21 December 2011

Meandering Through Life: Destination Anywhere

"It's a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to….” J.R.R. Tolkien

If you remain vigilant as you are swept along, you’ll encounter joy in even the smallest of scenes...

Fellow travelers for instance...

You might encounter mountains in whose shadows, a thousand generations have lived and died...

As you gaze upon these ancient roots of the world, it is entirely possible that shabby newcomers will interlope for a time, their light garish against the serenity of the scene...

At other times, your view remains unmarred; as if frozen in the very time that passes unnoticed to the mountain...

Hereabouts, you’ll encounter other sentinels, ancient to your momentary gaze, but mere infants in the eyes of the mountain...

Some of these lonely watchers wear their age more noticeably, but show kindness. They looked out upon this scene when your kind was but a whispered rumor and they’ll remain when all memory of you fades to nothing...

In endless cycles the ancient is content to share space with the new...

As you leave one scene to continue on down the road, you glimpse places in space and time that no amount of effort will bring you back to...

Bygone glory now intertwined with pursuits of the moment...

From time to time along your journey, you come upon the edge of the sea. And so, with no path before you, are forced to turn aside; to find other roads...

Roads strewn with color; beckoning you forward...

Roads where you encounter fellow travelers who came to this place by no road at all...

Sometimes, you encounter places where roads collide in their thousands; each one stretching out towards distant horizons, if only in your mind’s eye. Here, it is quite possible that you will tarry overly long ere resuming your physical wanderings...

But resume you will, meandering down roads which pass through places clearly marked...

Encountering the thoughtfulness of sojourners who came before you...

Distinguishing familiar patterns out of place, such as snowflakes masquerading as a flower to survive the season's heat...

Or a liquid whirlpool...

Suspended in wood amongst nearby trees...

You’ll encounter contradictions, such as a nearly abandoned street in the middle of what was meant to be a busy urban landscape...

Or sprouting green set against the frozen woods...

Down certain roads you’ll happen upon ancient paths, better left to ancient things with long forged aversions to your companionship...

In this moment of hesitation, perhaps you’ll notice the dying sun...

In the sudden stillness, you’ll hear the whispering wind through slumbering trees...

And you’ll see your road transformed to ghostly shadow by the moonlight’s embrace...

Without conscious thought you’ll find you have come full circle, back to the very doorway from which you set out some time ago. Amongst the familiar, content to know that the roads still wait, you’ll sink into a warm slumber. As you sleep, your latest journeys will be carefully woven into the tapestry of your dreams, layered upon and joined with all of those places your road has ever led you.

May the new year bring you wondrous and joyful new journeys my friends! Thank you for joining me in my own.

27 June 2011

My Muse is Not a Naked Goddess

This is an essay I dashed off for the culmination of a writing seminar in my Grad Program. I am re-posting it here as well, since my free time has been truncated as of late. As always, enjoy!


It is the music. Wracking my brain, trying to explain, the source of this endless memory train; I live in the present, in the right here and the right now. But my mind wanders backwards through time. The master weaver at their loom, carefully anchoring each thread before weaving it into the tapestry they create. So it is with the soundtrack of my life. Each song dug into the landscape of my past, each note capable of whisking me back to that precise time and place. I cannot make music, or accurately describe the process by which it is made; but I can tell you the result.

We careen down country roads; Social Distortion and Johnny Cash mixing with the pulsing roar of an eight-cylinder engine. I am in the passenger seat shooting at road signs. So far I am ten for ten, but that is no great feat. These signs have endured this abuse for years before my time and no doubt bear fresh scars since. Later, at the side of a lake, we join a larger crowd. Patches adorn the backs of leather jackets; big V-Twin engines carried them here on two wheels; now the Rolling Stones and AC/DC join with a chorus of their contemporaries to provide my anchor. A rough crowd from the outside, less so from within. Hands scarred by the spilling of blood, yet quick to reach out to a friend in need; friendships not lightly earned nor cast aside. Later, this moment becomes a lesson in the perils of superficial judgments. Much later, in the right now, the radio track shifts.

Have you ever stood in a shield wall of five-hundred people, weighted down in a hundred pounds of armor, staring out through slits in your helm and feeling the stifling closeness of the heat and anticipation? Jethro Tull carried me here, seemingly custom made for the journey to this moment in time. The roar and the surge, the clash of steel on steel and the shouts and cries of the victor and the vanquished all mingle to form their own song. Later around roaring bonfires, food and drink erases the conflict of the day as the music of centuries past binds us to one another in the moment. We look crazy from the outside, but in perfect tune from within. Snapped back to the right now, a channel shift avoids the jarring intrusion of a commercial break.

If you position yourself at just the right point in time and space, you can watch the fog roll across San Francisco like a blanket pulled across a sleeping child. My companion and I melt into the scene, the passion that drove us here forgotten for a moment. Nazareth sneaks in through the car stereo to inform us that love hurts. But then pain isn’t always a bad thing.

The now shifts faster, taking on a momentum of its own. The hypnotic spell of Pink Floyd permeates the air as thunderclouds roll across the Rocky Mountains; Santa Fe shimmers in time with the heat and the music, both dissolving into a mellow haze of contented repose. Layered over this scene are the countless midnight laser shows that share this same anchor; holding close lovers long past, the moment etched with technological precision. Faster still in the right now, I begin to collide with one soundscape after another.

The first time I saw Iron Maiden, the last time I saw them. The forbidden sounds of Black Sabbath wafting from cheap speakers in hidden places; that time we wore out that Rush 2112 cassette on the picnic table in front of our high school; just last summer when the farewell tour for the Scorpions left us looking forward to the reunion tour, not because it’s deep music but because the energy of the experience brings us joy; that Sunday afternoon when Natalie McMasters infused an old growth Eucalyptus grove in the middle of a teeming city with Celtic sounds that could make an angel cry. I am hurtling at the speed of sound now, past endless cues anticipating the sights and sounds to come, countless hours of road trips, the joy of new discoveries, passionate encounters which bloom with heat quickly dissipated, and the enduring warmth of old friends. Music holds it all together until, swept up in the moment, I pitch headlong into a wall of silence.

The worst times in my life are devoid of any musical anchor. The few short weeks between the time my unbelievably strong father came home not feeling well and the day he never came home again; each time a friend departs early down that road we all eventually follow; the times that I’ve been cruel or unkind, inflicting my pride or pain upon the undeserving; even the times that I’ve ignored passions, allowing others to chose my path. These are the moments the music falls silent, as if unwilling to anchor the thread that will provide an easy return to these places. Places best left to the darkest shadows of the night; when doubts and weariness challenge will; the tyranny of their silence either accepted or swept aside. Once paused, the music proves difficult to restart, the play button not always within easy reach

Music is not an exclusive domain. Nature provides a composition that is as intricate as any human hand has ever scribed. I stride across mountains, the thaw and crack of glaciers combines with the wailing wind to play across my senses. In deep forests, water across stone harmonizes with the birds and the insects, urging me to pause and revel in the dance. The deafening chorus of the place called Death Valley, the crash of waves on rock. The serenity of a lush meadow as dusk turns the sky to purple velvet and crickets join frogs to keep the beat. This is the music that plays on when all else falls silent. This is the music I seek out; to beg for absolution; to infuse my soul with the strength to carry on.

Back in the right now I embrace the threads of my life, anchored by music and intertwined with the threads of every living being that I have ever touched. For even the briefest encounter joins your melody to mine; now woven together into a tapestry made rich by music, we are bound together for all time because these anchors endure. In the right now I surrender thought and allow myself to be swept along another melody. I arrive at destinations intimately known; exactly the same as I’ve always been, yet completely different.

31 May 2011

The Fullness of an Empty Spot

On May 14th, 2011, I did what very few on either side of my family have ever done. I walked across a stage and accepted a diploma for a Bachelor’s Degree. To be sure, I was twenty years older than the average college aged graduate, but I certainly was not the biggest procrastinator on the stage that day. In a couple of weeks I’ll sit down in a room full of my fellow graduates and begin my advanced degree; so it seems that what they say about a body in motion staying that way is true. For all of the things that are now present; the academic honors, the degree, the accolades of my peers, and the promising future engaged in a labor of love (as opposed to subsistence laboring), what looms is the missing.

Is it a bad thing to admit that I cannot remember the exact date my father died? I recall that it was January or possibly February, but the exact date escapes me. I can tell you what time of the day I got the news, what was said and how I felt, but not the date. I can tell you about the rage that boiled up inside of a sixteen year old boy as he watched a memorial service co-opted by distant relatives with no sense of decorum; strangers both before and after that brief moment. But I cannot tell you the date. I can tell you the exact date I graduated high school, reported to Marine Corps Boot Camp, was honorably discharged, and a host of other milestones in my life since that day. But I cannot tell you the date my father died.

