Saturday, August 15, 2015

Worlds within worlds

It’s been said that our original wants and desires are the correct ones and that we screw it up later by changing our minds and second guessing ourselves. That’s when we make mistakes. Your original hunch is usually the correct one. I don’t know if this is true or if it’s folklore but right about now it sounds like the absolute truth and this is coming from one that doesn’t believe in absolutes.
JFK had been assassinated three years earlier but you’d never know it by looking at my eleven year old self. It still stung though and it never really healed. But as a kid I had plenty of distractions being the science nerd that I was. Even in Southern California there was plenty to explore and enough flora and fauna to capture the imagination of a budding mad scientist. That’s what I wanted to be. I’m not sure if they would have let me be maniacal but I knew that I wanted to at least be some kind of scientist, probably a paleontologist. So you’d see me digging up rocks or picking up some dead insect and examining it on a daily basis. I must have driven my parents nuts. I was too precocious and impulsive with way too much energy, hell, I probably was an undiagnosed hyperactive and didn’t even know it. How they put up with me I’ll never know. But they did. Even better, they indulged me. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do but I loved them for it.
So one day Mom and Pop indulged me again and took me to the department store to get something I’d wanted for all of two minutes…a microscope set made by Microcraft. The Porter Chemical Company made Microcraft microscopes and did quite well marketing them to youthful mad scientists all over America in the late 1950s and 1960s. The boom in science education was fueled by the space race between the Soviets and Americans but after the moon landings when it was apparent we’d won the latest bout in penis comparison the interest in science faded and was replaced in the 1970s with great movies, bad fashion, and classic rock. I went to bed that night with the Microcraft set by my bedside. Twenty minutes later I heard my brother, Rod, come in the house and shortly thereafter a soft knock at my door. The door opened and I heard my brother whisper "Hey, I came in to see your new toy!" I switched on the lamp by my bedside and opened up the metal case for my brother. "Pretty neat" he exclaimed. "I swear, you're probably going to be a scientist or something." I beamed with pride.
The Microcraft set was encased in a two piece metal box that separated in the middle on hinges to fold out into a kind of display case. In spite of it’s mass produced nature the build quality of the scope was very good as well as the images it magnified. This wonderful toy that my parents had bought for me would take me on a great adventure. But first things first…a mad scientist has to have a secret lab and I had one of those too. Bear with me. You see, this was Southern California in 1966. We had moved there from New England in 1963 and bought a tract home in one of the bazillion suburban housing boomlets that spread across the western United States during post World War Two America. Being New Englanders we thought the houses were great, spacious and clean compared to the ramshackle and run down properties we were used to. I would one day grow up to detest the cookie cutter nature of this kind of housing and to this day being around these kinds of structures gives me the creeps. More like loathing actually but I digress. If memory serves there were three basic designs. The first had the garage curved around to the front of the house, the second had the garage on the left and the third had the garage on the right. I lived in “left garage”. In the back of the garage Pop built himself a work bench. A man has to have a work bench. My friends and I were frequently seen climbing the rafters in the garage over the work bench and one day I talked Pop into putting down some wood planking up there along with a ladder made of wooden rungs so I could safely make the climb into my arboreal nest. It was a simple matter to pull up an extension cord from Pop’s work bench to supply me with the electric power I needed to use the backlight on the microscope. You know what I mean, the light that attaches underneath the scope to illuminate whatever was on the slide. My lab was complete. So I moved the Microcraft set up into The Lab and got to work.
The Microcraft set supplied me with a few things I needed to get started. Inside a plastic vial contained shrimp eggs which were fascinating in and of themselves when seen magnified. I looked at blades of grass, grains of sand, and anything and everything that I could get my hands on. The magnified images I was seeing for the first time were incredible. Such detail, and the colors were breathtaking. They were backlit by a small light suspended underneath the stage which was the flat area with a small hole in it that one placed a glass slide upon. A small hole in the stage allowed light to enter from below. One day I got tired of looking at inanimate objects and went looking for bigger prey. At the end of my street near the intersection of Gonzalez Road and Ventura Boulevard there was a drainage ditch which always had standing water. I traipsed down there and scooped up a jar full of the stagnant water in the ditch and ran home to see what wonders were contained within. It was a cloudy and overcast day in Southern California, a Saturday, a day completely free for me to play as I wished. As I climbed the ladder up to my lab I could barely hear the faint tapping of rain on the roof of the garage as I settled in. I hardly expected the great adventure I was about to embark upon. With an eyedropper I extracted a drop of that pond water from the jar. I carefully placed a single drop on the glass slide and placed it under the microscope. I turned on the light underneath the stage and adjusted the focuser. Imagine for a moment that you've been blind since birth and suddenly you have just been given the gift of sight. That's how I felt as I watched a whole new world unfold before me. I saw amoebas and parameciums and a host of other microscopic creatures that I couldn't identify but had seen in science textbooks. I knew that these things existed but it had never become so real as it did right now. I followed the wanderings of an amoeba as it slid across the surface of the slide absorbing everything it came into contact with. I watched with morbid fascination as one microscopic creature would chase down and devour another. This was as real as it gets. But I noticed something else as well, there were smaller creatures that I couldn't see clearly which required much more magnification then this microscope could muster. And then it hit me, there is a microscopic world even smaller than the one that I was currently observing that was totally unaware of the larger world above it. It was almost too much for my eleven year old mind to conceive. I began to realize that this universe worked in a very similar way to nesting dolls. A big doll held a smaller one which held another smaller one and on and on. Then I had my next epiphany, how far down does this go? Does it go on forever or is there a limit? At what point do we reach the end where something can't get any smaller? I barely had time to absorb all this when something went wrong in this newfound world. The creatures weren't moving around as much and the colors were fading. Something was amiss. I soon found the answer. The lightbulb which was illuminating their world was incandescent in nature and the heat was evaporating the water droplet very quickly. The water soon disappeared and all that was left were shadows of their existence. To them it was a Holocaust and I learned an early lesson in what it was like to play God. But my Shangri-La was gone and I had to get it back so with my eyedropper I put another drop of pond water on the slide and I watched in fascination for the next two hours. I went to bed that night contemplating the concepts that had dropped into my lap that day. Yeah, I'd probably end up being a scientist. But it never happened for reasons that would take far too long to explain.
"Pop, do you know what a black hole is?" I asked my father this question nearly thirty years later. He shook his head. I grabbed a yellow legal pad and sat down with him at the kitchen table. I drew the best pictures I could and showed him what an event horizon was, a photon sphere, and the most difficult concept of all to understand... the singularity. I told him how a massive sun could shrink down to the point where it couldn't stop its own shrinking anymore because of its own massive gravity. That this small ball would actually squeeze itself out of the universe entirely and have the distinction of exhibiting infinite mass and occupying zero volume. When I was finished I asked him if he understood what I just explained to him. He slowly nodded yes and said "You should've been a teacher". "Or maybe a scientist?" I replied. He nodded yes again.
I use a scope of a different nature these days. The one I'm using now looks outward into the stars. It's a magnificent telescope made by a legendary manufacturer and I still ask myself similar questions some fifty years later. How far does it go? Is there an end? The questions never end. They never will. I'm reminded of a quote by the anthropologist and writer Carlos Castaneda...
“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length--and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”
As a child I found that path, as an adult I've strayed a bit. But I'm always looking. Breathlessly. Endlessly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Yukon Adventure

