Category Archives: Fiction

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

Creative Juices in a Time of Commodification, Watered Down Drivel, Nothingness of American Fiction

The autumn of the patriarch, man, thinking hard about Marquez’s book, thinking back in lamentation bursts, going back in time when I met him at the University of Texas at Austin, and how he spoke to me as a young person, hopeful that I would be something as unique as he was, using what I told him was my West Texas/Chihuahua “magic realism,” founded on what I learned from his One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Those were the days, man — Kurt Vonnegut and Denis Levertov, Annie Dillard and Tim O’Brien, Robert Bly and Leslie Marmon Silko.  So much more in the verdant garden of my youth.

…as he discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth…

…the day shit is worth money, poor people will be born without an asshole

Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch

El Paso, Gateway to the Jornada del Muerto

It was a lie, really, belief — young, in my twenties, teaching English, working my ass off in graduate school, odd jobs in Juarez, lots of poetry readings, art shows, radical border rights militancy. In and out of dream, really, living in El Paso, in an old apartment complex that used to be a bordello Pancho Villa reportedly frequented, then turned into a TB sanitarium. I thought I would have been set up like some great American novelist, or ensconced in tenure playing the MFA game, or just a vagabond with a one hit, the one-hit wonder of it all. By thirty.

Long in the tooth, 61 coming barreling down next month. So many connected and fragmented thoughts, and a few dozen novels inside, despair, natural revulsion of Oprah or clique NYC publishing world, and fear of the Hollywoodization of every thought sputtering out of the masses. Here’s a weird scene: I vividly remember the peas and mashed potatoes Cormac McCarthy pushed around on his plate at a cafeteria in El Paso. Man, he was beginning to take words and his spare punctuation big, from the hollers of Tennessee, the muse of Faulkner’s Mississippi hardscrabble set in motion; now in Paseo del Norte, hiding out (sort of) looking for beat-up West Texas seclusion and novel inspiration. It was a brief hello, and on the surface he looked like insurance salesman or appliance store owner. I asked him if he’d come on board by showing show up to one of the undergraduate classes I was teaching at the university (UT-El Paso).

In a nutshell (mesquite bean) McCarthy basically said he didn’t do those things, things like throwing in for students, guiding aspiring writers, messing with his own art with others.

I saw Cormac (The Road, All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian) on a fat lazy chair on the Oprah Show talking to her in her giddiness about his punctuation – or lack thereof. Literary genius?

A Country Not for Old Men — Re-Birth Inside Transitions

How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Unfolding dementia at a young age? The shit I did and saw and believed, no Hollywood or any-Wood writer or director could dream of, script in, or even hang with me living it. This is not some blowhard release, or a “wow look at my experience now that I am turning 61 on February 6, the same day just another nemesis of mine, Ronald Reagan, was born” admonition. This is the reality of a Marxist living and working in “their house,” putting on those scrubs of their trades – English faculty, environmentalist, budding-aspiring novelist, photographer, newspaper journalist. No big laments, for sure, as my luck of the spin on the globe where I was borne probably has given so many incalculable advantages. Guaranteed, most consumers of story – book readers – are looking for simplicity in language, stories set in the love and hate, death and fear that encapsulates American writers, including McCarthy.

Anyone looking at my life seems like an antithetical process of literary creativity, and I am anything but what the average consumer of books wants as an author, but the kernel of what ends up on the page comes from the weight of tides and blurry sunsets and all the storms and heatwaves in between. Sweating through visions, and the hard ache of failure after failure, and the unbearable, sometimes, of witnessing the perversions of the world. We have to take stock in all of that messy emotional landscape. Being out of work this time around – sacked October 26 – and hunting for the crumbs of the capitalists is a process of bleary thinking, emotions lost in an oil slick of the leaky boat listing on the ocean of our discontent.

My birth: San Pedro, California, for my first six months in air, and then, the Azores, thanks to enlisted Air Force father. A real epigenetic reckoning, my first four years on the Portuguese islands, all that sea, those ocean chasms, earthquakes, the white-washed Catholic puritanism, the old fishers and young kids, the poverty and the USA using strips of land for Air Force machinations. I had a local woman – Maria Gloria de la Sauza — taking care of me and my sister, and we went to her family’s place on religious occasions, those memories hard-wired forever. Trapped in some dreams even half a century lived.

