Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rosary and Hair Tie

Found on an ancient rock in the middle of nowhere, near the Mimbres Valley, a rock where you could stand and see all the way to Mexico:

1 rosary, black.

1 elastic hair tie, black.

[Click on the picture for larger view]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the Road with Ellison, Volume One

Harlan Ellison is a writer.

He got his start writing science-fiction stories, and his stories have always had an element of fabulism (what is sometimes called "magical realism," but what the hell does that mean?). He made a name for himself writing teleplays for the Outer Limits and Star Trek, but rankled at being labeled a genre writer. His stories, hundreds of them written over the decades, are fiery and raw, obsessed with the darkest places of the human heart. He is also known for his non-fiction, including some excellent criticism of television programming as collected in a volume entitled The Glass Teat, and a free-wheeling column he used to write for the L.A. Weekly that was collected in a fat paperback edition entitled An Edge In My Voice.

Harlan Ellison is also a famous personality. In life as in his writing, he is described variously as pugilistic, letigious, venomous, vengeful, or just an asshole. He is sometimes described as unhinged, but this really isn't fair. However widely he swings, the hinges are always there: his views on politics and culture are clear, well-defined, and he defends them with sincerity and passion. He is an unsparing debater, not above making the argument personal. He is not a saint, and isn't interested in that. He tries to speak the truth, dreams unapologetically of a better society, is completely unafraid to be an iconoclast. He has lived a long life and done many interesting things, which are documented elsewhere. In fact, a brand-new documentary dedicated to him has just opened. I want to move on.

Harlan's flair for words and his electric personality made him a popular lecturer. He would go to schools like M.I.T. and laugh with the students, saying, "I could never get into this school, and here you are listening to me." In 1983, a very limited-release LP record came out with some recordings of him before college audiences, and it is now on CD.

Harlan is good in front of an audience. Mike in hand, moving among the crowd, able to decapitate the occasional heckler without even slowing down. Think Lenny Bruce without the dope: sharper, angrier, pledged to shake young scholars out of their complacency before it is too late.

The two gems of this collection (there are two more volumes after this) are a long anecdote about the famous gopher incident, and a recording of him reading one of his L.A. Weekly columns. The former is an account of a legal fight he had with a publisher, and how he resorted to a campaign of pranks and harassment, up to and including, yes boys and girls, mailing a dead gopher to a publishing executive. The latter is one of his own favorite pieces, a eulogy for Norman Mayer, an elderly political activist who was shot to death by police.

These two pieces say it all about Harlan. One shows Harlan's dark (yet hilarious) side, the outlaw, the guy who would never actually kill you but is perfectly willing to scare you. (As he says, "I am a snake on a rock. Don't fuck with me, I won't bite you. Fuck with me, you're gonna walk around with me hanging from your neck for the rest of your natural life." The other shows his deep humanism, his affection for the lonely dreamer who goes to extremes in pursuit of the good.

Yeah, that's Harlan.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hail Summer

School is out, and I am sure we are all in on the fact that teachers feel just as jubilant about this time of year as the kiddos. Hail summer with all her exploding flowers and stinging bright colors! I got to sit on the porch with my wife all morning playing drums with my one-year old son, looking at me as if shocked that the old guy was hanging around for a change, banging his pint-sized floor tom and dazzling me with that gappy-toothed smile of his over and over again.

There's wine in the rack, tea brewing on the back step, food in the cupboard, my friend Chris is coming to visit us for a few days, I cracked open a nice long novel (Umberto Eco's Baudolino), and my wife is enjoying the time, as well. (Today she actually got some time to herself while I grabbed the boy and recited Shakespeare as we navigated Deming's crappy sidewalks -- and I mean crappy, as in, "What the hell is this?? Sarajevo during the civil flippin' war? Jesus H. Contractor, send us a sign, we're jumping potholes here!!!")

And I have a little more -- not a lot more, but a little more -- time for writing.
It's good, it's good, it's good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

You Have Five Minutes...

You Have Five Minutes... is a program of original plays written for radio, produced by Lance Roger Axt of Play It By Ear Productions in association with The Filling Station theatre and KUNM 89.9 FM of Albuquerque.

The program consists of five short plays (two of them written by your humble correspondent, thank you, thank you) to be performed and recorded before an audience at The Filling Station on June 20th at 2:30 PM. (Admission is $5, come on over.) The KUNM broadcast comes later, and will be followed by a CD release.

