantly, it did not rest on the idea of monarchy. And thirdly, it had clearly defined human rights such as freedom of speech, liberty from fear and ill health, and the inalienable right to be represented as a valued member of the community. Universal health care, dignified work, political representation, and civil liberties were a given.

All of these principles are directly linked to the philosophical vision of thinkers such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and other so-called “American” forefathers and foremothers of western political enlightenment. Nearly 600 hundred years after the Six Nations Confederacy was established in the mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and dense forests of pre-European New York State, it would serve as a proven blueprint for the colonists to borrow for their own democratic experiment after the Revolutionary War.

To understand how these culturally distinct and perpetually warring nations came to unionize in a vast and robust confederacy -with territorial claims as far west as Illinois and as far south as Maryland- it is necessary to explain the legend of Dekanawida and Hiawatha. The retelling below is a classic version which describes the spiritual roots of this “league of clans” and the birth of the first true participatory democracy. This legend is not only an enchanting story to tell youth as they learn about their primal origins as Americans, it is a depiction of the highest ideals which the confederacy stands for even to this day. If we can agree on anything as brother and sister citizens of this earth, it is that humans are capable of tremendous acts of terror and tremendous acts of beauty. The rules we choose to adopt and live by will be the difference between chaos and harmony.

The Legend of the White Roots of Peace

Legend has it, Dekanahwideh (Deganawidah, Dekanahouideh, the Heavenly Messenger), reputed founder of the Five Nations Confederacy, and the cultural hero of the Iroquois, was born the son of a virgin mother in the nation of the Hurons in modern-day Ontario.  Dekanawida was a visionary thinker.  Indeed his name means “he-the-thinker.” 

He received an idyllic vision of peace that he would dedicate his life to.  He wandered east toward the conflicts and into the land of the Mohawks with his great plan, but due to a speech problem, he had little ability to express his genius.

The Mohawks had been stuck in endless war with the neighboring Onandagas. Then from out of the wilderness came Dekanawida—an objective man of no tribal loyalty, only a vision of great peace.

Indian MapHe proposed his great vision to the Mohawks but they were unconvinced.  So what he lacked in mortal speech, he decided to prove in supernatural deed.  He climbed a tall pine over a deep gorge that descended into the Mohawk River and then asked the Mohawks to cut down the tree.  They accepted the test.  Dekanawida plunged into the rapids below and a few moments later mysteriously climbed out of the gorge completely unharmed.  The Mohawks needed no further proof but convincing their Onondanga foes of the vision would be quite another matter.

At this point, Dekanawida met a deeply depressed wanderer–an Onondaga man whose wife and seven daughters had recently been killed in the senseless violence.  Ironically, the man had lost his family not at the hands of the enemy Mohawks but at the hands of his own chief Ododarhoh.  Ododarhoh ruled with an iron fist.  He was said to be an evil man whose hair crawled of snakes.

images9XH6Y4TN The depressed wanderer was a very articulate man.  Dekanawida respected this attribute and soon taught the wanderer his vision for Great Peace and the importance of loving everyone, including enemies.  The wanderer’s vengeful heart underwent a miraculous transformation and he became Dekanawida’s loyal disciple.

Together with Degandiwida, the wanderer approached the evil Ododarhoh. The wanderer, through his moving speech, managed to convert the monster into a dedicated adherent to the Great Peace.  In so doing it is said the wanderer combed the snakes from Ododarhoh’s hair, thus receiving the name Hiawatha or “he-who-combs.”

With the Mohawks and Onondagas as the nucleus, the Cayugas, Oneidas and Senecas soon saw the wisdom in joining the confederacy that came to be known as the League of Five Nations.  Dekanawida crowned the achievement with this speech:

I Dekanawida with the confederate lords of the Five Nations plant the tree of the Great Peace.  I plant it in your territory, Ododarhoh, and in that of the Onondaga nation, in the territory of which you are the firekeeper.

We spread the soft, white, feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you and your cousin lords.

If any man of any nation outside the Five Nations shall desire to obey the laws of the Great Peace he may trace the roots to their source and he shall be welcome.

