Diamonds & Gold: Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Center

Yesterday started out great: I quit my job and almost like the universe was rewarding me, my friend Mike sent me a text asking if I wanted to see Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Arena in downtown Sacramento.

A quick side note: After much reasonable protesting, Sacramento now has its very own, taxpayer funded, shiny new arena. I was ambivalent for many reasons, but I have to say that unlike other arenas, the acoustics are actually quite decent.  The only other show I’ve been to at the Golden 1 Center was Electric Christmas, a hipster rock, millennials-only affair put on every winter by local radio station 94.7.

So the first thing we noticed last night was that every section in the stadium was open and the place was packed to the nosebleeds with avid fans.

When the band took the stage and the lights dropped, a giant 3D Diamond appeared, spinning and refracting images of Neil from the past.  The diamond screen remained throughout the performance, lighting up and bouncing images that supported the songs.

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The bandstand split with a walk down the center and when Neil emerged and started to come down front and center, Mike couldn’t resist saying, “Oh that’s nice, they gave him the old people ramp”.

Neil is 76, but he sings with the same voice as he did in 1976: his pipes are undiminished by time, his rich, sultry tone and phrasing as swoon-worthy as ever.  

He launched into Solitary Man and this crowd that easily had 20-30 years on the previous show I’d seen, erupted with such glee, it was hard to believe.

Diamond had a bit of Elvis in him in the younger days, he borrowed some showmanship from the King for sure.  But his brand of flash seems positively tame compared with younger, more modern performers.  His charisma is so powerful that all he had to do was lift a hand beatifically and the audience would rise to their feet as though they were at a megachurch.

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A couple songs in, he strolled to the right side of the stage and the far right section cheered so vehemently, Neil said, “these folks are the most lively in the building, so I’m going to stay over here for this one.”  Then he sang the opening lines of Love on the Rocks. He continued to tease the other sections by pointing to the right and saying, “you going to beat these folks?”

His easy banter and playfulness cut up the often wistful themes of his ballads and he undulated between up tempo goodies like I’m a Believer and lonely  I am, I Said.  He is still songwriting and he managed to tuck some newer tunes into the set, one called Dry Your Eyes about the Manchester bombing.

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One of my favorite moments was Brooklyn Roads, accompanied by diamond-shaped, grainy Super8 footage of his family.  A line I deeply related to:

Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else

I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those
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Diamond also did something I hadn’t seen a rock star of his caliber do before: to introduce the band, he let each one of his musicians play a short, solo song of their own choosing.  His two back up singers are sisters, and his guitarist of 40 years, Richard Bennett, who helped write Forever in Blue Jeans, was on stage with his son, Nick, also on guitar.  These little showcases gave him a chance to encourage and publically thank the folks that support him.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the entire auditorium stood and danced for Sweet Caroline, except maybe those in wheelchairs. If there was some way to gauge the energy in the room, this crown far exceeded the hipster extravaganza I mentioned.  By a long shot.

The finale was, of course, Coming to America, a tune I used to see as a bit nationalistic, but again, he managed to strike the perfect tone; the diamond screen shone old black and white images of immigrants boarding boats, waving happily from the deck, hoping for a new life.  As the son of  Jewish immigrants from Poland, it was a loving gesture, and a reminder of what actually makes America great.

Neil Diamond performed for over two hours, with such obvious relish, such candor and very little of the bravado that made him so famous.  His voice was eclipsed only by the sheer poetic vulnerability of his lyrics and that spaghetti western style that has become his signature.

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I had my doubts about the Golden 1 arena, but last night, I was so grateful for this massive, shiny venue because it was filled to the brim with eager fans who spent far less time on their phones and far more time cheering and dancing: daughters and dads, grandparents and grandchildren.  And after 50 years of writing and performing, Neil Diamond deserves a golden arena.

 

  1. Written by Neil Diamond • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Sacramento Trees: Greatest Hits

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This blog has been on ice for a bit, but I’ve been ruminating on refashioning it.  I’d like to create a resource and a laugh for other single moms like me in the Sacramento area.

