Tuesday, April 30, 2013

OT: Cooling With Gas

Servel Refrigerator c. 1940

Back in the Olden Days we had some modern appliances, believe it or not, including a Kenmore automatic washing machine just like the one in this 1952 Christmas Book. We could not have gotten it in 1952, but probably did so in 1954. Before that, we had a counter-top model.  We also had a Wedgewood gas range something like this one. We kept both of those appliances as long as we lived in Southern California, but they stayed in the house when we moved.

We were always replacing refrigerators, however. They would seem to last only a few months before conking out, and so another one would be found and brought to the house:  Frigidaires, a Westinghouse, Norge, and finally a Servel like the one above. Initially, I didn't understand that these were all used refrigerators, and some were quite old. Then I realized that the grown ups didn't want to pay the money it would cost for a new refrigerator, didn't see why they should, when a (supposedly) good used one could be picked up for $50 or less. (New ones were $250 - $300 in those days, which was a lot of money comparatively.)

But the used ones kept breaking down. The compressors wouldn't work. The coolant would leak out. The door wouldn't close. Your basic things.

Finally, my mother threw up her hands and said, "I'm not going to go through this any more. I'm getting a Servel!"

Indeed. She found one at the used appliance store, I think it was priced at $65 or something like that. And it looked just like the one in the picture above -- only it was a bit less banged up and rusty. We had to have a gas line put in for it, but that turned out to be quick and easy since the refrigerator was close to the stove.

It worked, amazingly well, and absolutely silently. It came up to Northern California with us when we moved, but because we were initially living in a rental house, we couldn't install it. Had to get an electric one -- it was a Coldspot, something like this. In fact, it was pretty much exactly like that.

Of course, it was much more modern than the Servel, but it didn't seem to work as well, and it had that funny odor new refrigerators have. I didn't like it, though my mother seemed happy enough with it. At some point, the Servel, which had been sitting unused in the garage, must have been sold or given away, but I don't remember exactly how or when. It was just gone.

Gas fired refrigeration was exotic as heck in those days, but really practical people swore by their Sevels. I understand you can still buy new ones -- they're very popular off the grid and in the woods and the outback and such -- though they seem to cost a whopping amount for a European sized model, but then, I suppose for the convenience and reliability of them, the cost is within reason...

I was put in mind of these appliance memories because we left our old washer and dryer in California when we moved -- I think one of the people who was helping us took them, but come to think of it, I don't remember! Stove and refrigerator were already in the house here in New Mexico, so we left those appliances behind in California as well. But we had no washer and dryer here. We went six months without -- and survived remarkably well. We thought of just getting a washing machine and putting up a clothes line. Many people don't use dryers here. But as it happened, there was a pretty excellent deal on a Maytag set at Lowe's, so we got both a couple of weeks ago. They even gave us a discount when they scratched the dryer installing it. We're getting used to the Energy Star low-water consumption washer, though. It only uses about fifteen gallons of water to wash and rinse a load of laundry.  And the first time I looked in, I said, "They forgot the agitator!" for there is nothing in the tub but a low button with some vanes -- looking something like what an agitator might be mounted to.

But according to their literature, that's it, that's what agitates the laundry. It seems to work, too, no complaints. But it is a bit odd. Not having bought a washing machine in 20 years or more, it didn't occur to us that... well, things aren't quite the same as they used to be, are they?

Sunday, April 28, 2013


The finale of "Dr. Strangelove" -- Vera Lynn singing, nuclear weapons exploding

We spent the day in town yesterday, starting at a New Mexico PBS Science Cafe at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, a place we've been meaning to visit for years but never have.

The topic was the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi some two years ago, and the speaker was Dr. Ronald Knief, Nuclear Engineer and Principal Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories (pdf link) and Associate Professor of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering at the University of New Mexico.

Yes, well.

He's been at most of the major meltdowns in the last few decades, including Three Mile Island -- where he said he spent ten years -- as well as Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Just lucky, I guess.

He explained the process of nuclear power generation very well, though I suspect that most of those in attendance knew how a reactor worked as well as he did as there are a lot of attendees at these things from the nuclear labs and facilities that dot the area. You can't truly escape Nuclear Science culture here in New Mexico, any more than you can escape the Spanish,  Indians and the artists, and the truth is, we don't try.

Having lived many years in California in the shadow of a nuclear power plant which was the twin of Three Mile Island -- and which ran into so many malfunctions and shutdowns and whatnot that eventually voters decided to shut it down permanently and decommission it, much to the relief of residents, and (perhaps surprisingly) much to the relief of their pocketbooks in the end  -- I was fairly familiar with operations of a Three Mile Island kind of reactor, but Fukushima Daiishi was not designed like the reactors at Three Mile Island.

Instead, the Japanese plants were like the Oyster Creek reactor in New Jersey. It appears from the schematics that these are much more complicated plants than those at Three Mile Island (or Rancho Seco), and the Oyster Creek model appears to be more obviously -- I mean really obviously -- dangerous. Many more things can go wrong, and once they go wrong, whoopsy!

Yet our speaker yesterday, while not making light at all of what happened at Fukushima, didn't seem to see it that way. With all the redundant safety precautions built into the plant, and with the unexpected severity of the earthquake and tsunami, the plant had performed very well under the circumstances, the explosions that occurred were "just as designed", and the release of toxic nuclear material was minor. The only plant workers who died, he said, died as a result of the tsunami, not from release of radiation or toxic nuclear material. More people, he said, were at risk in the evacuation than from the plant itself, and up to a thousand actually died in the evacuation, he said. Given the 25,000 dead and missing from the natural disaster, the losses due to the nuclear accident were minor. Perspective, people!

He showed charts and graphs that demonstrated just how minor the release of nuclear radiation and toxic material was and is, and how workers at the plant have never really been exposed to high levels of radiation, as they were, for example, at Chernobyl.  The Chernobyl meltdown was orders of magnitude worse, he said.

Most of those in attendance seemed to accept his assessment -- he is a world-renown nuclear expert after all -- but some were quite disturbed by it. Or rather, by the implications of it. I asked at one point whether -- since according to him there are no health risks from the destruction of the plant -- whether the residents of Fukushima Town and the rest of the evacuation area had been allowed to return. He danced around an answer, saying he thought maybe people had been allowed to return to their homes in the outer evacuation area, but he wasn't sure, and that in Fukushima and closer in, he thought people were allowed day trips in -- to get their things and whatnot -- but he didn't think they were allowed to stay. I asked if he could estimate how close to the plant people are allowed to live; he said he couldn't. One other attendee said she thought it was 20 kilometers (12 miles). He didn't dispute it. In other words, the evacuation zone is still in effect, despite the lack of ill-effects from radiation and contamination -- according to Knief -- due to the Fukushima disaster.

He said it would easily take 40 years or more to complete the clean up of the plant, while clean up at Three Mile Island "only" took ten years. This is rather striking. Of course we were told there was no significant radiation or toxic leak from Three Mile Island, either, yet it took ten years to clean it up. We are now being told that there have been no significant radiation or toxic leaks from Fukushima Daiichi, and it will take a minimum of 40 years to clean it up.


Another attendee said (all quotes in this post are paraphrases), "You've pointed out that 'nobody could have anticipated' the severity of the earthquake or the height of the tsunami, yet any graduate student could easily have done so given the fault lines near the site and the history of tsunamis in Japan, some of which have been a good deal higher than the one that overwhelmed Fukushima. Any graduate student could have predicted what happened. Yet the government of Japan and the experts at TEPCO couldn't?"

Knief said, "They might have, I suppose, but they didn't. They designed for the worst they thought would happen, and they were wrong. But their design worked very well until the plant lost power, and there was nothing they could do about that..."

According to what we were told, the plant lost power because the reactors themselves shut down automatically when the earthquake hit. The transmission lines for power from other sources were knocked out by the earthquake as well. The diesel generators at the Fukushima site kicked in as they were supposed to when the power went off, but within half an hour, the unexpectedly high tsunami hit, swamping the generators and knocking them out of commission. The final back up was a series of storage batteries that only had a few hours' charge, and there was no way to recharge them. Once the batteries were exhausted, there was no power at the plant. A "station blackout." TEPCO attempted to get new generators to the plant but was unable to due to traffic and destroyed roads. The tsunami had also washed away the fuel storage tanks for the generators on site. So even if they had been able to get the generators to Fukushima, there was no fuel for them and they would have been useless.

So things followed their natural course. Three of the reactor containment buildings exploded -- as they were designed to do we were told -- due to the build up of hydrogen vented into the containments from the reactors as they heated up from lack of cooling water. One of the reactors' cooling water toruses was breached and contaminated water was released into a holding tank below. There was a fire in a few of the spent fuel rod tanks, but the fire was contained, and there were few/no toxic releases. On and on.

The plant is in cold shutdown now and clean up is proceeding. Nothing to see here, please carry on for the next 40 years or so...

