Sunday, May 30, 2010

the u.s.a as a warrior culture

it's odd, cause we don't think of ourselves that way, yet the metaphor and fact of fighting dominate our history. every boy has to survive it on the playground.

for example, in the first grade a gang of kids used to chase me home from school every evening. i remember leaping over a fence and hiding under a crab-apple tree. finally, my mother arranged a match with the head of the gang. we fought to a standstill on the front lawn of the parsonage. (as a preacher's son, i was fair game.) the bullying stopped.

alas, for awhile i became the rough player. once wrestling with my fourth grade best friend during lunch hour, i broke his arm. his parents never let me play with him again. for awhile bigger than the other students, i held sway. then before class in the seventh grade the class bully smacked me around in the hallway. for some reason, i couldn't fight back and hid in the library (the story of my life).

as i've mentioned, after the amercan war of independence, forty percent of the colonials moved to canada, leaving the land to the rabble-rousers. and in our beginning is our end. we in the u.s. have averaged a war at least every fourteen years, now in the midst of the longest war ever in afghanistan (we learned nothing from the russians).

if you think i'm wrong, list the conflicts and do the math. after the british we fought the indians (named for the land columbus never reached). ultimately, we claimed victory. however, we absorbed much of their spirit. when the psychologist c.g. jung came to this country for the first time, he exclaimed, 'i didn't realized the europeans had intermarried so much with the natives.' a colleague told him they hadn't. 'but,' he said, 'most people have indian profiles.' once in a museum i saw a photo of a california maidu woman who looked exactly like my mother. and i've been told more then once i look like the warrior on our nickel. (a college student told me the other day i looked like andy warhol. i suppose it's the same thing.)

from the ground up, birth on, we're in competition with each other. our business language that of battle. on a ship in the british columbia inland passage, i heard a canadian tell an american couple, 'you will gamble everything. we're not like that.' ah, back to the original birth of the nation. and our education constant judgement and ranking. who else invented the spelling bee?

this doesn't dismiss teamwork. bootcamp is all about learning to die for your comrades. the playwright arthur miller wrote, 'americans want a president who will kill for them.' obama's credit rating jumped when he sent thirty thousand more troops to afganistan, adopting it as his war. (one, i maintain, we can't win. but that's not the point.) and we're a country nutty for sports and video games, all training for the ultimate battle. the last president sucked the whole populace in with his rhetoric of armaggedon.

yes, winning isn't just fun, it's everything.

see the blue room's latest show, a good example of this mentality given the comic treatment:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

people must think i'm crazy

cause i'll often stop in mid-stride and bow to a tree, whose form and liveliness catches my eye. the same for a tangle of roots reaching down the creekside to drink, or the grasses drying out in the sun. (california green in winter, brown in summer).

i figure if i enjoy, honor, and do my bit to protect nature, nature will protect me. so far so good.

and sometimes i'll freeze and stare at the sky, the sweep of the clouds a thrill, the reason i like flatland or mountaintops. as the writer tom robbins said, 'before sitting down to write, look at the sky, read beautiful language, and get a hard-on, even if you're a woman.' that's the best creative advice i've ever run across.

all this started when i was a little brat and difficult child. at five i ran through the woods, built igloos, and crawled into holes. and still, nothing relaxes me like a walk on an ocean beach.

and i try not to forget to pause and look behind me - advice often given to photographers. yes, the best pictures catch us by surprise, startling from a different angle.

drawbacks to this, of course. i could easily be killed in the middle of the street or more likely looking at a beautiful woman as i'm turning a corner in my truck. on the other hand, as a firelookout it's paid off. i use the zen approach, daydreaming while perusing the landscape. if there's a smoke, it usually will reveal itself to me. my adrenalin jumps, i'm at the firefinder and on the radio before thinking. afterwards, i knock on wood and thank the flames for talking to me first. 48 fire-seasons and counting.

nature's paid my way my whole life and i try not to forget it.

new pics of the county fair being set-up:

and don't miss the pictures of the artist peter jodaitis in his studio. watching him work, i witnessed the life-force:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

shadows of forgotten ancestors

graduation time again! so many have passed before these eyes. and often this student looks like one from ten years ago. only aging seems to give us an individual patina. the generations come and go. the noses and ears and eyes remain the same.

i've always wondered how to have an identity in a mass society. certain markers seem to be passing. sexuality, for example. in high school you didn't dare wear green on thurs. that meant you were a homo. anything vague between the sexes, like long hair on men, short on women, they were forbidden. the male had to be masculine (football), the female feminine (cheerleader). otherwise, you fell between the cracks.

these days everybody holds hands with their lover, no matter the xy chromosome combination. what a relief. and everybody has tattoos, nose-rings, individual or tribal? i don't know. there's a sameness and it's harder to be outrageous. is the quest for identity foundering?

