Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ask A Trucker: Are CBs Still A Thing?

Here we go with our first installment of "Ask A Trucker," in which my cousin Chris (a truck driver) answers your questions. Feel free to write in with anything you'd like to ask an actual truck driver, the address being nogate at gmail.

Longtime reader Kelly asks:

Do truckers still use CB radios?  I spent a fair amount of time on the Interstate highways in the late 70s and early 80s, during the heyday of CBs.  As a young woman traveling alone, I had a CB more for safety reasons than anything else, but it also provided a great deal of entertainment.

Chris responds:

That is a much better question than you might think.   A CB (citizen band) radio is a simple and easy way to communicate.  It is nothing more than a mobile transmitter/receiver used by truckers to quickly pass information to one another.  It has three basic parts: the antenna which sends and receives a radio signal, the transmitter/receiver which houses all the control functions such as channel selection and volume, and the microphone. The way they work is, one driver will speak into his microphone and all other drivers in close proximity will be able to hear and respond.  When tuned to the same channel, we can use them to warn other drivers of road hazards and weather conditions. And yes, we tell each other where the police are monitoring, so next time you're driving and you see a truck slow down it might be a good idea to do the same (it just might save you from getting a speeding ticket).

So the answer to this question is quite honestly: not enough of us still use the CB. Most owner operators (drivers who own their own truck) and "old school" company drivers use them but with the popularity of cell phones most newer drivers don't utilize this important tool, or they simply don't bother to install it.

I hope I have sufficiently answered your question and look forward to more.

Thanks, cousin! By the way, this is Chris:

"I would like to assure everyone that I will respond to all of your questions as quickly and as thoroughly as I can, and that the opinions given are solely mine based on my beliefs and experiences."

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Introducing "Ask A Trucker"

Several weeks ago, I was walking in Deming a few blocks from where the I-10 cuts through town. Approaching Gold and Pine, I heard a sound like a cannon going off and jumped straight up in the air.

Moving to where I could look up and see the bridge where the interstate passed by downtown, I saw an 18-wheeler. It had blown a tire - that was the sound I heard - and come to rest with the guard rail deeply embedded in the truck - the guard rail that prevented the truck from falling onto Gold. A bad day for that driver but no one was hurt.

Soon I wondered, having never driven a vehicle that size, how difficult it was to keep control if a tire blew out. I drive on that interstate all the time, almost every day, sharing two lanes with a large number of trucks.

Happily, I had a resource. My baby cousin Chris, a war veteran who is now a truck driver. The conversation took place on Facebook and a couple of other people asked questions while Chris happily responded. And that's where we got the idea for this new feature: "Ask A Truck Driver."

My cousin is willing to respond to questions, and I'll post them here. If you've ever had a question or wondered something about trucks, ask my cousin. Send your questions to me at nogate at-symbol gmail dot com. (I'm typing it that way to reduce spam.)

I don't know how often or how quickly Chris can respond - remember, his working life is on the road - but this might be a fun venue for reader participation and maybe to spread some useful information among those of us who share the road with trucks.

[Image: That really is a sculpture made from two oil tankers. I know it's real because I saw it, watched a crew finish welding it, and I climbed the inside and outside of it. It was on exhibit at Burning Man in 2007. The piece was named "Big Rig Jig," designed by Mike Ross.]

Artistic Friends, Dharma Friends

Several chapters into Bobby Lewis's memoir, Slings and Arrows, I find myself pondering artistic friendships. In the current chapter, Lewis recalls the origins of the Actors Studio, which arose from the values and the community of the Group Theatre, including a coterie of theatre practitioners who had worked together for a long time: Lewis, Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, Harold Clurman, and others.

One of the unique attributes of live theatre is that the experience is social.

The same appears to be true of artistic growth in theatre. An individual's growth is nourished in social groups: the community of an acting class, an ensemble company, colleagues, etc.

Even seemingly lone visionaries, like Richard Foreman, have had community or at least co-conspirators.

