Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks for...



and our famous foursome of Durango breweries: Ska, Steamworks, Durango, Carvers. Holiday "Cheers!" to all brewmasters, in no particular order.

For a fine head of Guinness foam, check out the scene at Durango's Irish Embassy, and give a shout out to Lani or Sarah. If you'd like 12 or 16 inches of pure pleasure with that beer, better give our hometown Home Slice pizza guys a chance to pull one for you.

(Both videos are courtesy Science Friday's online archive, and here you can find a beer science story.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One last touch of the river

Today the air thickened and the sky paled with the welcomed sensual early symptoms of an approaching winter storm. And I feel all the better for winter's imminent arrival because I got in a last blast of river season over the weekend.

It was a cool blast, for sure. When the sun was out -- or was shining on the same side of the canyon I was paddling -- it felt like we were really in the desert outback of Utah's San Juan River. But when the sun's low near-solstice slant was sliced by the canyon rim or, more so, when it made its early-evening descent behind the sandstone landscape, the cold grabbed hold and was held at bay only by the thickest polyester shields and the primeval radiant warmth and security of a driftwood fire.

Colors, too, were subdued, robbed of the life of summer -- but offering up a purer, deeper sense of raw bone against the bottomless blue of the November sky. And at night? The stars were ridiculous.

We were too, probably, seven guys away rom work and family and the general demands of the daily business's busyness. But we sucked up every glorious minute of it -- three days of paddling and guitar playing and bocci throwing and beer drinking and talking and sleeping out for two glorious and treasured bonus nights alongside the river.

Remembering yet again why we live here. And love it here. And fight for here.

And now we turn our eyes toward that slow-building proto-river we call the Snowpack ...

Click on the slideshow below for mo' and biggah pics.

Writers in a rush

While the militiamen and enthusiasts of Montezuma County are stocking their arsenals by purchasing every available gun in the Four Corners, many of us writers are quietly wondering what will happen once President-elect Barack Obama takes the next logical step and bans the use of writing utensils in America. I think the saying goes something like "The pen is mightier than the sword." As soon as the President realizes that pens are more dangerous than conventional weapons, we’re going to see a police state where liberals remove the ink cartridges from perfectly good ballpoints in order to destroy them.

When will America wake up and read the calligraphy on the wall?

Local writers, take a stand! Go to every stationary store across the Four Corners and purchase all the ordinary ink pens in stock. If you can afford it, buy the fancy fountain pens, gel tip gliders, graffiti markers, highlighters, mechanical pencils, regular wooden pencils (in all varieties of hardness), and laundry pens. Especially laundry pens.

A bullet only leaves an impression, but a good ink pen can make a point.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Amps, Gas, Grass or Algae; Nobody Rides for Free

Congratulations Durango Transit, for announcing that Main Avenue Trolley rides will be fare free in '09. While this covers only a small part of my little corner of self-chosen paradise, it's about time.

Let's not strain anything patting ourselves on the back just yet though, because we're running several decades behind the curve on this one. Many lost ideals ago, I was an operational cog in a couple of free transit systems, in other self-congratulatory paradises far, far away from home...

One system moved a large percentage of 4 million+ yearly visitors from one grand national park view to the next. The buses carried up to 100 people each and ran on propane. The talk was of banning all private cars from park roads in the near future. Then oil prices dropped. The last time I visited, smog from power plants and internal combustion engines clouded the views; and the roads were clogged with cars, SUVs, and tour buses. The free bus system belched diesel smoke, service was reduced to an inconvenience, and the buses ran half-empty.

The other - ah, paradise, at any price! I lived in a cheap trailer slum just outside of a ski town, and drove a free bus for a decent wage. I carried local paupers and self-anointed royals, on my appointed rounds through neighborhoods ranging in price from the low-shelters to the high-exorbitants. An abandoned rail-bed through the valley was on track to become a bike/ski commuter path. We were on the way to post-car craze enlightenment. But housing costs kept rising, chasing job-holding locals down-valley. A few years later, the bike path plan was shelved for lack of interest, the bus system carried mostly visitors, and the 'local' work-force commuted from up to 60 miles away. My 'decent wage' was pushing me down-valley with the rest, so I just kept going.

Now, here we are - fresh from a round of oil industry rapaciousness that pushed Durango-area transit use up 30-some percent over 2007. Our president-in-waiting promises to move us toward alternative energy, and Colorado governor Bill Ritter's statewide focus on renewable energy production seems to be bearing local fruit in last week's announcement of a plan to make oil from algae near Ignacio, and last spring's exploration of solar power farming near the same town. With all this and the promise of free buses to keep us warm, what could go wrong?

Yesterday, I filled my old Subaru up with good old, bad old unleaded gas, and the total on the pump didn't make me cringe. Don't get me wrong, I'm still living in a trailer just outside of town here in our paradise, can't afford $4 gas, and am not advocating the tough love of keeping energy costs at luxury levels. I am pointing out that cost-based conversions are notably temporary. Though there are plenty of reasons (a tanked economy, climate change, trade deficits, etc.) to replace fossil fuels with other means of warming, cooling and transporting our society, faith in change fades with falling prices at the pump. Unless pushed by a committed and vocal citizenry, no administration will be able to convert us to alternative, renewable, sustainable energy production and use.

Though my once high ideals are long tempered by broken promises and the pragmatism of survival, I've lived long enough to prove that change is always possible, so I've been exploring some options lately.