My father was larger than life to me in the same way fathers hold that position to their children everywhere. But, after all these years, I still suspect that my father actually was larger than life. Our time together was truncated so I never got to grow beyond his shadow, to test myself against his accomplishments and commiserate with him over the results. Would I have lived the life I chose, or would the gravity of his presence have pulled me into its orbit and altered my life‘s trajectory beyond recognition. By my calculations, we have missed about 15,242,400 possible moments together, my father and I, since that illusive date when the knock on our door came before the dawn.

My father was a craftsman, an artist, and an adventurer. He attracted friends by the multitudes; was well known, respected, and quick to lend a hand to any who needed one. He climbed innumerable mountains and recorded the rising or setting of the sun on film and canvas; yet that time between his last sunset and the sunrise that never came for him, he spent alone with machines. At least his mortal shell did. His mind had taken wing and escaped to distant vistas, unwilling to remain confined in a body that had failed him, unwilling to bow before the dark that eventually comes for us all.

I sat awake in the dark, waiting for that knock; dreading that knock; too ashamed to admit that I wished the knock would just happen, so his suffering would end and mine would begin in earnest. The knock became a symbol for the changes that were set in motion in the weeks before; changes that began when my carefully crafted world exploded across the landscape of reality, ejecting me into the unknown.
The true effect of millions of missed moments was not clear to me then, nor is it now. In what way did that knock alter me? Is it the reason I never fathered children, never got married, always managed to stay on the fringes of a crowd; always holding friends at just the right length to allow me to slip back into solitude on the spur of the moment. I am not an apologist. My mistakes are plentiful and well documented. But I just cannot help but wonder at what might have been different if that knock had never come.

As I write this, I am older than my father was when the disease took him. That seems unlikely to a boy that was certain his father would stand over his grave; would live forever; would do all and be all. Memories fade and distort. But it says something that as I looked out at the crowd from that learned dais; as I located the faces of those whose support and love I am humbled to have; the face that loomed the largest was the one that was not there.

19 April 2011

In Our Names. The Media & The Construction of Consent in Waco Texas

On the 18th Anniversary of the tragedy in Waco, Texas, I have decided to publish a copy of a formal deconstruction of media coverage that I completed for a course some time ago. This is a long post in an academic format that might not be all that interesting to many of you. However, I still feel strongly enough about what was done in our names down in Waco to burden you with my thoughts. Thanks for stopping in and as always, any feedback is appreciated.


Fifty-One Days in Texas: Fruits of the Poisonous Tree
Paul Field
Originally Authored- 19 November 2009

In 1993, on the last day in February, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve a search warrant on a compound in Waco, Texas. Known as Mount Caramel, the compound was home to one-hundred and twenty-five members of a religious group called the Branch Davidians. The group was led by a man named David Koresh. The raid resulted in a protracted shoot-out between ATF agents and Branch Davidians. By day’s end, four agents were dead, some twenty more wounded and an uncertain number of Branch Davidians were also dead or wounded. The ensuing siege would stretch on for fifty-one days until FBI teams, who had assumed control from the ATF, stormed the compound on April 19, 1993 with armored tanks and military-grade tear gas. During this final six-hour assault, a fire erupted inside the buildings and seventy-six Branch Davidians, including Koresh and a number of women and children, perished in the blaze. The Branch Davidian siege is accurately called “One of the most significant stand-offs between American government agencies and U.S. Citizens.”

The entire incident has received a fair amount of academic and official attention in the subsequent years. Various films were produced, supporting one side of the conflict or the other. Separate Senate and Congressional hearings were held in 1995 with follow-up hearings taking place into the twenty-first century. In the face of conflicting testimony, the event has proved divisive. Witnesses and observers who sided with law enforcement’s actions almost universally defended the decisions they made, while those concerned with restrictions to federal power cited the Branch Davidian incident as a prime example of government misconduct and overreaching federal power. This paper does not seek to settle the myriad questions surrounding the Waco incident. Instead, the focus is on media actions and how they shaped nearly universal perceptions of the Branch Davidians before the raid, during the siege, and long after the ashes settled.

The Branch Davidians attracted media attention in the months leading up to February 1993. On February 27, 1993, just one day before the initial ATF raid, the Waco Tribune-Herald began running a seven part series on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians entitled “The Sinful Messiah.” Reporters Mark England and Darlene McCormick labeled the group a dangerous doomsday cult and accused them of everything from sexually abusing children to plotting mass murder. In an accompanying editorial statement, the authors defended the public release of the story by asserting that they were forced to publish the expose because authorities had failed to act on the evidence they had been supplied over the preceding years. The second part of the series appeared the day of the raid and then was accelerated with parts three through seven running in one large article on March 1, 1993. This series would have a disproportionate influence in shaping outsider’s viewpoints of the Branch Davidians.

England and McCormick made no attempt to be unbiased or to present a complete story on the Branch Davidians. Most of their primary sources were former group members who had left the group over disagreements, most notably an individual named Marc Breault. The series also relied heavily on testimony from an Australian private investigator named Geoffrey Hossack. Hossack had been hired by former group members living in Australia. Throughout the series, and in sidebar articles, both reporters presented what they called the testimony of outside experts. Those they cited as experts were actually volunteer anti-cultists from an organization known as the Cult Awareness Network (CAN).

The motives to paint the Branch Davidians as a dangerous cult, held under the spell of Vernon Howell (aka David Koresh) were varied. Mark Breault had feuded with Koresh over leadership of the group before being expelled. In Hossack’s case he was being paid to produce a negative image of the group. Some former members had various legal actions, mostly involving the custody of children living with a maternal parent still within the group, which would have benefited from demonizing Koresh and the Branch Davidians. In the case of CAN, many members made themselves instant celebrities during the ensuing crisis by appearing on news and talk show circuits as cult experts. The CAN organization is privately funded and politically well connected. They had an established history of bias towards non-mainstream religious groups. Because their anti-cult message resonated with many people, it was uncommon to question their claims. Attempts to balance the viewpoints they presented were non-existent.

England and McCormick appear to have made little effort to interview current Branch Davidians, other than some cursory statements they attributed to Koresh. This lapse was interesting since they traveled far abroad to reach certain witnesses, while Branch Davidians were readily available in Waco. The logical deduction is that the entire series was designed to imprint the narrow viewpoint that the Branch Davidians were a dangerous cult. Any evidence to the contrary was downplayed or ignored. Both reporters took state and federal officials to task over what they called a failure to act. The series downplayed numerous official statements that questioned the veracity of presented evidence. Reporters also failed to mention that a number of official investigations failed to substantiate former member’s claims, which were still cited as facts in the series.

The Waco Tribune-Herald series may have passed unnoticed outside of Waco itself if not for the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound. March 1, 1993 saw papers across the country and around the world headlining the previous day’s raid. Most, such as the New York Times, relied heavily on and quoted directly from the Waco Tribune-Herald series. Using the same inflammatory language, New York Times reporter Sam Verhovek labeled the Branch Davidians as a dangerous cult who murdered heroic ATF agents while they were attempting to serve and protect the community. The same allegations of child abuse, weapons stockpiling, and apocalyptic beliefs presented by CAN were repeated, again with no visible attempt at independent verification.

One of the realities of modern news reporting is that the March 1, 1993 New York Times article and several other similar articles by leading dailies were disseminated worldwide via news-wire services such as The Associated Press and Reuters. Local papers and even international news organizations do not typically have the financial resources necessary to station reporters around the globe in order to report first-hand on any developing stories. This resulted in virtually all initial print stories on the raid being essentially the same article. Coupled with twenty-four hour live television coverage by CNN, the Waco Tribune-Herald series was now entrenched as fact and dictated global public perception of the Branch Davidians. Yet this was a group that 96% of their surrounding neighbors in Waco, Texas admittedly knew nothing about. Public access to a balanced report on the Branch Davidians became even less likely following the FBI takeover of the developing siege. Federal agents established an exclusionary perimeter three miles in diameter around the Branch Davidian compound and placed tight controls over all media activity.

The relationship between federal agencies, such as the ATF and the FBI, and news organizations varied throughout the fifty-one day siege. In separate committee hearings, held in 1995 in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, federal officials categorically denied that the Waco Tribune-Herald series had any influence on their decision to raid the Branch Davidian compound. At the same time, they were unable to adequately address questions about the large media operation that was planned in conjunction with the raid. The ATF invited reporters to ride along on the initial raid. Photographic, video, and written records attested to this. Additionally, the ATF had an active public relations department which spent several days prior to the raid calling media contacts and tipping them off that something big was in the works.