All the other nuclear plants in Japan have been shut down as well, and alternative fuels are proving to be very expensive, so he thinks that the undamaged nuclear plants should be returned to service; there may be a slight risk, but there is a trade-off in that the cost of running electric plants on natural gas or oil is so high that the risk may be worth it.

One attendee questioned the validity of Knief's charts and graphs showing no health risk at all from radiation and toxic materials released from Fukushima. "Has the media been hyping the situation over there?"  He said, "Yes, it has." "How?" she asked. The response was essentially that there have been no adverse affects to the health of individuals near the plant, and that experience from other instances of radiation exposure (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which he said are really the driving psychological events behind the hype and the fear of the Fukushima event) indicates that a certain level of low dosage radiation could be healthful.

By this point, some people were getting pretty annoyed, so the open discussion was shut down, but Knief stuck around for private consultation.

We took the opportunity to tour the museum, which we found to be in its own way quite as annoying as the Science Cafe speaker. Well, "annoying," is that the right word?

Perhaps not. Evocative. Aggravating. Propagandistic. Stomach churning.

Anyone who grew up under the threat of instant incineration from nuclear annihilation like we did is going to be... moved, and quite possibly sickened, by the accumulations and displays of bombs (at least their casings) and missiles and planes and all the other panoply and mechanisms of nuclear war housed at the museum.

Worse, at least in my view, was the justification of it.

"We did these things and had these weapons because of the threat from the Soviet Union, and anyone who questioned that threat (such as J. Robert Oppenheimer) deserved what they got. Shut up."

I'd seen many B-52s in flight and on the ground in my time (you couldn't escape them living near an Air Force base, especially during the Vietnam War) but I'd never been that close to one. The one on display is set up as if it were being loaded with nuclear tipped guided missiles, and when you think about it, you can't help shuddering.

In the background by the fence it looked like there was a bomb casing such as the one Slim Pickens rode down in "Dr. Strangelove."

There were all kinds of missiles on display including put-together and dismantled ICBMs, which again, I'd never seen close up. There were random parts of a B-47 stacked up on the ground, and the conning tower of a nuclear submarine which they are raising money to restore and put on display. There was the obligatory nuclear cannon. There was a B-29 next to the B-52, looking quite diminutive and modest by comparison.

Every size and type of nuclear device, from The Gadget of 1945 and the Trinity test, to the tiniest hand-carried bomb (57 pounds, launchable from a bazooka-like apparatus), to the most hideous looking hydrogen device, to a couple of the "broken arrows" -- nuclear weapons, whoops!, lost from planes or otherwise gone astray... was on display, and in a corner was an old teevee playing a loop of Civil Defense films from the 1950's, in a mock up of a fallout shelter from the era, stocked with barrels of "Drinking Water", and cans of "Food". Only one cot, though.

Yes, well.

Propaganda posters, nuclear cars, trains, planes, and nuclear medicine were all highlighted. In the "lounge" -- decorated with Mid-Century furniture and other items -- was playing one of the Frontline videos of the Fukushima disaster. How about that.

I noted that young adults wanted to have their pictures taken with the bombs, especially the Fat Man and Little Boy mockups. Older people were... either quiet or trying to laugh off what they were seeing.

Was it real? Did we really go through this?

Trinity Site functions as a memorial. There isn't even a hint of celebration there. When people approach the site in a celebratory or expectant mood, they leave in solemnity bordering on depression. As they think about what began there, there is no escape from the psychological horror of it.

Despite his obvious enthusiasm for nuclear power Knief did seem to recognize the severe psychological effects of the various disasters that have accompanied the development of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and to his credit, he didn't try to dismiss them.

Then we went to yet another literary event...

[I'll try to provide some links later... right now, we're getting ready for another literary afternoon...]

Saturday, April 27, 2013

CT Every Which Way

It's not unusual for traumatic events to give rise to conspiracy theories of one sort or another, and so it has been with the Boston Marathon Bombing, though it seemed to take a bit longer for them to be generated than in some of the previous instances I can recall.

If we go back to the JFK Assassination in 1963 -- which I can still remember pretty well, and which seemed to have started the line of conspiracies and lies and government reformations, failures and breakdowns we've been subject to ever since -- we can see how easy it has been to induce the common people to believe something that simply may not be true. This goes for both the Official Story and the various alternative conspiracy theories as well.

Ever since then, I've been convinced that 1) the Official Story is a lie; 2) many, if not all, of the conspiracy theory alternatives to the Official Story originate from some of the same sources as the Official Story.

In other words, the conspiracy theories form part of the process by which most of the public is convinced of the "truth" of the Official Story while simultaneously providing those who are not convinced or convincible with plenty of distracting and generally false leads to consider and argue over indefinitely.

So it has been with the Boston Marathon Bombing, as it was with so many other traumatic events of the last several decades.

All we, the plebs, need to understand is that we are to live in persistent fear of arbitrary threats from sources we can't know or understand and we are to obey the commands of Our Betters -- for our own safety and security, of course.

This is the consistent message conveyed to us from on high: fear the unknown but always present threat; obey official orders (or, in the case of Boston's lockdown, what has been euphemistically and propagandistically called "requests to stay indoors.")

 Seems to have worked pretty well...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Strange Connections

The Oaks, residence of J. Parker Whitney, Spring Valley Ranch, Rocklin, CA, c. 1889

Yesterday, I was tootling around the place trying to figure out whether spring was actually ever going to settle in and when I would be able to plant without fear of a late season hard freeze killing the seedlings. Our neighbor, Kathy, says it's not really worthwhile planting before Mother's Day, because there is almost guaranteed to be more freezing weather before the end of spring. And besides, the monsoon rains don't start until summer anyway. She thinks I started seedlings way too soon (at the beginning and middle of April, after all!) and that I should have waited.

Well, I get antsy. The landscape strangely looks like late summer California: dry yellow grasslands dotted with dark trees and grayish shrubbery. Of course the species are different, but the visuals are similar.

While puzzling all this out, I got to exploring some of the historical material about this area, and it is quite a tale. This area wasn't opened to homesteading until about 1900, though there were some pockets of squatters and interlopers before then. This area was subject to competing landgrant claims prior to 1900 as various factions sued and countersued in territorial and federal courts and Congress dithered the way they do.

Interestingly, the later claims were fought between a prominent New Mexico family, the Oteros who were intermarried with the Lunas, an even more prominent New Mexico family, and the Whitneys, a very prominent California family (though in these parts, they are attributed to Boston.)  Indeed, Whitney is an inescapable namesake in parts of Northern California, particularly in the Rocklin area outside of Sacramento, where physical remnants of his 30,000 acre Spring Valley Ranch can still be seen amid the suburban sprawl that has engulfed the western end of Placer County.

I knew the Whitney name was associated with the history of this area of New Mexico, but until yesterday, I didn't realize it was that Whitney, of Spring Valley Ranch in Rocklin, California. The name used here in New Mexico is commonly Joel Whitney (and his brother, James); in California, Joel Whitney was known as Parker Whitney (I don't think I ever ran across the name "Joel" as he went by his middle name "Parker".) James didn't really figure. And Joel Whitney is almost always referred to as a "Boston" businessman or capitalist, not a California rancher. Any mention in New Mexico of his California connection tends to be fleeting and often confusing.

Well, (Joel) Parker Whitney was born in Boston, but he went out to California in 1852 at the age of 17 to make his fortune in the gold fields. Of course by then the gold fields that hadn't already been worked out were already claimed, so there wasn't much opportunity for individuals to get rich from panning gold in California. Instead, Whitney made his fortune from "market hunting" -- which sounds dreadful, but very American on the Frontier -- and once he'd made his pile (by 1856 at any rate) he began acquiring the land around Rocklin that would become the immense Spring Valley Ranch.

In California, a lot of effort was put into "scientific" farming and ranching methods as everything was new, at least to the Anglos, and there was no point in trying to recreate the traditional farming and ranching methods utilized back east. Everything was different, particularly the weather, and farming and ranching practices of other regions turned out to be disastrous in California. Other means and methods had to be developed -- which they were at places like Spring Valley Ranch, which farmed scientifically and scientifically raised [sheep and] cattle.

California may still have been something of the Frontier in the later part of the 19th Century, but New Mexico was a backwater, or at least it was thought to be by the Anglos who were trying to make something of it. The odd thing was that New Mexico was the parent of Spanish colonial California, and the two stayed closely connected until the American seizure of the territory from Mexico, and even then, the Spanish connection throughout the Southwest was maintained under American suzerainty.

Whitney was Anglo to the max, of course, and in Rocklin, he had a free hand to do pretty much anything he wanted, and he did, as there were no prior European-American customs and traditions in Northern California to be overcome. That wasn't so in Spanish California, where very different traditions and customs were maintained, nor -- he would find out -- was it true in New Mexico where he attempted to establish and maintain an elaborate cattle empire on lands that had been granted to and were already in possession of Spanish descended (and locally prominent) sheep herders.