Amping up the ailing auto industry was discussed on radio program Science Friday this week, and here are some avenues for further exploration:
Half of a hundred thousand is still too high for me, so I may be electrifying my old Suby someday:

Whether vehicles have electric, internal combustion, or hybrid engines, energy has to go into the tanks and batteries. Whether it's pond scum algae, solar or wind generated electricity, gas from grass (corn and sugarcane), or the same old fossil technologies we've loved and hated for several lifetimes - should be up to us, not to the rising and falling fortunes of energy corporations and politicians. If you want more information on sustainable energy and economics, check out a Green Festival near you:

If you still have a few bucks to spend, a Green Festival is coming to Denver next year; but why wait? With the economic wounds of fuel price gouging still bleeding, and more corporate bail-outs blowing in the wind, it's time to press the loan officers known as Congress, Colorado's Legislature, Governor Bill Ritter, and the incoming Obama administration to require corporate business plans that deliver sustainable energy production and use to the masses, rather than continuing to transport massive wealth to self-proclaimed oil royalty at home and abroad. It's long past time to press the political brain-trusts of La Plata and San Juan (N. M.) counties to institute a transit system up and down the Animas River valley, to connect the economic zone that stretches from Purgatory to Farmington. We elect them to represent our interests. Now times are hard again, and it's time they get to work.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

questions from a 5 year old

My daughter as of late has been firing off questions only like a child can. Lots of them. So many that I haven't had time to write all of them down, which is a shame because I for the life of me can't remember the best ones. But I'm sure there's more coming from this 5 year old that already thinks she has all the answers. But if she has all the answers, why all the questions? Maybe that question is for Monkeywrench Dad.
Here are some good ones....

When you put in a DVD, how does it know where to find the show?

When are you going to get "real" TV, you know, with channels?

How does a camera work?

Why are we walking through the alley?

When can you get me a turtle?

What does "combination" mean?

Why don't people like John McCain?

Why don't people like Barack Obama?

Have you gotten TV yet?

How does the radio know where to go?

What's reliable?

What's a moron?

Anybody that wants to fill in this answers is more than welcome to, I'll relay the information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Here's a Bit About Breaking the Silence:

Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) of Durango has just released their collection of poetry and art of survivors of sexual violence.
This is a really well done and very intimate collection from local women that speaks to the hope that comes from healing, or maybe the healing that comes from hope.
$10. Maria's. All proceeds go to SASO.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Speaking of Silence - more from the research facility...

Want change? If you want to do something about it, maybe you should take a walk and (to quote Dr. John Francis ), "Shut up."

Once past a somewhat ill-tuned banjo intro, the good doctor spins a humor-filled tale of revulsion, confusion, defiance, compassion, exploration, conviction, and dedication to an ideal grounded in respect for the physical (and emotional) environment we all inhabit.

Check out some more "ideas worth spreading," on the TED site.

Sell public lands to pay off the national debt? Some think so ...

Ed Quillen, writing on High Country News' Goat Blog, says that the idea of selling public lands to help pay off the nation's bloating national debt -- now at more than $10.5 trillion -- is, like chronic heartburn, bubbling up again.

Quillen cites in particular a blog post on Marginal Revolution, in which economist Tyler Cowen argues:

The Federal Government owns more than half of Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Alaska and it owns nearly half of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming … It is time for a sale. Selling even some western land could raise hundreds of billions of dollars — perhaps trillions of dollars — for the Federal government at a time when the funds are badly needed and no one want to raise taxes. At the same time, a sale of western land would improve the efficiency of land allocation.

Does a sale of western lands mean reducing national parkland? No, first much of the land isn’t parkland. Second, I propose a deal. The government should sell some of its most valuable land in the west and use some of the proceeds to buy low-price land in the Great Plains.

The western Great Plains are emptying of people. Some 322 of the 443 Plains counties have lost population since 1930 and a majority have lost population since 1990.

Now is the time for the Federal government to sell high-priced land in the West, use some of the proceeds to deal with current problems and use some of the proceeds to buy low-priced land in the Plains creating the world’s largest nature park, The Buffalo Commons.
The idea of whoring -- um, liquidating -- public land comes around whenever the Treasury seems in need of a quick and easy infusion of class. And there is some historical precedent for this, Quillen writes. "The only time in American history that the federal government was totally out of debt came on Jan. 1, 1835, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and it was land sales that provided much of the federal income that made this possible."

In another interesting instance, Quillen explains why Texas has so little public land:

Texas has very little federal land. That's a result of the Compromise of 1850. Recall that Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1844, and ran up some bills. It also claimed half of New Mexico and a strip that extended north through Colorado into Wyoming. In the Compromise, Texas agreed to its current boundaries. In return, the federal government agreed to pay off the old republic's debts, and the public lands inside the Lone Star State were turned over to the state government instead of being retained by the federal government. Texas managed to get someone else to pay off its "national debt," and got title to its public lands -- that's a better deal than we're likely to see if the federal government starts offering land for sale.

And in recent years, there have been similar, very serious (regardless of how preposterous) proposals. For example: The Forest Service planning to sell some 300,000 acres of public land to pay for a federal program; Sen. Richard Pombo’s proposal to sell some national parks to help pay off the national debt; and the Cato Institute, the highly influential free-market think tank, arguing in favor of selling the Grand Canyon to the Disney Corporation.

The reason this can happen today, Quillen argues, is that most people don't understand what public lands are or are for. And one of the reasons for that is that so much of the nation's federal public lands are in the West.

