Hands Off My Filly, Buster!

On November 21, 2013, Democrats in the Senate used the so-called “nuclear option”to eliminate filibusters on all presidential nominees except those to the Supreme Court.  The move was made out of frustration (justified) over the obstructionist tactics being used by Republicans against President Obama’s nominees.

Many warned that Democrats would eventually regret the move, as they were not guaranteed control of the Senate in perpetuity.  Now, with a patently insane man in the White House making horrific nominations on a daily basis, I am sure many do indeed harbor such regrets.

I do not.  I think it is important for the American voters to experience the real consequences of their choices at the ballot box.  While it might be nice to be able to block Trump’s nominees procedurally, that would just enable Republicans to shift the blame for any failures on to Democrats, just as Democrats can now say that Obama’s shortcomings were the result of an obstructionist Republican Senate.  I happen to agree with the latter, but we ought to get what we vote for, regardless if it is a classy, intelligent, thoughtful Black man or a racist, self-serving Oompah Loompa.  It helps inform future votes, and forces the winning party to govern with accountability and without excuses.

Exempting the Supreme Court was a wise decision, because the consequences of appointments to the highest judicial body extend far beyond the lifetime of a presidency.  I hope Democrats use the filibuster liberally (pun intended) against Trump’s sure to be terrifying Supreme Court nominees.



Fake News Of The Future


This is Peter Cushing, who died in 1994.  Or maybe it isn’t.  Rogue One, the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise, takes place just before the events of Episode IV, which was the original film released in 1978.  Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by Cushing, had a significant role in the events of the new film, so, with the permission of his family, his face was superimposed on another actor using state of the art CGI.  I was several minutes into his appearance before I realized I was watching a dead man resurrected by technology.

Flash forward to yesterday, when the probably false but quite believable rumors about things Donald Trump did in a hotel room in Moscow surfaced.  All it took was an internal CIA memo, possibly faked, to send the internet into an uproar, dominate Trump’s press conference, and start a pissing contest (see what I did there?) between him and CNN.

I’m sure the tech used to generate a completely believable scene featuring Peter Cushing is prohibitively expensive.  For now.  Four years from now, or maybe eight, imagine a salacious video surfacing of a presidential candidate on the eve of an election.  We have the technology.  It won’t matter if it is proven a fake once the outcome of the election has been changed.


Lucky Baby

Wiggling her toes in the sand under the swing, she watched her little brother explore the lawn, gurgling and cooing at each new sensation.  She remembered how afraid she had been when Mommy and Daddy told her she was going to have a little brother.  How could they?  That ruined everything!  When he was born, all her fears were realized.  When she was out shopping with Mommy, everyone they met immediately fawned over her baby brother, poking and tickling him, asking to hold him, ignoring her except to ask “Isn’t it great to have a little brother?”  She hated him!  He was stealing all of Mommy and Daddy’s time away!

Now, though, she felt differently.  Something about the way he looked at her.  She couldn’t help but smile.  And when Mommy asked her to watch him, she felt almost like a grownup.  She had said she just needed to run to the store for a minute.  Trips to the store weren’t nearly as fun these days.  It seemed like all they bought was canned stuff and macaroni and cheese in a box.  Sometimes they went to the place where nice people gave them food for free.  They had started going there when Daddy moved out of town to look for work.

Mommy sure was taking a long time.  Usually she stayed at the playground with them.

“There they are”

“Hey, sweetheart, your mommy said to come get you here.  Come along, we are going to get you some lunch.”

“How are we going to tell her?”

“I don’t know.  Poor kid.  At least the boy won’t know any better.”

“Such a shame.”



This Changes Everything


9-11 changed everything.  No it didn’t.  The election of Donald Trump changes everything.  No it doesn’t.  We like to speak of seminal events as if they are switches, turning something on or off, or changing channels.  They aren’t.  Seminal has the same root as semen.  When the sperm enters the egg, the human who will appear 9 months later is not predetermined, much less the adult they will become.  All the sperm does is create potential in the egg.  The eventuality is determined by environment and the actions of other humans.  The same is true for a seminal event. 9-11 created enormous potential, both for good and evil.  Immediately after the towers fell, there was a massive outpouring of unity, empathy, and solidarity from all corners of the globe.  This could have been embraced and nurtured, had there been leaders with the vision to do so.  Instead, our leadership chose to use fear and ignorance to fuel two devastating wars for profit.  One might say that the actual seminal event was not 9-11, but the 2000 election debacle which installed George W. Bush as president.

