Sunday, June 28, 2009

I don't want a Pickle.

Saturday in southern New Mexico in June, and it's muy calido. Time to bustamove. Make like a bakery truck and haul buns, or a hockey player and get the puck out of here. It's already afternoon, but the days are long, so I drop the hound off at a friends' place, and fire up the motorcycle. Just putting the plan in motion begins to cool things off a bit, and once the bike and I are rolling yo estoy fresco. It looks like it's raining in the mountains, but I just don't care. It's got to be a bit cooler up there, and I've got my rain suit in the saddle bags. Within 20 minutes I've gained over 4000 feet in elevation and am into the clouds. Now it's raining and I'm a little too cool. Stop at a minute mart and don the rain gear. Five minutes later I'm on my way through a light drizzle. My temperature's good and I'm dry in my goretex cocoon. Since it's raining I decide to ride a direction I don't normally go, which will take me back down the eastern side of the mountains, and theoretically away from the rain showers. Twenty five minutes later. my decision seems sound, as the rain clouds dissipate, and the sun begins to peek through. What a beautiful corner of the world this is. Rain or shine, there's no denying that. Starting to get hot now. Stop. Doff the rain gear and keep riding. Not too far. If I keep going this direction, I'll be entering the Permian Lands. Kinda like Mordor, with it's oil and gas infrastructure everywhere, only it's sunny.

I turn North, and man, it's hotter on this side of the mountains than the one I just left. Brutal heat. But there's nothing here, and the roads are straight and long, and all I can do is just keep riding. And my ass is getting pretty sore. It's been two hours and my circulation is impaired. How far to that next town? I'm riding fast, but the miles are passing slowly in these flatlands. Finally I enter the town, and gas up the bike. Days like this you appreciate the canopy over the pumps for the shade. I need a break, and keep my eyes peeled for a cervezeria, but I'm not seeing any Budweiser™ signs anywhere. I'm starting to worry that I've wandered into one of those anachronisms here in the southeast part of the state, the dry county. I'm almost out of this ratty little town when I pass a tattoo parlor with a bunch of motorcycles parked out front, and about 15 vatos hanging out on the porch. I recognize kindred souls when I see them, and double back around the block, pulling up beside them, and ask, "Is there a place to get a drink in this town?". One of them asks, "What kind of drink?", and for a moment I'm confused, then rejoin, "A beer.". They all chime in and direct me to a local bar just a few blocks away. I thank them and we all wave goodbye. I can't help but wonder what most of middle America would decide if they needed directions, and this motley crew was the only option available. My guess is that most would keep driving and hope for the best. Damn shame.

I pull into the bar's parking lot and dismount, and as I'm taking my helmet off Goober and Gomer walk out from behind the bar and Goober says, "Hey, it's Evel Knievel!", and guffaws. And I know in my heart that there are way too many cousins marrying cousins in this great land of ours. Inside the bar, the clientele is salt of the earth, not overly friendly, but not hostile either. This is however, not what the 21st century version of a fern bar is, so I select Budweiser™ as my drink of choice. It's very cold, so I have no complaints. Behind the bar are hand written signs reading, "Beer. It's better than a breakfast drink", and "In God we trust, all others pay cash". We get in a discussion of Michael Jackson's degree of freakitude, and what a great musician he was with a minor digression into how to control ants inside the home, and on the ranch. These are OK people in my opinion.

Time to hit it. It's good to be on the bike again. The road is 4 lanes through rolling hills, there's no traffic, and I'm mellow. For some reason, Michael Franti's 'Yell Fire' is stuck on 'repeat-play' in the mass of synapses I'll call for lack of a better term, 'my brain'.