When the raid failed to produce the positive public relations footage they were expecting, the ATF and subsequently the FBI went into damage control mode. Reporters were now restricted to daily press briefings, with information being presented from a unified federal source. This insured that the only public view of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians was the official version of events. Given the death of four ATF agents in the initial raid, the official viewpoint of the Branch Davidians was decidedly biased. A number of instances involved reporters being forcibly arrested and equipment confiscated for violating the exclusionary zone. Reporters and news organizations complained internally about the restrictions, but no noticeable word of the FBI’s information management tactics or discussion of the one-sided nature of what was being reported appeared at the time in printed news articles.

News reporters often walk a fine line between depending on sources for information and being critical of those same sources. In Waco, what had started out as a working relationship between federal officials and reporters quickly became more antagonistic. One uncharacteristically harsh assessment appeared on March, 7, 1993 in an otherwise supportive news organization. U.S. News & World Report questioned the ATF’s survival as an independent entity in light of the disastrous initial raid. However, harsh critiques such as this were not the norm. A more common format illustrated the balance reporters were trying to strike.

An article entitled, “U.S. Pleads with Cult Leader to Let His Followers Go,” appeared in the March 6, 1993 New York Times. While the headline and the opening paragraphs were derived from daily press briefings and repeated the same official position labeling the Branch Davidians as a dangerous cult, cracks in this media-law enforcement consensus began to appear as the story progressed. FBI Agent in Charge Bob Hicks was quoted as saying that David Koresh wanted assurances about the safety of surrendering group members, including eventually his own. Hicks also said Koresh had repeatedly assured him there were no plans for a mass suicide. The story goes on to quote former military and law enforcement experts and their withering criticism of the ATF tactics used in the raid. The article concluded by comparing the Waco incident with the 1985 police raid against the MOVE organization in Philadelphia that also ended in a disastrous loss of life. Almost unnoticed in the closing paragraph is the critique that authorities had ignored numerous opportunities to arrest group members peacefully.

Hicks’ statements, attributed to Koresh and other group members, refuted the official assertion that the Branch Davidians harbored a death wish. This claim was initially made by both reporters and CAN commentators in the Waco Tribune-Herald series and subsequently relied on by federal planners in choosing the raid tactics that they did. Despite contrary evidence, officials and media sources continued to label the Branch Davidians as a suicide cult. Officials and the media both consistently invoked the specter of Jonestown and the mass suicide that occurred there in 1978. An example was a Newsweek article which claimed to be revealing secrets of the cult. Despite this claim, the article simply repeated the same titillating sexual misconduct accusations against David Koresh from the Waco Tribune-Herald article; while openly scoffing at the Branch Davidian’s belief system and emphatically stating they longed for a violent death. In the face of mounting questions about the entire federal operation, media sources seemed unwilling to question or refrain from inflammatory rhetoric directed at Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

Building on the New York Times method, it quickly became common for reporters to begin stories by repeating the long litany of accusations and lurid details that had been established in the Waco Tribune-Herald series, then scatter limited critiques of federal actions towards the end of lengthy articles. In a March 15, 1993 Time Magazine article entitled “Cult of Death,” the reporter used only the last couple of paragraphs to report growing questions about the ATF choice to storm the compound rather than quietly arresting members, including Koresh, who for years had been routinely living ordinary lives around town. In print media, placement means everything. Most readers will only read the opening paragraphs of a story. If the information there appears to be the same thing that has been reported elsewhere, then a reader is even less likely to continue with the article. Burying critiques of official performance towards the end of lengthy, often redundant, articles had only slightly more effect on the public then never mentioning concerns at all.

April 19, 1993 marked the fiery end to the Branch Davidian siege. Koresh and seventy-five of the Branch Davidians that remained in the compound died violently. FBI spokesmen, the U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and even President Bill Clinton all expressed sympathies, while quickly pointing out that this was the ending the Branch Davidians had wished for. In a feature article entitled “The Last Days of David Koresh,” U.S. News & World Report reporters summed up the tragedy by repeating the same information about Koresh that had been reported from day one. They added to the claims about Koresh’s bizarre life style by writing that he engaged in wild orgies and parties throughout the fifty-one days of siege. Their source for this dubious rhetoric was Jesse Aman, an individual who federal officials had labeled deranged after he sneaked past the FBI cordon in early April and gained entrance into the compound.

The title of the article downplayed the fact that seventy-five people, over half of whom were women and children also experienced their last days at the same time as Koresh. It is also interesting that reporters would give credibility to claims that a man who had been shot in the groin, as Koresh had been during the initial raid, could continue to engage in wild sexual escapades. The entire tone of the U.S. News & World Report article seemed as if it was an attempt by the FBI to get out in front of the storm of criticism that was mounting against them. It goes into great detail about FBI agents purportedly agonizing over what to do in order to save the children inside the compound, but fails to critically question or evaluate the end result of FBI decisions; which is that the children along with everyone else trapped inside the compound on April 19, 1993 died a horrible death.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys face a common issue when they try their cases in a courtroom. Known in legal circles as, “fruits of the poisonous tree,” the issue revolves around the collection of evidence. Anything obtained illegally or in violation of constitutional protections cannot be used. Likewise, any information that develops as a result of this poisonous evidence can also not be used. Evidence collected or cited by the media is not constrained by these same restrictions. In the case of the Branch Davidians, the evidence presented by the initial Waco Tribune-Herald series was flawed by any measure. It presented biased testimony as fact. Reporters presented inflammatory rhetoric from CAN and other peripheral participants as if it was uncontested, when in fact the viewpoints and theories expressed were very controversial. Reporters also mislead the public over the extent of official investigations into the allegations against the Branch Davidians by insinuating that there had been little or no official actions. In fact, numerous state agencies investigated a wide variety of claims over a period of years and found no grounds to bring charges against either Koresh or the Branch Davidians.

Many of the series’ unproven allegations were also repeated as facts in Senate hearings. Charles Schumer (D), who was the ranking Senator on the panel investigating federal actions at Waco, cited the Waco Tribune-Herald directly in both his 1995 comments and in follow-up hearings as late as 2000. His purpose was to categorically condemn Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Despite internal and external investigations that directed withering criticism at federal agencies involved in the crisis, it was never without first repeating the allegations against the Branch Davidians laid out in the initial Waco Tribune-Herald series. Ultimately, the media would accuse, try, and convict David Koresh and the Branch Davidians who never lived to answer formal charges in a court of law. Despite the poisoned nature of media evidence, it continued to inform official and public perception of the Branch Davidians to the exclusion of all else.

08 April 2011

The Ritual of This Moment Continues

One picture. No words. The essence and emotion of my week captured in one moment.

(Scroll through the comments for links to my friend's moments).

31 March 2011

Friday "This Moment" Ritual!

For the second week in a row, here is my entry into the weekly "This Moment" ritual many of my friends participate in. One picture with no words to capture the essence of my week. Enjoy your weekend!

27 March 2011

My Opinion is the New Popcorn. Don't see a Film Without It!

I started a post about the pitfalls of technology, but I had to shelve that for a later date. Suffice to say, I just couldn’t make the words flow. I wanted humor, it was becoming a lecture.

Since I have been largely shirking my academic responsibilities this weekend, I thought I’d write a little bit on some films I saw.

Zee is out of town for a few weeks, so I am exercising my film going obsession. I saw three different films this weekend, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” and two discount flicks, “The Eagle”,” and “The Mechanic.” Yes, all three are obviously referring to specific people or items. The latter two can be combined into one title, “The Waste of Time.” The former is worth discussing a little bit.

It really is not fair to slam something without saying why, so here is the quick and dirty on the two cinematic disasters. First, I paid $3 to see them, so value is relative. Mostly I want the 3.5 hours of my life back.

In “The Eagle,” they managed to ignore the first rate efforts of several TV shows addressing Roman life to create a weird mess of a buddy movie instead. The dialogue is written by a 6th grader who doesn’t understand subtlety; the action scenes are straight out of a 1980s era matinee. Chatum Tanning is in no way ready to carry a historical epic, even when it goes real light on history. I was unaware you could go so far north on the island of Britain in the 1st Century AD that you would encounter pre Iron-Age indigenous people wielding weapons of seal bone and wood. From there on, the movie basically becomes the chase scene from “Apocalypto.” Save yourself the trouble and watch the DVD version of HBO’s series, “Rome.” It is a stupendous romp through ancient Rome. If you really go for the violence and sex angle, check out the immensely entertaining Showtime series entitled, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.” Despite, (or maybe because of), its borderline soft-core porn scenes, it is a lot of fun!