The lanky gentleman standing on the right in the photo above is my grandfather, George W. Roland. After languishing over my fireplace for an eternity I finally got the framed photo professionally scanned. Once this was achieved it was relatively easy to brighten, color balance and restore lost detail. The photo was taken on May 17th, 1898 on the bank of Lake Bennett in the Northwest Territories on his sojourn to the Gold Rush in the latter part of the 19th century. I'm the proud owner of my grandfather's legacy which is in the form of a diary that was written while enroute. My Aunt Betty took the hand written notes and typed them onto standard letter sized paper somewhere around 1938 and had those pages bound into a book or journal of the adventure. I decided to transcribe some of the diary entries right here so you could get a flavor of what their lives were like. Frank Thompson (the man sitting on the left) wrote most of the entries and it follows them through their adventures in Alaska, the Klondike and the Northwest Territories.
I've corrected the obvious typos but kept in some of the more interesting spellings and word usages to keep the accuracy and tone of the writer. I don't intend to publish the whole journal here, rather, I think I'll keep that between myself and my family. Besides, it might take months or even years to transcribe as it's quite a large tome. I hope you'll enjoy this very personal glimpse back in time.

George W. Roland , Frank Thompson
Journal, Klondike and Alaska


March 6,

We left Bellows Falls, Vermont on Jan. 15th. George W. Roland and myself were met in Ny. by our other partner, A.F. King. My brother and Johannes Andersen gave us a dinner at Leon Flouret and we took the 7 P.M. train for the wild and wooley west feeling at peace with ourselves and all the world. Someone made so much noise on the ferry boat that the captain sent down word that he couldn't hear the fog horns. It must have been Jimmy de Kay.
We had scalpers tickets to Tacoma costing $71, including sleepers. This was First Class to St. Paul and Tourist sleeper from there on. Gus and I with much labor and calculation made out that we had saved $25 going Tourist and as we did not feel like economizing, we invested that sum in drinks in the dinner car where we got quite chummy with the old steward, who said he never saw second class passengers buy so much champagne in his life.
A.F. King (Gus) was in Alaska four years ago, where he got the mining fever and we intended going in last fall, only mother was ill and we put it off, thereby missing the chance of our lives for we would have been in just at the discovery of the Klondike when every one in the country made a big stake and got rich. George Roland is an ex-log driver and having always been in the woods ought to be of a good deal of help to us who know little of such a life. He is about twenty eight years old, Gus is twenty nine and I am twenty six. Gus lives in N.Y. City and Roland came from Maine. George was quite 'epris with a girl on the train, whom I think doubted the respectability of our party but picked him as the least of the evils. He would get up at six in the morning to talk to her before we got up, though we never troubled him that way til after nine. He came in one morning and aroused me from my dreams of home to say that he had been credibly informed by one of the original settlers that grizzly bears were on the increase in that section of the country we were going through. He spent most of the rest of the day looking out the windows for tracks of them.

We got to a little station in Dacota (sic) and almost the first man we saw was a fellow from home named Billy Hayes who left last year. At Tacoma we were met by Gus' brother, Charley, and a man named Fred Church who wants to go to Alaska with us. He seems to be a mighty nice chap and has been prospecting for the last six years in the Olympics. He knew Harry at St. Paul's School having gone from there to Princeton. We stopped at the Chilburg and the boys having made me treasurer, I took all the money and put it in the bank, allowing them to their great disgust, only twenty-five cents a day pocket money. Treasurer for agand like that is a thankless job though this strick (sic) economy was enforced pro-bono publico and they both of them turned on me and reviled me and accused me of using public funds. All the time however they were cheating themselves for they would go into George Bott's saloon next to the Chilburg and order drinks having them charged to the hotel bill.

While we were in Tacoma we were known as getting more free drinks in Bott's saloon than was ever done before. Roland has now a cognomen- Cocktail George-which he gained in this wise. He has a wonderous and insatiable appetite for Manhattan cocktails which he drinks at most unsuitable and in fact every occasion. He even got up one morning af four o' clock and drawing the night clerk to one side, for he thought himself back in Vermont, asked if he could get a drink anywhere. He was surprised and pleased to learn that in Tacoma the saloons keep open all night and also Sundays. After that he rose habitually at four.