But first, let’s look at some trees.  Even people who live here don’t realize that Sacramento has one of the densest tree populations in the US per capita, a fact that has recently been confirmed by a study at MIT.

I will intermittently be posting some beauties for no other reason than, you know, beauty.

You’re welcome.

 

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Trigger Warning: Trump is Your President

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When the map went red, it bled.  That uniform block of frustration and alienation is as visible as an open wound.  

For me, this election is personal.  I haven’t spoken publicly about it until now, but last summer, I was ensnared by a romantic sociopath and when I discovered the depth of this person’s lies, I had a mental health crisis complete with panic, anxiety/depression, PTSD, insomnia, the whole shebang.

At the time, I was working at a mental health facility teaching yoga to acute patients.  These vulnerable people had often sustained ongoing childhood abuse.  I could not teach anymore because I was now a patient and I couldn’t separate myself from my students; I was lost in empathy, my own pain mixing with their’s.

When the map went that red last night, it was like watching a dear friend willingly return to the home of her abusive husband. Our nation voted for a sociopath because it has Stockholm Syndrome.  Our red states feel powerless and so they reach for and identify with power, even if that power is their oppressor.

We have to wonder about free will in this moment and how much we are actually exercising it if we put the tax-evading bully in the driver’s seat.

I’m grieving a future that is not fraught with draconian repeals and abusive cycles that grind up our best and brightest.

I’m in the second phase of grief: denial.

Followed closely by bargaining: your mind just keeps trying to peel back time and rewrite the event, bending it another way. It happens repeatedly throughout your day, your mind doing impossible gymnastics to make that one moment of shock disappear. I’m going to let myself feel it, so I can move onto guilty, anger and eventually hope.
I am already tired from the work that must be done.  I see with fresh awareness that my privilege has afforded me the ability to opt out of activism.  The Obama years were a piece of cake I ate daily without realizing it.  But none of us, not one American, will have that luxury anymore.
I have one perspective I learned through my experience with the sociopath that is both disheartening and hopeful as it applies to Trump: sociopaths usually self-destruct.  because they are not conscience-bound at all, they do not apply loyalty to their interactions.  His loose cannon antics will continue once he gets into the White House and while we can count on him disposing of Obamacare, overturning Roe v. Wade, and setting up shop for his billionaire friends, he will also be bored, cruel, and destructive with the wrong people.
Malcolm Gladwell predicts Trump will be hip-deep in a lawyer huddle, if not in jail within the first year. I sort of hope he is right; I’d be really surprised if Trump makes it through a first term.
In the meantime, we need to bind together tighter, we need to reach back out to the middle, and bravely carry the torch of love, inclusion, forgiveness.  We need to see this as it is, a wound that needs healing.
Let’s be ready, friends, neighbors, families, communities, cities and allies.  Let’s start to build a model of what we do want so when this thing comes crashing down, we can create again.
May we eradicate hate.  One world, one people, one love.

No Handshake at the Last Debate: A Tactical Decision to Abandon Manners

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I have always watched these debates and marveled at the politician’s strange ability to cut someone down in front of millions and then smile and shake hands afterward.  I think of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, how that nicety is sort of creepy but entirely necessary, a shred of good sportsmanship.

According to the news outlets, Trump stacked his entourage with the women who have accused Bill Clinton of misconduct; that would force Bill to shake hands with them. The Clinton camp negotiated at the last minute for no greeting and no handshake at the beginning or end of the debate.

I can’t say I blame HRC for not wanting to touch that dastardly paw, but then again, she’s shaken hands with Trump hundreds of times.  There are plenty of photos of all of them bouging it up at some gala or another.

When those racism jackasses shouted at President Obama during his State of the Union Address, it had similar implications.  There is no place now, not even the formal stronghold of the presidency, that hatred cannot invade.

