Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Identified as a trouble maker by the authorities since childhood, and resolved to live up to the description, Charles Carreon soon discovered that mischief is most effectively fomented through speech. Having mastered the art of flinging verbal pipe-bombs and molotov cocktails at an early age, he refined his skills by writing legal briefs and journalistic exposes, while developing a poetic style that meandered from the lyrical to the political. Journey with him into the dark caves of the human experience, illuminated by the torch of an outraged sense of injustice.

Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Fri Oct 04, 2013 9:59 pm


March 14, 2006

1. The Stealth Agenda

The item wasn’t on the agenda, and although City Attorney Mike Franell was present, he couldn’t give any advice on the issue. After all, it concerned the impending hiring of his brother as head of AFN. Pseudo-legal advice was provided by outgoing City Administrator Gino Grimaldi to the affect that the nepotistic character of the appointment could not be considered by the council. Brushing aside the objections of Councilor Jack Hardesty, the remaining claque of councilors voted to give a second plum job in the City of Ashland to the Franell Family. Richard Franell will relocate here at your expense from Florida. I hope his family like skiing and cappuccino.

2. A Fait Accomplished

Since it wasn’t on the agenda, no one had signed up to speak on the issue, so no one could speak against it. It was, as they say, a fait accompli, a done deal. The maneuver left no doubt that what is most important to at least three members of the City Council is exercising power, and confirming the perception that their rule is law. They will have their way, however wayward that be. Some people might think that the point isn’t whether the City Attorney’s brother is the City Attorney’s brother, but rather, whether he is “the most qualified for the job.” If the City Council’s top lawyer had been in action, providing the advice to the City that he is paid to provide, they would have known that Richard Franell’s qualifications were irrelevant to the issue of his fitness for the job.

One of my favorite fairy tales will illustrate why this is the case. In “Donkey Skin,” the lovely princess (played by Catherine Deneuve) dons a donkey skin to conceal her beauty and flees her father’s castle because, deranged by the death of his lovely wife, and seeking to fulfill her deathbed request that he marry only a woman as beautiful as herself, he has chosen his daughter to wed. Fortunately, the princess’s fairy godmother provides ethical guidance in a song that reminds us all that “fathers do not marry their daughters.” Some of the most important moral lessons are locked away in children’s stories, and “Donkey Skin” reminds us that, before we even consider an applicant’s fitness for a salaried position on the public payroll, we must consider whether they have any characteristics, such as blood relations, that would disqualify them from assuming the position. While the omnipotent will always disregard such limitations -– witness the marriage of Caesar Borgia to his sister Lucretia with the approval of their father the Pope — certain boundaries must be respected. In a world governed by sense, a princess cannot ascend to her mother’s throne via her father’s bed. Similarly, however qualified Richard Franell might be, he cannot properly ascend to the status of a top municipal official using his brother’s high office as a stepping-stone.

3. Yee-Ha!

Let us presume the rogue Councilors are merely ignorant of the dangers of incestuous relations in City government. We would hazard a guess that they are acquainted with the concept of avoiding the “appearance of impropriety.” But like a truck full of kids in dad’s four-wheeler facing a super-mudhole, the rogue Councilors simply threw it into high and hit the gas, and you know how that works out. The Council’s decision (from which only Jack Hardesty dissented) will dishearten all who hoped, despite past evidences, that Ashland enjoys honest government. That notion is dead. As if the danger of cronyism had not been the subject of the last six months of national news, the Rogue Five -— Cate Hartzell, Russ Silbiger, Kate Jackson, Dave Chapman and Alex Amarotico – hijacked our civic vehicle and drove it directly into a filthy swamp of unknown depth.

4. A Setup For Failure

Why would the Rogue Five do this? Surely Mr. Franell’s brother could not have risen so far above the ranks of the other 59 applicants that he has to be the one to lead AFN. Surely, somewhere among the clever, intelligent techies already peopling the Pacific Northwest, or even in our own little town, we could have found someone to do this job. Aha, now you’ve hit upon it. What is this job? No one knows. Two hours after they decided to hire Richard Franell, the Council batted around four proposals on what to do with AFN, and Kate Jackson even came up with a hybrid concept that combined the worst elements of the non-profit spin-off (no City control over management) with the worst aspect of the “Open Carrier” proposal (no ESPN).

Like the job of managing FEMA, that the President thought could be managed by a connoisseur of horse-flesh, no one really knows what the new AFN head will do. Perhaps, like “Brownie,” all he has to do is “a heck of a job,” sitting around with his opposable digit shoved firmly into one orifice or another while the chips fall where they may. Such a person would be ideal for this position, since no one knows just what he will do to “manage” AFN, since even the business model for this orphan agency is up in the air. Many capable people would avoid such a job, since it is a setup for failure. It is thus doubly suspicious that the candidate we are told is the “best” would in fact accept the job. It would be far more believable to hear that the best candidate, after learning the vague particulars of the position, would reject it. There is every possibility that, like “Brownie,” who was chosen to dismantle FEMA, not manage it, our new AFN manager has been hired by Finance Director Lee Tuneberg and Gino Grimaldi to deliver the coup de grace by demonstrating, once and for all, that AFN is a failure.

5. Who Says We Can’t Make A Decision?

As Mayor Morrison asked rudimentary questions, he made it clear he had not studied the proposals that have been on the website for weeks. Dave Chapman, Russ Silbiger, and Cate Hartzell, who put their plan together in non-open meetings despite being a subcommittee of a public body that should hold open meetings, tried to explain things to the Mayor, but some of us thought it was a little late for that. Civic observer Tom Gaffey left in disgust, deeming the exercise a “study session” should’ve been completed long before the meeting. “They’re not going to decide anything,” he said, echoing the comments of former Mayor Cathy Shaw, who said the day before the City Council meeting that she didn’t plan to attend because it was inconceivable that the Council would decide anything. Of course, she didn’t know the appointment of Richard Franell of Florida as AFN head was on the stealth agenda.

6. The Problem of Managing “A Wonderful Man”

Political-correctness maven Leah Ireland, fancying herself charming, first insulted Joel Kramer by laughingly objecting to sharing a seat next to him because she doesn’t like JPR’s content offerings (not PC enough). Then she turned prophetess, telling us that if JPR were selected to manage AFN, there would be hell to pay. People would mount petitions, hit the streets, and massively reject the plan by popular referendum. By such skillful communications, Leah showed her ability to forge agreements, because after her mini-tirade against JPR, Joel Kramer didn’t want to sit next to her, either.

Then Leah got into another mode, gushing about “this wonderful man” who would be the new AFN head. She just thought this nepotism thing was ridiculous, and he should be given a chance. The other citizens were left wondering what she knew about Richard Franell that the rest of us didn’t. There has been little information about his qualifications released by the City, certainly not enough to know that he is “wonderful”. Even if he were wonderful, though, he would still be a terrible choice based on his blood relation to the City Attorney, which generates what lawyers call a “potential conflict of interest” that should be avoided whenever possible. Once you ignore a potential conflict, you move forward to the next stage of corruption, called “an actual conflict of interest.”

An actual conflict of interest arises when a lawyer would be required, due to his dual loyalties, to take opposite positions for two different clients. How would an actual conflict of interest for Richard Franell arise in this situation, and what would it mean for the City? Essentially, his brother has taken a job as a turnaround specialist, regardless what “option” is adopted by the council. The performance of this individual, who will take the reins of AFN, a department that loses about $10,000 a week, should be under a microscope, and he should be subject to some strict financial progress requirements tied to his compensation. The City Council will likely fight tooth and nail to prevent disclosing the terms of his contract, but we may assume it provides many protections for the employee and no provision for performance-based compensation. If his work is not satisfactory, his contractual performance should be reviewed, and at that point, the City Attorney would be consulted by City leaders charged with reviewing his performance. At that point, the City Attorney would be unable to perform his job.

If things go well with the new Franell, the conflict would just simmer in a potential form. Some obvious negative effects will be felt. Nepotism is almost always bad for work morale and productivity, as fellow employees move from feeling jealous to thinking how to get their own relatives hired. Other problems will arise. People will say that, in Ashland, it’s who you know, not what you know, that gets you hired, and that will be hard to refute. If the new Franell does well, it will be discounted as luck. If he receives raises, it will be thought of as favoritism. If his faults are overlooked, people will say he “has pull.”

Of course, things might not go well, because they rarely do at AFN. The new Franell’s faults might be of any type. We don’t know if his contract provides for a probationary period. We don’t know what conduct or misconduct would constitute grounds for discipline or firing. We might doubt whether anyone in the City would have the guts to criticize the City Attorney’s brother, which is an inherent problem here, but assuming someone did, we might need to impose some discipline on the new Franell. At that point, we clearly would not be able to rely on the legal advice of our City Attorney, who would be ethically unable to provide such advice, because of the conflict of interest between his loyalty to his brother and his duty to us. He would have to call one of his friends at a law firm in Portland and pay them a retainer of about $10,000, so a firm with a name like Stoel, Rives can bill us $350/hr for the services of a municipal employment lawyer. City lawyers make friends referring work out like this, and all things work together for good. There is less work for the City Attorney, a good connection with a big lawfirm, and perhaps a nice settlement for the outgoing Franell.

Oh, I can hear the optimists among us scoffing. Things like that never happen in Ashland! Right, and there are no ducks in Lithia Park. The City has wasted plenty of money on employment issues that result from poor hiring choices. Last time the City paid off a departing employee, Lisa Brooks of Ashland Police Department, she settled her harassment suit for $250,000. The legal fees certainly exceeded that amount, so the Brooks disaster probably cost half a mill. The City was once sued after it fired the Fire Chief, who was grossly obese, on grounds the City had failed to accommodate his disability -— weighing so much he couldn’t climb a ladder. Of course, if the Fire Chief had been the City Attorney’s brother, he’d probably still be sitting in the new station house, putting out bureaucratic brush fires. Last year, the City Council paid $35,000 to consultants who papered over the still-simmering antagonism toward Chief Mike Bianca, who insists on seeing the town as a peaceful place, and does not mistake himself for Clint Eastwood, to the great chagrin of the would-be gunslingers hired by the previous Chief, that Bianca can’t fire until he catches them committing some criminal act. Indeed, under the surface, the rift at the heart of the APD is still bubbling like an undersea heat-vent that will in time generate its own volcano. But let’s focus on the problem at hand.

The Rogue Five don’t want to see the employment disaster they have engineered by ignoring the laws of nature and the ethical law that governs lawyers. They are pleased to send the message that their will is law, common sense and legalities be damned. Of course, since the City Attorney finds it convenient to remain silent about the looming dangers of hiring his brother, the Rogue Councilors can claim ignorance. Deniability is built into this plan. Some might think, that placed in the City Attorney’s position, they would not even want their brother to get the job. For example, my brother has been one of the top City Attorneys in the City of Phoenix, Arizona for twenty years, but even when I’ve been between jobs and hard against it, he has never suggested that I apply for an opening there. After all, it would only taint his reputation and cause people to suspect my qualifications.

Then again, with hurricanes devastating the Gulf Coast, our City Attorney might be placing a premium on getting his brother out of harm’s way, and into the safe bosom of Ashland. To bring these two siblings together, currently separated by the entire length and breadth of the continental United States, all we have to do is pay the new Franell’s relocation expenses, his salary and benefits, the costs of extra legal advice to negotiate his contract and monitor his performance, and whatever costs arise from having him take a job that no one can tell you what it is. And for that, as Leah Ireland put it so well, we get a wonderful man.

7. Kissing Off the White Knight

Having demonstrated their imperviousness to sense, the Council found it easy to commit further blunders. They gave Joel Kramer of JPR all the excuse he needed to leave the discussion table for good. Of the “four” options on the table, many citizens liked the idea of passing management of the business to JPR, that has built a heck of a listener base and is one of the largest ISPs selling AFN Internet access. But it was clear to Kramer, probably even before the meeting, that three of the Councilors — Hartzell, Chapman, and Silbiger — were certain to vote against a JPR spin-off, and eager to proceed with the new “Open Carrier” model that the three prefer. And in predictable fashion, as these things always play out, the Council voted to focus on developing the Open Carrier option.

The Open Carrier model sounds very sensible, and quite frankly, I would support it, if it were possible. Before I explain why it’s not possible, however, I’ll tell you how the Council hopes it will work. An Open Carrier system would maintain City ownership of all of AFN. All households would receive mid-speed Internet access and a “base level of TV” (all broadcast and local channels, and CSPAN). The City would jettison costly TV cable channels that many AFN users shun. The City would add a new charge to the utility bill of between $7 and $15 per month for this service, thus going directly into competition with local ISPs like Jeffnet, Info structure, Ashland Home Net, and Open Door.

Practically speaking, of course, the financial part of the plan has already received a popular rejection. The City Council backed into a buzz-saw last year after Lee Tuneberg convinced them to add a monthly AFN charge to our utility bill. They withdrew the plan when it exploded in their face. Granted, the Open Carrier plan will give people something for their money -— Net access and basic TV – but the plan to charge everyone for service on the utility bill will not be made more palatable to those who objected they didn’t want to pay for AFN if they didn’t use it.

But let’s say, that like me, you think the Open Carrier proposal sounds good. Why do I say it can’t be done? The answer is simple. You will note that what is getting trimmed under the Open Carrier proposal is City spending “on TV.” What does that mean? That means not sending checks to the media magnates like Warner Brothers for that TV programming Ashlanders don’t seem that interested in, and that is equally available at lower price from Charter.

The high-priced question is, of course —- can we stop sending checks to Hollywood? According to Joel Kramer of JPR, the answer is a resounding “No.” Why? Kramer explained his answer in this fashion: “I would never have signed the contracts that the City signed to get television content. Most are binding until 2014. One, for religious programming, is effective until 2009.” Asked directly whether he thought these long-term TV contracts posed an insuperable obstacle to the adoption of the Open Carrier plan, he unequivocally answered, “Yes.”

So the City has signed contracts that obligate it to provide television channels like HBO, Disney, and Warner Brothers through AFN for the next eight years, and to pay the TV studios set rates per subscriber. Kramer said he was very disappointed to discover, once he got his hands on some of the contracts, that they had many onerous provisions, but was most taken aback by two things —- the extremely long terms and the fact that the contracts had been signed by the City without prior review by legal counsel. At this point, AFN’s Rick Holmboe chimed into to inform us that the assistance of a lawyer couldn’t have resulted in better terms -— the studio contracts are “take it or leave it.” You can see why the City Attorney isn’t worried about being unable to consult on AFN’s operations – they think his assistance would be of no value. Besides, our City Attorney is more than busy enough cutting deals with developers to manage the steady inflation in our residential real estate market, that is making many Medford realtors wealthy. Let AFN continue on its merry way, leaking money like a sieve! That’s entertainment!

I asked Kramer where the City’s action left JPR, and he answered: “We’re done. If the city had said they wanted to go forward with us, we would have worked on it with them. We do not want to be seen as pushing anything. If they had said ‘yes,’ I would have written up a report. Now I don’t have to write a report.” Then he was gone.

8. They Must Have Been Kidding

Joel’s statements rocked my world. I had walked into the Council meeting thinking that Open Carrier might be a tough sell to the citizens, but it seemed a logical approach to administering a valuable City resource. Though the nepotistic choice of the new Franell to do a vague job disturbed me, I felt I could still support the Open Carrier option. Now, that view had taken a serious hit, since I am disinclined to attempt the impossible. Being well-acquainted with the rapacity of entertainment lawyers, having practiced cheek by jowl with them in Century City, LA’s premier lawyer anthill, the likelihood of weaseling out of the agreements those guys build like steel traps to extract maximum revenue seemed slim. Hollywood is not to be toyed with. Through her handlers at Mattell, for example, Barbie is the nation’s most litigious woman with plastic tits.