The election of Donald Trump also unleashes great potential, both for good and evil.  We can look at it as George Bush looked at 9-11, you are either with us or against us, dividing the country in two, or, we can embrace the common issues which brought us to this point.  Democrats, rather than trying to figure out how to defeat Trump, should be crafting legislation to rectify the problems and address the issues which resulted in his election.  Don’t worry about whether his populist agenda was genuine, don’t worry about Russia.  Take him at his campaign word and craft legislation to rebuild the infrastructure, to create jobs, to reform immigration, and to reform the tax code.  While the Republicans are busy repealing Obamacare for the 5 zillionth time to be replaced by an identical Trumpcare, steal their agenda, call their bluff, and do it in a way that is non-partisan, without a bunch of special interest riders on the bill, just genuine, straightforward legislation.  They will either have to get on board and do what is right for the country or own their hypocrisy.


Guns In My Life

I was born in Ekalaka, in the South East corner of Montana.  Ranching country.  My dad was minister of the town’s Congregational Church, so he hung out with ranchers from the congregation.  He did rancher type things, like holding down the calves for branding (somewhere I have a photo of this), and, on occasion, going out to shoot prairie dogs.  Prairie dogs are anathema to ranchers, because both cattle and horses can break legs when they inadvertently step on a burrow.  He had a rifle he used for that.

He also had a shotgun that he used for bird hunting.  We ate grouse, pheasant, and duck.  One time we had a goose.  I remember fishing the shotgun pellets out of my grouse or pheasant soup, although Mom always seemed to arrange for most of them to end up in Dad’s bowl.

My dad used his rifle to go deer hunting one time.  He hit a deer but didn’t kill it.  He told me that the look in the deer’s eyes as he made the kill at close range was heartbreaking.  I don’t think he ever hunted again.

He did keep the rifle, though.  I don’t know about the shotgun.  About eight years later, we were living in suburban New Jersey, on a hill overlooking New York City.  My mom had a garden, as she has for all of my life.  Our house backed up on a wildlife preserve, which was great for us kids.  It also meant that the garden was plagued by woodchucks.  My mom tried everything, from traps to chicken wire, with mixed results.  That year there was a particularly wily critter who avoided all of the traps and broke through the chicken wire.

My dad’s parents were visiting, probably for either my birthday or my sister’s, when the woodchuck showed up, brazenly munching down a row of lettuce in the middle of the day.  My grandfather looked at my dad and asked, “Do you still have that gun?”  “Yep,” my dad replied, and they fetched it from its storage place in the basement.

We lived on a long, skinny, hillside lot, with a driveway running up to the house, which faced the view of the city rather than the street.  Opposite the garage was a long back yard, the furthest third of which was Mom’s garden, bordering on the woods.  My grandfather came out of the garage and braced himself on the corner of the house, at least 50 yards from where the woodchuck sat munching arrogantly away in the far corner of the garden.  He took one shot, probably his first in years, and killed it instantly with a bullet to the head.  We were all impressed, but we didn’t cook and eat it.

I was going to boarding school in Vermont at the time, and I spent part of the next summer working on a new art building for the school. When I got back in the fall, I found out that one of the older kids I had been working with had walked out into the woods, put a shotgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.  To this day, I don’t know why.

I have a hazy memory of shooting a 22 rifle at bottles in the desert, maybe when I lived in Phoenix.  It was fun, I guess, but not all that fun.

Once, while working as a concrete laborer in Phoenix, I was threatened by a loony with a gun when we got some water spots on his car.  I still didn’t remotely consider getting one myself.

When I worked as a cellular technician, one of my coworkers and I bought paintball guns and stalked each other through the orchards around the Salton Sea.  That was fun, but I always lost, splattered with neon orange or green.

I have traveled all over Mexico and Central America.  Guns are everywhere down there, but always in the hands of military, police, and security guards.  I saw shotgun wielding bulletproof vest wearing men guarding everything from a truck delivering water to a Burger King.  Young kids with M-16s asked me where I was from and where I was going at Puestos Militares throughout Mexico.  I never saw a civilian with a gun.  Even when I was in Juarez in 2009, at the height of the gang war there, I never saw a gun that wasn’t carried by a Federale.  Obviously, there were a lot, 15 people were shot and killed every one of the four days I spent there, but no ordinary citizens, just gang members and cops.

Here in Tucson, I see holstered guns on civilians almost every day, and assume that there are many more concealed weapons.  They are carried by people who are frightened of everyone around them, people who fantasize about someday using their weapon to be a hero, and by people who just want to make a political statement.  They are guns which can unleash a volley of bullets rapidly in the general direction of a perceived threat, or capriciously gun down a Congresswoman and several of her friends and colleagues.  I doubt that most of the people carrying them could drop a woodchuck at 50 yards with a single shot to the head.



