Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rebel Rebel

The "Trump-Traitor!" meme is now embedded in the firmament. After their tete-a-tete in Helsinki, Trump and Putin have become the New Not-Normal destroyers of worlds (riffing off the Oppenheimer Bhagavad Gita quote.)

OK. So now what? When you strike at the King, you must... There can be no backing down or away from the next step or...

We've been in the strangest pickle for the longest time. Trump was not supposed to ascend the throne, but the truth is that nothing was done that might have been done to stop it. All along the way from the campaign to now, Trump and his cronies have been mostly enabled rather than thwarted (despite the catcalls and lies). The #Resistance is focused on electoral triumph in the fall and periodic street demonstrations about this or that, but not about interfering or intervening in the course of events transpiring under the current regime. 

Our Betters, the High and the Mighty, the Oligarchy, in and out of government is doing essentially nothing about the regime's chaotic wrecking crew. In many ways they enable it. There is no discernible  effort from any quarter to be done with this nonsense, even if the cry today is one of Treason! Most Foul! They may cluck their tongues from time to time but that's about it, while everything short of The Revolution roils the media and the masses. 

As I've said more than once, Trump is entertainment. Whatever damage he's doing in office -- and there's plenty of it starting with beclowning the office of president itself--is considered either repairable or necessary destruction. Creative, right?

But what happens when he ceases to be an entertainment and become a clear and present danger?

Look away? Say it can't happen, institutions are strong enough? I don't know. Constant crisis is not a sustainable path. And we may have reached the limit of crisis. Where to now?

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Leering Sphere or The Bomb in New Mexico

Today July 16, 2018, is the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Trinity Site in New Mexico.

Santa Fe Opera interpretation of The Gadget -- "Dr. Atomic" 2018 Season

This titanium sphere -- or was it stainless steel? -- hung menacingly over the entire production of Peter Sellars' and John Adams's "Dr. Atomic" which opened at Santa Fe Opera last night [July 14], shortly before the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the world's first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range (then the  Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range.)

The Gadget as it was called, memories of The Gadget, the enormity of what was created at Los Alamos -- a bare 25 miles from the semi-outdoor Opera House ("the audience can see Los Alamos from their seats" quoth librettist and director Peter Sellars in one of the talks we heard before the performance), and the aftermath of the atomic bomb test at Trinity Site, July 16, 1945, some 200 miles south of Los Alamos resonate profoundly in New Mexico, in some ways more profoundly than anywhere else in the world except Japan.

There were far more US nuclear tests outside Las Vegas, NV, and in the Pacific than in New Mexico (just one -- the first one --that we know of in our backyard) but ultimately the atmospheric tests elsewhere became a kind of twisted Cold War entertainment - "whoa, wouldja lookit that!" -- that was sometimes shown to school kids before their Duck and Cover exercises to scare the  shit out of them (how well I remember.)

"Dr. Atomic" deals with the tragic story of Dr. J, Robert Oppenheimer ("Oppie") at Los Alamos and Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the hours leading up to the first atomic bomb test and its echoes through time to today. 

It's a complex story that doesn't exist in linear time, and apparently the complexity and non-linearity as well as the often jarring contemporary musical score can be off-putting to some opera-goers though it wasn't apparent opening night. It was a full house. The audience's attention was as intense as the music and performances. The response was enthusiastic.

I overheard one rather fancy looking woman talking during intermission: "My friend told me I wouldn't like it. Well, I rather think I do," she said. Indeed.

I can't say I "liked" it, no. But I will say I was quite taken with it and had no problem staying for its 3 hours and 20 minute length (with intermission) and the interminable after performance getting-out-of the-parking-lot minuet. (I said to one of the parking boys, "At this rate, we'll be here all night." He grinned and said, "That's only because my co-workers are incompetent. Have a safe trip home!!" Chuckle,)

We got home at 2:45 am tired but moved.

We've been semi-immersed in the story of nuclear weapons and the struggle against them in New Mexico for as long as we've been here, for almost as long as we've been coming here (more than 35 years now). I've written several pieces about it, about visiting Trinity site, about going to Los Alamos, about duck and cover, and so on and so forth. No one of my generation escaped fear of the looming mushroom cloud. It was the defining image of the post WWII era, one that seems to have been largely forgotten now or set aside by the younger generations. Thoughts of nuclear annihilation, instant incineration, barely reach consciousness except under the most extraordinary circumstances these days. And then the images seem to be off the mark.

