Red–passion, blood, iron oxide, a lack of chlorophyll in the case of the Snow Plant, and this week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s Where’s My Backpack? blog.
This is the first installment of a new series I’m starting, called From One: Artist Profiles of people doing counter-cultural work, using their creative gifts–whether that be photography, drawing, painting, writing, tattooing, et. al.–to raise awareness of important social justice issues, especially ecology and the unsustainability of the dominant culture.
I first became aware of Lisa Korpos’s work at the house of my good friends Luke and Terra, whom I met in New Orleans doing post-Katrina relief work; strangely, Luke was the first person I talked to when I arrived in December of 2005 in New Orleans, and it turned out he also came from Orange County in southern California! Not only that, we both returned independently at the same time in March of 2006! Since then we’ve developed a profound friendship. Anyway, there was this amazing piece of artwork hanging on their wall about deforestation called Memories of an Old Oak Tree:
This was one of the most profound pieces of art I’d ever seen; deforestation is the environmental issue that hits me hardest, as I connect with forests probably more than any other ecosystem (read Derrick Jensen and George Draffan’s seminal Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests). I asked Terra about it, and she told me how it was created from all recycled/reclaimed materials by her friend Lisa Korpos. About this piece, Lisa says:
It’s meant to really put a humanizing touch on the whole problem of deforestation. I think that oftentimes, people write off environmental problems as something sort of distant–they feel detached from them. So I wanted to get everyone really, personally engaged by allowing them to see from the perspective of a tree, as if it were a cognizant, sentient being. The illustrated panels are each supposed to be a foggy memory of this old oak: From the misty landscape of the tree’s home, to the scene of the cruel logger lunging at it with a chainsaw, to the scene of the paper mill, and so forth–it all tells the tree’s story. Even the base of the artwork itself gradually shifts from branches & leaves to processed wood planks, symbolizing the tree’s transformation. At the very bottom of the piece, on a piece of plywood, it says, poignantly, “I miss being a tree.” It’s a final reminder to drive home the point that this was once a living organism; that we shouldn’t be so quick to forget the origins of so many things we use.
Then Terra (who has a wonderful blog, Preserving Terra, about canning and preserving fruits and vegetables–a skill whose value, especially with the impending ecological collapse, cannot possibly be over-estimated) informed me that Lisa is also a tattoo artist. Then Terra showed me some of Lisa’s tattoo work–on her back!
Luke and Terra knew that I’ve long wanted a tattoo(s), but that I’d just been released from prison, so had no money. They contacted Lisa and funded my getting one as a sort of Get-Out-of-Prison-Free present, and three days later, the day before I left for home in northern California, it was done! You can see pictures of my Pink Floyd “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” tattoo, and its profound meaning to me, partly in connection to my brother David (who killed himself at my age, 27), on my post, “Tattoos and Suicide.” One of the great things about Lisa is that she doesn’t just talk the talk (or….paint the paint? Heh.) She is vegan, and uses vegan tattoo ink–those are just two of the things she does to promote a better world, in addition to using her art to inspire and awaken =)
This next piece is called “PROGRESS?” It was done on a reclaimed brown paper bag, as part of her Brown Paper Bag HeART prismacolor series:
“This one,” Lisa writes, “is about how wildlife is forced to adapt to destruction of [their] habitat and the introduction of human contaminants into environments that were once pristine. It’s all symbolized by the hermit crab abandoning [his or her] shell to live in a rusty can of [his or her] own, long-dead shrimp brethren.”
Beautiful, touching, and heartbreaking, all at once.
“The meaning in this one is pretty self-evident. Kind of a play on the old canary-in-the-coal-mine adage.” This one is my favorite of her ecological-themed artwork, aside from the tree sculpture.
I also wanted to hear Lisa’s take on a couple important questions; part of an artist’s job amidst this culture of occupation and death is to use it to further social justice issues.
JAN: Was there a defining moment for you where you thought, “This culture is FUCKED. I have to do something with my artwork to challenge the dominant culture’s myths.” Was there a watershed moment that made you decide to do what you do?
