Sunday, February 28, 2010

3N6D, Second Verse Layered Over the First

"What did you see when you were there?
Nothing that doesn't show."
~ Lennon-McCartney



The second of three 27-minute shows called 3N6D took place last night at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block. Tonight will be the third and final event, and I am already calling for an encore.



Saturday night's setting was the same but the game was played on a whole other level. Right off you could see things had been altered. The rows of chairs for the audience had been set on risers which helped us visually. The props which Jill Ellen Hall had carried in the night before -- the strange staff, the silver box, the umbrella -- were now scattered about on the stage, patiently (or even impatiently) awaiting new attentions. The lights dimmed. Without fanfare, this very special space in time came alive once more.

A feature of the show was to be its layerings. The left screen was evidently John Heino's wall to fill with photographic images. The pictures projected there incorporated images from Friday night's show, along with other layers of images. This would have been worth seeing on its own and I do hope we'll get an opportunity to study these images in more depth sometime, perhaps in his FaceBook gallery or even book form. Chani Becker's evocative filmography filled the right screen. Jill Ellen Hall creatively filled the space in between, with her shadows, props and other antics.

Holding it all together, and elevating the juxtapositions to a higher level of interconnection, was Alan Sparhawk's sound track. How does one describe an experience like this? Words of any kind seem trite, and are certainly inadequate. This may be why artists do performances. If there were words adequate to the task of conveying the electric emotions stirred up, then we would simply use words and skip all this production jazz. But words fail, and like cobwebs must sometimes be swept aside in order to see in a new way.

The images here are from last night's performance. Click on each to enlarge. I'm anticipating that tonight's culmination will leave us breathless.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Unexpected, Unique Collaboration: 3N6D

What did we experience? What did we expect?

Last night we went to see 3N6D at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block. To say I have been looking forward to this for quite some time is an understatement. But even I haven't been certain what to expect. According to their invitation:

Each night, beginning Friday, February, 26 and concluding Sunday, February 28, the four collaborating artists will present a 27-minute performance that blends live music and dance with photographic and video images. Recorded elements from the first night will be integrated with live performance the second night. The third night will layer highlights of the first two shows with the live performance finale.

The four artists are Semblesque Performance Company artistic director Jill Ellen Hall, Low guitarist Alan Sparhawk, photographer John Heino and filmmaker Chani Becker. Three Nights in Six Dimensions is an event conducted in a space of time in which even the collaborators may not know exactly what will happen. I will try to describe here a bit of my take.

Art and photography had been hung along the walls of the hallway into the main performance area, a number of Heino's select pieces on the right wall and Chani Becker's evocative paintings and drawings on the right. A small crowd gathered, mingled and then took their seats in the main hall.

The setup was much like an intimate theater, several rows of chairs facing two large screens. Off to the right there was a table with a lot of gear on it, a camera facing the center of the staging area, and a podium to the right. At 8:03, as announced, the lights were dimmed. I expected a welcome, an explanation or some kind of preparatory remarks, but that would probably be too much explanation and in retrospect I suspect the artists simply wanted the experience speak for itself.

The music slowly rose in volume, and hum-like echoing sound akin to a didgeridoo or something piped in electrically through a long culvert. The two screens received projections which only occasionally seemed directly connected if at all. Over the course of the 27 minute production there were flames licking dying embers, streams of melting ice and other assorted images which conveyed movement, intrigue, mental stimulation, curiosity.

In fact, the whole event stimulated curiosity. After the mood had been created by the music, Jill Ellen Hall entered the room, approached the stage (as defined by screens and seating) and dance/walked about, attired in the most bizarre array of costume and props. In left hand and long staff of seaweed like material, a silver box in her right, an umbrella of sorts, a white slicker rain coat, strange shoes, strange silver eyeglasses, and a comical expression. The range of elements left one wondering, what next?

The lighting was such that sharp shadows were cast against the left screen and an assortment of shapes, edges, designs were being captured by Heino, who remained off-stage to the right, snapping photos at various moments in the performance. The staff was set against the screen, the slicker jacket removed, various props utilized then set aside, new ones removed from the silver box, utilized and set aside. In short, it was 27 minutes of anticipation and confusion as the various juxtaposed images and actions created a space of time like no other.

The musical accompaniment was nothing like I had expected either, and the vocalizations by Alan Sparhawk were as ambiguous and indecipherable as the performance and the images projected on the screen. The sum total was an emotional effect, one that stayed with me as we left, with remains still smoldering this morning as I woke.

Tonight will be Day 2. How it plays out is anyone's guess. I can hardly wait.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Empty Bowls Fill Stomachs and Satisfy Souls

There is a concept in the Tao (if I recall correctly) in which it is the void which gives a thing its usefulness. In other words, a garage that is solid would have no space to park your car, but the emptiness is what makes it useful. (I have known people with garages too full to be useful for parking their cars, but that is a another matter.)

In the same way, a bowl is useful as a bowl by having a void. The hollowed out portion makes it possible to use it for sharing soup, and that is exactly what the Duluth Art Institute has again planned for Tuesday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. as a way to raise money for the Northern Lakes Food Bank

The Empty Bowl event is especially interesting because it really gets the total community involved. Artisans and amateurs alike spend months making the bowls. Then, everyone in the area is invited to come buy a bowl of soup. The bowl goes home with you, the money goes to the needy. You end up with your tummy full, and so do those whose stomachs need filling.

While travelling I discovered that the Empty Bowl is not unique to Duluth, and is practiced in a number of other cities, each with its own history. Ours began in 1994. Local artist Dave Lynas, well known local potter and famous for his creative "gnomenclature", suggested the idea of Empty Bowl to the Duluth Art Institute. At the same time, and only miles apart, Moira Johnson brought the idea to the Duluth Public Schools. Collaboratively, the project came to life raising $9,400 in its first year as the region’s only combined arts and hunger event. It's only grown since.

Last night a group of folks from New Life Covenant, our local church, assembled in my wife Susie's garage/pottery studio to share the experience of making bowls for this good cause. It's amazing how many different kinds of bowls there can be.

According to an article in the Duluth News Tribune community members who was to make handcrafted bowls are invited to Duluth Art Institute’s Lincoln Park Studio, 2229 W. 2nd Street, Duluth, to create bowls with an art instructor. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (218) 723-1310 or emailing Shannon Cousino scousino@duluthartinstitute.org. A maximum of 10 people will be accepted for each nightly lesson and the cost to create an Empty Bowl is $20.00 and includes a ticket to Empty Bowl.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tippecanoe and Something New

I just finished reading a biography of James Madison, our fourth president who played a significant role in the framing of the Constitution. To say it knocked my socks off would be an overstatement, but it made for an interesting read, this fourth volume in The American Presidents Series with an intro by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the book itself by Garry Wills.

At the outset, Schlesinger notes that Madison is not on anyone's top ten list of great presidents. Nevertheless, he was not our worst president and the well-researched book does have some fascinating insights into this fairly well forgotten section of our history. I mean, how many details do you know about The War of 1812? Here are a few. Madison was president at the time. There was a battle in New Orleans. Washington was burned to the ground. We fought the British.