The festival of the bread each Saturday, the masses, the fishermen bringing in their hauls. Barracuda caught with piano wire. The weeping candles in black moldy chapels. The priests and the military men. Poverty, bellies protruding, rust, cobblestone roads, potato fields, hacking tuberculosis, heavy hips, skinny men, children like hermit crabs scampering about, the unbelievable heaven in that blue sky and the black ink of the Pacific. Nine hundred miles from Lisbon.

Exactly the spring of my existence – aunties and uncles in Germany and Scotland and England. I remember those trips over the sea, prop planes, the absolutely magical motion of Douglas DC-7’s flying the friendly skies of Pan Am and Eastern Airlines. Imagine, four years old, and one of the four prop engines catching on fire as we were coming back to the Azores. Imagine a time, 1961, when the spring of a child lasted with the touch of fingers on the pages of books, in the hard breathing of hikes, walking, outside until dusk, rain without umbrellas, seas and beaches beckoning youth without the paranoia of the 21st century.

Early Light, Early Seedling Growth

I am treading water here, in the night off the coast of Scotland, maybe, I can only imagine the reader says. It’s night, near Dundee, in a cove near Abroath. Around 1963. Real people expecting a five-year-old to swim, not panic, and see the world from the tide in and out.

Spring for the child as I headed to Maryland, and then, Paris, France, as my Air Force father went US Army, a warrant officer pip on his shoulders, and, a family of four in Saint Germain en-Laye, living with other families from other countries as part of that SHAPE — Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Vietnam War, the French and Yanks, the old WW II tunnels, chateaus as movie theaters, the Algerians living in the sub-basement, languages, competitive teens, and I flittered through those times young, visiting the old ones. Always around adults.

Fast forwarding to 2018, from, oh, say 1986 El Paso, then to Merida, Yucatan, and then hitchhiking to Panama, or, say, to 1992 when I decided to go to Vietnam to push the pulse of the American lie out of my system. At any point in the sinew strength of my late teens, through to 2001, the lies were compounding quickly, as I was given to confidence and pushed-up hope as part of the barrier reef or those malpais lava flows near Warm Springs, New Mexico keeping me from succeeding as I had imagined.

I had a New York agent, man, Jack Ryan (what a name, uh?) and he was old school, as the drafts of those books I wrote – five – came back to me stinking of Pall Malls and filled up with chicken scratch edits and comments. He was a tireless worker, and for me, he was more than just a fan. He had a deep regard for my writing. He too was up against the vagaries of Vassar and Brown University publishing house readers and the market of books, tied to the little swath of being New York hip to the incantations of literary fiction.

What a long row to hoe, and, alas, one book, a collection of short stories, thematically tied together by the Vietnam War tangentially, well, he had a big bite, finally, from Picador Press an imprint of MacMillan. I almost got the book sold – Eyes Wide Open: Vietnam Memories. The deal was a committee of five, Ryan said, had the voting role in a thumbs up or down vote on the book. The publisher of Picador Press said he wanted the book, but he was voted down, three to two, not in favor of going with the project.

The reader has to understand that the publisher accepted the manuscript, essentially saying he was all for publishing it. We lived on that arc of that humanity for a few weeks, but then Jack Ryan got the news that the book project went south.

New York Literary World Gone Sour

I know, I know, again, in the scheme of things globally this is not big deal. Rejection from literary circles. A dime a dozen. We’ve been told as writers that it’s luck, being in the right manuscript pile, or knowing a friend of a friend of a friendly editor; or to just pull yourself up by your boot straps and DIY and self-publish and manage a web site and e-commerce account. Compared to the daily struggle of the Pacific Nation Kiribati, for example, which is disappearing quickly as sea level rises, I get it about “counting my lucky stars.” I always come at the world from that foundation – woe is me can’t cut it in a world of absolutely insane suffering and perverted wholesale abuse on a massive scale. But from the bowels of an artist already way outside the mainstream looking to get a book (or several) schlepped by editors at New York publishers, put into their ubiquitous mainstream fiction or literary fiction categories, well, every disappointment is magnified.