We did not expect to come west til the middle of Feb. But George N. Wright, the man who I grubstaked last year, came on east with a proposition about certain hydraulic claims on the Dalton Trail, discovered by one "Long Shorty" Bigelow, a square man, which he would let us into if we would furnish the funds needful for putting us in the plant. So a company was formed and I was given charge of it. But in Seattle and Tacoma I learned enough to cause me to be very careful of anything "Long Shorty" may be in.
We bought our outfits at the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Co. store and made a very good deal, getting enough clothes, food and mining utensils to last us a year and a half, for $750.00. This was a sad day for me however for going off by myself to buy a medicine chest I fell in with Charley King and some of his friends from the east and retired very early, leaving Gussie and George to sew up 144 bags that our grub was going in. They seemd to think I hadn't done right. Strange too. The next evening I had been rushing around all day getting the stuff on the boat that sailed the following morning, they got even with me for they decided to make the town remember their departure, but I remembering how much there would be to do before the boat sailed, refused to join them. Gussie opened the ball by putting both feet through George Bott's door panel, to surprise and annoyance to Mr. Botts. After that there was continual round of pleasure. The crowd, about ten of us, made the grand rounds, The Bohemian Club, Monogram Eclipse and many others. George, who seemed filled with the idea that a man could not get full on cocktails, confined himself to his favorite drink while took only beer. Consequently, about two A.M. when we went to supper, George ordered about two dollars worth and at once went to sleep, refusing to wake up and eat anything so we took him upstairs and put him to bed though he was afraid I would steal his boots. Gus could be got to bed til four and we had to get up at six for the boat left at nine and there was lots to be done. This was Wednesday, Jan. 26th, and our boat, the City of Seattle, always leaves on time. We had 260 cubic feet of freight and our tickets only allowed us 60 cubic feet, but by a wise expenditure of the public funds I managed to get it all on and saved forty dollars freight. We got to Seattle at 11 A.M. and and didn't leave there til 10:30 P.M.

It's a fairly mundane peek at their lives as they made their way cross country by train to Skaguay and ultimately, Dawson. But there is something else I wanted to share with you. As an aside I wanted to illustrate the friendship which was developed between Frank Thompson and my grandfather. Every relationship has its bumps and rough patches and theirs was no exception. There were times in the Yukon when they would get so angry with each other they'd threaten to kill each other, then make camp in seperate places until they got over their mad spot and calmed down.
Sifting through the diary I have found a handwritten letter of condolence he wrote to my grandmother on hearing of George Roland's death in 1951. The letter is as follows...

Telephone 2
F.L. Thompson
Rye Beach
New Hampshire

Dear Mrs. Roland,
I wanted to offer you and yours my sympathy over George's death.
I want to say in all sincerity that I thought of him as one of the best and finest men I ever knew. No one could appreciate the strength of character and goodness of George unless they had been with him in the things we went through together many years ago. I really knew him then and he couldn't have changed.
I have heard some one describe heaven (of which no one really knows what it is like) as opening a door and going into a room where all one's best friends who have died are. And if this is so I'm sure that there will be another little door into another room where I will find George and Gus King waiting for me. I hope so.
No one knows until sorrow comes how many good kindly people there are in this world. I never knew I had as many friends I had until this last year when I lost my only son and grandson, and I am sure you too are now finding it out and it helps a lot, doesn't it.
I am truly sorry that I can not come up to George's funeral but, alas, I too have grown old and have only been out of the house but six times this year, and can not go too far. So I can only send my sympathy, many expressions of sorrow and say may God bless you and keep you.
F.L. Thompson

George Roland died four years before I was born. And yet I feel a bond and kinship with him as strong as any real life friend. Wouldn't it be a treat if Frank is right and the door opens and George is waiting there to tell me some stories. How bad could the afterlife be?