“The Mechanic,” is a remake of the 1972 hit man saga starring the late great Charles Bronson. The similarity ends at the title. Jason Statham burst onto the international scene as a Guy Ritchie favorite in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” Both those films occupy high positions on my all-time favorite lists. Unfortunately, Statham has made a series of increasingly bad choices ever since. Here is the entire plot line of, “The Mechanic.” A moody psychotic killer kills people for profit. He works for some giant douche bags. They make him kill his friend, who is just sort of an old douche bag. Then he takes the equally douche bag like son of that friend in and teaches him a lifetime of killing arts in one simple montage. They kill some other douche bags, then have a go at each other. Nowhere do you ever give a damn for anybody, and that includes the hooker with a heart of gold…The end. Any guesses on what I think the title ought to be? Skip this dreck and rent the 1972 version. If Charles Bronson is not cool enough for you, the 1972 era car phone is worth watching the entire film to see.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on to better topics. “The Lincoln Lawyer” was a mixed bag for me. I am a fan of Michael Connelly’s books featuring detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch. They are engrossingly good mysteries. I recently met Mickey Haller, aka The Lincoln Lawyer, while digging through the bargain hardback bin at Barnes & Noble. I feel like this Connelly series lacks the depth of the Bosch novels and that definately translated into the movie adaptation.

I also have to be honest; I got suckered into seeing “Failure to Launch” AND “Fool’s Gold” so Matthew McConaughey owes me a few hours of my life back! Nonetheless, I happen to love good legal thrillers, so I took a shot.

The film is short on details, which means it really fails to grip you like say, “True Believer,” or "Blood Work." Being the first in a series, the main goal of this film seemed to be setting up sequels. However, it isn’t all bad. The part is custom made for McConaughey’s smart ass, one liner acting style. Marisa Tomei comes back to the legal theme; she is solid but don’t expect Oscar magic to strike twice. William H. Macy plays a gay private detective, so that alone is worth your time. The plot revolves around a rich spoiled douche bag, apparently on loan from “The Mechanic,” who has a thing for getting away with murder. Overall an entertaining story, even if it is a bit light on depth.

A really great point is the soundtrack. It opens with “Ain’t no Love in the City” and scrolls through a variety of urban rap tunes with classic R&B hooks. Not normally my cup of tea, but catchy enough that I sprang for the iTunes download.

So that was a couple of wild nights on the town in my world. I hope you were able to handle the thrills and spills. Thanks for coming along and I’ll see you again real soon!

24 March 2011

This Moment; A Friday Ritual

This Week I am participating in a ritual amongst some friends of mine. This Moment is one picture with no words; intended to reflect the essence of my week.

13 March 2011

Back Where it All Began; But Somewhere Else Entirely

It is tragically ironic that my very first blog entry was a way for me to vent my rage and frustration at the devastation Haiti experienced in January of 2010. Now, a little over a year later, Japan has taken its turn as the target of nature’s fury. Today, I will be stepping aside from my usual humor and quirky subject matter to recognize the Japanese people in their hour of dire need.

The Haiti quake killed 300,000 people in one day. Japan is much more prepared and equipped; having been dealt nature’s loosing hand on a number of previous occasions. Despite this, their death toll and the destruction will still stagger the mind. As the tragedy unfolds, I am awestruck by the calm demeanor of the Japanese people. They assess the damage and move towards the necessary recovery steps as if it is an everyday event to be walloped with an 8.9 level earthquake, which then spawns a devastating Tsunami and nuclear catastrophe. In America, where people are partial to hysterics and over dramatization, there are lessons to be learned in the Japanese response.

But then as people are wont to say, “Proximity breeds familiarity.” And the Japanese have a long history of sharing space with disasters. In 1954, Gojira first crawled from the ocean depths to ravage the Japanese mainland. Ishiro Honda’s rampaging reptile was the embodiment of Japan’s collective horror with atomic weapons and the effects of radiation. They would know better than virtually anyone, having the distinction of being the only nation ever subjected to nuclear attack. Not once, but twice. Not out of necessity, as many historians including myself have come to realize, but as an object lesson to emergent antagonists. Gojira went on to become a franchise, more widely known to the world as Godzilla. While Japan shares much of the blame for the excessive horror of the 1930s and 1940s, one has to feel compassion for the victims of one of the human race’s most horrific creations.

Natural disasters are no stranger to the Japanese either. Inhabiting a densely populated island on the edge of a geographic feature known as “the Pacific Ring of Fire” comes with its share of risks. Over his lifetime, Godzilla played them all. In latter films, he even sided with the Japanese people to fend off other horrific aliens and monsters. The message being that when it came to rampaging destruction, Japan was spoken for. Ultimately it seems so unfair.

How can the land of playful cartoons and colorful fashions; the land of industrious people and amazing technological brilliance; a land that is steeped in history and honor going back thousands of years; be the frontline in the battle between humans and nature, between human nature and humanity? I know it is not fashionable to describe it as a battle. It is so much more endearing to imagine a harmonious relationship between humans and their environment. But the new age of enlightenment only goes so far.

To the desperate person, clinging to a tree as the world shakes itself to death around them, surviving that only to be confronted by a thirty foot wall of mud, water, and the homes of their neighborhood, it is a fight. To desperate people, exposing themselves to deadly doses of radiation in order to frantically pour sea water and Boron into a rampant nuclear reactor, it is a fight. To friends and family engaged in a frenzied attempt to dig their loved ones out of the rubble that used to be their homes and city, it is a fight.

No love interests’ blossom to provide a back story, no unexpected reprieve arrives in the penultimate scene. No Director yells “cut.” No effects creators cart away the remnants of their craft. Each long weary day dissolves into yet another long weary day. Simple survival seems daunting. Each scene of graphic horror is layered onto those already indelibly etched into the minds of numbed survivors; scenes certain to play out in expressions of art for generations to come.

Once again we sit, thousands of miles away. We try or pretend to identify with something we could never imagine. We wish and pray for the Japanese people who are left to imagine hot food, a clean glass of water, and a comfortable bed. We want to do more in a world where there is little we can do. And in the darkest reaches of the night, we wonder when our beast will crawl from the depths, to visit upon us the excess of our actions. We wonder if we have dodged nature’s wrath, or if that wrath builds; just offshore, just out of sight, just waiting to remind us that we will not always be spectators.

03 March 2011

Thursday Dedication Numero Uno

I am participating in blog dedication event, so I figured there is no better way to start out than with a blog I love to read. Sugary Cynicism is a smart-assed bucket of awesome! If you like film reviews done right, without all that babbling professionals do in an attempt to justify getting paid to watch movies, you need to head on over to Sugary’s blog. Together with her recently added “boydude” aka, Clevereuphemism, they’ll set you right on how to blow your $12 movie budget! Run, don’t walk.

And here is a little inside tip to make you feel special. If you mention how much you love Sean Connery a lot; it’ll get you unearned VIP privileges, or what I like to call The Kardashian Treatment.

28 February 2011

Award Show or Apocolypse; AKA Things That Start With "A"

Ok, so I made a couple of big boasts in my last post. One was how I would be writing shorter posts; another was how I would be posting on the 83rd Academy Award Show all week. But reality set in. In this case, reality came in the form of a super-duper plus sized helping of suck; more commonly known as the 83rd Annual Academy Awards Show. (The "other" reality is that I cannot shut the hell up sometimes...)

Honestly, I have proudly been telling everyone how I am one of about 237 straight guys that deliberately watch the Oscar’s every year and then they go and do this to me. James Franco, dude! I loved you in “Freaks and Geeks,” then again in “Pineapple Express” and other assorted offerings. But after last night, I sort of wish you wouldn’t call for awhile. I think it’s best for both of us to take some time and reevaluate our relationship.

And is it my imagination, or would the entire 3 hr. 45 min. broadcast fit into about 20 minutes if they would just ease up on the ridiculous commercials? Come on, anybody who buys into what a good neighbor J.P. Morgan Chase has been, probably shouldn’t be allowed to make any purchasing decisions anyway. But I digress. Here is what I was picturing in my imagination for about 3 hours and 45 minutes last night.

(Imagine 1930s era reporter’s voice from here on). Dateline Hollywood! In 45 years of traveling the globe for your edification, this reporter has never witnessed the likes of tonight’s events on the streets of this storied tinseltown! As the glitterati of filmdom made their way into this historic event, social gadfly Joan Rivers underwent a transformation that was nothing less than stupefying. In front of millions of horrified viewers, the grand dame of snarky sprouted wings and swelled to a height of 87 feet tall, revealing herself to be none other than the 300 million year old Beelzebub, dreaded prince(ss) of darkness and harbinger of evil. Rallying a legion of minions, she rampaged amongst hysterical attendees.