Now, I'm thinking about healthcare reform. Wondering if we'll ever wake up from the corporate induced narcolepsy that has overtaken all of us. Will we ever stand up for what is rightfully ours, as did M. L. King and Mahatma Ghandi? And suddenly I'm thinking of my mother, may she rest in peace. Tears are flowing down my face as I storm down this rural byway at a speed I'd rather not admit to here. I'm coming to terms with her death as I ride a motorcycle, on a highway, eight years after she died. She suffered at the end, and I convinced myself at the time that it was a good thing she finally passed. 'Real life' sucked me back in pretty quickly following her death, as I had a national cable station coming to film me in my studio the following week. It was pretty apparent to those close to me, there was more to be said than my words at her memorial. Now. Here. On this desolate western road, I'm really missing her. Sad and beautiful, and a little scary. But like life intruding after her funeral, I'm entering the foothills, and eventually the mountains again, and the twists and turns of the road are guiding me back to the present. It's a blessing really. How much of this pathos can anyone take really? My eyes are dry as I lean into one corner after another, and I'm more focused than I've ever been on my bike, as I guide it home, again, at unmentionable speeds, with the ease with which I would pick up a book from the table.

Eventually I take a second break, for dinner, this time with no significant personal contacts. There's a television on low volume near my seat and the media is tilling the soil of a pop star's legacy, rehashing what is known of Michael Jackson's life. I'm wondering what the exact role of MJ's perception of race played in his decision to have his face sculpted into a visage so foreign to his original face and the face of his family's. Meanwhile, he's still there, on the screen in front of me. Moonwalking his way backward to the future. To reality. And I'm thinking, maybe life is just messy. You pick and choose as best you can, but there's no telling where those choices will lead you, and there's no one who can really say whether you did it right or not. You just do the best you can.



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Laocoön



I think I'll hang out with the Greeks for a while. Take a break from the modern world. Get back to the primordial struggle of man against reptile at about the time we were seeing some possibility of mastering the natural world.

How did we end up where we are?

If all that counts is the ineffable quality of each moment, what compulsion turns us away from the moment?

What terrible force set the modern world in motion?

Wasn't I supposed to live my life all at once, take one deep breath and die?


Thetis knew Laocoön. She saw him die a couple of days after Achilles fell in front of Troy. Athena sent the snakes to shut Laocoön up, they say. His mistake was trying to warn the Trojans about that horse. The Trojans thought the snakes killed him for lying and took the horse inside.

Thetis was slandered by Hera, jilted by Zeus, raped by Peleus with a little help from Chiron, and insulted by Paris at her own wedding. She tore Troy apart trying to get to Paris, and she lost her son in the war.

I'd been looking for her for twenty years when I ran into her in London. I knew who she was right off.

She didn't remember me at all.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why I Seldom Talk Politics Anymore

This is why I seldom talk politics anymore.

Last night, according to Real Clear Politics and ABC's Jake Tapper and Karen Travers, President Obama exposed himself as a hypocrite who will force "normal" Americans to make sacrifices that wealthier, more powerful people -- like the president himself -- wouldn't face.

According to Tapper, President Obama let the cat out of the bag when he tried to answer "probing" questions from a couple of neurologists.

After stumbling through an irrelevant talking point about his grandmother, the President concluded his answer by saying he would want the best care for his family, meaning, I take it, that if his plan didn't cover a recommended treatment option, he'd pay for it himself. Well, that's a shock.

Here's the question.
DR. DAVINSKI: If your wife or your daughter became seriously ill, and things were not going well, and the plan physicians told you they were doing everything that could be done, and you sought out opinions from some medical leaders in major centers and they said there's another option you should pursue, but it was not covered in the plan, would you potentially sacrifice the health of your family for the greater good of insuring millions or would you do everything you possibly could as a father and husband to get the best health care and outcome for your family?
Now why would a man as educated and bright as the President of the United States answer a question that implies there are no limits to private insurance, that private insurance covers everything and only "public" insurance plans limit treatment options?

Maybe it's the venue. I have to believe that in a private conversation with Dr. Davinski the President eventually would have gotten around to pointing out that no private insurance plan covers everything, that the insurer always decides what they'll cover and what they won't, and that rich people like the President and Dr. Davinski always have the option of paying for something their insurance won't cover themselves. He might even have gotten around to pointing out that good healthcare is rationed in the United States on the basis of income. Rich people get it, poor people don't. Why not level the field a little with a public option?