This is the very first time this photo has been seen on the web and nearly thirty years since many in my family have laid eyes on it. His countenance looks down upon me every day while safely ensconced over my fireplace. No wonder I feel that bond. So welcome to the internet George Roland, so much has happened since your time in the sun.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fading grief

July is a terrible month for me or at least it has been for the last decade of so. I lost my beloved Newfie, Jackson, five years ago today and ten years ago on July 27th I lost my beloved father. I would like to remember them as they were, as pals, not just to me but to each other. In a conversation last week with a friend I mentioned how it seems to take a 2-3 years to get over a major loss. For the longest time after my father passed away I couldn't really function normally. I had foolishly moved away from my little Northern California town to Southern California where I was miserable. I was living at the beach which wasn't all it was cracked up to be considering that this beach was crowded, noisy and polluted. The Summer of '42 it wasn't. I despised where I lived so there was no point in looking for work as I didn't want to become tied to a job in a place that made me crazy. But I couldn't afford to live in California anymore as the rents were just outrageous. I was single and everyone knows that California is a two income state, maybe three. So I was stuck. The feeling of paralysis was all consuming. I would lay on the floor of my apartment only venturing outside three times a day to allow Jackson his bathroom breaks. I shopped at the one dollar store to stretch the dwindling resources and I remember how difficult it was to drag myself out to the car to make that weekly trip to the grocery store. It was safe in my apartment. With the Sci-Fi network as my only diversion I would lay on that floor and congratulate myself for the most meager of tasks. If I made lunch it was a major accomplishment, so was taking Jackson outside. There were times when I would walk down to the beach at night and scream at the stars "Where are you? You can't be gone!" As if my tears would bring back my parents. My mental state even cost me some of my reputation as an actor. On the national tour of a play I was barely able to concentrate on the stage work at hand, a role I'd wanted to play for years. I used to be so confident, so fearless. I haven't acted since. It was only when I bought a house out of state, in Ohio, that was when the fog started clearing. It gave me purpose, a way to circumvent the paralysis I'd been subject to for two years. I thank my lucky stars I had Jackson to keep me company through all this. If he hadn't been there to keep me grounded I don't really know where I'd be right now. I distinctly remember how motivated I was when I knew that this house was mine. The fog had cleared, the paralysis had evaporated. I was a dervish around the apartment as I began packing. Moving day was a month away but I started right in by cleaning and organizing my belongings. But back to my original thought. How long does grief last? When does it become impossible to shed a tear for someone after so many tears have been already cried? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say three years. That seems to be the amount of time it took for me to get beyond my grief for both my father and Jackson. As I mentioned here Jackson was as much Pop's dog as my own. Losing both of them was hard but I can no longer weep for them. I can however remember them fondly and smile whenever I think of them. I can laugh when I think of that shitty grin Pop would give me or of the time when Jackson ate my sandwich when I wasn't looking. I can remember everything now. I am free.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Why the Christian Right hates Hollywood