To add to the fun, I will be in Albuquerque on the 20th and lend my voice in one or two small roles. Really, come to the show if you're in the area. Otherwise, watch this space for details on how to listen in...

Southern New Mexico Wine Festival 2009

Paul gave this morning's dharma talk at Silver City Zen Center, and his topic was mindful eating and drinking. If we sometimes, or even regularly, eat without tasting our food and reflecting on where it comes from and how it got to us, our minds elsewhere even when we are taking something into our bodies to sustain our life, how much more might we be missing?

Later this very day, my family was on the fairgrounds in Las Cruces, having a walk through the Southern New Mexico Wine Festival. Our child took in the scene with bewilderment: the bad Beatles cover band, the stinky fried food, people enjoying a summer's day walking around with glasses full of wine or empty, waiting to be rinsed for the next tasting. We met a local artist who makes gorgeous masks festooned with exotic feathers from turkeys, peacock, pheasant, macaw, and so many others. We met a Hell's Angel who sells potpourri (and gave us some housekeeping tips).

We also drank wine -- mindfully, enjoying it. I tried a mouthful of several different versions of 'merlot' and 'shiraz' from wineries in the same state (Dos Viejos, Black Mesa, Heart of the Desert, La Vina, among others) some of whom cultivate grapes here in Deming and nearby Lordsburg. The grapes may grow in the same dirt, and yet such different recipes, such varied outcomes.

We saved the D.H. Lescombes tent for last, because we already know their wines well and suspected they would shine over the competition. Indeed they did. If enjoying wine is likened to savoring incense, the Lescombes limited release wines are like the top-tier aloeswood incense you never, ever buy.

There were entertainments on hand for children, and many ran around. It was a small carnival devoted to wine and crafts, and a cigar concession, as well. As fond a sight as it was to see young people outdoors with glasses of wine boisterously enjoying themselves amid loud cheers and rock music, I found myself wishing for a quieter venue more conducive to smelling the wine, holding it in the mouth, and swallowing it in appreciative measures.

Gabriel reached his melting point around 5:30 and home we went, knowing the child had redirected us from the temptation of buying bottles of wine.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Fascinating Blog To Tell You About

If you don't have time to read blogs -- and who does, really? -- make time for really interesting ones about the lives and thoughts of very interesting people.

These days, I'm boring. Feel free to skip me and have a read of this blog instead. My friend Jane steered me toward it. It is the journal of a pastor in a small town who was, until this past week, a closeted gay pastor. She came out to her congregation this week. Now it's getting even more interesting.

She needs to write a book about the process. In the meantime, we have her blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Our Shame

The first day of hearings on torture showed three big things:

(1) Dramatic testimony by one of Zubaydah's interrogators, who revealed that when they first began to interrogate him using responsible techniques, he gave important information within an hour. Later, the CIA team showed up with authorization from Washington to torture. When they began applying these tactics, Zubaydah clammed up. When they went back to legal and professional methods, they got more information. They went back to torture, he clammed up again.

If torture causes people to clam up, the "ticking bomb scenario" argues against torture. Even if the Hollywood-inspired fantasy were to materialize in the real world, applying techniques that cause prisoners to shut down (or waiting for sleep deprivation to take effect) waste time.
Torture apologists cannot honestly use this gambit anymore. It is done. The argument simply needs to be laughed at, rejected with a reminder that it has been debunked.

Claims by our government, or former officials of our government, that torture was effective are wrong.

Al Qaeda, it is revealed by professionals, have a strong component in their ideology of thwarting their enemy by any means necessary. If they can't stand any more torture, they can lie. They can waste time. They can babble incoherently. They can waste time. They win. In fact, as an instructor from our own Navy's SERE school (that's the place where they teach Americans how to withstand 'enhanced interrogation') has said in press interviews, we may have accomplished the unspeakable: helping to TRAIN militants to withstand questioning.

Sweet Jesus. Think about that.

(2) There was dissent within the Bush Administation and it was systematically smothered. Torture was criticized for being morally wrong, against our laws, ineffective in averting terrorist attacks, and that the legitimacy of our government was being compromised in order to forge bad legal cover for torture -- it was criticized in person and in memos, by Bush Administration aides, attorneys, etc. These concerns were simply dismissed. Not debated, but squelched. A former advisor to Condeleezza Rice, Philip Zelikow, testified to this effect today in rather gripping detail.
(3) That legal professionals involved in fabricating the legal fig leafs for us to commit war crimes can likely be cited for malfeasance.