The details are somewhat complicated and obtuse, as legal and land ownership matters tend to be, but the gist of it is that Whitney purchased the greater part of the Baca land grant in the East Mountains of New Mexico, but the Baca grant had not been confirmed by American authorities by the time Whitney came around, and the Baca grant and some of its parts were claimed by others, including the Oteros who had bought it from the heirs of Bartolomé Baca, who had received it as a grant from the Spanish Crown in 1819. The portion that Whitney purchased came from the Antonio Sandoval grant of 1845, a grant that seems to have been made by Mexican authorities without either knowledge or reference to the previous Baca grant. Sandoval sold his grant to Gervacio Nolan. Whitney bought the interest of the Nolan heirs in the Sandoval grant in 1878.

It's possible Whitney had no knowledge of the Baca grant -- which encompassed about 1.5 million acres essentially the entirety of the Estancia Basin together with the eastern slopes of the Manzano Mountains. Whitney had only purchased the Nolan heirs' interest in the Sandoval grant which encompassed about a third of the entire Baca grant but which made no reference to that grant. It was Whitney's objective to run cattle on that portion of the Baca grant, and to that end, he sent his brother James to collect 25,000 head in Texas and move them to New Mexico.

At the time, perhaps unknown to Whitney, Manuel Otero was running 45,000 sheep on the same property, along with some cattle and horses. Manuel Otero had purchased the Baca grant in its entirety (but for those sections granted to the towns of Manzano, Torreon, Tajique, and Chilili previously) from the heirs of Bartolomé Baca  -- who had essentially come upon the grant documents by surprise when they opened a chest belonging to Bartolomé after his death. Apparently, in about 1833 Bartolomé ordered the abandonment of the ranch he had established with headquarters at Estancia Springs, due to repeated Indian raids that had resulted in the loss of nearly all the livestock and the deaths of several of his shepherds. The remaining Baca ranch staff was urged to move to the town of Manzano for protection.

Otero purchased the Baca grant in 1877 and promptly set out to run sheep on the land once again, and once again to utilize the Estancia Springs hacienda as headquarters.

Manuel Otero attempted to gain American confirmation of his ownership of the Baca grant but failed to do so, as the presiding judge determined that the grant was incomplete. This ruling would be appealed, but before it was, Manuel died, and his son, also Manuel, took over the Otero properties, including the Baca grant.

Manuel Otero the Younger had been educated in Germany, and upon his return to New Mexico, he married Eloisa Luna, easily one of the richest heiresses in the territory. The story of the Lunas and the Oteros is one of New Mexico's chief legends of the Rio Abajo -- which is not really part of this story, but it does help to show how strangely connected everything is.

Manuel the Younger had Jesus Chavez running the sheep ranch out at Estancia Springs, where one day, James Whitney came to call accompanied by some cowboys and perhaps his herds. James demanded that the ranch and the hacienda be turned over to him forthwith. Jesus put up little resistance, but he sent word to Manuel at his place called "La Costancia" near Belen. Manuel saddled up along with several of his vaqueros and set out for Estancia. Along the way, he met up with his brother-in-law, a doctor, and they proceeded to pay a call on James Whitney and his men who were in occupation at the Estancia Springs hacienda.

According to reports, the meeting was tense -- or perhaps it was cordial, accounts differ. At any rate, Otero demanded some sort of court order or other documentation from Whitney to prove ownership of the ranch and grant, but Whitney couldn't produce anything. Therefore, according to Otero, Whitney had no legal right to the property, though Whitney was in possession of it at the moment. Some reports say that Whitney and Otero got along quite well, despite the dispute over ownership, and in the course of the evening commenced to drink and play cards. But at some point, guns were drawn and fired. Both Otero and Whitney were wounded in the shootout, while one of Whitney's men was killed. Otero's vaqueros then took over the hacienda and property while Whitney's men retreated, loading the wounded James Whitney onto a wagon for the long and arduous trip to Santa Fe where he would be placed at St. Vincent's to recuperate.

Meanwhile, at Estancia Springs, Manuel Otero died of his wounds, despite the heroic efforts of his brother-in-law to save him. Manuel's death caused enormous outrage in the territory, as he and his family were among the most prominent New Mexicans. Whitney was considered a murderer and interloper, and he was put under arrest in his hospital bed at St. Vincent's.

Whitney's brother, Parker (called Joel in New Mexico), informed of these unfortunate events, made his way by rail out to New Mexico several weeks later. He was intent on liberating his brother from the New Mexican savages and taking him back to California.  This task was accomplished by strategy and clever equipment, including ropes and pulleys and such like, that allowed the wounded James to be hoisted out a window at night. James was hauled away from St. Vincent's by carriage and placed on Parker Whitney's private railroad car at Lamy, then called Galisteo Junction, 18 miles from Santa Fe where the rail depot was (one assumes that's where James made his escape by rail, as there was no rail depot in Santa Fe at the time). When James was discovered missing from the hospital in the morning, the governor was informed, and he sent a telegram to the sheriff in Las Vegas (NM) to halt the train and arrest James.

The train was halted just outside Las Vegas, and there was an encounter between Parker Whitney and Miguel Otero in which a gun was pulled. Parker Whitney's private car was decoupled and re-attached to a train headed for Albuquerque, and events took their course. At Albuquerque, a brief hearing before a judge was held on Whitney's private car, at which bail for James was set at $25,000 and he was released to the custody of his brother to return to California.

It was grumbled at the time, and it was probably true, that Parker Whitney had bribed the judge to grant bail, and it was widely assumed that this was the last that would be seen of the Whitney brothers in New Mexico.

But no, they returned the next year for the trial, which their attorneys successfully had moved from Valencia County, seat of the Oteros and Lunas and site of the gunfight, to Colfax County, where almost incredibly, they were able to empanel an all-Anglo jury, who acquitted James of murder, citing self-defense.

James promptly died.

Parker returned to his Spring Valley Ranch in California, but he pursued his claim to the Nolan interest in the Sandoval grant while Eloisa Otero -- now remarried -- pursued her late husband's claim to the Baca grant. Both claims went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and both claims were ultimately denied as neither party could produce complete (enough) land grant documents to satisfy the court.

The final resolution of the Whitney claim was handed down in 1901, and in 1903, what became the New Mexico Central Railroad was laid through the Estancia and Galisteo Basins to connect the southern Santa Fe tracks to the Santa Fe tracks in the north. Homesteaders flocked hither, though there were already plenty of squatters.

Pinto beans and cattle became the primary crops of the region as hundreds of people settled on the rather bleak high plains to try their luck at last of the Frontier farming and ranching. Ultimately, there never would be a large population in the area. The land and weather are really too hard to support many people. Water is too scarce. The growing season is very short. Forage is slight.

In the 1930's and the 1950's this area suffered severe drought -- as it is suffering once again -- and unfortunate farming practices caused mini-versions of the Dust Bowl of the Great Plains. And once again, residents are experiencing extensive dust storms. It's not as bad -- yet -- as old timers remember, but just the chance that it might get that bad again is disturbing to people with long memories. Farmers have changed their practices, but still the dust rises.

So far as I can tell from what we've been told and the remaining signs of what used to be, our place was set near the southeast corner of what was probably a 160 acre spread. I can pretty much trace the former boundaries of this place by noting the locations of other old adobe houses and the present boundaries of surviving ranches which seem to have bordered this place when it was originally laid out.

It doesn't appear that this place was ever used to grow crops though there are signs that it may have initially been a horse or cattle ranch.

This house was originally two rooms, self-built of adobe manufactured on the property. In fact, there's still a pit near the house where I suspect the adobe came from. There were several additions over the years, mostly of adobe, but some of wood frame, that ultimately made the house fairly large -- well, large for us, at any rate, though it is no larger than a fairly typical suburban house today. The house we left in California was about half the size of this one, but it was quite tiny as California houses go.

Most of the land that once surrounded this place seems to have been sold off and subdivided in the 1950's when the last additions were made to this house. We've been told stories -- that we don't believe -- about who the place once belonged to, and we've heard some interesting stories about the lesbian couple that lived here and grew herbs and flowers before leaving the place abandoned about five years before we bought the wreck from an elderly woman who lived in Oklahoma.

While there is a lot of history here, and it's a lengthy history, it's not so complicated that it can't be unraveled. The surprising connections I've just now discovered between the old families of New Mexico and California's Whitneys is very intriguing. Before I retired, I did a lot of work in Rocklin and followed and documented the intense suburban development of what had once been (Joel) Parker Whitney's Spring Valley Ranch closely. For a time at the height of the real estate bubble, Rocklin was the fastest growing community in the nation. Suburban developments metastasized overnight. It was insane.

Now we're in a far calmer place.

Waiting for spring to settle in....

I've been looking into other aspects of the histories of (Joel) Parker Whitney, Spring Valley Ranch, and the historical connections between the Whitneys and the East Mountains and the Estancia/Galisteo Basins of New Mexico, and I may be revising this post in the by and bye. There is more to the story to be sure. But there are also many variations on the story, as each teller of the tale tells it somewhat differently. Sometimes the stories are radically different. Further, the biographical information about the Whitneys, the Oteros and so on differs almost as much -- depending on who is telling the tale.