LISA: I don’t think there was any definitive, watershed moment, no. My sensitization to our civilization’s problems was a gradual process. What concerns me in this world is all the hurt, injustice and oppression happening, and my art is just a natural extension of that concern. I have many, many moments when I think, “this culture is FUCKED,” but it’s a repetitive cycle of anger, and that cynicism doesn’t lead to creativity. It’s on the upswing, when I’m feeling optimistic, that I can channel all that internalized outrage into something constructive instead.
JAN: Some people would say art–any kind of art, including writing–is a passive act of resistance to the murder of billions of animals and destruction of the biosphere. Symbolic resistance. A passive act. What would you say to that?
LISA: All forms of activism are all equally vital, passive or not. We need to adopt an open-minded, multifaceted approach when it comes to confronting our planet’s ecological & socio-economic problems! Perhaps painting a picture or writing a book isn’t as bad-ass as throwing molotov cocktails at some corporate building. So be it. Creative endeavors (particularly ones interwoven with social commentary) should not be underestimated in their power to change minds. Isn’t this what we need, at the end of the day? For more people to be more conscious and caring? I don’t think the fear-mongers and war hawks at Fox News are going to encourage anybody to be more compassionate. I don’t think the slew of KFC advertisements on TV are going to convince anybody to contemplate the suffering of chickens in factory farms. With a massive, corporate-owned media that’s already zombified so many people, the responsibility lies on our shoulders, alone, to bring back a little sense and rationality to the conversation. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s ours. So, sure, maybe artmaking is a passive form of activism. But it can change minds, and that’s always, always the first step. [emphasis added]
Incredibly, Lisa has also used her own body as a canvas for her work! Apparently it’s a tradition among tattoo artists that the first tattoo they get is self-done. When she was 17, Lisa tattooed her animal friend Echo on her calf:
Lisa rescued Echo while she was traveling, and they became constant companions:
She was the most incredible little friend & traveling companion a girl could ever hope for…we traveled together, from Portland all the way to the East coast, and then back home to Orange County. I managed to sneak her through Greyhound and countless subway security checks just to get her back home with me.
Outside of those few incidents when I had to hide her in my bra, I never even bothered trying to keep her confined. She never really left my side, even though I was sleeping in parks and on rooftops, and she had every opportunity to. She always understood that being close to me meant safety and warmth, so she stuck close and gave lots of kisses.
That little rat saw more of the country than a lot of humans have, and I was always so grateful for her company.
If you know me you know I’ve had rescued ratties continuously (except during prison, of course) for the last 6 years, so I can totally dig and attest to what Lisa’s saying.
Serrendipitously, Lisa and I grew up literally within half a mile–at most–from each other!! I plan to get more tattoos from her in the future (if I’m ever not flat-broke!); she gives incredibly fair rates and, as you can see, does a wonderful job. If you’re interested in getting some body-art done by her, she’s currently in the process of opening up a shop in Costa Mesa and if you would like to schedule a tattoo consultation or appointment for the future, you can contact her through her facebook or e-mail, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Lisa–for my tattoo, for using your talents to raise awareness about ecological issues and raise people’s consciousnesses (and consciences) in general–which is all desperately needed–and for your patience and help in developing this profile.
If you’re going to get a tattoo, get it from Lisa!–not only will you be supporting a counter-cultural vegan who’s in the process of building her career, you will get vegan ink, and YOU WILL GET AN INCREDIBLE TATTOO!! And please let her know if you do that Jan sent you =)
I was only planning on doing a single Mono Pictorial, but a couple weeks ago I finagled myself a tremendous opportunity: David Carle (whom I quote in the first Mono Pictorial), agreed to meet with me for an interview! We emailed back and forth about it a couple years ago before I got locked up, but it never panned out because of my legal troubles. But he remembered me, and agreed to meet with me on my way down to Southern California–the next day!! So I had to haul ass and leave a day early, drive through Yosemite–and barely stop at all in that cathedral of wonders, because I was running late–to meet with him on time. He even let me crash at his place, which was wonderfully kind and compassionate (I would’ve otherwise had to try to sleep in the trunk and back seat of my tiny Corolla, which would’ve been liquid hell on my knees and back). AND he gave me free copies of his two novels! I plan to review Spotting Scope, his newest, hopefully for print publication.
