Memorial Day

So, I received an award from the Veterans for Peace for “outstanding service” in activism.

The text on the plaque reads: “We cherish your leadership and devoted service to protect individual liberty and Constitutional rights. We salute your devotion to peace, social justice, and [O]ccupy movement.”

I was also recognized by the Mayor and City Council of Cathedral City, as well as the California State Assembly for the same.

The long, long reach of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning’s trial continues today with the defense succeeding in getting the judge to force the prosecution to release the government’s damage assessments:

A military judge has ordered the state department to release into her hands official documents that assessed from the viewpoint of the US government how damaging the leak of state secrets to WikiLeaks had been to American national interests.

[…]

For months Manning’s defence lawyer, David Coombs, has been pressing the soldier’s military prosecutors to hand over in the discovery stage of the trial the official damage assessments. The assessments, carried out by several federal agencies including intelligence bodies, could have a crucial bearing on any sentence handed out to Manning should he be found guilty.

There have been suggestions that the assessments show that in the official opinion of the US government, WikiLeaks did very little to harm US national interests around the world. That could prove invaluable for the defence in mitigation.

Required reading: Kevin Gosztola was at the trial and has some up-to-date information.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Manning would probably be convicted. After all, it is a trial where the judge’s boss is the Commander-in-Chief who already decided before any trial began that Manning broke the law. It is not really that far-fetched to say that best outcome out of this would be for Manning to wither away in jail instead of being executed for daring to embarrass the Empire. I would ask “Why go through all this trouble of wasting resources conducting a mock trial? Why not just execute Manning and be done with it?” but then I already know the answer.

Anyway, I had the opportunity a few of weeks ago to attend a presentation by Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network. Him and another staffer are traveling the country giving updates to concerned citizens about how eager the government is to make an example of Manning.

Paterson is not only a project director for Courage to Resist, but a fellow Marine artilleryman as well. As part of his presentation, he recounted his own antiwar stand during the first Gulf War as one of the first group of servicemembers who refused to fight that war. He ultimately spent several months in jail before being discharged from the military, after which he disappeared from the public eye. It must be noted that his stand was not an attempt at activism, but a lone protest motivated by a deep moral objection to war.

And because of this action, he has more credibility than most of us could ever hope to achieve. Unlike him, when I joined the Marine Corps in 2006, Iraq and Afghanistan was already well underway. My lack of knowledge is a poor excuse and that I honestly believed the propaganda is irrelevant. The fact that I was a willing cog in the war machine forever discredits me and there is nothing I can do—now or any time in the future—to redeem myself of this complicity.

Which brings me to the Army specialist who found a way to redeem himself: Bradley Manning.

Paterson’s backstory is very important, because it explains his involvement with the Manning case. As he explained in his presentation, he became involved with the military resistance movement at the beginning of second Iraq War. From those efforts came Courage to Resist, a network of veterans, military families, and activists supporting many military resisters defy the War Machine. When it came to light that an Army specialist by the name of Bradley Manning was central in the government’s investigation of Wikileaks, Paterson knew that he had to do something or as he puts it, “before they disappear [Manning].” Within two weeks of Manning’s arrest, Paterson was able to persuade several people to publicize Manning’s plight including establishing the Bradley Manning Defense Fund. To say that Paterson was “involved” with the Manning case is to understate how important he was to this cause. If it were not for his early efforts, who knows what might have happened to Manning?

Paterson’s presentation began with the infamous Collateral Murder video, the release of which firmly embedded the name “Wikileaks” in people’s radars. Manning is accused of leaking the video and also many other documents, including the Iraq War Logs and hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables. If the accusations are true and that Manning is to be credited for the leaks, that would make his singular action of leaking classified information the most significant catalyst of change in modern history.

There is some evidence that the classified information Manning allegedly provided to Wikileaks influenced and might have contributed to the Tunisian uprisings, which itself became the fount from which the Arab Spring continues to flow. Could it be that Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, Khaled Mohamed Saeed’s death, and Manning’s reckless bravery are all to be equally credited for the changes sweeping the Middle East? According to Amnesty International in their 2011 report, Wikileaks’ revelations were “catalysts” in the Arab Springs:

While the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the Wikileaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.

So, while one cannot fully credit Manning and Wikileaks for the Arab Spring, there were fundamental to its strength and ultimate success. Additionally, the Arab Spring’s strength and success served as inspiration for the widespread protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Scientists might stand on the shoulders of giants, but modern revolutionaries apparently stand on the shoulders of a 110-pound Army specialist. Some might write about how Wikileaks is changing journalism, but in reality without Manning and his trove of classified information, Julian Assange and his outfit would have a lot less to leak.