Let's see if you can guess this: Name the five men whose fame in the War of 1812 led to their seats in the White House? O.K. that was a trick question. Back then the president's residence had another name until Teddy Roosevelt called it the White House at the outset of the 20th century.

Gary Wills begins the book with three chapters about Madison's failings and weaknesses. The rest of the book is devoted to convincing readers that Madison actually did make some significant contributions in spite of these.

I think it's the anecdotes that stick with me most when I read a book like this. An image is conveyed and you get a small aha, or something to catalog in your brain when you recall that concept or person again.

One of Madison's great achievements was his stand on the separation of church and state. He did not want New Englanders, like the Adams contingent, dictating the kind of faith everyone would have to accept. Madison believed we would be a better country if everyone worshipped as they wished. It's a counter intuitive idea. Do not allow the government to push religion, and you end up with more churches rather than less. Sure enough, America today has far more citizens who attend church on a regular basis than England, with its "State religion" has had in perhaps a hundred years.

The anecdote which I found quite interesting in the book, pretty much mentioned only in passing, was how William Henry Harrison, then governor of Indiana, turned a fiasco into a PR coup. Harrison led U.S. forces to quell the Tecumseh-led Native American uprising that was occurring in the Midwest. Harrison's troops fought a smaller group, yet lost more men and suffered more casualties. In addition, they lost still more of their troops due to malaria and morale was eroded. Yet the first message to the Capitol was that they won a great victory.

The press picked up the story, Harrison was suddenly a hero. Madison later learned a bit more about the truth of what happened, and seriously considered a federal investigation. Rising tensions with the British (we were blaming the Brits for inciting the Native peoples against us) kept Madison distracted enough so that he never followed through on that. Harrison was thus enabled to ride the waves of popular opinion to reach the presidency, his campaign slogan being, "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too."

The story reminded me of an incident in the Viet Nam War era bestseller The Ugly American in which falsified accounts of Viet Cong incursions were printed in the newspapers in order to influence funding of the war. The journalists were safely ensconced in Saigon while reports would be wired "from the front" that an attack occurred here or there in some remote region. The military had its agenda (to mislead the public) and the journalists got their "story."

Enough for today. The five men who reached the presidency were: James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Zachary Taylor. How'd ya do?

NOTE: The picture top right was based on an image of Andrew Jackson. I mention this only to avoid the accusation that I have no clue what James Madison looked like. The lower right fellow with a drooping mustache is.... just another guy. For more portraits and profiles, visit my art blog The Many Faces of Ennyman at http://ed-newman.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ten Minutes with Visual Poet Melissa Johnston

I am continually amazed at the range and variety of creative expression. In the old days you would go to art museums and galleries to see works of art. But today, the Internet can bring us almost anywhere in the world and to some very exciting spaces.

I discovered Melissa D. Johnston through the fledgling Art-Walk online community of which I am a part. Her visual poetry intrigued me and I inquired about it. I was impressed by her transparency and very human quality that came through her words, and the manner in which the words were Incorporated as both graphic elements and content vessels into a visual effect as well. I have included a few examples here and at the end of this interview links to both her Art-Walk page and personal website. Her depiction of the creative process applies equally well to learning how to play a harmonica or practicing photography.

Ennyman: Can you tell us a little about your writing, how you got started as a writer?
MDJ: I’m fairly new to creative writing, although it was a desire of mine to write for years. I didn’t take my desire seriously until after I got divorced, in 2005. That year I attended the Prague Summer Program in Creative Nonfiction, on scholarship and also financially supported by Emory. I’d won a scholarship to the program based on an essay I wrote for the Word and World doctoral essay contest (for which I’d received publication and $1000 prize). What made this academic contest different was that it was to be written for the “lay reader,” not written in technical language for academics. I’d published one article before this on Henry James’s Daisy Miller and Simone Weil’s concept of attention, an academic piece. Even given the exposure to creative writing at the Prague summer program and encouragement from friends, I still only wrote in my journal and some free-flowing poetry written in five or ten-minute spurts, which remained, for the most part, unedited. I started a novel in longhand that I dropped after 60 pages. I began a long poem and dropped it as well. It wasn’t until the last half of 2009 that I began to complete projects, encouraged by fellow writers and artists on Twitter. I began visual poetry in July and began writing flash fiction in October. I now have a story, “The Painting,” coming out in The Best Of 2009 #fridayflash. (I think it’ll be published this spring.) Honestly, I’ve not tried to publish anything else.

Ennyman: You call the work you are doing Visual Poetry or Vispo. What are the origins of Visual Poetry?
MDJ: The origins of Visual Poetry, or VisPo: Some say that as long as humanity has been writing, visual poetry has existed in some form. But most consider the tradition of modern Western visual poetry birthed around 1914 in the work of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti.

Ennyman: How long have you been making visual poetry and what things have you learned through the process?
MDJ: I’ve been creating Visual Poetry since July 2009. I’ve learned so many things, especially technical skills and about my creative process. I knew nothing about image editing software when I started. I didn’t have money for Photoshop and found about an online program, Pixlr, which I’ve used for every poem so far. Pixlr didn’t have a manual, although they had some answers to FAQs online—most of which were not very helpful to me. (Now there are some tutorial videos-I wished I had them when I started!) I didn’t know what the icons in the program meant. I didn’t know any of the terminology. I’d never seen anyone use a program like this. So it was all experimentation—and was learned incrementally as I created more visual poems. I actually like that I learned this way because the “limitations” forced me to be more creative. I had to use what I knew how to do. I still am learning and don’t know what some things mean—and know I haven’t fully exploited the possibilities of the things I do know how to do. As for the creative process, even more than in traditional writing, I learned to rely on my intuition. I would pick images and text based on it. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing—would only discover several layers later—or even after the whole thing was finished. I learned to trust leaving things behind. I work in layers and many times the first layer or two are not included visually for the viewer, even though they were integral to me in being able to go on to the next step conceptually in the making of the poem.

Ennyman: Do you have finished works that can be framed or is the art totally virtual (in that it is all online or on a monitor)?
MDJ: All of the work is virtual right now, although many have suggested that I not leave it this way. I’m playing around with the idea of printing some to make available to those who would want them.

Ennyman: Where did you get the inspiration to turn poetic words and thoughts into art?
MDJ: The first inspiration I got to turn poetic words and thoughts into art was exposure to the work of an ex-boyfriend, someone I dated soon after I divorced. Among other things, he would produce magazines and stickers filled with visual poetry—although at the time I didn’t know what it was. It hit me forcefully. He was an incredible poet and a master at manipulation of images. (He had been a graphic designer at one time.) The two together were mesmerizing. Later I found the anthology Writing To Be Seen and loved it and how the artists thought. But I thought most of them were “true” artists and never thought I could do visual poetry. I’m still not quite sure what possessed me to produce something for July 2009’s #artwalk. Maybe because the artists are so friendly and supportive of each other and don’t seem to be snobby about what art is. And because I knew what I did would be different. I created “When” and it had such a great reception that I just kept going.