I’m an actor. Or at least I used to be until I fled California. One would have to have been living in a dark room for the last twenty eight years to not be aware of this facet of the culture wars…the tendency of the Christian Right to demonize the denizens of America’s entertainment capital. Here are a few examples of what some Christian leaders have said about Hollywood:
Jerry Falwell called " …movie stars “moral perverts”, while claiming that you “almost got to be a homosexual to be recognized in the entertainment industry anymore.”
Falwell again…“Movie stars not married to each other, having babies and making headlines all over the world as though they were doing some great thing. Big deal! Just another moral pervert. And for them to become heroes for our kids.”
Falwell once refered to Ellen DeGeneres as Ellen Degenerate. Nice. And during the 2008 Presidential campaign John McCain tried to arouse the passions of the natives by declaring that Barack Obama was off to Hollywood for a fundraiser. And you know what THAT means! Those evildoers will be plotting on how to demoralize and debase America even more than they have already. McCain, no Bible beater by any stretch, knew what would arouse his base even though it was a half-hearted attempt to remind evangelicals that Democrats are evil bedfellows of those Screen Actors Guild people. Ironically, McCain had a Hollywood fundraiser himself a month later to little fanfare.
Donald Wildmon of Focus On The Family, an evangelical organzation that campaigns for Christian issues had this to say…
"The television elite are highly secular," Wildmon wrote. "The majority (59 percent) in the Jewish faith."
I could list quotation after quotation but I’m sure you catch my drift. The Christian Right has had a bee in it’s bonnet for a long time when it comes to Hollywood. Watch what happens when a movie star weighs in with an opinion that drifts left of center, they will be vilified as another Hollywood loser with no moral compass and should just keep their mouth shut. Witness the apoplexia by Christian leaders when Alec Baldwin has something to say. This eventually filters down to Fox News which works hand in glove with the Christian Right to continue the right wing talking points in their own echo chamber.
The Moral Majority
My first personal remembrance of the Christian Right was in the late 1970′s when Jerry Falwell created the Moral Majority as a response to the fallout from what he viewed as the moral vacuum of the 60′s/70′s. I was a student actor in college at the time and I clearly remember arriving at the college to get into make-up for an 8 PM show only to see one of the other actors already in the green room sporting a button which read "The Moral Majority is neither". We smirked at his political statement and we both shared a laugh at this attempt at wit, both of us clueless of the eventual political movement which would cripple our country in the coming decades. A political movement which would see it’s genesis the following year with the election of Ronald Reagan. To many, this was the start. This is when the anger, the so called culture wars, would ignite like a wildfire. And for years after liberals seemed impotent in it’s wake. The opposition was always on-message, organized and the best we could do was elect Republican-lite politicians as a bulwark against this seemingly endless tsunami. Reagan forged a coalition of economic conservatives and evangelicals under one roof and their political effect would be felt in the next eight election cycles.
But all was not lost. Even Hollywood can give as good as it gets and by the middle of the 1980′s The Moral Majority dropped it’s moniker and buried itself within the more apt Christian Coalition. It seems that the very name "Moral Majority" was found to be a bit of a joke and the group finally decided to get rid of it in favor of the CC. Late night comics had been having a field day with such an arrogantly self-righteous title but the membership was still there and still determined to deliver on it’s political agenda. These were my first memories of the Christian Right and I’m sure many will agree that this is where it all started. But there is more, much more to this story. To follow it you will need to time travel with me for just a bit because this is an ancient battle.
The Shaman
Real power lies in hearts and minds. If you can influence them you can move mountains. In prehistory it was The Shaman that had the power. The Shaman was an elder, had the ear of the chief and could bend men to his will. In his book The Way of the Actor Brian Bates describes the ancient Shaman as the original artist, dancer, musician, singer, dramatist, intellectual, poet, bard, ambassador, curer, folksinger, weatherman and cultural hero.
