Communes in Sunland, CA and the Past Lives of New Yorker Art Critics

Avante Garde Magazine, Issue 5

Before Peter Schjeldahl was writing reviews of old masters for the New Yorker he was a groovy sweaty features editor for Avant-Garde magazine. Avant-Garde was something like a counter culture arts review.

In this ’68 issue an unbuttoned Schjeldahl co-authored (with Neal White) an expose of a So Cal commune (in Sunland-Tujunga!) called The Hog Farm.

Pigasus was Prime Minister of this, then two year old, commune. From here, his humble sty in Sunland, one can assume that he was the very same pig that went on to seek the presidency as the 1968 nominee of the Yippie Party.

In the late 60’s Sunland-Tujunga was a wild place. The article chronicles the tussles between the commune and its neighbors. According to Schjeldahl the Valley Ranchers Association had set up an armed roadblock. Additionally “local toughs, many of them Vietnam Veterans”, known as the “Androids” would occasionally “pillage the farm.” Much of this, according to Schjeldahl, was set off by a picture published in the Voice of the Verduga Hills of Pigasus with a flag “flapping above his sty”.

Administration of the commune is on a daily rotation basis with everyone, kids included, taking a turn as “Dance Master” or “Dance Mistress.” “When you have this many people living together,” Romney (Hugh Romney the founder of the commune, aka Wavy Gravy- ed.) observes “you’ve got to dance or you step on somebody’s hand.” The Dance Master sees that things get done by someone who wants to do them.

The farm, as Romney suggests, is more than a summer camp for misfits. It is a thriving spiritual community, an experiment in utopian living. You get the idea when you attend the highpoint (literally) of the Hog Farm day, just before bedtime in the cantonment’s biggest dome. Shrouded in parachute silk and brightly lighted, the dome can be seen for miles on a smogless night. You can only guess at what the citizens of Sunland-Tujunga imagine is possibly going on inside. What is going on is this:

Inside the dome 30-odd men, women and children_lotus-squating, clad in an assortment of strange clothes. Eyes closed, hands clasped in two concentric circles, they are humming in unison_”Om.” “Om” is a loud resonant, brain-buzzing sound made by vibrating air in the sinuses. The choral hum is punctuated by improvisatory moans, pants, and clucks, it dissolves into an athletic chant: “HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG!” Then someone in a Donald Duck jersey stands and gently raises everyone, like a a circle of dominoes in reverse. Climax! All fall down. “The Circle Joke” is over, and the Hog Farmers, spent and blissful, break the circle and retire to their sleeping bags for the night.

I like the New Yorker, but I can’t help but imagine how it would be if they or Schjeldahl had such a groovy editorial position on art and culture today.

All photos by Jillian Wasser.

Priming: your subcortical brain at work.

Who’s Minding the Mind?

By BENEDICT CAREY

The New York Times – July 31, 2007

In a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale altered people’s judgments of a stranger by handing them a cup of coffee.

The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee — and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.

Findings like this one, as improbable as they seem, have poured forth in psychological research over the last few years. New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.

Psychologists say that “priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have.

More fundamentally, the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.

The give and take between these unconscious choices and our rational, conscious aims can help explain some of the more mystifying realities of behavior, like how we can be generous one moment and petty the next, or act rudely at a dinner party when convinced we are emanating charm.

“When it comes to our behavior from moment to moment, the big question is, ‘What to do next?’ ” said John A. Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale and a co-author, with Lawrence Williams, of the coffee study, which was presented at a recent psychology conference. “Well, we’re finding that we have these unconscious behavioral guidance systems that are continually furnishing suggestions through the day about what to do next, and the brain is considering and often acting on those, all before conscious awareness.”

Dr. Bargh added: “Sometimes those goals are in line with our conscious intentions and purposes, and sometimes they’re not.”

The idea of subliminal influence has a mixed reputation among scientists because of a history of advertising hype and apparent fraud. In 1957, an ad man named James Vicary claimed to have increased sales of Coca-Cola and popcorn at a movie theater in Fort Lee, N.J., by secretly flashing the words “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coke” during the film, too quickly to be consciously noticed. But advertisers and regulators doubted his story from the beginning, and in a 1962 interview, Mr. Vicary acknowledged that he had trumped up the findings to gain attention for his business.