Anyway, I got some gorgeous pictures and information to go along with it, as Mr. Carle was with me most of the time. Hope you enjoy! (Terrific interview and Spotting Scope review to come in due time)
The Mono Lake Committee, of which I am a former and future member, does TREMENDOUS work. I have three of their bumper stickers (which they give away for free at their Center in Lee Vining, right across from Mono) on my car. Here is a link to their information about Mono Lake/Basin birds. It is a great organization that does a huge amount for the imperiled Mono Lake.
“Of all the birds that come to Mono Lake, the Wilson’s Phalarope stands out as the hardiest traveler. These small shorebirds, not much larger than a fist, arrive at Mono Lake in mid-summer after breeding in the northern U.S. and southern Canada. At Mono Lake they molt their feathers and double their weight after several weeks. By the middle of September they have mysteriously disappeared. Leaving in stages during the cover of darkness, they depart for a journey that takes them all the way to South America. The fact that these birds fly over 3,000 non-stop miles to South America is amazing enough, but what is truly astonishing is how fast these little birds reach their destination–an unbelievable 3 days!” [emphasis added]
-From the Mono Lake Committee
See the black band in the middle-bottom of the picture? Those are a few thousand of the literally TRILLIONS of alkali flies at Mono, specially adapted to survive, in a symbiotic relationship with the brine shrimp, with Mono’s unique chemistry. According to Carle, scientists recently determined that Mono Lake is, in terms of sheer biomass produced, the most biologically productive lake in the WORLD.
Until next time, hope you enjoyed this week’s Pictorial Highlight of the Mono Basin, one of my most beloved bioregions of this incredible part of the our amazing Earth.
Plug in an electric car to the grid and you’re most likely powering that groovy, hip, “green” car with coal, one of the very dirtiest forms of energy. Or nuclear, which in many ways is even worse. Even if you’re plugging it into solar power, that’s still not going to save the planet. It still requires the manufacturing of the cars, building and maintenance of roads (which encourages urban sprawl and habitat destruction), toxic manufacturing and transportation of the solar panels and batteries, and on and on. Electric cars aren’t the answer. Hydrogen (*snicker*) is not the answer. No cars are the answer–and I mean that in both ways.
Terrific article by Russ McSpadden from the Earth First! Newswire. Tomorrow (July 3) is Rod Coronado’s birthday, so I’ll probably be posting my own thoughts (and an anecdote of a highlight of my life–meeting and shaking the hand of Rod just outside the courtroom at his 2007 San Diego trial.
by Russ McSpadden / Earth First! News
[The text of this work is free to share and distribute under the following Creative Commons License CC-BY-ND 3.0]
Most of the heroes of the Wild West, the rootin’ tootin’ movie cowboys, sheriffs, miners, ranchers, saloon owners and cavalry generals, had a real knack for replacing all the wild land they got a hold of with profiteering schemes. These are the folks that actually killed the Wild West, bought it up, fenced it in, murdered and incarcerated many of its indigenous people, destroyed its communities with alcoholism, stripped its land, averted and drained its waters, blasted its mountains, decimated its wildlife, made extinct its wolves and jaguars and generally can be thanked for the Bone-Dry SuburbanTame West of today. I’m saying, as far as wild goes, these boys paved the way for the wild-ass time you are having…
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This post is dedicated to, and about, the brave women and men who, 43 years ago today, said Enough is enough. Who persevered through what must’ve been terrible fear, who stood up to their oppressors and FOUGHT BACK. They are the reason that Gay Pride Parades are held throughout the country around this time; they helped spawn the modern gay rights’ movement. And they are a shining example of how pacifism is not always enough–it’s just a tool, like any other in the toolbox. Sometimes we have to fight back, turn the aggressors’ violence back on them and see how they like it, with all the fierce burning rage of the abused, the oppressed and repressed. And sometimes we have to fight in the place of those who can’t fight for themselves.
In the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, New York Police Officers were yet again harassing the patrons of a popular Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Raids and harassment of gay bars were a common occurrence; after all, New York actually had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public (whatever that means!) But that gives you an idea of the repressive, “closeted” atmosphere of the times. But this one night was different. People were fed up. Patrons began throwing pennies at the six officers assigned to raid the Stonewall Inn. Someone started a fire outside, and a parking meter was dismantled to use as a battering ram against the police. Tensions grew. Reinforcements were called in–police, of course, but also fellow gay men and women who were sick of the atmosphere of hatred and violence against their brothers and sisters of oppression. Chants of “GAY POWER!” erupted.