States with highest percentage of state area that is federal land:

  1. Nevada 84.5%
  2. Alaska 69.1%
  3. Utah 57.4%
  4. Oregon 53.1%
  5. Idaho 50.2%
  6. Arizona 48.1%
  7. California 45.3%
  8. Wyoming 42.3%
  9. New Mexico 41.8%
  10. Colorado 36.6%
While most of the states with the least federal public lands are in the East:
  1. Connecticut 0.4%
  2. Rhode Island 0.4%
  3. Iowa 0.8%
  4. New York 0.8%
  5. Maine 1.1%
  6. Kansas 1.2%
  7. Nebraska 1.4%
  8. Alabama 1.6%
  9. Ohio 1.7%
  10. Illinois 1.8%
(Stats from Strangemaps)

This, in my mind, is one of the greatest challenges to the long-term protection of our public lands: Not just fighting the legal and legislative battles, but also giving people -- everyone -- the whys to go along with the whats and hows. We need a re-engagement with the idea of The Commons, and a re-enchantment with the future generations that those Commons are held in common for.

We need to put the public back in our public lands!

More to come on this ...

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Needed Some Milosz Today...

A few selections from, in my opinion, the greatest of the twentieth century poets, Czeslaw Milosz:

A Study of Loneliness
A guardian of long-distance conduits in the desert?
The one-man crew of a fortress in the sand?
Whoever he was.  At dawn he saw furrowed mountains
The color of ashes, above the melting darkness,
Saturated with violet, breaking into fluid rouge,
Till they stood, immense, in the orange light.
Day after day.  And, before he noticed, year after year.
For whom, he thought, that splendor?  For me alone?
Yet it will be here long after I perish.
What is it in the eye of a lizard?  Or when seen by a migrant bird?
If I am all mankind, are they themselves without me?
And he knew there was no use crying out, for none of them would save him.

I saw Milosz read once whilst working my way into complete and utter "disenchantment with it all" at Westminster College in Salt Lake City during the mid 90's.   Westminster was the recipient of a huge grant...or something, which funds the incredible Anne Newman Sutton Weeks Poetry Series, a program that allowed me to see and even learn from the likes of Mark Strand, Adrienne Rich, Agha Shahid Ali, and Mark Doty, all under the brilliant tutelage of the current Utah Poet Laureate, Katherine Coles.  A pretty amazing atmosphere in which to discover you're not a poet.
  The night with Milosz, though, was incredible, and ever since I've collected pretty much anything he's written that I can get my hands on.

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago.  Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

And one more:

A gentle tongue lapping
Small chubby knees,
Envoys bringing salt
From a billion-year-old-abyss.
Here are violet thistles,
Peached suns of jellyfish,
Here with airplane fins
And skin of graters, sharks
Visit the museum of death
Under water-towers of crystal.
A dolphin shows from a wave
The face of a black boy,
In the liquid cities of the desert
Graze leviathans.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Bridge to Somewhere Fine and Free

It's a long stretch from the American Dust Bowl to a concrete-lined riverbed at the foot of southern California's mountains; and it's almost as far from that dry ditch to the River of Lost Souls draining the south side of my home range. Last night I listened to a bridge, designed by roots musician Dave Alvin, that connected these three pieces of our common past.

Dave Alvin by c8mills.

Guitarist Chris Miller's hands helped Alvin build this bridge on the Durango Arts Center's new and improved performance stage, in front of a packed house of appreciative locals. Like Dave Alvin, most of us were too young to remember the Great Depression evoked by Alvin's cover of Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi," but old enough to recall seizures of family farms and homes in the late 1980's, that signaled the demise of our nation's last embrace of 'free-market' economic fantasy.

For the young and/or innocent among us, a short history follows. Savings and Loan Associations were once the less regulated half of our banking industry (think of the lately lamented 'sub-prime' mortgage industry, except with at least a little in the cookie jar). 1932's Federal Home Loan Bank Act encouraged citizens to borrow money to buy a home or farm, using S & L's to finance the endeavor. In the early 1980's, deregulated free-marketeers mined S & Ls' assets to fuel a false economic boom. The inevitable collapse helped ensure that the first president named Bush would leave office four years later in disgrace, derided as one of our least competent chief executives, with a deregulated billionaire named Perot helping apply a boot from the right wing as Bush went out the West Wing's revolving door. Most of us voting in the recent election remember at least a part of what followed (boom, crash, wars, bail-outs, hand-wringing, etc.), and as our economy spirals into depths not seen since the 1930's, 70% to 80% of us now place our current Bush president in the running for least popular decider-in-chief in U. S. history.

But I digress, for last night's performance was presented more in the spirit of a peoples' music, than the dry language of economic politics. The bridge grew from roots of folk, blues, rock and jazz rhythms and riffs, and it drove the crowd from the depths of rivers, through the dives of Dave Alvin's late and lamented youth, past fallen heroes and knaves, and into a vision best described by Alvin himself, in this 1987 performance of his Jubilee Train.

The roots of American music seem to always revisit a theme of movement, and more of us than not have recently jumped on a train to change the place our country has become. It wasn't easy in 1932. It won't be easy now, but at least there are still bridges, and musicians helping us remember just where we can go.

(More about Dave Alvin is here, and you can also preview a new compilation of his music online.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

I've just seen Mark Twain!

The Cortez Cultural Center has sponsored two sold out performances of Dennis Seibel’s "An Evening with Mark Twain" but unlike the promise of Halley’s Comet, the public won’t have to wait 76 years for its next appearance.

Rumor has it that Seibel will return at the end of January.

I just came back from an hour with both men (professionally folded into one) and if you have to drive from Missouri just to see him, do it.
For $6 (kids prices are discounted) you can step back a hundred years and listen to the most original and best stand-up comedy America has ever produced. The material is suitable for all ages, timeless as Twain’s writing.
Call the Cortez Cultural Center (25 North Market, Cortez) for reservations: 970-565-1151.
31 people have already signed the waiting list and the exact date has yet to be set.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jim Stiles and Canyon Country Zephyr both enter new terrain

The new issue of Inside Outside Southwest features a lively profile of Jim Stiles, the rabble-rousing eco-muckraker, and his publication, The Canyon Country Zephyr.