But, just as all hope seemed lost; as a shadow of evil seemingly descended for all time upon this shining ensemble, hope appeared! Yes, hope appeared ladies and gentlemen! Charging down Hollywood Boulevard on a towering white steed, clad in brightly shimmering armor and wielding a sword of undeniable justice, came none other than that champion of all humanity, Sean Connery! Oh the chaos my friends, chaos to shock even this hardened reporter. Bellowing ancient incantations, Connery awoke the guardians of light, who all this time have been masquerading as those oversized Oscar’s statues outside the theater. With shouts of righteous rage, they flung themselves upon the dark mistress and her hordes. As terrified onlookers scrambled for cover, seemingly provided by the well stocked VIP Tent, the battle raged.

Sizzling sorcery and the clash of steel on claw rang above bellows of challenge and the shrieks of the wounded and dying. Before my very eyes, it was as if the Apocolypse was unleashed! The guardians of light slew many of the evil one’s minions, including Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and 2/3rds of the Jonas Brothers. Inexplicably, these same guardians milled around, messing with their fingernails and whistling aimlessly, while the dark minions devoured the entire cast and crew for all three “Twilight” movies. I will leave speculation on their motives for doing such a thing to you gentle reader.

As his followers dealt with the minions, the heroic Sean Connery engaged the she-beast in single combat. Fell deeds were done and grievous wounds delivered, till at last with cries of frustration, the beast took flight and vanished. His lightness Sir Connery then waved his hand, returning the golden statutes to their former state and lulled everyone back to a state of calm with witty baritone banter. The show proceeded as scheduled, more is the pity!

This reporter will leave you with the following thoughts. It is not known if Beelzebub will succumb to her wounds, or if this battle merely signaled the opening round in the prophesized, “1000 Year Reign of Darkness.” If the former proves true, than Sean Connery has in fact, saved the world. If the latter is correct, I know a lot of you good people who expected to be raptured by this point, thereby skipping out on all the pestilence, famine, and war. If you find yourself still amongst us, reading this dispatch, let’s just say you have some explaining to do.

24 February 2011

Sanctity Insanity

So I’ll start off today’s post with some housekeeping.

I am going to try some new “short form” blogging, which translates to me cutting my rambling diatribes down to around 250-500 words.

This experimental format didn’t happen when my friend Ron Reed graciously tolerated a guest post by me on his incredible blog entitled, If I Had a Blog. You can go straight to my long winded lament on the romantic comedy film genre HERE. While you’re over there, look around and be entertained by the host of talent he offers up.

In related news, I am going to unleash a bunch of film related posts next week in honor of The Academy Awards. I’ll reflect on a few film favorites and various trends I’ve noticed throughout the entertainment industry. Hold your breath, it will be so worth passing out for.

Turning to fantastic happenings over this last week, I might be the last guy to find out about THIS, but Ben Thompson and his Bad Ass of the Week awesomeness certainly made my week. Ben proves not all historians are shirts stuffed full of boring! (I mean we have always known we are a bunch of party animals and now you know it too, or at least you will after you visit his blog). Ok, now on to the post and you better not think for a minute I am counting all of this stuff as part of my word count!


Today I thought I’d toss a little recognition out to my many friends in the Gay and Lesbian Community. I know, there are some other categories that get added into that community now days, but I really don’t know that snappy acronym. So rest assured, I respect you no matter what your sexual or gender identity is. I’m not exaggerating when I say you are some of my most amazing friends (don’t panic straight folks; I love you to, having lived as one of you lo these many years). Anyway, this post is all about respect, or perhaps more accurately, the lack of self-respect.

Honestly, if I have to listen to one more gaseous blob pontificate about the sanctity of marriage and how it needs to be “defended” from same-sex couples, I just might resort to laying down a little Charles Bronson flavored payback. Shall we visit the state of sanctity in marriage? (Look at a map; it is right next to Ohio).

Today’s definition of sanctity is brought to you by reality TV. Here you will find washed up rock stars and other assorted M-List celebrities bumping bellies with skanky groupies and gold diggers; all of whom are vying with fourteen other pod people for the title of “Lowest Self-Esteem.” This title comes with the grand prize of an engagement proposal from the aforementioned nobody. (Who noticed Brett Michaels did three seasons of this thespian showcase while openly pursuing a long-time relationship with the mother of his children? I know 42 out-of-work strippers who missed that detail).

Today, I’ll cut your cable bill in half by running down the entire plotline to every one of these putrid offerings. If you choose to mail me a portion of your savings, that would be really cool of you but it isn’t expected. Just know that I suffered so you don’t have to!

Opening day of the season, everybody is smiling and kissing ass in some cheesy resort location. They keep telling you how exclusive it all is, but you can clearly see the low end buffet and the VIP clichés, so it’s hard to catch the mood. Weird back stories about how everybody has spent their whole life crying out for attention.

Day 2, somebody remembers they actually have self esteem and storms off the set. If we are really lucky, the spouse of one of the contestants shows up and drags their cheating ass home to “work on our marriage.”

Days 3-11, the “star” proceeds to clumsily manipulate the pool of contestants, aided by never ending streams of alcohol and deft camera edits; these folks never seem to remember they are competing with fourteen other people until directly after they give up the goods in a hot tub on National TV. Hurt feelings and insults fly and everybody tells the camera what they think; which if you pay attention is some amazing acting, brainless people pretending to think I mean. Some sort of poorly negotiated contract also forces everybody to constantly praise the star and say how awesome they are, even though this person disguises all that coolness really well by constantly acting like an asshole.

Day 12 is just a replay of everything you just stomached with a silly musical montage dubbed over it. Oh yeah, that third contestant who just spent the whole hour telling everyone how sure they were that they were in, gets booted off the show in what we will call, “Beepapalooza.” Writers take the day off and they just run the profanity beeper constantly as this person storms off the set.

Day 13 should be the end of your ordeal, but it’s not. This is reunion day. They bring everybody back for one more shot at reliving their most humiliating and desperate moments. Most of the screen time goes to the “one that got away.” Viewers by this point should be hoping they’d all just get away.

Day 14 and here it is, decision time! Not really though. It’s another recap of every moment in the season where tonight’s two remaining contestants skanked or shanked their way past the competition. Of course, this is liberally interspersed with commercials. This advertising bonanza presumably paid for this herd to sit around for six weeks at a resort whose last good year was during Reagan’s presidency. It shows, with check cashing services and pay-as-you-go cell phones dominating the mix.

At exactly the 116th minute of the 120 minute show (Yes, lucky for us it's a two-hour finale), the egotistical fool will pick the victi…err I mean winner. Then the shunned one reenacts “Beepapalooza” for the entertainment of the viewing masses while the plastic couple is whisked away in some horrendously cringe-worthy vehicle. Whisked from the set, straight into the arms of waiting tabloid reporters who will pay them nominal sums of petty cash to feed their delusions of celebrity; while crushing any trace of their remaining self worth during the off season.

Yeah, I know, I totally failed on that word count thing, but things had to be said. Take it out of my cable bill kickbacks.

16 February 2011

The Complex Nature of a Simple Chance

I turn a little more serious for today’s post. Recently, I have become involved in a series of discussions on racism in America. Since my historical focus is on the intersection of race in Portland and the surrounding Pacific Northwest, this is a topic that I spend a lot of time with. So maybe a little historical tale would help explain my mood.

In 1940, there were only about 1800 black residents in the state of Oregon. Historical discrimination, hostility, and laws had achieved their desired effect, which was to keep Oregon predominately for white residents. In fact, Oregon was the only state admitted to the union with a specific clause in the state constitution prohibiting blacks from even living in the state. During the 1920s, Oregon boasted the highest per capita membership in the Jazz Age Klu Klux Klan, which despite a furious PR campaign to the contrary, was not simply another civic organization. But the white citizens of Oregon had not counted on Hitler and friends. Ironically, it took one of the most notorious racists in history to crack open the white monopoly in Portland. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By December of 1942, Henry Kaiser had imported 16,000 black workers to work in his three Portland area shipyards. The good citizens of Portland did not respond well to this forced integration. For the duration of the war, there wasn’t much to be done since the whole world was literally watching. But as soon as hostilities ceased and the shipyards shut down, old habits found familiar and fertile ground.