One of the strengths of the acting company at Trinity Rep is that the core company has been working together for decades. Being part of such an ensemble has been the most painful loss of my post-Trinity years (Oskar Eustis "let me go" in 2000, and I returned for one last Christmas Carol in 2005).

There has been some talk lately about the prominence of British actors in contemporary films, leading some to speculate about a "crisis" in American acting. The crisis isn't particularly new and the thesis is not remarkable. Acting is a craft, and a period of intensive training, followed by a commitment to continue to challenge oneself and learn for the rest of one's practice, positions one to develop their skills and master the craft of acting. This commitment to training in the fundamentals is more typical among British actors than American actors, and while there are certainly plenty of American actors who respect the craft, the commitment of time and money required for a good training program in the United States is economically out of many people's reach. The conservatory where I trained, also at Trinity Rep, was absorbed into the theatre program at Brown University. I could never have afforded grad school at Brown. Most people can't.

So what do people do? Some invest in acting classes, casting workshops, and focus on building up their professional tools and getting jobs wherever they can. The danger is that one might end up investing more time and money getting their portfolios in order without learning the craft first. Landing a job is great, and you can land acting jobs even without mastering the craft, but landing a job and artistic accomplishment are different achievements. (I say that with a healthy respect for those who are landing jobs, and with some humility, for as often as I have been praised for my artistry, and even praised for my film and television auditions, I rarely book.)

The social experience is part of the training. Your artistic community, your friends and comrades, see you while you learn and grow, and vice versa. If they are good friends, they can give you constructive feedback without knocking you down and making you lose faith. (Some people like "tough love" and harsh words from their teachers, as a way to weed out the weak, but I've never favored the social Darwinist approach to artistic exploration.) Artistic friends inspire one another, compete a little bit, impress each other, grow old and learn new things together. They need not even be "friends" in other contexts, they are like what we call "dharma friends" in our zen centers - you may never hang out socially and chat, but you when you sit a few silent retreats with someone you get to know them through a deep-rooted human solidarity. That solidarity has nothing to do with liking somebody or "bonding" with them over things like sports or movies or politics, the things we chatter about.

I miss my Trinity friends. During my travels I've made efforts at planting the seeds for such that kind of community. I was part of the Company of Angels in Los Angeles. We weren't angels, but there were some talented people there, but most of the people there had individual goals at the time and we didn't gel as an ensemble, although I found a couple of long-lasting friendships there, including Chris Nelson, who remains a personal friend and artistic friend.

Chris and I tried another venture with Theatre Dojo, with a core of artist-teachers doing workshops in hopes of finding an ensemble. It didn't last long before people went off, again, in individual directions. Lately I've been using the Theatre Dojo imprimatur again but ironically it's currently centered on my own individual projects. My recent collaborations with musician Randy Granger and outreach to other artists is, again, an attempt to forge artistic friendships and collaborations.

Recently there is talk of a new ensemble theatre in Las Cruces, committed to performing Shakespeare, and I was invited by three other people in the community - people who have M.F.A.s and are practicing theatre, some of us also as teachers - to be part of the core group. There have been flickers elsewhere, too, of a cohort of people practicing theatre, a desire to find some way to train and grow, if not for financial reward at least for the enriching experience of artistic growth; and the social benefits to a community where there is live theatre of some quality.

It would be nice to see this develop. Stay tuned.

[Image: Me playing Tybalt, center, in Florence, Italy in 2012. On the left is Elia Cittadini, who played Paris - someone I really enjoyed getting to know, especially for his sharp criticisms of certain restaurants in Florence. Not a customer to piss off. He lives in Berlin lately. The prince, on the right, is played by Stephanie Taylor. Our personalities chafed a bit during that summer but our rough edges wore down and to this day we talk about finding a way to work together again. But she's in New York and I'm in New Mexico. Who knows.]

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Princess" Goes to Cleveland

This picture was taken at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso, Texas, last April. We were on location filming a short movie entitled Princess.

