JOURNEYS

Scenic Arizona At Night

The Stars

April 20, 2017 in JOURNEYS,Southwest | Comments (1)

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Two sacred peaks of the Tohono O’oodham people. They gave one to us for astronomy. The other remains inviolate.

By LARRY CALLOWAY (C)

Southern Arizona is known for some spectacular views of . . . the heavens. Kitt Peak, which we visited, has 25 big astronomical telescopes, most of them owned by universities. Other land-based optical observatories (to use the technical term accommodating the space age) are scattered on other Arizona peaks.

Before ascending to higher views we attended a demonstration of a small (about $15,000) scope in a dome at the Butterfield RV Resort And Observatory in Benson, AZ. The volunteer, who called himself an “astro-nerd” as opposed to a professional astronomer, punched up Orion, the Pleiades, Jupiter with its four large moons, and the relatively blinding one attached to us.

This experience probably is what motivated us to drive Freddy the RV up Kitt Peak about two weeks later. The Ford 450 had no problem climbing the serpentine two-lane road that gains about 5,000 vertical feet in 12 miles to the cool 6,880 crest dotted with white domes against a far desert backdrop.

The Mayall telescope on Kitt Peak.

We took a tour in which a retired astronomer walked us up to the floor of the biggest scope at the highest point (on a clear day its dome can be seen from Tucson). Called the Mayall Telescope, it was the first project after the government acquired from the Tohono O’oodham tribe a perpetual lease to the mountain top (now resented by some of its members) in the post-Sputnik frenzy of 1958.

After seeing the huge tracking and focussing machine, Pat wondered, “Where is the little man looking through an eyepiece?” (Mayall is like a camera, it makes photos.) She was wise enough not to ask the ancient astronomer in his floppy hat.

I was not so wise, asking him, “Why are so many discoveries made by amateurs with small telescopes?” He answered, brusquely, that those comets, asteroids, etc., were basically “uninteresting.” The professionals are doing science.

This dominant scope on Kitt Peak is going to be completely redone next year into a Dark Energy

The Mayall will be perfected into a DESI

Spectroscopic Instrument, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (Don’t tell Rick Perry!) It’s mission will be to create a 3-D map of most of the sky seen from the northern hemisphere. Not only will it tell the distance from us of millions of galaxies and quasars. It also will tell the speed at which they are accelerating away. (Yes, we were told, the big boom gets faster like a rock dropping in gravity.) Its field of view, 3,000 times greater than that of the Hubble telescope (relatively small and orbiting) will be an angle of “8 square degrees”. . . . (I will leave it here. I thought degrees were round.)

I love the heavens. But I am still working on my amateur status. And this Southwest RV tour I brought along a small scope I have battled with for 30 years. Whereas the Mayall scope at Kitt peak has a 4-meter main mirror (158 inches diameter), my mirror is about 6 inches. But inspired by southern Arizona’s unified (apolitical) interest in star gazing, I assembled my scope and tried focusing. The problem, as always, was the little finder scope had a loose adjustment and was at a neck-breaking angle.

Before giving up I remembered the astro-nerd. He said go see Jack Lopez at Stellar Vision in Tucson. With a little GPS help we found the place nearly under a freeway bridge in a row of businesses that included a martial arts gym. Scrawled across a bolted garage door in black spray-can letters was “Stellar Vision.”

I opened the heavy fortified door and entered a dark room full of objects that resolved themselves as telescopes — a hoard of wonderful, colorful, large and small Meades and Celestrons and many others,  even a Questar (my dream as a kid). Frank Lopez came out of the back. He is a close listener, a long-haired bespectacled man with. . . focus. I explained my problem. He understood.

I brought in my scope. He went into the back while I envied the beautiful scattered inventory. He emerged with a right-angle finder, removed the old straight one, installed the new one, holding hex wrenches like a surgeon. Cost of parts and labor: less than dinner at Red Lobster (named for a galaxy?)

That night I grew unhappy with the fix, so next morning I took the scope back. Jack Lopez said he had been thinking about my problem and his solution and he had a better idea. “A red dot,” he said.

It might as well have been something uttered between graduate students on Kitt Peak. Like, black hole or blue, brown, yellow or white dwarf? He said it was a sight developed for hunters. He put it on the scope, and it works! I cant say how, but its like an open gun sight (sword to plowshare) with a red dot at the center of a sighting ring.

When I had asked Jack Lopez what the new bill was. He responded, “No charge. I am here to solve problems, not make money.” Coming from a man whose business is helping people raise their eyes to the heavens, it was kinda religious. . . .

