Friday, October 12, 2012

U.S Presidential Election, 2012. Who would shoot Liberty Valance?

I wrote the following short essay from memory of a movie I haven't seen in so many years I can't even begin to recall which decade that would have been in. Thus, the details, as I know now, are wrong about the movie. I couldn't care less. This isn't a film review. It's about something else entirely. 

Who would shoot Liberty Valance?

I know who shot Liberty Valance, so the mystery element is lost on me. John Wayne shot Liberty Valance. He shot Liberty Valance in the back, no warning and no mercy, just cold-blooded killing of a man who had no chance to protect himself, not a chance to beg forgiveness, no hope of a brief moment to look his killer in the eye and realise the wrongs of a wrong life he might repent, nothing other than death at the hands of the man who sneaked up from behind and killed him. Most of us would never do that, thinking of such an action as cowardly murder. It would disgust us to kill a man at all, and to shoot a man in the back would make us sick of our lives for the duration, I venture. For a man of principle, for a moral and honorable man to do so, to violate all the good of his own character, regardless of reasons and ya ya, such a shameful act is impossible to stand in the face of. It is an eternal condemnation without hope of forgiveness. A good man could never forgive himself. And yet John Wayne deliberately violated all his conscious character to murder Liberty Valance. Shot him in the back in the dark.
This is how I recall the movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
The lead-up to John Wayne shooting Lee Marvin in the back arises from Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance terrorising a town full of cowards who do nothing to rein in Liberty's outrages. I can't begin to recall what Liberty Valance did to the cowards of the town, but whatever it was, one man felt the need to make him stop, that man being the more or less otherwise timid Jimmy Stewart, married to a nice girl who wanted, as was wont in those old days now seemingly past, a husband, a home, a family, a stable and ordinary private life. Jimmy Stewart somehow confronts Liberty Valance and ends up committed to a gunfight with a professional killer. Stewart's wife begs him to swallow his pride and run away and start over somewhere else to live the calm and boring life she and he both desire as the good. But Jimmy Stewart cannot run away, not to save his own life, not to save his marriage once his wife tells him she will leave him rather than watch him die on the street like a dog. Still Jimmy Stewart stays and says he cannot run, that he must die. Jimmy Stewart could not, any more than the average man could, stand his own existence if he were to run away to save his life and to save his marriage when to do so would mean he had surrendered to evil that he had a chance to stand against, even if it means no other effect than to die resistant. A futile and pointless gesture lost in the instant next, a dirty and bloody body lying on the street dead and useless, the life of a common and decent man finished eternally for the sake of a principle that hardly means anything to those outside the view of his death if only they have sympathy for his gesture, which most would not given the problem of his death being a visible proof of their deeper cowardice in not standing in his place as the man to lose. Jimmy Stewart stands alone, then, in the middle of a 19th century street facing Liberty Valance, and he waits to be killed. His wife is gone. He must then die and be nothing no more, forever dead. So he stands.
As I recall this, I recall this thus: that John Wayne cannot intervene to save Jimmy Stewart because Jimmy Stewart's battle is not John Wayne's battle. John Wayne cannot provoke a fight and gun down Liberty Valance face to face in a fair fight because to do so would still be murder, gratuitous in the greater scheme of violence between men. Jimmy Stewart got himself into this fight, and it is his to fight. He must inevitably lose to Liberty Valance, but right and wrong are not decided by justice handing victory to the moral. There is a battle because there is a battle. There is evil. One might fight it. Or one might not. The moral doesn't decide who wins.
A man who finds his courage and stands against evil, knowing he will lose even his own life in the struggle is a man who certainly proves his good character. But the struggle against evil isn't about proving ones good character. It is a by-product one doesn't live to enjoy. The point of battling evil is to conquer evil, to at least a minimal degree, regardless of ones character. It's not at all about being a moral man. It's only about conquering. So John Wayne shoots Liberty Valance in the back.
There was a time, for me not so long ago, that a theatre full of adults would go dead quiet when they realised that John Wayne had just shot Lee Marvin in the back and killed him. Everyone in the audience would know that it was a dirty and terrible thing to do and a thing a man like John Wayne would never do. But he did, and we saw it, and we knew.
We knew then and immediately that John Wayne shot Liberty Valance in the back so Liberty didn't gun down Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart had proven his worth as a man, and it was then up to a greater man to save his life by sacrificing his own. As Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart drew their guns and fired, so too did John Wayne, hiding in the darkness, pull the trigger of his rifle and he killed Liberty Valance so it would appear Jimmy Stewart had done the deed. No one would ever know, except that John Wayne would know. Others might forgive, and some might applaud such an act; but John Wayne, and the average kid in a movie theatre, would know that such a heinous act by such a heroic man is a condemnation one cannot survive. One must forever live with shame and self-disgust. Regardless of the reason, no matter the greater purpose, to do such evil in the name of such good is to be evil; and to be so evil when one is good, when one is demonstrably good, when ones life is only the good to such a degree that good is what one is; to be evil for the sake of it is ones own eternal destruction and damnation. Then one continues to live with it.
It matters not a whit that God or the Pope or Reverend Billy Bob will automatically forgive John Wayne for shooting Lee Marvin in the back. The only judge who matters, the only judge who can deliver absolution for this terrible deed, is John Wayne, and John Wayne, because he is moral, cannot forgive such a crime. And he knew all that beforehand. And he did it anyway. We in the audience knew this instantly. As an oversensitive kid I suspect I left that theatre in tears. I suspect other men of stronger will than I left in stunned silence. I'm sure that even the densest fool in the theatre understood the story clearly.
Today I fear that the president of my nation could watch the very same movie I refer to above and come away from it without the slightest sense of what it means and why John Wayne shot Liberty Valance in the back and killed him unfairly. I fear that my own president would find the movie a boring exercise about not much of anything, though the subtext of encroaching capitalism in the frontier West might intrigue him briefly. I fear that my president would not even think of shooting Liberty Valance in the back. I life in fear that my nation is doomed.
But I live my private life in a state of joy because I know that:

The man who shot. Liberty Valance. He was the bravest of them all.

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All falling things broken down the river

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I chose to spend my life travelling so I could hope to find the best of all possible lives to live. I'm still on the road, and I have seen the good and the bad to degrees I could never have imagined had I stayed home and lived like others of my own kind in the mountains where I grew up and a place to this day I love.

Compared to other parts of my nation my home is a backward and poverty-stricken place many people laugh at, a stereotype of hillbillies, rednecks, and racist cowboy yokels who don't know nothin'. I am one of them. I travel the world and take my inner cowboy with me as I range from sea to sea, across deserts and forests and steppes and slaglands and savannas. I am now on an island by a river in the jungle. I am at Iquitos, Peru in the Amazon. I ventured down the bank and onto a boat to travel farther still to see yet more.

Life on the Amazon is access to the river itself. In this less than modern environment access is ages old, a climb up and down the mudbank.
I took a walk down the muddy slope and boarded a boat that would take me for days down the Amazon. I have no plan and no expectation of what I might find out on this journey. I do this because I do not know.
The boats carrying supplies up and down the river have changed over the centuries, and the cargo is often now consumer goods from China; but the life of river people is little changed.

The British historian Paul Johnson writes of the "tyranny of distance" and notes that we in the Modern world have conquered it recently with such things as interstate highways and aeroplanes and freight trains. But boats have been with us from the beginning as rivers were our life-lines connecting s to others with whom we could trade and progress from our ignorance to our triumph as Modernists in an affluent and healthy world of man living well. It is sometimes a blessing not so good. All of our stuff has not given us the meaning we should long for, and in some many cases as I see stuff has buried us under waves of despair that we don't have enough. I don't have enough. Therefore I travel in search of the stuff that is the real life I long for.