So, Manning’s leak might have started revolutions in the Middle East, inspired a social movement in the United States, and changing the journalism itself, but could it have ended a war as well? Paterson asserts that the account of atrocities in the Iraq Wars Logs is what finally pushed Iraqi legislators to grow a spine and refuse granting immunity to American troops from prosecution in Iraqi courts. This refusal was the “deal breaker” that finally led to the Third End of War in Iraq (Obama’s second). If that is the case, then Manning’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination is well-deserved.

What we mean when we call our neighbors “terrorists”

A chart from ThinkProgress is currently making the rounds on Tumblr, especially among self-described liberal blogs, depicting what it claims to be the rise of right-wing “terrorism.” Ken Sofer writes:

Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, as compared to 30 percent by ecoterrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. Right-wing extremism has been responsible for the greatest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. in 13 of the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.

Predictably, Sofer demands more resources to be poured into the laughably ineffective Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the express purpose of tracking and monitoring what the government defines as domestic threats.

In order to protect American citizens, we need to match our resources to the reality of our threats, not just the politically expedient narratives we have formed.

Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with devoting an appropriate amount of resources to combat national threats. Ideally, Sofer would have said to shutter the DHS entirely, but instead gripes about the fact that only a single DHS agent is tasked to monitor his fellow citizens. Sofer also does not take the time to ask, “by what measure or standard does the DHS define terroristic acts?” and “what does the DHS mean by terrorism?”

It has been evident in the past decade—beginning with the Bush administration and continuing under the Obama administration—that the word “terrorism” and what constitutes a “terrorist” is indeed, as Sofer rightfully points out, based on “politically expedient narratives.” The definition at this point is so meaningless that it no longer denotes the act of terror itself but, according to Glenn Greenwald, a politically manipulated epithet to identify those who oppose the interests of the United States and its allies. Simply put, a terrorist is someone who the United States is currently killing and terrorism an act that it is counter to its interests.

That is why, for example, legitimate resistance to American occupation in Iraq is libeled as “terrorism” whereas Sgt. Robert Bales’ midnight excursion that resulted in the deaths of 17 innocent Afghan civilians is merely a product of a troubled mind. And why Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani’s material support of the Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is not prosecuted despite very public evidence, while an innocent 16-year old American teen gets blown to bits for no apparent reason. Additionally, the government’s counter-terrorism efforts are increasingly being turned against domestic political organizations that seem threaten the political establishment. Missouri, for example, famously labeled Ron Paul supporters as domestic terrorists and there is mounting evidence that Occupy Wall Street has been deemed a domestic terror threat by various government agencies. The chilling effect of this has on legitimate dissent and political speech cannot be overstated.

Given what we know about what the American government does to people it considers terrorists, I do not understand Sofer’s casual and flippant branding of people he politically disagrees with as “terrorists.” Whether we agree with it or not, there is a separate set of rules that dictates what the government does to people it considers terrorists. The reality is that the government indefinitely detains, tortures, and extra-judicially kills terrorists, a reality that will not suddenly change because the accused is an American (for evidence, see Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki or Yonas Fikre cases). While we can disagree whether the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” are utterly meaningless, but there is no question that being labeled by the government as a terrorist is a grave matter.

When we libel our neighbors, our fellow Americans, as “terrorists,” we are implicitly giving permission to the State to perpetrate the same heinous acts it commits against foreign enemies against our own countrymen. Any reasonable person would be horrified at the thought.

In America, the Law is Not King

(Originally published at Young Americans for Liberty’s Young American Revolution.)

Book Review:  With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

Glenn Greenwald, 304 pages, Metropolitan Books, 2011

By Jayel Aheram

Just a week before the year ended, 26-year old single mother Patricia Spottedcrow spent the holidays in prison. It was her first Christmas away from her children — now ages 2, 4, 5, and 10 — after receiving a 12-year sentence for the first-time offense of attempting to sell $31 worth of marijuana to undercover police officers.

If Spottedcrow had been a former president, an influential administration official, a Hollywood celebrity, or a hedge fund manager for wealthy investors, the single mother might have experienced leniency and compassion from the criminal justice system. In fact, she might not have even seen the inside of a courthouse for worse crimes. Instead, like most powerless victims of this country, the rule of law will be stringently enforced with all the impartiality and dispassion the criminal justice system could muster.

While the heavy hand of the law is used to incarcerate an increasing number of the poor and sentenced for increasingly long periods for even the most petty of crimes, this same rule of law is repeatedly abrogated in the name of protecting the very powerful of this country: the political and financial elites. That this two-tiered justice system exists — one tier to protect powerful from any culpability in high crimes committed and the other to severely punish the powerless for the most minor of offenses — represents the deposition of law as king in America, according to Glenn Greenwald in his latest book With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.

Greenwald convincingly illustrates the existence of a two-tiered justice system in America and recounts the systematic efforts to dismantle the rule of law as it applies to powerful beginning with Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon of Richard Nixon to the current Obama administration’s self-serving refusal and aggressive prevention of all efforts to investigate the Bush torture regime.