What followed was a series of Jim Crow laws, redlining, discrimination, and intimidation of the black families that chose to remain in Portland. The cumulative effect was that they were crowded into a “black neighborhood” along Alberta Avenue in the northeast sector of the city. Crowded in and forgotten by employers, politicians, education systems, and nearly everybody else. In fact, black residents were seemingly forgotten by everybody except the police, who poured an inordinate amount of resources onto less than 2% of the total population. They have the incarceration statistics to prove it to.

Until one day, they were remembered. It seems that with the exploding real estate market of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the old black neighborhoods were now becoming attractive to urban renewal and gentrification proponents. Driven by greed, developers swooped in and bought up large tracts of old neighborhoods. Displaced residents were scattered far and wide across the city, any sense of community shattered. Stop complaining they were told, if you don’t want to move, don’t sell. Except the prohibitive real estate practices and discriminatory mortgage lending of the subsequent 50 years had not fostered home ownership. These constraints combined with unemployment rates that were twice the state average to insure that the people living in those homes, didn’t own those homes. Absentee landlords gleefully cashed in.

Boutique bars, shops, and cafes replaced ethnic eateries and traditional gathering spots. Lofts and remodeled Craftsmen Bungalows sold for heavy prices; far beyond the means of their former occupants and neighbors. The social hipsters and trust fund urbanites moved in. Standing around with $6 pints of microbrew, they noshed on gourmet offerings and gushed at the awesome nature of the neighborhood. The families that had lived there for generations were relocated to places not so awesome. Out of sight and again out of mind.

There are no trendy nightspots, culinary delights, or stylish lofts in the new black neighborhoods. They spans a series of areas that are best described as human warehouses. Dense packed mass produced apartment buildings, interspersed with exploitive businesses, fast food pits, and soul sucking uniformity have replaced their tree lined streets and vintage homes. The only resemblance to their old neighborhood is that education options are still sub-par, unemployment rates are still more than double the state average, and nobody remembers them except the police.

Well not quite nobody. I remember my first home when I moved to Portland in 2001. Everybody said I was crazy to rent the 1909 Craftsman on the corner of Alberta and Albina Avenues. That area sucks they said. Only it didn’t. I made friends, shared some laughs, and spent more than a few nights on somebody’s front porch; sipping a drink and relaxing in the company of friends and neighbors. I remember running everyday past old boarded up buildings and thinking how cool it would be if somebody did something with them. It seemed such a shame to let that charming old architecture go to waste. Only the people that lived there couldn’t get the loans, the leases, and the block grants that outsiders had access to. So when my thoughts came to fruition, they killed the very neighborhood that I had grown to love. I left soon after for other parts of the city. I could no longer afford the housing costs in my old home. My landlord made a 200% return on his investment, so who could blame him when he took the money and ran.

And that is the crux of this whole post. It is not about blame or rehashing the sins of the past. It is about solutions today. These exceedingly complex issues are most often boiled down to some yapping head, trying to score a few political points by playing the affirmative action card. People just cannot understand why it should be their problem. They devise intricate legal arguments to rationalize their positions, but to me it all rings hollow. It rings hollow because I used to make those same empty arguments. It was settled a long time ago I said, stop playing the same old tune; except I was wrong.

Expecting a people who have been deliberately abused and marginalized for centuries by a system to suddenly merge into the mainstream of that system defies logic. The solutions are as complex as the problem and there is no magic bullet to slay the beast. All I ask is that the next time you hear a news story about a crime, or see some representation of poverty, pause before passing judgment. Pause and ask yourself if you really believe that what you are seeing is a person who just cannot get their act together. Or are you really seeing a person that has yet to be allowed the chance?

07 February 2011

The Paranoid Time Traveler and How It All Worked Out in the End

This post is my contribution to the "Smiley Sociology Study" happening on my friend Rachel Hoyt's blog as we speak! You can visit it at this address:



So there is that song that says, “I had a million dollars but I spent it all…” I do not really care for the song, but I figured that describes my experience with time travel. You see, I did have a million dollars, but I spent it for a chance to travel back in time to any date of my choosing. It was a one shot deal. Since I am a historian, I had a lot of eras I wanted to visit so I poured a lot of consideration into my choice.

Initially I was drawn to ancient times, way back on the edge of human history when the lines of the known and the speculated become pretty blurry. I reasoned that it would be a huge boost to my career to spend some time as a tourist, then hurry back here to deliver stunning works of academia on little known subjects. But then I thought it through. The chances some guy would split me in half with a sword seemed pretty likely, my sword skills not being what they used to be and their fascination with the subject and all. Then diseases, natural hazards, and the immense amount of work just to keep from starving entered into the equation and I remembered that the average life expectancy was only about 28 years old. So it might have even been a big joke on me. You know, showing up and having them say, “Surprise” you are 45 years old, so in this era you’ve been dead for 17 years. That just didn’t seem like it would be worth a million bucks. All that for a few books seventeen people might thumb through.

As I scrolled forward through time, a lot of the same worries kept resurfacing. I saw myself popping into the middle ages just in time to catch the plague. Or maybe I was burning at the stake for spilling the beans on the whole geocentric vs. heliocentric debate just a little too soon for the church’s tastes. After a while, I thought that maybe I was being selfish and instead of thinking about what was in it for me; I should instead try to do some good for all of mankind.

So of course this led me to think about going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Yes, to the very cusp of creation, arriving just in time to slap that apple out of Eve’s hand and bash the serpent in the head with a large lump of rock. That thought started to appeal to me, because, with my work done, I would have of course been hanging out in a perfect paradise. But then doubts started in.

What if all went as planned, but then some sort of weird sexual tension ensued between Adam, Eve, and me? I know it sounds unlikely, since you have two perfect beings and then me, somewhere on the scale below perfect. But what if Adam was just not a very reasonable guy or Eve liked to walk on the wild side; like she had already demonstrated with that whole apple and snake episode? Now I am faced with either getting my butt kicked by a twelve-foot tall superman, or having all of humanity blaming me for whatever happened next. Then of course there are issues of religious theology. What if I asked them to set the time machine for the point of creation and arrived in deep space just in time for a front row seat to the big bang? After thinking it through, I lost my zeal for the idea.

Maybe I could not help all of humankind, but what of some? What if I showed up in the Americas in 1490? I could travel up and down the coastal regions saying, “Look, some guys are going to show up here in a couple of years. Trust me when I tell you that as soon as you see them, set them on fire!” “Do not hesitate for a second, just do it, you will thank me later…” Of course nobody would have understood a word I was saying so it probably would not have turned out very well for any of us.

So now I had a full blown phobia about time travel. No matter how great I thought an idea was at first, cracks immediately appeared. I began to be terrified that I would be hurling through the space/time continuum when I suddenly remembered, “Wait, I do not even know what Da Vinci looks like, what if I give these airplane plans to some random idiot?” I imagined showing up in 1950s America, ready to soak up the golden age without the fear of nuclear annihilation that was on everybody else’s mind. Then I would have found out that there was no Mayberry, or that main street America never was, father never knew best, and that it was impossible for me not to notice all those “other” people who do not seem to be enjoying the times as much as a few folks were. That and let’s face it, “The Fonze” would have just been annoying after a while.

So in the end, I just ended up going back to 1974 with a bag of cash and investing it all in some dude building a strange contraption in his garage. While I was there, I soaked up some of the 1970s flavor that I was unable to do the first time around when I was only 9 years old. You know, caught a few incredible concerts, rolled down endless roads with a few crazy dudes on bikes, and generally just stayed mellow. When my visit was over, I was sucked back to the present, none the worse for wear. As for how it all worked out? How do you think I had a million bucks to blow on some time junket that never even left my own lifetime? That guy’s contraption ended up being the start of the whole technology boom that led to my ability to write this post.

05 February 2011

What Say You Good People to the Presence of Tyranny Most Foul?

The other night, my consort and I attended the cinema. There is nothing particularly special about this event, since I fancy myself a bit of a film buff. What made this night’s frivolity special was a little anecdote I’ll refer to as my “bold stand against the tyranny of evil men.”

I had just recently left my most delectable fiancé ensconced in the embrace of our enviable seats to make my way out towards the lobby. As I strolled past an alcove in the hallway, my mind preoccupied with lofty musings far too esoteric to deserve voice here; four large lads sporting the uniform of the establishment in which we stood sprang out. These ruffians set upon me before I had even a small chance to react. They pummeled me with truncheons, stomped me with hobnailed boots, and hurled vile insults upon my person. Following two seconds of spirited resistance, I was reduced to a fetal position with arms thrown up to protect my head from further punishment. These brigands then took the opportunity to rifle through my pockets and wallet. Since I have fled back to ivory towers these last four and half years, they only managed to abscond with $6.32. As they faded back into the darkness of the alcove, their whispered threats against summoning the authorities lingered in the air behind them. I made my way back to my seat and my love, shaken but relatively unharmed beyond my pride and a few bruises. The film was a paltry exercise in muddled intentions. It seems Vince Vaughn has yet to decide if he is supposed to be playing a comedic actor, or a mediocre dramatic thespian of no great note.