The shadow of the tree will be pleasant and beautiful.  Never again shall man walk in fear.  All the peoples of mankind will dwell there in peace and tranquility.  We will have one head, one tongue, and one blood in our bodies.  And at the top of the tree sits Skajina, the eagle.  He watches all ways and will warn us when he sees approaching that which brings destruction and death.

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Hopewell Mound in Lewiston, NY

So I, Dekanawida, and the confederate lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the hole we cast all the weapons of war.  We bury them from sight forever and plant again the tree.


With his mission complete, Dekanawida said, “Now I shall be seen no more and go whither none can follow.”  Then Dekanawida boarded a luminous white canoe on the shore of lake Onondaga and paddled toward a setting sun, never to be seen again.
(This version of the legend was borrowed from Steve Simon’s beautiful website The Great Peacemakers )
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Hopewell Mound Structure in Lewiston, NY (Photo by George Payne)
At a time in history when nearly every single day there is another car bombing in a cratered out city in the Middle East; when police brutality is live streamed on CNN like a snuff box version of the Truman Show, and when major U.S. presidential candidates giddily lift white supremacy propaganda from Neo- Nazi websites, the voice of the Great Peace Maker is needed now more than ever. In a world that is starving because food is treated like a commodity and our bodies are treated like happiness machines rather than holy temples, the law of checks and balances is needed now more than ever. And in a world where people skin and burn each other alive in cages because they worship a different God or love a person of the same sex, the Great Peace Maker’s law of compassion, conservation and sustainability is needed now more than ever.
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Seneca structures at the Lower Falls gorge in Rochester, NY
With that said, it should be no wonder why Benjamin Franklin believed the [Indians] “are in that natural state, being restrained by no Laws, having no Courts, or Ministers of Justice, no Suits, no prisons, no governors vested with any Legal Authority. The persuasion of Men distinguished by Reputation of Wisdom is the only Means by which others are govern’d, or rather led — and the State of the Indians was probably the first State of all Nations.” Or that John Adams wrote in his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of the “precise” separation of powers that were present in American Indian nations.
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Native American statue in Niagara Falls State Park (Photo by George Payne)
Nor should it come as a surprise that  Thomas Pain said, “Among the Indians there are not any of those spectacles of misery that poverty and want present to our eyes in the towns and streets of Europe.” [Poverty was a creation]  “of what is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. . . . The life of an Indian is a continual holiday compared to the poor of Europe.”
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Seth Green Trail on east side of the Genesee River
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“Hawk’s Feather” by George Payne
In fact, on June 11, 1776 while the matter of independence was being argued, the visiting 6 Nations chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a famous address was offered, in which they were called “Brothers” and told of the delegates’ wish that the “friendship” between them would “continue as long as the sun shall shine” and the “waters run.” The speech also expressed the desire that the new Americans and the 6 Nations Confederacy act “as one people, and have but one heart.” After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give John Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed “Karanduawn, or the Great Tree.”
(It should be noted that the colonists also had a long tradition of compacts and constitutions hearkening back to Anglo-Saxon tradition.)
We must not forget this history. When we forget this history, we forget ourselves. We forget who we are as a nation. We forget what our purpose on this planet really is.
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2016 World on Your Plate Conference
For as the European Union wobbles from the devastation of Britexit; when there is constant squabbling and gridlock between Democrats and Republicans in Congress; and global instability rages on every front- from religious fundamentalism to climate change- now is the time to refer back to the formation of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. To survive as a civilization we must absorb whatever wisdom we can from these ancestors and their offspring who have preserved the teachings. Simply put: It was the most grounded, practical, rational, humane, creative, and responsive form of representative democracy ever devised.
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Seneca scene

Casconchiagon and the Rochester Connection

Here in Rochester we have a special connection to the enduring legacy of the Six Nations Confederacy and a unique responsibility to preserve the Great Peace Maker’s teachings. For over a thousand years the O-non-dowa-gah, (pronounced: Oh-n’own-dough-wahgah) which means “Great Hill People,” occupied the Genesee River Lower Falls gorge. Referred to as the “Keeper of the Western Door,” the  O-non-dowa-gah are the westernmost of the Six Nations and they used the river and Lake Ontario for fishing, hunting, dwelling, and recreation. (Lacrosse, it should be noted, was more than just a game for these people. It was a ceremonious activity which allowed them to cleanse their mind and give recognition to the Creator.)