While I was standing in the lobby area thinking about the dark side of Hollywood, out came the power troika that was rocking the cradle of their latest newborn horror — Hartzell, Chapman and Silbiger. Silbiger and Hartzell were frankly giddy. And why not? They had swept all before them. They had hired the wonderful man, they had given JPR the kissoff, and they had embarked on a course that, according to Joel Kramer, would lead straight to a brick wall. I was about to ask them if they had a plan for how to get out of these contracts, but I didn’t have to. As I listened to Cate Hartzell talking with Russ Silbiger, intermittently giggling with delight over their victory, my concern ripened into horror. The two were talking about how they could get out of the TV contracts by pricing the service so high that no one would buy it! Ha-ha! It was so funny, I joined in the joke. I said maybe we could just put one TV in the plaza, and we could all drop by and watch it, and just pay one subscriber fee. Humoring me, no doubt, and perhaps not quite getting the point of my sarcasm, even Cate laughed at the notion. I am afraid, however, that it will not be funny when the citizens realize that the Open Carrier option finances are built on the mistaken notion that the expensive TV contracts can be made to go away. Of course, the City Attorney has probably not been consulted on the binding nature of these media contracts, because he is keeping his nose out of all AFN business to avoid a conflict of interest.

9. Proceed Directly to the Status Quo

Having determined that the long-term TV contracts exist, although Joel did say he didn’t even see half of them because they are “confidential,” I was considerably let down. The Open Carrier proposal has no legs. We will have to either keep servicing those media contracts, and cutting TV out of the equation is not only theoretically going to cost you subscription revenue in the short run — it will cost you in litigation in the long run.

As Yogi Berra said, “The problem with not knowing where you’re going is, you may never get there.” He might have been talking about AFN. No one has any idea where it’s going, and it’s not likely to get there. Strangely, for an institution that is founded on law, the City has run AFN as if lawyers were a hindrance. They signed long-term contracts for television content — a product we can’t sell at a profit – and kept the agreements secret from ordinary citizens and even from prospective corporate suitors like JPR. The City has hired a new AFN director without the advice of outside or inside legal counsel to perform a job that cannot even be described. This path leads directly to more of the same treatment the citizens have received all along. Figurehead management, unconstrained spending, and a tax bill for the citizenry that expands to fit the demands of an ever-increasing, self-protective empire of bureaucrats.

When is comes to AFN, the City refuses to look at the cause of the problem, and persists in coming up with imaginative ways to hide a debt that has already been incurred, and must be paid. City spending cannot grow and grow. The town is no larger, by population, than when I moved here in 1978. But the budget, particularly under Finance Director Lee Tuneberg, has swelled in volume. Now weighing in at 423 pages of paper to describe the disbursement of $93 Million, the Ashland budget is verbally extensive and factually spare, omitting essential figures like the amount of Tuneberg’s salary, or that of the other top officials whose nests are so amply feathered. The annual report for General Motors, with total revenue of $35 Billion, is about half that length, and it lists the compensation of all top officers.

According to the census, there are 2,009 government workers in Ashland – one out of five people. We spend $4 Million per year on police. With a population of under 20,000 people, that’s $200 per year for each one of us to receive police protection, or harassment, depending on your age. Personally, I’d rather have a fourth as many cops, pay fifty bucks, and just exercise a greater degree of circumspection. If I see Dick Cheney or any other thug coming, I’ll take cover and phone Chief Bianca to talk him down. Ashland City government is a greedy little creature, and Lee Tuneberg is always looking for another place to slip in a hidden tax. Thanks to this philosophy of “we’re special and it costs more to be special,” we are the only town in Oregon where you pay sales tax on meals. In every other town in the state, your restaurant bill is 5% cheaper. Soon, if Tuneberg and the Council have their way, we will enjoy another distinction, and be the only city to tax people to give them Internet and local TV. After all, it’s the cost of being special.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:28 am


by Charles Carreon
March 14, 2006

It was summer 1970 in Boston. I arrived at Logan airport, and had a layover in Boston for the night, so I stuck out my thumb outside the airport and quickly had a ride with a guy in a cool Porsche. I was fourteen years old, and I was sailing on the after-images of a day flying in a 727 on a hit of orange sunshine. The guy in the Porsche was really nice, had his professional trip and casual style. He said he’d take me to his place to crash and drive me back to the airport in the morning, but he needed to pick up a book downtown by this guy who had just given a talk in town. When we got back to his place, he said he had to crash because he’d been burning himself out. He gave me two hits of purple microdot, saying they weren’t really that strong, and left me to sit out the night. I dropped the two hits of purple microdot, which were tiny little pills, domed on each side, with a flat ridge around the edge, a dull purple color. They weren’t that strong, but they weren’t that weak, either. As the night wore on, sitting in the nice man’s living room, I had the company of the book he had just bought, that was also purple, and had a chair on the front of it, locked in a circle at the center of intersecting lines. Around the edge of the circle it said “BE HERE NOW.”

Image Image

It was a long and beautiful night, a strange trip away from myself. I didn’t follow all of the logic and reasoning, not really, but the flow of images of saintly men and women, of dancing gods and goddesses, illustrating the world as a vast golden loop of infinity, drew me in like a net of seduction. By morning, when my very gracious host rose to ferry me back to the airport as promised, I had one more favor to ask of him – could I please buy this book from him? I still have the book, and it bears on the inside front cover a wacky fourteen-year-old-on-acid attempt to claim ownership of the book on behalf of a non-self. It’s hilarious, and warming to remember when I wrote those words, sailing aloft on wings of steel, peering out at the earth below, glorying in my mind and in the fact that I had found friends. For years I had been navigating the byways of psychedelic space with no vocabulary or context to guide my explorations. My prep school pals and I had no tools for confronting the inner landscape that yawned open before our youthful eyes. Seeing is believing, and we had seen a world we had never suspected existed within us. Now this guy, Ram Dass, Tim Leary’s pal that also got kicked out of Harvard, was teaching this Indian guru path and making it look cool.

Three years later I was seventeen, living in Tempe, Arizona, going to school, wearing sandals, flowered shirts and cutoffs, and I had a friend named Jane who was a waitress at Earthen Joy, the extremely wonderful natural food restaurant next door to Gentle Strength Coop and across the street from Changing Hands Books and the Buffalo Exchange. One day I met Jane on the ASU campus and she told me she was going to see this cool guy speak, so I went with Jane. It was Ram Dass, the guy who wrote the purple book, that frankly I hadn’t thought about in quite some time. It must’ve been hosted by the Yogi Bhajan crew, because they had the front-circle position, and seemed to know what they were doing. I was a young kid far more interested in girls than God, and yet, there was something about his voice that I really liked. After an hour or so, Ram Dass said it was time for some of us to go, and that’s when Jane and I parted company, she staying, me going.

Of Death & Compassion

I went off into the Arizona night, bicycling on the broad concrete arteries of the ASU campus, off into my life. I met a beautiful, slender blonde girl during the spring semester, and in one of those silly rebound things, I swapped my lukewarm relationship with a Catholic girl who acted Jewish for a wild head-over-heels obsession with the blonde. That summer we took a hitchhiking trip from Denver to Dallas to Florida, back up into Tennessee and Kentucky, north to Michigan and then back to Phoenix. We could cover some territory in those days. My girl had a yard of flashing gold streaming from her head, legs like a gazelle and a toothy smile. We made good time, but in the American South, that just means you hit trouble faster.

One night in Kentucky, we found ourselves on the wrong side of Green River, having a verbal dispute in a car with a man who was drunk, very big and strong. My girl said she had bad vibes from the guy when the car lurched to a stop next to us as we walked down the road. Our suspicions grew when he drove the car onto a one-car ferry that, he advised us, stopped running at nine, and took us to the other shore. As we drove on, the place he said he was taking us was just always a little farther, a little farther into the darkening Kentucky hills until the sunset turned to dusk turned to dark and at last in the pitch black night he declared that we were at the place, out in the middle of nowhere, and just needed to walk down to a lake. Nope, nope, nope. That wasn’t something my girl was going to do. And besides, she said, we had to trade places, because he’d been squeezing her leg during the whole ride. He was mad when we decided not to walk down to the “lake,” madder still when I insisted on sitting between him and my girl, and really mad after he pulled off the main road and I said “Whoa, whoa, whoa, where are we going?” He said he was taking a shortcut. I told him he was scaring us. He told me he got scared sometimes, too, which is why he kept a 357 under the seat.



Quick thinking was required, but what I remembered was that guy in Tempe, in the robe with the beads and the beard. I remembered the page in the Be Here Now book where Ram Dass is looking at his own image in the mirror. It suddenly occurred to me that the man behind the wheel, basically announcing that he was going to kill us, was a very unhappy man. It occurred to me that Ram Dass might say we should feel compassion toward this person. I remembered the page of Be Here Now where Ram Dass wrote that as his torturers were nailing him to the cross, Christ was probably feeling sorry for them. The driver got back on the main road, to my relief. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was not drinking or smoking, but the man was. I realized I must appear to be a strange person, a skinny guy with long, curly hair who doesn’t smoke or drink. I had quit smoking years before, and didn’t like beer much at all, but I asked the man if I could have a beer and a cigarette. He said yes, of course. I lit up and popped the beer can and drank and smoked, genuinely thankful to our host, who suddenly began expressing the earnest hope that we would not miss the last ferry and get stuck in the dark on the wrong side of Green River. He was driving about as fast as you should on the two-lane road, and when we saw that the last ferry was still there, we were all joyful. As we reached the other shore, the man apologized for the events of the night, explaining that sometimes he went kind of crazy. He would like to make it up to us, he said, but we were out of the car, hauling our huge backpacks as fast as we could, and literally tearing through the woods away from the terror car at top speed to get away.

Go East, Young Seekers

My girlfriend and I didn’t actually change our hitchhiking habits, just our choice of rides, but the fact was, life in other people’s cars was hazardous. We married young and traveled around the country. We got our own cars, but they were miserable experiences, always breaking down, costing too much, sending you back to the grinding system of cash generation with its boring, downer bosses, tedious material trips, and of course, restaurant jobs. Reading gets you out of your space, though, and I read anything I could find on yoga. Autobiography of A Yogi was everywhere, being pushed through the food coops and head shops where you found eastern spiritual literature in those days, and I was seized by the miracles of consciousness laid out in the book. Paramahansa Yogananda’s story was romantically beautiful. All of the problems of life were intended to be resolved through inner peace. Nothing seemed more likely to me. I had been on this subjective approach to reality for a long time.


So had Richard Alpert, the Harvard professor who would become Ram Dass. Until adulthood he enjoyed being a rich man’s son, intelligent and handsome, a doctor, a professor with money and friends. He was a tenured professor at Harvard before age forty, and the world, as he put it himself, “was his oyster.” Indeed it was. Psychedelic experiences, however, upped the ante. No longer good enough to be rich, good looking, admired and respected. Now he needed to discover the who-less who of himself, that he had become so acquainted with while flossing his brain cells with Doctor Hoffman’s mold extract. For that, only a trip to India, toting along a little medicine kit stuffed with White Lightning, 305 micrograms per little white pill, would suffice. And yes, at the top of a high mountain. Yes, at an old temple! Yes, a funny old man! Who can take all the White Lightning in the bottle, enough to make your face melt off and run down into your bellybutton, and just tease you about it. Yes, it’s God – the acid-free acid-head! LSD was the fulcrum of Richard Alpert’s psyche, the philosopher’s stone of consciousness, and like a redneck who will respect anyone who can hold his liquor, Alpert had to bow down to someone for whom acid was nothing. Not much of a well-reasoned philosophy there, but it has a certain je ne se quois.

Having gotten out of Boston and into the invigorating air of the Indian highlands, Richard Alpert found a new source of authority to make up for his loss of his teaching position in academe, the mysterious little-known holy man, Neem Karoli Baba. Neems are a type of Indian pine tree, so you can deduce that this Baba lived way out in nowhere, where nobody ever went to see him. The perfect guru for a man starting over. And indeed, according to Ram Dass, the only recorder of the events he described, they hit it off famously. Neem Karoli Baba once even told an old disciple who wanted to touch his feet to go touch Ram Dass’s instead. When the guy gave Ram Dass the devotional foot-touch, Neem Karoli Baba smiled at him. You can take the meaning any way you want. Ram Dass certainly did. The newly-named Ram Dass went to work on his image with a lack of subtlety that would have caused comment if anyone had understood what he was doing. We were so relieved to get someone who could talk about Indian philosophy without an accent, who could wear a robe but not be a priest, who had a beard like Freud, and joked about being Jewish and getting bloated after eating ice cream, that we just didn’t criticize. When he said we had to read the Bhagavad Gita, and we became the Arjunas of our personal Mahabharata epics, we knew we had Ram Dass to thank for entry into the mysterious East. No silly turbans like stage clairvoyants. No table-tapping and parlor stunts like spiritualists. Just good old fashioned internal holographic displays like you saw on acid, that had to be real. Meditation isn’t that hard, man. You’ll be tripping out in no time – Ram Dass is already on a much higher plane than the rest of us. His guru told him to feed people. His guru could read his thoughts. His guru was already so high that acid did nothing to him. Really! Talk about mind over matter. That was proof that the West had nothing on the East. They would just meditate those mushroom clouds into lotus blossoms.



So I and my girlfriend, like lots of other people, followed Ram Dass’s example and traveled all the way to India. We hitchhiked from Eugene to Phoenix to New York, caught the Icelandic cheap fare to Luxembourg, Belgium, hitchhiked to Munich, caught the train to Istanbul, and took buses through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, before we arrived at the Sacred Ganges river. There we sought out the grandson of Yogananda’s guru. We found him without much trouble. His address was as listed in the Spiritual Community Guide, but he wasn’t, as the Guide claimed, “giving strong Kriya Yoga teachings.” He wouldn’t teach us at all, he said, because a Guru took on a big job, a lifetime job, with each disciple, and he couldn’t do it if we lived in America. He had only one English-speaking student, and he spoke Hindi and had read the Upanishads in the original language before they ever met. He was sorry, and unmoved. We would have to get the yoga lessons through the mail that Yogananda’s group offered. That was for us.

So the Hindus had no use for us, and generally didn’t allow non-Hindus into their temples. While Ram Dass had led us all to believe that spiritual bonhomie was the general rule in India, we found this to be untrue. The Indians had little use for foreigners entirely, unless they could sell us something, haggling with earnest sincerity. As poor as we were, we took classes in tabla and bonsuri from three men who were all from the same Brahmin family, and through this contact gained some familiarity with the attitude of ceremony and gentle arrogance typical of the Indian upper class. We wondered without understanding as we saw people thronging the streets of Benares, carbuncled with temples great and small, overgrown with banyans, populated by orange-robed sannyasis, moving along the shores of the great Ganges river, lined with burning ghats and temples, edge to edge for miles and miles.

We studied some Buddhist meditation with an English monk named Luong-Pi, who taught mindfulness meditation. I couldn’t abide the stuffy stillness of the Buddhist approach, the tedious attention to little sensations. I enjoyed the colorful style of the Hindus, the gods and goddesses, the stories, the tales of how one deity created illusions that other deities would purify and redeem. India was a great vacation from the Western mindset, as Ram Dass had promised. We came back more alienated from our homeland than before. The remedy for this feeling was total immersion in spirituality.

Neo-Tibetans Take To The Woods

In 1978, my wife and I became the disciples of a bonafide Tibetan Rinpoche, and we built a house in the woods with help from several friends who knew nothing about carpentry, and lived there for three years on next to nothing, exploring the life of the spirit and the emptiness of the natural world. I dedicated myself to the life of the spirit, trusting that the material world would take care of itself, and in 1982 that had all lined up. I was living with my wife and two kids in a yurt out in an Oregon meadow. We were homesteading as Buddhist pilgrims in a field of alfalfa gone to seed and teasle making a comeback. We lived on student aid, food stamps, and what I could make cutting wood at about $2.80 an hour, not figuring the cost of saw-sharpening and other necessary expenses.