In his introduction, Greenwald lists the crimes he lays upon the elites: the “global torture regime” of the Bush administration, the “plundering by Wall Street” that led to the still-ongoing economic recession, the “obstruction of justice” by administration officials, and the widespread fraud that characterized the home foreclosures by the largest banks. In every instance, Greenwald claimed that “the perpetrators were shielded from any legal consequence.” This is in contrast to the aforementioned Spottedcrow or other non-violent offenders like her, whose negligible “crimes” are so inconsequential compared to the criminal destruction by the financial elites of the wealth of this nation’s middle class and the prolonged suffering they continue to endure.

According to Greenwald, this decades-long undermining of the rule of law not only denies justice for those most aggrieved — in this case, the American people who have been spied on, plundered, tortured, and under the current Obama administration even assassinated — but also perpetuates the chronic lawlessness from the very institutions Americans have entrusted to protect them and provide ever more incentives for the elites to commit even greater injustice against the American people.

Greenwald rose to national prominence as a blogger in 2005 when the first controversies regarding the National Security Agency’s illegal domestic wiretapping were disclosed by the New York Times. Unsurprisingly, the most compelling chapter of his book is devoted to this saga of flagrant violations of the law by the Bush administration and the ensuing scramble by officials to secure immunity for the telecoms who cooperated with the administration in law-breaking and shield them from any legal consequence.

That the telecoms were acting under the orders of the president is irrelevant according to Greenwald, when the law explicitly forbids telecoms from “intentionally engaging in electronic surveillance unless authorized by a court.” Greenwald argues very forcefully that the administration’s demand for retroactive immunity for the telecoms “makes complete mockery of the rule of law,” contending:

[T]he United States is not supposed to be a country where private actors are permitted to commit crimes and violate laws whenever the president tells them that they should. The president has no greater power to authorize others to break the law than he does to break the law himself.

Greenwald also argues that the president — far from the idea of an imperial presidency with unchecked powers to bend or break laws as he sees fit, as advocated by many prominent members of the Bush administration — is bound by Article II of the Constitution to faithfully execute laws. Greenwald puts it succinctly, “lawbreaking is still illegal even if the president says it should be done.”

Indeed, the warrantless spying case perfectly illustrates how completely entrenched the idea among the powerful elites that certain members of this exclusive group, such as the president and members of his administration, are completely unbound by the rule of law and immune from the requisite justice that would be reasonably applied if the laws were properly executed. This is then extended to the private companies who cooperated in the law-breaking. In return for their silent complicity, the telecoms breaking the law were amply rewarded with multi-million dollar contracts generating huge revenues, and then afterwards were granted complete immunity from prosecution that their law-breaking would normally demand. This mentality is not the domain of one political party, but has become a bipartisan consensus as evidenced by the Democrat-controlled Congress’ eventual passage of the law that granted retroactive immunity to these law-breaking telecoms.

This idea is also shared by many outside the Capitol, with many of the more vocal calls for full-scale immunity originating from influential voices in the corporate media. Greenwald condemns the immunity law as “one of the most striking pieces of evidence that the royal Beltway court and its corporate partners placed themselves above and beyond the reach of the law even for the most blatant transgressions.”

It turns out that this bipartisan repudiation of the rule of law continues from one administration to the next regardless of party affiliation. In the chapter “Too Big to Jail,” Greenwald details the Obama’s administration’s sidestepping of the rule of law to shield the very financial elites responsible for the economic crisis. According to Greenwald, President Barack Obama went as far as elevating these same elites from Wall Street to positions of power that will enable them further control over the economy’s machinations. He argues that the appointment of Timothy Geithner as his Treasury secretary was precisely because of Geithner’s close ties with Wall Street. Because Obama “had been a major beneficiary of Wall Street’s largess,” there is an expectation that this friendliness will be return in kind.

Greenwald strongly condemns the Obama administration’s collusion with the very financial elites responsible for the wholesale destruction of this country’s economy, calling it a “rancid state of affairs” and “the hallmark of lawlessness and tyranny.” The resulting collaboration between the financial elites guilty of plundering the country and political elites we entrusted to protect us further entrenches the idea that the powerful — whether they belong in the private or public sectors — are above the law.

Yet Greenwald reserves his strongest polemics in the chapter devoted to the Obama’s administration refusal to prosecute the criminals responsible for the Bush torture regime. In that chapter, Greenwald details the aggressive prevention by the Obama administration of all efforts to investigate the war crimes committed by the previous administration. Obama went as far as pressuring the Department of Justice to not initiate criminal proceedings, which Greenwald contends amounts to transforming the Justice Department from an “independent law enforcement agency into a political arm of the White House.”

