Friday, September 30, 2005

Welcome to the Bates Motel

By now, everybody who frequents the blogs has read or heard about Mark Noonan's recent post at Blogs for Bush in which he appears to threaten anyone who opposes the will of our neocon rulers with physical violence.

DailyKos ran this excerpt from Noonan's post:

As our Sister Toldjah noted earlier, the "indictment" of Tom Delay is entirely bogus - from what I've read, Tom Delay didn't know about the perfectly legal transaction he is accused of conspiring to make. We have now left entirely the field of normal political conflict and entered a twilight world where fantasy is presented as fact and the only standard of conduct is "will it work?". This is not the actions of a political Party engaged in seeking a majority - it is the action of a Party determined to destroy its opponents entirely and sieze all power for is, in short, the stuff from which civil wars are made...

I really do urge our Democrats to step back from the edge - you are sitting in a lake of gasoline and you are playing with fire. We on our side will only put up with so much before we start to pay back with usury what we have received. If you can't defeat Tom Delay in the electoral field, then you will simply have to accept him as Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives - and you'd better start accepting political reality before things get really bad.

Even though these are only the pronouncements of a blogger, rather than a political figure who exercises real authority, they nevertheless represent a watershed in the devolution of neoconism, and the evolution of the movement dedicated to breaking its grip on the political process.

Besides betraying an inability to spell some of the trickier words in our language such as "seize," it shows, more clearly than has been revealed before, neoconism as a form of mental illness. This is illustrated by the very trait Noonan attempts to hang on the opposition -- a refusal to accept reality; in this case the reality is a criminal indictment brought on the basis of evidence.

The author's precarious grip on reality is also evident in his tone, which combines self-pity with the enraged hostility of dark, menacing threats. Determining how a member of a political movement that currently has a monopoly on political power might come to feel sorry for himself, and why any challenge of that authority is perceived as life-threatening and worthy of a violent response, is best left to the pathologist rather than a political analyst.

And any psychiatrist worthy of his shingle would immediately spot this work as a textbook example of projection -- attributing one's own character traits and behavior patterns to "the enemy," as in " is the action of a Party determined to destroy its opponents entirely and sieze all power for itself..."

Noonan's post does reveal a partly accurate perception of the facts on the ground, however, because he appears to recognize the existence of a movement determined to undermine and put an end to the neocon dictatorship. There is indeed such a movement, although Noonan incorrectly identifies the Democratic Party as its vehicle.

A few Democrats are involved in this movement, but the party as a whole is not. The majority of mainstream Democrats seem on the verge of joining the Whigs and Greenbacks in the Museum of Extinct Parties. They generally dislike the neocons, but have never figured out exactly how to respond to them.

The movement is just now taking shape. It will be led by newcomers like Cindy Sheehan and old-timers like Jesse Jackson. It will include some Democrats, such as Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. Its chief means of communication will be the blog and the e-mail, but more print medium vehicles will also soon begin to appear, spreading the word.

The movement will be non-violent, as it must be, for resorting to violence would be self-destructive. However, it would be unrealistic to expect that our neocon rulers will refrain from violence once they realize they are being seriously challenged.

The first shot in the struggle to come hasn't been fired, but Mark Noonan has put us on notice that it soon will be. And at some point, he and others like him are going to realize that the Democratic Party is not their most significant opposition.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chavez's Hemispheric Stature

Hugo Chavez has distinguished himself as a credible world leader who is also a declared enemy of the Bush administration. In this he differs greatly from the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Qaida and other such pan-Islamic movements as the Taliban, whose credibility is close to zero outside the Muslim world.

His economic policies tend toward socialism and favor the poor, and include extensive land reform to encourage repopulation of the countryside, which has largely emptied out during the oil boom. He is deeply resented by Venezuela’s entrenched business interests and the traditional landed oligarchy. He significantly raised taxes on oil extraction by Citgo, the U.S.-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company, and has been one of OPEC’s most vocal advocates of maintaining high crude oil prices.

In foreign policy he is one of the hemisphere’s leading advocates of a program he calls Latin American integration, through which the countries south of the Rio Grande would pursue policies of mutually beneficial cooperation and band together to oppose U.S. domination of the region. He has also forged a strong alliance with Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Following his appearance on “Nightline,” Chavez took advantage of a summit at the U.N. to deliver a wildly applauded speech to the General Assembly. Beginning with a sharp criticism of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, he went on to describe President Bush as “a threat to the world,” and declared that the U.S. is “a terrorist state,” adding that in his view, Iraqis have the right to defend themselves against a “criminal” war.

Following his speech, Chavez paid a visit to one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York’s Bronx Borough at the invitation of U.S. Representative Joseph Serrano (D-NY).

“Chavez went to the poorest congressional district in the nation’s richest city, and people of the street there just went crazy,” Serrano said. “A lot of people told me they were mesmerized by him. He made quite an impression."