Poverty – not having the money to buy anything you wanted, and only some of what you needed – was our difficult friend. It kept us simple, but it kept us weak. We had very little power or independence. Like poor people all over the world, we kept as still as circumstances permitted, to keep our expenses as low as possible. We knew how long the honey, the peanut butter, and the whole wheat flour were likely to last, and when we’d get food stamps next. I just read last night in “The Intelligent Investor” by investing guru Benjamin Graham that from 1972, when I got out of high school, until 1983, when I left Oregon to get a law degree in LA, the cost of living doubled — the largest ten-year rise in US history. So times really were tough, and we bore them pretty stoically, raising a couple of little kids in a little house in a meadow, just like the Waltons, the TV family in “Little House on The Prairie,” a popular show of which I never saw a full episode. Ironically, it made us feel cutting-edge to be out of touch, because we were living the reality other Americans were watching, since like the Waltons, we had no electricity and no reception, and thus also like the Waltons, we weren't distracted from the beauty of the natural world by television. We maybe went to the movies twice a year, and ate out only under the direst circumstances of necessity. Our main source of entertainment consisted in feasting on scenery and silence, studying the shade of the sky, listening to the birds and crickets, and hating the deer for eating our garden. These were all healthy pursuits that cost nothing, except the loss of the garden to the deer, hence the anger. Everyday living left us with nothing extra to put towards pleasure travel.

So when we heard that our guru was giving a talk along with Ram Dass up in Eugene, it was a conundrum. The drive was four hours, and we didn’t want to risk the trip if it would cause us to suffer a car breakdown. We could not abide the thought that our car might break down. It was our lifeline to town. Everything depended on it. It was local hippie lore that the drive to Eugene, over all the insane passes north of Grants Pass, Rice Hill, etcetera, had put an end to more than one good workaday vehicle. We didn’t know what to do, because we really wanted to go. I had never thrown the I Ching before, but the matter seemed to demand some third-party input. I tried to figure out the method of casting the lines, and in fact got it backward, but derived a hexagram that said, in the John Blofeld version: “The superior man does nothing that is trivial.” The changing line added the commentary that “There is great power in the cart axle.” The heavens had spoken. The matter was settled. We roasted a chicken, made potato salad, packed the car and made the trip to Eugene. Of course everyone went up to see Ram Dass, and no one paid a lick of attention to my guru, who was an unromantic Tibetan man with bucked teeth and a wicked sense of humor that, however, you had to take the time to appreciate. I remember Ram Dass’s words to me as our eyes met briefly when I went up to see him. He gave me a friendly guy-to-guy word of encouragement – “We’ve been doing this for a long time, haven’t we?” It felt great, like a shot of encouragement right in my heart. We’d been doing it a long time, together, me and Ram Dass and all the other folks on the liberation train. All of us.

Secret Teachings

A month or so later, I was talking with my buck-toothed guru on a hill where there’s now a big temple. At that time, all we had were underfunded projects, so we built things out of logs and poles, and on that day we’d been working on a deck where some teachings were going to take place that summer. My guru said to me that Ram Dass, or “that guy,” as he called him, had taught him a lot. He said yes, that he had spent three days reading over his texts, preparing with his translator to deliver the teaching he gave in Eugene, but that Ram Dass had just sat there on a chair with his legs folded under him, smiling like he was having the greatest time, and talking about just anything. The Buddhist Dharma, he said to me, was not very sexy. It was, he said, like a big, ugly old truck with a noisy engine and a cab that fills up with dust and exhaust. Still, all the great masters of the past, Guru Rinpoche, Milarepa, Naropa, all of them, traveled in that same, ugly old truck, so we must use it. Ram Dass, he said, offered a much more flexible, stylish alternative. He recognized that, and was amazed at how Ram Dass had derived spiritual lessons from everything. His teachings, my guru said, were like the CIA – they might be hiding anywhere, behind any rock or tree. As he said this, he jumped around, looking behind this tree and that rock until I grasped his wacky analogy and laughed. I was in total agreement with his confessional about the geeky appearance of our Dharma vehicle, but also, I heard the ring of noble adherence to tradition in his voice, and was attracted by it. The Dharma truck, yes, I would ride in the Dharma truck.

Around that same time, I encountered Bhagavan Dass, the surfer-dude-cum-yogi who introduced Ram Dass to Neem Karoli Baba, in the kitchen of our Ashland Buddhist center on 2nd Street, in a location that has been turned into a garden restaurant because of its sunny exposure in an above-the-boulevard location. It was a sunny day when I met Bhagavan Dass, and while I was thrilled, he seemed to be a totally regular guy, not a spiritual leader in any sense. You could say he was unassuming, perhaps. What seemed strange was that in Be Here Now, Ram Dass had described Bhagavan Dass as a stellar spiritual exemplar, a man who was literally always in the flow and in the know. Perhaps, I figured, he needed the hash he was smoking in India to keep his Shiva-baba mojo going, and just slid down the psychic totem pole without it. I assumed Ram Dass had told Bhagavan Dass to check out Oregon, because his joint appearance in Eugene with Gyatrul Rinpoche had a huge turnout of over three-thousand people. Of course, he might have been headed for Antelope, Oregon, the town that the Osho/Rajneesh cult took over and turned into the last known preserve where antique Rolls Royce automobiles could roam freely in the open fields. Certainly such an environment would have been more congruent with Bhagavan Dass's interests, that struck me as regrettably concrete. I would have liked to ask him the whereabouts of Neem Karoli Baba, or his reminiscences of sojourns in the upper Ganges regions where sadhus have lived and grooved the life ecstatic for millennia. But he was focused on prospects for immediate financial improvement, and just asked about money-making opportunities in the astrological field, his wife's specialty, to which I replied that in Ashland we were historically overstaffed in that department. He and Mrs. Bhagavan Dass left town the same day they arrived, as I recall.

I wasn't critical of Bhagavan Dass being focused on his own welfare rather than ministering to the flock like his friend Ram Dass — after all, everyone has to pay for their brown rice and tofu, and indeed my own attention was increasingly focused on material matters. Certainly the idea of me meditating had turned into a huge joke with Gyatrul Rinpoche — once when I asked him what the secret mandala offering was, he responded that it was the Chod practice of exorcism, but that the real secret was how I'd been supposedly doing my preliminary hundred-thousand mantras and mandala offerings for years now, and still hadn't completed anything. About that time he also started calling me “Grandma Lawyer,” apparently because I was as loquacious as an old Tibetan woman. By alluding to my future career choice, my guru was gently showing me the door to the yurt. It was time to venture out of the vajra circle and attend to concrete reality.

I began to recognize that poverty was an obstacle to fulfilling my life desires. Further, it became a source of humiliation after wo students bought the land we were living on in a homemade yurt, and gave it to Gyatrul Rinpoche. Now we lived on the Buddha's land, and officious Dharma jerks would come by and critique the layout of our yurt, the location of the outhouse, and the fact that our refrigerator was under the porch. I wanted to buy land, and be close to my guru, but I was so broke that owning land was a ridiculous pipe dream, and my guru obviously took affluent people more seriously and regretted that so many of the Dharma simpletons drawn to esoteric Buddhism literally lacked even pots in which to piss. We were so obviously penniless that no real estate agent would have even wasted time talking to us. Reagan had become president, and was “staying the course” through the worst of the post-cold war recession, and it seemed harder times lay ahead. My mom had died unexpectedly, my father was sunk in grief, and the world without mom was mighty unfriendly — she had always helped us financially in little ways, and her death left us literally poorer than ever. In the summer of 1982, after my mom died, Gyatrul Rinpoche started work on the monumental 32-foot high statue of Vajrasattva Buddha, and told me to work only on that project, to dedicate all the merit to my mother as the representative of all sentient beings, and not to worry no matter how poor I got. I got so poor I couldn’t buy shoes. I wrote a poem about it, but it didn’t make me feel much better. I really had no shoes. My wife and I had created a third child, a lovely little girl, and I started to feel motivated toward material independence like never before in my life. Three months of continuous hard physical labor for ten to twelve hours a day, working on the foundation of the statue, had a healing effect on my grief-stricken mind, no doubt. When the academic year began, I returned to college, finished my last year of undergraduate work, took the LSAT, and got ready to join the rat race I had avoided for a decade.

Professional Buddhists


With Gyatrul Rinpoche’s strong encouragement, I went to law school at UCLA. We moved to LA with three kids and Tara at the wheel of a white and blue 61 Econoline church window-van, and me pulling a U-Haul with no blinkers behind a slant six Dodge half-ton pickup piled high with domestic belongings and crowned with Tara's rocking chair. We looked painfully like the Beverly Hillbillies, and were literally jeered by a drunk guy in a satin jacket crossing the street and eating a slice of pizza — we startled him so badly with our parade that he almost lost his cheese. Somewhere in the back of the pickup was a Vespa scooter I got from Mitchell Frangadakis in exchange for a kickass little gas-powered portable water pump that had been our running water source in the yurt that we had lived in for three years and was now lying disassembled inside an old barn in Colestine Valley. I sold the Vespa to a black mod kid who would have pushed his grandma off a cliff to get it, and a few months later he showed me the brutal gash on his shin where he'd piled it into an open car door while lane-splitting. I sold the truck a year later to an appreciative surfer dude from Tujunga for $425. But the van I would not let go of. I drove out of Topanga one day with my hand reaching into the engine compartment, grabbing the carburetor throttle with my bare hands, a drive of about ten miles through stop and go traffic on PCH. It was a goner, though, after some jerk yelled at Tara in Century City as she toodled down Avenue of the Stars, “Get that junker off the road!” We swapped it for a Mercedes 240D my dad spotted as a bargain in Phoenix, that served until I burned it up three years later and traded up to a Cherokee in preparation for our return to Oregon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My wife got straight clothes, put on a little makeup, got a job with no experience from a guy with no class by agreeing to work two weeks for free. She worked as a top-flight legal secretary for the next twenty years. I got a haircut, a California bar license, large debts, and the means to earn money to buy land. I worked in a skyscraper in a big city, about twelve hours a day, and in the evenings we hosted Dharma events at our house, which was one of the main Tibetan Buddhist centers in a large metropolis. Life was simple, and we kept it that way. With the guru at the top, everything else fell into line. Sometimes when he came to the big city, he stayed at our house.

My guru was almost always very pleasant with me, and had a generally good feeling about my spiritual potential. He had spotted me hundreds of thousands of mantras so I could take teachings I wasn’t qualified to receive, but he figured I’d need a lot of retreat time to grind off the worldly professional patina I was acquiring in my big city job, and paying for the standard three-year retreat was another conundrum. The years went by, and I remained stuck in the big city, and when I came back to visit him, he would always ask if I was making progress toward moving back. I often told him I needed to get out of debt to move back near him, and once, after I’d been gone nearly ten years, he asked, “Are you getting out of debt?” We were, but so slowly, at times it was imperceptible. Eventually, debt or no debt, we had to get out of the metropolis. The Rodney King uprising blighted the energy of the city severely, and so in 1993, ten years after we exchanged hippiedom for yuppitude, we reversed course and headed back to the woods to reclaim our spiritual roots.

Back To The Compound

We built another yurt on a parcel of twenty acres overlooking the impressive three-story temple my guru had built with Chinese dollars and American sweat. My life seemed stable, and although the isolated country setting was inconvenient for my kids’ social lives, everyone had to sacrifice so we could be close to the Dharma. As luck would have it, the whole thing was not a happy homecoming. There was a terrible anticlimax about the whole situation. We had moved to the big city, lived there for ten years, bought land and moved back to the country to be near our guru, and built a house from the driveway of which we could see the golden roof of his house every morning. What was wrong? Well, by the time we got there, the guru was effectively gone. He had experienced a marital upset – his wife running off with a young Tibetan monk to whom my guru had shown great generosity. But there you have it – no good deed will go unpunished.

I and all of the other students had thought my guru and his wife were the Divine Couple, and as their relationship unraveled, various students were drawn into intrigues, enlisted as allies by the wife and guru respectively, and in several cases, watched as their faith was sacrificed to the newly-pragmatic order of the day. Strange new faces showed up around the temple – a Hollywood martial arts actor newly-recognized as a reincarnated tulku and his entourage. It was enough to give the most hardened stomach vertigo. The guru spent time huddled with top disciples, planning countermoves, and students stayed away in droves. A sorrow that would not disperse pervaded the place.

My guru seemed to lose all pleasure in being at his temple, a place that had been built so tantric practitioners could perform Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Trek Chod and Togyal meditations, and realize the rainbow body. The place was lonely as hell. The mountain beauty surrounding the temple became desolate and sad. The hearts of the students were dazed, confused, and silently aching. Nothing made sense. The looming temple, the monumental statues, the rows of gleaming water bowls, the multicolored brocades, the bundles of incense, the flickering butter lamps, all their colors faded when deprived of the presence of the guru whose inspiration had brought it all together, then abandoned his creation.

My guru ultimately moved away to a windy hilltop near the sea, a few hundred miles from the temple. The house was provided for his use by a wealthy young woman who had appeared about a year before at the temple. They moved into a big house on a hilltop hear the Pacific, and the coterie of devotees who must be close to the guru, and have no children or other ties to bind them, moved down there and assembled a new court.

So after ten years in the big city and moving back to the country to connect with my spiritual circle, after a couple of years back in the compound, the whole arrangement unraveled like an old sweater when somebody pulls the wrong thread. An empty temple is a lonely place that engenders a lot of strange game-playing among the students. Once in Benares we walked through a temple where a single lonely sadhu was dolefully playing a drum and singing. The local fellow who was showing us the way to our destination told us it was a temple where the guru had died. Well, that had struck me as a problem with gurus – succession planning might be difficult – but I didn’t do anything to deal with it. When the time came, and my guru effectively abdicated his throne to deal with a case of personal depression, it left me, and more importantly, the devoted members of my family, bereft of direction.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:28 am



For my wife, losing faith was about as painful as losing her skin. For over twenty years she had invested every waking thought in the project of self-perfection according to the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. She had performed a hundred thousand prostrations, many more than a million mantras, transcribed and edited teachings by our guru, built thrones, sewed every ecclesiastical fabric creation requested of her, and managed hundreds of meals and ceremonies, large and small. When she realized that nothing good had happened to her mind as a result of all her efforts, and that she was just as far from clear on the meaning of Buddhism as she had been years before, she was enraged. As the thought-structure she had created began to come apart, it was about as dramatic as the Challenger explosion, and for several years she was condemned to repeat it daily. Self-deprogramming from a delusive worldview can be painful.

My faith in Buddhism had always been tenuous, but losing it altogether was no fun. By tenuous, I mean that I always felt like a phony practitioner. My mind is incorrigibly active, and meditating had always made me more uptight, to be honest. I certainly didn’t get the hang of trancing out in meditation, like Ram Dass, who found it an adequate substitute for drugs. I generally considered myself more lucky than good, but luck is all about associating with the lucky. The lucky ones in my pantheon were the Siddhas and Mad Saints who overleaped the restraints of this world to declare the triumph of the human spirit. I had gotten quite used to relying upon their company to enliven the dreary confines of the workaday world. I was also very used to the company of wrathful and peaceful deities whose presence I had cultivated. My Buddhist lifestyle had made me able to balance various different personalities on the theory that my inherent nature was empty, but in actual fact, I had gone somewhat crazy. I woke up to my condition one day after reading a book by a Miriam Williams who had spent fifteen years of her life in the Children of God Christian sex cult, a cult that I myself had been in just before it went altogether freaky. I realized I’d been in one cult, then gotten into another one, and spent twenty years in it. My self-delusion that I hadn’t been in a cult crumbled as I reviewed the last years of my life, how I had ended up living in a remote backwoods location near an empty temple where an old Tibetan lama had broken up with his wife, and nothing very interesting was happening at all.