Ennyman: I really like the Grace series, especially the first line in the third one, "fly, fly, fly said the bird to its shadow." It conveys such urgency to me and a certain pathos. What's going on in this particular story?
MDJ: The entire Grace series in general is about redemption of things we see as negative, particularly our colonization and destruction of the natural world (Grace IV is somewhat an exception—it’s about human beings colonizing one another.) I see redemption as taking place through creativity, the most powerful form being love (hence the overlay of color/artistic features over manmade things—the cigarettes littering the ground, the manhole cover, the stop sign in the parking lot. The point, though, isn’t to cover over what’s there and “candycoat” it and make it pretty (which is why I leave the images purposely ambiguous—redemption is not here, at least not yet—and it’s not simply in producing art with no relation to nature other than to use its form—but to come up with creative ways to live in cooperation with and as part of nature--and to live in cooperation with each other—a transformation yet to be seen on a large scale. But seeing beauty in our current creations and our messes can be one of the first steps in moving forward…). Creativity—love—allows vision, which can bring transformation and redemption. Grace III is adamant that that redemption can and must take place through love and in time. In time (that is, “over time” and “in time,” as in finitude) we can transform things, redeem them. The mention of the bird and “echoes” as well as the phrases “time present, time past, time future” hearken back to another poem about time and redemption, the first poem of T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets: “Burnt Norton.” There’s a lot going on in Grace III and I’m sure different viewers will take away different things (and I want them to), but for me the basic point is that transformation can only take place through love, in finitude, and will only do so when we face our shadows—transforming them so they fly—which will transform our relation to the natural world as well. The urgency you sense is perhaps the very real need we have for this in relation to the state of our planet and each other.

Ennyman: Where do you see your work going from here?
MDJ: I’m not sure. I do these for fun, so I will continue to do them as long as they’re fun. I do want to get much more technically proficient. I have a long way to go-especially in that sense--and I think the journey will be fun. One day I’d like to learn to work with video and music in creation of poetry.

Ennyman: Thanks for your openness here, and we wish you the very best as you explore your life path.

To see the Grace series and more of Melissa's Visual Poetry, visit http://art-walk.ning.com/profile/MelissaDJohnston

For an ongoing journey, visit Melissa's personal site, visit http://windspirit-girl.livejournal.com/

Visit my own #artwalk gallery pages here: http://bit.ly/e-gallery where art is a way of life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eugenics, Revisited

Sunday I noted here the connection between the early 20th century eugenics movement and Hitler’s activities to purify the Aryan race. This connection between the ideas of intellectuals and the consequences they generated seems to have been swept under the carpet by historians. Today's blog entry is essentially an attempt to shine the spotlight on how far our own shameful activities went right here in the good old U.S.A. with regard to the implementation of ideas spawned by eugenicists.

We talk about how awful Hitler was (and he was) but when you look at the State approved activities here, it is nothing less than shocking. Let’s start with Paul Lombardo’s article on Eugenic Sterilization Laws.

While some eugenicists privately supported practices such as euthanasia or even genocide, legally-mandated sterilization was the most radical policy supported by the American eugenics movement. A number of American physicians performed sterilizations even before the surgery was legally approved, though no reliable accounting of the practice exists prior to passage of sterilization laws. Indiana enacted the first law allowing sterilization on eugenic grounds in 1907, with Connecticut following soon after. Despite these early statutes, sterilization did not gain widespread popular approval until the late 1920s.

Advocacy in favor of sterilization was one of Harry Laughlin’s first major projects at the Eugenics Record Office. In 1914, he published a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law that proposed to authorize sterilization of the "socially inadequate" – people supported in institutions or "maintained wholly or in part by public expense. The law encompassed the "feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf; deformed; and dependent" – including "orphans, ne'er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers." By the time the Model Law was published in 1914, twelve states had enacted sterilization laws.

By the time this sterilization craze had run its course more than 30 states had sterilization laws on the books. What’s disturbing to me is how buried this piece of institutionalized national horror has become.


Here is documentation of sterilizations performed in the name of science up through 1933. I love the euphemism involved. The organization keeping these records was the Human Betterment Society!

A more recent event that no doubt escaped our notice is the May 2002 apology by Virginia Governor Mark Warner to a man who had been sterilized against his will at age 16.

"Today, I offer the commonwealth's sincere apology for Virginia's participation in eugenics," Warner said.

"As I have previously noted, the eugenics movement was a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved," he said. "We must remember the commonwealth's past mistakes in order to prevent them from recurring."

The law targeted virtually any human shortcoming that was believed to be hereditary, including mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy, alcoholism and criminal behavior. Even people deemed to be "ne'er-do-wells" were sometimes targeted.

On Wednesday in Lynchburg, two state legislators presented a commendation from the General Assembly to eugenics victim Raymond W. Hudlow for his service as a decorated combat soldier in World War II. Hudlow had been sterilized against his will at age 16 because he was a runaway.

Current research indicates that by the time all was said and done, as many as 66,000 were the victims of forced sterilization.

When history repeats itself, it often comes at us with a new face, but the same heartless soul. We need to be aware that these things didn't just happen "over there" but happened right here. Just a bit of food for thought.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Red Scorpion, Chapter 6b

SHORT STORY MONDAY

At the beginning of the year Short Story Monday became Fiction Monday as I began parsing my novel in serial form here. Short Story Monday has a better ring to it, and when we get to the end of The Red Scorpion, we'll return to the short form. If you are following along, thanks.

The Red Scorpion
Chapter 6b

Most of the afternoon they hiked along footpaths that wound their way up toward higher ground. They passed no houses or towns or even roads, but Chuchui said the Nahuatl live in these hills.

By late afternoon the forest thinned and gave way to a rocky bowl shaped indentation that gave the impression of having been scooped out of the mountainside by a giant spoon. Chuchui stopped, stood very still, and scanned the perimeter of the bowl. Comstock tried to determine if they had further to go or whether they had arrived.

Chuchui's eyes became slits. He turned and peered into Comstock's face. "It is time for you to see and believe." Chuchui reached out and put his hand on the older man's shoulder. "Do you carry a knife?"

Comstock quickly scanned the area. He knew they were alone and it entered his mind to be afraid.

"Doctor Professor, you must trust me. Do you have a knife?"

Comstock stood there, breathing heavily, wiping the sweat off his face with the sleeve of his shirt.

Chuchui marched across the clearing toward two large columns of rock that were half concealed behind vines and trees. He gestured for Comstock to follow, which he did.

"Wait here," Chuchui said when the got up near the columns. Chuchui disappeared in the underbrush. The two large rocks were taller than they had at first appeared, and the space between them wider, perhaps six to eight feet Comstock guessed -- a little more than the height of a man.

The youth suddenly reemerged carrying an armload of gear. To Comstock it looked like some form of primitive climbing gear -- ropes, hooks and a strapped vestlike garment made of ram's hide. Chuchui indicated that Comstock must put on the vest if he was going to see the Cave of the Dead. The professor thought it strange, but Chuchui was so emphatic Comstock could not help but cooperate. The older man slipped his arms into the holes and Chuchui began lacing him up, binding his torso but leaving his arms and legs free.