But other U.S. lawmakers were less entranced. Florida Republican Representative Connie Mack grumbled that Chavez’s grandstanding only appealed to “those people that oppose freedom and dislike the United States,” and added menacingly, “He’s an emerging threat, a gathering storm we have to pay attention to.”

There can be little doubt that Hugo Chavez’s performance of the last couple of months has been choreographed for the specific purpose of raising his status from that of a regional leader to one of global significance. He appears to be making a serious attempt to emerge as the non-Muslim force around which both hemispheric and global opposition to American imperialism and the Bush administration’s aggressive policies might coalesce.

With his large petroleum resources and his great popularity in his own country, in Latin America, and increasingly, north of the border as well, Chavez apparently feels he’s holding all the high cards. He might bluster about an imminent U.S. invasion, but he knows as well as Donald Rumsfeld that’s not going to happen, and he apparently feels securely prepared to fend off the next U.S.-sponsored coup, which is likely to come this winter or early in 2006.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The April, 2002 Coup against Chavez

Eleven months after Operation Balboa was staged on Curacao, on April 11, 2002, a coup d’etat led primarily by the white-collar bureaucrats in charge of Venezuela’s labor unions and the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, supported by the Caracas Metropolitan Police, took control of the capital for two days. After confused fighting between the police and the National Guard (controlled by Chavez), and even more confused negotiations between Chavez and the coup leadership, Chavez resumed control of the government, on April 13.

Pro-Chavez Venezuelans have accused the U.S. of having been involved in the coup. According to these sources:

*An American Navy Captain, David Cazares, approached a Venezuelan general, whom he had mistaken for someone else he was conspiring with in a hotel lobby in Caracas on April 8, and asked him why he had not stayed in contact with a U.S. submarine and two war ships deployed in Venezuelan waters.

*On April 12, US Colonel Donald F. MacCarty requested authorization to fly US Galaxy C-17 and Hercules C-130 warplanes over Venezuela. Sixteen of these craft were stationed on the Venezuelan coastal island of Curacao at the time.
*On April 12, near the town of Falcon, a U.S. helicopter flew in circles near Orchila Island, where Hugo Chavez was being held prisoner by the temporarily ascendant opposition.

*US Colonel J. Rodgers was photographed driving a small truck at Fort Tiuna, where he was stationed on April 11, 12, and 13, almost always hanging out on the fifth floor of the fort’s main building, headquarters of the Army Command, command center for the coup.

In addition, apparent U.S. interference in Venezuelan affairs appears ongoing. In May of 2004, Venezuelan forces arrested 126 Colombians near Venezuela’s western border with that country, accusing them of paramilitary activity. The men were operating near the properties of a couple of Cuban exiles who are also anti-Chavez activists.

Clearly, an Operation Balboa-type operation is less a danger to President Chavez and the present Venezuelan government than a U.S.-sponsored, C.I.A.- and Pentagon-fomented coup d’etat.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Operation Balboa

Hugo Chavez, the leftist strongman President of Venezuela, has declared that the United States is planning to attack his country. He made the charge during in interview with Ted Koppel on the September 16th segment of the ABC news program, “Nightline.”

President Chavez’s declaration comes less than a month after televangelist Pat Robertson said on the August 22 broadcast of his nationally syndicated politico-religious program, “The 700 Club,” that Chavez should be assassinated.

When Chavez hinted that the U.S. plans to invade his country, “Nightline” host and interviewer Koppel asked whether he has any evidence of such plans. Chavez replied, “I'm telling you that I have evidence that there are plans…we have documentation: how many bombers to overfly Venezuela on the day of the invasion, how many trans-Atlantic carriers, how many aircraft carriers need to be sent…

“Recently, an aircraft carrier went to Curacao,” he continued. “They were doing maneuvers. The plan is called ‘Balboa.’”

“Recently” might be a slight exaggeration. Chavez is referring to Operation Balboa, a NATO war game which took place on the island of Curacao, just off the Venezuelan coast, in May, 2001. The main participants in the simulation were 36 Spanish Air Force lieutenant colonels from NATO’s General Air Command in Moncloa,, along with participants from other unknown NATO countries.

The game simulated the invasion of a “black zone” in Venezuela in which a “people’s movement” had endangered the legally constituted government as well as U.S.-owned property. The mock invasion, mounted after gaining hypothetical U.N. approval, was carried out paper and computer terminals by U.S. and allied NATO forces who were granted permission to use Colombian and Panamanian territory by the governments of those countries.

Despite NATO’s use of a projected “people’s movement” as cover, there can be little doubt that the true purpose of the exercise was to rehearse a scenario in which Chavez’s government is taken out by military intervention, and Venezuela’s oil extraction and refining infrastructure is appropriated, in the same manner as the oil fields of Tampico, Mexico were seized by U.S. Marines in 1916.