When we lose faith, we lose several sources of psychological comfort. We lose the social agreement and ritual activities we shared with other believers. We will no longer share homilies with the Sangha. We will not regularly read Dharma books with a reverent air. We will not push ourselves on toward the goal of enlightenment for the sake of all beings with that terribly earnest style. We will not wear special clothes, sport prayer paraphernalia or religious fashion accents. The evenings become strangely lonely when you have no fellow-believers to shore up your self-image.

I have recounted how my experiences first led me to embrace, then reject, spiritual doctrines of the sort endorsed by Ram Dass, because few people experience religious disillusionment after a long period of belief, and apostates are often not very outspoken about their despair. The faithful certainly don’t want to hear about it. Therefore, it is significant that Ram Dass clearly states in Fierce Grace that after a lifetime of faith, his near-death experience devastated his beliefs, leaving him far less certain of his beliefs than he appeared during his long and apparently self-deluded career as a spiritual teacher.

Ram Dass’s Excessively Real Visualization


During the last quarter of the twentieth century, Ram Dass was iconified as the epitome of a New Age guru with unquestioned credentials. His achievements were logged in the hall of fame and required no further confirmation. As he passed into middle age, he kept cranking out lectures that were turned into books, and kept certifying the experiences and writings of other spiritual lights. Like a restless explorer always looking for new places to discover, he at last settled into “aging” as his next big frontier. Of course, he subjected his encroaching decrepitude to the same internal scrutiny he had perfected with his meditator’s eye. One day he was visualizing what it would be like to have failing eyesight and other weakened faculties, when it stopped being an experiment, a speculation. Most human potential fans say that if you visualize something really clearly, it becomes reality, and Ram Dass should’ve probably taken that promise more seriously.

Ram Dass had just answered the phone when he began exhibiting severe symptoms caused by a cerebral hemorrhage from a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. A cerebral hemorrhage leads to unconsciousness, coma, brain damage and death as blood pressure increases inside the braincase. Ram Dass had begun to slur his words, and his friend on the other end of the line, concerned, called the paramedics. “When I answered the phone, my right side wasn't working, my words were slurred, and the friend on the phone was worried,“ Ram Dass said about the stroke. ”My friends called 911. I was on the floor when these big young firemen came. They stared at me and suddenly, I knew what it was to be old. On the gurney I remember the pipes and the long faces of the doctors and nurses. Later, I found out they thought I was dying.” An attending physician said, “Ram Dass had a massive left hemorrhagic stroke and I believe he had chronic hypertension. Since I am not his personal physician, I cannot tell you how closely his blood pressure was followed nor if it was controlled, so that may have played a part in his stroke.” The lay name for hypertension is high blood pressure. When the blood pressure went up too high inside Ram Dass’s blood vessels, one of them ruptured in his brain, and then the pressure started going up inside his braincase, and then he started dying.

Ironically, most doctors today will tell you “yoga” is good for reducing your blood pressure. The doctors of course are thinking of hatha yoga asanas and pranayama, the rhythmic stretching, relaxing and breathing exercises that some yoga practicioners perform. Apparently Ram Dass was dedicated to a subtler “heart yoga,” which he sometimes taught people to practice by imagining that they had nostrils in the middle of their chest. It must have worked for him, but he apparently missed the fact that he wasn’t taking care of his body. Like many spiritual athletes filled to the brim with the adulation of disciples, his specialness had inflated to such a dimension that it blocked an honest view of himself. In the midst of the last thirty years of hoopla, it had slipped his mind that, when it comes to death, one size fits all.


Some of us don’t look forward to dying, but Ram Dass had been anticipating the moment when death would remove the fleshly barrier between himself and “Rama” the big blue God-king from ancient India whose name he had by now repeated millions of times. Constant recitation of Rama’s name was said to be like “placing a lamp at the door of the mouth, so there will be light within and without.” Pronounced with the last “a” silent, as in “Rahm,” Ghandi shouted out the holy name the moment his assassins cut him down. Ram Dass was fond of this story, of course.

But to his own great disappointment, during the moments when his brain was failing and he was plummeting toward death, Ram Dass didn’t remember Rama, God, guru, enlightenment, or anything spiritual at all. Of course, you can hardly blame him, since nothing happened to remind him of his planned after-death scenario. He didn’t travel through a long tunnel, he wasn’t drawn to a beautiful light, no guides showed up to meet him, and he didn’t return to this world because he still had work to do among the living. He just stared at the pipes on the ceiling, noticing that they were there. He didn’t think about God, not one little bit. There’s no mystery here, unless you want to invent one. Ram Dass’s malfunctioning brain couldn’t access the programs he’d stored to know when he was dying, and how to act. He’d locked his spiritual keys in his material vehicle, and wasn’t going anywhere.

Ironies abound in Ram Dass’s situation. Ram Dass apparently thought the power of the spirit could trump physical limitations, but his physical collapse has underlined the folly of ignoring one’s physical health if one wishes to enjoy continued mental clarity. He didn’t even know he had high blood pressure, or must’ve figured he’d just muddle through on good vibes. High blood pressure kills, and you don’t argue with the numbers – you get your blood pressure down or you die.

Ram Dass believed, however, that spirit and body were fundamentally distinct, and that he had set things up in such a way that his consciousness would trend upward into clarity and peace, gradually freed from earthly constraints into “liberation.” That is the fairy tale. Now, paralyzed and cognitively impaired, unable to drive his new car, to roll his own wheelchair, to speak clearly or express his intentions unambiguously, he is a living demonstration of how the mind depends on the body to experience suppleness and beauty.

The entire wisdom of Ram Dass’s teaching is of course called into question by his own sense of complete befuddlement when faced with precisely the event for which he’d been preparing for the last thirty years. Ram Dass’s philosophy flowed from his first psychedelic experience, when he believed he suffered “ego death,” and discovered that even though “nobody was home,” his existence-less self was still “minding the store.” After getting over the shocking effects of ego-death, Richard Alpert decided it was a good thing to go through, and that it should, logically, turn you into a holy man, which is why he became Ram Dass by means of the available route – going to India with a stash of psychedelics and looking for God among the hash-smokers of Benares. But whatever Richard Alpert’s ego-death was, it must have been really different from Ram Dass’s near-death experience, because he clearly did not conceive of it as a good thing, and it didn’t turn him into a holy man. It turned him into a very sad man.

Ram Dass placed his faith in the power of the spirit to soften the reality of life. By dint of good fortune and a kindly disposition, he did in fact make his life pleasant, and he articulated a cozy philosophy that has no doubt comforted legions of believers. The history of his popularity and the adulation he received are in the record books. But when death came it didn’t stop to look at the clippings and the videos and the audiotapes. It came straight for him, and he was unable to take proactive, conscious steps to manage the death experience. In the Mission Impossible moment when the smart yogi hot-wires reality and flies off with the dakini in a magic vehicle, he froze. Nothing looked right, and he forgot what to do. Whoa! Had he been studying the wrong map? Was he like an old convict who had always said he would escape, but dozed through the big jailbreak, and woke up inside the same old slammer? Or was the whole escape story just bullshit? Was there no “outside?” Perhaps what we see is all there is. Certainly Ram Dass couldn’t testify to anything different based on direct experience. He fell from a height of certainty into a chasm of doubt about our mortal destiny. Based on his own spiritual criteria, Ram Dass announced at the beginning of the film: “I failed the test. I have a lot of work to do.” Ram Dass never recants this dark declaration, and all by itself, this statement undermines a lifetime of confident pronouncements, as both his theory and practice appear to have left him a goodly distance short of the finish line.

Revisiting The Legacy

Fierce Grace doesn’t retell a fraction of Ram Dass’s career as a guru, and indeed, doesn’t pretend to be an entire biography. Nevertheless, to leave out the scope of his life activity presents a one-sided view of the man. His involvement in pyramid schemes like The Circle of Gold in the late seventies, which siphoned money into the hands of a few spiritual and political elitists based on a ridiculous metaphysical proposition that a pyramid scheme was just a brilliant method of investing money that would make the whole world rich if we’d just let it do its work. I remember two local healers brought two of the official Circle of Gold chain letters up from the Bay Area, that you had to buy for $150, and conveyed the right to sell them to two people for the equal price. A big selling point was that Ram Dass and other spiritual luminaries appeared as senders of the original letter. The healers were unable to sell the letters to the unventuresome Ashland hippies, who wanted to buy large bags of granola and dried fruit, not silly letters that anyone could write. A few months later the whole scheme went bust. Quite a saintly venture, that.


Left out entirely is the saucy story of Ram Dass’s humiliation at the hands of Chogyam Trungpa during the early years at Naropa Institute, when Trungpa, a throwback feudal lordling with eleven incarnations in the Tibetan Ancien Regime, showed him how a tulku wields spiritual power. Ram Dass felt unable to compete when Trungpa talked about lineage. He hadn’t even asked Neem Karoli Baba what his lineage was. In a painful humiliation that ran the spiritual circuit worldwide like a satellite transmission, Ram Dass’s friend, the Hindu troubadour, had his ass-length sadhu braid cut off by Trungpa as he lay unconscious after a night of drinking at Naropa. Trungpa explained that the braid was for sannyasis, not drunkards. After that major tonsorial event, Bhagavan Dass acquired a permanent shit-eating grin that he still displays in the movie, and although the braids are back and look okay, his eyebrows are ridiculous.


Fierce Grace also completely misses the Joya Santanya scandal. Ram Dass indiscriminately legitimized a lot of mediums and holy people. One of his channel-surfing buddies, Hilda Charlton, introduced him to Joya, a thirty-something Brooklyn Jewish housewife who fell into trances from doing “the yogi breath” in the bathtub for six hours as an appetite-reduction thing. Guess she was really hungry, and Samadhi was her only refuge. After falling into trances, she developed this problem of seeing “an old man with a blanket.” Hilda asked Ram Dass to see Joya, and just like catching a fever, dear old Ram Dass went head over heels for Joya. He decided the old man in the blanket was Neem Karoli Baba, so he got his guru back, because Joya was a channel. Better yet, she was a channel with huge capacity, a virtual spiritual television who could channel anyone from Crazy Horse to Mohandas Ghandi. Joya was a scandalous divine mother given to salty language and straight talk. A little bit of Dr. Laura, a little Leona Helmsley, and a lot of Helena Blavatsky. She grabbed Ram Dass and took him like an elevator straight to the top. She taught Ram Dass what it meant to have superstar status, and locked him into a lie – they were having sex, but publicly claimed to be celibate. There was of course a discovery, more discoveries, a coverup, a scandal, an explosion, an implosion, and egg all over Ram Dass’s face, as he admitted in his book Grist For the Mill.

Ram Dass’s complete failure to perform as a guru on an equal level with Trungpa, or as a partner with Joya, is omitted from the movie, and the filmmakers don’t ask Ram Dass about those years. I would have thought they merited as much attention as the silly “Millbrook experiment,” a free-floating assemblage of self-conceived geniuses dosing on acid in a groovy mansion owned by those signal exploiters of humanity, the Hitchcock-Mellons. Wow, utopia. Not. Leary and Alpert had just been kicked out of Harvard because they had given in to the desire to proselytize and liberate the chemical sacrament, as they conceived it. They had been giving LSD outside the parameters of their job authority, and were proving for everyone that LSD caused people to lose their sense of social reality. Indeed, the fact that both Leary and Alpert seemed totally fine with their disgrace was virtual proof that the drug they championed had caused them to lose the very rationality that had been the whole reason for being Harvard professors at all.

We can thank this incredibly stupid faux pas by the Leary-Alpert pair for giving the DEA a huge win in its effort to ban an expanding spectrum of mind drugs of every type, including traditional native medicines. But even after living through a lifetime and a near-death experience, Ram Dass doesn’t realize that by getting run out of Harvard in disgrace while sporting a silly acid smile, he squandered the opportunity to experiment legitimately with psychedelics in one of the world’s finest educational institutions. Instead of defaming psychedelics with his own childish behavior, proving unable to apply scientific protocols to a serious endeavor, he could have kept his head. He could have been more like the discoverer of LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffman, for example, who died recently, mourned by all, and fit as a fiddle until he stepped off the stage.

Ram Dass also seems a bit of a selfish child grown large. He seems willfully oblivious to the shock his abrupt decision to kamikaze his career must have given his father. Shock or no, Ram Dass’s father aged far better than his youngest son Richard. As has Ram Dass’s older brother William, a silver-haired, tanned gentleman. He reminisces briefly about how Richard once wrecked a brand new boat within seconds of taking control. The future guru manhandled the shifter, causing the boat to slam back and forth between the dock and another obstacle. That was all the boating they did that day. With a resigned note in his voice, William wraps up the story with an explanatory declaration — “That was Richard” — tilting his head, raising his brows, and twisting his mouth wryly in a tolerant expression.

Yes, that was Richard, the same Richard who returned from India as Ram Dass to host flocks of barefoot young people on the golf course adjacent to his father’s country estate. That was Richard, earnestly but self-impressedly telling the crowd through closed eyes, “Now, we will meditate … for about …” here pausing for a self-adoring smile, the better to select a mystic number, “seven minutes ...” No doubt seven minutes became the right amount of time to meditate for dozens of people that day. Richard, now Ram Dass, never realized how silly he must have looked to his relatives, and how sorry his brother must feel for him now. No wife, no kids, no one to care for him. Sure, he had a hell of a good ride, the incense smoke and the adulation, but it wasn’t very virile or very challenging, and now it’s tired, cold and lonely with a crew of hangers-on standing in for a family.

We Can Do This

The moviemakers are not very receptive to criticism of Ram Dass’s past or present personality or “teachings.” Ignoring the obvious fact that a great part of Ram Dass’s spiritual value to students and devotees has been crushed under God’s careless hammer, this film highlights the silver lining in the clouds that have engulfed Ram Dass in their darkness. The feel-good machine has to be turned on high to accomplish this transformation, but after all , what is the New Age all about but doing amazing things with film? As the movie maneuvers to a feel-good conclusion, the background music becomes more encouraging. Ram Dass, it turns out, has come out of his funk. He’s battling back against the paralysis, getting on his feet, blending his own arcane grief with the pedestrian sufferings of others. He is writing a book with a man who finishes his sentences, although at the beginning of the movie he said he prefers that people not finish his sentences. The “writing” process comes across, literally, as a charade. Ram Dass is trying to make his mind produce speech from thoughts that aren’t even fully there. The writer is sitting there putting words in his mouth, writing stuff down, just guessing what to say, and he has no gift for this – he knows he’s failing, but he keeps trying. After the writer manages to come up with a complete cheeseball of a closing line, Ram Dass, smiling beatifically the while, ekes out the comment, “You’re so … New York schmaltzy”. The writer backs up, exposed. Okay, we’ll just cut that last part, he volunteers. Ram Dass says no, let’s finish it. So it is finished, but when books are written this way, by civil negotiation between a wordsmith and an aphasic older gentleman formerly-famous for his metaphysical eloquence, something has gone seriously awry. Spiritual leadership has been redefined at this point. In Ram Dass, the New Age has found its Reagan, an old warrior venerated even in dotage. Reagan had Nancy. Ram Dass has the publishing industry.

Thanks to the publishing industry, Ram Dass has got his groove back, and in so getting it back, he echoes what Wavy Gravy says to the camera with total non-seriousness – he is going ahead of us baby boomers into the tunnel of aging, bringing back the information we need to make it through. We’re not going to be let down by this movie, I realize. It’s a recovery story. As the theme sweeps onward to its conclusion, Ram Dass is interviewed in front of a hall that is never quite shown to be full of people. Baby boomers, particularly women, come to say hello, to express deep warmth, to give hugs, and Ram Dass is back on his game. He’s talking better, and he has a new rap down. A somber moment falls when his caregiver rolls him out of the empty hall, shown in its unfillable expanse for the first time. It is a lonely moment.