The water flows into the Amazon from innumerable tributaries till the Amazon is known to us as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. To locals, it's just home, wonderful, but normal.
Most people just live and live as if there is only life.Life is about food and shelter and family. The river supplies much food, and the selva shelter. Nature itself allows for children. In its idiot mercy, Nature allows for death.

As the cargo boats ply the mighty river the boats stop and load and unload goods in trade. People come to the boat in a state of hope that life will be easier for the day, food and money coming.
There is poverty on the riverside that matches that in my little town. I feel almost at home along the river with the traders and fishermen and loggers who are, like my own, living their lives privately. In my little town, of course, we are despicable because we are poor and uneducated and brutish, not aware of our own low class and station, and adding to the affront to our betters, we like ourselves and our lives, pretty much like people on the Amazon.

There is poverty in the world, told to us by those who camp in public spaces in America where people demonstrate and riot over their hard lives. On the Amazon, there is no rioting. There is life and work, family and homeland nation, all of it flowing ever downward to the sea.

All things fall, this too, this sky, this land, this river, it all falls. And as all things fall, all things rise again to relive the Mystery of Life. I see from my rise above the normal of my home town the overview of time spent traveling. I know the fruitless effort of attempted suspension of Life, the frantic effort to stop all things for all kings who would rule as gods.

Birds soar in search of death to feast on as trees grow unaware of their existence.

I have crossed my places in my search of real living. I see it all flowing into an eternal sea of impending rain. There is no good in our attempt to stop the flow. There is only death and living decay as our masters try to make themselves permanent in the world, denying death, ignoring the fall, hating the rise of life over life and the swirl of death whipping ever on the hungry. One crosses.

One crosses the tributaries and brings ones work to the world.
 I took a boat down river to see what there is that I wouldn't otherwise have known.

My boat upriver, Gran Diego, to Columbia.

I saw that people rely on people to live. We survive because we have rules to keep us from harm and violence. We trade. We bring and we take.

Coffins of fish and boxes for life of man on the Amazon
A cargo boat brings people and goods to people with money for trade. The cargo boat brings death for life.

People by the thousands come daily to meet the cargo boats and to trade life for life.

ooooooFish are gathered from the river and placed in boxes loaded onto the boat and are brought to the cityside where others come to buy fish to sell to others to eat. The fishermen come to the city to buy things cities offer to villagers. The process flows daily.

Feeding the city.
From big bags to smaller bags, all things are broken down till everything ends up at some point in the water where it washes down to the sea.

The competition for food is decided by the peace of cash.
Everyone eats daily, and there is peace among the fed because everyone work to make all others able to continue the exchange. It is not dramatic or a matter of social justice. It is ordinary life on the river one day just like the next living. People smile. Life is good.

All things broken down to bits like water drops, bananas cut from trees to be sold by the piece, eaten as bites. Such is the meaning of the words "heresy," "science," and "."Schei├če."
There's little interference in this daily round of buying and selling, working and living. People have needs and people live by tending to others'. It's as simple as life in the mountains where my own despised people do much the same.

A dead fish sells for enough for a family to buy potatoes and rice and oil. A fish feeds a family for a day so they can live to provide for others potatoes and rice and oil.
We fish, we hunt, we cut down trees and buy food and other goods and we live. We kill things to live. Such is life. There is not a hint of social justice in it, and thus we are hated. Privacy is hated. Here in the Amazon, a short walk from the pure jungle, life continues on without rulers, only rules among the people.

Fish eat so fish can spawn so fish can eat so we can eat them.
There is a Natural Law that offends those who hate my own, a law of privacy and independence that infuriates those who would be Nature themselves. But on the Amazon, nature prevails and everyone eats anyway.

Home, an expectation for most, sets down amidst the flow.
It all looks so serene and lovely till one is up to ones knees in the muck and one sees first hand the endless slaughter of nature. The water and the trees hide the brutal cycle of death, glossing over the constant churning death machine of life.