But wait you cry out, what of the felonious assault upon your person? Who cares about a half baked romantic comedy when there is foul play afoot? Get to the point man! To which I must urge patience gentle reader, all will be revealed in good time. And, as it happens, that time is right about…now.

You see, the story I am recounting for your consideration is obviously fabricated. It is my way of compensating for the mugging that actually took place when I forked over $6.32 for three and a half ounces of M&M’s at the concession concern located in the establishment’s lobby. To be fair, the candy was swaddled in seven ounces of packaging, but I still came away from the transaction feeling a bit wounded. My pride was wounded because I lacked the additional $6.00 to “make it a combo” by adding two cents worth of corn syrup and water to the mix. After all, I had just dropped $22.00 for the admission price, so who amongst you can point the finger of blame for my destitute state? But mostly I was wounded because this episode forced me to blurt out, “I remember when…” And let us agree on this one point rapt listener; uttering that phrase just makes you feel so damn old.

Old enough to recall when a first run movie, a thirty-two ounce pop, and eight ounces of candy lightened your pocket by about $6.00 total. Old enough to remember how the older folks in your film going expedition even complained about that; fondly recalling instead when the whole outing weighed in under a buck, unless you stopped off for burgers and shakes, then you were out $1.25 for the evening. Old enough to recall the awesome arcades attached to grand old film houses. That wily trap was going to set you back another few bucks for showing up three hours early and wearing your fingers out fending off assorted alien invaders. But overall, you, your friends, and your entire community regularly bathed in the entertainment that a local movie house could provide and very few second mortgages were necessary to maintain such an indulgent lifestyle.

But wait you cry out again, for you are in a particularly argumentative mood this evening, what of the film quality? Surely even a relic, as you have revealed yourself to be, cannot fail to acknowledge that the cost of creating today’s masterpieces has risen considerably over the cost of that last “Ator the Conqueror” installment in the early 1980s? At first I am wounded anew by your latest outburst; having clearly failed to win over even your most modest sympathies with my tale of woe. But, then I am forced to admit that the 250,000 Orcs descending on Minis Tirith were in fact, quite a bit more impressive than those past depictions of the same six horsemen galloping across the same desert backdrop, whilst being described by the narrator as “the invading dark hordes.” But I digress.

Being of the educated variety and possessing a keen sense of inquiry, I have come into knowledge that makes me aware of the cost to produce a movie in today’s world. For the question I must put to you fair reader is; what vulgar society would have our film stars trying to fund their addictions and excessively quirky lifestyles on a working person’s salary? Nor can we simply ignore the endless baggage train of camp followers and assorted needy souls, all nipping at the scraps of profit to be devoured from each undertaking.

And so we arrive at the point of my tale and I must admit that it seems not a moment too soon, if the wandering of your attention is a measurement to be trusted. It might surprise even you most learned reader, to find that the humble movie house owner is as much a victim as those of us who venture to partake of his wares. It is these brave purveyors of cinematic magic that must shoulder the brunt of public ire, quell the rioting hordes at the bag checks, and constantly patrol darkened and hostile auditoriums for the presence of three pound bags of contraband; smuggled in from the nearby grocery outlet by people who had but $2.00 to spare for the evening’s repast.

For in all the mountains of currency heaped high around even the most humble productions, there is but one source of profitable income available to the beleaguered cinema owner. This is in fact, that larcenous toll for tickling our tastes with questionable delicacies. Now if you will excuse me good and gentle women and men, I must see to the sewing of interior pockets onto my most favorable cinema attire.

28 January 2011

Ode to an Old Friend

Across the street from where I grew up, a field faded into forest. In fact, for most of my childhood, forest surrounded our home on three sides. But we always called this one, “across the street.” The meadow contained a hill, which became a magnet for sleds and saucers during the annual snow day that the upper Napa Valley would receive, but otherwise the entire area was the domain of my friends and me. The forest proper was set further back beyond the crest of the hill, preceded by a ring of thick Manzanita brush. Access into the darkness of stately pines and oaks was either by established trail, or on hands and knees. If you pushed through the forest, you would eventually come out into another sloping field. Down across that, you would pass over a winding road to reenter an even larger stretch of forested land. Once upon a time this second forest had been a vineyard. Overgrown and abandoned, nature had long ago reclaimed the land. Later in my life, machines came and reasserted the dominion of men and this second forest became vineyards once again, but that is not today’s tale.

Today’s tale focuses just to the left of where you would be standing if you stood atop the second sloping meadow and stared out over the forested expanse of the abandoned vineyard. Because there, lying out of sight and off the beaten path, was a hidden vale. With friends I would roam the entire expanse of the surrounding lands, but the vale I reserved for myself. Maybe others came there as well, I don’t know. I do know that in all my visits, I never encountered another human being. It was a secret place where two hills overlapped, a widened draw in geographical lexicon. But to me it was another time and place.

The vale sloped downwards with the hills that formed its borders and right at its apex, sat a giant oak tree. Gnarled and rambling, the tree probably predated permanent human settlement in the area by quite some time. Maybe it was lonely, or maybe it initially suffered my presence in silence. Either way the tree became my friend. The oak stood guard over the vale and all within the vale acknowledged its mastery. Down near the bottom of the slope a dark hole opened into nothingness. A place of evil to my young imagination; whatever lurked there was kept in check by the sentinel oak and his nearby companions.

Over the years the vale and its lordly oak were many things to me. It became a refuge in times of pain or sorrow, a fertile ground on which my imagination could run free, or a sanctuary to retreat into with book and food in hand. This latter scenario was happily the most common and I spent countless hours, curled amongst the roots of the oak, visiting worlds whose only access was through the turn of a page. Depending on the topic of the day, I came to the vale as a wide variety of characters. Knight, forester, woodsman, archer, hero of old, or scared child; the tree welcomed them all equally and without judgement.

The vale changed very little with time, but it was far from static. In the early mornings, dew would drip from fog shrouded trees, the silence broken only by the impact of water on ground. In the heat of midday, the oak offered shelter from the glare of sunlight, a cool shadow that invited one to lie silently, listening to the hum of insects and the calls of songbirds that came to feed on them. As dusk descended, shadows fell across the vale, lengthening and distorting the familiar shapes that it held. On summer evenings I would lie against its trunk, listening to a chorus of frogs and watching the brilliant colors of the sunset succumb to the velvety purple of the night sky. If I had no other place to be, I would peer out between its limbs, book set aside in the dark, waiting for the first stars to pierce the sky. The stored heat of the oak warmed me, almost as if warm blood ran through its veins and no cares assailed me there.

As I reached adulthood, I went out into the world to turn imagination into reality. The images of books became the scenery around me; the deeds I once acted out became duties I must fulfill. In my darkest hours, in times most challenging, I retreated within the confines of my mind to the embrace of my old friend the oak. The vale endured as my sanctuary no matter where I stood in the world. When deeds were done and oaths completed, I returned to my childhood home, the boy who had once set out now faded forever behind me.

At long last I stand once again at the top of the second sloping meadow; I stare out across the once abandoned vineyard, the forest reduced again to orderly rows of vines, their fruit ripening in the sun. I stare with different eyes upon a vastly different scene. Turning from that, I move towards my sanctuary, the vale and my old friend the lordly oak. There at the apex of the veil, I encounter a house, its foundation hewed from the soil that once nurtured my friend. A winding stretch of pavement cuts down through the veil to a gate at the edge of the road. I turn and trudge homeward, not through stately forest but across fenced and posted property. No remnant of the familiar to guide me.

I often wonder how my old friend the oak died. Did he go out fighting, dulling the blades of machines, fouling the steel cables and eliciting the curses of his killer? Or did the oak pass on alone, with none but his longtime subjects to witness the cycle of nature completed?

In extreme flights of fancy, I imagine that the oak sprang into being; patiently gathering his power across centuries until the exact intersection in time where our paths crossed. Then, with his power shared and that time passed, the oak slipped back into the embrace of the cosmos to await a new whisper of need, a new child foretold. In that time I imagine the old oak will reappear, young, strong, and regal as ever; patiently biding his time until this new friend appears, roaming alone through hidden vales in search of something they cannot quite name.

24 January 2011

Is There a Point to These Memories?