Hasta La Victoria No Mas


Steve Inskeep has an extended piece on Cuba this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition.  In the wake of Fidel Castro’s death, I imagine we will be hearing many such pieces.  Inskeep spoke of his many trips to Cuba, how he always had a wonderful time, and how he always felt guilty.  He talked about his minders, how information was controlled for both him and the people of Cuba, portraying them as victims of the oppressive Castro regime, kept in isolation from the rest of the world, never hearing anything but the party line.  I think he does the Cuban people a disservice.

When Inskeep went to Cuba, it was in an official capacity as the representative of the American press.  He stayed in a luxury hotel, was shadowed by minders at every step, and was unable to talk to any of the ordinary Cuban people.  I went as an ordinary Tourist, without US government sanction, traveled all over the country staying in people’s homes and talking to people on the street about anything and everything.  The notion that Cubans are isolated and insulated from outside news and ideas is patently ridiculous.  Four million Canadian tourists visit Cuba every year.  Millions of European and Latin American tourists visit Cuba every year.  500,000 Americans visit through Mexico or Canada every year.  Many of them speak Spanish.  Yes, internet is restricted, and, until recently, nobody had cell phones, but that doesn’t stop the flow of information, it just slows the speed of communication.  Cubans are quite aware of and knowledgable about the world around them.  Remember, this is a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world.


There is no great love for Castro amongst the Cuban people.  Yes, there are the diehard party members, and the families of those who participated in the revolution, but I was told my numerous people “yo odio a Castro” or “I hate Castro”.  The mural above is one of the few depicting Castro that I saw in my travels across the island.  Che Guevara is everywhere, worshipped by the people on billboards, signs, and in statuary.  I believe it is because he represents the revolution, with its high ideals and hope, whereas Castro represents the regime which buried those ideals and killed that hope.  Castro uses Che and his image to this day to keep the people in line.


Hasta La Victoria Siempre, is the ubiquitous rallying cry.  Always Towards Victory it means.  Never reaching victory, of course, because that would eliminate the reason for maintaining the revolutionary dictatorship and the power of the Castros.  The pride of the Cuban people is understandable.  They threw off the yoke of oppression by the most powerful nation on the planet, defied us by siding with the USSR, threw off many attempts to overthrow their government, distributed doctors throughout Central and South America and, for a while, with Soviet help, prospered in a way.

Cuba today is a shadow of what it was, a mockery of what it could have been.  Castro promised free elections when he took power, but never delivered.  We could blame him for everything which came after, but I suggest we look at why the revolution happened to begin with. In 1952, US backed president Batista lost the democratic election for a third term and staged a coup, cancelling the elections and installing himself as dictator.  The US recognized his government almost immediately, leading to 7 years of dictatorship.  Coincidentally, running for the parliament in the cancelled elections was one Fidel Castro.  The United States, by recognizing the dictator who overthrew a democratic election, set the stage for 60 years of Communist dictatorship.

It remains to be seen what the death of Fidel will mean for US-Cuba relations, especially under a president Trump.  There will certainly be a power struggle in Cuba, especially since Raul Castro is also nearing the end of his life.  Will Cuba move towards economic reform?  Canada already controls a large portion of the Cuban economy.  Opening trade and tourism with the US could bring millions of tourists and much investment, but at what cost?  What about all the families and businesses who had their property seized by Castro in 1959?  Will there be a McDonalds in the center of Havana Vieja?  It is going to be a very complicated time for Cuba and its people.  I hope they can find their way without selling their country to the US again.



Seeking Depth, Substance, and Complexity

My online presence was born on June 8, 2000, user number 4752 (farbel) of the fledgling social networking site called LiveJournal.  I had been around for a while, occasionally posting on the message boards of Ana Voog.  It was from there that a number of us migrated to LiveJournal, and active blogging. Many of these people remain my friends in the age of FaceBook and in the “real” world as well.


I have always argued politics online.  On Ana Voog’s message board we argued about the politics of the Clinton White House, the 2000 election, and the beginning of the second Bush presidency.  During my first year on LiveJournal we made fun of President Bush’s bumbling ineptitude, expecting him to be dethroned easily in 2004.  During that year, my list of friends also grew, aided by LiveJournal’s interest list search function.  I felt I really knew my circle.  We posted seriously about our lives, our loves, our culture, and politics, embedding multiple images, links, and videos to flesh out our words.  We had posts with hundreds of comments, but they were all threaded, so you could follow individual conversations within the parent thread with ease.