We’ve really let this discourse descend into the Sub Abyssal Zone.  I’ll be really grateful when this nightmarish election is over.

 

Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters: Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders and What it Means to Art

When his blustery, mean-spirited dismissive, caustic pinched, nasal voice started coming back out through the public airwaves, I had to draw back and remember, when was I first aware of Donald Trump?

It was the late 80s, when everyday I found the funny pages of the LA Times (well almost everyday, after my Dad had done the crossword) and I read Doonsbury, a decades long satire by Gary Trudeau .  I was transfixed by the romance happening between Mike and J.J.  Mike’s long-suffering commercial career as an illustrator was punctuated by campaigns that would come to life like Mr. Butts, the Cigarette Lobby Spokesman, and J.J. was a performance artist who donned a bucket on her head and dashed the wedding china on the floor to make a comment about the fragile artifice of American marriage.  Now this was real love.

At some point, despite their rocky and often bewildering relationship, Mike and J.J have a child, Alex.  This is when (momentarily)  J.J sobers up and realizes, shit, I have to get a job.  J.J’s first commission?  To paint a replica of the Cistine Chapel inside Donald Trump’s yacht.  The Don was married to Ivana and had just purchased the Trump Princess (I guess he  didn’t care that renaming a boat is bad luck).  He was a fixture on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. “Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters” is the feedback J.J receives from her new boss as she clambers back up the scaffold, chanting to herself “I have a family, I have a family…” In the end of the sequence, she makes Adam look a little more Donaldy.

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What Gary Trudeau points out here with his usual wry humor, is that Trump is the distillation of the crass disregard for real beauty that comes with profound excess and a lack of profound feeling. Despite the way the rich toss their blue chips onto the table to obtain a Picasso or more recently, a Banksy, they are the same people who have no idea what Picasso or Banksy are attempting to do with their work, why great art is ownerless. It’s not the painting; it’s the invisible magic that takes place between the viewer and the painting.

It’s this ability, to envision, to imagine, to play, that has sustained us and pushed us forward as a species. In this way, The Donald is The Opposite of Civilization. He is closed, you are fired. There isn’t a single original thought happening. He is the ultimate reduction to lowest common denominator. All things are objects to him, even his own daughter.

I’ve read all the articles that talk about how strategic he’s being, using simple fourth grade words, shredding right through the GOP operating manual, and in some ways, yes, this is clever salesmanship.  But no matter what the talking heads say, he is not a rebel.  Trump is allied with another far less morally bound party that play by their own set of rules: the Robber Barons.  It would not surprise me if he lit his cigars with $100 bills.

Even if we try to make the businessman pitch to The Donald: art’s central role in the latest science about brain development, sociological studies on happiness, mental illness, and general quality of life. The Donald isn’t interested in abstractions.  He’s not interested in the enlightenment project. He’s interested in power and he has no plan. Trump is a nihilist sociopath.  He’s artless.

When I was in college at a tiny, now defunct liberal arts school, I attended an event held every summer called Bread and Puppet.  It started in the 60s as guerrilla street theatre in New York City, where young people made puppets and costumes out of garbage and found items, acting out local or national politics on the street.  Over time, the show got so big that it moved to Glover, VT where the production has several barn-sized workshops and a big amphitheater.

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The main event began with what looked like an old timey carnival taking the big outdoor stage, complete with clowns, stilt walkers, and an old school bus painted in rainbows.  The actors put on a series of skits, becoming teachers, politicians, farmers, school kids, using mostly body language and simple props. The audience cheered and booed accordingly as if they already knew what to do.  At one point, a clown who had been present since the beginning stepped forward and with a dramatic gesture, tore off his mask.  You guessed: Senator Bernie Sanders. The audience went mad.  That was 1998.

Art is as various and sundry as anything else humans do, but no matter the shape of the expression, creating comes from an essential urge toward truth, beauty and love.  Even the most savage sentiment expressed creatively opens up a conversational space for catharsis. I make the argument that art on some level is activism.