In some ways, it's like an old time oral history that has been passed down through the generations, but which is told differently depending on who is recollecting and telling the story, and where the story is told. For example, I've found no mention at all in the California histories of the Whitneys' misfortune in New Mexico; it's as if it never happened (though there are a number of references to Parker Whitney's Colorado adventures, including some misfortune.)  On the New Mexico side, there is almost no mention of the Whitneys' California holdings and operations, and there is no apparent recognition by the story-tellers in New Mexico that the Spring Valley Ranch in California was the Whitney headquarters (as opposed to Boston, say). The Whitney's New Mexico episode went on for more than 20 years -- at least in litigation -- so I would think there would be some recognition of it in the Whitney histories, but I have yet to come across even one word about it in any California-based history of the Whitneys -- though there is still a great deal I haven't read. On the other hand, the New Mexico histories of the events that took place as the Whitneys and Oteros competed for the properties are so varied it's all but impossible to know what really happened.

It's a mystery...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jeremy Scahill On The Dirty (Little) War

[Three Five Zero Zero...]


Jeremy has a lengthy post up over at The Nation detailing what he's learned of the covert -- and often overt -- acts of the Dirty War that's been under way against... terr-r...  for lo these many years now, focusing on the al-Awlakis, father and son, droned to death in separate actions two weeks apart in 2011 in the Yemen. It's a nasty business that's become normalized and seems to have become fetishized by  Our Rulers to the point where the extermination of various threats to the security of the High and Mighty has become a high-stakes game played by proxies on video terminals in Florida and Nevada and who knows where else, against... whoever the war-gamers decide are suspect, wherever in the world they may be. Including, potentially, right here at home, "against American citizens on American soil," though we are repeatedly assured that is not the case... for now. The High and the Mighty excitedly look on and direct the actions of their proxies, to kill and kill again from above, certain in their righteousness and glory.

The anguish over the use of drones in this endeavor seems a bit over the top to me; somehow the squads of murderers who would be -- and sometimes are -- deployed in the place of drones give me no comfort.

Perhaps the idea is that the murder squads would be able to employ more appropriate judgement and thus the number of collateral killings in pursuit of designated targets would be reduced. Perhaps. The problem is that when these squads were heavily utilized in places like Vietnam and Central America (by proxy), and currently in Iraq and Afghanistan and who knows wherever else in the world they are deployed, tens to hundreds of thousands were murdered most of whom had nothing to do with the supposed targets at all. They were either in the way or they were simply targets of opportunity. Why not murder them? Who would care? As long as it was no one who mattered, slaughter away. It's the way these things are done these days.

Jeremy has been one of the most vocal and consistent exposers and objectors to this New Model warfare by proxy and drone murder of any and all who fall under the gaze of the gamers. It is the cause, he thinks, of the very "terrorists" it is meant to exterminate. The more the murder by drone and death squads, the more the victims respond in kind.

Stop the drone wars, stop the murder squads, and who knows, mayhem in general, and particularly mayhem by "terrorists" might decline... You, the Rulers, will never exterminate them all... and by trying, you may well be producing something worse.

Some of what's been revealed about the Brothers Tsarnaev's motives -- at least as they are being presented in the "news" -- should come as a cautionary and warning to those who are so devoted to the game. Of course, they won't, but that's another issue.

Such motives of the brothers in Boston as have been suggested or revealed are what Jeremy has been getting at for years:  the slaughter -- euphemistically called "collateral damage" -- from the murder squads and drone wars in parts of the Muslim world radicalized the elder brother to the point where he believed he had to do something about it, something dramatic.

It had apparently nothing to do with the Chechen rebellion; it had to do with what the United States has been doing in the Muslim world for years and years now, targeting and murdering hundreds of innocents year in and year out, on no authority but "suspicion". Anybody who is in the way, too bad, so sad.

Apparently, the more he learned about what was going on, the more enraged and determined he became to do something about it. The resulting actions, bombing the Boston Marathon and various shootouts, seemed inexplicable and bizarre without some sort of manifesto or at least a YouTube of some sort, and thus seemed much more in line with typical domestic terrorist behavior than what we're used to in connection with the Global and Glorious War on Terror.

But no, apparently the bombings were motivated by stories -- such as Jeremy Scahill's -- of slaughter, murder and mayhem by Americans among the innocent Muslims of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq (among other places where these tactics are utilized) .

It's a dirty little war that has become perpetual.

The logic of it -- if you want to call it that -- is completely circular and thus never-ending.

"They" did something terrible, "we" respond with something even more horrible, "they" then ramp up their terrible response, "we" in our wisdom then do likewise. These sorts of campaigns can go on seemingly forever without resolution, in part because they are relatively low-key compared to conventional warfare, and it serves the interests of Power to maintain them in perpetuity -- as long as there is a "threat" from above or wherever, the Power players are assured their supremacy indefinitely.

If there is to be a resolution, there has to be bold action to reverse the course of the endless struggle. With few exceptions, resolution comes -- if it comes -- from the unilateral stopping of the violence by the more powerful player in the game, followed by the resistance ceasing (most of) its violence against the more powerful player.

Certainly that was the case in Vietnam, and it seemed to work in Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as in most of the rest of the colonial outposts in days of yore. The more powerful -- ie: the colonial power -- stopped.

I've said many times that the current wars and their resistance are mostly about restoring Empire, and part of that process is "getting right" some of the failed Imperial Projects of times gone by. That includes Iraq, Afghanistan (in spades), the Yemen, parts of Africa and the Middle East and eventually Persia/Iran.

That's why the British government are so keen to participate in the current Imperial crusade -- it was essentially their Empire that fell to pieces, and it is essentially their failed colonies where the new Anglo-American Imperial Project has been instituted.

There's an internet tradition that asserts we are living at the End of the Empire. America is in permanent decline from which there can be no recovery, the American Empire is nearly kaput, and so on and so forth, yadda yadda. To me, this meme if you will, is absurd and for all intents and purposes, it has things backwards. The Empire is fine, ever-expanding, and as Empires tend to be, it is very rapacious and cruel.

The American People are facing decline -- from which there is no apparent recovery -- as the Republic expires and the economy is looted (partially to fund the Empire) with speed and abandon. The same sort of thing happened domestically in Britain during the hey-day of their Empire. The British People faced untold hardship while their lords and ladies exploited not only colonial outposts but the domestic population as well. In the process, the People's rights and privileges were simply taken away. And for generations, protest against this state of affairs was ineffective.

The Empire flourished, while the People were en-miserated.

That's how these things go, and that's how it's going once again.

As is his way, Jeremy tends to be thorough and correct in his descriptions and assessments of American Imperial actions at home and abroad. His tales about the appalling things being done in our names can curl your hair. The story of the extermination of the al-Awlakis, father and son, in the Yemen, both of whom were American citizens, is -- or should be -- deeply disturbing, but of course, because they were officially designated targets for White House sanctioned murder, the best we can hope for right now is ambivalence. Before we can even become ambivalent, however, we need knowledge.

Knowledge of these things is so carefully controlled and manipulated from On High, however, that even when we "know" about something, we don't really know anything.

Jeremy has a book out, "Dirty Wars, the World is a Battlefield," and the movie is making the rounds.

There is much more to learn and understand. Go, see, read, learn.

Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now! today:

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Lies That Continue to Suffuse the Terror War

Who is fighting whom, and over what, are among the chief lies we've come to accept as part of the New Normal. So many of us are convinced that we are at war with some Arab "Other" which wants to slaughter us all in our beds, and that's why Boston happened.

Except Arabs had nothing to do with it. Or maybe they did...

We were at a literary event over the weekend. One of the local authors in attendance is a former CIA analyst, and he was asked about the Boston Thing and its relationship to the general problem and issue of terror(ism) and terror wars. He brought up the fact that "these people" (meaning Chechens) had been on the radar for quite some time, and at least when he was at the Agency, there would have been tabs kept if reports had come that a pro-Chechen immigrant had gone back to Russia within the last year and stayed for a good part of the year doing... what? They would have found out, they would have known. But once he returned to the USA, he became the FBI's responsibility. And the FBI, as far as he knew, was keeping track of the older of the brothers at least. Something must have gone wrong. He doesn't know what.

Coleen Rowley of Moussaoui Case fame has put up a long and rather confusing piece over at Consortium News that unravels some of the threads of the Chechen Connection. It's not quite as cut and dried as I would have thought in the past -- that Chechen separatists use terror tactics against Russians, not Americans. I would think they have no beef with America.

Well, maybe they do, though. According to Rowley, this all goes back to the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan, just as the Osama Thing goes back to that time and place, when the United States was recruiting and utilizing various Muslim and Jihadist resistance outfits to fight the Soviets as our proxies. This recruitment included Chechen separatists and jihadists.