Eventually police riot squads broke up the protesters, but the next night the crowd returned, with numbers swelling to upward of 1,000. “Very soon it was obvious to everyone that the weak, limp-wristed, helpless, pathetic, sissy boys–and NOT the police–were in control.” (http://www.stageandcinema.com/2011/04/23/stonewall-uprising/) They rioted and protested outside the Stonewall Inn for hours, until they were again dispersed by battalions of anti-riot goons. In the days following, demonstrations took place all over the city.
“In the wake of the riots, intense discussions about civil rights were held among New York’s LGBT[Q] people, which led to the formation of various advocacy groups…” (http://www.civilrights.org/archives/2009/06/449-stonewall.html ) These events inspired LGBTQ activists around the country to organize and agitate for gay rights.
The Stonewall Riots were a watershed moment in the modern LGBTQ movement. On the one-year anniversary of those nights of rage, the first Gay Pride march was held.
Those of us in the environmental community could learn a lot from these brave warriors. What will it take for us to have a watershed moment like this? I still don’t think we’ve broken through that kind of barrier. Of course the situations are different, but I’m talking commonalities here. Most people still don’t know (or refuse to believe, or willfully forget) that civilization is causing a mass extinction of plants and animals, on the order of 10,000 species a year. It is the first mass extinction not caused by a calamitous natural event (e.g. volcano eruption(s), asteroid impact, etc.). Dead zones are spreading in the ocean. Billions of animals are being tortured and maimed and massacred in industrial slaughterhouses and vivisection laboratories. 90 percent of the large fish in the ocean are gone. Coral reefs, the biodiversity-rainforests of the ocean, are dying. Rainforests are being razed. How much more will it take before we begin to create our own watershed moments? It doesn’t have to be a riot. It just has to BE. Has to happen. And we can have a thousand watershed moments in a thousand different places.
It’s time to begin preparing for a Deep Green Resistance, for Decisive Ecological Warfare. Time is running out. Will you join me in calling for, and helping to create and enact, what must be done in order for life on Earth to continue and thrive? Everyone can play a role. What is yours?
Great news–the newly restarted Green Theory and Praxis Journal now has its website up.
And I am on the editorial board as their official book reviewer!! We are all very excited about bringing this to you. And since I am disabled and spent two years in prison, I feel like I’ll have a lot to contribute to the board.
“A multi-movement publication, GTPJ is a critical theory journal seeking scholarship in the areas of environmental justice, eco-ability, eco-feminism, eco-transgender studies, global justice, revolutionary environmentalism, critical race theory, critical environmental education, ecopedagogy, Earth liberation, etc. Further, the journal promotes deconstruction of oppressive binaries (culture/nature, wild/civilized, human/animal), real world application of critical theory, and a jargon-free rhetorical foundation supporting the abolition of all systems of domination. GTPJ is not a reformist publication. Rather, our mission argues for mass global transformation through the critique of systems, not individuals, that promote oppression.”
ALF? you ask. Isn’t that the alien puppet from that horrible ’80s show? Well, yes, but here is an introduction to who the Animal Liberation Front is and why they do what they do.
Check out Bite Back Magazine for an extensive list of worldwide actions.
Beyond that, I highly recommend reading Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, edited by Steven Best and Anthony Nocella, II, if you haven’t already.
AND HERE IS THE (THRILLING?) FINALE!!
It’s a small yellow pickup with an open-topped trailer attachment. I recognize it from a video on the sanctuary’s website, which showed a sheep in horrendous pain; the trailer was so packed that a cow had one of her feet on top of the sheep’s face. Her eyes bulged from the pressure. She bleated in agony. This time the trailer is filled solely with sheep, about a dozen of them crowded and huddled together. The truck exits the grounds and turns left. After waiting until the truck is about a hundred yards away, we follow.
I tell Frank about what I saw. When I talk about the little black lamb, and how heartbreaking it was, he says something that makes it even worse. “Next time just take off with her. We’ll take her to the sanctuary.”
“Are you serious?” My heart, sinking. My spirit, another little death among millions.
