Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Makeshift Shrine

Mack Hall, HSG

A Makeshift Shrine

Teddy bears ribboned to a chain-link fence,
Plastic-wrapped flowers stacked like compost,
Dime-store candles flickering in the exhaust
Of passing mini-vans.  The inanity
Of filler-language falls, descends upon
The shattered souls of the barely alive,
The dead cliches’ of well-planned camera-grief:
“Our hearts and thoughts go out to you.”
What does that mean?  Nothing but conventional noise
For generations of lovers and mourners
Long-ago looted of reality,
Programmed with state-sanctioned hyperbole,
And mourners now are left with nothing but
An existential howl against the light,
Sodium-vapor upon broken glass,
While strident Men of Destiny
There rake for votes among the ashes of death.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another AOL-Verizon Download Failure

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Raton, New Mexico

Typical AOL-Verizon Service

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

San Franciso de Assiz, July, 2012

The Valley of the Pinons

Mack Hall, HSG

The Valley of the Pinons

Taos, New Mexico is so cool that it doesn’t need a Starbuck’s.  More than that, Taos coffee is blessed with pinon, making it the best in the world.

Although Taos is an international vacation destination, especially in ski season, it remains a small town (only some 5,000 residents), with farms inside the city limits.  One can dine in the elegant La Fonda (, Doc Martin’s in the equally historic Taos Inn (, or the more recent but equally famous and excellent Michael’s Kitchen (, and ponder that the provider of one’s morning glass of milk might be contentedly munching grass in a small pasture only a few blocks away.

Taos is centered on its plaza, as it has been for hundreds of years, and the very walkable area features numerous shops, galleries, museums, coffee shops, and restaurants.  People still park on the plaza, and although you might have to circle a time or two you’ll probably find a place to rest your Texas plates.  You needn’t go early, though, for any shopkeeper in Taos who opens before ten is considered something of an eccentric.

The plaza itself offers benches, statues, a bandstand, trees, and bits of green for picnicking, and on weekends and holidays musical groups queue up for performances: a mariachi band might be followed by a nasal hillbilly claven, and that by a dance troupe or gospel singers.  Taos is truly multi-cultural, and in a charmingly unselfconscious way.

The multi-cultural thing hasn’t always worked, though, and First Nations, Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans took turns slaughtering each other through the centuries.  Things are pretty quiet now, but last week the Taos County Commissioners fired the county manager.  He should consider himself fortunate; many Taos governments in the past were modified through murders, executions, revolutions, and conquest.

In 1861 many of the Anglo residents of Taos were pro-Confederate, and the First Nations and the folks of Spanish heritage, roughly treated by the Americans, were open to suggestion.  Kit Carson and several other patriots, in a come-and-take-it act worthy of Gonzales, Texas, nailed the American flag to the pole in the plaza in Taos, and guarded it day and night.  As the war progressed, the Taosenos, as part of the New Mexico Volunteers, were essential in the victory at Glorieta Pass.  Because of the loyalty of Taos, their Plaza is one of only seven sites where by law the flag is displayed for 24 hours.

Hippies migrated to Taos a generation ago, and in their senescence they mumble around in their clattering Volkswagens and bad wigs.  Their influence continues in old-fashioned head shops, dime-store mysticism, and dusty store-front healing centers.  The crystals have been replaced by magic rocks, and Moby Dickens (, the best-known local book shop, features Tarot card readings on Saturdays.  Little-old-lady superstition does not logically gee-haw with literacy, but Taos is tolerantly loopy about that sort of thing.

English and American artists found Taos a century ago, liked the light and the pinon, and made it home.  The Euro-Taos style of painting tends toward impressionism on the cusp of expressionism, with much use of orange, yellow, blue, and green.  The merciless brushes of the less-talented can deteriorate these colors into cliché’, but there is a great deal of good work accomplished in Taos.  The earthernware is of course influenced by the various First Nations groups, who still dominate this art, and also the jewelry.  There is also the usual pretentious clutter; someone will carve a misshapen face onto a stick, glue a feather or some weeds to it, and sell it in the streets as, oh, nature-rain-dancing-woman-spiritual something-or-other.