And maybe the president's heart is just not into defending the public option.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Loot


Iranian "Demon Helmet."

Been thinking about college lately. Remembering this and that. After the first couple of months, I pretty much went my own way. Read what I wanted, researched what I wanted, talked to people I was interested in. Looking back, apparently there were lots of soon-to-be famous people around me. Most of whom I missed. My nose for fame, running on one nostril even then. Andrew Sullivan and Niall Ferguson, just to name two who're getting lots of media attention now, that I never even noticed then. 


But it got me wondering. Where was I? All those hours and days... where the hell was I? And then I remembered one place. 

Perhaps the greatest place in the world.

Pitt-Rivers.


People talk about fabulous museums, but Pitt-Rivers kicked all their asses. Why? Well for starters, it was complete chaos. Ok, they had lots of glass cases with stuff formally being displayed in 'em. But I'm not sure I ever saw a staff person. And truth was, the stuff just overwhelmed the cases. There were 500,000 items, gathered for "archaeological and ethnographic" purposes. And those 500,000 items were strewn across multiple buildings - out-buildings and sheds, unused upper floors, rain coming in some places so stuff under tarps, others coated in dust.

So often what you'd find were items strewn about. Across tables and benches, sticking out of boxes and bins, stuck into corners, hidden upstairs behind curtains, falling apart, jammed in on top of one another, broken. Even in the main building, you'd find them toppling over in unlocked glass display cabinets, doors swinging open. Or... ummm... easily opened.

I guess what I want to say is that
Pitt-Rivers put a premium on accessibility. Meaning, unsupervised young people could pick stuff up, have sword-fights with it, try it on, carry it back to their rooms to show buds. Interact. 

It was like the stuff wanted to be touched.

Ok. The stuff proper. It's possible that people swung shrunken heads around. Like soap on a rope. Samurai armour could have been tried on and Samurai swords which happened to not be bolted down could've been swung about. Tested. Try on an ancient mask from Benin? Why not. Stylin' in that Native Chief's leather shirt from the plains.

Algerian Trepanation Tools.

Just look at
this stuff.

How did they get all the stuff? That was the best part. Near as I could figure, Pitt-Rivers was a dumping ground for stuff hauled back from across the British Empire. Prizes. Riches. Amazing artifacts.

Loot.

"Punitive Mission to Benin?" We got the masks. "Nuer prophet captured?" We got his holy wisk.  Stuff from Captain Cook, Leakey, Petrie, Tylor, Balfour - names you'd know. Stuff from 1,000 unknown archaeologists and ethnographers... 400 Army and Navy men... 300 missionaries... 500 colonial civil servants... and medics and natural historians and antiquarians.

Another thing I loved was how it was organized. Not by chronology. Not by geography. But by... function. You could find a table, and spread across it would be "Items used for fire-starting." Coming from peoples all over the world, stretching across centuries, millennia. Which - once you see them that way - sets off really interesting sparks in the brain. Or messes you up. Depending.

They're fixing it up now, which is a good thing, 'cause it's got cool stuff. And giving lots of things back. Ok, I've kinda danced around that bit, but "human remains." There were a lot of those. From Australia and New Zealand and North America. Tom would bloody well not be amused.

New Guinea "Bound" Head.

And they're also doing a good job now of admitting they don't know who gave them a lot of the stuff, or how it got there:

"More than one third of the Museum’s collections are archaeological. Many have been excavated on archaeological digs, with the object locations properly recorded. However, some have a more hazy history. For some objects acquired in the early days of the Museum, we know little about their provenance. It is even possible that some could have been looted from an archaeological site to be sold on the antiquities market."

What they've got on-line now is one of those really cool 360 degree "explore" tools. You just go here, and pick a floor, a section, and dive in. Zoom in, turn on, spin yourself round 'til you get as disoriented as some half-out-of-their-mind young person back in the early '80's, and then... let the world tumble in. So many things. So many peoples. So many times. So many worlds. 