“But that’ll compromise my ability to return there, won’t it?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Who gives a fuck? Too good to pass up.”
I sink into the seat. “Fuck.”
“No, it’s alright. In the long run, it’s probably for the best.”
I shake my head, biting a fingernail. I’m sick of the fucking long run. At what point does the long run become now? Even more importantly, at what point does the long run move into the past?
The yellow truck is about five cars ahead of us, waiting for the light to go green so we can turn left and merge onto the freeway. “I wanna see where this guy’s going,” Frank says. “If it’s as fucked up as I think it is, and we can get footage, we could maybe shut down his whole damn operation.” The light turns green. Cars and trucks in front of the yellow truck–our mark–inch forward, some of the U-turning like tortoises with sticky feet. The mark makes it through.
“Come on, motherfuckers!” I cry. With three cars in front of us, the light turns yellow. We have to make this light. It’s a busy intersection, and if we have to wait through another cycle the truck will have a good two-minute head start. If he gets off the freeway or switches to another one within a few miles we’ll lose him. The light turns red just as the car in front of us hits the turn. We’re ten feet back. Frank guns the engine and rockets through the intersection and onto the freeway ramp with a throaty roar of the diesel engine. I laugh, vamped up, almost delirious with excitement. Oh Christ please I hope a cop didn’t see us. We’d be toast for sure, the tailing job finished before it really even started.
But no. We speed onto the 60 and find the truck, hold back several cars in the next lane over. But this becomes difficult, because the fucker is going so slow. Eventually we have no choice but to fall in right behind them (we can now see there are two men in the truck cabin) in the far right lane. The fastest they ever go is about 60 miles per hour. Which is good for the animals, I suppose–better than 70, anyway–but bad for tailing someone. The only thing working in our favor is that it’s dark. Our headlights are the only thing clearly visible. After 30 or 40 minutes we’ve changed freeways twice (a common occurrence anywhere in southern California) and we’re on the 210 North, the Pasadena Freeway. It seems we’ve passed the point of no return. After following them this long, it makes no sense to turn back around. We’ve come this damn far. It would make all the time spent so far a total waste. We’re in for the long haul.
Frank talks about his views on kids, a subject on which we immediately click. He doesn’t have any. Doesn’t want any. He’s quite a misanthrope (hence a kindred spirit) and loathes that there are so damn many humans on the planet. He is vasectomized–a heroic act in my opinion. At this point I’m only 21, and already I’ve been thinking about getting one. The only thing that stops me at this point is my doctor parents, who think it’s a wretched idea. They don’t understand that if I ever want kids–highly unlikely–I’ll just ADOPT. Imagine that! Helping some poor unwanted kid who’s already alive, rather than creating yet another hungry mouth and shitting anus. My mom says any doctor who would perform a vasectomy on a 21-year-old would be a hack, and might hack off parts I want to keep! I have heard it’s difficult for just about anyone in their 20s, let alone early 20s, to get a vasectomy. This, along with my omnipresent malaise, and monetary concerns, delay me. But I do eventually get one, just a few days after turning 25. One month, in fact, before beginning a four-year prison sentence in Illinois for marijuana trafficking.
Frank expresses a brilliant idea; why the fuck do people get their foolish and selfish breeding subsidized by the government in the form of tax breaks?? It’s further encouraging overpopulation and the straining (and draining) of public and social resources–e.g. schools, roads, and welfare programs. Instead they should reward people for not having kids, for being responsible in this hyper-crowded, hyper-polluted, hyper-destructive country. It is another dream of mine to someday open a free spay-neuter clinic–for humans. How awesome would that be? It would certainly attract a lot of publicity, that much we can agree on!
Frank begins to worry that we’re being too obvious, that the driver of the yellow truck has caught on and will lead us astray. So Frank pulls a daring and clever evasive (or rather pseudo-evasive) maneuver. As we approach an exit he makes like he’s getting off the freeway. He actually merges onto the ramp, on the other side of the widening shoulder from the slow lane. He drops his speed to 40. The yellow truck is now several hundred yards in front of us. At the last possible second, Frank wrenches the wheel to the left. Onto the shoulder. He slams on the brakes and we crunch to a stop on the gravel and dirt and detritus. Then he kills the engine and we sit in darkness for some 30 seconds. Letting them get a little ahead. There are no freeway interchanges for a long time, so that’s not a concern. The only problem is if they take an exit. But it’s a risk worth taking, because we can’t have them certain they’re being followed.