When asked about his religion, Bernie states that his idea of God is everyone together.  I don’t want to get too Vermont hippy here, but in his way, Bernie is an artist because he sees the systemic failures clearly and he calls it like he sees it . He demands that we question the vicious nature of our system and in doing so, he envisions a radical alternative.  And in 1998, he was willing to put on a costume and express that idealism.

Trump is a buyer, a seller, a bored patron in the box seat.  He doesn’t speak the language of idealism.

 

I watched a bit of Democratic National Convention, and when Bernie spoke, exhausted, hoarse, finally painting HRC as the only alternative to Trump, the camera caught lots of young anguished faces on film.  Yes, the movement is bigger than Bernie, but it’s hard to see this as anything other than big money winning once again.  And when big money wins, real creative change loses.

The Psoas: Muscle of The Soul

great blog on the psoas muscle and why it is so important. Loved this.

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psoasI was delighted when I first came across Liz Koch’s amazing work because it confirmed much of what I’d been intuiting on my own. I had begun to open and close my yoga practise with hip opening poses with the specific intention of releasing tension in my psoas and hip flexors. I’d breathe and imagine tension flowing out of constricted muscles to be released as energy into the torso.

It worked, I’d feel my body soften yet somehow grow stronger.

Reading Liz Koch I instantly realized what I was doing – by learning to relax my psoas I was literally energizing my deepest core by reconnecting with the powerful energy of the earth. According to Koch, the psoas is far more than a core stabilizing muscle; it is an organ of perception composed of bio-intelligent tissue and “literally embodies our deepest urge for survival, and more profoundly, our elemental desire…

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More Fiction on the Way

Dear readers, writers, artists and fellow humans,
I’m working up a second collection of short stories, firing back up on my novel and submitting some other pros and poetry in the coming months. In the meantime, I invite you to read my first collection, the Brunt on Amazon. if you like dark quirk, ghost stories, satire andThe Brunt Cover animal revenge then these 6 stories are right up your figurative alley. Thanks as always for your support, your feedback and your own imaginative contributions to the world.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Brunt-Miranda-Culp-ebook/dp/B00MN2QRTG

Going Clear: Scientology and Dispelling the Myths About Cult Indoctrination

By Miranda Culp

There is widespread coverage of the damage groups like ISIS have inflicted on their neighbors and much conjecture about why Westerners would join groups that regularly broadcast journalist beheadings and destruction of ancient art.  How could any reasonably sane, educated person consider becoming a terrorist?

When the Waco standoff resulted in an entire community of people dying in a rain of bullets and fire and the response I often heard was, “well, they were all sheep, they just followed that guy to the slaughter.”

The problem with this basic ignorance and the lack of compassion that attends it, is that people don’t understand their own programming.  We have all been brainwashed, by our respective cultures.  From the moment we understand language, we start adopting assumptions and those assumptions are reinforced for us daily.

The Going Clear documentary was very close to home for me; quite literally, I grew up not far from the Scientology headquarters in Los Angles and many of my parents’ peers had a story about someone trying to talk them into a presentation or a free “audit”.  My main sense of the organization, according to my mom’s teacher and activist friends, was that it primarily pitched itself as a gay deprogramming operation for budding actors. It could convert you and you wouldn’t even miss your old lifestyle because you would become so rich and famous.

But there is another way that I relate to this story: when I was 19, I spent three days under the spell of a mad man like L. Ron Hubbard.  I had just moved from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, CA. Unlike most of my friends in high school, I didn’t get into college and so I was drifting. Since many of my friends went to UCSC, I moved up there to go to junior college and get a job.

A young man who was an artist and musician, we’ll call him Michel, lived in the basement apartment of my old Victorian, and I was immediately captivated by him and his girlfriend, whom we will call Mandy, a tall willowy read head, also artsy and interesting.

One Sunday evening, after being gone all weekend, the couple came home and I knocked on Michel’s door to say hi.  They asked me to come in and when I opened the door, a small group of people was seated on Michel’s bed.  They asked me to join them and Michel and Mandy smiled warmly.