Get this, though – I’m going on age 61, and the last time I attempted hawking a novel was 2001, when I ended up moving from El Paso to Spokane. Odd feeling indeed, in 2001, giving up the quest. I still wrote/write, still published/publish, but not books.

It (book in hand) came pretty darn close, and if you put me into an internet search, “Paul Haeder and Reimagining Sanity,” you’ll get a project that “almost” turned into a book. Well, it’s a book, in pdf form, but not on Amazon’s top 1 million list. We have to Fast Forward from 2001 in Spokane to 2015 on the outskirts of Vancouver. I was contacted by a publisher to write a book based on my musings and comments tied to my work at Dissident Voice, this political on-line magazine going on 18 years.

Heady stuff, the book jack recommendations:

Paul brings out a certain raw, emotional side to his subjects and issues. You never can predict what he is going to ask, and his ability to cut right to the point makes his writing an unpredictable thrill ride to the heart and the truth.
―Bart Mihailovich, environmental writer and advocate

Try reading him … with no allegiances to the elites and powerful. If you need a house call for quick intellectual triage, pick up a book of Haeder’s and dive deep into its layers. At the other end of the journey, you will be baptized in a new wonder of showing no fear, fearing no one.
― Charles Orloski is a working class poet living in Taylor, Pennsylvania, who writes regularly for the Hollywood Progressive and other venues

Haeder’s topic is always the world, and Haeder is the filter through which the world has to pass: rhythmic outburst, lyric language, howling at the moon. When other authors have forgotten to be outraged by the outrageous, Haeder has been a North Star who says, “You gotta look at this! You won’t believe…” and fill in here the absurd and unimaginable bullshit of the universe.
― Michael Strelow, author of Henry, A Novel of Beer and Love in the West; and The Greening of Ben Brown. Kesey is his non-fiction book. Upcoming novel is The Moby-Dick Blues.

Paul Haeder does not have a politically correct bone in his body nor is he willing to rent any! A book by Paul will bring reaction from readers, pro and con, but you can bet that it will be a book people will read with interest.
― Angie Tibbs, Dissident Voice, Senior Editor

It’s a hell of a publishing house that went belly up after just three years, but a dozen or more years the dream of the publisher, Kermit Heartsong:

Tayenlane Publishing
Reimagining Sanity: Voices Outside the Echo Chamber

The belly was exposed by the publisher’s distributor – you have to get these books put into book shows, wholesale book distribution points. The distributors (more and more middlemen) can cut a jugular on a small publishing house, and that’s what happened to Tayen Lane Press. But before the plug was pulled, Kermit the publisher solicited me back in 2015, and I was at/in/on a really bad place: going through a divorce, out of the Vancouver house we had just purchased, away from foster twin boys, and my dog left with my soon-to-be ex. I ended up in a doublewide trailer (no complaints about mobile homes) with a bipolar out-of-work heavy equipment operator, who was flipping out half the time, from euphoria to suicidal tendencies. I was working as a substitute PK12 teacher in several rural school districts, and this fellow I will call Rylee, was drinking all day, sleeping around with two or three women, and the place was heated with a wood-burning stove.

Another roommate was brought on, and a stinky bulldog with flatulence (don’t they all have this problem?) and leaky orifices (ditto) was also part of the mix, and the roommate’s always-present girlfriend.

Man, bonfires out on his five acres until 2 a.m. Beer and tequila and all-night pyres and yelling and moaning about life, as Rylee and the other roommate moved around all this slash from a tree clearing project with the younger roommate’s fully appointed excavator. Drunk, loud, 24/7 cigarette smoking, and I was pounding away at this manuscript, teaching kids and wondering where the hell I’d be in five months.

After two months, I had to sneak out on a Sunday, filling my van with my shit and just skipping out so a confrontation between me and between Rylee didn’t take place. I wanted to kick his ass, but that sort of pile-driver attitude would have gotten me, I believe, handcuffed and charged with assault, a job killer in the fields of education and then a new job as social worker for vulnerable populations.

Reimagining Insanity or Sanity – More Voices

Okay, so I have this anti-memoir going over at LA Progressive, titled, Terminal Velocity: Man Lost of Tribe. That’s thirty-eight up in that series – pieces all over the place, most tied to commentary on the state of the world, the state of my sanity, of my self in a world of pain. Make that 39, since this one now goes up as such. Plenty of railing against the machine, and plenty of angst and polemics.