Hardly anyone seems to understand what a nuclear weapon is or does anymore. And maybe that's a good thing.

Peter Sellars said he tried to maintain the classical tragic unities of time and place, and he tried to tell the story of the tragedy of what happened not just to Oppenheimer but for many of those who worked on developing The Bomb and of course for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who died as a result of its use.

It's pointed out during the opera that many more Japanese civilians died during the firebombings of Tokyo and Yokahama that preceded the use of nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To say, then, an atom bomb is a unique horror is something of a stretch, no? No, it's not a stretch at all when one bomb can cause in an instant more destruction than thousands dropped over a period of hours or days.

The scientists at Los Alamos agonized over the use of nuclear weapons, and hundreds tried to convince Washington authorities not to use the creation of their laboratories on populations -- ever, if possible. Of course, then and now, there was a contrary faction who dearly wanted to use nuclear weapons, not just for effect, either.

Particularly torn by his creation was J. Robert Oppenheimer himself. A point is made that he is driven mad by what he has created. He never fully recovers, and in a sense, his creation kills him -- as well as many, many more.

Sellars reconceived the production for Santa Fe. For one thing, the production takes place within sight of Los Alamos (if you look hard!), and within hailing distance of Trinity. Those of us who live here and have paid attention know these places and these stories rather well. Earlier productions (we have a DVD of one, I believe it was in Amsterdam) focused more on the story telling than on its meaning, and they were visualized much more completely. The DVD production uses a close replica of The Gadget that is brought out at a particular time to be hoisted onto the tower, whereas in Santa Fe the Sphere that represents The Gadget and much else is never not there; its presence looming -- and leering -- throughout.

Sellars said the shiny Sphere was meant to reflect the audience, but it doesn't really do that (at least not from where we were sitting in cheap seats toward the back of the orchestra section.) What it reflected instead were the lights on stage which had the effect of creating many different facial expressions, from evil and bloodthirsty to almost benign. It was remarkable and mesmerizing. The picture above was taken by your correspondent some time before the beginning of the performance, and it is one of the many instances when the "eyes" of the Sphere gazed impassively on the scene before it.

In this production, too, Sellars made a conscious and mostly successful effort to include Native Americans on stage and integrated into the story in somewhat the same way they were part of the story of the creation of the Bomb. This is Indian Country, the events happened in Indian Country, and the effects are still felt throughout Indian Country -- particularly on the uranium miners in Navajoland and at Laguna Pueblo. That deadly effect is not dealt with directly in the opera. Sellars was asked by a Diné gentleman at one of the talks whether he'd included the miners, and he wouldn't answer directly. He said something about the "effects on everyone then and now" are included, but that isn't what he was asked. In fact, there is no mention of miners at all. There is only passing mention of Downwinders -- people who were unwittingly affected by the fallout from the Trinity test,. But at least they are there -- actual Downwinders on stage -- along with dancers from the Tesuque, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos. They performed a ceremonial corn dance prior to the performance of the opera -- as a healing gesture -- and then returned in the second act as a Presence, representing the Original Peoples upon whom and among whom but not by whom this monstrosity of war was created and perpetrated.

The presence of the Indians helped to ground the production but I felt they were not integrated into it the way  they might have been -- and that that was probably their choice. It's not their story, and they're not telling. They could and one day probably will tell their own story, though, and it will be quite different.

As we were making our way to the parking lot before the performance, there were sheriffs deputies along the road, signs saying "Ticket holders only beyond this point" and at the entrance to the parking lot a young man asked to see our tickets. He said there were protests expected, and they had to check. Hm. As we were making our way from the parking lot to the Opera House, a young man in the high priced parking area near the venue asked that we take some literature  from the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition protesting the production and the proposed increase in nuclear weapons development in New Mexico. This was intended, said the literature, to make New Mexico the sole production site for "plutonium pits" -- something I'd never heard of -- that were the essential cores of nuclear bombs.

They were protesting the production because they saw it as a celebration of nuclear weapons and war.

Uh. No. It's not. Far from it. That's the thing about tragedy. It doesn't celebrate.

Monday, July 9, 2018


Early 50s Color
[July 5 would have been my father's 117th birthday.]