Film director John Boorman journeyed deep into the rain forests of Brazil, researching for The Emerald Forest, his film about white American boy who is captured by and grows up with a native South American indian tribe. Boorman was flown into tribal lands, trekked through the jungle to a meeting with Takuma, a famed shaman. When they finally met, Takuma asked Boorman to explain his work: "It’s not easy to describe a movie to a man who has never seen one or watched television. I struggled and he listened intently. I told him one scene would stop and another begin, in a different place and time as it does in a dream. he lit up, grasping that. I told him of some of the tricks and wonders we got up to. Finally he was satisfied. "You make visions, magic. You are a paje like me."
Modern day actors have taken the place of the shamans of prehistory. They are the new storytellers. The Shamans were the first actors and like their modern day counterparts were thought to have transformative powers. They were thought to be able to communicate with the dead and to have the power to divine future events. Bates goes on to state that…
shamanic actors in performance becomes not another person, but another class of being. And the being is not a fictitious character, but a spirit. (Sounds like those damn Method Actors)
But the ancient shamans ran afowl of a new upstart religion. The early Christian church attacked the practices of the shamans as "paganism". Performances were restricted and banned. The one way to get rid of a competing religion is to demonize it into non-existence. Bates continues…
"The Christian missionary campaign in Europe was quickly allied to the political and military authorities and repressive measures were instituted against actors. Actors were declared from pulpit as outcasts. They were described as being possessed not by "spirits" but by devils and demons. Actors tumbled from their position as high status "performing mystics", interpreting the knowledge and power of the spirit world."
The conflict between these rival interpreters of competing spiritual realities continued well into the next millenium. In medeival England actors were still being persecuted. In 1372 an act of Parliament was passed designating "Roges, Vagabondes, and Sturdye Beggars all Fencers, Bearewardes and Common players in Enterludes and Minstrels." The act went on to categorize all the activities of actors as "lewd" and liable to punishment. Fast forward to Shakespeare’s time and the cultural discrimination still exists with the building of the famed London theatres on the "other" side of the Thames River where only the harlots and brigands live.
Fast forward now to modern times where a young Charlton Heston is performing theatre in Pennsylvania Dutch country, an area of conservative farmers. From The Way of the Actor
When Heston arrived, the director sent for him to have a quiet chat and explained that "The local townspeople like the theatre, they like to come to it, and they don’t want you mingling with their children or their wives. There’s a street in the town that marks the spot where the company is not allowed to go. If that upsets you, you’d better tell me now".
Now, none of this has anything to do with morality or our basic goodness, it has everything to do with power and who gets to write the history books. It’s about who gets to interpret the meaning of spirituality and on whose terms. This is a battle that didn’t start during the Reagan presidency, it’s merely the continuation of an ancient turf war that has been with us in one form or another for two thousand years. The modern day Christian Nationalist movement is seeing their power wane as secular ideas and mores take hold. Not only in our country but in Europe where the church is in full retreat. The modern day fundamentalist fears the modern world and the rational thought which is unweaving their medieval notions of reality. Only this time they don’t have the power of the state to enforce their edicts. They must persuade, and finding their argument lacking many are walking away from them. All they have left in their quiver is to attack the reborn concepts of the pagans. And as the world moves in a more secular and rational direction you can count on the rhetoric from the Christian Right to become more shrill, more desperate. They’ll fall into the old routine and blame Hollywood. After all, they’ve been doing it for two millenia.
I quoted freely from The Way of the Actor, A Path to Knowledge and Power by Brian Bates published by Shambhala. Look for it in a used bookstore near you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Penn State, The Clergy, Wall Street and political ruling class