One lives from the river, all things coming and going down, man floating by as well.
One retreats from so much slaughter into a life of direct life, a life of man and men, of family, of friends and city dwelling neighbours. The detrius of life builds up and slides away unnoticed. It is poverty, and it is good among the people living.

Eating, always and ever eating, a dog's life.
the river provides more than enough to eat, and thus one turns to life after dinner, to the life of the mind, to life as Mystery. One makes idols of the river and admires the things of the world of ones home. Beauty reigns.

Movement, constant and private, is public and shared.
Beauty and the constant movement of man from place to place in search of life, man like a fish in the river swimming in search of life beyond himself.

Time crawls in Belen, the 19th Century living amidst the world of super-stuff abundant.
food, shelter, family, community, art and movement, all of it abounds in this little city on the Amazon, though it is stuck in parts in the past covered now with plastic and steel and gasoline and garbage that makes this outpost of Modernity a happy place of healthy people free to live long and to smile.

For all our freedom to move and trade, still we are bound by that binding of life, by our own needs to bind. The alternative is freedom to float.

I too want parts of the world and the earth to call my own. I fill up my pack with stuff no one else can have but me. Some days I can hardly carry all my stuff. It weighs me down and makes me captive of my own need to have what is all around me.I will do this all the days of my life as I travel from here to there looking for the reason for living and the hope of finding it in time to live it well.

As one floats by the river bank one sees the banks collapsing from the rain, the image striking and obvious and eternal, even as it melts before ones eyes, the image of a human skull falling into the river as we pass. 

Moment to moment the image fades and falls. The riverbank collapses into the water moment by moment, the river flowing like the time of ones life. And one can if one so chooses ignore it all in the moment. There it is for anyone to see all things falling broken down the river.

As one floats by the river bank one sees the banks collapsing from the rain, the image striking and obvious and eternal, even as it melts before ones eyes.

Life goes on like the river. All of it falling. I must travel farther still to see yet more.

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From Iquitos Peru to Leticia, Columbia by cargo boat

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The rivers are the life-line of people in the Amazon. In our Modern age, boats bring goods unimaginable even to me, a denizen of Modernity. I see things made in China and sold in Iquitos, for example, and I am in a state of awe at the cleverness and sometimes great usefulness of such stuff. Cargo boats make this life better.

Cargo boats run up and down the rivers in the Amazon bringing goods and people to places along the way, bring things that allow trade and money and a greater life. It must always have been this way on the rivers here in the Amazon, but in our Modern world it's a lot more efficient than in times past.

The captain of the cargo boat is shoeless. He doesn't wear a uniform. He is not a wealthy man. He is a man of some status, but he is not envied or greatly respected. He is just a man.
The cargo boats bring everything to the cities and from the cities to the villages to support those who supply in turn. I asked why people would live in such poverty on the river side when they could easily move to Lima or Arequipa or some other modern city where they could move up the social and economic ladders that define the good life in our time. The man I spoke with shivered in the warm evening breeze. He didn't have a sweater. He said he likes the life he has, and he likes his family and he likes his neighbors and others in the village. He put his hand on his son's head and smiled and I could see he wants his son to live this good life too.

The boy had never seen binoculars, and he didn't recognise the word for them.

I know about "larga bisio," or "long vision." I am a tourist here, and I have more than most will ever have. I don't have a job, and I am rich. Lucky me.

It might cost me as much as an extra $5.00 to have a cabin on the cargo boat. I pay it willingly.

At the beginning of our journey on the Amazon River the passenger decks are so filled with people and baggage and hammocks that it's nearly impossible to get to the dining table. Thus, one sits in ones cabin until the chef brings a plate of rice, beans, and a bit of chicken, sometimes the neck, sometimes a claw. This is service and one must pay for it. Dozen do, and 200 swing in hammocks and wait till we are fed.

Villagers came aboard as we stopped to unload goods and pick up bananas and fish. The locals brought food for sale.

In spite of being fat I don't eat much. I eat when I'm close to being sick from not eating. Sometimes I don't eat even when I know I should. Life is about food. I often forget that and think it's about careers and politics and war.