At the head of the bed was a tall, gorgeous African American man.  He had beautiful skin, close-cropped hair and perfect teeth.  His name was Joshua.

“Who are you?” he asked me. I gave him my name.

“Who are you?”  He asked again. I was confused.  Michel moved over so I could sit next to Joshua.  “I’m Miranda.” I repeated.

“No,” he leaned in, his eyes boring in to me, “who are you?” Everyone in the group sat and waited.  I think I must have giggled out of nervousness.

He tried again: “What are you?”

“I’m an..artist,” I stammered.

“Ah”, he smiled. “And how is that going?”

This went on and escalated, so that every time I gave him an answer he didn’t like, he would raise his voice, just a little, and show me with his body language that my answer didn’t please him. Meanwhile, everyone in the room sat and listened. When I looked at them for an explanation, they would just smile at me encouragingly.

After twenty minutes or so, this guy had uncovered my extreme doubts about my usefulness on the planet, he had sought out my anxiety about the state of the world and then presented me with a solution to both of these things at the same time. At his bidding, I called my parents at 11pm, to wake them up and tell them I was dropping out of school and joining the Blue White Dove Foundation.

I will cut to the chase here and tell you that Michel’s parents did some research on Joshua and discovered that he had done time for violent crime. With some digging in the Berkeley community, we found he had convinced over 80 college kids to quit school, empty their bank accounts and “follow” him. He had manipulated many of the women into unprotected sex, and he had convinced one woman to abandon her infant.

For those three days that I was with him, none of us ate or slept much. We did these exercises in his question-and-answer style and listened to him prattle on, borrowing from diverse sources such as Alistair Crowley and Prince.

It’s pretty obvious to me after watching Going Clear, that Joshua had some experience with Scientology because he had adapted many of their techniques. In the film, a former member of the Church describes his consciousness seeming to draw back in his brain and watch all the action from a pinhole.  I cannot tell you how accurate this is; it’s like the voice in your head is no longer your operating system, but it’s still talking.  There is a total disconnect between your inner voice and your actions.

Watch the trailer for Going Clear here.  It re-airs on HBO April 9th.

It’s not a complicated process to brainwash someone, it simply takes knowing where the vulnerability is and learning how to verbalize it in a way that resonates.  Religious leaders, politicians, lawyers and marketers already know this, in fact, there is a term for it in marketing: pain points.  If you know friction the customer experiences, and you can voice that pain point, the customer will go for the solution you provide.  Simple as that.

A cult leader is particularly deft at describing these pain points to you.  And once you have bought into the solution, even if you don’t believe it all the way, all of your peers are sold and self-doubt, the thing that got you there in the first place, does the rest.

For the young men that get indoctrinated into ISIS, there are probably so many questions that don’t have an answer: Why are so many members of my family being killed?  Why is there no fresh water? No access to food or medicine? When someone gives you the answer: “This is all the infidels’ fault. This is a holy war. You are chosen to stand up and fight. God wants you to fight.” There is suddenly order when before there was nothing but chaos and the directive is very clear.  Now you have a plan of action.

And when you are not eating or sleeping, or when you have experienced trauma, we know now that the decision-making part of the brain just shuts off, redirecting its precious energies to survival functions. This is how herd mentality works. It explains why totally sane, sweet people can be driven to the most heinous acts, because they stop individuating. The body takes over and goes with safety in numbers.

Scientology has ruined lives, vanquished the possibility of livelihood for thousands of children, and created a state-sanctioned human trafficking business that has racked up billions of dollars.  It has done all this by cashing in on the better nature of normal people, hard working, hopeful people whose only crime was self-doubt.