The faded Kodachrome above was among the 100 or so of my family photos we brought back with us from California on our quick trip in May. Ms. Ché probably has quite a few more of her family and adventurous life photos to sort through.

The picture was taken in Santa Maria in 1951. I had a sudden flash of memory and recalled an address. Googling, I discovered the picture was taken on the front lawn of the duplex where my mother, sister and I lived at the time. I was three years old. My father had come to visit from Iowa. He was a lawyer. He always wore a suit. I don't remember him ever wearing casual clothes.

This particular visit is burned in my memory. My memory, however, is often faulty. What I don't recall are the other visits my father made to California after my parents divorced and my mother, sister and I moved back to my sister's birthplace, the town where my mother grew up. He apparently came out to California at least once a year between 1949 and 1951, and there are hints in some of my mother's letters to him that he visited more often in 1950 and 1951.

What I never knew until recently was that he had several siblings in California -- in fact, practically all of them had left Iowa and lived in California by 1951, including his older brother who lived in Santa Barbara, three sisters in the Bay Area, and two younger brothers in Los Angeles. Two sisters continued to live with or near my father in Iowa until their deaths.

I don't think he ever returned to California after that visit. I went to Iowa a couple of times later on, but I did not enjoy it. I can understand why so many of my aunts and uncles left and why my mother hated it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

She was the only brown person there

I may have mentioned that Ms Ché spent the last three weeks at the Naropa University Summer Writing Program ("The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics"). She just returned yesterday, her flip phone (sometimes called a Rez phone) loaded with photos of her adventure, her bags filled with papers and books from her workshops and instructors. She did not visit Allen Ginsberg's grave (well, the depository of a third of his ashes on the Shambhala mountainside two hours from Boulder.) She's an Old Lady, aka Elder, now. Climbing that mountain was not either necessary or physically possible for her. Oh well!

On Saturday, students from the Summer Writing Program assembled on Pearl Street in historic Boulder, Colorado, to participate in the nationwide -- actually international -- demonstrations: "Families Belong Together."

It's been a long time since she took to the streets -- I've been much more active on that front, though not lately. She said she looked around and realized she was the only brown person marching and carrying signs that morning in Boulder, though the Latino garbage collectors tooted their horns as the modest multitude of mostly Anglos marched by. I've seen reports that that was the case in many other locations too -- Anglo allies marching and chanting on behalf of the mostly Central American families separated at the border by order of the regime in Washington, an order carried out by the more and more notorious Gestapo-like border patrol and immigration cops who seem to relish their freedom to harm their victims.

Given the tensions of the time, it's understandable if brown people chose to stay away from some of the demonstrations. They might be targets. When Ms. Ché stopped for a moment along the route of the march in Boulder, a man sidled up to her and whispred, "Better watch out that some yahoo doesn't run his car into the march." Yep True enough. These are the times we live in.

There's been some discussion about why some -- or many? -- Native Americans have been supportive of the migrants who have been so cruelly abused in the current roundups and family separations. After all, weren't the Indians overrun by immigrants back in the day? Shouldn't they want to keep them out now? (Besides, Hillary!, Obama!, etc.)

Ms. Ché's father was a non-white immigrant; her mother was full-blood Cherokee. Her mother was sent to Indian boarding school from the first to the eighth grade. Her father faced the kind of racial and new-comer discrimination that has infected this country from the outset. Many Natives do support the current migrants ("legal" or not) because they understand the suffering so many have experienced, and because so many of those are being abused at the southern border are indigenous peoples. There were no borders before the white folks invented them.

People migrated from place to place throughout the Americas before the white folks came and divided the land into countries with secure borders. People who needed help got help in most cases. People from elsewhere were often integrated or adopted into the tribes who offered them assistance. This is not to over glamorize Native society. It wasn't necessarily rainbows and unicorns, but there wasn't the routine sorts of cruelty we've been seeing from the Trump government (and previous ones.)

So Natives are not inclined to follow the government's lead regarding the current migrant crisis. Regardless of who occupies the White House.

Colorado still has a lot of cruel history to deal with, and progress hasbeen slow. The demonstration in Boulder was small, but the one in Denver was huge. For Ms. Ché, her participation in the Boulder demonstration was an important statement. She has plenty to say about the bullshit infecting the country. And she'll do her part...

[Meant to post this yesterday, but life intervened ... 😎😎]