I know, I know. A rather long-winded title to a rather dry essay. But hang in there and I'll make it worth your while. This week the media is buzzing with outrage over the Penn State child abuse scandal as well it should be. I ran into a guy on the street two days ago that feels strongly that the people involved should be taken out and shot. It goes without saying that child rape doesn't go down well in these quarters. The entire football program at Penn State is now in danger due to the inaction of Joe Paterno and the enabling mindset that allowed it all to happen. It has been said that you don't "mess" with college football, that it is an institution that is above criticism, oversight and perhaps above the law. That remains to be seen but my main thrust (no pun intended) is that this scandal, this story, doesn't exist in a vacuum but is rather part of a greater American pathology. It is our tendency to give institutions and the people who occupy them a free pass when it comes to accountability.
The Catholic Church is only now being brought to account for it's enabling of pedophile priests. An accounting that many say is too little, too late. And there are those that even now defend the Church as if they're beyond mortal criticism. Once again, we have a problem holding an institution responsible when caught wrongdoing.
It has been over three years since the financial meltdown of late 2008. We know how the banks did it and many news organizations have given us a road map of how it all went down. Yet not one Wall Street banker has been arrested or brought up on charges in one of the worst financial collapses in history. We just can't do it. Maybe it's because they all look so respectable in their Armani suits. It's so much easier to pepper spray or arrest the Occupy Wall Street protesters and sweep it all under the rug than arrest a sharply dressed investment banker. Just the term "investment banker" sends us into rapture with it's overtones of respectability and success. How does one slap someone like that into the slammer?
Some eight years ago the advisors to George Bush engaged in a whispering campaign to "out" a CIA operative who was married to a man that openly criticized the Bush administration's reasoning (excuses) to invade Iraq. Only one was held accountable while the others are still walking around as free men. The man that actually leaked the story to a journalist openly admitted his error as if it was something trivial, as if it merely a family secret. Oops, sorry. Nothing of a legal nature was ever pursued against this man. Once again we have failed.
These events are not separate things. There is linkage between all of them. They all have one thing in common... our complete inability to hold powerful people and entrenched institutions accountable to the law. Whether they are politicians, the clergy or celebrities we are totally unwilling to punish people of wealth and power. Until we have the nerve to do so the inequality that those OWS protesters are talking about will escalate. We dare not even ask or leaders tough questions. The news media fawns over the politicians and can't even ask an unscripted question anymore without the pol in question whining about how unfairly they were treated. At least Joe Paterno and his people haven't complained about being asked what newspapers they read. But the day is young.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Death in the Family