At the Mayall visitor door an engraved plaque quotes Kepler, the mathematician who proved the orbits of planets at the 17th Century rise of science. It is religious in a way that the articulation of his unfortunate contemporary, Galileo, was not:

“We don’t ask for what purpose the birds do sing, for them song is pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly we ought not ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens. The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.”


Keeping The Secret Alive

Will the CIA be great again?

February 8, 2017 in Theatre of War | Comments (2)

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Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

By Larry Joseph Calloway ©

A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA by Joshua Kurlantzick (Scribner, 2017)

jarsLaos is a great place to be a tourist. It has Luang Prabang, with its French colonial architecture and Buddhist monasteries along a simple historic main street. It has the Plain of Jars, with its mysterious artifacts among American bomb craters on a depopulated plateau. It has the Hmong people of the Colin Cotterill’s “Dr. Siri” mystery novels. It has communist Vientiane, linked by a Mekong bridge with the bright lights of capitalist Thailand. It has rolling mountains and calm rivers and deep pools.

So forget the war. The Lao people have or – as in Vietnam – seem to have forgotten. It ended more than 40 years ago. But Joshua Kurlantzick’s book is no travel guide. It is the most comprehensive documentation yet of the “secret war,” whose political secrets have already been told in bits and pieces. (Kurlantzick uses many of the same journalistic clips that I used  in writing inspired by travels in laos beginning ten years ago.)

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HILLBILLY SYNCHRONICITY

My Fellow Americans. . .

November 9, 2016 in SOUTHERN JOURNAL,U. S. Politics | Comments (2)

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By Larry Joseph Calloway ©

 The networks were so unprepared for Donald Trump’s win that my election night switching caught only one panelist who could speak with authority for the key voters euphemistically called “white – no college degree.”  He was J. D. Vance, the black-haired concise-speaking author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” an immediately personal story of his poor and violent family from Appalachian Kentucky.

I was reading it in October along with another pre-election bestseller, the radical history “White Trash” by Nancy Isenberg. These books are cultural not political, but they explain something about the “populist uprising,” as Vance termed it in an interview while adding that Trump understood the anger behind it but offered no solutions.

Apart from politics, my research represented an obsession with my father’s hardwood Appalachian roots. He was always wanting something far away. His sisters talked of North Carolina when we visited their farms near Lyons, CO. They were pretty and spoke in sweet accents. My father drank. He died. I was about to set the periodic ancestry project aside when, suddenly, up popped an email from a total stranger in Longmont, Colorado. I’ll get to the deep synchronicity* of it in a few minutes.

Writer-lawyer Vance’s family moved from Jackson, KT, to Middleton, in southern Ohio, so his grandfather could work in the Armco steel mill. It rusts away now under a Japanese name. His grandfather died as an out-of-work alcoholic. His mother, pregnant at high school graduation with his older brother, was more in love with drugs than any of her half dozen husbands.

His elegy is for his grandmother, who raised him. She was a heroic exemplar of the lost mountain culture of pride and toughness. She disciplined him relentlessly to pursue self-improvement through education and even, among other folksy wisdoms, learning golf because “that’s where rich people do business.” (Trump is an international developer of golf courses.)

Mamaw, as he called her, represents the culture lost when the families of several generations were uprooted by economics and dropped dead by economics. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” as my father used to say. I had his brother-in-law minister, a chaplain of the Arizona National Guard, read it at his graveside ceremony. Vance does not mention churchgoing in Middleton, but I suppose religion was a part of the lost culture because in every North Carolina hollow where I searched for Calloways there was a church — usually Baptist — often looking forsaken. Vance observes out of nowhere, “I wasn’t surprised that Mormon Utah — with its strong church, integrated communities, and intact families — wiped the floor with Rust Belt Ohio.”

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Singing Through Ireland

A response to Churchill’s question

August 27, 2016 in JOURNEYS | Comments (1)

 

Schola Cantorum singers

 

By Larry Joseph Calloway ©

We went to Ireland in the summer of the political year 2016 with a group that often burst out in song. They sang in enormous cathedrals, among grey monastic ruins, at a sacred lake shore, on a green moor above the ocean, and in pubs. Everyone was talking about Brexit and how it would screw the Irish – a familiar theme in the history of British politics.

In 1921 young Winston Churchill, a negotiator of the oppressive Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioning Ireland, rose in Parliament to defend it. He asked:

 “Whence does this mysterious power of Ireland come? It is a small, poor, sparsely populated island, lapped about by British sea power on every side, without iron or coal. How is it that she sways our councils, shakes our parties, and infects us with great bitterness, convulses our passions, and deranges our action?”