What’s a little lame about Ram Dass’s recovery is how he doesn’t own the bummer he was on after he first recovered from the stroke. He blames it on other people – everybody around him thinking “poor Ram Dass,” causing him to believe their negativity. Okay, I don’t want to beat up on an old man trying to get through a very hard day such as Ram Dass faces daily. But at the beginning of the film Ram Dass said he’d been jolted by his failure to manifest spiritual awareness during imminent death, and was deeply grieved by mental and physical deficits resulting from brain damage. That’s enough for anybody to be entitled to be a little bleak of spirit, but it’s typical of Ram Dass’s willingness to rise to the role of role model that he preserves his image even under hellish circumstances. At this point, his time for naked honesty is past. He needs to survive and keep on, so he is now buying into the revisionist history constructed by his handlers.

Like a Hallmark greeting card that rises to any occasion, Fierce Grace tries to make everything all right. Doggedly, the producers plow on, attempting to show how Ram Dass is carrying on. He explains to the camera that he had lost faith, and reclaimed it when he realized how bleak life is without it, so again he's a believer. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Ram Dass is saved from a permanent bummer, and we won’t have to digest his grief! But what Ram Dass believes in is a pretty vague quantity. His faith seems like a cup that’s been broken and glued back together – marginally functional and unable to bear ordinary use. It’s not entirely clear that it is an unalloyed pleasure for this old man to sing bhajans anymore. As he claps to the rhythm of a roomful of blue-state Americans singing Hindu holy songs, he gets a pained, confused look on his face. Behind closed eyes, Ram Dass seems to be digging for meaning, until he gives up the process, his emotions carry him away, and he starts to cry wretchedly. Throughout the uplifting singalong, Ram Dass’s face reveals difficult emotions, and he looks very little like the other devotees, affecting serene transports as their reward for devoted crooning. Among his many expressions, one recurs most often – ambiguous bewilderment – the look of a man who is trying to laugh along, but is not sure if he has exactly got the joke.

This is a big loss for everybody, because before his stroke, Ram Dass knew, and taught his beliefs with confidence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his close disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth. If the salt shall lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” Jesus was telling his disciples that they had to be filled with faith, to communicate faith to others, just as salt must be salty to be of any use. Ram Dass was the salt – he communicated the flavor of the Buddho-hippie-Hindu-reincarnationist philosophy to all of us. By his own admission, however, he has slid considerably down the scale of relative saltiness. He isn’t very salty at all any more, in fact, he probably needs salt, but as the former saltiest man in America, where would he get a supply?

Despite the obvious fact that it’s time to scale down the myth to fit the reality, the makers of Fierce Grace have quite another story to tell. Ram Dass, they push us to believe, deserves continued veneration as a saint. However, they simultaneously disregard his true message, perhaps because Ram Dass isn’t consistent in communicating it, and really no one wants to hear it. Ram Dass’s true message was politically unacceptable for those in the religion business, so the filmmakers sweep it under the rug.

Instead of airing the truth that Ram Dass is disoriented by his brain damage, and is recovering from depression, the movie is intent on burnishing his credentials and piling up fuel to fire the funeral pyre of his legacy. For example, at the start of the movie, a couple from Ashland describes how Ram Dass’s letter to them after the sudden death of their daughter helped them heal from their bereavement. This scene seemed ill-conceived, like several others in the film. Granted that he wrote good consolatory correspondence with students, Ram Dass can no longer perform at that level of intellectual and emotional subtlety. Besides, what is the point of this bit of character-testimony? Obviously no one was willing to say he’d healed the blind or made the lame to walk, but why get into the competition at all? Perhaps because, with a bit of nostalgia, we can honeycoat this reality and pretend that, notwithstanding Ram Dass’s disheartening cry of pain and fear at the moment of his rude awakening, it is all okay. We’ll just crank up some emotional footage with guitar music to cover it up. Don’t worry folks, we can do this. Just close your eyes to reality, and the movie’s spin will take you to a good space where it’s “all good.”

A Diagnosis and Report of Cure




Reviewing the evidence, I would submit that Ram Dass suffered from a form of narcissism I have dubbed TIDS (“Tantra-Induced Delusional Syndrome”), a proposed entry for the Diagnostic Symptoms Manual for Mental Disorders. TIDS comes in three flavors – Student-Side, Guru-Side, and Transitional. Student-side TIDS causes the slavish, self-hating behavior typical of many cult adherents. Guru-side TIDS leads to a “god-realm” attitude in which internal and external events reinforce delusions of wisdom, greatness, goodness, and significance in the subject, who floats ever-higher on a spiral of self-reinforcing self-adulation. Transitional TIDS is an advanced stage of Student-side TIDS, in which the subject develops the delusion that they are turning into a guru, something that so rarely happens as to be discounted entirely from the realm of possibility. Transitional TIDS-sufferers are often highly energized and competitive, and thus are found in high levels of spiritual organizations, currying favor and partaking of the true Guru’s reflected glory, fancying themselves greater than they are ever likely to become.

Image Image

While hardly anyone gets Guru-side TIDS without the aid of outside persons who “recognize” the spiritual genius within them, virtually no one recovers from it. The self-delusive lock is self-reinforcing. Having experienced the impossible pleasure of complete guru-hood, their minds just won’t go back. Even if Andrew Cohen ends up living in a dumpster, he will still think he’s a guru. But I think Ram Dass is off the high. At the start of the movie, Ram Dass was terribly put out because he failed to think of God at all, and became absorbed in the appearance of pipes on the ceiling above him. Perhaps if he’d been practicing “bare-awareness” meditation, this sterile perception wouldn’t have disturbed him so deeply, but Ram Dass was apparently expecting some confirmation of his beliefs when the death process began, and there was none. His Guru-side TIDS condition collapsed when it was punctured by the sharp point of reality.

The proof comes from a sad scene toward the end of the movie, shot with a young girl who has come to Ram Dass distraught over the murder of her activist boyfriend by a Central American death squad. Ram Dass tries to comfort her by saying that God doesn’t follow our desires, but he clumsily invokes as an example his own disappointment at being unable to do a radio show he’d been planning before he lost his mental capabilities. Most people would say that was an insensitive response to death – to compare not doing a radio show with never seeing your sweetheart again – and the girl’s face shows it. She seems to be wondering, “What the hell? This is helpful?” By the time Ram Dass blurted that malapropism, though, the interview had turned into a debacle. He had harvested a rejection when he tried to give the girl a flower. Smiling beatifically like a sweet old grandpa didn’t work either. This girl wanted answers to deep questions, and Ram Dass struggles to converse about everything. He said to her that “losing a lover is a path,” but that didn’t help. She told Ram Dass about a dream in which she communicated with her dead boyfriend, but with his limited vocabulary, Ram Dass could barely get out a crippled exclamation that evoked a rudimentary mental state: “Yummy! Oh, yum, yum!” It’s a tortured scene. Ram Dass can’t express himself clearly; the girl’s not getting any empathy; she’s having to cover for his frailties; the whole exchange is humiliating. Ram Dass breaks down. The young lady leaves after they exchange a cute hug and she gives him a kiss. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Well, at any rate, his career as a guru is clearly at an end.

As a Guru-side TIDS sufferer, Ram Dass’s prognosis for recovery was terrible, but he beat the odds when the outer and inner framework supporting the delusion fell apart. From the outside, he lost the charming eloquence that made him a spiritual personality in modern media. He lost the chance to do a radio show. The few cooling embers of his career can’t get his kettle boiling. And on the inside, Ram Dass lost the illusion that he enjoyed for all the years when he thought that his spirit, independent of his body, would travel on into eternity to continue the joys of consciousness. He knows death is coming with a gun loaded with darkness that he can’t see into, and he doesn’t believe the pretty pictures he painted on the darkness for a lifetime. He is free from TIDS, and subject again to the normal constraints of humanity. But don’t try to tell the moviemakers. They’ve got TIDS themselves.

Ram Dass: Fierce Grace, directed by Mickey Lemle
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:34 am


April 13, 2006

Warrior Tweakers, Good! Citizen Tweakers, Bad!


They’re tweaking again. The military, I mean. It’s not just the throttle jocks, I’m sure, who are popping Dexedrine to stay alert. It’s a war on, man, and if you can’t sacrifice a little sleep to the war effort, then what kind of patriot are you? That’s speed thinking. Compelling, so compelling of course that virtually all of the pilots flying combat missions in Iraq are in an altered state.

An altered state, may I remind you, that in an ordinary citizen is considered illegal in the extreme, a dangerous self-indulgence in a forbidden psychic kick that renders you outré. You’re a meth-head, a dangerous, child neglecting, spouse-abusing, larcenous scab on the body of society, in need of treatment and scorn. As a former prosecutor and criminal defender, I know the depictions are not far-fetched, either. Cranksters can be vile creatures, and meth induces a callousness of character that is definitively anti-social. Delusions of grandeur can feed notions of gangster mystique, and facilitate violence. I once had a client tell me in jail about how he brutally broke the kneecaps on a total stranger after taping him to a chair in his garage, because he had mistaken the poor fellow for some guy who ripped him off. After another tweaker friend came home and informed my client that the fellow was not the ripoff, they put him in the back of a pickup and threw him out in front of the emergency room and sped off. Of course, some meth users merely become weasely thieves, and do not commit mayhem. At all events, it has a corrosive effect on character.

So why do the military rate? Eliminate from your mind first the notion that the drugs are not the same. Dextroamphetamine is what the Air Force hands out to pilots, and they take extras along in the jet to self-administer as desired. Dextro just means the molecule “turns to the right” instead of to the left, but to your brain it’s all the same – left turn, right turn, speed on. To fight fatigue is said to be the reason. But a great side effect is the creation of the callous, anti-social character necessary to drop weapons of mass destruction on fellow humans. It takes a certain distance to do this sort of thing. Speed helps.

It makes me think of the lyrics from “Lucretia,” by the Sisters of Mercy:

“I hear the roar of a thin machine,
Hot metal and methedrine.
Love lost, fire at will,
Dum-dum bullets and shoot to kill,
I hear a dive bomber …
Empire Down …
Empire Down …”

Returning to the question – why do the military get to take speed? Because they need to, we are told. The Iraqis are probably doing speed, too. They’re not stupid. It gives them a little bit of advantage, what with having to stay up all night soldering together bomb-timers, and repairing assault rifles, not to mention keeping a prayer schedule. Speed helps.

Where’s The Money?

The origins of amphetamine are recent. Discovered just before the turn of the century, methamphetamine was synthesized by Smith, Kline & French in 1929. The company filed two trademarks on the trade-name “Benzedrine” in 1936, one as a tablet “medicine for the stimulation of the nervous system,” and another as a decongestant inhaler, citing first use in commerce in 1933. Glaxo, Smith Kline is still the big distributor of Dextroamphetamine for the military, and related stimulants like Adderall, for obnoxious little boys who won't sit still in school. Merck developed a simplified synthesis during the second world war to fuel the Blitzkrieg. I assume we aren’t holding back from giving infantry their share of the crank. After all, the infantryman and mechanized armor guys have the hardest work. So they’re speedin’ legally, driving humvees, tanks, fuckin’ rockin’ and rollin’ for real, and their commanders don’t mind that they’re listening to death metal with titles like “Cook Your Balls and Eat ‘Em,” ‘cause it’s a new crankin’ Army muthafucka.

War Is Hell, But Peace Is Sooooo Boring!

Our little cranksterized killers are going to have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. Death metal they’ll still have, but speed will be dearly bought with social ostracism. And they may begin to reflect on the horrors that they committed when the tunes were crankin’ and their reflexes were cleanly, smoothly distributing ammunition among the Iraqis. It seemed like a video game, but after the smoke and heroics are blown away, there is a terrible wound that the heart does not know how to heal. I knew that wound in some of my uncles who were in the infantry during world war two. They drank a lot.

Of course, the speed experience is not all exhilaration. There’s depletion and exhaustion and paranoia. No amount of speed will move the weariness out of bones that have been worked sore, and the business of dispensing ammunition is terribly wearying. I like to shoot my daughter’s .44 magnum lever-action gun, but it doesn’t have a cushion on the butt, and I’ve never shot a whole box of 50 rounds at a time. My shoulder just gets too sore. I’d hate to have to use that rifle in a war. They’d win just because my shoulder would get sore. Speed might help.

This Shit Works!

I wonder if it’s just possible that the policy makers, munitions makers and pharmaceutical makers might have realized how beneficial it would be for them to encourage the use of a drug that makes people more productive, less sensitive, more able to commit mayhem, less concerned with how they feel about what they are doing. Alfred Nobel created dynamite, some nameless chemist created speed. Who did the more powerful deed? Well, certainly their inventions worked hand in hand to make the world a far more detonated place.

Celebrity Cranksters, Celebrity Killers

Genies have a habit of getting out of the bottle, and the meth genie has been out of the bottle for about seventy-plus years now, fueling an expansion of manic energy that has probably resulted in the unnecessary damming of rivers, cutting down of forests, annihilation of entire tribes, species and ecosystems. And the toxic mentality has spread from the top down. Both Adolf Hitler and John F. Kennedy had “Dr. Feelgoods” who injected them with methamphetamine daily. Dr. Theodor Morell was Hitler’s psychiatric physician and constant companion, just as Dr. Max Jacobson was always present to serve as Kennedy’s pharmaceutical nursemaid. Both doctors supplemented the stimulant regimen with downers to moderate the manic effects of speed. It has been observed that Hitler’s mania for annihilating the Jews developed in intensity during the period of Morell’s influence.

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

Hitler’s allies, the Japanese, were also tweaking freely throughout the second world war, as the Imperial government doled out speed to the military and civilian populace alike, to keep up the “war effort.” The Rape of Nanking, a horrific war crime perpetrated by Japanese soldiers against no fewer than 369,366 Chinese men, women and children during 1937-38, was a murderous orgy that continued for months, during which the Japanese troops raped no less than 80,000 women of all ages. Reliable historical reports indicate that the Japanese killed many millions of Chinese during the second world war, although this Sino-Japanese holocaust has received little attention or commemoration. This type of lethal productivity has the feel of a meth-fueled murder nightmare. The suicide pilots of the Japanese air force were given amphetamines to overcome the desire to survive. The Japanese reversed course on their people after the war, made meth illegal in 1952, and arrested over 50,000 people. The country still has a serious problem with intravenous methamphetamine users, who comprise a large proportion of the 2 million meth users in the land of the Rising Sun.

African Children Turned Into Killing Machines

Many of the approximately 100,000 children under arms in the world are manipulated with amphetamines. For example, in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burma, and other war-torn nations, children are taken captive, raped, starved, brutalized, and then injected crudely with amphetamines, cocaine, and other drugs, and directed to commit murderous rampages. A Washington Post article by Douglas Farah, published April 8, 2000, quoted international aid sources as follows: “In Sierra Leone, said social workers and the child combatants, taking drugs-especially amphetamines and cocaine-was a regular part of ‘military training.’ Human Rights Watch found in a 1999 report that ‘child combatants armed with pistols, rifles and machetes actively participated in killings and massacres, [and] severed the arms of other children. . . . Often under the influence of drugs, they were known and feared for their impetuosity, lack of control and brutality.’”

American Children Turned Into Substance Abusers

That’s one way to get folks into drugs young, but we are more subtle in the USA, and we use what is called “treatment.” Under the guise of treating ADD and ADHD, two “diseases” that seem to afflict little boys who eat junk food and watch a lot of TV, our little preschool punk rockers are “treated” by school nurses who dole out speed from a jar. Of course, first they started out using “methylphenidate,” aka Ritalin which supposedly “wasn’t an amphetamine.” This label-switching was ordained by the pharma marketing geniuses who started this project to turn kids into cranksters back in the fifties, because the diet pill craze was winding down, and amphetamines, bennies, white crosses, pink hearts, and black beauties had all got a bit of a bad name at the courthouse and in popular literature. The Rolling Stones helped break the bad news about diet pills in their song, “Mother’s Little Helper,” with its pleading refrain “Doctor please, some more of these!” and its jabbing rejoinder, “Outside the door, she took four more!” But the pharma hacks are always good at finding another use for powerful substances, and now, it turns out that Dextroamphetamine, mixed with meth, in a formulation called “Adderall,” is even better than silly old Ritalin. So what good is it to give speed to kids who are speedy?