The ropes, made of twined hemp, were secured to the back of the vest. Chuchui dragged the loose coils into the underbrush and secured the other end to the base of a tree. It appeared to be about thirty feet of rope.

"Give a man enough rope and he'll eventually hang himself," Comstock said, laughing to break the tension.

One more time Chuchui asked, "No knife? No cutting tools?"

Comstock reassured the boy that he carried nothing.

Chuchui grasped and held Comstock's arm a moment to get his attention. "When you walk between these pillars you will see the cave directly ahead of you, low to the ground. You will not be able to reach the cave, but you can lean toward it. The scorpions will torment you, but they cannot touch you. They must remain in the darkness. They cannot come out and the rope will hold you back. They will make you long to join them, to reach them, to touch them. Your head will spin with longing to be free of this rope. I tell you truthfully, you cannot, must not, remain long at the opening of the cave. Los Diablos, the scorpions, must not gain power over you."

Comstock turned and walked between the pillars toward a dark hole in the base of the cliff wall. The rope tightened and he fell forward to his knees, perhaps five feet from the mouth of the cave.
A cool, refreshing breeze blew forth from the opening out of the mountain. He leaned forward, testing the limits of his harness, peering into the darkness, into the depths of the mountain. Here and there in the darkness of the cave he could see a pulsing red glow, like half spent embers. As his eyes adjusted he saw perhaps a dozen, then two. Further back in the cave there were yet more lights gathering, a swell of scorpions moving toward the opening in a dull pulsing wave to gather at the rim of the cave's mouth.

The scorpions lined the floor and walls, their legs and tails twitching. Comstock looked, disbelieving. He was well acquainted with the strange, colorless creatures that normally inhabit the dark recesses of the earth, having seen white crayfish, white worms, albino slug-like things with caterpillar like legs. He had seen all this before, but had never seen what now confronted him: luminous scorpions.

They were perhaps six inches in length, no more than eight... but far larger than the tan colored scorpion he had encountered, and squashed, in the alley behind the hotel. No, he had never seen a scorpion of this size before, or such luminosity.

Comstock then began to imagine things. His thoughts became muddled. He began thinking strange thoughts as if his mind had become energized, his imagination a torrent overflowing its banks, dizzy with the possibilities of his life. He saw wealth, knowledge and immortality. He saw fame and the answer to a question he never asked. And he suddenly had an urge to free himself from his bindings that he might throw himself into the cave, to merge with the scorpions, to know their power. His arms stretched forward, he began to utter strange sounds, guttural sounds, believing that even if his fingertips could not reach, his words might reach and these groans might come to something.

The scorpions remained mute, even as the cave filled with the dull, pulsing light of their red iridescent bodies.

When Chuchui heard Comstock's cries and whispers, the youth began to reel him back in toward the clearing, away from the dark power. Comstock resisted at first, but in the end yielded. He was soon lying on the ground as far from the cave as the rope would allow. He lay on his side, his face flat against the earth, strangely still.

"This is the Cave of the Dead," Chuchui said. "Quetzlcoatl entered this cave and has promised one day to return."

Comstock thought of the River Styx and Greek mythology, of Orpheus, and of Hades, how the Christ had gone to that place of the dead and promised to return. "What is the meaning of such ideas? Have I become too educated to believe in miracles, in spirits, in supernatural worlds, in an afterlife?" he wondered.
The walk down the mountain was begun with haste. It would be dark soon and Chuchui knew they must find shelter. They could not make the journey at night. The boy rightfully believed it unsafe to remain too near the cave.

Atop the rim of the first plateau the path divided, but they did not descend the way they had come up. As dusk overtook them, a light fog began rising from the moist hills. They reached a point where the path dropped off in a steep descent, but Chuchui nudged Comstock to the right, to a narrow footpath that led into a dense forest. Hardly a hundred feet from the path they came to a small hut with a thatched roof. The hut vacant and dark.

"Here is where we will spend the night," the young Nahuatl said.

Comstock paused, then stooped to enter the low doorway. "I'm ready," the older man said. But all his thoughts were directed toward the cave, and though weary in body, his mind felt restless. He had never believed in the supernatural before. He did not expect that he ever would, though he had always been fascinated by others' beliefs. Now he had encountered a supernatural evil, something beyond the normal. He had been touched by it somehow, had responded to it.

At the same time his soul felt sullied by the encounter. Something within him resisted all this curious desire. There was a part of him that said leave this mountain, go home. Go far away from here.

But the other part was stronger, and made him feel important. His chest swelled as he thought of the recognition he would obtain. His career would be vindicated. He believed himself uniquely chosen, and uniquely suited for this discovery.

Chuchui said the hut was used by travelers to the Cave. They sat on the bed eating some kind of jerky made with goat meat and a small hard cracker made of corn meal. Chuchui offered Comstock the bed and he took it.

A fitful night's sleep followed with bad dreams. Upon awaking, he could not remember where he was. In the darkness he imagined strange noises. Outside the pad of footsteps caused his heart to race. Were there mountain cats in these parts? Puma? Panther? He didn't know. Snakes? He knew there were scorpions. He was relieved when morning broke with its arrows of light piercing the forest ceiling. Chuchui was already up, waiting outside, seated on the wide trunk of a fallen tree.

With few words they finished their descent. Comstock caught the bus back to Cuernavaca where he spent the afternoon considering the meaning of all these things.

CONTINUED

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ideas Have Consequences: Eugenics

I once read that the London Times from 1935-1939 praised Hitler's Germany in its editorial pages for what he was doing there. What he was doing was courageously practicing ideas that had become quite popular in the early part of this century as an outgrowth of the advocacy of Charles Darwin's son, Major Leonard Darwin and other believers in eugenics, the selective breeding of humans. This is why many of the mentally ill, and even bed-wetters, were eliminated from the ranks of German society, by extermination.

Until recently I had failed to connect the dots, but the importance of eugenics was a highly popular belief amongst educated, liberal-minded people in Western society. It's a fairly ugly chapter that we don't hear much about because it has been relegated to the closets.

If you're like me, you probably also wondered why Charles Lindbergh was so enthralled with Nazi Germany. When you discover that he, too, was an advocate of eugenics then you begin to grasp why he, too, liked what Hitler was doing on this ground-breaking front.

One should often be suspicious of the recommendations scholars make when they are predicting doom. The Population Bomb was the big thing when I was in college. Back in 1932, predictions of gloom and doom were announced if the world did not engage in widespread eugenics reforms. These were predictions by Major Darwin, a whole-hearted advocate of eugenics for decades at this point. Across the Atlantic, someone was listening.


Major Darwin Predicts Civilization's Doom Unless Century Brings Wide Eugenic Reforms (NYT 1932)*

New York Times
Posted on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 3:49:34 PM by MNDude
Aug 21, 1932 Eugenists (sic) from all over the world will attend the Third International Congress of Eugenics today and tomorrow at the American Museum of Natural History. At general and sectional meetings they will discuss advances in the study for the physical and mental improvement of the human race.


Aug 23, 1932 Eugenic reforms must be adopted within the next hundred years if civilization is to go on, was the message of Major Leonard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, founder of the modern theory of evolution, read last night at the Third International Congress of Eugenics, which opened yesterday at the American Museum of Natural History.