Sometimes I feel like time flashes by in the blink of an eye. One minute, I am telling someone I’ll call them tomorrow, the very next minute it is two months later. But when I stop to think about my life so far, it often feels as if I have lived a whole bunch of lives, each separate and distinct from the next. One likely culprit in creating this effect is the rapidly accelerating technology in my lifetime. Let’s face it, even that shiny new cell phone that was the envy of the party last month, now feels like a couple of fruit cans connected by a string. But the real driving force behind the fragmentation of my life is that I never learned how to be normal. In fact, I now openly challenge the existence of “normal.” Here is a stroll through a very few decidedly non-inclusive recollections.

I used to always go to work with my father. He was a third generation custom finish carpenter whose craftsmanship abilities died with him. Anyway, we decided to walk home one summer evening and, as everybody was doing at the time, begin chatting about the moon landing. I was most likely about six, so that would have been the Apollo 15 mission. We talked about how long it took to get out there and my dad patiently dealt with all my silly questions. Forty years later, the moment is still vibrant in my memory.

Sitting around the dinner table, my father’s anger was palpable. The focus of his rage was not some transgression we were responsible for, so I remember feeling a little out of place. As if I was seeing something a nine year old had no right to witness. It was 1975 and images of the last helicopter out of Vietnam, desperate refugees falling from its skids, were plastered across the 17” screen of our black and white television.

I grew up in a sleepy little town in the upper Napa Valley. The entire town was basically a Seventh-Day Adventist College and some associated businesses. The one store carried no meat, no booze, and at the time, not so much as a solitary caffeinated soda. We sat along a major approach route to Lake Berryessa, which is a huge manmade lake. It was also the favored party location of just about everybody. In the early and mid 1970s, I remember the long lines of outlaw bikers, most notably Hell’s Angels, which would wind through town on their way to the campgrounds along the lake. We had no beer or steak so unless they needed gas, they never stopped. As a child, I took my cues from the fearful citizenry around me. Any petty crime in the entire area became the work of these ruffians. Later, some of my friends were members, family members, or associates and I found out about the difference between myths and reality. About the same timeframe, the Zodiac killer rolled through town leaving a few bodies behind. Groups of fearful citizenry prowled the streets with CB Radios at the ready as distorted news flashes crackled out of AM radios all over town.

Oil embargos, hostage situations, presidential assassination attempts, and proxy wars from Afghanistan to Nicaragua barely got me through high school. Heavy metal, Pink Floyd, video arcades, and midnight showings of “A Boy and His Dog” scrolled by as the settings of my life. Little changed, a 1969 Chevy Nova was still cool, even though that 1982 Trans Am was a faster ride to the other side of virginity.

In 1982, my father died; he was young and it was sudden. Issues of coping and grief aside, my future immediately took on a less structured feel. After high school, came the Marine Corps, motorcycles, Mohawks, communal living, and countless crazy days. Double features of “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior” still played like clockwork and still cost $2.75. I had a small, tight-knit group of friends. If you saw one of us, you saw most of us.

The 1990s started a personal evolution. One minute, I was uncertain as to my identity; the experimenting of the 1980s settling down on something decidedly different then mainstream, while skill sets worked to cement me into a conformist’s role. In 1992, I cringed when a mother stepped onto her porch in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and was shot in the head by an FBI sniper while holding her baby in her arms. Memories of a 1985 incident in Philadelphia where police dropped a military grade weapon on the headquarters of the African American group “MOVE” came flooding back. Then, absolute rage as I watched 76 men, women, and children burn to death in Waco, Texas. Their crime? Mostly it was being misunderstood in an era where different was equated to dangerous. It seems as if it is always that era in America. I took a transfer to Santa Fe and pinned on a badge.

I told myself I would be a different kind of lawman and I was. Having worn cuffs for petty traffic scuffles in my younger days, I was in no hurry to slap them on anybody else. High speed chases, high speed women, and dabbling in the world of competitive Chess filled my days. After a few years in the high desert, during which I watched a misguided attempt to retaliate against government abuses blow 168 innocent people into the next life, I headed back to the bay area where I lost my way.

Convinced that money was a key ingredient that had been missing from my life thus far; I pursued sales positions with some of the world’s biggest companies. Ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, I soaked up the dot.com party like a starving man. The energy, the excitement, the buzz in the air was contagious and addictive. The old rules didn’t apply, right up until the day that they did. I fled the insane cost of living and the two hour waits for movie tickets and headed north to the sanctuary of Portland.

My personal evolution warred with my pragmatism. Settle down, or continue to chase whatever caught my eye? To quiet them both down, I took up ultra distance endurance sports. It’s hard to worry about anything except your next step when you are mountain biking, running, kayaking, and mountaineering 150 miles over a twenty-four hour period. I immersed myself in the lifestyle. Scuba diving in exotic locales was my downtime.

Then came the exact moment when I could no longer pretend that everything was as I intended it to be. An argument broke out between my boss and me. He asserted that knowledge was just useless crap that got in the way of making money. In short, I was not delivering the sales production he wanted because I was “thinking” too much. The discussion got me thinking and it made me take a hard look at myself. The old gang had long ago dispersed; the once unbreakable bonds, broken by divergent time and space. I was out in no-man’s land alone, the decision was mine to make. It took me a month to pull the trigger and embrace thinking over selling; the pursuit of knowledge over the pursuit of dollars. Now, five years and a degree and a half later, I would only change one thing that I had control over during the last forty-five years. I really feel like I should have taken more pictures.

15 January 2011

Try This On For Size!

     Welcome to 2011 my friends. And what a year it has already been! I have been wracking my brain trying to come up with some more light hearted material; since I realize that all this heavy pontificating can get old. Trust me; it does for me as well. The steady stream of wars, assassination attempts, civil rights violations, rampant government and corporate abuse and so on tends to lock my attention on negatives and cause me to leave a lot of positives unsaid. In light of that, for the first post of 2011 I thought I might throw out some advice and observations. Free of charge; do with them as you will.

     First, take an inventory of what matters in life. I know that every two bit advice column says the same thing. The problem is that they say this and then they list a whole bunch of crap that shouldn’t even be on your list, let alone at the top of your list. Here is my list; health, family, friends, sleep. That is it; in that order. It is short and to the point for a reason. To be effective, any list has to be remembered.

     Face it, your health is the foundation which decides all else. Dump anything that interferes with it or prepare yourself for martyrdom. Family? They matter most and they count when all else fails you. Make sure you do the same for them. Friends define the texture of your life. I have no problem being alone for long periods of time, but a life absent high quality friendship tends to pass unnoticed. Memories and anticipation form the bookends of a well lived life. Do not deny yourself or others the gift of unconditional friendship. Sleep acts as the gauge for all else. It is simple; if you sleep well at night then you had a good day. A good life is nothing more than a string of good days.

     Go out of your way to encounter beauty in unexpected places. A stark tree limb, framed against a grey sky, can unleash a wave of emotion if you give it a chance. Try it. Park somewhere and just watch the world around you. When something draws your attention, focus on it and let your imagination run wild. I have no doubts that this is how Tolkien found Middle Earth or Erickson birthed his world of the Malaz. You don’t have to write a series of books about what you see; but doing this whenever possible will help you sleep better at night.

     Cancel your TV service. I know what a “granola” thing to say, but hear me out. TV has become a cacophony of the absurd. Any quality show you wish to watch is available through various services like Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, or Hulu. Many inexpensive devices will now stream these prepaid subscriptions directly to your TV, so being forced to huddle around the 15” laptop screen has become passé. You’ll get what you want, when you want it, for a lot less money. The real benefit however, is  that you won’t get all of the pundits, talking heads, fool’s parades, and desperate losers constantly yapping in your space. That crap will drag you down every time. Plus, we did this in my home and we save about $1200 a year; even after subscription prices are figured in.

     Drop the grudges. Unless you are engaged in hunting down the killers of your loved ones, holding a grudge is sort of like paying death forward. Your whole life has now coalesced around a negative that was most likely spawned by a simple misunderstanding. People die every day. In most cases, they didn’t get up that morning expecting not to see the sunset. Ask yourself if the value of one minute, day, week, month, or year is worth your grudge. If you cannot answer yes, make amends and do whatever you can do to make up for any time already lost.

     Think about the times you are the happiest, the memories that are the most fondly recalled, and the people and things associated with these events. Now spend your energy replicating those situations. There is no reason, other than some misguided idea that life has to be serious, that your every waking moment cannot be a celebration of the best things about your life. Try it out, I promise you’ll be happier, healthier and better rested. If for some bizarre reason you cannot appreciate this, your family and friends will.