According to her, the Chechen resistance was being led by one Ibn al Khattab -- which she somewhat surprisingly doesn't mention was a Saudi national who seemed to have been involved in all kinds of Muslim resistance movements in Europe and the Caucasus as well as Afghanistan back in the day. He was apparently everywhere, much as the late Osama sometimes seemed to be.

The Saudi connection has long been obscured in all the hoo-hah over terror(ism) and contemporary terror war. In some sense, the terror(ism) we are supposedly fighting  all seems to flow out of the Arabian Peninsula, and it's getting tiresome to keep rationalizing what's going on as some sort of aberration.

As everyone knows, the House of Saud is and long has been a client of the United States Government. The House of Saud is so intimately attached to the United States Government, there is no daylight between the one and the other; the House of Saud seems to be a far more dedicated client of the United States Government than even our bosom companion Tel Aviv and Jerusalem clients.

And the House of Saud rules the Arabian Peninsula with a rod of iron and a sword of steel.

It is my impression that nothing happens on or from the Arabian Peninsula that the House of Saud is not aware of and has not signed off on. Perfidy writ large. And yet the House of Saud continues to be the close client and ally of the United States. It's always struck me as odd.

It's all about the oil, of course, but there is -- there must be -- more.

The Boston Thing started off bizarre and remains bizarre to this day because it had all the marks of a domestic terrorist act in every respect, including the subsequent shootouts and eventual suspect capture. A suspect who, conveniently, is so badly wounded in his throat that he can't talk. The other suspect, of course, is very conveniently dead.

It took an amazing degree of propagandizing to convince America that despite all the domestic-terror signs and signals, the Boston Bombings were actually the result of al Qaeda inspiration or training, as the bombs were apparently produced using the information found on the al Qaeda magazine website -- easily accessible by anyone, of course, but frequented mostly by jihadist/terrorists. For some reason, I've always thought that website (which I've never visited) was a honeypot, but what do I know? Wheels within wheels.

So then it turns out the suspects were immigrants (whew!) from some foreign land, not directly from Chechnya, no, but from the part of Russia bordering Chechnya, and they are ethnically Chechen, and by religion Muslim. Oh, well, that's all that's necessary to understand what's happened. Case closed.

Foreign Muslims on the rampage against the United States yet again. Only it's not that simple by any means.

In a lot of ways, it's still a domestic terror(ist) act, in part because though the suspects are ethnically Chechen, one is an American citizen and the other was on the path to citizenship. The family seems quite certain that there was no foreign interest or terrorist connection at all, despite the fact that the young mens' father moved back to Russia at some point, and lives there now, and the older brother apparently lived with him for six months last year.

Then he came back to set bombs at the Boston Marathon? But why? Just to do it? To show how easy it is?

Or was there something else? There was no statement, no manifesto, no claim of responsibility, nothing. Just bombs, and in this way, it was absolutely characteristic of domestic terrorist acts, which usually have neither claim of responsibility nor manifesto. They just "are." So it was in Boston.

It takes a while for authorities to sort out whether such acts are domestic or something else, but in this case, despite all the signs of its being domestic, there was nearly immediate and universal suspicion that it was a "foreign fighter" act, al Qaeda no less, because it had to be. This is propaganda in action.

Someone interviewed on the teevee over the weekend said straight out, "The battlefield now includes the United States," therefore any act by the government to suppress this sort of terror(ist) act is justified.

We are at war, and the war is right here in front of us, at least according to this view. Of course, it is compromised by the fact that the United States is officially at peace, but whether we are living under war or peace time conditions depends on the advantage to the government and its sponsors from one or the other designation, such that we are often simultaneously under wartime and peacetime conditions and authorities.

It's disorienting to say the least, but that's a problem for the People, not for the Government. I'd say it's deliberate intent.

There is as yet very little truth in the narrative of and the reaction to the Boston Marathon Bombing and the subsequent manhunts and shootouts. The lies will congeal into a version of "truth" that will be defended to the end.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rudolfo Anaya's "Rosa Linda"

Mario Moreno, Ashley Weingardt, and Carmela Roybal in Rudolfo Anaya's "Rosa Linda," a co-production of the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Vortex Theatre, Albuquerque, NM, April 19-21, 2013
Rudolfo Anaya is a New Mexico institution and one of the premiere Chicano literary lights in the country; I think the term used to describe him and his works is "beloved" -- when he's not being honored as "El Maestro." He's a delightful elder quite apart from his literary works, and I don't doubt that's part of his staying power. His continuing creative output is a testament to his endurance as well as his literary talent and skill.

The world premiere of his new play, "Rosa Linda" opened last Friday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, and we saw it this afternoon.

This was, of course, something of a special event for us as in a previous life I was producing director at a theater I co-founded in California which specialized in the premieres of new works by women and people of color. We never did a Rudolfo Anaya work, but we were certainly familiar with him and his oeuvre, and since we've moved to New Mexico, we've had a chance to meet him and get to know more of his work.

Anaya was born in Pastura, NM, but raised in Santa Rosa. Though he has a highly developed rural New Mexico sensitivity and sensibility, he's not really a country boy, and at least to my mind, he seems to know it. Santa Rosa is not a big town by any means, but it's nothing like Pastura -- which is little more than a couple of streets by the Santa Fe railroad tracks hosting a handful of tin-roofed tumble down buildings. Santa Rosa's a big city by comparison.

Santa Rosa is on the edge of the Llano Escatado  -- the Palisaded Plains -- that's mostly in Texas. It's ranch and cattle country, not unlike the area in New Mexico where we've settled, though its elevation isn't nearly as high. The landscape can be varied.

"Rosa Linda" is set somewhere near the llano and Santa Rosa in 1900 when change was the order of the day in New Mexico, as the Anglos consolidated their political power and economic control -- in part by dispossessing the Hispanic landowners. The land rights story here is, if anything, more fraughtful than that of California.

The play is set on the Augustin's rural ranch, and the action takes place both at the ranch house and at the river -- one assumes it's the Pecos -- where "Los Turcos" are encamped. My only previous encounter with "Turcos" in the context of a Spanish language entertainment was a character called "El Turco" -- a Syrian tradesman -- in a Columbian telenovela. Turns out in Rudolfo's conception, the Turcos are Mexican Gypsies who have been allowed to stay on the ranch and trade with the locals and provide entertainment from time to time for many years.

The story of "Rosa Linda" can be characterized as a more or less standard Hispanic story of "amor prohibido" one of the biggest drivers of Spanish story-telling for hundreds of years. In this case, Rosa, has returned to the ranch from her convent-school in Santa Fe (which would be the well-known Academy of Our Lady of Light school once located nearby Bishop Lamy's cathedral.) She has been followed by one Ramon whom she met in Santa Fe and with whom she has had something of a chaste (one assumes) dalliance.

When Ramon visits Rosa at the ranch, Rosa's father, Augustin becomes enraged that she would invite a male friend to come over without his permission, and he drives Ramon away.

The plot thickens as Rosa attempts to assert herself against the wishes of both her parents and her grandmother, and in the process discovers important family secrets that had been strategically hidden from her.

There is a murder -- or accident, take your pick -- and many family revelations including extensive infidelity and suggestions of incest -- that lead to further outrage and finally a suicide. There are flamenco sequences, brujeria, and all manner of passion summed up by the falling of the all too rare rain.

In other words, it's a pretty standard amor prohibido  story with a distinctive New Mexico twist, and I thought the script was darned good. The cast sometimes let the pace drag a bit, and too often, too many of them seemed to be acting their roles rather than believably living them. Some sections of the dialog were in Spanish, but it seemed to me that Anaya was consciously trying for Spanish dialog that Anglos could understand most of the time, and it seemed to work pretty well. At least I could follow it pretty well except at the end where I lost the thread of the speech in Spanish spoken by one of the characters (she summed it up in English, but there was a good deal more to what she said in Spanish.) I noticed that some of the characters were trying for a "Spanish" accent when they spoke English, and I thought it might have been better for them simply to adopt the common vernacular New Mexican speech pattern and accent instead. It's distinctive in its own right, doesn't seem the least bit artificial, and lots of New Mexicans -- Anglos, Indians and Spanish alike -- use it quite naturally. But that's a relatively minor point.

I was impressed with how well done the script was. According to the notes, Anaya started working on it in 1981, only to set it aside for the next 30 years until one of his colleagues at UNM suggested he pull it out and polish it up for performance after the success of "Bless Me, Ultima" in both stage and movie versions. Polish it, he did. There were only a couple of awkward moments early on, and a bit of confusion later as some characters became enamored of one another more suddenly than seemed seemly.

All in all, though, it worked quite well, for which the Anaya and all the people involved in the production can be happy. The theater was nearly full, and it seemed that most of the audience truly enjoyed the play. Some were inclined to speak out from their seats as one or another plot twist was introduced or a character re-appeared. In another context, I might have been annoyed, but in this one these outbursts were charming.