As a man with a cabin I had first right of refusal for turtle dinner.

But life is about eating and living and having a home and a family. It's about sharing ones life with others. It takes a family and others to make one real in the world. No one is truly human alone. 

Sometimes a village is just a place in the jungle.

It doesn't take much to be real, but it does take more than oneself.

Sometimes a village is a few houses in the jungle.

More is often better.

And sometimes there is no house to be seen at all.

Sometimes less is good enough.

Life on the river has its moments, though life is hard.

Life is hard even for birds soaring across the river. One seldom sees a bird land on the water. The reason is that fish devour anything that lands, even raindrops sending them into a feeding frenzy. But, seeing a dead fish floating on the water is common. As frenzied as the fish can be, they ignore their own dead till such time as the dead is no longer recognizable as one of their own.

The cargo boats make a hard life better.

I had the unpleasant experience on one boat to witness a puppy tied by the neck on the cargo deck one evening as the dog howled and cried for an hour from loneliness. I stood in the dark above him and considered asking if I could buy him and do just about nothing with him thereafter. But the dog suddenly stopped his howling. Sudden. Instantly. And then for 20 minutes as we sat at a village I watched as the water churned with the madness of frenzied fish. I didn't see the dog again.

Logging depends on the cargo boats, too.

I saw eagles soaring in the sky, though my camera doesn't show it; and I saw soft skinned pink dolphins seemingly immune to attacks by piranhas. I saw things the average Modernist swoons at the sound of seeing. And I saw logging. Life is about eatng, and it is about having a place to live. I favor life. In fact, I favor the good life.

For me as a tourist and a rich man life has great possibilities.

I'm not actually rich, but I play a pretty good role in faking it in the Amazon. I pamper myself sometimes. Swimming pool resort, color television with Brazilian porno movies first thing in the morning, round the clock security to keep out hippies....

Though they don't always turn out as promised.

But some things just don't pan out the way they do in the ads. But life goes on, and one lives with the lumps. It ends anyway.

All of life moves down river eventually. whether cargo or canoe trip or the simple act of decomposition.

A river must be a good metaphor for life. I'll try to think of something clever sometime to write here about that. For now I float along alone.

Everything goes down to the river and eventually to the sea

I'm on the Amazon and I am content. Others live this life all their lives and know nothing else. I know too much. I know that there are possibilities the locals can not ever dream of, even if they watch a lot of television. So I pick up my pack and board another boat to somewhere else and hope for a place some day of my own that I will happily call home. I don't think that day will ever come. I keep asking people why they live the way they do. They seldom have good answers. I hop on cargo boats in the hope of finding a place that is right. I keep moving on in the hope of finding the right answer.

We live here. This is our life.

I've never seen the Mekong.....

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sewers and toilets in Iquitos, Peru (Part 1)

Peru isn't paradise by any means. The average annual income is, for example, $7,950, as of c. 2010, a radical improvement over the destruction caused by the Sendero Luminoso terror campaigns. Population decreased in Peru during the reign of terror of the Communist assault on the nation. Since, life has rebounded. Today we look forward to toilets where before there were pits, at best.

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: I'll be watching you

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I see things as I wander, and sometimes I even take photos of curiousities that amuse me. I looked at girl's costumes in a doorway, thought they were interesting, took photos, and didn't for the longest time realise they were for sale and that someone will buy them and wear them and use them for some private phantasy of silliness. I look at America and at times I can't believe what I see, thinking it weird but not worthy of thought. And then it hits me: it's actually real. There is a genuine market for such stuff as this, this leading from behind, this order of ours and our authority in the world seen as what it is.