Today the Burning House learned that the film has been accepted (among 180 out of thousands of submissions) to the Cleveland International Film Festival next month. This means it qualifies for an Academy Award, which is probably as close as I'll ever get to an Oscar, which is all right.

Mainly I am happy for the hardworking director of that film, a fellow by the name of Ross Marks, who discovered this screenplay written by one of his students at New Mexico State University and believed in his student's work enough that he produced a lovely little movie from it, assembling a good spirited crew of professionals and students training to be professionals.

Congratulations to them. And click here if you would like to see the film yourself

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

"Childhood Diseases" and Vaccination

Science education matters. It is, if you will, an inoculation against the spread of misinformation and fear. Such as the fear of inoculation itself. Vaccines.

Mistrust of authority figures is a different matter - and the mistrust is justified by the conditions under which we live. It is not, however, a reason to make bad medical decisions.

There is a measles outbreak in the United States, a disease declared eliminated in 2000. We had the disease under control due to a very effective vaccine. But the disease existed, fanned by travel and contact with unvaccinated people, as measles has a larger presence in some countries. In other words, by declaring it "eliminated" we were declaring the disease under control. Nonetheless, we now have an outbreak and as political leaders and would-be national candidates weigh in it is apparent that junk science has a great deal of currency. A United States Senator even claimed this week that vaccines lead to mental disorders, which he said on tape and yet tried, lamely, to deny that he said what he said.

A growing "anti-vax" movement is the major factor in the outbreak, but there is also this idea that these childhood diseases are minor, no big deal. Because these diseases have been kept under control for so long - thanks to vaccination - a lot of people forgot, or never learned, that these diseases can lead to complications with long-term damage, permanent damage, even death.

I learned this lesson when I got chicken pox at age 27.

My parents are positive that I had chicken pox as a child and in any case I had had the regular panel of vaccinations. I remember having mumps, as well, during my elementary school years. I don't understand how I could be re-infected, but there was no denying I had chicken pox. It was during my second year in graduate school. I fell ill and broke out, I went to a doctor and got the diagnosis, and he sternly told me to stay in bed. This was in part to contain my disease and also because the complications were extremely serious, including pneumonia and encephalitis. How long should I stay in? Until the pox had dried up and gone.

I was in bed for a month.

And I mean, in bed. I lived alone in an apartment on Candace Street in Providence. My girlfriend looked in on me but didn't stay long. It was easy to stay in because as my body fought this "childhood disease" I was drop-dead exhausted all the time. It kicked my ass. And itched. Oh, the itching. Nothing helped very much.

I did not get pneumonia or encephalitis, but I developed Bell's Palsy, which left half my face paralyzed for several weeks and to this day, 17 years later, my face still goes asymmetrical at times.

We think of childhood diseases as not a big deal. Kids get 'em, they beat 'em, they don't even remember having them. But these diseases are a big deal. Vaccinations don't literally eliminate these diseases. Elimination means "the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area" according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The media seems to love the question of whether vaccinations should be legally mandatory. This is distinctly a different question than, "Should kids be vaccinated?" The latter is a no-brainer. (We will get to the common objections in a moment.) Yes, vaccinate your kids. Yes. That's an easy question with a correct answer. The answer is yes.

The question the media wants to explore because it makes for good debates on television and lights up the libertarian left and right is "should government require you to do this thing?" Another United States Senator (we are electing some prize turkeys lately) even called question to health codes requiring employees who serve food to wash their hands after using the toilet, completely ignoring what is known - commonly known, in fact - about Eschericia coli bacteria.

What no one has said yet is that making it a legal requirement would not be necessary if we could defeat the misinformation and help people understand that vaccination is, from a medical standpoint, a settled matter and the ethical equation rather simple. We shouldn't need state coercion any more than we need a state to require us to look both ways, and once back again, before crossing a street.

But there is a lot of misunderstanding and fear about vaccines, a lot of strongly prevalent rumors. For heavens sake, we have a prominent and popular television personality insisting absent any scientific evidence that vaccines are linked to autism. At the same time, there is also a lot of mistrust of government and the medical industry, the former being in service to corporations in the latter, and the latter having been willing to push medications and cut corners on safety in order to enhance its profits.