Looking back, I'm happy, thinking about how I spent all that time. At Pitt-Rivers. Maybe I shoulda been networking. But instead, I got a chance to look at the world, at the very best loot the world has ever produced, and to put it together for myself.

Priceless. 

Nuer Prophet's Wisk.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Almost Over Anyway


I almost forgot about these guys. At least we'll take the fungi with us.

Speaking Of Cheap Tents

If this is an accurate summary of what the Democratic Senate is up to, please pass the XBD173.

Expand Medicaid and create consumer-owned cooperative plans? On second thought, pass the Versed. I want to forget this administration and Congress ever happened.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Horror

This happens to me all the time. I run into something that suggests an analogy, but I can't come up with it. So I file it away for another day.

There is a species of red ants whose grubs are devoured by a large blue butterfly. The butterfly lays its eggs on thyme flowers and the caterpillars fall to the ground after hatching. They secrete chemicals and even make noises that make the red ants believe they are wayward grubs. The ants mistakenly carry the caterpillars to their underground homes and keep looking after them even though the adopted monsters gobble ant grubs for 10 months before forming a chrysalis and flying away as adult butterflies.

Ant grubs? Those are baby ants!

The horror.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

We're an opinionated and cantankerous bunch, so I thought it would be fun to work my way backwards through The Annals Of The Hive and make a list of people and things we've talked about and classify them. Being who we are, there's no way we'll reach consensus on the list, but maybe we'll get it close enough to what we think that somebody passing by The Hive will get an idea of the kind of people they've run into.

The categories are: the good, the bad, the ugly and unclassified. What good and bad mean is obvious, I think. When in doubt, I went by what I thought. Ugly means it could go either way. The people and things are neither all good nor all bad. Just ugly in some way. Unclassified is up for grabs. You can influence the outcome. It's a work in progress. So, without exception, here's the list for June.

The Good
NYC, NASA, Public Health Insurance, National Healthcare, Palouse Indians, Palouse Country, Palouse River, Sam Fisher, Bigfoot, Joni Mitchell, Poppies, Catnip, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Roderick Sprague, The Renaissance, Persona, Cries and Whispers, And God Created Woman, The Seventh Seal, John Cassavetes, Alfred North Whitehead, Mathematics, Tom Wolfe, Light Waves, Particles, Quantum Mechanics, Oceans, The Gulf Of Mexico, Sonia Sotomayor, Head, The Marmes Rock Shelter, Kennewick Man, Herpetocumodi, Mammals, Zen, The Book Of The Dead, Rep Rage, Fish Ponds, Fast Eddies, Lists, Recyling, The Word Health Organization, New Cameras

The Bad
Karl Rove, Grave Robbers, Politics, Main Stream Media, Wingnuts, Swine Flu, Mushrooms, Bill O'Reilly, David Letterman, Komodo Dragons, Bernie Madoff, Scammers, Spammers, ATT, tagged.com, Stalling Politicians, KoolTel, Bad Film Makers, Molds and Fungi, Camera-Eating Ponds, Moving Doors, Voles, Shrews, Poppy-Eating Mice, Previous Owners, Enhanced Telecommunications Services, Reptiles, Nixon, Motherfuckers, Forms, Herpetophiles, Creepy Crawly Flying Night Insects

The Ugly
The Health Insurance Industry, FCC, Republican Party, Democratic Party, Obama, AMA, The Congress, Magellans, The Palins, Wikis, Muslims, Israel, Palestine, Alex Rodriguez, New Yorkers, Documentary Films, Film Criticism, Art Critics, Red Mountain, Green Mountain, The Fifties, The Sixties, Physicists, The Bomb, The Great Lakes, Harry Reid, Herpetophobia, The Smithsonian, Life On Earth, Komogators, Families, Archeologists, Anthropologists, Army Corps Of Engineers, Miley Cyrus, Chimps, Canada, Canadians, Sock Puppets, World Health Organization, The Glads, The Magregors, The Hive, Comments, Selective Retention