Chavez is certainly aware, however, that a U.S. invasion of Venezuela at this time is highly unlikely. With U.S. ground forces spread extremely thin in Iraq, the likelihood of American ground encroachment on the territory of any of this country’s real or purported enemies – Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela – would be nearly impossible. In addition, air strikes by themselves, if directed against Venezuela’s productive capacity, would defeat the entire purpose of any U.S. intervention in that country, which would be to gain possession of its petroleum resources.

This does not rule out the possibility of the U.S. attempting to foment an anti-Chavez coup inside the Venezuelan government, however, a possibility of which Chavez is most acutely aware, and it is indeed from that source that he faces the greatest danger, as has already been shown.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Not-so-Lost World

When you leave the main highway and turn on to New Mexico's High Road, heading east into the hills, you enter a world where birds speak Spanish, apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe appear in trees and on walls, statues and paintings possess magical powers which enable them to heal the afflicted, and above all, where the natural world is a conscious organism, capable of communicating with the beings living in it, rather than a bundle of related but discrete objects and phenomena.

For people raised and schooled in a tradition that rationally analyzes the world, approaching it with scientific skepticism, the parallel world of the High Road seems strange, primitive, and, for some, the product of backward and ignorant superstition. To the city-bred and university-trained, it seems like a lost and ancient world, like the one the ancestors of the Brothers Grimm lived in, which generated the magical stories they told.

Contrary to what we might believe, though, the magical and luminous world of these Hispanicized Indians is neither lost nor remote. Variations of it still prevail among the great majority of the earth's people, in Latin America, where a mystical Christianity still dominates the lives of the most indigenous part of the population; in Africa, where Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing religion; and throughout South and Southeast Asia, where the traditional Hindu and Buddhist faiths are expressed largely through images, magical rituals, and relics.

The world of the High Road is still very much alive and close at hand. It's just slightly out of place in a secular, cynical, and increasingly demoralized and self destructive cultural environment like that of the United States in 2005.

I fully experience that other world when I walk into the old Spanish mission churches at Chimayo and Las Trampas. At Chimayo, the entire grounds of the sanctuary seem inhabited by spirits, and one should not visit there without eating a little of the holy dirt, thus taking away and incorporating some of that energy. For some reason, the otherworldly feeling is even stronger when I enter the astonishingly beautiful, pristine, and remarkably preserved church at the little village of Las Trampas.

For the natives of these hills, spirituality is not something a person seeks or tries to attain. It's the natural state of affairs, into which one is born, and he or she can either accept it or not.

Pictures of Las Trampas and Chimayo are here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Last Road Trip (VIII)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yesterday I played tourist in Santa Fe. The old downtown area for several blocks around the plaza is like an artificially preserved organism combined with Disneyland’s Main Street – the one in Anaheim. I have to admit that it’s very pretty, even though it’s no longer real.

El palacio de los gobernadores, fronting the north end of the plaza, has been preserved nicely, and its front side is permanently lined with jewelry hawkers. The rest of the area has that old adobe look, but it’s mallified and commercialized to the point where it’s not all that enjoyable. The old county government building, to the west of the complex, is one of the more genuine spots in the area, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, west of that, is certainly worth a visit. I’d also recommend seeing San Miguel, the very old Spanish mission, right next door to the visitor information center on Old Santa Fe Trail.

The rest of the city is pretty much just another American city, except that most of the balloon-frame stucco houses are built to look like adobes, which makes for a unique if somewhat strined ambience. Then there are the usual strip malls, traffic jams, suburbs, and exurbs.

Santa Fe wouldn’t be a bad place to live though. I understand the cultural life there is very high quality and stimulating. Lots of heavy hitters in all the arts – writers, painters, musicians, dancers and all the rest – have gravitated to the area since the twenties.

This morning I left town early to make one more stab at getting my interior photographs of the Church of San Jose de la Gracia in Las Trampas. As usual, I showed way too early, and the owner of the little tiendita on the plaza, Mr. David Lopez, informed me that mass wouldn’t be till noon.

Waiting in the church yard, I met a young-looking middle-aged architecture professor from Santa Fe. Originally from Greece, he had a very cosmopolitan outlook on American urban development in general and the New Mexican outback in particular.

“America hasn’t come to this place yet,” he pointed out, and I think he’s right. Going to a lot of places in the New Mexican countryside is like going back in time. Walking into the church we were standing in front of, for example, is like entering a time machine that takes you back 200 years.

Noon came and went, but no one came to open the door for services. I crossed the dirt plaza to speak to Sr. Lopez again.

“Maybe there’s no mass today,” he mused. “They said a mass last night, so there might not be one today.”

Up the dirt road I went to see Mrs. Sandoval, the community matriarch and keeper of the church key, and interrupted her just as her extended family was getting ready to sit down for lunch. She wasn’t too happy to see me, but her grandson was sympathetic and agreed to meet me in the plaza after lunch and let me in.