It is not history's prettiest chapter, but it's a good one to familiarize oneself with.

*SOURCE: Major Darwin Predicts...

You can go here for more on Darwin and Eugenics.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why Legalizing Doctor Assisted Suicide Is Not A Good Idea

Yesterday we reviewed the arguments in favor of physician assisted suicide. They appeared to present an ironclad position that left little room for debate. But then, the other side rises to present its case, and things are much less clear. Here, from my 1994 article in Truth Seeker, are some of the most widely cited concerns and arguments against legalizing assisted suicide or expanding its practice.

l. Medical doctors are not trained psychiatrists. Many, if not most, people have wished they could die rather than face some difficult circumstance in their lives. Doctors who are given authority to grant this wish may not always recognize that the real problem is a treatable depression, rather than the need to fulfill a patient's death wish. Perhaps Bob Liston's posting in the General Debate Forum of America Online (1992) said it best when he wrote, "I know many individuals with significant disabilities: quadriplegia, post-polio survivors, persons with MS, etc. A number of them have tried committing suicide in the past and are now thankful that a mechanism wasn't in place that would have assured their death, because they got over whatever was bothering them at the time and are happy with life again."

2. How will physician-assisted suicide be regulated? This is Carlos Gomez's forced argument, developed after investigating the Netherlands' experience, and presented in his book
Regulating Death. "How will we assure ourselves that the weak, the demented, the vulnerable, the stigmatized -- those incapable of consent or dissent -- will not become the unwilling objects of such a practice? No injustice," Gomez contends, "would be greater than being put to death, innocent of crime and unable to articulate one's interests. It is the possibility -- or in my estimation, the likelihood -- of such injustice occurring that most hardens my resistance for giving public sanction to euthanasia."

3. The "Slippery Slope" Argument. A Hemlock Society spokesperson acknowledges this to be the strongest argument against legalization. In ethical dialogue, it is conceded that there are situations when an acceptable action should not be taken because it will lead to a course of consequent actions that are not acceptable. Our attitudes toward the elderly, people with disabilities and the devaluation of individuals for the "higher good of society" should be reflected upon. How long will it be before our "right to die" becomes our "duty to die"?

4. The "Occasional Miracle" Argument. Sometimes remarkable recoveries occur. Sometimes diagnoses are far afield of the reality. Countless stories could be told. I know a few first hand. How about you?

5. Utilitarian versus sacred view of life. This is probably a subset of the Slippery Slope argument, focusing on our cultural shift in attitude toward what it means to be human. Huxley's
Brave New World vividly demonstrates an aspect of this argument. We need to be reminded of the role social engineers, doctors and geneticists played in 1930's Germany. Are we important only as long as we are making a contribution to society? Or is value something inherent in our being human? History has shown that when we devalue human beings, we open the door to abuse. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its Dred Scott decision, declared that blacks were not persons. This devaluation helped permit slavery and inhumane treatment of blacks to continue.

6. What effect will this have on doctor/patient trust? People who traditionally rely on their doctors to provide guidance in their health care decisions may become confused, even alarmed, when one of the treatment options presented is the death machine at the end of the hall. According to Leon R. Kass, distinguished M.D. from the University of Chicago, the taboo against doctors killing patients, even on request, "is the very embodiment of reason and wisdom. Without it, medicine will have lost its claim to be an ethical and trustworthy profession." Kass asserts that "patient's trust in the whole-hearted devotion to the patient's best interests will be hard to sustain once doctors are licensed to kill."

7. What about doctors who don't believe in killing? Will they be required by law to prescribe a treatment [death] they don't believe in?


Conclusions

Clearly, the ethical dilemmas surrounding terminal health care will be with us for years to come. There are more than seventy million baby boomers in this country, most of whom are currently grappling with the issue of aging parents, or aging themselves. In decades to come we won't be getting any younger.

Ironically, our current situation is due in large part to the successes of medical science, not its failures. More people live longer today than ever in history because we have eliminated many of the diseases that once terrorized us as a society.

But some of the problem is due in part to our love affair with technology. When machines, tubes and computers take over, compassion and common sense sometimes seem to suffer. Fortunately, there seems to be an increased awareness of the intrusiveness of technology. Living wills, ethics committees and hospice care are all responses to this awareness.

The article in this month's The Atlantic made me aware that this is not an issue we can ignore. The arguments in favor of legalization are compelling, but there are good reasons not to go there. What do you think?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Physician Assisted Suicide Has Been Legalized

Yesterday I wrote about Ludwig Minelli and Dignitas, an organization is Switzerland devoted to helping people die. Euthanasia is a subject I wrote about in the early nineties when Dr. Kevorkian was a hot topic in the news. Physicians have always wrestled with the ethical issues surrounding terminal health care, but with technical advances in modern medicine many new questions have arisen.

Some things have changed since I wrote those articles in '92. One is that suicide or attempting suicide in North America is no longer against the law. If you fail to die when you jump off a building, at least you don't have to worry about also going to court.

In addition, three states have now passed laws permitting physician assisted suicide. Oregon's law went into effect in 1997, the first in this country. Washington passed its own "Death with Dignity" bill the following year. And on the very last day of 2009 Montana's Supreme Court handed down a decision that legalized physician assisted suicide in that state.

California, Maine and Michigan have all experienced failed ballot inititiatives and 75 legislative attempts were defeated in 21 states.

When you get into reading all the literature on this topic, there are four primary arguments for legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Here's how I summarized them in my article The Pros and Cons of Doctor Assisted Suicide.*

l. The Mercy Argument, which states that the immense pain and indignity of prolonged suffering cannot be ignored. We are being inhumane to force people to continue suffering in this way.

2. The Patient's Right to Self-determination. Patient empowerment has been a trend for more than twenty-five years. "It's my life, my pain. Why can't I get the treatment I want?"

3. The Economics Argument, which notes that the cost of keeping people alive is exceedingly high. Who's footing the bill for the ten thousand people being sustained in a persistent vegetative state? Aren't we wasting precious resources when an already used up life is prolonged unnecessarily?

4. The Reality Argument runs like this: "Let's face it, people are already doing it."

The combined effect of these four arguments is persuasive. And many people I talk to have been persuaded by them. They can't imagine why we have waited so long to make this an alternative treatment option. The need for legalized physician-assisted suicide is self-evident, they conclude.


On the other hand, whenever I have presented the arguments in opposition to these apparently self-evident truths, I invariably hear an "A-ha!" and an "Oh!" and "Well, I never considered..."

If able, please bookmark this page and re-visit my site tomorrow for the other side of the story.

*Published in the Truth Seeker (Volume 121 No. 5)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Death Becomes Him

Yesterday I shared here an overview of the March issue of The Atlantic, the former Atlantic Monthly, ultimately drawing attention to an article which I found especially significant, "Death Becomes Him" by Bruce Falconer. The article is significant because the subject matter is significant.

It was once predicted that physician assisted suicide would be the issue of the nineties in the same manner that abortion had become the issue of the previous two decades. Men like Derek Humphry (Hemlock Society founder) and Dr. Jack Kervorkian brought the matter to national attention by their active advocacy.