I have this conversation all the time – some people say they’d cut a finger off to read my stuff, to see my name up on some marquee, my books turned into movies. Some want to see me elevated, and then, most people I run into could care less about lives lived and still being lived, that is, lives unaccomplished or partially gelled. Most people are not interested in struggle, struggling people and the ones who either never got the brass ring or flubbed it on the last merry-go-round. This is a time of celebrity infatuation, and no matter which side of the thin political line they stand, young and old care more and more about what’s in Twitter-land or on Facebook.

We are all navel gazers, now that Amazon Fascism Publishing has everyone set up as a budding multi-book best seller.

Shit, everyone’s a writer, isn’t it so, and everyone is a movie maker, star, and prognosticator and hero or heroine in his or her own mind. Plus, the sheer number of books published, remaindered, cut up and used for insulation, it’s way beyond what the mind can fathom.

Whether a life half resolved is interesting or not, or whether anyone cares about the hustle of living and beating out books and trying to hawk them, those are questions that run through many of our minds.

Lee Marvin and A New Dirty Dozen 

I have this screenplay, Just a Coupla’ Chancers. Set in Arizona,1980s. I wrote it while being a reporter in Southern Arizona for a small conglomerate of newspapers. My byline was in the Bisbee Daily Review among other publications.

Simple stuff, a redneck cowboy along the border dealing with more and more incursions – crossers – into his state and country and on his property. Well, he is hard-bitten, but he finds a heart in the story. Salvadorans dead in the desert, their coyotes or smugglers long gone.

The main character has to make a decision: three children, 8, 12, 15, make it to his property. They are the only survivors, and, well, to make a screenplay short, the coyotes are looking for them, and the rancher has to hide them and then smuggle them away. He’s got the border patrol, local authorities, the crime bosses involved in smuggling, his family and the three siblings’ uncle looking for them and going after him.

This was based on some reporting I did around real people who perished in the desert, right where I was set as a beat reporter. I ended up having a few drinks with Lee Marvin in Tucson, and, after some time, I got his address up in the foothills of the Catalinas. Man, we played tennis, I had lemonade, and I met his wife, and, Lee took the screenplay.

I’ve written about that story, meeting and drinking with the Dirty Dozen’s Colonel, before pitching the story. He ended up dying early, and suddenly, and I ended up going to his widow wondering how I might help, and inquiring about the screenplay, of course. She told me Lee was interested in the main part, as I thought he would. She told me he respected the script, from a young guy, resonated with him — seemed pretty set in reality. Poignant, too.

I’ve written a short story, fiction, about that moment in time, fictionalizing some of the stuff.

Desperados and I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Lo and behold, here I am, desperate, held to a standard at 61, going to interview after interview trying to muscle out another four or five years working hard in the land of usury and death capital. I just pulled out three dusty manuscripts, three novels, one of which was my graduate thesis I defended.

I’m scrambling now working to get some energy back and rework one of them. This is a story again based on someone real, a woman who had been looking for both silver and treasure in the Caballo Mountains near Hot Springs, now Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I spent hours with her in her small apartment in downtown El Paso, and she was in her 80s then, in 1987. She was obsessed with silver and that cache of stolen gold and other treasures from the Spanish. I even took her up the mountain, on crazy dirt roads, looking for something, reading her map, but never finding the remnants of the mine she had been working on for more than 50 years, on her own.

I have a discredited reporter ending up in the story. Someone who answered an advertisement in the El Paso Times from a woman looking for a ghost writer to get her story in print. The real woman was even hip to the possibility of her story spanning 80 decades turned into a movie.

Her life was amazing, having grown up in Mexico City in a middle-class family, her father a mid-level bureaucrat and politician. When she was 14, she met a 29-year-old millionaire from San Francisco. He had documents and map and some bibles. He was a frozen food magnate, and he was looking for someone to translate the Latin and the Spanish.

He met my protagonist, and the young woman – turning 15 – heard the stories of silver and gold, heard this millionaire’s gold lust.

Rebecca was 16 when she married him, and they ended up back in San Francisco, and then her new husband took her out into the middle of nothingness in New Mexico, overlooking Elephant Butte, and there she learned how to be a miner’s wife, living with hardened men, learning how her new husband had been bitten by the silver-gold-treasure bug.