Getting inside that church, even for just a few minutes, was worth all the aggravation. I’m not sure the natives are aware of what a treasure they’ve got; San Jose de Gracia’s interior is an incredible and unique example of authentic décor and preservation. It’s better than a painting or a statue because it’s an enclosed space – a masterpiece in which the viewer is entirely enwombed. There’s nothing else remotely like it in the U.S. except for the old Spanish mission at San Miguel, California, now closed because it was severely damaged in the Christmas, ’03 quake.

I don’t need to say much more; I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me. I hope they turn out. My film was a little too slow, and the interior a little too dim for optimum results, but with a bit of technological tweaking, I think I might have results adequate to convey the story.

With my task accomplished, I said good-bye to Mr. Lopez and Las Trampas, and pointed the nose of the insecto toward home. It was one in the afternoon.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Last Road Trip (VII)

Had dinner last night with my old friend S.L. and her artist husband, at their elegantly simple adobe-style house way up in the hills outside Santa Fe. She and I used to have lots of people, places, and things in common during our halcyon days in San Francisco, back in the wild '60's. I hadn't seen her for 30 years, but would have recognized her in a second if I'd seen her on the street.

S.L. is a former professional dancer and teacher (ballet), and presently a world-reknowned Pilates instructor. In her early sixties now, she's still busier than she wants to be, and in such demand that she travels all over the U.S. and the world, hosting classes and workshops for her enthusiastic following. Almost needless to say, she looks terrific and is in superb condition.

It was a bit of a chore getting there, but once arrived I felt I'd escaped to an island of refinement and intelligence in a world that grows daily more crass, vulgar, abrasive, crude, and willfully ignorant. I couldn't help feeling that the natural grace and elegance of S.L.'s manner of living is slated for extinction.

There'll be no room in the Brave New World for natural aristocrats.

Seeing her again was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip so far, which I must say I haven't enjoyed as much as I thought I would. The problem is I haven't felt well, mainly because of constant fatigue. At first I thought it was the driving causing it, but I've rested two out the last three days. The only thing I can think of that might be the source of this discomfort is the altitude -- northern New Mexico is much, much higher than Palm Springs.

After church tomorrow, I'll be glad and kind of relieved to turn the nose of the Insecto Amarillo homeward.

The Last Road Trip (VI)

Friday, September 16

Rested in Taos yesterday. I spent some time on the old plaza in the center of town, but other than that didn't do much except eat, sleep, and work out with a little light typing and filing on the computadore.

Taos is a bit overgrown, its population a strange mix of caucasian artists and Indians, many of whom are also artists. Like most tiny towns that have swollen, it's spread haphazardly on both sides of its one arterial, which is now clogged with traffic and atrociously ugly for the five miles or so that lead into the original town.

Never leave urban planning to real estate developers.

Feeling refreshed, I gassed up and headed back through the hills to try the church at Trampas one more time. The weather, as it has been for the entire trip, was glorious beyond words -- bright sunshine, cool temperatures, and gentle breezes. Cruising through the dignified pines of the Carson National Forest, I decided that this part of New Mexico has to be one of God's favorite spots, otherwise why would I be so obsessed with recording a visit to a little mud church in an obscure mountain village?

Pulling into the dirt plaza at Las Trampas, my heart sank as I saw the padlock on the door. Then a red pickup pulled into the plaza's other corner, and I crossed the dirt to meet one of the pillars of the community, a good looking, physically fit, and polite gentleman about my age named Alex Lopez.

"Oh, no, it's closed for repairs right now," he told me. "But maybe Mrs. Sandoval would let you in. Just go up this dirt road over here to the first house on the right."

After some difficulty I found the Sandoval residence, but only Mr. Sandoval was home.

"She's gone to the doctor in Santa Fe," he said. "She'll probably be back this afternoon. She's got the key with her, and it's the only key...oh, don't worry about him, he won't bite."

Back down at the bottom of the hill, I checked in again with Mr. Lopez, who was busy making repairs to the town's one-room schoolhouse. "Well," he said, "we do have services on the first and third Sunday of the month."

Day after tomorrow is the third Sunday. Trying not to sound too much like the governator, I told Mr. Lopez I'd be back.

It's only about an hour's drive from Trampas to Santa Fe where, after negotiating the clusterfuck of Cerrillos Road, the inevitable disaster of an arterial that distinguishes every town that's unexpectedly and haphazardly become a city, I landed in the tender mercies of Motel 6.

I'll hang around here tomorrow and play tourist. Las Trampas is worth one more try, and it seems appropriate to make it the last destination of the last road trip.

Did I happen to mention we now have the first batch of pictures?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Last Road Trip (V)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Lingered in the comforting womb of the Grants, NM Motel 6 this morning, and got a late start.