Thanks for asking. To answer, I must introduce the vaunted “paradoxical effect” of amphetamines on children under some uncertain age. Marvelously, the pharma hacks explain, speed slows down speedy kids! And you know, with proper medical care and monitoring, maybe it is helpful in extreme cases. But in the USA, what’s good can get force-fed down your throat, whether you need it or not. Think lobotomies for excitable mental patients. The same thing has happened to children. Researcher Nadine Lambert recently presented data at the Consensus Development Conference indicating that prescribed consumption of stimulants during childhood predisposed young adults to cocaine abuse. This sort of obvious connection occurred to me when I heard that one of my nephews, a longtime Ritalin-kid, was doing hard time in the penitentiary because he couldn’t stop using meth. Soon, some criminal defense attorneys are going to wake up and realize that when the state gets you addicted to a controlled substance, that should be a defense to criminal possession.

Houston, We Have A Problem!

Meth has crept into our lives very quietly, and will not leave easily. It may very well explain the extreme bellicosity and hardheadedness of many white American males, who develop a strong loyalty to the drug because of its association with productivity, the work ethic, and a positive, can-do attitude. There is a great false optimism that is brimming over among the nation’s military leaders. We are going to export democracy, uproot tyranny, and kill all the bad guys. With a little crank, it’s all in a day’s work, because speed helps. On speed, we can do more. Somewhere Hitler is smiling.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:56 am

by Charles Carreon
On the Virginia Tech Shootings April 16, 2007
April 16, 2007


I and people of my generation were taught that human society evolved out of barbarism, away from horrific usages like slavery, torture, and murder, because we have gradually adopted virtues like humane treatment of all human beings. This progress was said to have been slow and difficult. A thousand years ago, a Nordic poet proclaimed in the saga of Beowulf, “A good king does not kill his nobles in drunken rages.” Moses proclaimed as his Sixth Commandment — “Thou shalt not kill.” I learned that the norms of basic non-violence were the essential terms of the “social contract” that made life secure, freeing us from the tyranny of lives that would otherwise be “nasty, brutish, and short.”

That was, of course, before the neocons came up with a new definition of civilization. Their plan for civilization was much along the old plan of “civilizing” the “inferior races” to make the world safe for “our way of life.” Believing that coercion and threat had unfairly received a bad name, armed with concepts like “the Management Secrets of Attila the Hun” that they imbibed in Business School, people like Wolfowitz and Cheney promised a return to the old values that alone could assure the future of our society — never mind that our society would be turned into a police state and our politicians into dictators in the process of revamping government to meet the challenges of the New American Century. Human impulses had to be jettisoned, like excess baggage during a storm. The dangers of kindness were too great, we were told. Our impulse to be kind would be our undoing. We had to resort to the old methods — kidnapping, torture, and blackmail, or we would go down in defeat before an enemy to whom scruples were alien. The only way to save our way of life, we were told, was to turn our back on it.


Today the nation wrings its collective hands like Lady Macbeth, trying to wash off the stain of blood from its hands. The media, ever reassuring the nation's viewers that we are a nation of right-thinking people, indulges a well-entitled sense of perplexity about this unfathomable circumstance. Although school and workplace shootings have become a staple of American life, people persist in “wondering why these things happen.” There is plenty of evidence in plain sight, of course, but the media will not see it.

“Trickle down” dynamics affect more than economics. The drip, drip, drip of violent behavior is percolating down from the top. Living in a world governed by war profiteers, given the choice between poverty and military service, and taught to believe that problems are solved by gunfire, it is easy to understand how tormented young men so often explode in violence. This time the horror unfolded swiftly in a white enclave of higher education, whereas it occurs steadily and commonly in minority neighborhoods. The LAPD reports 92 homicides, 179 rapes, 3553 robberies, and 3215 aggravated assaults this year already, and no plan is in place to stop it, nor does the nation stop to consider these statistics with shock and regret.

While we are devising a plan to prevent future “Virginia Techs” from destroying the fabric of higher education, we might do well to consider a broader social initiative to bring peace to every street and neighborhood, all across this nation, and in other lands, where young Americans are doing a great deal of shooting under the presumption that it is necessary and honorable service. What if it were not? What if it were simply the needless infliction of grief?


Delay in stopping killing is always wrong, and if it seems blameworthy to some people that the college authorities failed to act for 2 hours after the first shooting today, how much more blameworthy that our nation has not yet reversed course in Iraq, years after it became apparent that we could do little but sponsor further carnage. Killing should always be stopped as swiftly as possible, at both the personal and political levels. As individuals, we should personally resolve not to engage in killing people. As members of a self-governing democracy, we should restrain our public officials from kidnapping, torturing, and killing people in other countries. One good deed will lay the foundation for another, and eventually, peace will be the result of our efforts.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:21 am


The outlines of the average American’s relationship with the current regime, at least in theory, are clear. The government is entitled to know everything about you, and you are entitled to know nothing about it. The government has an absolute right to know what phone numbers you dial, what websites you visit, where you shop, what you buy, whom you email, what you watch, and so much more, including your genetic identity. They have to know everything so they can thwart dangers to national security.

You can’t know anything about the government, because government in the new age of global terror has to keep its operations secret from security leaks. The leaks of photographs of prisoner abuse, the domestic spying program, doubts about the validity of grounds for invading Iraq, all these leaks show how important secrecy is. The entire domestic spying program itself, which is vital to national security, is now in danger due to these leaks. The ACLU and Electronic Freedom Foundation lawsuits against the government for unlawfully gathering data on Americans also endanger national security.

You also don’t need to know anything about the companies you pay your monthly phone and Internet bills to, the ones that help the government to spy on you, like Verizon, AT&T, and all the other private defendants in the lawsuits. To protect national security, the Department of Justice just filed a secret brief on behalf of AT&T, saying the case has to be dismissed, because the plaintiffs can never win, because the government will not give up the evidence the plaintiffs would need to win against AT&T, because that would compromise national security.

You can’t know what the evidence is against people who are charged with terrorism offenses, because to reveal that evidence would compromise the ever-ongoing investigation of the international terror web, and endanger national security. So when they take away your neighbor in a van, the Homeland Security people might have to tell you they can’t answer questions about why they took him away. They’ll be more concerned with your security. Were you friends with your neighbor?

There is only one relationship that mirrors this one, and that is the relationship we have with our parents. Parents are free to search through their kids’ possessions at any time, but children are forbidden to dig through parents’ private things. Parents tell their children who to play with, what to watch, listen to and read. Under the law, parents are effectively all-powerful with respect to their children. Many parents wield their absolute power well, and many not so well, but all children are conditioned to obedience.

The current regime spends lavishly to solve problems of its own choosing – sealing our borders, keeping tabs on domestic communications, pursuing military power plays in the middle east, managing a juggernaut of spiraling debt, granting billions to churches to provide social services, and making the marriage altar safe for heterosexual couples. Great generals, powerful bankers, brilliant lawyers, and rich lobbyists, we have seen, can manage our world, so long as they are given an infinity of tax revenue to pay for it.

Children have no control over their parents’ finances, but then they don’t pay the bills either. Taxpayers, however, do pay the high cost of intrusive and abusive edicts that subordinate individual and social good to a great, grey abstraction – national security – that was equally worshipped by Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Fujimori, Pinochet, all the great ones. All tyrants love to make the nation secure, and to pauperize the nation doing it.

But our ancestors realized that we do pay the bills, and therefore a popular rallying cry of the American Revolution was “No taxation without representation.” Today’s average taxpayer would have no idea what “representation” in such a context would mean. Wal-Mart and Halliburton would not be similarly tongue-tied. Their tax lobbyists write legislation, and the President signs it. That’s called representation. I’d like some o’ that, Daddy.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:31 am


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A Family of Gascons

My mother was named Eloisa Ainsa, and her sisters were named Filomena and Perla. Her brothers were named Juan and Alfonso. The Ainsa family were miners, and the town of Ainsa is in the foothills of the Pyrenees, just south of the French border region called Gascony. The people there, called Basques in Spain, and Gascons in France, were never conquered by either nation. D’Artagnan, the hero of Dumas’ great adventure, “The Three Musketeers,” was a Gascon, to which Dumas attributed his inclination “to fight on all occasions.” The Basque separatist political group recently agreed to abandon violent resistance in pursuit of their goal to separate from Spain. The Basques are miners, sheepherders, makers of wine, good cheeses, hams, and the excellent fish they pull from the Cantabrian sea. They are descendants of the first cave painters of Altamira, who rendered their prey, the giant bison, with faultless artistry, making the first crayons by filling the marrow holes in bison bones with colored clay and animal fat. They were among the first toolmakers, creating bone needles to stitch skin clothing. If they had a religion, nobody knows what it was.

The Ainsa family migrated to New Spain in the 1700s, when they came to the New World to extract ore for the King of Spain. The line of the Ainsas blended with that of the famed explorer, Francisco de Anza, the founder of both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the first man to ever lead an expedition of “white people” across the Mohave Desert. A plaque in front of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution commemorates de Anza’s arrival at the location on July 4, 1776. Thus, my relatives were busy settling the west coast for the King of Spain, while the Mayflower descendants were telling George the First to piss off. De Anza was apparently a tough and literate man. Although rarely seen without two pistols and a sword, kept a detailed diary of his travels up the California coast. He was also an effective manager of men and women and skillful negotiator. On the entire trip from what is now the Arizona-Sonora border, through territory peopled by Yaquis, Comanches, Apaches, and Mohaves Indians, they recorded no pitched battles with the natives, and only one of his band of settlers died. The final head count in Los Angeles was the same as when the party started out however, as on the way, one child was born.

The Arizona Story

They were all raised in a town called Morenci, Arizona, which was then the site of the world’s largest open pit copper mine. The Phelps-Dodge mining company owned the entire town, down to the dirt and everything below it, all the way to hell. All of the miners were Mexicans, all the houses were owned by Phelps-Dodge, and my grandfather Juan collected the rent from the Mexican miners. You didn’t have to be a citizen to work in the sweltering mine, or to man the hellish smelters where fires raged night and day, billowing sulfur-filled smoke that generated acid rains and snows so toxic that nothing green was seen for miles around.

The family was as proper as any you can imagine. They had indoor plumbing, and all three girls learned to play the piano and assimilated well. Filomena became “Phil,” and went to work for the State of Arizona. My mom became “Eloise,” and also became a secretary for the Highway Department. Perla became “Pearl,” and became a gifted schoolteacher. Both brothers enlisted in the Army. Alfonso stormed the beach in Italy on D-Day. Johnny was a supply guy who kept the other GI’s stocked with materiel. When the war was over, they came home, got educated on the GI Bill, and married their sweethearts. They assimilated further, moving to the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.

My father was born Conrado Santiago Carreon, on a little ranch north of Tucson, Arizona, near the Catalina Mountains that he loved with a passion. Tragedy stalked his early life. At the age of three or four, the flu epidemic of the thirties took both his parents, and he was adopted by a Swiss-Italian couple, whom he called “Mama and Papa Buzzini.” He had a little brother who was taken in by a Chinese family, and my dad remembered how the little boy developed a Chinese accent to his Spanish. It was heartbreaking to hear Dad tell med the story of the last time he saw his brother in the Tucson Chinatown. The little boy told him, “You bring another mama back here.” He wasn’t able to do that, because the flu killed both the Buzzinis a few years later.

My father was transferred to live with some relatives in Los Angeles, but the family was poor and already ha three sons, and they treated him so badly that he left. From the age of twelve to his late teens, Dad shined shoes for the people of Los Angeles, and slept in twenty-four hour movie theaters, “the nickelodeons,” he called them, where a boy could watch W.C. Fields, Jimmy Cagney, Clara Bow, and get a little rest in the back row. Early on, he took refuge in amateur boxing, “Golden Gloves,” as it was then called, and fought his first professional prize-fights before he was an adult. Ambitious and not afraid to over-train to fight in a variety of weight classes, he could gain or lose up to thirty pounds for a match. The training practically killed him. At twenty-one, he was dying of tuberculosis, for which there was no cure. The surgeons cut out one lung, and told him if he could do without morphine, survive the pain, and stay flat on his back for two years, he might live. He followed their instructions, and lived to ninety-two with one lung. Along the way, he had two sons by his first wife in LA, and two sons by my mother, Eloise.

After leaving behind the ring, Dad learned bookkeeping and went to work for the tax assessor in Phoenix, Arizona. He met my mom, then in her mid-twenties and projected to become an old maid because of her love for reading, and a great romance began. He adopted her family as his own, and hit it off very well with my Grandpa and Grandma. Dad was the kind of guy who would win a big poker game and give all the winnings to Grandma, who would bless him with the words, “May God give you more.” God gave him more, and he kept giving it away in a life of public service. He became the first member of the Arizona State House of Representatives with a Spanish surname, and served for two-year terms, authoring laws to make a better state, including the law that put women on juries, and another law, among the first of its kind in the entire nation, that made it a felony to kill someone with a car while driving drunk. Prior to that time, drunks pretty much ran over anyone they wanted, and paid modest fines for the privilege. When his legislative career was over, he put in eighteen years as a contracting specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor. For over ten years he lived in Washington, D.C., while my mother lived in Phoenix, Arizona. It was what was needed to pay for the education of my brother and myself. He was immensely proud of his photograph shaking the hand of the great Texan who then ran the country, Lyndon Johnson.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

My Dad spared no expense in the education of his sons. I had to learn Spanish perfectly, so I went to summer schools in Mexico City. I also had to learn to speak English “without an accent.” My father emphasized that I had the advantages necessary to succeed in Anglo society – fair skin and no accent. While I should never abandon my heritage, I should not disadvantage myself by sounding like a foreigner. Although he despised violence and refused to own a gun, he sent me to a Catholic military school in Virginia for three years, which meant I lived with him in Washington, D.C. on vacations, and thus learned about segregation, bigotry, and racial violence when the city exploded in flames after the murder of Martin Luther King in 1965, when police and snipers traded fire in the streets of the nation’s capital.

My Dad’s plans paid off. It took me longer than he expected, but I became a lawyer, which caused my Dad to remark, one day as we stood, dressed in our business suits, on Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, the skyscrapers rising around us and the traffic flowing by, “Son, you’ve really made it. I wish your mother could see you now.” Alas, she could not, having died suddenly during my last year of college at Southern Oregon State College, but he told me she had said to him, perhaps in a moment when he was lamenting how I was wasting my talent meditating in the woods, “Someday honey, that boy will really do something.” I’m still trying.

My older brother Aaron also became a lawyer, and he’s been a prosecutor for the City of Phoenix for thirty years, accounting for thousands of drunk driving convictions in a town where drinking and driving still seem to go together. He married a lawyer, Gloria Aguilar, and their daughter Aubre attends Wellesley. I married a blonde from a Mormon family, which brought out my Dad’s latent prejudice. He said he didn’t approve of the marriage because Mormons had two undeniable defects – they were liars and hypocrites. They were liars because as farmers, they cheated their Mexican laborers. They were hypocrites because they owned bars and didn’t drink. Little did I know that my Mormon relatives weren’t pleased with their blonde daughter marrying a Mexican. Meanwhile, Tara and I were unaware of racial issues at all. We were hippies.

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The “Immigrant Problem”

Recently, there has been a great hue and cry about the “immigrant problem.” I have no idea what immigrant problem they are talking about. I was in Medford yesterday, and saw people holding signs saying stuff like, “I’ll Mow My Own Damn Lawn,” and “No Amnesty.” None of them looked mean or nasty. The skinheads were friendly as hell as Tara leaned out the window to snap their pictures. I can only conclude that someone has decided that race hatred is a good thing to feed at home, as well as abroad. Perhaps their attitude was best explained by Ross Davis, former Chief Judge of the Jackson County Circuit Court. I tried my first case in Jackson County in 1994. I was a new prosecutor, and had just won a conviction in my first DUII trial in front of a Medford jury. Judge Davis liked me, and said, “You’ll do all right here. The thing to remember is that people here are so stupid, when the Republicans tell them that the poor are trying to steal from the rich, they think they’re the rich!”