Later studies of products promising subliminal improvement, for things like memory and self-esteem, found no effect.

Some scientists also caution against overstating the implications of the latest research on priming unconscious goals. The new research “doesn’t prove that consciousness never does anything,” wrote Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, in an e-mail message. “It’s rather like showing you can hot-wire a car to start the ignition without keys. That’s important and potentially useful information, but it doesn’t prove that keys don’t exist or that keys are useless.”

Yet he and most in the field now agree that the evidence for psychological hot-wiring has become overwhelming. In one 2004 experiment, psychologists led by Aaron Kay, then at Stanford University and now at the University of Waterloo, had students take part in a one-on-one investment game with another, unseen player.

Half the students played while sitting at a large table, at the other end of which was a briefcase and a black leather portfolio. These students were far stingier with their money than the others, who played in an identical room, but with a backpack on the table instead.

The mere presence of the briefcase, noticed but not consciously registered, generated business-related associations and expectations, the authors argue, leading the brain to run the most appropriate goal program: compete. The students had no sense of whether they had acted selfishly or generously.

In another experiment, published in 2005, Dutch psychologists had undergraduates sit in a cubicle and fill out a questionnaire. Hidden in the room was a bucket of water with a splash of citrus-scented cleaning fluid, giving off a faint odor. After completing the questionnaire, the young men and women had a snack, a crumbly biscuit provided by laboratory staff members.

The researchers covertly filmed the snack time and found that these students cleared away crumbs three times more often than a comparison group, who had taken the same questionnaire in a room with no cleaning scent. “That is a very big effect, and they really had no idea they were doing it,” said Henk Aarts, a psychologist at Utrecht University and the senior author of the study.

The real-world evidence for these unconscious effects is clear to anyone who has ever run out to the car to avoid the rain and ended up driving too fast, or rushed off to pick up dry cleaning and returned with wine and cigarettes — but no pressed slacks.

The brain appears to use the very same neural circuits to execute an unconscious act as it does a conscious one. In a study that appeared in the journal Science in May, a team of English and French neuroscientists performed brain imaging on 18 men and women who were playing a computer game for money. The players held a handgrip and were told that the tighter they squeezed when an image of money flashed on the screen, the more of the loot they could keep.

As expected, the players squeezed harder when the image of a British pound flashed by than when the image of a penny did — regardless of whether they consciously perceived the pictures, many of which flew by subliminally. But the circuits activated in their brains were similar as well: an area called the ventral pallidum was particularly active whenever the participants responded.

“This area is located in what used to be called the reptilian brain, well below the conscious areas of the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Chris Frith, a professor in neuropsychology at University College London who wrote the book “Making Up The Mind: How the Brain Creates our Mental World.”

The results suggest a “bottom-up” decision-making process, in which the ventral pallidum is part of a circuit that first weighs the reward and decides, then interacts with the higher-level, conscious regions later, if at all, Dr. Frith said.

Scientists have spent years trying to pinpoint the exact neural regions that support conscious awareness, so far in vain. But there’s little doubt it involves the prefrontal cortex, the thin outer layer of brain tissue behind the forehead, and experiments like this one show that it can be one of the last neural areas to know when a decision is made.

This bottom-up order makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. The subcortical areas of the brain evolved first and would have had to help individuals fight, flee and scavenge well before conscious, distinctly human layers were added later in evolutionary history. In this sense, Dr. Bargh argues, unconscious goals can be seen as open-ended, adaptive agents acting on behalf of the broad, genetically encoded aims — automatic survival systems.

In several studies, researchers have also shown that, once covertly activated, an unconscious goal persists with the same determination that is evident in our conscious pursuits. Study participants primed to be cooperative are assiduous in their teamwork, for instance, helping others and sharing resources in games that last 20 minutes or longer. Ditto for those set up to be aggressive.

This may help explain how someone can show up at a party in good spirits and then for some unknown reason — the host’s loafers? the family portrait on the wall? some political comment? — turn a little sour, without realizing the change until later, when a friend remarks on it. “I was rude? Really? When?”