Within a few minutes we catch up to them again. Frank tries to hang back but it’s even harder now because they’ve dropped to a consistent speed of 55, sometimes even 50 mph. Seems they know we’ve returned. “If they pull over,” Frank says with deadpan resolve, perhaps in a fugue of angry determination, perhaps thinking more clearly than ever, “I’m gonna stop behind them. I might punch out the driver and take the truck with all the animals. Then you’ll follow me to the sanctuary in this.”
I stare at him. “Are you serious?”
I swallow. The idea is scary, but at the same time exhilarating. It would be so incredible to be part of saving so many animals in one fell swoop–future legal ramifications be damned! “Okay then.”
But they never do pull over. We end up following them for over 75 minutes, including five freeway changes. Off the Interstate, northeast of L.A. among the high-walled scrub brush bluffs, they turn left into a residential area, and we follow. Now they know we’re tailing them. The street is narrow, barely wide enough for two Kias.
“If he stops,” Frank says, “I want you to quick jump out with the camcorder and climb on the back of the trailer. Film how crowded and miserable the sheep are.”
I’m anxious but pumped. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. “Alright.”
But the yellow truck goes up to a house at the top. Another, bigger pickup pulls out into the street once the trailer is past. This new big black pickup blocks our path. It just sits there. “Well there ya go,” Frank says. “Must’ve called ahead to his homies once he noticed we were following.” I can’t believe the nonchalance in his voice.
“What are we gonna do?”
He wiggles his lips, as if trying to gum a piece of food without opening his mouth, thinking hard. He pulls onto a side street, turns around. We drive back down the hill. Park behind a little Mexican restaurant. Ironically we’re fewer than ten miles from the animal sanctuary; we started the drive some 70 miles away. We wait 15 minutes and then cruise back up toward the house. We park and get out. There’s a little gully on the right, filled with brush and vegetation, that infamous desert-ish chapparel that makes southern California a veritable tinder box.
Staring up at the house, we crouch there and wonder what to do. The gully slopes upward at the far end to the front of their property. We’ve come all this way. I’m bristling with nervous energy, but adrenaline courses through my bloodstream like big fat salmon shoving their way upriver. I want to do something. Concerns for my own safety have disappeared. I’m in the action zone. In terms of fear and worry, once you get past a certain threshold, you begin to feel invincible; the hard part is conquering that first stretch.
Frank finally speaks. “I hate to say it, but the best thing to do would probably be ta call it a night.”
I frown, scanning the area. “Why don’t we sneak through there.” I gesture to the gully, thick with vegetation. “Hide in the bushes at the top and see what we can see.”
“It’s really dark. A flashlight would give us away.”
“Our eyes will adjust. Plus there’s a decent amount of moonlight.” I do not want to turn tail, so to speak, and leave. 70 miles of following, all that diesel burned–we should do everything we possibly can.
“It’s just not a good idea.” I can tell he’s reluctant to leave as well–this is, after all, the guy who earlier wanted to knock out the driver and steal his truck!–but he’s trying to do what’s smart, rather than that which satisfies our angry guts. “We know he’s got his homies up there. They could have guns. Even if they don’t, there’s only two of us. But at least now we know where their farm is.”
I nod, disappointed. But he probably is right. We begin the long drive back to Chino, to where my car is parked. I can’t shake the disturbing and horrific images of the day from my head. At least now, though, I don’t have to trust others when they say how badly “food” animals are abused. How they live in squalor. Because now I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
We stop at Denny’s on the way back for coffee and chow; it’s close to 11 P.M. and we really haven’t eaten since lunch. We’re both vegan, of course. But tonight, after this day, I take extra care to make absolutely certain that our veggie burgers are 100 percent free of animal products. It’s the least I can do. The least.
But is that really enough–or even close to enough, given the amount of suffering? I don’t think so. I just don’t….
That night I dream of flaming arrows, of shooting them over fences. Of fire. Cleansing, beautiful fire of the just. The just plain fucking fed up.