Although many Rochesterians are familiar with the story of the “Great Hill People” and especially the heritage of lacrosse, many do not realize that this history is accessible through an impressive network of well preserved, scenically beautiful, and archeologically interesting trails. One such site is called Casconchiagon and it can be located in Maplewood Park in the northwest sector of the city. About Seneca Nation

 Casconchiagon’s Location

According to the website New York Historic, “to the west is Lorimer Hill, now the residential Maplewood neighborhood and home to Nazareth School and Sisters of St Joseph. The area is located west of Lake Ave and North of Lexington.  The Seneca village known as Casconchiagon, after the Seneca name for the Genesee River, was located on this hill. The trail, located near the historic marker here, that leads down to the gorge was most likely the village’s access point to the Genesee River. It is also possible that some of the village crept into the area that is now Maplewood Park and Lower Falls Park.”

New York Historic

The site goes on to say that “The sign is now within Maplewood Park in Rochester, near the Genesee Riverway Trail entrance across from the park’s rose garden. This is a picnic area near a parking lot and restroom facility. The trail is used to reach Lower Falls Park to the south, or an unofficial trail to the north which leads into the Genesee Gorge.”

Regarding the Gorge Trail, anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience this space  knows how blessed our community is to have such a remarkably well preserved series of Native American trails in the heart of our urban backyard. To walk on the Gorge Trail and Seth Green Trail (on the east side of the Genesee) is to go back to another era. It is to walk alongside the ghosts of our ancient ancestors and to experience some of the same trees that they did; to sit on some of the same rocks as they did; and to hear the same sounds of chipmunks scurrying on the forest floor, hares jumping through thick bushels, blue jays squawking and trout splashing on the water’s surface. It is truly one of the most significant cultural and ecological sites in North America.

 

Sadly, many of these trails are unknown, underutilized, undervalued, and in some cases under-protected. One of the goals of the Lower Falls Foundation is to help raise awareness about the importance of keeping the teachings of our native ancestors alive through purposeful acts of social and ecological entrepreneurship. We need to preserve these cultural landmarks not just because it is our civic duty to be good stewards of public land; we need to stay emotionally and spiritually connected to the worldview of people who were more sensitive to Mother Earth and more responsible to each other. If we become totally isolated from their knowledge, we will lose out on thousands of years of highly sophisticated wisdom.

For more information about the work of the Lower Falls Foundation, or to get involved as a volunteer on one of our upcoming projects visit our website at www.lowerfallsfdn.com. Our ultimate goal is to make the Lower Falls of the Genesee River a UNESCO World Heritage Site by 2020. For more information about UNESCO and our campaign visit UNESCO Campaign for the Lower Falls

 “We first knew you a feeble plant which wanted a little earth whereon to grow. We gave it to you; and afterward, when we could have trod you under our feet, we watered and protected you; and now you have grown to be a mighty tree, whose top reaches the clouds, and whose branches overspread the whole land, whilst we, who were the tall pines of the forest, have become a feeble plant and need your protection.” Chief Red Jacket
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Another Masterpiece for Radiohead

Recorded at the historic La Fabrique Studios (a 19th century mill that once produced artistic pigment but is used today by musical icons such Nick Cave and Morrissey), Radiohead’s 9th studio album is full of New Wave funky bass lines, techno beats, classical strings, acid jazz, and blues riffs as gritty as the Delta silt.  It’s the band at their most patient, meditative, and tripped out.

From the opening track of A Moon Shaped Pool, the percussive effect of “Burn the Witch” wails, pumps, escalates and crashes into the strings. As Yorke warns of “low flying panic attacks” the drum machine produces marching footsteps and the orchestration mimics the humming of drones.  3:41 into this record and the listener has already been abducted into an altered state of highly cerebral and well justified political anxiety.