Mark Schaller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, has done research showing that when self-protective instincts are primed — simply by turning down the lights in a room, for instance — white people who are normally tolerant become unconsciously more likely to detect hostility in the faces of black men with neutral expressions.

“Sometimes nonconscious effects can be bigger in sheer magnitude than conscious ones,” Dr. Schaller said, “because we can’t moderate stuff we don’t have conscious access to, and the goal stays active.”

Until it is satisfied, that is, when the program is subsequently suppressed, research suggests. In one 2006 study, for instance, researchers had Northwestern University undergraduates recall an unethical deed from their past, like betraying a friend, or a virtuous one, like returning lost property. Afterward, the students had their choice of a gift, an antiseptic wipe or a pencil; and those who had recalled bad behavior were twice as likely as the others to take the wipe. They had been primed to psychologically “cleanse” their consciences.

Once their hands were wiped, the students became less likely to agree to volunteer their time to help with a graduate school project. Their hands were clean: the unconscious goal had been satisfied and now was being suppressed, the findings suggest.

Using subtle cues for self-improvement is something like trying to tickle yourself, Dr. Bargh said: priming doesn’t work if you’re aware of it. Manipulating others, while possible, is dicey. “We know that as soon as people feel they’re being manipulated, they do the opposite; it backfires,” he said.

And researchers do not yet know how or when, exactly, unconscious drives may suddenly become conscious; or under which circumstances people are able to override hidden urges by force of will. Millions have quit smoking, for instance, and uncounted numbers have resisted darker urges to misbehave that they don’t even fully understand.

Yet the new research on priming makes it clear that we are not alone in our own consciousness. We have company, an invisible partner who has strong reactions about the world that don’t always agree with our own, but whose instincts, these studies clearly show, are at least as likely to be helpful, and attentive to others, as they are to be disruptive.

NEW FROM ARTHUR – PARADISE NOW: THE LIVING THEATRE IN AMERIKA DVD

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be changed. — Antonin Artaud

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"The US and Britain may not want to dwell on the disasters that have befallen Iraq during their occupation but the shanty towns crammed with refugees springing up in Iraq and neighbouring countries are becoming impossible to ignore."

Iraq: One in seven joins human tide spilling into neighbouring countries

Patrick Cockburn in Sulaymaniyah

Published: 30 July 2007 The Independent (UK)

Two thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homes every day. It is the greatest mass exodus of people ever in the Middle East and dwarfs anything seen in Europe since the Second World War. Four million people, one in seven Iraqis, have run away, because if they do not they will be killed. Two million have left Iraq, mainly for Syria and Jordan, and the same number have fled within the country.

Yet, while the US and Britain express sympathy for the plight of refugees in Africa, they are ignoring – or playing down- a far greater tragedy which is largely of their own making.

The US and Britain may not want to dwell on the disasters that have befallen Iraq during their occupation but the shanty towns crammed with refugees springing up in Iraq and neighbouring countries are becoming impossible to ignore.

Even so the UNHCR is having difficulty raising $100m (£50m) for relief. The organisation says the two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees – Syria and Jordan – have still received “next to nothing from the world community”. Some 1.4 million Iraqis have fled to Syria according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, Jordan has taken in 750 000 while Egypt and Lebanon have seen 200 000 Iraqis cross into their territories.

Potential donors are reluctant to spent money inside Iraq arguing the country has large oil revenues. They are either unaware, or are ignoring the fact that the Iraqi administration has all but collapsed outside the Baghdad Green Zone. The US is spending $2bn a week on military operations in Iraq according to the Congressional Research Service but many Iraqis are dying because they lack drinking water costing a few cents.

Kalawar refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah is a microcosm of the misery to which millions of Iraqis have been reduced.

“At least it is safe here,” says Walid Sha’ad Nayef, 38, as he stands amid the stink of rotting garbage and raw sewage. He fled from the lethally dangerous Sa’adiyah district in Baghdad 11 months ago. As we speak to him, a man silently presents us with the death certificate of his son, Farez Maher Zedan, who was killed in Baghdad on 20 May 2006.