Citing the need to “look forward not backwards,” Obama echoed the very same spurious reasoning that Ford used to justify the pardoning of Nixon. This hostile unwillingness to enforce the law and prosecute crimes of the previous administration is self-serving; after all, the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute the Bush torture regime is in itself a crime. Greenwald laments that the Obama administration’s resistance to any sort of accountability and lack of desire to prosecute wrongdoings ensure that the bipartisan “culture of impunity” will continue from one administration to the next.

“In the long run,” he says “immunity from legal accountability ensures criminality and corruption will continue.”

Wholly depressing in its inarguable citation of facts and recent history, Greenwald’s book is a breathless and damning indictment of the bipartisan effort to abrogate of the rule of law and eviscerate the very American principle of equality under the law. Greenwald convinces that the neutering of law to shield the elites from justice leads to the creation of a two-tiered justice system that protects the favored and punishes the oppressed.

Just as Thomas Paine once did, Greenwald rightly worries that a society that forsakes the rule of law will inexorably lead to tyranny. His argument for the rule of law and for it to be applied equally is an acknowledgement of the harsh reality we live in: that given the opportunities that immense power provides — from the unchecked accumulation of ill-gotten wealth to the complete abrogation of justice — only the objective, impartial, and equal enforcement of the supreme laws of this land will serve as effective chains against the natural tendency of men to tyranny.

Otherwise it would be that in America, law is not king.

The end of the Afghanistan War?

Reuters has an exclusive about the Obama administration’s efforts in Afghanistan:

After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

[…]

It has asked representatives of the Taliban to match that confidence-building measure with some of their own. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

If these diplomatic efforts prove to be fruitful, it would go a long way in ushering the end of the United States’ longest war. In the meantime, the plan is for the military to stay indefinitely according to this report from USA Today:

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban and other forces in the region need to know the U.S. military will make sure the Afghans can handle the job.

“If you been waiting for us to go, we’re not leaving,” he said.

NATO forces agreed last year to set a deadline of the end of 2014 for turning over security to Afghan forces and ending combat operations.

The troubling thing about this approach is that it ignores the peril of our continued involvement there. The United States’ quest for stability in Afghanistan would require re-empowering the Taliban, the very organization it just spent 10 years attempting to dismantle. Any agreement with the Taliban, or its elusive leader Mullah Omar, would potentially enable that organization access to the billions of dollars of foreign aid that President Hamid Karzai’s notoriously corrupt government would be receiving as well open doors for possible power-sharing arrangement with the Afghan central government. Access to these funds (along with the millions of bribes they are already receiving, according to the Daily Mail) would potentially bring about the re-emergence of a politically and structurally significant Taliban. The political implication of this diplomatic effort notwithstanding (just imagine the outrage from neo-conservatives and families of dead soldiers this “capitulation” will generate), is it realistic to expect the various tribal groups already hostile to the central government to accept this new agreement?

It is well-known that Karzai lacks credibility as he seen as “weak” and “corrupt” by his own people; a charge that is not necessarily untrue according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. It remains to be seen if Karzai can amass the clout necessary to unite the country without the stabilizing influence of a foreign military occupation. Any reconciliation effort might require Karzai to step away from the top position, but his intention to cling to power after a U.S. withdrawal would likely hinder talks. Who is to say that the United States and NATO’s plan to train nearly 400,000 police and soldiers under the command of Karzai’s government, or the billions of dollars of aid Afghanistan will be receiving, or a potentially more powerful central government would not serve as incentives for him to stay?

But the real barrier to peace in Afghanistan is not Karzai, or the Taliban, or even key regional player Pakistan, but the United States government itself. No amount of self-governance will legitimize the Afghan government in the eyes of its people if the United States continues to spend money propping up Karzai’s corrupt regime. Furthermore, it is a given that the Obama administration will force Afghanistan to adopt a government that will be acceptable to the United States and its allies; an action that would, rightly or wrongly, give credence to the charge that the United States intends a puppet government in Afghanistan.

Regardless what happens to the peace talks, there is that unavoidable reality that innocent Afghan civilians will continue to suffer death and destruction under American bombs as the United States unceasingly wages its futile war on terror in the Middle East.

This article appears in Young Americans for Liberty.

The Occupy Movement: A dissent from violence

On Nov. 17, protesters of the global “Occupy” movement marked the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests with marches, rallies, and various mass actions. They were protesting many things: corporate greed and its influence in our political discourse, a two-tiered justice system that favors the very rich and the very powerful, the massive bank bailouts funded by hard-working Americans, and the burdensome debt and chronic joblessness afflicting many Americans – the so-called “99 percent.” Yet in cities all across the United States, these expressions of the very American right to free speech and peaceful assembly were greeted with violence at the hands of local governments.