And I say "us" because it was us. It was our government, our elected leaders and their agents here and abroad, doing this in our name. I say "us" because there is surprisingly little public outrage about what is being revealed, and plenty of Americans willing to side with the apologists for torture and repeat their Orwellian feints.

It is a long American nightmare, our shame as countrymen. The positive side is this: it is not too late for us to account for what happened, and deal with those who did it. It is our responsibility. Once and for all, it must transcend politics and rouse us to do what human decency and a love for democracy scream out that we must do: illuminate war crimes and let the guilty accept consequences that are humane and just.

As far as this citizen is concerned, the outcome is going to define us. Period.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Chapel

Rancho de la Paz
This beautiful chapel stands on the property of a retired schoolteacher who is turning her home into a spiritual retreat. She lives alone there near the mountains. She eats and prays. She goes into town once a week for yoga and errands, and attends her church on Sundays. It is enough; it is plenty!

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Old Dream

Accidentally clicked on the archive for this blog, taking me back to an entry from January 2007. With all the talk about Richard Cheney in the news, reading this entry struck me. It seems I woke up one morning having dreamt about our former Vice-President.

Enjoy Not a 9/11 Dream.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Writer At Work


Just finished the second of two radio plays for my friend Lance Axt. He is producing an hour-long program of short radio plays for Albuquerque's KUNM, to be performed in a live broadcast on June 20. (The show will be on the website as well, and on a CD release, I'm told.)

The first is a comedy called Simulated Drowning (a comedy in which two guys debate 'enhanced interrogation' after a few beers) , and the second is a drama with a science-fiction premise (my dad would be proud), The Heart Has No Location. So far, Lance liked the first, and hasn't seen the second.

I'm going to bed now. Night all, and have a good week.


A few miles south of Deming, 5:00 PM

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Recipe for Chaos?

"It's in the interest of everybody that we have a strong two-party system. If we get a kind of fragmented America where we have a multi-party system, that's a recipe for chaos."

--Jonathan Alter, senior editor at Newsweek magazine and political analyst for MSNBC News, on 4 May 2009

First of all, we have a multi-party system already. It is simply dominated by two corporate-funded parties who both serve the wealthiest Americans.

Secondly, listening to the ideas of parties other than Democrats and Republicans, to say nothing of considering their candidates for important political offices, is not a recipe for chaos. It is a recipe for coalitions and sensible compromises.

Are we ever going to learn this? Can we not learn this even now, when one of our two parties has descended into madness and we are left with one over-subscribed and inadequate political party as the dominant force in the republic?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Glazed Yeast

This morning, I stopped in at Pepper's supermarket for a couple of items, and happened to pass some boxes of doughnuts. Of course I stopped to greet the doughnuts, it being Sunday and all.

On the boxes, however, these were not called doughnuts. They were called, instead, "glazed yeast rings."

Doesn't that sound appetizing?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Cinco de Mayo

With my fifth graders, most of them Hispanic, I am embarking on a short theatre project about Puebla -- the battle which commenced on the 5th of May, 1862. Cinco de Mayo.

On the first of May, I broached the subject with the class and asked them -- Hispanic, most of them, close as we are to the Mexican border -- if anyone could tell me the significance of that date.

Blank stares. Well, it was first period on a Friday morning. I decided to cue them a little.

"True or false," I asked: "Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day."

"TRUE" came the chorus. Oh dear.

"False!" said I. "It is the date of a famous battle. Can anyone tell me who Mexico was fighting against?"

A boy raised his hand confidently. Maybe there was some hope here. I called on him and he smiled as he responded: "England!"

Oh dear.

"False!" said I. "They were fighting the French. Their army was feared all over the world. In fifty years, no one had beaten them. Can anyone tell me the name of the famous French general who invaded Mexico?"

Another confident hand. Oh please please please. I called on him. He beamed. He knew the answer.


Stay positive. No sarcastic jokes about "Jules Hitler."

"Napoleon!" said I, and proceeded to tell them the story of Cinco de Mayo. A weird moment for me.