Stiles has been the editor, publisher, columnist, illustrator, ad sales guy, delivery man, etc. for the Zephyr since he founded the monthly magazine in Moab in 1988. Since then, the Zephyr has been both bull horn and bull whip in Stiles' one-man-front in the battle for the Southwest and its beloved deserts and canyonlands.

As a career iconoclast, though, Stiles has managed to torque not only eco-bad guys (whether in business, government, or 36-foot, diesel-powered, rear-duellied RVs). The article, by Jen Jackson, explores how Stiles has in recent years also drawn the ire of big environmental groups, including SUWA, the Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society, for his unabashed attacks on "Big Environmentalism."

Mostly, though, the article focuses on two big adventures: Stiles' getting married, having a kid, and moving from the American Southwest to southwestern Australia; and the Zephyr's move from a print publication to a web-based publication (somewhat ironic for a magazine whose tagline is "Clinging hopelessly to the past") beginning with the March 2009 issue.

Regardless of his relocation and new forum, Stiles has no intention of pulling back from personal jihad against defilers of the earth:

"If you read the very first issue of the paper, I said my goal was to make the Zephyr a forum for different opinions," Stiles says in the article. "I sought out people who had a different philosophy about land issues and politics so we'd have an interesting conversation. And that's what I've always tried to do, and that's what I'll continue to do."

"When we come online, it's going to start covering a lot more issues than just the Southwest United States," he explains. "I'll be living in the southwest of Australia, and it has a lot of similar problems that we have here. My dream is to put out a publication that covers the southwest parts of two different continents at the same time, in the same issue."

Check out the article here

It's worth noting, as well, that the Zephyr isn't alone in seeking a new route across the badlands of quality regional Western publishing. Mountain Gazette has recently been resold -- the second time in as many years -- and, even though a new issue recently hit the stands, its direction remains uncertain. (Its website hasn't been updated since August.)

Even Inside Outside itself, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is moving to a format that will include both a small but more frequent (going from bi-monthly to monthly) print version, and a more dynamic and lengthy on-line companion version. The first monthly issue will be released in January 2009, and the new online Inside Outside Southwest is expected to debut in February.

(And even this here San Juan Almanac was once (for five years) a print creature ...)

National Outdoor Book Awards Announced Today

The National Outdoor Book Awards were announced today. This is a pretty coveted award and a respected list. Here are 3 of my favorite books on the list:

Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes
History/Biography Category.

History/Biography Category: Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of the Grand Canyon

Outdoor Literature Category: Forget Me Not: A Memoir

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A look at the after-effects of oil and gas development

High Country News has an excellent feature in its current issue, looking at answers to the title question, "Who'll clean up when the party's over?"

The article, written by April Reese, looks at the mixed -- and rare -- success of well-site reclamation, and the BLM's stepped up efforts to improve its poor record so far, following the passage of the 2005 National Energy Policy Act, which aimed to increase reclamation projects for energy development. Presently, the BLM estimates that less than 15 percent of the West's more than 15,000 gas well have been reclaimed.

The article takes a close look at the San Juan Basin, where the BLM oversees some 30,000 wells. The Basin is expected to see another 10,000 wells drilled in the next two decades.

Reese writes:

Even as the BLM struggles to clean up the past, it is racing headlong into the future. Currently, the BLM manages approximately 80,000 active wells on public lands in the West -- about 30,000 in the San Juan alone. In the next 15 to 20 years, the agency expects to permit an additional 126,000 wells, 10,000 of them in the San Juan Basin. The Wilderness Society estimates that more than a million acres will be graded, drilled or otherwise disturbed by new oil and gas development over the next two decades. When all of these wells run dry -- the average well has a lifespan of 30 years -- federal managers will have a truly massive reclamation job on their hands.
Read the entire article here.

Support or subscribe to High Country News here, or purchase a copy from your local newsstand.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't be stupid... read a book.

The cover of this one pretty much speaks for itself. Princeton Architectural Press has put together a pretty gorgeous collection of houses made o' dirt.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a philosophical novel with a subtle and wry humor, is one of the best-selling European novels of the last decade. I loved it. Check out this ridiculously impressive list of accolades.

For the Young Adult crowd, The Hunger Games is a dystopian cross between The Running Man and Survivor. (Not this Running Man and not this Survivor...) A bunch of kids from different provinces in a shattered future United States are put in an arena (a mountainside) on camera with random gear drops, and th e ultimate goal of being the last one left alive. The whole country watches as their province's contestants take each other down with violent force or deadly cunning.

Awfully friggin' screwed up actually, but a pretty fun read. The first of a trilogy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An American moment in my home county...

Having made my choices several weeks ago, I had a little free time last Tuesday. I took a drive, with no portfolio, a full tank of gas, a few opinions about what I'd find, and an agenda summed up by one word. Curiosity.

I've lived in places where my neighbors feared to vote or didn't care to vote, and sometimes I've shared both emotions. At the end of our media-fueled year of election hype (National Public Radio actually started a countdown. "365 days until the vote," said one anchor last November.), I wanted to see if my neighbors were excited, enraged or even engaged. Here is what I found:

North of town, cars were parked out on the highway at the Trimble fire station. No visible lines, but the north part of La Plata county showed up for this one. Campaign signage in the area split about 60% - 40% Obama, and a little more evenly balanced for our local candidates.

Downtown Durango felt Demo blue, and "I Voted''stickers adorned passersby. Democratic campaign workers worked the residential streets. I didn't see any evidence of a similar 'get out our vote' effort from Republicans. A couple of businesses were giving away beer or coffee for having voted, a practice I later learned is illegal in our state. Unswayed by appeals or incentives, I hit the road again.