People worried or unconvinced about vaccines should of course be free to make their own decisions - GOOD decisions, sound decisions, decisions based on good information and sensible thought. We have this fallacy that everyone is entitled to hold whatever opinion they like. Some confuse this with freedom of speech. But there is nothing virtuous or helpful in defending the freedom to spread bad medical advice or other false information. True liberty comes when one is free to make good decisions and hold sensible opinions. You don't get there through coercion and you don't get there by calling people stupid.

People aren't stupid for mistrusting experts and corporations and government bodies in a system like ours. Besides human fallibility, and the nature of science (which can be wrong, which is why scientific research is never finished), it is perfectly sane to feel alienated from institutions and authority figures under capitalism. Under for-profit medicine, we are used to be lied to, denied care, and in some areas of medicine overdiagnosed and overmedicated due to profit-driven marketing. What I'm arguing here is that under capitalism, human needs do not come first, and the way we are treated by our medical industry demonstrates this.

Also true, we haven't done a good enough job of educating people about the science behind vaccination. (Or educating people generally about science, starting in elementary education.) For a great many adults, vaccination is as mysterious (and scary) as magic. People hear things about hormones and preservatives in the shots, about mercury this and autism that, and then someone who has been given a platform on television spouts rubbish, and then a pandering senator affirms that rubbish; and large numbers of Americans instinctively trust such figures, even when they are lying or crazy; and the whole fire of ignorance spreads faster with the internet and social media.

Every question about vaccinations, no matter how basic or silly from a scientist's perspective, deserves an answer. If your doctor can't give you a good and informative answer or is not trustworthy, your problem isn't with vaccines, it's with your doctor.

Every question about how vaccines work deserves answers, including questions about the appropriate panel. For example, a lot of parents who are fine with vaccinations still wonder why HPV vaccination is appropriate for their children. There are questions about vaccines, their use, and how they are marketd, that are legitimate and deserve direct answers.

And in a system where medicine and medical care don't have anything to do with profit, some of the experiences that lead to widespread distrust would disappear. It would be "eliminated," in the sense that the CDC uses the term: doctors won't be any more or less fallible, but the context in which we ask questions would be vastly improved.

If good information and reassurance become endemic, you'll see a spike in compliance with vaccination - without coercion.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Hate Speech

Periodically this blog falls silent during busy periods of time. Also, I have been writing a weekly column for the Deming Headlight, among various other jobs and projects. Since Unto These Hills  completed its 2014 season, I have not had a single day off from working on this or that. I make no promises about how often I can write in this space, but the murders in Paris at the headquarters of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent media coverage and social media chatter have moved me to write at greater length, and with coarser language, than the newspaper will allow.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie is actually a very good novel. It is also highly satirical with respect to the Islamic religion, Islamic history, and religious despots such as the leader of the Iranian revolution. It was good literature and, at the same time, mocked some sacred cows and was genuinely offensive to some people.

And that is fair play. There is no right to be protected from hurt feelings or criticism. Religion is up for grabs just like any institution, leader, or social system. One can ignore it, or engage and rebut it.

A lot of my friends are getting carried away by the murders in Paris and failing to make some important distinctions. Defending freedom of expression is not the same thing as defending the content of someone's expression. It was easy to recognize the literary merit of The Satanic Verses. But The Interview is just a dumb movie and a lot of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were kind of icky and racist. That doesn't justify murder or terrorism, of course. They weren't "asking for it" (the way many people, including some supposed liberals, accused Rushdie of "asking for it" back in '89).

So let's make some useful distinctions.

In France, religion and race are intertwined in certain particular ways. Critiquing and satirizing religion is one thing; but some jokes/cartoons/memes are veiled (no pun intended) anti-immigrant swipes. Be careful what you decide to broadcast. We can defend freedom of speech without blindly embracing somebody's content.