When one reads or watches news reports about these protests, one might think that these protests regularly devolve into a violent free-for-all that justifies or even necessitates the brutal police actions inevitable follow. “Objective” and “neutral” journalists of the corporate media too often describe these confrontations between police and protesters as “clashes,” as if the protesters are the aggressors. In truth, the violence in these so-called “clashes” are initiated by just one side: the police. In the confrontation between unarmed protesters and heavily armed and armored police, it is the police that are the aggressors and the peaceful protesters the victims. There is not an asymmetry in violence, but just violence inflicted by the State and its police.

It is understandable then why politicians and their police would react this way. The movement is a rejection of, and thus threat to, their model of society and governance. It is a dissent against the inherently violent and coercive State.

Consensus, not mandates

Despite the crackdowns, the arrests, the brutality, the Occupy movement has, for the most part, adhered to their oft-stated principle of non-violence. In their rhetoric and actions, the overwhelming majority of the protesters have been peaceful and non-violent. In their general assemblies, occupiers have adopted a decision-making process based on consensus, striving to reach near, if not outright unanimity in their decisions. The movement is leaderless, rejecting representatives to speak on their behalf. The occupiers choosing instead to represent themselves as individuals and choosing to add their many voices in this growing movement. What the occupations lack in hierarchy, they make up for in direct democracy.

Conservatives and libertarians with a desire for limited government will find their perfect government in the occupiers’ system of governance: the General Asssembly. The General Assembly, or the GA, is an open, participatory, and horizontally organized (as opposed to the traditionally vertical, or top-down, form of organization) in which every participating member has an equal voice and opportunity to affect the decision of the group. Participation in the decision-making process and direct actions are encouraged, rather than coerced. The GA is not compulsory and its directives are backed not by laws or the threat of punishment, but by voluntary association and individual action. Problems are identified by consensus and solved by the voluntary actions of its members. The GA and its direct actions are funded by charity and not by taxes, and while some in the movement profess dislike for free market principles, they are already participating in it.

It might be a surprise to the most hardcore and militant Socialists and Communists in the movement that they are participating in a grand libertarian experiment. At its core, the Occupy movement is an experiment in a voluntaryist model of society devoid of state violence and coercion. This is not mere political disobedience, but a dissension from the violent and coercive State. Whether it stays that is another matter entirely.

What have the occupiers wrought? A voluntaryist society, if they can keep it.

This editorial appears in the Nov. 21 issue of the student-run newspaper The Chaparral.

Art and Artifact

Exploration of the relationship between artifact and sacrifice. Written by Matt Hecht for Jayel Aheram.

As a student of the classics I have always found myself drawn to the allure of mankind’s past achievements, those efforts and artifacts of “divine inspiration” or royal vanity which so defined much of what we know of ancient Egypt, classical Greece, and the Renaissance. Past artistic achievements which we still maintain define civilizations with systems of aesthetic value that seem far grander in scope than our own societies—with our advanced technology and global economies—can possibly muster.

It would seem that through the course of history, in abandoning old ways for the conveniences of modern life, we have confined much of our art to the space upon the perched and temporary canvas; there is little room remaining for the quintessential master, pouring his entire life into one masterpiece. Likewise, there is no longer a place for the monoliths of kingdoms. The question is: have we gained or lost in this exchange? Better still, is there any hope for the resurrection of the artifact in a middle class world which values convenience over quality?

In turning to the truly massive works of the old monarchies we see what initially existed not as art, but as testaments to the potency of a ruler’s power over his people; in many cases these were only delusions of divine providence. Achievements which today cannot be replicated, the Egyptian pyramids at Giza and the ziggurats of the Mesoamerican jungles represent the zenith of manpower pushed to its often fatal end. They remain particularly simplistic in their aesthetic appeal, yes, and yet it can be said that the sheer determination of their commissioners—often dedicating their entire reign to the construction of one immense monument—provides enough mythical origin to render these constructs art in their own right. The same stands for the more pleasing vistas provided when strolling before Notre Dame in France, or Bernini’s Piazza di Pietra before the Vatican. Unfortunately, we come upon our greatest challenge to the resurrection of these epic projects in perusing the sacrifices made to create them.

It was purely through the implementation of slave labor that Khufu built the largest pyramid at Giza, and surely the religious imperialism displayed by the cultures which built the latter monuments can be called into question as inhumane. Today we see a similar quality in the means by which certain nations construct their own monuments to power—the gargantuan structures rapidly cropping up in Dubai come to mind, here, with a desert populated almost entirely by underpaid and commonly mistreated foreign laborers. In this sense, it is not with regret that we have abandoned our aspirations to pierce the firmament with our tangible ambitions. While precious to the modern world, these classical epics remain monuments largely to those who died needlessly to create them; it is inarguable that abandoning wanton torment of a people to construct art is a benefit—rather than a loss—to mankind.