The good news about our suggestibility is that when people are presented with their options, they are still capable of making choices, even after years of submission.  Margaret Singer was a psychologist at Berkeley studying cult behavior at the time that I encountered Joshua.  One of the young men in our group had been embedded for 3 weeks and Joshua had convinced him that the end of the world was coming. After his parents contacted Singer and forcibly took him away from Joshua,  Dr. Singer’s secretary called right as he was about to jump out of the window and escape.  She said to him on the phone, “I was in a cult for 11 years and if your experience was anything like mine, the only thing you want to do right now is run.” That was the moment when the artifice collapsed for him, the moment when his consciousness broke free of the spell.

The former members of the Church of Scientology may have been just average people going in, but I can tell you first hand that in order to get out, they were nothing short of heroic. Some of them were embedded for 20 years, some of them had to leave behind partners and children. Some of them had to run like refugees and reenter a world where they had no money, no skills and nowhere to go.

We should do away with discussions that pigeonhole people into two categories: suckers and critical thinkers.  None of us think for ourselves; we are moved by the language around us.  Free will is a fragile construct based on that language.  The best we can do is try to become more comfortable with the human inclination to ask these questions and build our endurance for uncertainty.  That, and a healthy skepticism for anyone proclaiming to have all the answers.

Margaret Singer on language and how it is used in mind control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9rj4R4QhQg

Ai Weiwei @ Large Exhibit at Alcatraz: the Danger of Silence

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I lived in San Francisco for 8 years and never went to Alcatraz until this weekend.  I could never think of a good reason to visit a dilapidated prison. But I was struck by the magnitude of this mass of rock and its crumbling facades, the undeniable beauty of the ocean and the city.  It was the perfect setting for this show.

Ai Weiwei is such a force that he can successfully conduct a conversation about freedom and confinement without even setting foot on the site.  These installations are so titanic without overpowering the space; they also enable the public to see some of the buildings that are not usually accessible.

The experience of being in this space is hard explain but there are so many contradictions: the constricting cells, and the wide openness of the industrial buildings, the degrading surfaces and the bubbles of old glass letting in the bold illumination of the sea.

Ai Weiwei tinkers with these contradictions so consciously: the portraits of detained or persecuted people are made of Legos, giving them a primary and pixelated look.  Soft little ceramic flowers fill up bath tubs and latrines, you almost miss them if you aren’t looking for them, quiet gestures of solace in an environment of humiliation and chaos.

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In the hospital, there were two tiled rooms the size of small bathrooms where the mentally ill were contained.  Glass block facing the ocean allowed a soft light in but once the sun went down, these rooms went black.  Ill prisoners were kept in solitary, often restrained. Ai Weiwei piped the sound of Tibetan monks chanting into one room and at a certain point I was the only one in there.  I closed my eyes and the sudden, sonorous vibration of the monks’ deep bellow shook my ribcage. In the other room, the sound of Hopi ritual drumming and chanting bounced off the tile walls.

Prison and war are our primary industries in the U.S and it is almost hard to separate them when you are in these interiors.  Alcatraz was a military prison, the remnants are still ferocious, like the cannons that shot 440 lbs cannon balls.  These spaces are like a war on the body, a constant attack of surveillance, a void of comfort, a wasteland of connection.   The primary tool of these industries is dehumanization; when we cease to acknowledge a person, or a country as human, we can criminalize them, we can refuse to help, we can drop bombs.

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And still, this artist who deserves to be on the world stage, is able to convey these very powerful messages about injustice, about the danger of silence, and that is not possible in other countries.  At the end of the exhibit, there are shelves of postcards with the names of political prisoners printed on them.  Ai Weiwei teamed up with Amnesty International to ensure that these prisoners would receive the postcards and visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to write.  This was perhaps the most powerful part of the installation, that as a viewer, you were not simply left with this heavy feeling of futility, but that you could sit down and convey your own message.  An art guide told me that 8 people had been released since the exhibit opened.

This is what great art does: it makes an undeniable stand, but it invites questions and evokes a sense of personal responsibility in everyone who witnesses it.   It is by nature, inclusive, calling attention to the artificial boundaries that distance us from other people.