and race used to be a big part of it. thank god, finally everybody's getting mixed up. to be hispanic, caucasian, black, red, eventually (hopefully) no one will be able to mark these on a school or penitentiary form. 'my palms are white, my hair is beige, my eyes sulfur', nothing without specific detail. and little to indicate one's past.

oh, yes, and family, it's never been my strong point. true, families remain a good way to raise children, yet some of them are simply awful and brutal. looking around at graduation, the hmong families, the chinese, the latino, huge celebrations around the graduate child covered with flowers. then there are the hundreds of single mothers, single fathers, and the cluster of friends who make up the chosen family.

evidently, we can't do without small groups. but what of the nation? the usa born of much violence and bloodshed (40% of the colonials moved to canada after the victory of the rabble-rousers). the whiskey rebellion, remember that, and prohibition? is one in six americans an alcoholic, as been said? well, my friend Will wrote, 'never trust a teetotaller. they're brittle.' studying this country's past, i couldn't help but see the patterns into which 99.9999% of us fall. as james joyce said, 'history is a nightmare from which i am trying to escape.'

i'm always thrilled and a bit saddened by graduation ceremonies (i missed all mine). surrounded by every generation, race, political persuasion, i'm more than ever aware time passes and the quest for identity difficult. here are pictures from just yesterday, already vanished shadows.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

love or alcohol, it's a hard choice

she threw the ring at me and stormed out. we were sitting with friends in the army cafeteria, germany, 1955. we'd fallen into a furious argument. red in the face, she lept from her chair. that was the end of our going steady.

the friends and i walked off base to get drunk (no age limit). i figured i could drive her out of my mind with enough beer. after stumbling home in the dark and falling into a deep sleep, i woke cured. it worked! i dated her one more time, for a hayride, she very contrite. alas, now i noticed the blackheads on her nose. the hazy fog of love had lifted.

years later, i began downing a bottle of kaulua and cream every evening before dozing in my little trailer. for weeks i drank and fantasized about a young lady, someone beyond reach. luckily, one morning a spasm in my back felled me to the bathroom floor. for the next two weeks i lay in my tiny mobile and visited the chiropractor. this happening for the first time, i didn't know how to handle it (now i do).

for seventeen years i didn't take a drink. reality drove out fantasy and made me afraid. last summer, i did try wine, reading a glass a day helps prevent heart attacks. really, i didn't like the wine. then i found a pint of english stout on the co-op shelf. it brought back nostalgic memories of europe.

this led to on-again, off-again, of a pint a night before falling asleep. and i noticed i craved it when a woman had attracted me during the day. the foggy haze of the bottle matched that of romance, canceling the latter and consoling me. this by far easier than buying flowers, a ring, and suffering tantrums.

the real cause, of course, is the desire for the mother's comforting arms (do guys ever get over it?) and sometimes the wine of life can't match what you can purchase for three dollars at the corner store.

i'm on the wagon again, but i miss the great dreams a buzz gives me. and as a friend once said, 'you're a lot funnier when you're drinking.' i miss my super-charged sense of humor. that said, i decided i was wasting too much time, oversleeping and drained of energy the next day. time is all we have, our most valuable commodity. booze and desire both tend to take it away.

new pics from yesterday of my friend peter jodaitis' studio:

and more roses:

Monday, May 17, 2010

everyone is enlightened except me

this morning i have no answers. why are we here? accident? to learn lessons, eventually escaping the wheel of karma? to work our way to heaven, or hell? the more i ask myself, the less i understand. does time really exist, or is it merely a human invention, misperception?

as for personality, how permanent is it? friends i've known haven't changed, unless they've suffered brain-damage. what about extreme suffering? elie weisel says of those inmates of auschwitz, "To the victim of the 'concentrationary' system, it no longer mattered that he had been an intellectual labourer, angry student or devoted husband. A few beatings, a few screams turned him into a blank, his loss of identity complete."

how much does education change our behavior? does it make us more thoughtful and kind, or cruel and self-centered? weisel also writes, "Those engaged in its practice (murder) did not belong to a gutter society of misfits...Many held degrees in philosophy, sociology, biology, general medicine, psychiatry and the fine arts." a movie going around right now - girl with the dragon tattoo - certainly takes this point of view.

one friend keeps telling me i write (think) pessimistically! how absurd. at least i think he's wrong. what i'm trying to do is get down to the essential. and though i have no answers, i do know we always have a choice, how to take an insult, what to do in an emergency, to get married or not. yes, sometimes these decisions have to be made lightning fast, and we may very well go astray, be wrong. yet we are the ones picking the path.