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Iquitos, Peru: Words of Wise Advice to a Young Traveler from Idaho

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In meeting after a long lifetime on the road a man from Idaho I found myself in something of a state of rapture, and the first thing that came to mind in this euphoric state was what always comes to the mind of an old guy: to give advice. A young man who has made his way from a state in which few men travel away from home, a young man on his own and doing well at it, a man from Idaho, he was the perfect candidate to give advice to, and this in part because as an old guy I have the common degeneration of the brain that afflicts most old guys, i.e. the brain dissolves around the prudence and good manners part of the organ till there is no stopping a continuous dribble of advice leaking into the blurt section of the brain as surely as urine dribbles into ones shorts during the course of a long day. Giving advice is as biologically determined in an old guy as is being grumpy. It is the way of Nature, and nothing can be done for it by modern medicine to date. Old guys just have to give advice, uncontrollable, like when one laughs and finds oneself also farting. And too being a writer I must write. Thus, after talking with my young compatriot and giving him endless advice he politely asked my to put in all down on paper, as it were, to preserve it for the benefit of all other young men from Idaho, if not for all of eternity and the good of mankind. I do so here.

First bit of excellent advice:

Don't kill anybody unless they probably deserve it.

It's tempting to kill arseholes on sight, but then what do you do with the remains? I mean with the emotional remains of the guy you killed, he staying in your mind rotting there forever. If the guy stinks in real life, you don't want to carry him around in your mind for all of your life. And you can't undo it unless you have some rare talent that others will look at as a sign they should hang you up to dry for a few days till you too are dead. This is not to claim you should never kill arseholes. Sometimes it's the right thing to do and you cant help yourself, in which case don't worry about it. You can always come up with an excuse for yourself.

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Painting Iquitos, Peru: Sign of the Age.

One reads that Iquitos, Peru is isolated and remote, but if the Amazon flooded this evening and wiped out most of what we rely on here to survive it would take a matter of minutes before the next cargo boat docked and brought stuff to begin the long replacement of needed things. It could take the full six day voyage from Pucallpa, the nearest real city in Peru, to bring things forward by boat, assuming the airport were wrecked; and it's three days from Yurimaguas, or three days from Columbia, and so on, all by boat. But is it "remote" here? I wouldn't care to paddle down river in a canoe, but for the most part, everything here is likely to remain here and more is to come in a steady stream of river commerce. Here is where we are, and we are not so remote from those who come here daily and leave daily for other parts of the world. I don't understand anymore what remote means, if anything. Where can one go to be more remote than I when I lived in Canada among people I mostly despised in a nation I hated and when at the end of my working day I would close the door of my apartment and sit in bliss as I locked out all of the rest of the country and sat in peace with my books and my poetry and music playing gentle on my mind? My apartment in Canada was as remote a place as I have ever been. Iquitos is in the thick of life for me. And here there is commerce at a rapid pace, the Internet, telephones, television, and all the Modernist forms of communication one takes for granted in this Age. There is Art. There is, so far as my needs go, everything in this "remote" place, including conversation with painters and poets and intellectuals of all sort, one of whom is Oswaldo. He's just today finishing up a building front for a computer school.


 He's diligent and a careful craftsman who has done a good job to make a building nice to look at and to contribute to making the city nicer to live in.


Right across the street from his latest work is a bookstore catering to the city's high intellectuals, books from Europe on subjects of interest to the highly educated and (one must assume) highly intelligent. Just down the street is the Dawn on the Amazon Cafe where the local expats sit and talk and make sense. It's as good or better conversation than one would find most places in the Modern world, my great luck in Canada being so exceptional that I doubt I can ever repeat meeting such folks as I did there, though I will hope. But this city is hardly remote from the good that is an active life of community members working to make small things into a good city. Oswald does his part. The city today is a bit more colourful and a bit prettier, and someone who owns a business here is probably pretty well pleased with it all.

If you're in Iquitos and want to get something painted, ask Oswald. It occurs to me he would likely do tee-shirts or paddles or anything else one would like. Good guy and I hope readers have a chance to utilize his skills in some fashion.

He is:

Oswaldo Crusalegui Diaz
965 326 611
Publicidad "Shekaos"

(She/Ka/Os being the first parts of his wife's, daughter's, and Oswald's names.)


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