This play could be further polished, but as it stands, "Rosa Linda" is a vital contribution to a growing body of distinctively New Mexican theater works. Some observers have referred to New Mexico as a cultural island, seemingly more "foreign" than "American," a quality of both the people and the land. That may be, and "Rosa Linda" may be another aspect of the New Mexican "island." It's familiar to anyone who is the least familiar with Spanish story-telling, and it is very distinctively New Mexican in style and spirit.

May it have a long life in the theater.

After Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Thing

One of my visceral and more or less immediate reactions to the Boston Marathon Bombing Thing was, "Damn, this must be something like what folks in Baghdad (and elsewhere) have been going through for years now." Random acts of brutal violence like this suffuse the regions of the Middle East and Africa where Our Valiant Warriors and their Native clients have been active in suppressing the Popular Will while simultaneously Unseating Dictators Who Don't Toe The Line.

Terror bombings per se are quite rare in the United States, comparatively speaking, though they have been remarkably frequent overseas (and not just in Baghdad) wherever and whenever resistance movements are engaged with a weak state -- or one that's not necessarily weak but is perceived to be vulnerable to violent terror tactics. Certainly, the British Isles and Europe have faced long term resistance movements which used all kinds of terror tactics, including bombings, over the years, and there was a time when such tactics were not unknown in this country as well.

But terror tactic bombings have been so infrequent in the recent past, Americans are shocked and stunned when they happen, making Americans surprisingly vulnerable to the terror such tactics produce. The British came to accept the fact that the Provisional IRA was going to plant bombs in various locations like pubs and parades and the bombs would go off and innocent people would be maimed and killed; it was taken as something that would happen, there was little could be done about it -- except to round up ever more Paddys and torture them. That's what Her Majesty's Government did in reaction to the IRA bombings, and I'm sure they believed it was "working." They wouldn't have done it otherwise, would they?

Of course, it never occurred to the British Government to quit Northern Ireland or even to mitigate their harsh regime there that gave rise to the resistance...  It was a vicious circle that was only broken when some clever dick realized that this relatively low-key, relatively permanent terror-war between the British and the Irish wasn't really necessary. It was stupid and counterproductive and cruel. How about trying something else? So they did, and now, while the conflict is far from resolved, at least they're not blowing each other up and murdering and torturing one another with glee and abandon the way they once did.

In the case of the Boston Marathon Thing, however, it's all very peculiar, so peculiar that it doesn't make the least bit of sense. There is no Chechen resistance movement in this country; at least none that I'm aware of. The Chechens have a long-time animosity and resistance toward Russia, and for cause, too. This is no idle matter. The Chechens have been horribly abused by Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with all of the panoply of state terror applied to them on a routine basis. Grozny was completely destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Chechens murdered, millions put to flight. All to ensure Russian control of Chechnya in perpetuity and to suppress the Chechen independence movement as thoroughly and completely as possible.

The excuse, of course, is suppression of Jihadi Islamism, as is the case practically everywhere state terror is employed these days. Must stamp out Jihadi Islamism or Civilization Is Doomed. Or something.

Yes, yes, but what's this got to do with Boston, with the Boston Marathon specifically, with the United States in general, and with these two purported bombers who created extraordinary levels of mayhem and chaos -- shutting down an entire major metropolitan area -- for what?

For what? What was this all about?

From beginning to end it was just bizarre, and I for one am not about it accept it as yet another advance in the New Normal.

The Ratchet Effect was absolutely in play, but that's the routine reaction of the US Government to any and all security events. That has been the New Normal for years, and there's apparently no way to reverse course.

We saw repeated "gunfights" in the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts -- whether there were actual gunfights or merely extreme levels of police gunfire at the fugitives (or potentially at nothing at all) we'll leave for historians to sort out. There were claims that the fugitives threw crude bombs and grenades at the police as they tried to make their escape -- after carjacking a citizen's Mercedes (but then, one of them was also said to own a Mercedes so who knows...?) If it was a carjacking, how did they cart around all their bombs and grenades, crude as they were? And what has become of the carjack victim? What's become of the Naked Guy? What's become of the student who was repeatedly shown spreadeagled on the ground -- supposedly a suspect -- as the manhunt continued. People who were witnessing and reporting what was going on behind the police tape in real time saw and reported gunfire, multiple arrests and interrogations, and much else, most of which never made it to the mass media news.

What's become of the people who were so directly affected by the zeal of the manhunt?

We saw an entire major city and its suburbs put on lockdown, something unprecedented in the history of the United States [correction: apparently this is the first time a major metropolitan area was put on lockdown due to a fugitive hunt, but according to reports, this is the third time Boston has been put on lock down in recent times, the previous two being due to storms -- the most recent a blizzard, the previous one Hurricane Sandy], while one fugitive was unsuccessfully sought by authorities. The fugitive was found by an alert civilian minutes after the lockdown was lifted, so what was that all about, anyway? My own sense was that the lockdown of Boston and its suburbs was a trial run -- a remarkably successful one at that -- for the eventual imposition of a kind of National Martial Law to control a suddenly restive and rebellious People. The authorities wanted to see if the people would comply with arbitrary orders like "shelter in place," and behold. For the most part they did, and once they saw how harsh and humiliating was the treatment of those who failed to comply, few very few dared leave their "shelter" for the duration of the order. It worked. Amazingly. People not only complied, they seemed to be eager to do so.

The lockdown of Boston and its suburbs was a form of martial law without a declaration, and that -- like the whole concept of "lockdowns" -- may become a New Normal that Americans just accept without question, though it is something that runs completely counter to American values and culture. If an entire major American city and its suburbs, a state capital at that, can be put on indefinite curfew and placed under undeclared martial law at the command of the governor (who was acting at the behest of whom?) then there is no effective limit to the imposition of state power under the current regime.

Those who claim this development does not represent the further evolution of the American Security State into a full on Police State are akin to other sorts of denialists. Those who express their worshipful admiration of the authorities under the circumstances -- and who question none of what's gone on -- seem to me to have fallen down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world.

No, this was something new and dangerous.

While the reaction of the American authorities can be rationalized as something they were prepared to do given the right cues, the bombing itself still seems inexplicable. Some "experts" have been trying to draw conclusions about it from the Chechen connection, and it just falls to pieces. Americans are not the targets of Chechen resistance, at least they haven't been up till now, and there is no sign whatsoever that the Boston Marathon Bombing was in any way connected with the Chechen resistance. So, what the fuckity fuck?

I'm sure there are plenty of conspiracy theories and there will be many more, most of them (I'm convinced) spun by operatives and apparatchiks.

Another issue is the usefulness of "crowd-sourcing," something engaged in enthusiastically and sometimes disastrously  by a wide range of enthusiasts on the internet during the course of the pursuit.

There were several widely publicized misidentifications due to enthusiast efforts to find the perpetrators of the bombing based on FBI and other pictures.

On the other hand, it was a civilian who noted blood on a tarp covering his boat -- after he was released from lockdown -- who located the surviving fugitive and reported it to the police. Had civilians been free to leave their "shelters", the fugitive might have been found much sooner and there might have been much less mayhem and chaos as well.

There will be questions about these incidents for years to come. On the other hand, if there are no rational answers, it may just fade away into the background noise of terror and counter terror.

They say the surviving young bomber-suspect was shot in the throat, is intubated and cannot speak, so there is little that can be learned from him at this point. There may not be a whole lot to learn from him in any case.

But I'd sure like to know what the hell was going on.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Authority Worship

The situation in Boston seemed to spiral into the weeds yesterday as more and more of the city and its suburbs were placed on enforced lockdown (euphemistically called "shelter in place"), public transport was suspended, and all citizens, except those directly involved in the manhunt for "Suspect #2"  were forbidden to go outside or engage in normal activities like walking their dogs, taking their children to school or checking their mail.

The incident of the Naked Guy was just one of a number of examples of police going bonkers because of some generally inadvertent citizen rule breaking or police suspicion of something. There was semi-live blogging at dKos of some of what was going on by someone who lived close to the house where "Suspect #2" was thought to be cornered (though he was apparently hiding in a boat a number of blocks away) -- people were being dragged from their homes in handcuffs and questioned, others were being taken away. Gunfire was erupting periodically. A neighborhood in Watertown resembled a war zone while the entire city of Boston and its suburbs were shut down -- and there was no escape.

Yet within mere minutes of lifting the lockdown, a lockdown which had lasted all day (and in some areas since the previous night), an alert citizen noticed blood on a tarp covering the boat in the backyard of his house, opened the tarp and saw the bloody body of "Suspect #2" inside, a sight which he promptly reported to the authorities leading to more intense gunfire and the eventual apprehension of the suspect.

In other words, the lockdown was completely ineffective in locating the suspect; it was only when people were allowed out of their homes that he was found. But the lockdown was extraordinarily effective in inspiring fear and dread in the public -- who knew where this suspect could be and OMG! what he might do? -- and in enforcing compliance with orders -- who knew what the police might do if you didn't comply?