But it's a topic journalists don't seem to glom onto because, I'm guessing, it is a dinner conversation we generally dislike to engage in. It makes us uncomfortable to think about death, and maybe we're just not entirely sure how to respond when this issue is being discussed. According to Falconer we also have a hard time with this topic because of all the lingo surrounding it which we may only have an imprecise grasp of. Concepts like euthanasia by omission, active euthanasia, involuntary euthanasia, voluntary passive euthanasia and the like get extra complicated when we add slogans like "right to die" and "death with dignity" into the vocabulary. Nor do religious and moral beliefs relish attempts to quantify costs or measure suffering. How much is too much for either of these?

Even if it hasn't been talked about that much, the issue has not disappeared. And "Death Becomes Him" includes a useful summation of how far things have evolved in the past two decades.

The focus of the article is on Dignitas, the organization founded by Ludwig Minelli, who presents himself as a humanitarian who helps people kill themselves. There are actually four (or at least four) organizations helping people choose death for themselves in Switzerland, which first legalized assisted suicide in 1942. Minelli's is the first to go international. His explanation is that it didn't seem right for someone in Zurich to use his services and someone across the border in France to be denied.

In the spring and summer of 1992 I published a series of articles on ethical issues in terminal health care for a midwest seniors publication called The Senior Reporter. While researching the article I had access to many people in the medical and ethics communities whom I would never have met had it not been for this project. I am ever grateful for the keen insights they provided into the problems and complexities of these end of life issues. If anything, it would appear nothing has been wholly resolved, but the dialogue has continued.

For the next two days I want to present arguments in favor and in opposition to legalizing doctor assisted suicide. Several states currently permit the practice, but it is not yet a national policy. It might be helpful, if things were to move further down that path, for people to have a clear understanding of why people have adopted the positions they stand for.

But in preparation, if you have time, I recommend the article "Death Becomes Him" which you will find online here at The Atlantic.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This Month's Atlantic

When travelling it is a custom of mine to pick up a magazine to read during the flight. I peruse the magazine racks (most airports have a fairly good selection) and acquire whichever most entices in the moment. Thus it is that mag designers splash as many intriguing article themes as possible because when all those covers are looking at you, just takes to put you over and pull the cash from your wallet.

Returning from Indy on Sunday I picked up the March edition of The Atlantic. In large block letters it features an ominous looking story THE RECESSION'S LONG SHADOW. The subhead, in yellow capital letters against a somber highway, empty and grey, reads, "HOW A NEW JOBLESS ERA WILL TRANSFORM AMERICA." The picture tells the story, but it's a good thought provoking read as well.

Other stories in this issue include, "Cyberwar: Pentagon vs. Chinese Superhackers", "Food Fight: Whole Foods Vs. Wal-Mart", and "Inside The Pac-Man Archives." But the cover blurb that led me to part with my money was "Management Secrets Of The Grateful Dead" by Joshua Green. Ironically, this last was not as gratifying a read as I had hoped because the management secrets were essentially a re-hash of the things I already knew from previous articles about the Dead. Green did present an interesting review of current events in their history, mainly ruminating on the archives that have been assembled and stashed in an undisclosed Northern California location which will be made available to scholars and historians in the very near future. The article exists no doubt to serve notice regarding the unveiling soon of this treasure trove.

On the plane I began at the front of the mag, reading the letters to the editor and getting a hankering to obtain the past issues which stirred these comments. Preceding that, though, is a table of contents page which features Jerry Garcia, contemplatively fingering the strings of his guitar. This image alone is worth the price of the mag for any Dead fan. And even for a semi-Dead fan like me. So, no regrets on that article. The rest of this issue would then be gravy.

After the Letters pages, a section called Dispatches follows. A small collection of interesting shorter pieces, the first focusing on a reality TV show in Kabul called Afghan Model. The next is called Sex-Offender City which deals with the problem of finding homes for sex offenders when everyone and their brother is shouting, "Not in my back yard." This was followed by a little story on the rodeo scene and a number of Brazilian cowboys who have become part of that scene. Exile in Greenville follow this, an article about NASCAR and environmentalists, told with a unique angle from a unique moment in time. I read each of these with relish.

The travel piece, Chet of Arabia, about a mom and three year old son who travelled in the Middle East, didn't engage me, but would likely have brought fond memories from my brother and his wife who were in some of these places last year (Petra, Israel, Jordan).

I skipped the Pac-Man article, and found an interesting piece called Myth-Diagnosis by Megan McArdle, which made the case that people without insurance are not more likely to die. It is one of those contrarian pieces that makes you think.

This was followed by an article about the reality TV show Lockup and it's sequel spin-offs. What will they think of next? It reminds me of Tom Wolfe's comment in the 1970's that fiction was dead and would be replaced by stories like In Cold Blood, truth told using fictional story-telling techniques. He may have been wrong about the demise of the novel, but television producers have learned that we live in a highly voyeuristic culture that invests great quantities of time peeking into other peoples' windows.

The 14-page feature on joblessness in America begins on page 42, with a photo of a kid in prep school attire carrying a hobo's pack. This is followed by the James Fallows piece called Cyber Warriors with the Dead piece fast on its heels.

The Grateful Dead article held its own, but was followed by the most significant article for me in this issue: Death Becomes Him, by Bruce Falconer, an in depth profile of Switzerland's assisted suicide industry in general and Ludwig Minelli's Dignitas in particular. I'm curious at the juxtaposition of a piece about the Grateful Dead and an article in which an assisted suicide community boasts of their "grateful dead."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Apolo's Silver (Essay Without Words)








Saturday night in Vancouver, via NBC.

If it is a copyright infringement to use these images without permission I may have to remove them, but I thought it fun to capture a wonderful moment as Apolo Ohno raced for the Gold, captured silver, and continued to capture the hearts of a generation.

The Red Scorpion, Chapter 6a

SHORT STORY MONDAY

During our year in Mexico we visited Cuernavaca twice, and on one occasion went to Tepotzlan and saw the Day of the Dead festivities which are featured in the opening of John Huston's film based on the Malcolm Lowry novel Under the Volcano. For the wonderful flavor of this town, and a step back in time, check out Huston's film. Or even better, the film about making the film.

The Red Scorpion
6a

Comstock reached Tepotzlan a little after ten. Unscathed by all things modern, Tepotzlan is a secluded world where legends and myths live. Only twelve miles from Cuernavaca, the narrow winding road makes it seem further than that.

The bus stopped a half block from the small outdoor market. Beyond the market Comstock saw the dominating, centrally located monastery. Everything was neat and orderly.

The monastery, erected by sixteenth century Dominicans, has since become one of Mexico’s national treasures. For Comstock, the monastery created a mood -- somber, almost ominous -- set back away from the town in the midst of a broad expanse of lawn surrounded by isolating walls of rock and ivy. Within, the spacious rooms are nearly barren, except for the sanctuary, filled with artifacts, incense, votive candles and other regalia of Third World Catholic tradition. From the monastery’s arched fortress-like windows the view is wholly other, a majestic panorama of surrounding hills and two active volcanoes.