Unclassified



Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Flu Formerly Known As Formerly Known As Swine

Apparently, it's now known as Swine again. And we've got a pandemic. The World Health Organization just told its member nations it is declaring a swine flu pandemic — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Real Enemy



Forget about Komodo Dragons, The Flu Formerly Known As Swine, Bernie Madoff, Scammers and Spammers, ATT, Tagged.com, Stalling Politicians, Bad Film Makers, Camera-Eating Ponds, Moving Doors, Voles, Shrews and Poppy-Eating Mice.

This is our real enemy. Vexer of gardeners and destroyer of lawns. The fungi known as toadstools. And all my sources of gardening expertise can tell me is: Try to rake them out of your lawn. There is no cure. Nothing to do. Make your peace with them, Billy Glad.

They grow where the previous owner cut down a big tree, ground down the stump, but left the roots in the ground to rot. He planted new grass over the fungi-infested ground and sold the house to me, a charter member of the A-list. I guess word gets around.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Poppies







My poppies bloomed this morning. I brought these flowers with me from my garden in Wisconsin when we moved to Michigan two years ago. They spent the first winter and spring in the yard of a rental house, and I transplanted them to the back fence of our property when we bought a house last year. We've been together a long time. Now and then, I'm tempted to buy more, but I never do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bergman

Turner Classic Movies has Bergman on all night, beginning at 9:00 PM Eastern with The Seventh Seal, followed by Wild Strawberries and Persona.

The Criterion Collection is releasing The Seventh Seal on DVD in a couple of weeks.

The Seventh Seal is the first Bergman film I saw. I saw it at a foreign film theater just off-campus when I was a college freshman in Lubbock. They ran And God Created Woman a week later, and I was hooked on foreign films until the '80s when, for reasons I can't explain, except for the films of Tarkovsky and a couple of other directors, I lost interest in them. Maybe it was because my directors had died off or petered out.

I think of Persona and Cries and Whispers as Bergman's masterpieces, but The Seventh Seal was my first encounter with the collision of idealism and naturalism in film. To my romantic 18-year-old mind, the knight, Antonius Block, and Death were fascinating allegorical figures. They were in the natural world, but not of it. As I grew older, I was drawn more and more to the rich natural world of Bergman's films, but, in the beginning, like Block, I imagined a life of the intellect was superior to a life of the flesh.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Perspective

I keep thinking, if we stay with it long enough, we can improvise our way to something important, some clear statement of what it is to be human. Some reader, years from now, might find that theme in these notes. People were here. They had jobs. They had lovers. Husbands and wives. Some of them had kids. Their world was changing fast. Sometimes, it seemed to be coming down around their ears. But they went to movies, danced, listened to music, watched TV, made it to the grocery store. They read books. They talked about the things they saw and heard. Like you, Reader. They tried to be direct, unmediated and genuinely human in what they thought and said. To keep things and people in perspective. They hung out. And they all had porn star names. But the women didn't like to give head.

First thing I thought when I heard Harry Reid said Sonia Sotomayor was "the whole package" was: "Yes. But does she swallow?"

Monday, June 1, 2009

We Almost Have A Word For It

The word is herpetophobia. Fear of reptiles. But there doesn't seem to be a word for plain old hatred of reptiles.

That's the one I need. Without that word, I can't express the rage I feel when I contemplate vile beasts like Komodo Dragons. It's like trying to talk about Nixon without using the word motherfucker.

Turns out we owe the bastards our big brains and sharp eyes. 

Go figure.

Hive Interrupted

The Science Hive needs our help. They want us to help the Smithsonian Museum monitor life on earth.

As if we don't have enough to do. We're already monitoring the flu formerly known as swine, the weather around the globe, fasts, and a couple of radio programs. Now they want us to keep track of everything else, too.

The Smithsonian used to keep track of ephemeral events, but I can't find any record of that program. Guess it was ephemeral and nobody noticed it passing.