It is further notable that advances in technology have led to a slimming-down of the artistic process. Our pigments are no longer procured through the grinding of semi-precious stones, nor are our mighty blocks hauled from quarries by mules and bleeding men. The forward march of industry provides us with the mechanized tools to throw up an entire skyline in less time than it took Brunelleschi to engineer the dome on the Florence Cathedral. Famous print-makers no longer exist, as our printing is computerized and mass marketed.

Even in the arena of painting and illustration, it seems we sell the works of human imagination short simply because of the existence of digital alteration. There are too many opportunities for second chances without loss of quality in the revision process, and the spontaneity of the painter’s brush has been dimmed by a Photoshop cloning tool. And how many modern artists’ names are household in this day and age? Beyond Frank Lloyd Wright and Andy Warhol, we find a dearth of renowned talent beyond the 1970s, not because there is none about, but because these talented minds have been buried by the sheer proliferation of access—to tools, to ease of use, to information. The title of “artist” thus becomes no more significant than that of “office administrator,” making it nearly impossible to gather the adoration enjoyed in life by a da Vinci or a Picasso. Of course, this is not to suggest that there is anything less “artful” about a drawing colored with agonizing detail in Photoshop, but the ease with which these abilities and options proliferate is worth considering.

And yet, we turn to one final glint of hope for the artifact in art, the very inspiration for this article. It appeared in the news recently, in passing, a little human interest story to break up the monotony of the world’s natural and man-made miseries. It is a simple thing: an eleven-foot-long tapestry of golden yellow cloth with native Madagascan designs embroidered into its surface; one might think to see it at a roadside tourist trap in a down-and-out nation halfway across the world, though the needlework is rather exquisite. Of course, the origin is moreso: this unassuming tapestry was woven from golden silk pulled from the spinnerets of more than one million golden orb spiders, painstakingly milked by numerous laborers over the course of four years. They used only hand-operated machines developed over a century ago to extract the silk, and all of this for one piece of immaculate, absolutely unique cloth.

While magazines and newspapers may rail on about the special scientific qualities of the fabric, it is the nature of its creation that makes it among the greatest, true artistic artifacts this world has seen in quite some time (or, at least, the first to see so much daylight.) Its conceivers sought only to accomplish an astonishing feat, pouring in finances and manpower over a tremendous period of time to create something that will sit merely as a desirable piece of museum finery—it serves no other purpose. For this reason, moving beyond all the bloodshed of the past, and the flimsy needlessness of today, there is yet hope for a revival in the object as art. It requires only an altruistic kind of surrender.

It is in sacrifice—willing, honest, committed sacrifice—that an artistic artifact is born. It is in Michelangelo’s painstaking brush strokes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, just as it is in the murals of London’s Banksy, who gives up identity for the sake of his work. It is in the manuscripts of Hemingway, who once said great writing required only that one “sit down at the typewriter and bleed,” and it is in the kissing art of Toni Garcia, who literally poisons herself for the sake of her portraits. With this understanding we can perhaps answer the questions asked at the beginning of this article. It is clear that mankind has only gained by disparaging the terrible monuments of the past, but we have not traded away our sense of artful significance—it has only taken to the shade in a crowded and capable world. It is up to the individual, as audience, to seek out artifacts, and for the artist to continue suffering for the sake of them.

Matt Hecht is a graduate in English literature from the University of Central Florida, with interests in fiction writing and editing. Follow him on Twitter at @Matt_Hecht.

Put Your Best Face Forward

A stylist encourages fellow artists to put their best face forward. Written by Glamma for Jayel Aheram.

The media is inundated with a never-ending stream of “B” celebrities pitching the latest diet crazes or look good, feel better products. Gaunt supermodels, plastic celebutantes, Hollywood stars, and even pseudo stars of reality television grace every cover of the tabloids. Simply put, we live in an image-conscious society. We are cautious creatures of habit, something that often causes us to look before we speak. We are judged by how we look and often step out in public “wearing a personality.” What are we without an image to portray? What can we do to become part of the mainstream market known as self-promotion?

Call it shameless self-promotion, creating an image, or branding a product. I’ve had to learn how to market myself as a product in this brand-obsessed society. Successful self-employment often means you need to brand an “image.” I am the product, tattoos and art are my business. I am a walking billboard for the work I am involved with. It isn’t hard to notice when someone is glancing at my designs, so I do my best not to come off as the unapproachable, tattooed bad boy. Rolling up my sleeves to show my work welcomes conversation, and engages prospective clients. I have spent many years learning to overcome my shy nature, so I decided to create a business image. This professional character has allowed me to push aside any self-doubt. I thrive, now, in busy grocery shops, coffee shop line-ups, and public transit, picking spots where there is a chance to stand and mingle.