My Prejudices and Yours

I have lots of experience with prejudice, even though most people think I’m “white.” In Mexico, I was called a “gringo,” and treated badly. In Washington D.C., I was called a “honky” by black people. Innumerable “white people” have asked me what I “am.” When I answer, “I’m a Mexican,” they often reject the idea, telling me “Oh no, you’re Spanish.” To which I respond that once the Mexicans and Spaniards got in bed together, it got hard to tell. In the blood of my family, there are many people called Native Americans – two hundred years in the desert will erode a lot of race purity – but my Mom, whose own mother was obviously a tiny woman of indigenous origins, never thought of herself as “an Indian.” Blindness is in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve traveled around the world with Tara. I was in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan when it was still safe for Americans to go there. Islamics didn’t hate Americans then, so I’m not sure who taught them to do so – perhaps it was our own government, with all its hate speech toward Islamic peoples, pursuing a stealth agenda to court Israelis without favoring Jews. Or maybe the Ayatollah did it all by himself. I traveled up and down the length of India, where people are divided by caste, Brahmins won’t touch you, and “untouchables” won’t even look at a Brahmin. Everywhere, people are made of flesh and blood, love their children, and need shelter, food, clothing, health care, and education. As a lawyer, I have convicted and defended people of every race, except Asians, who are just too rare in Southern Oregon to get in trouble in large numbers. I have represented white men who robbed banks to pay the mortgage, and a white boy who robbed a bank that was owned by the man across the street, because he had to buy cocaine. I have represented many Mexicans who were in jail solely for being on the wrong side of a border that wasn’t there when my ancestors first arrived. I represented a redneck meth dealer who candidly told me it was just bait for blondes.

The people who treat me most like family are Spanish and Mexican. When I first came to Southern Oregon in 1976, I picked fruit with the other Mexicans in Talent and Medford, and they treated me like a brother, albeit a little brother who could barely pick fruit. Sometimes they’d throw a bag of pears in my bin just out of pity. I also get pretty fair treatment from Jews, and most of the affluent people I’ve known socially were Jewish. Anglo lawyers didn’t open up socially, so I only saw them at official firm parties. Most of the Texans I have known were swindlers. People from LA lie with the greatest facility, but it’s not that hard to tell. New Yorkers act like your stuff is theirs, but that’s because legally, it is. Florida people are mostly New Yorkers who move south, where their lack of scruples is fully appreciated. People all over Arizona hate to think. People in Oregon sort into two groups – those who live in Ashland, Eugene, Salem and Portland, and those who live everywhere else. These kinds of generalizations may be funny, or you might find them irritating. They are my prejudices, and I apply them in life and business. A Portland jury is not like a Grants Pass jury, or a Medford jury, or an LA jury, or a San Diego jury. A Portland jury most resembles a San Francisco jury, and a Medford jury most resembles a San Diego jury. A Grants Pass jury is a creature like no other.

I trust my prejudices for my own purposes. It’s easier to manipulate rednecks if you adopt a southern accent, which is why the president uses words like “nucular,” and is “keerful” about his way of “tawkin.” It’s sad the way Mexican immigrants get suspicious when you try to help them, and would rather give up their rights than try their luck in the legal system. It’s sad the way hippies from good families pretend they are going to redeem a world in which they can’t buy food without a government card. Further, I enjoy all of these people, usually because of their characteristic foibles, and not despite them.

While my prejudices may be accurate, they are not a basis for law. My Dad was disappointed when I married a Mormon, but he wouldn’t have made a law against marrying them. He thought it was better for society if women stayed at home and took care of the kids, but he passed a law to put women on juries. Prejudice is here to stay, in my mind and yours, based in thousands of years of history. Black people, Native Americans, and Latinos have no reason to trust Anglos (aka “whites”). Nevertheless, we can’t get rid of them. When we make laws based on prejudice we simply ratify and compound the mistakes of our ancestors. If I were to demand historic justice, I could demand the return of all the silver and gold mines the Ainsas and Anzas once had, before the Mexican-American war destroyed those holdings, turning New Spain to the western United States. But what would I say to the Yaquis and the Apaches, who lived in Sonora and Arizona long before my people arrived? I don’t want anything more than my Dad got – a fighting chance to live a decent life in the country where I was born. Whatever the anti-immigrant protesters think, most “Mexicans” want nothing different.

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What To Remember, What To Forget

Recently, I called my Aunt Pearl down in Phoenix, where she’s been laid up with a broken leg. She told me proudly that my brother Aaron and his wife Gloria were out in the streets protesting the anti-immigrant laws being proposed in Congress. She laughed that there were a hundred thousand people in the streets, and “all of them are citizens.” Yes, we’re citizens – citizens of the United States, as our ancestors were once citizens of New Spain. Before that, we were Gascons, and before that, cave dwellers in Altamira. The question is, what heritage will we claim?

Balthasar Gracian, the fifteenth century Spanish Jesuit philosopher, said, “Most people remember precisely what they should forget, and forget precisely what they should remember.” Those who raise hatred against other people, based on skin color or language or national origin, are reminding us of “exactly what we should forget.” We can nourish the memory of all the nasty epithets our ancestors hurled, or had hurled at them. We should remember the hard work our ancestors did, the way they got along with their neighbors, the way they mined the earth together, were educated together, even fought wars against other nations together. We should keep scrubbing away at the tradition of bigotry that stains the history of this, our present nation, and fight fearlessly to be sure that no one, not one single person, is treated like less than a human being, from sea to shining sea.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:42 am

by Charles Carreon
June 1, 2006

Invisible Hand, 101

Adam Smith was one of the first economists, and those who feel that the government should stay out of labor relations, or at least refrain from supporting the goals of workers and restrict itself to benefiting industry, often claim to quote Adam Smith. They say Smith’s “invisible hand of commerce” will guide the operations of the economy, setting prices for labor, food, and commodities, making wage and price controls such as those Nixon imposed, completely unnecessary and totally objectionable. The invisible hand makes no distinction between licit and illicit trade, and for years kept the retail price of a quarter-ounce of marijuana at parity with an ounce of gold, and provided johns with twenty-dollar prostitutes and prostitutes with twenty-dollar bags of heroin. All things work together for good in this best of all possible worlds, as Dr. Pangloss might say. Your average person’s knowledge of Adam Smith usually stops at this level, but Smith’s massive work, An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes of The Wealth of Nations, does not exhort us to have faith in an invisible hand that will adjust our economic fortunes into the black, but rather advises us to watch the movement of labor, goods, and money to learn how people adjust prices and engage in trade.

The Policies of Communities Affect The Creation of Wealth

People, not an invisible force, drive production and trade. Smith’s metaphor was meant to turn attention to the rather amazing characteristics of the marketplace, much as modern scientists have pointed out the marvelous operations that the planet and living beings perform without conscious thought. It is true that Smith was sanguine about the coexistence of poverty and wealth in a single society, and saw no inherent evil in an economic order that he could describe thus:

“Among civilized and thriving nations … a great number of people do not labour at all [but] consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labour than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied, and a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire.”

One would certainly agree that today many consume hundreds or thousands of times what one other person can produce – a fast-food worker working all day in Los Angeles would be unable to even pay for a day’s worth of parking that an executive would simply put on an expense account. It is also true that Ray Kroc, the popularizer of the McDonald’s fast-food system, got his big idea when he was but a traveling salesman selling milkshake mixers in Southern California, so he may very well count as a “frugal and industrious” workman who rose to “enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life.” But Smith’s positive attitude toward disparity of wealth is not the point of his book, and he is well aware that government policies affect the occupations and prosperity of nations and their citizens:

“The policy of some nations has given extraordinary encouragement to the industry of the country; that of others to the industry of towns. Scarce any nation has dealt equally and impartially with every sort of industry. Since the downfall of the Roman empire, the policy of Europe has been more favourable to arts, manufactures, and commerce, the industry of towns; than to agriculture, the industry of the country.”

A good example of differing policies toward similar industries might be the US government practice of licensing industrially-produced narcotics manufactured by pharmaceutical giants, while simultaneously fighting a “war on drugs” by spraying toxic materials on coca crops in Colombia and Bolivia, while simultaneously pumping new life into the opium economies of Afghanistan and Pakistan by getting evil tyrants like “the Taliban” off the backs of legitimate poppy growers who supply the increasingly bargain-priced street heroin now flooding American cities. Eventually the invisible hand will bring this strong, cheap heroin to Ashland, but for now our local junkies will have to stick with Mexican “black tar” heroin.

The new president of Bolivia wants to legitimize coca growing and use of the native plant, that has no more harmful effects on the native population than tea has on the English. He says it can be used to make soap, toothpaste, herbal remedies, and many other useful substances. Dr. Andrew Weil, the new age doctor whose paunchy good health is now advertised from a thousand Sunday magazines, once suggested we substitute coca chewing gum for coffee. Of course, in the US, we’d have people buying a thousand packs of gum, soaking them in a bathtub, washing the result with gasoline to extract the cocaine, and blowing up their house and kids trying to get a buzz. As Adam Smith might say, some people are just savages.

Everything Has Its Price

Having dispensed with the idea that Smith’s Invisible Hand is predestined to provide benefit for humanity, or that it will do the work of wholesome laws made by ethical politicians with the approval of informed citizens, we can move on to what Smith was really saying. Smith’s thesis is that the cost of goods is established by the cost of the labor required to produce them. Nothing has an intrinsic value. Everything is priced according to how much it costs to get a skilled person to produce it.

Gold and Oregon green bud remained at parity for a long time because it cost a similar amount of money in labor to employ poor blacks at starvation wages in South Africa to produce, smelt and ship bars of gold as it did to employ hippies (not very hard workers, but willing to risk getting arrested and to be paid in product) to grow a finicky psychoactive weed in a secret location someplace near Williams, Oregon, and smuggle it to San Francisco. Take note, however, that gold lasts forever unless you lose it down a rathole, and cannabis must be consumed to extract its value, and will become worthless after a couple of years. So you might argue that cannabis is far more costly, since your ounce of gold will last a lifetime, but your bag of pot will be empty next week.

Raiders of The Labor of Others

Now that more Indian and Chinese people are getting into the middle class, they are buying more gold for marriage ceremonies, there is greater demand for gold, apartheid is over in South Africa, and people are getting paid a wee bit more to extract gold from the earth, and of course, people who think the dollar is going to sink in value want to buy “hard money.” The notion that gold has a fixed value is, however, utterly mythical. During the “Age of Gold,” Spain and Portugal stole so much gold from the Incas and Aztecs that they flooded the European economy with the damned shiny stuff, reducing its value to one-third, much to the chagrin of other European nations, who found their existing stock of gold ever shrinking in value as the conquerors of the New World became the dominant players in the precious metals market. Spanish gold was cheap, please take note, because they didn’t pay for it – they stole it – so it didn’t reflect the cost of feeding, clothing, and managing the dead Incas and Aztecs whose wealth was thus acquired.

Stealing from other nations is what one anthropology professor of mine called “a raiding economy,” such as was traditional among the Apache Indians of Arizona and Sonora. Once they got horses from the Spanish, who had introduced the whole concept of mounted cavalry to the New World, they started raiding other, richer tribes, and their mounted warriors were skilled at scooping up a goat, a child, or a bag of corn with equal facility while marauding through a little village full of squash-growers. Labor costs are affected by many factors, and different “nations” require people with different skills. A farmer would have fared badly in an Apache tribe, but would be appreciated by the Hopis, who moved way up on high mesas to avoid raiders, and there skillfully collected water in cisterns to feed small irrigated plots of beans, corn and squash using unique methods of dry-farming. Interestingly, the Apaches have adapted to the ways of the white invaders better than most tribes, as their facility on horseback and indisposition to surrender gave them a leg up in the larger economy, and many tribes adopted ranching, farming and logging when they were forced to give up raiding.

Of Brickmakers & Woodcutters

The productivity of a community is enhanced, Smith explained, as people become more skilled in particular productive activities. This is called the “specialization of labor” to exploit “the relative advantage” of different workers. Exploiting “relative advantage” can be illustrated by the story of two couples with different skills. The first couple was Jane and Wanda, two lesbian brickmakers. The second couple was Jeff and Sally, two heterosexual woodcutters. Since they enjoyed each other’s company, the two couples at first decided to work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on brickmaking, and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays cutting wood. After about a month they took a tally of the bricks and the cords of wood produced, and discovered that they had produced both less bricks and less firewood than when the two couples worked separately. Why? Jeff and Sally were unskilled at making bricks, so they made errors, and Jane and Wanda had to spend time training them, and even then the hetero couple didn’t produce as many usable bricks. The same result occurred when the lesbians tried to cut wood. They weren’t as good at it as Jeff and Sally, and due to their inexperience, produced less wood at greater cost in time. Facing the possibility of not having enough bricks to build the house or enough wood to get through the winter, the two couples focused on what each was best at, and in the end there were not only enough bricks and firewood for their personal use, they had some left over to sell. Eventually, Jane and Wanda adopted some war orphans that they turned into a tribe of little brickmakers, and Jeff and Sally gave birth to several children who were handy with the saw, loved the smell of the woods, and branched off into reforestation. A few generations later, the two couples were barely remembered, but their wise choices left a legacy of brick homes and leafy avenues in a town where sexual inequality was a forgotten memory.

The Roots of Modern Underemployment

In story of the brickmakers and the woodcutters, everything is happy, because workers specialize by choice to their greater communal benefit. Of course, this is not how it works in the real world, where people no longer follow the traditional occupations of their parents, and acquire few specialized skills besides what are gleaned from channel surfing, playing video games, driving dad’s car, and purchasing fast food. Most young people are losing specialized abilities like cooking, sewing, and gardening, that help them keep expenses down. The value of acquiring a standard credential like a high school diploma has become vague to many young people. College degrees are very costly to procure, and employers increasingly doubt that college graduates have the skills needed. Top hourly wages in our techno-driven economy go to people with certifications issued by private computer companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and Novell, not to college graduates. The old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is now impolite to ask, since it is likely to throw the child into a quandary that, parents fear, will cause anxiety. Besides which, how could a child be qualified to decide that he wants to be a Linux networking specialist until after he hacks his way into the school network to change his girlfriend’s biology grade? Experiences guide choices, and in this world, choosing what type of labor to specialize in often defaults to “whatever someone will pay me to do.” Which explains why the price of marijuana keeps dropping.

The War Economy and the Market For Soldiers

The disconnect between young people and gainful employment explains why the sudden desire to go open a can o’ whupass on them Arabs took root so quickly in the apocalyptic soil of the unemployed, working-class young people in this country. There was a genuine crisis on hand, fueled by the public murder of over four thousand people in downtown New York. There was a charismatic president leading the nation, there was a fire in the desert, a Holy Grail to chase, and a lot of people wanted in. Money was easy to get in Iraq. In fact, huge stashes of bundled hundred-dollar bills were left completely unguarded, and uncounted billions have gone missing. War is good business, especially when the Vice President is still getting a $300,000 annual payment from Halliburton, the prime no-bid contractor on the project to level Iraq under the guise of nation-building. The invisible hand is working overtime these days.

Two billion dollars have been spent developing and deploying technology to block increasingly sophisticated cell-phone-detonated bombs in Iraq. People often say “think what that would have done if spent on schools.” But they don’t say it when the nation is “at war.” Typically, too much is being claimed for the use of this term. Certainly we aren’t at war like we were in World War II, when we entered a two-front war against two industrial giants that had defeated all of Continental Europe and the South Pacific. Certainly we aren’t at war like we were when I was in high school, the American death toll stood at over 40,000, everybody was buckling down in school to avoid being drafted, and ultimately they turned it into a negative lotto game where the unlucky ones got picked out of a hat, and student or no, it was time to go. We are “at war” because the president said we were. “Being at war forever” has officially become our policy, and like all other policies, it is an economic policy.