The people of Watertown  burst into spontaneous and rapturous applause once the suspect was apprehended and citizens we allowed to freely congregate outdoors once again. They cheered the police, they even cheered the ambulance that drove the suspect out of the neighborhood and to the hospital -- where he is apparently recovering satisfactorily from whatever wounds he sustained in the numerous shootouts that took place through the streets of Watertown. It felt like a war zone to at least some of those caught in the midst of it.

Some people, however, were very troubled by what they witnessed. It wasn't martial law, but it was like martial law in that more than a million supposedly free citizens were under the orders of armed and itchy fingered authorities, orders which they were compelled to obey or face -- at minimum -- humiliating consequences, perhaps deadly ones. It's unknown how many citizens were suspected or arrested and man-handled, or forced to strip naked in the streets, or how many housing units were forcibly entered and inspected -- or how many were voluntarily opened to inspection.

It's unknown and unremarked what the consequences for those on lock down were -- a prison control tactic that's been extended to schools and businesses and now for the first time in American history to an entire major metropolitan area -- but if generating and sustaining fear and dread, and compelling compliance to arbitrary authority were intentions, they sure worked like a charm.

The lock down did not help at all, in fact it hindered, the search for and capture of the fugitive.

Yet today I've seen plenty of authority worship on the teevee and the internet, worship that should be a cautionary and disturbing to everyone who values the idea of true liberty -- as opposed to the libertarian ideal of liberty to impose authority without interference from... anyone.

After each of these awful events, whether it's another one of America's unique mass shooting incidents or a domestic or foreign terrorist attack of some sort, the domestic security ratchet is tightened just a little more (sometimes a lot more). Fear is ratcheted up. "Safety" becomes paramount, but always with the idea that some authority figure (preferably in a RoboCop outfit) will provide safety from peril rather than enabling the People to do it themselves.

Ultimately, the People become passive.

And who benefits from that?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Shootout In Watertown -- It's A Dirty Little War

[Three Five Zero Zero] 



How much more bizarre is this Boston Marathon Thing going to get?

For whatever reason, I wasn't able to sleep much past 3:00am MDT this morning, so I got up and was puttering around doing my morning routine, fixing coffee, having a donut, the usual. I opened up the laptop and was tooling idly around the InterTubes and something caught my eye in a column about the Torture Report that's been pretty much buried by Other Events. It was a link to a column in The Atlantic that was interesting but had nothing to do with the Torture Report, it had to do with misidentifying or misinterpreting what one was seeing in film of the Kennedy Assassination in Dallas and how that related to the manhunt under way for the suspects in the Boston bombing.

Over in the corner of the page was a "Just In" piece by Connor Friedersdorf: "What Happened Overnight In Watertown: 1 Suspect Dead, Another On the Run." There was no indication from the headline that it had anything to do with the Boston Marathon Thing at all, but Watertown is close enough to Boston, thought I, that it might be worthwhile opening the link.

Sure enough. What a story. An extended shootout with police took place in Watertown after a robbery and carjacking overnight, according to a witness, at least one bomb was thrown at police and exploded in the street, a police vehicle was shot up and crashed, at least two police officers were shot, one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing was shot and later died at the hospital, and the other one who was with him got away. The manhunt continues.

Uh. This read like a television script, and at first, still a bit groggy from recently getting up, I discounted the story, because it did not seem real. So often, media acts as a propaganda arm of the authorities, and so anything that is reported -- especially a story as dramatic as this one -- has to be taken with at least a little bit of skepticism. The press lies, constantly. Prior to reading this story, for example, I was watching the Chris Hayes takedown of CNN and FOX over their erroneous reporting about an arrest of a "dark skinned" suspect who was said to be in custody in Boston and would be taken for arraignment momentarily. All of it was bogus, but there you are. They will say in their defense it was an "honest mistake" -- they had received "information" and had run with it. So does everybody else. Except that too often these bogus stories are actually being planted by interested agencies and individuals who seek to gain from them. What they gain is control of the narrative. My own sense was that this bogus arrest story was an intentional distraction and that potentially, Hayes was being very naive about it. But that's beside the point.

What I'm getting at is that -- at least at first read -- the Shootout In Watertown story seemed just as bogus, if not more so, especially given the early hour of the the morning these events were being reported, and such witness commentary as the following produced by the New York Times:

A Watertown resident, Andrew Kitzenberg, 29, said he looked out his third-floor window to see two young men of slight build in jackets engaged in "constant gunfire" with police officers. A police SUV "drove towards the shooters," he said, and was shot at until it was severely damaged. It rolled out of control, Mr. Kitzenberg said, and crashed into two cars in his driveway.

The two shooters, he said, had a large, unwieldy bomb. "They lit it, still in the middle of the gunfire, and threw it. But it went 20 yards at most." It exploded, he said, and one of the two men ran toward the gathered police officers. He was tackled, but it was not clear if he was shot, Mr. Kitzenberg said.

The explosions, said another resident, Loretta Kehayias, 65, "lit up the whole house. I screamed. I've never seen anything like this, never, never, never."
Alrighty then, if it's in the Times then it must be true, right?

I don't know.


So anyway, these are the preliminary reports and they are so far all the reports I have read about the Shootout in Watertown, and at this point, I'm pretty skeptical.

Time to cruise the other news reports...
Having done my best to sit through various teevee reports and having read a few other news items on the Shootout In Watertown (it's a dirty little war), I say my skepticism was warranted -- get a load of Cocktailhag's summary of the stoopid  this week at FDL --  and yet the incidents of war in the streets of Watertown appear to have been all too real. The witness quoted above by the NYT has been doing all the shows with his Skype connection, and he appears to be credible as heck (in fact, though, his detailed reporting of what he witnessed, so carefully couched in almost baroque terminology, sets off my Spidey sense, but that's probably just me...)

All of Boston is on "lockdown?" I don't even know what that means. But apparently, the Other Suspect is still on the loose (after running over his brother while trying to escape?) so the whole city has to come to a standstill while the pursuit takes place. Protocol.

Chechens? WTF? In what way do Chechens see mayhem at the Marathon as a useful tool in their struggle? Or was it something else again?

Very bizarre.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It Was Snowing Up In Santa Fe...

while we were attending a colloquy and Q & A yesterday between some of Santa Fe's better known writers -- Michael McGarrity, Douglas Preston, and Forrest Fenn. It was at  Dorothy and Mary's Place -- Collected Works. I've developed a habit since moving to New Mexico of describing practically everywhere we go -- at least if we know the owners or proprietors -- as "So and So's Place" rather than using the commercial name or official location. If we don't know the owners/proprietors, it's a different story.

It snowed the last time we were in Santa Fe on Christmas Eve for the Canyon Road Farolito Walk, too. We realized we had not been in Santa Fe since then, somewhat surprising since we've been to Albuquerque seemingly every week or even several times a week. And as everyone knows, no one goes to Albuquerque unless they have to; one goes to Santa Fe because one wants to.

When we were driving up toward the Sangre de Cristos yesterday, the sky was mostly cloudy, but right over the Santa Fe National Forest -- and perhaps in town, too -- we could see clouds dropping precipitation which I took to be snow. From our distance, though, I couldn't be sure. When we got to town, the air was still pretty warm, but there was a chill breeze blowing, and by the time we sat down for the chit-chat, snow was falling outside the window and late-comers had to brush fresh, fat flakes off their shoulders.

Heh, "latecomers." Jeeze, the place was packed. Some of the cowpunchers were sporting their six-shooters, chaps, and handlebar mustaches the way they do, as if they were the real thing instead of characters in a movie -- or more probably a music video or TV commercial. I would think they'd turn out for Max Evans (who I rather like a lot...) But there they were for McGarrity -- who introduced himself as named "New Mexico's Most Popular Writer -- while Tony Hillerman was still alive!"  He's obviously been angling for the Hillerman Chair since well before the Old Git died, and no one seems to begrudge him when it comes down to it -- except maybe Ann though that's another story, but I'm more into Rudolfo Anaya if I have to pick among the local codger-writers.

I've mentioned it before: New Mexico is filled with art. But it's also full of writers, chock a block. In fact, next weekend, there is supposed to be a literary event right here in our little corner of creation, featuring some two dozen local/regional writers. Yeek. Of course, it's primarily to sell books, but still, even an event as large as that -- out here in the middle of nowhere no less -- just scratches the surface. And I'm sure a lot of books will be sold. As I've said, people in New Mexico have home libraries -- and they actually read, too. Yes, they do.