With a persona created, the next step in self-promotion was to create a sleek business card on quality stock. My card is simple, providing material such as my name, contact information, and website. The business card reflects my business persona and clients are able to contact me in multiple ways. Thankfully, I have a name that is not common–simply introducing myself as “Glamma” usually causes a cock of the head, presenting a prime opportunity to pull out a business card and say, “Glamma, like on my card.” I have laid tracks and footprints in many areas of the web. There are places where you can see images of the world I am part of, such as Flickr, Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook. I also contribute to a monthly blog, complete with a Q&A section, covering style, makeup, and tattoos.

When you are building your business, keep in mind that self-promotion is all about being accessible to people. Have an on-line presence, and continually update information. Linking all of your information will ensure a constant loop, which will aid in the growth your business. Connecting and networking with similar businesses will also encourage the growth of your business. If you are not present your work is not being represented, and the business will start to fade. Take time to respond to your clients and set aside a few hours a week to touch base with people. Remember who got you to where you are. Without a client, there is no business. Social media is here to stay, and it is the best form of marketing for small businesses and entrepreneurs alike.

Go ahead—put your best face forward, and you will be a success.

Glamma is an accomplished stylist, make-up artist, and tattoo artist. He has worked with thousands of faces and talents and numerous celebrities in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York.

Boss of Your Own Art

A best-selling author tell us to “be the boss of your own art.” Written by Linda Woods for Jayel Aheram.

Being a successful artist  or designer instead of a starving artist is a dream for many creative people. But, it takes more than just a dream and talent.  It takes effort, determination, the right attitude, and clients. Solo artists rarely have the budget for billboard ads or Super Bowl commercials, so we must be creative even in promoting ourselves to our clients.  When it comes to stepping out on your own and working for yourself,  it is up to you to generate your own buzz.

We’re all familiar with the idea that if you paint it, they will come, but it doesn’t really work that way unless they know how to get there. Lead the buyers to your art by spending time every day focusing on the business side of your  business.

You’re the boss of your art

Show your art in the best light. Use high quality photos of your art on your blog and in your promotional materials. Have a great portfolio ready.

You’re the boss of your image

You’ve got the look! Include a professional photo of yourself with your bio. Professional need not be boring, but a blurry photo where one eye is shut, your bra strap is showing, or your fly is open doesn’t scream success. Capture your creativity with a photo of your beautiful self facing forward, wearing bold colors or in an interesting setting. Save the wardrobe malfunctions and mug shots for the rock stars.

You’re the boss of your blog

The world is at your fingertips and that world needs art. Set up a blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr accounts and start sharing your art with the masses. A blog or website is an easy and inexpensive way to show off your art and keep in touch with your fans and buyers. Regular updates about what is going on in your world keep readers coming back and give them a glimpse into the oh– so– exciting life of an artist.

You’re the boss of your sales

People won’t be able to buy your art if they can’t figure out how to. Make it easy for people to buy your art. Link to places it is for sale. If you sell your art or design services online, set up an online payment option (like PayPal) and research shipping options before you offer your art for sale. Link to your art for sale from your blog or website.

You’re the boss of your email

Stay sweet and keep in touch. Keep an email list of your buyers and potential buyers. When you have big news, special sales, or new pieces of art to show, email your list and let them know. Try to limit your mass emails to once a month so you don’t repel people.

You’re the boss of the business

Every business needs a business card. Be sure your business card, promotional postcards, and blog all have your current contact information on them. Keep business cards with you at all times. You never know who you will meet when!

You’re the boss of your schedule

Don’t be a flake. If you commit to a job, do it in a timely manner. Art directors, editors, and buyers don’t want to work with artists who are not reliable. They have schedules and deadlines, too. If you are over extended, be honest with potential clients and give realistic time frames. Don’t let the ego boost get in the way of smart business. Buy a calendar and use it.

You’re the boss of your attitude

Gallery owners, book and magazine editors, and buyers won’t know you exist unless you make an effort. Submit your art for publication, get out and meet people, and attend art events with an open mind. Your art will not be right for every publication or gallery and that’s OK. Say thank you to people who give you time, appreciate the feedback, and keep going.

Linda Woods is the co-author of the best-selling books JOURNAL REVOLUTION and Visual Chronicles. Her artwork, journals, photographs, and articles have been featured on The View, print, and exhibits worldwide.

Molds of Introspection

An artist introduces us to his creation. Written by Devin Swick for Jayel Aheram.

I am an artist of duality. My passions include culture and love; dreams and nightmares; death and fear. My work, Oriental Intension, is an image of imitation and appreciation of Japanese art. When I begin working on something, I usually don’t know what the final result will be. I watch the colors and shapes in my subconscious spring to life what I think needs to be said about myself. The rest of the world does not exist in these moments — I have to drag it in with me — and we become witnesses of creation, within isolation.