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Radiohead Laser show at the Rochester Strausberg Planetarium

In “Daydreaming” the piano notes are barely breathing, yet the song has an ambient momentum that keeps the pace interesting and spontaneous. This track is so atmospheric and stoned that the band achieves that feeling of being suddenly awoken from a deep sleep and thrust into the violent shock of lucidity. Yorke’s announcement that “it’s too late, the damage is done”  seems sad but nonthreatening. While other voices emerge sympathetically in the form of cylindrical keyboards and cellos, they zip in and out like pollinating bees- their whipping, whizzing, buzzing sounds gliding creepily into the sensation of revved up stock cars and battery operated police sirens. As Yorke taunts himself with the probability of an eternal return, it is clear that this is one of the band’s most adventurous and cinematic undertakings to date.

With the cellos tuned so low that they create a growling sound, “Deck’s Dark” and “Desert Island Disk” distort our sense of time and space even more. The synthesizers morph into slobbering muffler sounds, and the strings intentionally obscure the more percussive elements. As Yorke quietly twists and turns around these notes of dreary resignation, he croons without subtext that “spacecrafts are blacking out the sky” and “there is no where to hide.” Ominous yet devoid of concern, apathy has proven to be the most powerful form of resistance and the band is no longer interested in protesting without it. These may be “our darkest hours” but what has the light done for us lately?

“Glass Eyes” pays homage to The Bends but without any self indulgence and contrived alienation. Yorke’s fluid  vocals make standing next to strangers on a train never feel so utterly human and alien all at once. “Hey it’s me / I just got off the train / A frightening place / Their faces are concrete grey…” Strangers to ourselves in a very strange cosmos, the train moves whether we like it or not. As Yorke’s singular falsetto elevates past all temporal and audio boundaries, he sounds like no one or no-thing else on earth. I want to call him the Ella Fitzgerald of our generation.

The more one absorbs this record, the more it becomes clear that it belongs to Jonny Greenwood as much as it does Tom Yorke. Greenwood’s guitar and string arrangements are daringly executed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Together, these musicians  weave an absolutely stunning Indra’s web of sonic possibility- with each point in Greenwood’s vast network of sound inflecting a peak experience in the band’s career. “Identikit,” for example, would have worked perfectly on OK Computer and Kid A; but here the brooding angst has given way to a more reasonable contract with solitude and uncertainty. The opening jam in this track slides effortlessly into symphonic cadences of rubber band snapping waves of distortion. It’s pure Radiohead magic.

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“The Numbers” is more methodical than anything else on OK Computer,  yet it could also fit nicely on that genre bending masterpiece. It has a captivating piano solo, psychedelic rock grooves which resemble Jefferson Airplane and The Doors at their most inquisitive, and backing vocals by Ed O’Neil that tantalizingly challenges and accentuates Yorke’s acoustic guitar. It also has a jazzy “Riders on the Storm”sort of aura which anticipates the most climatic ending on the album. Every inch of this track works. (To see “The Numbers” played to perfection, check out the live version in Amsterdam at the Heineken Music Hall 5/20/2016.)

 

 

Produced by longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich, A Moon Shaped Pool reaches full potential in “Present Tense.” After working with this song  since 2008, it has congealed into a near flawless piece of electronic art rock.  Yorke’s vocals are subtle and soft; yet they have a swirling confidence which reverberates in a way that unsettles the listener by comforting them. The Latin shuffle beats play wickedly with the electric blues bass lines, and when Yorke tells us to “keep it moving,” we are obliged to do just that.

This stellar collection ends with the aptly titled “True Love Waits,” which, after more than 20 years in the band’s arsenal, is now enshrined in their official canon. It is an exceptional piece of mood music that has no need for a resolution.

Do not be thrown off by this album’s complex nuances and orchestral tone. The social unrest in this outfit still burns with an unrivaled incandescence on the rock scene today. These songs (or should we think of them as one extended song?) are ethereal and at times spooky; but they are brilliant, fearless, and they generate meaning and contentment out of social and personal dysfunction. A Moon Shaped Pool is not only an expertly crafted experiment in sound; it is an invitation for anyone who believes in the power of creativity to keep moving forward even when it seems pointless to do so.

 

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