Down the road a few miles is the community of Ranchos de Taos and its much Ansel Adams-ed and Georgia O’Keefe’d church, St. Francis of Assisi / San Francisco de Assiz.  Photographs and paintings portray the church as standing in isolation, but in fact it has always stood within its own plaza and is now fronted with utility wires, road signs, and advertising.  On a Wednesday morning a nice lady set up her easel and her paints, surely by accident, on the spot where an American lieutenant was shot dead during the 1848 revolt.  And yet, though artists and revolutions and centuries pass, Mass is still offered daily at the parish church.

Nothing about Taos is Disneyfied; the area is layered in history and cultures and repeated changes of national flags, and yet it continues as a rural community which mostly defines itself without lapsing into preciousness and insularity.  Whatever happens in Taos, there will still be breakfast at Michael’s Kitchen, and the sweet scent of pinon will still drift over the plaza.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Forward to the 19th Century

Mack Hall, HSG

Forward to the 19th Century

Governor Brown and the California assembly have just discovered railways, and are anxious to introduce them to the Golden West.

Next thing you know, California’s democratically-elected government will hear about electric lights and the wireless.

Specifically, the California Coven proposes to spend some ten billion dollars of state and federal money – your money - to build a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  They ignore four salient facts:

1.   There is already an excellent, heavy-gauge, well-maintained railway line between LA and SF now.  Hundreds of freight and passenger trains follow it daily.

2.   Not many people take the train anyway.

3.   High-speed rail is as efficient and as necessary as the SST, the last specimen of which decays in a museum somewhere.

4.   California is a debtor state, and ought to be taking care of the budget, not experimenting with dangerous and expensive toys.

The California coast is indeed crowded, and the existing highways are jammed.  If more folks could be persuaded to ride trains, both long-distance and for commuting, life for travelers could be better.

But instead of assisting private and public railroad companies in placing light, efficient, modern trains onto the grid of existing rails, the Magic Circle in Sacramento propose to tax, borrow, and loot billions for a bullet train, its special trackage, and the attendant seizure of folks’ houses under the odious doctrine of eminent domain.

Further, the Budget-Crusher Express would benefit only the Axis of Preciousness.  The world is not centered on San Francisco and Los Angeles;   why should all Californians and all Americans suffer having their already threadbare pockets picked so that a privileged few can be sped from Hollywood and Vine to Fisherperson’s wharf and back again?

The first stretch will connect Bakersfield and Madera through farmlands, but not even the first day of construction has been scheduled.  Thus, if you are middle-aged and waiting in Bakersfield for the bullet-train to Madera (and have you ever heard of Madera?), you won’t make it to the heaven-reaching spires of that fabled Xanadu in your lifetime.  Further, those 130 miles of speeding bullet train will not carry farmworkers or even the first crate of lettuce anywhere, and when the line is completed, Bakersfield and Madera will no longer be stops but only rustic blurs glimpsed thought the train windows.

Finally, the strongest argument against bullet trains anywhere, not just between rows of cabbages in California, is that these trains are killers.

China has had bullet trains for years, which are said to run at 124 miles per hour.  Japan’s bullet trains zip through that island at 186 mph.  France is the speed champion – French trains average 218 miles per hour.  Cool, huh?

Cool until one breaks.

You can’t survive the structural failure of anything at 218 mph.

Over 150 years of railway history show us that trains are fast, efficient, essential, and extremely vulnerable.  The establishment of roadbed, crossties, and rails requires precision engineering, construction, and maintenance.   If there is a failure at any point – a careless x-ray of a meter of rail, an inadequate weld joint, a shifting of the sub-soil – then that bullet train is not going to roll to a stop among Farmer Brown’s carrots; it’s going to launch into the surrounding  soil, rocks, road, culverts, water, and trees at 218 mph.  The impact alone will kill you, but for lagniappe add shards of glass, fragments of steel and aluminum, and, for lighting effects, mega-volts of electricity from the electrical lines.

The designers and craftsmen will have built into that train and its infrastructure layers of redundancies – an extra driver, multiple-computer backups of everything, continuously monitored tracks, the finest steels and alloys – and yet the bullet train will crash, and everyone aboard will die.

The Titanic, the Hindenburg, the Cannonball Express, an Air France Airbus, an Anglo-French Concorde, the tires on your car – every gadget fails.  You just don’t need to be in a needless train at 218 mph when it goes to glory.

Finally, our national government can’t even keep the lights on in its capital city, a failure which pretty much defines a third-world nation.  Why, then, should anyone have to sit in the dark and think about paying for Star Trek-y golly-gee-whiz trains?