Even though Albuquerque is just a hop and a jump from Grants, it took a while to get there. I kept turning off at exits that had auxiliary signs indicating the intermittent presence of “Historic Route 66,” but some of them were dead ends or tiny bits of isolated pavement.

Finally, I picked up the stretch of the old road that, for several miles, and running past the rusting Rio Puerco bridge (a pork project if there ever was one), was a freeway frontage road. Eventually it crossed the interstate and entered the west side of Albuquerque.

When you follow old 66 into towns and cities you generally end up passing through the seediest, most marginal parts of town. You’ll see lots of transmission and brake job shops, used furniture stores, and motels that use plastic signs to broadcast their weekly and monthly rates. Then usually you end up downtown.

After the longest freeway-entering foreplay in all creation, I got on I-25 heading north to Santa Fe, but today bypassed that famous and somewhat overrated city, as my primary destination was close at hand.

A few miles up the road from Santa Fe, an obscure turnoff (which I missed a couple times), NM 503 East, takes us through the little pueblo of Nambe, then a few miles beyond to the famous sanctuary of Chimayo, the old Spanish mission known as "The Lourdes of America." I stopped there to eat a little of the dirt; pilgrims from all over travel to Chimayo to eat it from a hole in the floor behind the altar.

Did this reverence for the soil of Chimayo reflect an indigenous Indian belief the Spanish missionaries grafted on to the practice of Catholicism in this place? I’ve wondered for a long time, but have never found the answer, which is probably lost in the hazy intersection of myth and history and, of course, the passage of time.

But Chimayo was not my main objective, so I pushed on to highway NM 76, and through the long stretch of heavy construction presently snarling travel on that remote road, past the village of Cordova and through the strange, isolated mountain outpost of Truchas, finally arriving at the hamlet of Las Trampas, with its little church whose interior I had traveled 900 miles to photograph.

Nobody home. San Jose de Gracias was locked up tight, and the little curio shop across the dirt plaza seemed permanently closed. In fact, the whole village appeared nearly deserted.

There was nothing to do but push on to Taos, where I arrived exhausted about 4:00 in the afternoon. Checking into a seedy motel, I plugged in my computer and checked the National Monuments website.

The church in Las Trampas is only open to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays. Today is Wednesday.

Tomorrow I’ll rest here. Taos is a pretty place, the weather is great, and boy, I’m getting too old to bear up under all this driving. This is the last road trip for sure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Last Road Trip (IV)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Looks like I’ll be posting everything a day late.

Today I departed the bustling tourist trap of Seligman, Arizona at 6:30, after a dreadful night’s tossing and turning in the Broken Arms Motel. Already tired and grumpy, I bid adieu to Route 66, which for all practical purposes ends here, and merged into the truck traffic on Interstate 40.

I knew in advance I wouldn’t be able to keep the speed down as I had the day before. All day Monday I’d been able to drive between 55 and 60, and when I got off the interstate a few miles east of Seligman to gas up ($3.19 at Conoco), I found I’d gotten roughly 35 miles to the gallon by cruising, restraining the urge to drive fast. So take it to heart, comrades; you can save big bucks, as well as wear and tear on your engine by slowing down and taking it easy.

Anyway, 60 used to be considered real fast. Wasn’t there a cliché: "Go like 60"?

Unfortunately, you can’t do that on the interstate, and I soon discovered that 65 is not fast enough to move with the flow of traffic, and 70 is just barely adequate to keep the casual tourist out of the way of truckers doing 80, 85, and 90. Bottom line: the interstate gets you there quicker, but entails needless wastage of money and resources.

I decided to make this just a "get there" sort of day. Saw my first gas under $3 at Joseph City, Arizona.

On I-40, you get to New Mexico before you cross the line, because one of those rust-colored mesas the state is famous for pops up on the south side of the freeway a few miles before the "Welcome to New Mexico" sign, 600 miles out from Palm Springs. There are gorgeous red rocks at the state line, then a continuous line of pinkish-brown mesas paralleling the north side of the highway as you proceed into the interior.

Fifty miles into the state you cross the Continental Divide. That was the big excitement for the day. I stopped early, tired, back aching, road weary, and collapsed into an extremely clean, quiet, and spacious room at a Motel 6, in the little roadside settlement of Grants, NM.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Last Road Trip (III)

September 12, 2005

The Insecto Amarillo cleared for takeoff at 7:40 a.m. with seven-eighths of a tank of gas, 102,995 on the odo, and the elephant-headed god Ganesh, remover of obstacles, perched on the dashboard.

The odometer turned 103K at the corner of Dillon and Palm in Desperate Hot Springs.

Up out of the valley we go, up through Yucca and Joshua Tree and then the last oasis, the jumping-off spot of Twentynine Palms. After that, no services for 100 miles, and no people, no traffic, no clouds, no worries, no searing heat (it's just a little over 70 degrees), no wind, no trash along the the roadway, which is clean and clear as the sky above.

No problems.