Comstock entered the sanctuary of the cathedral first. A sister came forward to assist him, but he slipped out without an exchange of words.

He then entered the monastery itself, which now served as a museum. He passed from room to room, till he came into one that was barren and devoid of furnishings. There he found Chuchui, gazing from a window that faced east.

Chuchui called him to the window and pointed to the mountain. “That is where we will go.”

“What is it you are taking me to see?” Comstock asked.

“The Cave of the Dead,” Chuchui replied. “The cave leads to the depths of the earth, to the resting place of the dead. Mictlan.”

* * * * *

The climb, leisurely at first, became arduous with the approach of evening. Comstock’s head throbbed. He perspired heavily. It began to dawn on him that if this boy were speaking truthfully, he had stumbled onto something remarkable. Or perhaps, that something had stumbled onto him.

Comstock could hardly believe his luck. The Nahuatl youth was going to bring him to the very cave where the legendary god/man was last seen.

As they crossed a catwalk-like ledge Chuchui began telling Comstock of how Los Diablos came to be. “Quetzlcoatl was banished from his people for having done a terrible thing. A Nahuatl appealed to the god and changed his mind. The father of Quetzlcoatl relented, and said that his son could go live for a season with the dead and then return to be with his people, the Nahuatls.

“His eldest brother Camaxtli, who was born red, was angry and hated him for what his brother had done. He was determined that Quetzlcoatl should never return to his people. Using the deep magic of the mountain, he called forth the red scorpions from the center of the earth to guard the exit of the cave. Quetzlcoatl, even if he tried, would never be able to escape alive from the cave of the dead.”

Comstock imagined other possibilities. Yes, perhaps there was a great leader named Quetzlcoatl who was banished from his homeland. To save face he made a big show of promising never to die and to one day return. He decided he would hide in a cave till the coast was clear, then sneak off and live as a free man in some other country far away.

“You believe this?” Comstock asked Chuchui, when Chuchui finished his story?

“How could I not? I have imatini,” which is to say he had first hand knowledge. He had seen the cave. He had seen the red scorpions.

Comstock could scarcely restrain himself. This was beyond all things believable, and even as he climbed he was disbelieving. Yet he was eager to see. The native had been so matter-of-fact.

Comstock knew from his studies that these people were good people. Their mission in life was to side with the sun in the cosmic struggle between light and darkness. They were people with a mission.

So why was the youth leading him here to this cave? Why was Chuchui betraying his people? Comstock did not understand.
CONTINUED

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Serendipity

I remember once when my dad came from a business trip he told us Colonel Sanders sat next to him in the Toronto airport. The Kentucky Fried Chicken king, dressed in his whites, looked just like himself. And I remember how cool it seemed to me when dad told the story.

Now that I'm all grow'd up I'm a business traveller, too. And occasionally one meets some interesting people in airports or while flying, because they're usually just people like you and flying is sometimes the easiest, and usually the fastest, way to get around.

When our kids were little the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team filled all the seats in front of us on a Northwest Airlines flight 20 years ago. Several years later it was a privilege talking with Kevin Garnet's mom in the Detroit airport while waiting for a plane. She was quite proud of her son who was flying her to Minneapolis to see him play, especially proud that his wealth and fame had not changed his values or character.

I ran into Lorie Line coming from a Louisville truck show back to Minneapolis and Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns on my flight from Atlanta to Detroit. One snowy morning 30 or so WWF wrestlers sat down all around me at the McDonald's inside the Indianapolis airport. I watched bemusedly as the bedraggled band (it was very early and they'd obviously had a late night) allowed themselves to be besieged by autograph seekers.

Yesterday as I was sauntering through the lobby of the Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station I saw a young girl at a computer terminal there. She was wearing the same stylish outfit as the Olympians whom I'd seen on NBC the night before during the opening ceremonies. For some reason I supposed she was just a fan of the Olympics, wearing Olympic-looking garb because of the events now in progress. I did not know she was more than that. I smiled and said, "Did your plane land in the wrong city? I believe the Olympics are in Vancouver this year." I was just making a joke, trying to be funny.

She smiled and replied, "I'm on my way to Vancouver. I will be ice dancing Tuesday."

It dawned on me she was the real deal. As we exchanged cordialities, I saw that she really wasn't sitting there alone. She was in an online dialogue/chat with either friends or family, in French, naturally. ("Juste un moment. Un certain vieil homme ici veut prendre ma photographie.")

Nathalie Pechalat and her dance partner Fabian Bourzat are the 2009 France National Champions who won bronze medals in the Grand Prix against the world's best.

As I talked with her she seemed so young and delicate, warm and good natured. But evidently she's a determined competitor. You have to be at that level, and to win that bronze in the Grand Prix she skated through a tough ankle injury to do it. Gutsy is what I call it. And even though she looks sixteen, at 26 she is a veteran at this game.

You can tell a lot about the spirit of skaters by the music they choose to perform with. Nathalie and Fabian's musical selections have included Thank God, I'm A Country Boy, Les Marches des Gladiateurs, Cats, and It Don't Mean A Thing... Like how cool is that? Tuesday night we'll see what comes next.

I told Nathalie that skaters were my favorite part of the Winter Olympics. And I wasn't just making that up. I once had dinner with the ESPN film producer and crew that shot the ice skating World Championships for television and he, too, liked the skating competitions more than all those adrenalin-pumping extreme sports with their edgy over-the-top antics.

What's amazing is that these skaters and ice dancers have to do the most incredible tricks but in a manner that looks effortless. Think of the poise required when everything is on the line, and the whole world is watching. As for Nathalie and Fabian, I'm certainly wishing them the best when they reach Vancouver. Her aim is for the top of a podium.

Who's the most interesting person you ever met in an airport? Just curious.

To Nathalie and Fabian: Good luck in Vancouver. Let it shine!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Olympic Games

It doesn't seem possible that it's already four years since the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. But it is less than a century since 16 nations first assembled in Chamonix, France for the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Last night all eyes, and cameras, were on Vancouver as more than 80 countries assembled there for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A few observations from my Indianapolis hotel vantage point.

1. The Jamaican bobsled team is retired. Jamaica therefore had but one representative for this year's event. The country has much to be proud of, however, with their Summer Olympics phenom, Usain Bolt.

2. The 16-year-old who sang the Canadian National Anthem.... wow! Can Canadians compete on American Idol? Too bad I only get one vote.

3. Albania and Algeria also only had one athlete each.

4. It was interesting to hear some of the stories told as various countries entered the arena. When Mongolia came to the 1964 Olympics, they just "showed up." They were not aware of all the sophisticated protocols involved in participating. But they weren't sent home with tails between their legs. A good gesture on the part of the Olympic Committee running this event.

5. Since this show was broadcast live, they periodically cut to commercials in certain places. (The network needs to make money to staff all this coverage, right?) I noticed that they did not cut to a commercial during the entrances of either the U.S. or Canadian teams.