Since we are at war, money goes first to guns, then to butter for the soldiers, then to pay for the creation of a gigantic, unwieldy security apparatus to strangle the airline industry, then to pork-barrel projects necessary to grease all of the palms that wrote the campaign checks and bought the dinners and paid for the trips that a Congressperson just can’t live without. If the sleaze of politics seems far from you, be assured it is not. The wages that never go up, the jobs that cannot be found, the housing that isn’t available, the opportunities that don’t appear, have all been swallowed up by a national economic policy that is far more monstrous than one would think from watching TV. Some folks don’t believe in conspiracies. Okay, we’ll chalk it up to the work of the invisible hand.

What Money Buys

No one is going to advocate the end of money if they are sane, because money is the most amazing thing in the universe – it is the equals sign between anything and anything. Using “money,” we can put a value on anything from apple pie to a course in Zen, and the price will always be based on how much it costs to produce the product. It may be more charming to pay for Zen in apple pies, but most Zen masters want cash, because using money, they can buy whatever they want. The flexibility of money makes it useful, but it doesn’t give it any intrinsic qualities of value. A lot of the time we think we want money, and forget that ultimately, we want what money buys. We usually don’t think about this until we go out looking for a midnight snack, and unable to find a grocery store open, return home with gratitude to find a single ice cream bar stuffed in the freezer.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of exchanges are going to be facilitated by money, including, ironically, the establishment of social policy to expand productivity beyond the monetary realm. There is a cost for everything, including an economic policy to increase real wealth among the citizens. The calculation of wealth goes beyond tallying dollars, because one may be wealthy without having a dollar, like an eccentric hermit living happily in a distant location, tending a garden and feeding the birds. Wealth, distinct from money, is an abundance of what we want and need. If our community priorities are straight, we will strive to become rich in essential goods like clean air, fresh water, arable land, inspiring housing and livable towns. We will give people an incentive to increase the wealth of knowledge and skills they carry within them, so we can have excellent teachers in our schools, skilled medical care for those in ill health, and media resources that foster communication in an environment of free thought. These things usually cost money, because people create them, but they can be created and exchanged without money, and can enrich us concretely and directly, giving us more of what makes life worth living.

Markets Encourage Trade and Increase Actual Wealth

Leaving money out of the equation, we still have our skills and creations to exchange, but we lack a “medium of exchange.” A medium of exchange is used to reduce what economists call “transaction costs.” Transaction costs are evident in all activities. Take sending someone a letter. It involves the following transaction costs: time spent writing the letter and addressing the envelope, plus the expense of a piece of paper, a stamp, the time it took to buy the stamp, the time you’ll spend mailing it, and a few days waiting time for your recipient to receive it. The telephone reduces the human transaction cost of having to write the letter, which blocks innumerable communications from taking place. Email reduces the transaction costs greatly, but only at the cost of knowing how to use email and getting access to a machine with Internet. Transaction costs prevent communications and productive exchanges from taking place.

Markets are intended to overcome transaction costs by having everyone bring their product to the same place, so a purchaser can visit many merchants at once. Nowadays, markets have migrated online. Everyone is getting in on the action. Myspace is a marketplace for attention. Craigslist is a marketplace for everything that’s cool. eBay is a marketplace for people who are willing to take risks to get a bargain, and for many legitimate sellers, as well as for scammers looking to turn over questionable goods.

The Missing Marketplace

Local marketplaces, however, have disappeared, especially ones that serve the needs of young people looking for work, housing, rides, or musical and cultural events that don’t cost a bundle. While granting full dignity to all those people who work the outdoor markets here in Ashland, their offerings are largely focused on the tourist trade, and boxing the farmer’s market into the Armory instead of allowing it to operate in the open air like Portland, Santa Monica, and other cool towns, seems altogether too resonant of the state-of-war attitude that somehow is trickling down to the local level. The entire length of our main drag is dedicated to supplying young people with trinkets, media discs, and t-shirts and supplying older people with pricey food. Miraculously, a laundromat and a drugstore, the last bastions of ordinary commerce, cling to life in the heart of town, but we know this is not forever.

Recently The Tidings ran an article on how much money there is in being spiritual. The next day they ran an article on how much money there is in being fun. Ashland is both spiritual and fun, so let’s make money! Ah, if it were only that easy. The most spiritual people I know are the poorest, and it is impossible to generate enthusiasm for the teachings of people who are making money in the spirit business. All of the money in the guru business is at the top. Everybody else works for smiles.

Taking Stock of Our Assets

If we’re going to find any way to increase the productivity of Ashland people, we’re going to have to do what the hero Wesley does in The Princess Bride when it’s time to storm the castle and rescue Princess Buttercup. Even though Wesley himself is limp and unable to move due to the effects of Prince Humperdinck’s poison, he asks his companions, the Spanish swordsman and Fezzick the Giant, “What are our assets?” By skillfully using each one of the assets, he storms the castle, captures the Prince, and frees Buttercup. The Spaniard also kills the Six-Fingered Man, thus avenging the death of his father. Fezzick procures four white horses, and they all ride off happily together. If we are to accomplish anything remotely as miraculous, we must remember to first take stock our assets.

Listing Ashland’s assets, first I see the amazing environment, then the strategic location on the highway between San Francisco and Portland, then the intelligence and sensitivity of the citizens, coupled with intellectual and information resources like the University, the municipal fibernet, the new libraries, and the theatres. I also see the large population of professionals, and the sensitive people who are talented cooks and gourmet food crafters, and institutions like the Geppetto’s garden, blending into the larger texture of family farms and vineyards that surround the area. Finally, I count as an asset the convenient proximity to Medford, with its many gritty, useful realities and international airport.

Alternatives to Money As A Medium of Exchange

When we remember that money is but a mechanism for equating one person’s labor to another, we may intuit something clever – we don’t need US Treasury Notes to keep track of people’s labor. We can record their relative work outputs in a spreadsheet or other database, or even on a piece of paper. Strictly speaking, that is all the banks are doing anyway, and people who move large amounts of money around are well aware of this. Computers allow us to create and manage databases quite easily. Your paycheck is only good if your boss’s account has enough money in it, which is to say, it appears to have enough money in it when the bank teller looks on her screen. What is handy about the designation of your labor as money is that anyone else will take it in exchange for their goods and services. What is not handy is that you can’t get enough of it to do everything that you want to do.

People will trade for what they could not pay for with cash. Why? Between rent, gas, food, insurance, child support and a DUI diversion, there’s no money available. Statistically, a guy like this in Oregon will likely go bankrupt trying to make money at video poker, which is statistically unlikely. Instead of pecking at a screen like a pigeon, a guy in this situation might wisely choose instead to spend his time sawing boards and pounding nails – building stuff for a friend in exchange for some goods or skills. Maybe he’ll pick up a nice TV by building some shelves for a friend, and then he’ll end up with a girlfriend to clean up a little. Skills and goods exchanges allow a community to grow more wealthy by consuming its own local products and employing its own people. Local skills and goods trading improves individual living standards, gives young people a chance to apprentice in a non-wage environment, and allows community members to preserve cash resources by reducing reliance on money.

Money developed based upon exchanges of concrete trade items or particular services, and was used to facilitate exchanges, not to monopolize the means of exchange. Where economic squeezes by national governments and international bankers impose embargoes and sanctions, barter can keep national economies alive. For example, Venezuela ships oil to Cuba, that sends back medicines, doctors and teachers. Thus Venezuela supplies Cuba’s energy needs, and Cuba helps Venezuela care for the education and health of its people, and they both get the satisfaction of telling Uncle Sam to pound sand.

Historically, people in love have exploited their relative advantages by dividing labor along classic sex-role lines, and family life has been the great factory of non-monetary wealth-generation. People used to routinely help each other build a house, then spend a lifetime washing clothes, making and raising babies, cooking food, growing gardens, fixing cars, chopping weeds, all that stuff Some relationships are very elevated transactions that produce works of art that humanity will enjoy forever, like the music of Chopin and the writings of George Sand, or the sculptures of Camille Claudel and Rodin. For this and many other reasons besides producing soldiers for the fatherland, society has for a long time made it a legitimate social and governmental goal to make it easier for young people to get married, have children, live productive lives, and contribute to the life of the community. Skills and goods exchanges can be great resources for young people who have the energy and motivation to help themselves by working for others, because they benefit three ways – connecting with creative people, learning skills, and getting something valuable from their labor.

Putting The Invisible Hand To Work For the Good of the People

Skills and goods exchanges between individuals don’t happen on our local level mainly because there’s little thought given to non-monetary exchanges, and no place is dedicated to making them happen. There is no forum that is specifically focused on facilitating skills and goods exchanges within our community, and thus money is virtually the only avenue for trade in goods and services. Particularly at a time when the capital for business development is so difficult to obtain, the City would demonstrate vision by establishing a local skills and goods exchange database, available online and in a walk-in office open to the public.

Money can be used to build a community, but it is ultimately so only because money commands the power of human labor. It is of great benefit to a community to mobilize all of the creative resources of its people, including that which cannot be tapped by spending money. The City should first explicitly declare that the primary asset of the City is its people, and that the care, cultivation and development of their welfare, wealth, and well-being are the primary concern of City leaders. The City should establish a skills and goods exchange, using City office and technological resources to increase non-monetary economic activity. The City should establish grants and subsidies to supplement the efforts of gleaners, food banks, and homeless shelter-providers, who are distributing actual wealth to those in need. The City should also adopt a purchasing and hiring policy that requires giving first consideration to local goods and service providers in all City purchasing decisions. Such policies will put Adam Smith’s invisible hand to work accomplishing acts of social benefit, and we will all be the gainers.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:44 am

LINCOLN'S HEAD, by Charles Carreon


Down at the entrance to Lithia Park
To the left by the stairs at night it gets dark.
Just like Prescott Bush stole Geronimo’s skull,
Some Oregon crackers gave Lincoln’s the pull.

You might try to imagine what it looked like,
The beard, the head, in the lovely moonlight
But it’s gone, my friend, there’s nothing to see,
Those assholes done broke it and left it ugly.

Right by the plaza, where police are now
Cracking down on dangerous feral panhandlers,
City officials were too busy being responsive
To note the Great Emancipator’s radical haircut.

Hundreds and hundreds of times civil servants
Drove by in City vehicles, went to meetings, and
Performed important jobs, none of which involved
Replacing the former president’s missing dome.

The City budget doesn’t include replacing the heads on
Historical statuary, and perhaps removing the Proclamation
From the hand of the Great Assassinated One
Was an attempt at recycling.

Freed slaves take note, we haven’t allocated
Any funds to replace Lincoln’s vandalized visage
And probably we’ll just haul the whole
Damn decapitated politician to the dump

John Wilkes Boothe would sure
Get the last laff around these parts.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:47 am



What do you say about a guy who can hold his own in any musical company? Who can belt off an oratorio from centuries past, get funky like Stevie Wonder, sing labor tunes like Pete Seeger, and listen to Iggy Pop somewhat appreciatively, all in the matter of an hour? That would be Bob Miner, a multi-faceted sonic powerhouse whom I recently saw performing at the Camelot Theatre in the role of a vainglorious major in Steven Sondheim’s “A Little Night-music.” Bob played a pompous but virile stuffed shirt who alternates between seeking revenge over the honor of his mistress and being put out that his wife finds him disgusting — exuding old-world charm and detestable chauvinism in a single breath.

Bob’s next appearance on the intimate Camelot stage will be in the role of Edward Rutledge, South Carolina’s silken-mannered representative to the First Continental Congress, in a production of the remarkable musical 1776, scheduled to run during the patriotic time period from June 21st through July 23rd. Rutledge was the man who brought the Declaration of Independence to a vote, without the anti-slavery language his fellow-slavers found offensive. Rutledge’s big number is “Molasses, To Rum, To Slaves,” one of the most unforgettable songs in the musical, that commemorates the profitable and ignominious “Golden Triangle” that ran from the Caribbean sugar plantations to the ports of Europe to the African coast, maintaining an endless flow of profit and misery for three hundred years. Slaves farmed sugar cane, from which they extracted molasses, that was shipped to European distilleries, that shipped rum to Africa, where it was traded for slaves, and so on, a “golden triangle,” indeed. Not a pretty piece of our national history.

As Bob tells me about the role, he fills me in on the history, interspersing his observations with lines from the libretto, shifting smoothly from a speaking to a singing voice and back to natural speech. For a moment, our conversation turns into an exchange of historical knowledge of the revolutionary era, but it’s clear he has the upper hand, and I settle back to listen as he tells me how John Adams was the man who knew we needed a Declaration of Independence, and wanted to include anti-slavery language. Adams wasn’t well-liked, however, so Ben Franklin got Thomas Jefferson to write it, and recruited Richard Henry “Liberty or Death” Lee, a well-liked scion of Virginia to propose the Declaration to the entire body. Lee’s championing of the document prompted Rutledge to remark, “When a gentleman proposes it, attention must be paid.” The arrogance, the courtliness of Rutledge waft from Bob’s rendering of the line like perfumed powder from the shoulders of a southern gentleman.

Speaking in his own voice, Bob tells me, “This is a story that needs to be told today.” I agree, remembering how the last time I saw the play, it was in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Lyndon Johnson was president, and the daily bill for bombing Vietnam was $50 Million. A Paris-educated revolutionary called Ho Chi Minh was said to be our problem, and our friends were supposed to be the out-of-touch Catholic puppet leader Nguyen Cao Ky and his wife, Madame Ky. The Golden Triangle of those days was the heroin triarchy of Laos, Cambodia and Burma. We sacrificed around 50,000 red-blooded American men, and turned many times that number into wrecked individuals who wandered the streets of our largest cities, addicted forever to numbing the pain of their days in hell. Those days were similar to the present time, when traitors sit in the highest seats of power, spend on war without restraint, ordering soldiers and paying mercenaries to kill innocent foreign civilians, while running a new Golden Triangle of military adventurism, oil production, and gasoline over-consumption.

So we turn again turn to an uplifting, positive production like 1776. When the strong voices of our community join together in music that celebrates the courage our ancestors showed in forming our nation, we experience nostalgia. Nostalgia for what? Let us hope we experience nostalgia for the freedom our people once enjoyed before the militarists hijacked it with dreams of foreign conquest and the never-too-ancient-to-be-reactivated poison of race hatred. 1776 reminds us also that ideals are fulfilled one step at a time – by ordinary people who see their duty clearly and work together to achieve it. So when you go see Bob and his pals perform 1776, as I heartily recommend you do, take along a real revolutionary attitude.

Wait a minute, I hear readers exclaiming — I thought this was a musician spotlight – let’s get back on track! Here in Ashland, we try and keep the musicians light and entertaining, like the pliable players who tramp on and offstage in a Shakespeare play at the king’s command. But with a few more singers and musicians like Bob in Ashland, we’ll be able to challenge that slavish cliché. Bob is a consummate performer who channels the creative power on both sides of the performer-audience polarity. Rather than teaching aspiring singers and actors how to sound as good as he does, he teaches them how to sound like themselves. An audience that is addressed in this fashion experiences their own natural enjoyment of the process, and the result is a successful performance.

When Bob teaches voice, he comments on the emotions and thoughts underlying our habits of speaking and singing. Working with Bob means experiencing the whole spectrum of your voice, including the strangled tones and flattened registers. It’s often not easy to do. My singing voice, for example, is timid and restrained, while my speaking voice easily fills a courtroom. Everyone has such limitations, and for each of us, the question arises – why? Bob helps us acknowledge the limitations that dampen our expressive spirit, and pretty soon, we’re hearing a sound we haven’t heard in a long time – our own, natural voice.

Bob Miner’s website is at, and his phone number is 541-482-4784.
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