I started with a blank, white backdrop, and experimented with the colors of my mood at the time. I cannot say that blue equals sadness and that yellow equals happiness, it is just a color that feels right, and it’s never the same. Next, I stroked my digital brush to fill the spaces I felt needed to be filled, guiding it with emotion and maybe even psychological need. I brushed in one direction, copied it, and repeated the process. There was a collection of these before I was done, which I layered together in differing opacities.

What was left was a raw mold of introspective design. Trimming what needed to be trimmed, arranging what needed to be arranged, I came out with a shape resembling nothing less than a kanji symbol. I took a step back and considered how best to represent this revelation. Between contemporary simplicity and a love for ancient design, I had many choices. I decided with something much less current and had to then decide how to go about it. This was my first time doing anything like this, ever.

At a low opacity, I burned my way through areas of the backdrop, and, using Retouch, smudged colors together to create an illusion of paint and age. I placed an illumination of a sun to give a stronger presence of Japan in the image, and then wrapped it up in a sepia tone to further emphasize aging. After, I painted a line down the image to contrast over the yellow sun, in which I feel was successful. Now, I needed detail.

Smudging the black line to give the impression of “running paint” gave less balance over the consistency of detail in the image, so I looked online for texture and found one that felt appropriate. It was an aged paper texture with some ineligible writing on it. Then I created an overlay layer that blanketed over the entire image, and lowered the opacity quite a bit to fit it snugly into the backdrop. The intention was to give the illusion of a painting on aged paper. After layering a Gaussian blur and adjusting the contrast (for dramatic effect), before I knew it, I was finished.

What I enjoy about the piece is that while it is not presumptuous or pretentious, I can believe in it. Some have even had to ask me if it were digital or painted on canvas. To an aspiring artist like me, it has made me feel proud, and in some way, validated, over what people may think of when their eyes explore my work, and in essence, explore who I am: an isolated person being discovered — dragging the world with them.

Devin Swick is an artist currently living in Arizona.

What Blogging Has Meant to Me

A blogger explores the consequences of blogging in her life. Written by Liz Fine for Jayel Aheram.

First, let me say I don’t think I would have had the courage to start my blog without the support of friends. In 2004, I was hanging out in New York City with a friend venting about my horrible job. My friend suggested we make a blog featuring talented everyday people, shining some long overdue light on them. The process seemed monumental, but so terrific. Even though I was filled with apprehension, I couldn’t let go of the idea. Right away, the voice in my head kicked in and told me a person needed an Ivy League college degree and loads of writing experience to start a blog. Typical, counting myself out before I even got in the game, but this time, my friend was pressing me so I pushed forward.

Right away, I set about designing my page and making all the decisions concerning content. I reached out to other bloggers for advice and they told me just to start writing and don’t stop. As time went on my blog began to reflect my life and it felt good to be in control of something that was evolving daily. Anything I did that was fun or interesting to me made it to the blog usually with pictures. When I traveled, the blog reflected my excitement for the next location. When I pondered life’s meaning, my blog became a spiritual place filled with food for thought. I created a relationship category and talked about my interpersonal struggles. When I discovered a great new face cream or lipstick I was suddenly a beauty editor.

Four years into a soul sucking, 9 to 5 job, I was thoroughly discouraged about my work life. I felt I had potential that would never be tapped in my cubicle-shaped prison and without realizing it, I began escaping through my blog. I was conducting interviews, taking loads of photos and generally spreading the word of my blog. I was shocked that people were taking me seriously. Eventually, my employer did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. One day, she called me in the office and said that she knew I was unhappy and I was fired. A weight immediately lifted from my shoulders and I felt free!

Shortly after being fired, I interviewed a young artist from Temple University. I took my own photos for the article and it was published in a magazine about edgy, up-and-coming musicians, designers, writers, and DIY entrepreneurs. Blogging had given me a safe place to spread my wings, take risks and most of all find out what doing something fulfilling actually felt like. Today, I’m at a job that I love. I still travel and still live for the next great lipstick shade, but since starting my blog, I have gained three beautiful nieces and become politically active. Today, blogging is still a big part of my day to day life. As I update with new people, places, and events, it remains my tried and true form of expression and yes, even dare I say… a friend.

Liz Fine is a long-time blogger and chronicles her thoughts, relationships, and travels in her blog Urban Addiction.

Rosie O’Donnell Interview

I was not able to go to New York City for a one-on-one interview with Rosie O’Donnell because of the snowstorms, so I never got to meet her. On the other hand, I still got interviewed on Rosie Radio!

Rosie and I started corresponding almost three years ago while I was in Iraq. I was posting photographs and narrating what I was experiencing. Then Rosie saw my work on Flickr and since then she has been a friend.

Continue reading Rosie O’Donnell Interview

The personal website of Jayel Aheram