6. The tribute to Canada's indigenous peoples was a nice touch.

Let the Games begin!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Many Faces of Ennyman

When I began this blog nearly three years ago, I wasn't quite sure where it would go or what it would become, but I did have a couple pre-eminent aims. First, was simply to understand what blogging was all about. I come from the school of "learn by doing" and simply wanted to understand why it differed from having a straight website. Second, I made an agreement with myself to do this for four years and see what emerged. I'm not sure where the four years idea came from, but it has been a good commitment.

My original method for coming up with blog content was to sift through my thirty years of personal journaling to share insights or thoughts or poems or whatever as a starting point for further discussion. Having an art background it was important to create a "look" that was aesthetically inviting. I very quickly got the bug to not only produce original written content but illustrate it with original drawings, paintings and photography. The net result there was a large body of work which led to last summer's solo art show at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block.

To say the least, the show was great fun. Even I was surprised to find I had over 130 original pieces to display. There were even a few pieces from my high school daze. The response to this show showed that my work was connecting with people and I even sold a few pieces.

Which leads to a third aim that I wrestled with when I set up this blog. Do I want to monetize it? Do I want to commercialize it? Somehow I've felt that this was not a direction I wanted to go, at least not directly. Instead, I have decided to set up a separate blog for the purpose of selling my artwork. It's called The Many Faces of Ennyman. If you haven't noticed, faces seem to be one of the themes I'm preoccupied with in my work. (I leave the psychoanalysis of this phenomenon to my brother.)

For what it's worth, I invite you to check it out. And thanks to all who have encouraged me along this path over the years.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eight Little Known Facts About Costa Rica

The other day when I was writing about Jack Foley it made me interested in doing a little research on Costa Rica. I won’t tell you whether Jack makes it there in the end, but I will tell you something I learned. Some of you might laugh at my ignorance, but I am not afraid to acknowledge I still have plenty to learn.

The thing I discovered, and I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, was that Costa Rica is adjacent to Nicaragua on its northern border, and Panama to the south. The Panama part I knew, but the new thing was this. For some reason I had it lodged in my head that Honduras was to the south of Nicaragua, and El Salvador to its west. Wrong. So, the mental map in my head has been re-adjusted.

Alas…

So, let’s see what else we know and don’t know about Costa Rica. Note: There will not be a quiz at the end.

1. The name Costa Rica means “Rich Coast.”

2. There is no army in Costa Rica, since 1949.

3. 80% of the 4.5 million people in Costa Rica are Caucasian. Again, I did not know that. I assumed that with Mexico (where we lived for a year) being so pervasively Mestizo (mixed) that all of Latin America was as such. Honduras and El Salvador are 90% Mestizo, Panama 70% and Nicaragua 60%. Makes one wonder how Costa Rica’s pattern is so reversed. There's probably a story here.

4. According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica is the “greenest” country in the world.

5. The current president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the civil wars that were creating so much instability in Central America in the 1980’s.

6. The country has an interesting religious stance. Roman Catholicism is the official state religion, but their 1949 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. 70% of the population is Catholic, though about 45% practice their faith. Almost 14% are Evangelical Protestants.

7. The Economist ranks Costa Rica 35th worldwide in their Quality of Life Index, but the United Nations ranks the country 100th out of 126 for income equality, which means that Quality of Life might vary depending on who you ask. Average annual income is around $12,000 a year.

8. A key player in the reconstruction of Costa Rica as a stable force in the Central Americas was Jose Figueres Guzmin, who came to power in 1948 after a civil war. A “Junta Fundadora” was formed that held power for 18 months and implemented many reforms that helped the country economically and culturally, including
• abolishing the army (as a precaution against the militarism that has perennially thwarted or undercut democracy in Central America)

• enabled women and illiterates to vote
• put into effect basic welfare legislation
• nationalized banks
• outlawed the Communist Party
• directed the writing of their new constitution
• guaranteed public education for all
• gave citizenship to black immigrants' children
• established civil service to eliminate the spoils system in government.

Figueres was re-elected twice more to the presidency (once in the 50's and again in the 70's). In a 1981 interview he said, "In a short time, we decreed 834 reforms that completely changed the physiognomy of the country and brought a deeper and more human revolution than that of Cuba."

I've heard some nice things about Costa Rica lately. Now I know a little more than I did yesterday.

Primary source for these details: Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 Minutes with Brazil's Silvio Alvarez

I discovered Silvio Alvarez through the Ning network called Art-Walk. Art-Walk is one of many global communities of artists who share online their work and passion for art. The piece which the self-taught 43-year-old artist has displayed there is called Tree. What impressed me about it was it's scale.

Someone once observed that if a person is worth knowing, he's worth knowing well. I would say the same for their art. The longer you look, the more you see. Perhaps this is why Silvio Alvarez's work is getting noticed.

Ennyman: When did you first discover that you wanted to become serious about your
art? How did you become interested in collage?
Alvarez: In my childhood I always liked reading magazines, looking at sticker albums, printed images in general. However, in this period, and even during adolescence I never showed any inclination towards the arts. It was the necessity of showing my emotions in a difficult moment, around 1989, what led me to the discovery of collage.

I also realized I had easy access to the materials I needed, since they are all low cost.

Ennyman: Have some people taken your work less seriously because collage is something children do in school?
Alvarez: I believe that the art market doesn´t take a collage seriously. As a collage plastic artist, my main income still comes not from the sale of my works, but just the workshops that introduce art to children and also teaches them to recycle, recycle, recycle ...

I'm working towards the day my work is recognized as a serious art.

Ennyman: Where in Brazil were you born and what influence did your family have on
who you are?
Alvarez: I was born in the city of Sao Paulo, the largest Brazilian metropolis. I haven´t received direct artistic influence from my family. My father, Noely Alvarez, who died in 2005, was a poet and taught me the importance of culture and how good it is when we work at what we love.

Ennyman: Where do you obtain the pictures from which you make your collages?
Periodicals? The recycle center?
Alvarez: For my works I use old magazines donated by friends. I often say that the main raw material in my work, even more than paper, is patience.

I separate hundreds of magazine pages by category and cut out figure by figure as the need for a specific job.

In Brazil, there is little involvement with recycling, unfortunately. But this situation is changing thanks to the efforts of some people and institutions.

Ennyman: What is the medium or adhesive you use? What is the process?
Alvarez: I use glue stick to attach the images and then I apply white glue to protect the work. Also I apply varnish, finally.

Ennyman: You have gained quite a bit of publicity. Do you have an agent or
gallery that now represents you? How did that come about?
Alvarez: I´m the spreader of my work. Mainly through Twitter, recently. I have a marchande who works to market my work and make contact with companies.

I love art! I live my art by selling my works, working in the creation and executing artistic projects for companies that want to pass on their ideas of sustainability to their employees or clients, and make collage workshops.

Nowadays I have concentrated on improving my technique to achieve better results in smaller periods of time and higher perfection.

Ennyman: What are you working on for 2010?
Alvarez: In 2010, I will do an individual show with works produced especially for children with the theme environmental preservation / sustainability. Also I am participating in a group show on the indigenous people.

I want to travel through Brazil with this exhibition with parallel workshops and perhaps even visit other countries, if someone calls me.

If you wish to see more of Silvio Alvarez, here's a good starting point.