How strange it is to be alone, after experiencing the horror of Los Angeles only day before yesterday. The desert is unusually, brightly green right now after last winter's exceptional rains, and a carpet of vermillion fuzz covers the ground in the spaces between the dark green bushes.

Going slowly on the two-lane feels like floating. My little VW, seen from above, must look like a tiny, lone insect crawling determinedly across the immense, empty, desolate desert floor.

“In the desert, you can remember your name, ‘cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain,” says the song. How true, and painless until my camel reaches the next Oasis, Needles, CA, where we experience the only heat of the trip so far (95 degrees) and the worst gas prices ($3.79). Needles has always been like that.

It was merely a reminder that this is the last road trip, because in the near future an excursion like this won’t be possible, at least not for me. What I paid for gas in Needles today, everybody will be paying at this time next year.

At Needles I'm forced to enter I-40 for about ten miles, and after one false start we turn onto the street of dreams (and it really should be a national monument), just across the Arizona line.

You can't be in too much of a hurry when you travel this part of Route 66. In some places the roadway is not in the greatest condition, and there's a lot of winding and curving as you descend, then climb into the tourist trap and old mining town of Oatman. I wouldn't recommend stopping, although it might be fun to slow down just enough to take a picture of the one of the burros.

After Oatman comes the real slowdown, and it's switchback city from there to the top of Sitgreaves Pass, 3550 feet above sea level and almost that high above the Colorado River a few miles back. This part of the road is very rugged, very beautiful, and extremely slow, all the way up and all the way down.

But once down you're cruising, through Kingman, an overgrown wide spot in the road, and on to the easy motoring part of 66, which runs through the Hulapai Indian Nation and 80 miles out to the little town of Seligman.

It was on this part of the road that I passed through the home of Krazy Kat, Ignatz the Mouse, and that dog policeman. I didn't see any of them, but I recognized the landscape:

In Coconino County they did dwell;
In Coconino County, known full well...

By this time I was beat. By the time I pulled into Seligman I'd logged only 360 miles in eight hours of driving. This little town, attractive in some ways, but with all the appearances of a blatant tourist trap (no other visible means of livelihood), appears not to host any large, corporate chain-type businesses, except for the gas pumps.

But the virtue of the independent, family-owned business can be a double edged sword, as I found out when I checked into the Broken Arms Motel. That's where I found out that while I was a solitary traveller crossing the desert, Los Angeles had been plunged into total anarchy and collapse by a massive power outage which knocked out lights, air conditioners, elevators, and traffic signals all the way from downtown to the ocean and all the way north to and including the San Fernando Valley.

God save us from such nightmares.

(More to come.)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Last Road Trip (II)

The road trip is starting to resemble a prelude and fugue. Yesterday was the prelude -- we were three itinerant minstrels, humble musician/entertainers, taking a one-day automobile excursion to the desolate and savage wastes of Los Angeles, and it was a nightmare straight out of Kafka’s tubercular night sweats.

There’s no way to appreciate the death throes of the American dream unless you’ve experienced Southern California first hand, with its endless clogged freeways, its interminable vistas of tacky stucco housing and file-cabinet office buildings, and its numberless identical strip malls, all exact replications of the same fast food shacks, muffler shops, furniture outlets, and fantastically ugly five-acre parking lots. Its bleak and joyless landscape seems deliberately designed for the express purpose of crushing the human spirit, and butchering any beauty or harmony that are the natural endowment of a natural life lived on God’s green, natural earth.

This is where the great god Automobile has finally taken us – the illusory promise of freedom and mobility is finally stripped away in Los Angeles to reveal the true destination: a vast prison of concrete, roaring engines, joyless commerce, and toxic smoke.

Of course, the two worst things that could happen to you in LA happened to us yesterday; we had a front-tire blowout on the freeway and we got lost. Both can easily be fatal, the blowout for obvious reasons, and losing one’s way because you might stay lost forever, driving the identical, perpetual streets in stop-and-go traffic until dehydration, starvation, insanity, a ruptured bladder, and an empty gas tank combine to end your life in a nightmare of gridlock, blaring horns, shrieking tires, and smog-induced cardio-pulmonary collapse. So the fact that we survived the experience, and are here to tell about it is the good news.

The bad news is that LA exists, and it’s real. In it we see the follies and illusions of the American dream, a hallucination of unlimited wealth, abundance, and freedom, with no muss, no fuss, no pain or inconvenience, and no obligation whatsoever to repay anything at all, ever, interest free for all time or until the gas runs out or the bomb falls, whichever comes first, made tangible, concrete, implacable, relentless, and carnivorous. In LA, the dream cannibalizes itself.

Twenty years from now this immense clusterfuck will be a ghost town. I plan to live long enough to see it. But first, tomorrow, I’m going to load up my bug and drive in the opposite direction, escaping from Generic America’s death rattle.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Last Road Trip (I)

Four days from now I'll climb into my VW bug and head out on the road. This will be the last road trip.