Let's also be honest about what Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and yes, to some extent Salman Rushdie himself are doing. They are seizing on these murders in order to push their argument against all monotheistic religions, but Islam in particular. (They also make no distinction between the monotheistic Abrahamic religions and other religions, such as Bahai or Buddhism or Taoism, but nonetheless tar everybody with the same hate-filled brush). 

Richard Dawkins is rapidly turning into the atheist version of Fred Phelps. Freedom of speech, sure, but let's still call hate speech what it is. Fuck Richard Dawkins. Fuck Bill Maher. Fuck them for using this awful event to spew hate on my friends and neighbors.

(Sidebar: They're also soft on imperalism.)

And Salman Rushdie? He went through something unimaginable and the threat still lingers. (His memoir about his years in hiding, Joseph Anton, is astounding.) In 1990 he publicly embraced Islam hoping to end the terrorism directed at him. (It was pathetic and he eventually recanted his "conversion.") The reason it didn't work is that it was *never about religion.* It was terrorism. Terrorism wears costumes: religion, nationalism, etc. But terrorism is not Islam, just as terrorism is not Christianity, or patriotism.

One more distinction. Why is it that three young madmen running around with guns somehow define one billion normal people who observe the Islamic religion, but the policemen who was killed, who was also muslim, does not? On some level, conscious or not, that is a deliberate choice. The next time some Christian nutcase bombs an abortion clinic, will you be casting collective blame on all Christians? Richard Dawkins probably will. But he's an asshole.

Freedom of expression includes the freedom to be offensive. Defending it does not require us to agree with the offensive content or say things or consume particular media products just because someone tells us to. Saying something you are ordered to say is not "free speech." Especially when there is hate speech involved.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A bit of fun for a cause

I've been enjoying seeing posts about the "ice bucket challenge" to benefit the ALS Association, the organization dealing with the disease known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."

And it was closing day of Unto These Hills.

And there was this amazing prop...just....sitting there.

So I made a volunteer PSA.

And I also donated. If you enjoy this, please share it. And also donate.

Monday, August 11, 2014

People around you are hurting

This post ain't really about Robin Williams, but we'll start with him.

Tonight I remembered a photograph I saw in a magazine from the 1980s -- People magazine maybe. A stupid television show called Mork & Mindy had made its young star, a comedian named Robin Williams, famous very quickly. A few years later after he became famous, he became a father for the first time. It was the kind of story for which People existed.

And this photograph I remember was very beautiful. It was the famous comedian looking like an ordinary young father, walking hand in hand with his toddler son, away from the camera, down a pier towards a pond.

That photograph was the first thing that flashed into my mind tonight when I heard about Robin Williams being found dead this morning. I didn't think about his movies or his drug use or the way he smiled at the camera in the music video for "Don't Worry Be Happy."  I thought about that picture of him with his son, a small boy reaching up to hold his hand.

We lose more people in our country to suicide than car accidents. I've lost an alarming number of friends and people I know to suicide. More people suffer from addiction and/or depression than we seem to realize, and even those who ask for help and get the care they need have a rough and uncertain road ahead of them; too many suffer in silence. Their friends and family often don't know what's happening, or don't know what to do. Sometimes the person in our midst who takes their life is someone we never knew was suffering that much. Sometimes, it's the person who seemed to have come through it and seemed to be doing great.

And I've noticed suicide is very hard on those left behind, who are often bewildered by the loss and surprised by their own reactions. It is easy to understand why some people feel very angry at people who kill themselves. Suicide usually isn't like a candle being snuffed out, but more like setting off a bomb in the middle of one's family and friends.

Instead of binge-watching Robin Williams movies, maybe we can think about this. Maybe the media can write about human suffering and how we can help each other instead of trying to delve into the lurid details of Mr. Williams's death.

Something as simple as checking in with somebody we know, somebody we know has gone through hard days, or we just haven't spoke with in a while, just "hi, thinking of you, how are you?" might make a bigger difference than we realize.

[Image:  I couldn't find the picture I was talking about. The boy's name is Zack, and I found a picture of him as a grown man standing next to his father.]