Campaign signs supporting Democrats had been knocked down south of town, but they were back in place. The Sunnyside precinct was quiet, and signage swung pro-McCain. Toward Ignacio, more McCain along the way, then a quiet and almost sign-free home-town of our Southern Ute neighbors. Back toward Bayfield, and a definite mix of opinions in the town center. No crowds, but signs of high interest adorned the streets near the precicnt. North to Vallecito and on the home stretch I passed signs that pointed to the national and local polling results published the next day.

Here it is, gleaned from my observations and our local newspapers:

Overall, my county came out. Between early, mail-in, and precinct totals, almost 3/4 of us voted. We liked change a little better than some, a little less than some, of the rest of the country. However, local politicians largely stood on their own popularity. We're not a county of straight ticket voters.

Early voters accounted for approximately 60% of Colorado's vote. Locally and state-wide, people who wanted to vote could vote, without the hours-long lines that plagued some states on election day.

Though some didn't appreciate the repeated visits from campaign workers (you know who you are, and as a very private person myself, I don't disagree), 'get out the vote' efforts work, and are here to stay. I suggest a window sign stating that your vote has been cast, and commitment from campaigns to honor such signs. Locally, it just might work.

Reportedly, some campaign signs were defaced, and others knocked down, but I saw none of this in my travels. Mostly, we leave our neighbor's opinions standing, and stay pretty civil as we prepare to live next to each other no matter which way political winds blow us.

Speaking of which, now that we've had a chance to vote, and then enjoy a few free (or bought-and-paid-for) beverages, I encourage sharing your vision with the incoming Obama administration. They asked for it, and now they deserve to hear from all of us. If all this just gets you started, you can join a conversation about the American Dream at Bill Moyer's Journal, or head down to your favorite local hang-out and talk to your neighbors, over a cold or hot something.

If you're just about sick of it all - have another beverage, pat yourself on the back, and rejoin the conversation whenever you're ready. It's less than 4 years until we get to do this again, but I'm leaving the counting to someone else.

Jon Stewart has some words for our neighbors

The Daily Show recently lobbed some biting -- and very funny -- criticism toward our neighbors to the West, Utah, after the Mormon Church spent as much as $22 million to help support the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 passed in California in the recent election.

Thanks to The Agitator for the link.

Friday, November 7, 2008

drugs and fun and cattle mentality

Between the years 1987 and 1995 I attended a handful of Grateful Dead shows. All were fun, musically some were great, most were not. On one particular occasion my friend Kelly was in attendance. Kelly and I saw hundreds of punk shows together (punk being a love, not a hobby, nor a slight interest, but a sober obsession) and Kelly expressed his dis-interest in the Grateful Dead to some shirtless, eyeball spinning parking lot wanderer. The reaction was a simple "you're not high enough." Kelly's response was something to the point of questioning why drugs were needed to enjoy something. Touche.

Over the years I've seen hundreds of shows, some jam shows, some not, some great, some not. I've moved far away from the jam band shows, not out of a dis-taste of the musical talents of the performers, but as a result of the shallowness of the fans. Limited knowledge for something these people think they should enjoy for a reason they do not know. Common tastes can be narrow, especially amongst a sea of like-minded followers. A dislike, or dis-interest of Gram Parsons but a love of Workingmans Dead makes no sense to me.

I often wonder if jam bands would have been, and remain to be as popular as they are if drugs were not at the center of the audiences common goal. This is coming from someone who has experimented well past the edge of common sense, and will, without a doubt, go past that edge again.

What did the Widespread Panic fan say when his acid wore off? THIS BAND SUCKS!

Books That Need Some Readin'

Some cool titles hot off the presses:
I read Kerouac's On the Road at a pretty pivotal time of my life. Freshly dumped and just beginning to understand higher education for the sham it is, I read Kerouac's seminal work and have felt that nomadic urge every day since. This new one, And the Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, is a previously unpublished collaboration with Burroughs.
The Likes of Us: : Photography and the Farm Security Administration by Stu Cohen comes from one of my favorite publishers, David R. Godine. This guy remains old school and refuses to worry about anything but making good quality books. So many publishers seem to worry so much about cash flow that they seem to forget why they got in the business in the first place. I get hand written letters from David, rather than e-mails. I was surprised as hell to find that he had a website, in fact.

Here's the publisher's blurb:
In 2005, Deborah Nelson joined forces with military historian Nick Turse to investigate an extraordinary archive: the largest compilation of records on Vietnam-era war crimes ever to surface. The declassified Army papers were erroneously released and have since been pulled from public circulation. Few civilians have seen the documents. The files contain reports of more than 300 confirmed atrocities, and 500 other cases the Army either couldn’t prove or didn’t investigate. The archive has letters of complaint to generals and congressmen, as well as reports of Army interviews with hundreds of men who served. Far from being limited to a few bad actors or rogue units, atrocities occurred in every Army division that saw combat in Vietnam. Torture of detainees was routine; so was the random killing of farmers in fields and women and children in villages. Punishment for these acts was either nonexistent or absurdly light. In most cases, no one was prosecuted at all. In The War Behind Me Deborah Nelson goes beyond the documents and talks with many of those who were involved, both accusers and accused, to uncover their stories and learn how they deal with one of the most awful secrets of the Vietnam War.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

some outgoing words

My fellow Americans,
If I could have your ears and eyes for just a minute, I'd like to boast. Now I'm not one to brag on my accomplishments, but I'm going to, just one time. For the last 8 years my administration and I have led America down a path of errors. A pointless war taking many lives, young and old, not to mention a, ugh, heck of a lot of money. I've put the economy in the tank, and strained relations with just about everyone. I could go on.
I ask you my fellow Americans, to remember me and my errors for being the catalyst that made millions upon millions of complacent slackers, many of whom have muttered the phrase "my vote doesn't count, its pointless" actually get out there and vote. Without my bumbling and poor decision making, Americans young and old would have voted the same old way, or not at all. I've managed to turn my party inside out, and inspired people to believe that change is possible within a society that believes in democracy. Without me, the greatest election in American history would have been nothing more than an election day on a regular old Tuesday in November. Please, remember me for that one accomplishment.