15 months after I entered the world of LiveJournal, 9-11 happened.  I was working in a very conservative industry.  I had my second journal by then (i), and it became the place where I could really talk about the issues and concerns which mattered most to me, with people who actually thought about their answers.  Many of my friendships became closer during that period of Global shock and upheaval.  Some were strained, but held together despite political differences, because our conversations were more than just a series of simplistic memes, headline links, and news fabricated to tailor towards a particular belief set.


Five years later, I started hearing about a new copycat blogging site.  There had been many, all trying to cut in to LiveJournal’s appeal.  This one, FaceBook, had an interesting twist.  It allowed you search for and/or invite all your friends to the site, and it required the use of real names to facilitate the process.  One of the appeals of LiveJournal, was the ability to remain as anonymous as you chose, only revealing your actual identity to people you trusted.  On LiveJournal, the writer has complete control over who sees their posts, and the reader has complete control over what they see.  There is no algorithm filtering your feed.  It consists simply of the most recent posts by the friends you choose to see.  All of them.

Why did I move to FaceBook, you ask?  Quite simply because everyone else did, including both my LiveJournal community and all the family and friends who looked upon my LiveJournaling as something eccentric, if not creepy.  Overnight, it seemed, everyone in my life, past and present, was on FaceBook.  So I opened an account.  Here was my chance to reconnect with old friends, to stay in touch with current ones and family as well.  Here was an opportunity to expose my art to millions of people.

I was soon frustrated by the platform.  The basic functionality of it, from the lack of threaded comments to the difficulty in finding people with shared interests, all paled in comparison to even the early days of LiveJournal, years prior.  Despite recent upgrades, it still falls far behind.  I want to be able to go back and see what I said on a certain day.  I want all comments threaded in multiple tiers, with my email notification taking me directly to the comment in question when I click.  I want to be able to embed multiple photos within a post, in the position I choose.  I want to be able to insert multiple links into the text.  I want to be able to add emphasis or italics or color to my font at will.  FaceBook could do all of this, but they don’t.  I want to see every post of each page I like.  That is why I like them.  I want all the people who like my page to see all my posts.  I assume that is why they liked my page.  FaceBook doesn’t do this either.  That is because FaceBook is not actually about communication.  It is about profit.

OK, I accept that.  FaceBook got so big it had to go public to continue to operate.  It has to make money for its shareholders.  So it charges me to show the posts on my page to more people.  The problem is, it doesn’t even do that well.  I would happily pay a yearly fee, for example, to assure that my page posts made it to the feed of everyone who has liked it.  Instead, I am forced, if I want to promote a post, to spam hundreds or thousands of people, including the unsuspecting friends of my readers, and my post still doesn’t reach all the people who have liked the page.

FaceBook is a terrible platform for communication, full of fake news, deceptive memes, snarky twitter posts, and filters most people are unaware of that ensure you stay within your bubble, polarizing us more and more every day.  It is a terrible platform for friendship, catering to the one line zingers and fake intimacy that cheapen relationships from both directions.  It is a terrible site for business, withholding information from your clients, even if you pay to have it disseminated.  Imagine a band which is having a show on a certain night in a certain town.  they post about it, and FaceBook shows it to a random 10% of their fan base.  If they pay to promote it, they show it to another 10% of that base and to a bunch of people randomly connected to them.  This is insane.

But everyone is there.  You have to be on FaceBook, or nobody will know you exist.  This is why I came back to Facebook after deleting my entire presence a couple years ago.  I came back because I wanted to crowdsource funding for a dream project of mine.  I was not as successful as I had hoped in raising funds, but, more importantly, I got sucked in to the adversarial back and forth of FaceBook, the shallow jousting over critical issues, the political gamesmanship, and the just plain nastiness of this election year.

I am burned out.  I want real words, strung together by thinking minds into coherent thoughts and arguments.  I want beautiful, image filled posts from the people who actually made those images, and who talk about them eloquently.  I want to choose what I see.

I’m not going back to LiveJournal.  I still maintain my two blogs there, but the site was bought by a Russian conglomerate a few years back, and the place no longer has the feel it used to.  I’m going to post here at my WordPress blog and have it automatically sent to FaceBook, in case anyone feels like clicking on it.  I will maintain my photo and drawing pages on FaceBook, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the feed.  It is poison.

I hope to maintain friendships with people I have met on FaceBook, but  if that isn’t possible without the platform, I suspect those friendships weren’t very deep anyway.





What Does It Mean To You To Be A Successful Artist?

A friend posed this question on Facebook today.  It is a difficult one to answer, because neither “artist” nor “successful” has a concrete definition.  So first I must explain my definition of both.