Once upon a time, when gas was cheap and motel rooms were reasonably priced, I took to the road whenever the impulse struck, often just for the hell of it. Cruising along some remote two-lane blacktop (I never liked traveling the interstates) conferred a sense of freedom and independence. It fostered an illusion of power -- omnipotence, almost -- best expressed as, "I can go wherever I want, and do whatever I want, whenever I want."

Sure. Until the money runs out. Or more importantly, until you're out of gas. And we are.

Among the innumerable casualties of hurricane Katrina was our notion that gasoline is an infinite resource. But now we've breached the three-dollar barrier, the point at which many Americans find their formerly unlimited mobility curtailed. It's now extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a family of four with modest means to gas up the old Ford Explorer and go tooling off to visit Aunt Mary in Lubbock.

Among the people I've talked to over the past year about what's coming down the road at us, I haven't met more than a couple who are willing or able to imagine life without cheap oil and abundant, readily-available gasoline. It's all we've ever known. The magnitude of the changes, and the difficulty of the hardships we will soon be facing overwhelm our ability to deal with this highly unpleasant but unavoidable reality. Try telling people this, and they'll say, "Oh, technology will solve this problem," or "Oh, there's lots more oil in the world, they just haven't found it yet."

Consider: according to the most knowledgeable experts such as Ken Deffeyes of Princeton University, discovery of new sources of oil reached its climax in 1964 and has been steadily declining ever since. We are at the peak of oil production at the same time worldwide demand is rapidly increasing.

Consider: You can't burn technology.

Now, does the giant oil corporation -- ExxonMobilChevronTexacoValero -- know all this? You bet they do. Are they formulating policies for dealing with the chronic shortages and catastrophic price rises that are sure to come? You can bank on it.

But the proceedings of Dick Cheney's secret 2001 meeting with the czars of the US energy cartel have never seen the light of day. They've certainly got a plan, but they're not letting us in on it.

Meanwhile, can we expect at least a brief, temporary break in the price of gas at the pump? James Kunstler wrote a couple days ago, "The price of gasoline may retreat sometime in two to six weeks, but I doubt it will fall below the $2.50 range again. In fact, having gone way above the psychological barrier of $3.00, the gasoline retailers may resist falling below that. There have been no new oil refineries built in the US since the late 1970s. There will be no new ones built now, despite the crunch on refined 'product.' Why? Because the oil companies understand that they are in a twilight industry and refineries represent huge investments in future activity, which the corporations correctly perceive will be shrinking as global oil production passes peak."

(More to come...)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ministry of Reshelving

The Ministry of Reshelving has hatched an idea that seems to be gaining momentum. It originated with Jane McGonigal of the blog Avant Game.

This fall, I hope as many of you as possible will be able to participate in the reshelving project pertaining to Orwell's 1984. It works like this:

1. Select a local bookstore to carry out your reshelving activities.

2. Download and print "This book has been relocated by the Ministry of Reshelving" bookmarks and "All copies of 1984 have been relocated" notecards to take with you to the bookstore (available at the Avant Game blog). Or make your own. We recommend bringing a notecard and 5-10 bookmarks to each store.

3. Go to the bookstore and locate its copies of George Orwell's 1984. Unless the Ministry of Reshelving has already visited this bookstore, it is probably currently incorrectly classified as "Fiction" or "Literature."

4. Discreetly move all copies of 1984 to a more suitable section, such as "Current Events", "Politics", "History", "True Crime", or "New Non-Fiction."

5. Insert a Ministry of Reshelving bookmark into each copy of any book you have moved. Leave a notecard in the empty space the books once occupied.

Although 1984 has arrived 20 years late, its impact has been the same as if it got here right on time. The perpetual war has already begun (although we haven't switched enemies, from Eurasia to Eastasia yet), and the impoverishment of all but the super-rich proceeds apace.

Big Brother's in his Big White House and all's right with the world. As the heretic and traitor (and a shining role model for all of us he assuredly is) Emmanuel Goldstein accurately observed, "At the apex of the pyramid comes Big Brother. Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration...Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt toward an individual than toward an organization."

(From the Signet Classic Edition, p. 208)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Class War / Race War

In an e-mail from Switzerland, an observer who corresponds with one of the diarists at DKos writes: "Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

"(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

"(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black)."

In the aftermath of the Gulf Coast Disaster, it's pertinent to ask hard questions about race and class in this country, and to recall once again the class warfare in which this government has been continuously engaged since its accession to power.

What's the difference between a child dying of abuse and a child dying from neglect? In the long run, there's none, because in both cases the child is just as dead.

How many poor people along the gulf coast, who just happened to be people of color, are now dead from neglect?

Is anyone naive enough to think it's possible to separate race issues from class issues in this country?