Forrest Fenn is a character more than he is a writer, though I am lusting after one of his books, The Secrets of San Lazaro Pueblo, and I am determined to add it to my collection. Well, when I win the lottery. Or find his Treasure. Oh, the treasure hunt for Forrest Fenn's jewel box! That was the actual topic of discussion and what drew the enthusiasts -- as opposed to family and friends of the writers -- to attend the event. We went because of McGarrity and Preston more than Fenn (knew them previously), though the whole treasure hunt subculture and Fenn's book about the treasure in gold and gems he hid somewhere "north of Santa Fe" is one of the regional charms. The Fenn character -- Crusty Old Collector and Trader in Beautiful Things From Long Ago, Indun Stuff In Particular -- is one of the standard local types since the days of the Old Santa Fe Trail, and I think it is probably a permanent cultural thing. You cannot "do" Santa Fe without encountering the Traders. Fenn has been at it for many a long year, and though I think he's retired now, he still has a formidable collection of Beautiful Things and apparently will part with some of his items for the right price.

What did he say during the chat? "Having enough money is better than having a lot of it." That drew a round of applause. Though I'm not exactly sure what under the circumstances he meant. This man is a multimillionaire many times over, as were some of the others in attendance. The wealth of some of the inhabitants of Santa Fe is mind-boggling. This includes some writers and artists. But for most, no matter what their calling, it's a hard and often dreary slog just to survive. The struggle -- "the thrill of the chase" if you will -- is supposed to be good for the soul, in the Catholic sense of suffering I guess, and for many, it is about the struggle not about the end reward. But I wondered who Fenn was communicating with when he mentioned "enough."

We are talking about a man who has hidden a treasure estimated to be worth millions somewhere "north of Santa Fe" after all, a treasure many thousands of enthusiasts are eagerly seeking. There was a question yesterday about avarice and its consequences for some of the treasure-seekers. And  Fenn was asked if he was concerned at all about it. The answer was "No." I wasn't sure he grasped the nature of the question, or that he could grasp it. Not that he's necessarily unaware, just that in his mind, it has nothing to do with him. He, after all, isn't driven by greed and possessions; it's only dumb luck he's survived at all and gotten where he is. Avarice? Consequences? It probably doesn't enter his mind. All he's after, he says, is getting kids out from what he calls the Game Room and exploring the mountains, learning about Nature, appreciating the Earth and What's Real. The Hunt for The Treasure is reward in itself. Besides, the kind of people he says he wants to find it have a pickup truck, live hard scrabble in West Texas with their 12 kids... and they really need it.

Someone asked, "What would you think if some billionaire hired a crew to go out searching and they found the treasure? Wouldn't that lead you to think maybe someone who didn't fit your ideal treasure finder was more likely to find it all along?"

He said, "Well, they wouldn't have a pick up, would they?"

Maybe he can't even imagine it...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On Geezers Passing

I think I've mentioned on this blog that when I got an invitation to the 45th anniversary reunion of my high school graduating class, along with it was a link to the Dead List from that class. And when I checked it, I was shocked (really) to see the names of at least half the graduating seniors from my class listed as already dead. It was a small class, less than a hundred, and I counted fifty three names, though I knew at least two of them were still alive, so there may have been more errors.

None of the dead ones made it to age 65. I noticed that a lot of those who passed away did so suddenly in their forties or early fifties from heart attacks or lingeringly from congestive heart failure. A lot of deaths were from accidents -- either traffic fatalities or otherwise, or in one case a gun accident. Three that I knew of died of AIDS. There may have been more. Three were killed in Vietnam when they were... young. But a whole raft of guys I hung out with in high school were dead from unlisted causes. Four of their names were alphabetically sequential, and so they all knew each other from the time they'd been in elementary school, they were good friends with one another and their families were close. I was the New Kid, came into the district in 9th grade, and I got to be friends with all of them. After high school, I went to college and they didn't so we lost touch, yet it was a real blow to find out they were all dead. Good doG.

The list went on and on. Practically everyone I considered a close friend in high school was on it. That was hard to take. The handful of friends from those days who had not passed were people whose whereabouts I was pretty sure of and whose contact information I probably had in some address book in the desk in the dining room since I had last seen them no more than ten years before. I noted that some of them were on the "do you know what happened to...?" list and laughed because a couple of them were very well known about town, got their names and faces in the papers all the time, and it struck me as silly that the Reunion Committee didn't know where they were. Oh really?

Given that I knew what had become of the four or five high school chums who were still alive, and none of the rest of the people I'd want to see from my high school class had survived, I skipped that reunion. In fact, I haven't been to one since the 10th, whenever that was. The 50th will be coming up in a couple of years, and I have a hard time imagining I'd go -- or that literally anyone I'd want to see would live to show up at it!

I still have a link to the Dead List, and I checked it yesterday to find another half-dozen or so names added since last I checked, a couple of whom I knew had died, but others surprising me. There was also now a list of Dead Faculty and Staff. Yes, well. Practically all of them are no longer with us, wouldn't you know. But many seemed to have made it well into their eighties before passing. Good for them!

Then I looked up a post-high school buddy, my closest off-campus friend during early college years, someone I lost touch with for years, then briefly reconnected with about 15 years ago through his adult daughter who was part of the crew for a play I produced, but then I lost touch with him again, as our lives didn't really intersect anymore. Now that we were both in our dottage, I was curious to see if he was still working or had retired or whatever. What did I find but his obit.

Oh, Jeebus.

He died nearly three years ago, it turned out, from what was described as "a brief illness." No, he didn't make it to 65, either. I couldn't imagine what kind of "brief illness" might have killed him, as he was sturdy as an ox, but I could well imagine that if he had to be hospitalized something could have gone terribly wrong. There was a picture of him with the obit that was taken fairly recently -- I'd say within the last five years --  and I was struck with how well he'd aged, looking mature, yes, but not really old as so many of my age-group do. His death hit me hard when I saw his picture. It's still upsetting.

The passing of so many of these people I knew, all of them dying before they reached age 65, more than half of my high school graduating class for example, should have an effect on the canard that's become conventional wisdom that "people are living longer" and "life expectancy has increased" since the establishment of Social Security back in the Dark Ages.

Some people are living longer, to be sure. And some people's  life expectancies have increased. But for many, it just ain't so. Some people's life expectancies have actually been in decline for years. I'd like to see a statistical analysis of the life-spans of those Boomers in my high school graduating class, because if so many are dead now -- more than half -- then the average life expectancy can't be all that much beyond 65 -- if that, depending on how young the dead ones were when they passed and how much longer the rest of us geezers are going to hang on before we, too, shuffle off this mortal coil.

While it's possible there is a distinct anomaly in the high number of pre-age-65 deaths in my particular high school class and among my friends, I'm dubious. So far as I know, there is no special risk factor among them, though I could be wrong.

We were all living in middle class (white) suburban neighborhoods; there was no perceptible crime, certainly none of violence, and no gangs or widespread drug use (there was some, though, that I can recall from before graduation but far less than the routine use of alcohol.)  We were near an Air Force base, however, and lot of the households were military. A lot. The base has since been closed by the Air Force, and it took years to clean up the pollutants before it could re-open for civilian use, so I'm wondering if pollution might be an anomalous risk factor.

Vietnam took three from my class, AIDS another three, accidents perhaps ten, heart attack or heart failure another fifteen or so. I only counted two or three listed as cancer deaths, but I know several who survived bouts with cancer and -- so far as I know -- are still alive. As for the rest of the deaths most have no cause listed.

My post high school buddy didn't live near the base, but he had grown up near -- and his father had worked for  -- the railroad yards, which was/is even more contaminated than the base was. Which might have been a factor. He worked in construction for 40 years, specializing in drywall installation later on, had his own company and such, and he was very busy during the construction/real estate boom. That was probably a more immediate factor in his death, but I don't know specifics, so I can't say for sure.

My own parents died relatively young, but not that young -- my father of  cancer at age 69, my mother of emphysema/lung failure leading to heart failure at 74. My sister, however, died at age 61 from a blood clot following surgery to repair knee injuries she sustained in a prisoner take-down; my brother died at age 40 or 41 of unspecified causes.

So even in my own family, a relatively small sample to be sure, the average age of the dead ones is 61. (If we threw in the twins that died at birth, the number would be much lower.)

What I'm getting at is that the "longer lifespan" argument for cutting Social Security benefits and making Medicare access more difficult and expensive is simply bogus for larger and larger numbers of people. A few people -- mostly the very rich with access to more expensive and higher quality medical care -- are living longer (and longer) which may be driving up statistical averages (much as their income does), but the vast majority are not living longer and most have no chance of living longer; too many will have shorter lifespans than those of their parents. The panic over "longer lifespans" has been whipped up by the media (in the pay of certain billionaires it would appear) and it is nothing but propaganda.

Breaking through this propaganda barrage is essential on many levels. It seems to me that what passes for the "left" in this country is very late to the game, letting the propaganda go essentially unchallenged until fairly recently, too recently to be able to counter it effectively. Unfortunately, a sizable percentage of the leftish commentariat has bought the bogus "longer lifespan" argument, and while not openly supportive of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, will not substantively argue against them nor indeed will they argue the correct policies of expanding rather than restricting these and other social programs, increasing Social Security benefits, lowering retirement ages, and instituting something like Medicare For All.

What passes for the "left" in this country is among our many failed institutions since the turn of the millennium. Somehow, the People have to take control for their future and their own sakes.