First king with harp

First king with harp

Churchill did not answer his rhetorical question. I will not attempt an answer except to say that the symbol of Ireland is not a lion but a harp and that Ireland responds not with a roar but with songs and stories. Patricia and I listened to these as we accompanied the small Schola Cantorum choir of Santa Fe on a concert tour from Dublin to Sligo to Armagh to Westport to Galway.

There was, for example, a monk who had a white cat. In the tight margin of a scriptorium manuscript – vellum was precious in the ninth century — he scribbled a light poem equating his cat’s mousing with his own scribing. A translation from the Old Irish concludes:

So in peace our task we ply

Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,

I have mine and he has his.

 

Practice every day has made

Pangur perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light.”

 The curators of The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin chose the unknown monk’s verse as an introduction to the present exhibit. For, in its sweet imagery the Book of Kells is about the monks who made it. They were graffiti tricksters. They stretched the vow of poverty to exclude possession of cats. Their surviving artistry is uniquely Irish, with bold calligraphy and bright colors. Their interlocking images are impressive in detail but not intimidating – even though the text of the Book of Kells is the four Gospels in Church Latin.

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South By South Park

A story served on a golden plate

October 25, 2015 in JOURNEYS | Comments (2)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

In late August of the saddest summer, speeding through the emptiness of Colorado’s South Park on the way to Denver to see “The Book of Mormon” and to attend my high school class reunion, I lightened up by writing. Not texting – that’s unlawful – but writing, which is OK if you do it in your head.

I worked up a concept for an episode of “South Park,” the cartoon where foul-mouthed little kids living in perpetual winter, constantly undermine their politically correct parents. The two former CU-Boulder students who created “South Park” also created “The Book of Mormon.” I was driving through the geographical reality, a national heritage area, wondering how the two satirists were getting away with mocking the sacred reality.

My mind-draft of the episode began with those shitty little kids suspecting their parents of marching with a subversive militia. The adults have been secretly preparing for a demonstration. They have been hailing the image of a uniformed leader and saluting an enemy flag.

The obscene little kids don’t care about plots to overthrow the government, or whatever. Their concern is the rigorous activity will introduce parents to the idea of discipline and this could lead to child discipline or worse – like, military school.

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A Long Time On The Colorado Plateau

What happened there anyway?

July 27, 2015 in El Turista,JOURNEYS,Rio Grande West | Comments (1)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

                            

Anasazi,

Anasazi,            

tucked up in clefts in the cliffs

 growing strict fields of corn and beans

 sinking deeper and deeper in earth

 up to your hips in Gods. . . .

 

–Gary Snyder

 

They are long gone, of course, eight centuries gone, but I always think they still own those crooked canyons and sunny alcoves where they built in sandstone and wrote on walls and signed their strange writs with hand prints. After the summer heat we drove to the Colorado Plateau looking for the goners, the absentee owners. We walked their intermittent ways in the sun and sat and read or talked by the lantern in the moon. Like good journalists and good tourists we came back with stories and pictures. There was a house on fire.

 

House on Fire Ruin, Mule Canyon

As if something still raged. As if it were telling us something.

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Singapore And Lee Kwan Yew

He died March 23 at age 91

March 23, 2015 in Strait of Malaca | Comments (1)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

Some Singaporeans can ride the Mass Rapid Transit trains without holding on. They can stand there texting or reading or even napping, confident they will not be toppled. It’s a matter of experience-based trust. They know the ride will be smooth, no jolting, just as they know the doors will open precisely on the platform marks and the electronic MRT cards will debit accurately according to time traveled.

So I tried it, standing without holding on, but lacked the faith (too many rides on the New York subways). I compromised by leaning casually against a silver pole and reading. I chose something that did not require turning a lot of pages, “The World in Pieces,” an essay by the late great global anthropologist Clifford Geertz.

Leaving the Outram Park station on the East-West line:

“Since 1945 we have gone from a situation in which there were perhaps 50 or so generally recognized countries, the rest of the world being distributed into colonies, protectorates, dependencies, and the like, to one in which there are nearly 200, and almost certainly more to come. The difference, of course, is the decolonization revolution.”

Approaching Tanjong Pagar, the enclave of Chinese migrant workers between the docks and the town in colonial days, later the constituency of Lee Kwan Yew:

“The revolution has been generally understood. . . as liberation from foreign domination. . . the last wave of a global thrust toward self-determination, the rule of like over like, the modernization of governance, the unification of state and culture, or whatever. . . “

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Looking For Culture In The Malls Of Singapore

Suppose the Asian city-state is the experiment that will survive

in Strait of Malaca | Comments (1)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

Shopping for cameras in Singapore would be a cultural experience, I thought, a story to take home like eating in a hawker market or posing among the eerie manikins depicting the Japanese surrender in 1945. I thought I might discover that salesmanship is a cultural thing, that sales techniques vary with cultural diversity, if there is any such thing in global merchandising. All this helped me rationalize the intention to resist buying a fine Lumix camera made in Japan.