If someone argues that this administration, and the Bush I and Reagan administrations before it were not overtly racist, I'd agree. However, the modern conservative movement is demonstrably prejudiced against the poor, and has always adopted the attitude that people wouldn't be living in poverty if they tried harder. They seem to believe that no one is really "underprivileged."

Therefore, the conservatives are de facto racists. It cannot have escaped their notice that disproportionate numbers of the poor are blacks, Mexicans or other Latinos, and Indians.

Why is that? The reasons are profoundly historical, and are embedded deeply in this country's roots. People write large, heavy, and complex books about such things. However, the short version of the story is that those who have always been on the bottom remain there. Meanwhile, those on top are convinced they are where they are because of their superior virtue.

Next week Congress will abolish the estate tax. Is that a racist move? Some would call such a suggestion ridiculous. How could there be a connection between the estate tax and racism?

In fact, abolishing the estate tax is another example of de facto racism.

From the page entitled "Estate Tax Questions" at the IRS website: Only total taxable estates and lifetime gifts that exceed $1,000,000 will actually have to pay tax. In its current form, the estate tax only affects the wealthiest 2% of all Americans.

The estate tax is not levied on ordinary working people, most of whom now leave debts rather than estates.

Abolishing it is one more blow in the relentless and implacable class warfare this administration has been engaged in since it took office.

Since disproportionate numbers of the poorer classes also just happen to be people of color, the neocon class war is also a race war.

I'm sure conservatives don't see it that way, and would be deeply offended by the suggestion that they're racists. The problem is that de facto racism has the same effect as overt racism, just the same way as neglect is nothing more than a passive form of abuse.

It seems to me that the good Christians of this country have not read their sacred book very closely. The founder of their religion once said, "As you have done unto the least of these, so you have done unto me."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Neighborhood Lunatic

It's now been a week since the hurricane struck, and two days since Bush's photo opportunity appearance in New Orleans. It looks as if the disaster along the Gulf Coast is finally being dealt with somewhat adequately, but the damage to this country's reputation and standing in the world is going to linger.

This comes on top of the ongoing embarrassment of the Iraq debacle, a naked grab for power and resources that has made the United States the most feared and hated country on earth since Nazi Germany.

In every human community, there are inevitably a few individuals who have to be locked up because they're a danger to themselves and others. And in the community of nations, the U.S. has now become such an individual.

It's no wonder then, that when I see this kind of response to the world's diminished opinion of us, from the red-white-and-blue blog "American Digest," I fear not just for our reputation but also for our sanity.

I see this virulent strain of world-hating, self-hating fear and rage a lot now, and hear it on wingnut radio whenever I have the misfortune to cross some fascist bandwidth on my car radio. It's the incoherent raving of an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, and the self-pitying bray of the sociopathic jackass clinging to the fiction of his own righteousness.

Is this what we've become? Well, some of us, anyway.

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott says of this projectile vomitus masquerading as an essay, "It's hard to believe a grown man wrote this, and, worse, after running it as a sort of New Year's fuckoff letter to the world, thought it was worth republishing post-Katrina. Apparently, he's unaware that scores nations and international groups have offered assistance to New Orleans and the surrounding region..."

If this government and the individual Bush humpers among our citizenry continue giving the finger to the rest of the world, then the rest of the world might just decide to lock us up, for our own protection as well as theirs.

And after the events of this past week, they've definitely got our number. As Jesus once said, "Whatever you neglected to do unto the least of these, you neglected to do unto me."

Friday, September 02, 2005


This past Wednesday, as the situation in New Orleans was rapidly degenerating, eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson was stuck at the Superdome, where he heard people talking about possibility of an imminent mass evacuation to the Astrodome in Houston. However, there were no buses and no one around with enough authority to verify the story.

Venturing out of the dome, Gibson either found or already knew the location of a parked schoolbus. It's unclear whether keys were left in the vehicle, or whether he hotwired it. In either case, once he had it running he quickly packed it with 100 of the displaced, all of them total strangers to him, and headed for the Texas border.

Gibson's purloined bus was the first to arrive at the Astrodome, where Houston city officials, caught flat-footed by the unanticipated load of refugees, wouldn't let the vehicle through the stadium gates. It had no authorization.

There was a long, hot delay, during which kids stuck their heads out the bus windows and mothers tried to comfort their crying babies. Eventually, the crowd on board was allowed into the Astrodome, but Gibson was informed that he was probably in big trouble.

"I just took the bus and drove all the way hours straight," Gibson admitted. "I hadn't ever drove a bus." The teenager showed no apparent remorse for what he'd done, and his passengers were unanimously grateful.

"It's better than being in New Orleans," said one passenger, Albert McClaud. "We want to be somewhere where we're safe."

"I dont care if I get blamed for it ," Gibson said, "as long as I saved my people."


Meanwhile, cartoonist Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe has the best commentary I've seen yet on the topic of looting.