Kalawar is a horrible place. Situated behind a petrol station down a dusty track, the first sight of the camp is of rough shelters made out of rags, torn pieces of cardboard and old blankets. The stench is explained by the fact the Kurdish municipal authorities will not allow the 470 people in the camp to dig latrines. They say this might encourage them to stay.

“Sometimes I go to beg,” says Talib Hamid al-Auda, a voluble man with a thick white beard looking older than his fifty years. As he speaks, his body shakes, as if he was trembling at the thought of the demeaning means by which he feeds his family. Even begging is difficult because the people in the camp are forbidden to leave it on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Suspected by Kurds of being behind a string of house robberies, though there is no evidence for this, they are natural scapegoats for any wrong-doing in their vicinity.

Refugees are getting an increasingly cool reception wherever they flee, because there are so many of them and because of the burden they put on resources. “People here blame us for forcing up rents and the price of food,” said Omar, who had taken his family to Damascus after his sister’s leg was fractured by a car bomb.

The refugees in Kalawar had no option but to flee. Of the 97 families here, all but two are Sunni Arabs. Many are from Sa’adiyah in west Baghdad where 84 bodies were found by police between 18 June and 18 July. Many are young men whose hands had been bound and who had been tortured.

“The majority left Baghdad because somebody knocked on the door of their house and told them to get out in an hour,” says Rosina Ynzenga, who runs the Spanish charity Solidarity International (SIA) which pays for a mobile clinic to visit the camp.

Sulaymaniyah municipality is antagonistic to her doing more. One Kurdish official suggested that the Arabs of Kalawar were there simply for economic reasons and should be given $200 each and sent back to Baghdad.

Mr Nayef, the mukhtar (mayor) of the camp who used to be a bulldozer driver in Baghdad, at first said nobody could speak to journalists unless we had permission from the authorities. But after we had ceremoniously written our names in a large book he relented and would, in any case, have had difficulty in stopping other refugees explaining their grievences.

Asked to list their worst problems Mr Nayef said they were the lack of school for the children, shortage of food, no kerosene to cook with, no money, no jobs and no electricity. The real answer to the question is that the Arabs of Kalawar have nothing. They have only received two cartons of food each from the International Committee of the Red Cross and a tank of clean water.

Even so they are adamant that they dare not return to Baghdad. They did not even know if their houses had been taken over by others.

Abla Abbas, a mournful looking woman in black robes, said her son had been killed because he went to sell plastic bags in the Shia district of Khadamiyah in west Baghdad. The poor in Iraq take potentially fatal risks to earn a little money.

The uncertainty of the refugees’ lives in Kalawar is mirrored in their drawn faces. While we spoke to them there were several shouting matches. One woman kept showing us a piece of paper from the local authority in Sulaymaniyah giving her the right to stay there. She regarded us nervously as if we were officials about to evict her.

There are in fact three camps at Kalawar. Although almost all the refugees are Sunni they come from different places and until a month ago they lived together. But there were continual arguments. The refugees decided that they must split into three encampments: one from Baghdad, a second from Hillah, south of Baghdad, and a third from Diyala, the mixed Sunni-Shia province that has been the scene of ferocious sectarian pogroms.

Governments and the media crudely evaluate human suffering in Iraq in terms of the number killed. A broader and better barometer would include those who have escaped death only by fleeing their homes, their jobs and their country to go and live, destitute and unwanted, in places like Kalawar. The US administration has 18 benchmarks to measure progress in Iraq but the return of four million people to their homes is not among them.

Signs of distress

flag.jpg

Flag-defiling charge ends in fight, arrests
Sheriff’s Office denies allegation deputy assaulted couple

by Mike McWilliams
updated July 26, 2007 11:26 am

Asheville – A couple who said they were protesting the state of the country by flying the U.S. flag upside down with signs pinned to it found themselves in jail following a scuffle with a deputy Wednesday morning.

Mark and Deborah Kuhn were arrested on two counts of assault on a government employee, resisting arrest and a rarely used charge, desecrating an American flag, all misdemeanors. The Kuhns were released from custody Wednesday afternoon.