What is art?  How many times have you been standing in front of a DeKooning in a museum and heard someone say “my kid could do better than that, that isn’t art”?kooning_woman_v

How many people paid thousands of dollars for an inkjet print of a Kinkaid painting with dabs of paint strategically placed on it by minimum wage interns to make it an “original”? t-216Jackson Pollock got shitfaced drunk and dribbled housepaint on canvas and now it is called a masterpiece.


What is art?  Art is anything which is more than functional.  Art is any act of creation, any figment of the imagination, anything brought into being by the human mind.  So all of the above are art, and everyone is an artist.  I don’t care if you “can’t draw a straight line”.  Neither can I.365-10sm

The only difference between me and the person who claims they “can’t do art” is the desire to do it, and the willingness to work at it.  I recently decided to do a self portrait a day for a year.  The above image is one of my earliest.  This is my most recent.365-60sm

You will notice that I still can’t draw a straight line, but this drawing actually resembles me.  I am a person who loves art enough to keep doing it over and over again, even if I am not satisfied with the result, simply because I love doing it and want to learn.  I spent 30 years exploring color and design within very narrow non-objective parameters. chaos I sold some paintings, but never made a living at it.  I decided to play with photography and bought a nice camera.  Five years later, because I knew someone, I was making most of my living with it, and had my own gallery (which did not make money).juarezjuggler

After three years, the work dried up and I closed the gallery.

Was I successful?  Am I successful? If success means acclaim and wealth, no, I am definitely not.  If success means perseverance and productivity, I might be, but I know artists who work much harder than I, who have mastered more skills, make more art, and, often, make more money. So I don’t know if I am a successful artist.  I have had successes, the greatest of which is imparting a love for creation to my grandchildren, who have become fabulous artists in their own right. This image is from an opening at my gallery for their work.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t feel “successful”, though, so I can’t tell you exactly what it means to me.  I set goals for myself all the time, but rarely achieve them.  Most of my dreams for “success” as an artist are dust.  I have ceased striving for financial recognition of my talent, and have begun searching for ways to use it to benefit others.  I suppose achieving that goal will make me a success of some sort.


1000 Words Photo Challenge (as yet untitled)


Photo by Alicia Pilar Mogollon

It wasn’t an easy death. She didn’t get to simply fall asleep one night and not get up the next morning. She didn’t sleep much at all for the last two or three months of her life. Constant pain only partially mitigated by opioids.The wouldn’t give her enough to really take away the pain. They were afraid, they said, that she might overdose and die, accidentally or deliberately. She would have, too. Given the opportunity, she would have chosen oblivion over the torture of clinging to a razor-sharp thread of life.

Oblivion. That’s what she had expected. Just the end. No angels (or devils). No light at the end of a tunnel. No reincarnation. Just nothingness. That wasn’t what she got.

At first, she thought it was a dream. One of those vivid hallucinations that came when a stab of pain ripped the veil off of her drug-induced slumber. This was different, though. Most notably, there was no pain, a sensation, or lack thereof, so alien in recent months that she almost didn’t notice it. Then, unlike the often jumbled and disjointed dreamtime world, the place she found herself was solid and real.

She was in an auditorium at the university, where she had given her last lecture before the cancer hit her like a battle axe, cutting her from her life. She was standing just offstage, which was odd, since she remembered entering down the stairs through the class. Someone was at the podium, speaking. Wait, that was her younger healthier self. In that moment she realized she was dead. Haunting not the present, but her own past.

As soon as the realization struck, the scene around her shifted. She found herself on the slopes of Sugarloaf, standing somehow on top of 48 inches of powder, watching her 43 year old self slalom gleefully past with her children.

Flash again, this time to her grad school dissertation, given in front of a panel of professors, one of whom was her future husband.

And again, back to her first year of college, seeing herself as an innocent, the world opening up before her, so many avenues to choose from.

This couldn’t go on forever, she had to come to a place where she could find rest. This wasn’t it, though, and neither was her next stop, as an angst-ridden 15 year old with dyed black hair, black lipstick, black everything. She wished she could step in to her adolescent self’s world and tell her it was OK, that the world wasn’t an evil place.

But no, she couldn’t quite connect to that past reality. Two more shifts; her first, halting romance, when a kiss was the most magical thing she had ever experienced, then, a painful memory, the day she lost her father to a train accident as he commuted to the city.

The next jump felt different, her landing more solid. She was in a dimly lit room by the window. Her 6 year old self came in, approaching the upright piano against the wall tentatively. This was it. This was where she could stop. She slipped into the little body of her child self, settled on the edge of the piano stool, stretching for the pedals, and began to play.