Scenic Arizona At Night

The Stars

June 14, 2017 in JOURNEYS,RV Tour,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. (more…)


South By South Park

A story served on a golden plate

June 11, 2017 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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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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The Builder Governor

Remembering Jack Campbell

December 10, 2016 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (1)

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By Larry Joseph Calloway

 

Jack M. Campbell / The autobiography of New Mexico’s first modern governor: as told to Maurice Trimmer with Charles C. Poling, University of New Mexico Press, 2016.

 

I was lucky to arrive in Santa Fe before its style, real estate and cultural conflicts went commercial and while Jack Campbell was still governor. The city has changed, and people like Campbell usually decline to run.

 

I also was lucky to meet Maurice Trimmer on that first day as a New Mexico political reporter. After working for UPI in several big city bureaus, I had requested this transfer to a smaller pond, but now I was totally lost. Santa Fe looked foreign. The Bataan Building did not look like a state capitol. The governor’s office looked deficient with a staff of only seven, including Trimmer, the press secretary.

 

Perhaps because he too had been the new UPI guy eight years earlier, Maury sympathetically began some on-the-job education. He invited me to accompany the governor to El Rito. The state under Campbell had started a vocational program there to make use of what was irrevocably designated as a teacher’s college in the state constitution. We saw young men and women learning hair styling and construction and auto mechanics.

 

On the drive back to Santa Fe in the limo the director of the new Board of Educational Finance said it would be logical to move the school from the rural village to the town of Espanola. The governor said, “Bill, your problem is you try to apply logic to Northern New Mexico.”

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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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