Our first stop was luxurious Orchard Road, where the Ion complex features designer franchises (Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, Armani) with men in black suits at the doors and Takashimaya, a Japanese department store with a fine expansive international book store. The cameras were across Orchard in the many small shops of Lucky Plaza, a less exclusive mall, where salesmen in white shirts watched professionally for, I suppose, a telltale gleam in the eye of a wandering tourist. They were team players, quick to display the merchandise and ask opportunistic questions – How long you been in Singapore? This your first visit? How long you going stay? – tests of naiveté and finality of purchase. These places were too like Times Square in New York, I thought, no ethnological material here.

But now I was in the Jurong area on the southwest part of the island at the camera counter of a big retailer that served local people (it has its own rapid rail station, a bus terminal, and expressway access, against a backdrop of high colorful new residential buildings. The amiable and studious young sales clerk watched helpfully as I toyed with the camera. Her name tag said (probably) Ling Hong. She was Chinese.

Chinese? Singapore, off the tip of the Malay peninsula and across from Sumatra, is not anywhere near China and Ling was speaking English, not Mandarin. Identifying her with cultural certainty would require knowing “whatever it is that defines identity in borderless capitalism and the global village.” These were the words of the late Clifford Geertz of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, an alarming cultural anthropologist whose essay, “The World In Pieces,” I had been studying. If he didn’t know, after a lifetime of study, what defines culture, how in the world could I? Still, if you study history rather than anthropology it’s clear that discrimination came easy for Singapore strangers, among them:

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The Grass and God in America

Part 1, New Mexico and Oklahoma

October 28, 2014 in JOURNEYS,SOUTHERN JOURNAL | Comments (0)

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(IN SEVEN PARTS )

By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

As we, Patricia and I, began our drive in a Murano loaded with camping gear on a southern route from Crestone to Washington D.C. we established an informal division of blog labor, a reversal of occupational roles. She would be the journalist. I would be the judge. She would tell stories and keep track of things. I would hand down opinions. Soon I wanted to trade jobs because while she could enjoy the ride and report on whatever came down the pike, I would have to think.

 

Patricia

Patricia

 

I did not want to think about politics — the CNN audio on Sirius radio was all about “government shutdown” and “default.” I did not want to think about, on the other hand, the sad lot of ordinary rural Americans suffering out of sight of the politicians. After some judicial deliberation I chose another category of human behavior to observe and judge: namely, religion. After all, we were driving through the American bible belt. Pat liked this and suggested that on Sundays we should stop and go to church, especially to mega-church if we found one.

So, here we go. Let me first of all define religion so that we will not be detained along the way with argument. (more…)


A Hunger In The Land

Part Two, Oklahoma and The Cherokee Nation

October 28, 2013 in JOURNEYS,SOUTHERN JOURNAL | Comments (5)

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At a restaurant called EAT in neon letters three feet high I ordered chicken fried steak and gravy, which is the essence of the official Oklahoma State Meal, created by the legislature in 1988 to promote beef and other agricultural derivatives including corn bread and pecan pie. EAT was crowded, and many of the noon customers were voluminous. There is no famine in this land (Gen 26: 1).

Not at least the sort of famine that drove Abraham and then Jacob and his sons into Egypt, where God saved them. The biblical stories of manna from heaven and the miracle of the loaves and fishes require you to suspend disbelief. But what if the famine and the salvation were allegories? Abandoning their God and going down to Egypt, worshiping “the idols of Egypt,” the people were at last brought back, spiritually. Estrangement, being a stranger in a strange land, is the greatest suffering. That is why the prophets and some of the Psalms lament Babylon. Dwelling in exile, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel admonished, brings estrangement from God. Which is to say: Religion is cultural. Suppress it and a way of life declines and dies. It’s in the Book!

How then could Christians ignore these profound themes of the Pentateuch? How could they not know the evil of exiling a people? In Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in a set of dioramas at the Cherokee Heritage Center, we saw the tragedy of exile. In the 1830‘s the Cherokee people in the American southeast were dispossessed. Their remarkable acculturation — a high rate of literacy, adoption of constitutional government — did not save them from depredation by frontier Americans under protection of southern politicians. They, men-women-children, were rounded up by the hundreds and marched a thousand miles by U.S. soldiers. The tragedy is now called “The Trail of Tears.” Those who survived were settled here, in “Indian Country.” What remained of their traditions was suppressed. Their children were educated in places like the girl’s school that once stood on these grounds. (more…)