There are no words to describe the pain of losing a son or daughter. It's unnatural. The kids are the ones to live long and happy lives. Parents aren't supposed to bury their children, quite the opposite. But somehow my cousin Joe has lost his darling daughter who was all of twenty-one years of age. Her name is Allyson and she's beautiful, happy and full of life. Or was. She is gone now. Usually I have no trouble with finding the right words but right now I'm just flummoxed. I'm so sorry Joe. That's all.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Searching for Pop II

This will probably be one of the oddest essays I've ever written due to the disparate elements I'm trying to bring together. Bear with me, it'll be worth it. Promise. If you're a fan of my stories you'll remember how I attempted to find my father on the Intrepid on a sojourn to New York in early 2009. Being halfway sane I certainly wasn't looking for him in the literal sense. After all, he'd been dead for seven years. Rather, I was looking for whispers. Ephemera. A hint of who he was or at least something that might strike an emotional chord. For the better part I think I succeeded but since that pilgrimage I haven't thought about it much. Now don't get me wrong, I think about him all the time but not like that day I spent on the Intrepid.
Now, not to change the subject or anything but... I'm now a gamer. Yes, a gamer. Video games. The kind that pimply-faced geeks play while well into their thirties living in their parent's basement. Not in a million years would I have dreamed that I would be gaming online. Really. If you'd told me five years ago I would one day own a Sony Playstation 3 and that I'd be staying up into the wee hours playing Call Of Duty, World At War I would have told you that you were completely daft. I would have said that I'm not the type to be playing a first-person shooter game, that I'm much more inclined to play computer games like Myst and Riven which were popular back in the 1990's. I loved those games. So realistic, so surreal, and the game was one of exploration and discovery which would culminate in figuring out an immense mystery. This suited my mentality and since I'm a bit of a culture snob I honestly couldn't see myself playing shoot-em-ups with teenagers. I spent days trying to figure out the puzzles and mysteries of Myst and Riven. One day I showed Pop what Myst was all about. Mind you, back in 1997 I was using a 13 inch Toshiba laptop but even still the images were brilliantly realistic and breathtaking. We walked around in the virtual environments and I mentioned to Pop how cool this would look on a bigger computer screen. He immediately shot back "Imagine this taking up the whole wall!" How prescient he was back in 1997. I'm now playing games on a 50 inch high definition screen that comes very close to Pop's prediction way back in the 1990's.
Call Of Duty, World At War is a first-person shooter game set among the ruins of Europe and the South Pacific during WWII. A player can take the guise of either a German, Russian, Japanese or American soldier depending on the theater of combat. One scenario is called Downfall and is set in the massive town square of East Berlin. Another is called Breach and takes place in the shadow of The Brandenburg Gate. One of the Pacific scenarios takes place on Makin Atoll and another, the subject of this essay unfolds on a small island fortified as a military base. It's simply called Battery and I may have caught a glimpse of Pop in this strangely surrealistic place. The "battery" in question is beat to hell. It has been attacked and nearly destroyed by the American fleet. Gun turrets are twisted and askew while Japanese cruisers lie halfway sunken and burning nearby. This particular environment was an add-on so after I purchased this "map" I ventured in by myself to explore. I felt that this was the prudent thing to do rather than get thrown in during the heat of battle as a favor to my eventual team mates who would join me in a rousing game of Team Death Match. On the American side of this base is a platform which looks out to sea. "Pop, is that you?" It had never crossed my mind to look for him here in this virtual environment. To my right sits a Japanese cruiser and it's heavily damaged and sinking. I look out to sea and swear I can see the Intrepid surging deeper into the Sea Of Japan. She'd made quick work of this little outpost and had places to go. But I'm sure he was here too. I'd just missed him.