“This is surreal,” Deborah Kuhn, 52, said moments after her son Mark Stidham paid $1,500 bond to get the couple out of jail.

Arrest reports show Buncombe County Sheriff’s deputy Brian Scarborough went to the Kuhns’ home on 68 Brevard Road about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday to investigate a complaint of an American flag on display after being desecrated.

State law prohibits anyone from knowingly mutilating, defiling, defacing or trampling the U.S. or North Carolina flags. Lt. Randy Sorrells of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office said the Kuhns desecrated the flag by pinning signs to it, not by flying it upside down.

An upside-down flag typically is flown as a distress signal. The Kuhns said they flew it this way not out of disrespect but to symbolize the state of the country.

Deborah Kuhn said the signs pinned to the flag included an explanation on the meaning of an upside-down flag and asked to “help our country.” One of the signs was a photo of President Bush with “Out Now” written on it, they said.

The couple flew the flag for about a week before Wednesday.

Police visits

Deborah Kuhn said an Asheville police officer stopped by last week to make sure the couple was OK, after recognizing the upside-down flag as a distress signal.

Asheville police calls for service records show an officer did go to the house July 18 after a complaint about the upside-down flag. The officer did not issue a citation or file a report.

A couple of days later, Deborah Kuhn said a man dressed in fatigues came to the door to “harass my husband” about the flag. Someone also took photos of the flag, she said.

Sorrells said a resident approached Scarborough while he was on duty and alerted him to the flag. Sorrells said he did not know where the person approached Scarborough or what the deputy was doing.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Scarborough went to the Kuhns’ home and gave Mark Kuhn a copy of the flag desecration statute. Scarborough told the Kuhns the flag was being displayed illegally.

Although the Kuhns live within the Asheville city limits, Sorrells said the complaint was made to a deputy.

“We have jurisdiction throughout the whole county of Buncombe,” Sorrells said. “We have a citizen that complains to us about a violation of law, we’re bound by oath to act on it.”

Scarborough told Mark Kuhn he was going to be issued a citation and asked for identification. Kuhn refused, slammed the door on the deputy’s hand, breaking the glass pane out of the door and cutting Scarborough’s hand, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Deborah Kuhn said they removed the flag from their front porch after Scarborough threatened to cite them, but they objected to showing Scarborough their IDs, which he needed to write the tickets. Scarborough then broke into their house and came after them, they said.

“He tried to keep us from closing the door, but we managed to get it closed,” Deborah Kuhn said. “We locked the door and he broke the glass to our front door and proceeded to assault my husband, saying, ‘You’re under arrest.’”

The Sheriff’s Office said a struggle ensued when Scarborough followed Kuhn back into the house. At that time, Deborah Kuhn also struck Scarborough in the face, authorities said in arrest reports.

Scarborough called for backup and five squad cars responded, Sorrells said.

Deborah Kuhn said she called 911 and ran into the street screaming for help.

Mark Kuhn said he did not attack Scarborough.

“He came after me, and I fought him back,” Kuhn, 43, said. “After I got out of his hold, I ran outside.”

Rarely enforced

Sorrells said this is the first time he has seen the flag-desecration law enforced. He said it’s a difficult decision for an officer to weigh a resident’s right to free speech against another’s complaint of a law violation.

“I think the officer did the appropriate thing by stating his intention to simply issue a citation and let it be worked out in court,” Sorrells said. “If Mr. Kuhn had simply complied with that request for identification and accepted the citation, we would have all gone about our way, and it could have been worked out in court. Once he assaulted the officer, it escalated very quickly.”

Sorrells said Scarborough suffered some scrapes and cuts to his hand and returned to duty later Wednesday. A message left for Scarborough at the Sheriff’s Office was not immediately returned.

Mark Kuhn, who said he had flown his flag upside down before without any problems, said he plans to fight the charges. The Kuhns each face a maximum 420 days in jail if convicted on all of the charges.

“We are going to do our best to get a civil liberties lawyer from the ACLU,” Kuhn said.

“We are going to take this big time. Officer Scarborough is not going to get away with this.”

The Kuhns said the Sheriff’s Office kept their flag. Sorrells said he had no record of that.