And Abbey on changing leaders ...

"Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while
then a layer of scum floats to the top."

Uncle Walt on changing currents

This just felt relevant today:

MY thoughts went floating on vast and mystic currents as I sat to-day in solitude and half-shade by the creek—returning mainly to two principal centres. One of my cherish’d themes for a never-achiev’d poem has been the two impetuses of man and the universe—in the latter, creation’s incessant unrest, exfoliation, (Darwin’s evolution, I suppose.) Indeed, what is Nature but change, in all its visible, and still more its invisible processes? Or what is humanity in its faith, love, heroism, poetry, even morals, but emotion?
-Walt Whitman
“The Great Unrest of Which We Are Part”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Distractions...

I'm listening to some political commentator jackasses trying to justify their jobs by guessing, second guessing, and then analyzing their guesses while waiting to hear back from each state about the election. These people have got to be snorting coke in the bathroom and mainlining Jolt to keep the inanity flowing with so much excitement for so many hours. What an interesting career choice.

Well, here in the real world, my world anyway, it's new book season, so I thought I'd throw some new titles out that I'm kind of excited about:

Serena by Ron Rash.
Publishers Weekly (Monday , May 19, 2008):Depression-era lumber baron George Pemberton and his callous new wife, Serena, are venality incarnate in Rash's gothic fourth novel (after "The World Made Straight"), set, like the other three, in Appalachia. George who coolly kills the furious father of Rachel Harmon, the teenage girl pregnant with George's bastard son is an imperious entrepreneur laying waste to North Carolina timberland without regard for the well-being of his workers. His evil pales beside that of Serena, however. Rash's depictions of lumber camp camaraderie (despite deadly working conditions) are a welcome respite from Serena's unrelenting thirst for blood and wealth; a subplot about government efforts to buy back swaths of privately owned land to establish national parks injects real history into this implacably grim tale of greed and corruption gone wildand of eventual, well-deserved revenge. "(Oct.)" Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Country Music: The Masters by Marty Stuart

One of the best covers I've ever seen on a book.
Publisher blurb:
A photographic love letter to the founders and legends of country music by musician and storyteller Marty Stuart.
When Marty Stuart first entered the Hard Rock Cafe, he was impressed to see the work of rock preservationists, yet realized that the artifacts of country music were being lost or destroyed. He set out to change that, becoming a leading curator of roots music memorabilia and photographer of roots founders.
After years of careful preservation, Stuart brings the early days of country to vibrant life again with Country Music: The Masters. In a unique pairing, completely original for a photography book of this scope, an integrated audio CD is included featuring 60 minutes of the fascinating stories behind selected photos. Stuart, a born storyteller, gives readers a glimpse into the subjects and the photograph at the moment the shutter snapped. The CD includes "Dark Bird," an unreleased song dedicated to Johnny Cash, written by Stuart after Cash's death. This new recording marks the first-ever commercial release of the song.

The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolano

Possibly the most badass writer to ever come outta South America.
The publisher says:
Discover Roberto Bolano as he saw himself, in his own first calling as a poet. Roberto Bolano (1953-2003) has caught on like a house on fire, and "The Romantic Dogs," a bilingual collection of forty-four poems, offers American readers their first chance to encounter this literary phenomenon as a poet: his own first and strongest literary persona. These poems, wide-ranging in forms and length, have appeared in magazines such as "Harper's, Threepenny Review, The Believer, Boston Review, Soft Targets, Tin House, The Nation, Circumference, A Public Space," and "Conduit," Bolano's poetic voice is like no other's: "At that time, I'd reached the age of twenty/and I was crazy. /I'd lost a country/but won a dream./Long as I had that dream/nothing else mattered...."

More later. There're always more books...

Former Durango filmmaker's new film airs this week

Lioness, the new documentary film project involving Julia Dengel, airs Wednesday or Thursday night on PBS's show "Independent Lens." (Check local listings.) Dengel co-shot the film, which was produced and directed by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers.

Dengel, who lived in Durango for several years, wrote, directed, and narrated Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers, a 2006 film about the Animas-La Plata Project and that aired on PBS nationwide.

Lioness, Dengel's second documentary for PBS, tells the story of the first women in U.S. history to be ordered into ground combat, in Iraq and Afghanistan starting in 2003 and 2004. Dengel describes the film:

Without sufficient training but with a commitment to serve as needed, these young women ended up fighting in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war. Lioness makes public, for the first time, this hidden history.

Told through intimate accounts, journal excerpts, archival footage, as well as interviews with military commanders, the film follows five Lioness women who served together for a year in Iraq. With captivating detail, this probing documentary reveals the unexpected consequences that began by using these Army women to defuse tensions with local civilians, but resulted in their fighting alongside Marine combat units in the streets of Ramadi. Together the women's candid narratives describing their experiences in Iraq and scenes from their lives back home form a portrait of the emotional and psychological effects of war from a female point of view.

Watch the trailer:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Utes to hunt under 19th century treaty right

A good article in the L.A. Times yesterday about the Southern Utes asserting its right to hunt on southwestern Colorado public lands under the 1874 Brunot agreement.

Under the agreement, the article says, "the Utes relinquished 4 million acres to the United States but retained the right to hunt on the land for 'so long as the game lasts and the Indians are at peace with the white people'."