certainly, actions have consequences. sometimes we can't foresee them. lady macbeth goes crazy from committing murder. she thought herself made of sterner stuff. you turned left when you should have turned right and got lost. all we can do in such situations is accept responsibility. to blame others a waste of breath. ,

to know yourself. that certainly helps when at a crossroad. you can ask for help, only you can accept or refuse it. i keep thinking of the good samaritan killed on camera, lying on the sidewalk dying while dozens of people walk past (one even turns him over and walks away). he'd been stabbed helping a woman being mugged. the irony of it painful to contemplate.

no, i don't think i ultimately have a gloomy view. guess i'm really an existentialist, in the classic french philosophy of sartre and camus. what we do comes back to us. at least we can know that.

see the projects for meso-american art history. creating something with a sense of culture and history, it helps us possess another time and place not our own.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

conspiracy theory as a grab for power

i hope this doesn't happen to you, a least not more than once. after a viewing of the movie 'white ribbon' about a village in northern germany prior to wwi where the adults turn all their children into evil demons, i got talking with a guy who seemed reasonable.

that's the way these people suck you in. you think you're having a rational discussion, actually being listened too. eventually, however, the truth is revealed. they will tell you the cia bringing all the drugs into the country to ruin people (he said it), and then, of course 9/11, the buildings deliberately blown up from within. it goes on and on.

suddenly, you're being dominated, brutalized by the supposed logic of all this. and if you bring up anything else, that suddenly is a huge conspiracy. the point of all this is to escape responsibility. for example, turns out he's getting medical aid from the state of california, which probably means he's got disability and living on the dole. he constantly bit the hand that feeds him, basically us who pay taxes, though the villains called obama, reagan, etc.

if you try to say 'politics is the art of the possible' and 'we here live higher on the hog than the majority of people in the world,' he/she will brush it off. 'they' are always doing it and never 'me'.

facts of ill-doing explode into what he said at the end, as i refused to partake any more, 'i believe all people are evil.' and that too may be at the basis of conspiracy theorists. i told him what i thought, 'to believe in such stuff is to waste your life.' but as i drove home, i realized, in a sense, it's not. you've something to completely occupy your mind, you can bludgeon other people in any situation without revealing your own hypocrisy, a great way to be self-righteous and get not just a feeling of power but actually, by pretending to partake in democracy, and then demolishing any possibility of it.

so, if you have any conspiracy theory friends, realize they're no friend at all, using you as a front.

new pics of a community talent show:

Friday, May 7, 2010

human monogamy is a myth

i know this is no news to you (there's even a book by that title) but i attended a lecture in the anthropology forum yesterday where the young phd spoke on 'the evolution of human sexuality'.

i did learn some interesting facts. the male gorilla has the smallest penis and the human the largest. looking at any gay magazine for men you'll see some spectacular examples of the latter. alas, chimpanzees have larger testes and healthier sperm. win a few, lose a few.

why this has happened results in many academic disputes. evolution makes strange bedfellows. however, she attempted to chart much more contentious territory. why do women hide their ovulation time and how come everybody makes it behind closed doors? she maintained humans follow these procedures due to being monogamous, while other primates not.

well, i didn't want to rain on her parade. she's far too good-looking with a fun sense of the ridiculous and applying for a post here. i did raise my hand and asked about the affect of private land and inheritance? she obviously hadn't thought about it, nor had the anthropology teachers in the room.

maybe cause we're like fish who don't know what water is. our modern universe totally maintained by the belief in, and laws supporting, private property. people stay monogamous, when they do, mostly for practical reasons. habit, children, fear of alimony and loneliness, etc.

years ago i gave a talk in this very same forum on 'the anthropology of love.' the most interesting book i found published by helen fisher in 1994:

fisher's thesis: men stick around til the kids turn four, this due to the human child being the most helpless and vulnerable of all species, then it's wife-swapping time. she looked the timings of divorce, for example, and much of it follows this pattern. of course, the fun stuff about singles bars. turns out, women always give the first signal of interest, the man being oblivious but responding unconsciously and making a move. i'm sure this would be entertaining reading for you.

i once had an uncle in a small indiana town who said, 'you'd be surprised by the number of women around here i've been to bed with.' we tend to hide such adventures cause it's dangerous (irate wives and husbands, most murders happen in the family), illegal, and threatens our security. thankfully, the last fifty years have changed our mating habits for the better. i give most of the credit to the pill and the woman's movement.

so, though i didn't burst the lecturer's balloon, i was laughing inwardly. and all of us have wandering eyes, regardless of sexual orientation. only the wise know to keep their hands in their pocket.

new pics:

at the endangered species faire nobody put up a booth for humans. hmm, fish in water, short-sighted.