The article explains:
Under the agreement, tribal members don't have to acquire a state permit to hunt on public lands, but the tribe will regulate its members and require them to obtain tribal permits. Although the tribe hasn't established its exact hunting seasons, [the tribe's wildlife management director, Steve] Whiteman said, it will stick to the same general time frame of the state hunting seasons, and its rules will mirror state regulations. Nor will tribal members hunt on private land without the owner's permission.
Read more about the Utes and the Brunot agreement here.

Read more about the recent decision to apply the agreement in the Mineral County Miner (Creede, Colo.).

The World, the Workers and (the late) Studs

Stories of work and workers from writers such as Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, and a host of others - help insulate me from the temptation of trying to 'move on up' to live off the rest of the world's workers, and I'd like to wish Studs a posthumous "thank you." I have a tattered copy of "Working," a book of interviews about how it feels to work all day, every day of a working life. The Chicago Tribune has an obituary, with some video clips. Though he reportedly preferred not to use the word 'death', Studs Terkel titled a 2003 book "Hope Dies Last," and he checked out hoping to see Barack Obama elected president.

A presidential poll 'robocall' asked, "Do you think that, in these challenging economic times, it is a good idea to tell people to take the day off from work or school? Press 1 if you agree with this, press 2 if you disagree, or press 3 if you are not sure." The question, reported by someone named ProfJonathan yesterday, helped remind me why I'm a radical, something I've been considering a lot during this economy-dominated election cycle. I work with my hands, sometimes my head, and always with full awarenenss that many would love to profit from my labor. The awareness was planted with my first adult job 40-some years ago, and then nurtured by learning of workers' struggles in mines, fields and factories before my time.

Here in Colorado we had strikes, goons, head-bashing and at least one 'massacre' over in Walsenburg, as the 'wobblies' (International Workers of the World) tried to organize mineworkers in the early 1900s. Unions have fallen on hard times, but as times get harder, I expect to see more desire for worker representation, and a little remedial labor education may help us avoid some extreme actions and reactions. For a taste of what I'm talking about, check out the "Why Capitalism Must Go!" conference later this month. Go if you care, or dare, to find out why they've put a picture of Che Guevara on the poster. I've always stayed a free-agent, giving up pay and bennies for a free life of seasonal gainful employment and very private enterprise, so don't look for me there.

I will not be working tomorrow, however. The original intent of our founding fathers would have made me irrelevant to the voting process for most of my life. Limited to white, male landowners - American elections were initially a process more akin to choosing the governing hierarchy of a private club, than to an exercise of democracy. The vastly flawed system we operate under now is better though, and it deserves and requires thoughtful participation to make it better. Judging by the poll question, we seem to be still debating whether workers should have full participation in the election process. Having voted a few weeks ago, I'll be out observing my neighbors as we struggle, wittingly or not, toward a more perfect union. If possible, I suggest a day of voting, observing, and helping get out a measurable sample of what we are thinking now. Wednesday we can go back to post-mortems of our politics, economy and yes - to work.

Enough already!

Thank the gods it's almost over.

Yes, I, too, have found this year's election interesting, engaging, and at times even gripping. And I admit that I have been moved by the fervor, engagement, and involvement this campaign has inspired in so many folks. But at the risk of coming off like some curmudgeon ...

Let me make it clear that I have had enough of canvassers, volunteers, and pollsters, at either the phone or front door, whether human or robo, from either side of politics, whether I agree or not.

While I appreciate the role that the dispersing of information and point of view plays in democracy (or whatever the system it is we live under), the fact is I don't need a half-dozen phone calls and a door-knocker per day to help me make my decision or to be sure I get out and vote.

For the past several weeks now, my mantra has been: Enough! Got the message, thank you! Now give it a rest!

And lately, that has gone beyond mere mantra, and is now the actual "greeting" I offer these callers and visitors. Especially the ones who still come to bang on our door even though we have a sign in our yard supporting their candidate. Did you think it was camouflage from the enemy? By the time there was still two weeks left in the campaign, I wasn't even nice anymore -- even to canvassers whose politics I agreed with.

"See that sign? That's whom I'm voting for. That's why I put that sign in my yard. Because I am going to vote. For that guy. Got it??"

Hey, as a writer and teacher, I've never been shy about wearing my politics on my sleeve. But this isn't about the voicing of one's political stance -- it's about personal space. My home is my space. If they choose to enter that space and disrupt whatever I might be doing in that space, then that is their choice -- and it's not one I respect. When it comes to canvassers, I feel I do not owe them my time, attention, distraction, information, or even courtesy.

I'd like to note that I speak from experience here: I did my three months as a full-time canvasser for CoPIRG. And my motivations were manyfold: I did it as an exploration, as a tithing, and as service. And even though I experienced the full-range of responses, from engaging, illuminating door-step conversation to threats to my health and safety, every night I came away feeling one thing: Dirty. Rude. Intrusive. Arrogant. When they tried to move me to phone solicitation (because I wasn't agressive enough at the door, they said), I quit -- and went back to my job waitering on rollerskates, where at least the people I talked to wanted to be there talking to me.

In this way, in my mind there is no difference between a Jehovah's Witness, a Greenpeace activist, a Bible salesman, and an Obama volunteer. This is not about content, this is about style. And the style is the message. If someone wants to solicit a conversation with me in some public space, that's their right. But that right comes with the responsibility to respect my private space.

And so, to celebrate at long last the end of this epic election season, I am going to paint and post a new sign for my front porch:

You are entering private, personal space.
No solicitors, salespeople, canvassers, pollsters, politicians, missionaries, do-gooders, or other trouble-makers.
Feel free to leave information. Then go away.

This isn't disengagement. This is respect. This is sanity.

Please respect it.


V.1 No. 1

… A sign of the times to see that wonderful regional 4-Corners non-profit paper&ink publication of the ‘90s revive in the new Christian century as a Google Blogger blogsite … Thank you, Ken.

THREE-DOT JOURNALISM … Herb Caen pioneered the concept in the San Francisco dailies of the late ‘30s until 1997, and (a Mission District boy) I’ve carried on the tradition in Telluride (CO) since the early ‘80s, where I’ve been doing various weekly formulations of my Caenfetti columns non-stop (mas o menos), with occasional variant forays into Cortez, Montrose, Grand Junction and Steamboat.

US ELECTIONS -- DIRECT FROM CHINA … Dick Brett, my good buddy from our old Roman Catholic seminary days at St. Joseph’s in Mountain View (CA), when we were six-latiners together, is now a teacher at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu. I shared his first-hand accounts of the devastating earthquake in that region with Telluride readers earlier this year. Here’s his take on the U.S. Elections from inside China … “Some Chinese are interested in our presidential election. Some of them, but not many, would choose Senator McCain. I ask them why. Those who are for him say his age and experience is better than Obama's youth. These Sino-McCain supporters think the Illinois senator too young. Those who like the Democratic candidate like his vision and racial combinations … I will talk to the classes next week about the election. Today I showed them my absentee ballot which I will mail tomorrow to Alameda County. The students were very interested. They were surprised, delighted to find Chinese characters on the instructions part of the ballot envelope … I said that this piece of paper was a ballot. It is a piece of paper. But what a piece of paper! By using it I can pick the President of my country, the representatives at the various levels of government and in California make laws of governance. This piece of paper is a glorious result of an amazing history. The actions it allows, this simple piece of paper, are the result of the minds and hearts and spent blood and many sacrificed deaths of patriots and dreamers and devoted people from all over the world, and these actions are maintained by love of country and that wondrous thought -- the people are sovereign; the people rule … We the people pick our leaders and make our laws. It seems so simple, this piece of paper. But the ballot is both the end result and ongoing adventure of a particular human confidence that we the people have the intelligence and wisdom to rule ourselves against the tyranny of kings, tyrants, aristocracies, against all those who savage us by thinking birth or race or gender makes them better. Indeed, against those, in Lincoln's eloquent words, who say: you toil and work and earn bread and I'll eat it. My simple ballot, the grand, majestic paper of freedom -- how truly precious it is … While talking to the second class about it, I found myself mightily humbled, and profoundly thrilled to be an American.”

WEEKLY QUOTA … "We were lawless people, but we were on pretty good terms with the Great Spirit." -Tatangi Mani, Walking Buffalo (thanks to Lindamarie Luna of Paonia)


Top of Norwood Hill
in the Good ol’ U.S. of A.

A beautifully striped skunk
its tail a plume of alabaster & jet
run over

on the highway where
in the country of haves
everything’s smatter & smidgeon.

And spirit?
What to make
of her?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Drill, Baby, Drill

I did go camping this weekend, but I didn't head West into the desert like  I thought I might.  As it turns out, I have a really hard time going out without being close to a river where I can fish, so I headed to Lime Creek... possibly my mostest favoritest place in the whole world.   It was kinda cold, but I fished for about 10 hours yesterday (maybe, I didn't have a watch) and didn't see another soul.

Fly fishing is a sort of active zen meditation for me.  I'm completely in the moment, but in the background, my thoughts wander to places far and wide.  With all that's happening in the country right now, I couldn't help but think about the election.  One thought that came to mind was an image from the Durango Herald's website from McCain's visit.
(I can't get it to link through, but click through to image 37/59)  A woman holding a "Drill Baby Drill!" (without commas) sign.  Here.  In the San Juans.  Why, I wonder, does she live here?  It boggles the mind to think that someone can live among the beauty we do and believe this shit without irony:

 It's painful to think that so many come here with the intention of destroying the very attributes that brought them here.  I'll take a cue from Joe Biden here.  During the vice presidential debates one of the final questions of the evening was about changing the tone of politics in Washington:

BIDEN: Well, again, I believe John McCain, were he here -- and this is a dangerous thing to say in the middle of an election -- but he would acknowledge what I'm about to say.

I have been able to work across the aisle on some of the most controversial issues and change my party's mind, as well as Republicans', because I learned a lesson from Mike Mansfield.

Mike Mansfield, a former leader of the Senate, said to me one day -- he -- I made a criticism of Jesse Helms. He said, "What would you do if I told you Jesse Helms and Dot Helms had adopted a child who had braces and was in real need?" I said, "I'd feel like a jerk."

He said, "Joe, understand one thing. Everyone's sent here for a reason, because there's something in them that their folks like. Don't question their motive."

I have never since that moment in my first year questioned the motive of another member of the Congress or Senate with whom I've disagreed. I've questioned their judgment.

I think that's why I have the respect I have and have been able to work as well as I've been able to have worked in the United States Senate. That's the fundamental change Barack Obama and I will be bring to this party, not questioning other people's motives.

This is hard to do, and I've been thinking about this statement since I heard Biden make it.  I constantly call people's motives into question.  It's easy to think of Bush, for example, as a money-hungry croney-istic moron.  Or to think of Cheney as Satan...  The truth is, they probably really do think that they're doing what's best for their country.  That doesn't mean they're not wrong, of course.  This woman holding the "Drill Baby Drill!" sign at the McCain rally obviously thinks that drilling for oil here and now would be the best thing for the country and that the land itself is less valuable.  My assumption that she probably drives a huge SUV and is probably just sick of  paying so much at the pump is, in fact, just an assumption.  My assumption that she hates trees and is glad that we're in the Middle East killing "them brown people" is, once again, just an assumption...