Six years into it, they had hit a few lines of silver. Seven years into their mining, a wall collapsed in the mine and took down Rebecca’s husband. He lingered in a hospital bed for eight weeks. His final wish was for her to continue looking for the famed treasure and silver.

For fifty years, Rebecca looked for the cache. She ended up teaching Spanish to high schoolers, and every summer she got the supplies and the few men she trusted to head on up to the mountains.

That’s how she spent her summers, for fifty years, until she hit 75. I met her when she was 82.

Now my book, Woman of the Mountain, has my reporter, a former college football star teaching community college journalism classes. I have a sheriff who has been hiding his homosexuality all his life. I have an old Mexican miner whose father once was on Rebecca’s mining team.

I take the reader back to Mexico City, into the mountains, into Rebecca’s life, and the short time with my African American journalist. The mountain speaks, and the story revolves around her disappearance, and the search for her. My journalist was the last one to see her. The miner ends up missing.

It’s literary fiction, and, well, the story is certainly compelling for today’s reader, and it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to imagine the book turned into a screenplay/movie. Selma Hayek, Tommy Lee Jones, Denzel Washington.

In one sense, non-fiction is stranger than fiction, and those months I spent with Rebecca, hearing her stories, and that time in the mountains with her (she was hacking and coughing, and I thought she was going to die), and subsequent times in the mountains on my own with a decent pistol and Winchester lever action, well, I wrote the book, draft after draft, and sent it out to Jack Ryan, the East Coast agent.

It’s funny the parallel of looking for caches of Spanish gems and artwork and gold, and my own quest to make something of myself in the world of fiction. Shit, my master’s thesis adviser, James Crumley (The Last Good Kiss & Dancing Bear) had a lot of faith in me. I was the go-to guy, newspaper journalist, dive master, a guy in his thirties who went to Mexico and Central America. A guy who did some shady things with my Mexican counterparts. Something wild in me, Crumley could tell. He ended up back in Missoula, Montana, fired from the University of Texas for things unbecoming a writing teacher (or that’s what they said . . . you know, drinking, some lines of coke, partying with students).

So, here’s this book. Staring at me as I finish this article. Big fat old 430-page manuscript. I touch the pages and it’s as if 30 years melt away, the light brighter above me here in Estacada, Oregon, than anytime thus far, more than 1,600 miles away from the center of my writing life, in West Texas,  El Paso, Merida, Yucatan . . . Chihuahua.

Yet that old rush is like morphine inside the spleen, and the imagination, mine, races like the old days of Mexico, West Texas, stories, tequila and coke and all-night sessions talking about story, and sometimes craft.

Crumley’s dead . . . some of my friends, dead . . . Jack Ryan, dead, and the artist friends, many are dead . . . Rebecca dead, wave after wave of memory like the aura borealis in my head, pulsating in dream, and now, as I take this manuscript and look at the pages, I am ready for one more push, one more bite of a dream to get something going, just another chancer, me, believing in some magic, like Ornette Coleman and Charlie Hayden playing away into the night.

Her story, Rebecca’s, will be the same this time around, but the plot and action and sequence will be different. What do 31 years do to a creative world, a novel, one based on some real hard things I heard and saw, but morphed into the dream of a storyteller giving paint and hue to the black and white memory of people?

I know I’ll open up with the jail cell, and the lines from Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston, Dobbs, Curtain and Howard in the Treasure of Sierra Madre. I know I will shift points of view, and go back and forth in time and place. I know this story — mine, Rebecca’s, the mountain’s —  has never been told, never been written, and I push ahead now, treading water, standing on the line of creativity and marketing, looking for an agent, and in between despair and fear.

When you have something to say and a way of saying it, there is so much to lose. Like a welterweight picking up gloves after 20 years out of the ring.

In a scene later made famous by the movie version of Treasure of Sierra Madre, the prospectors run into a group of shady-looking, heavily-armed Mexicans, who they suspect are bandits.

Indeed, the Mexicans are bandits and the meeting ends up in a gunfight. But just before the shooting starts, the leader of the bandits tells the prospectors that they are federales — the local “mounted police.”

Dobbs says skeptically of that claim: “If you are the police, where are your badges?”

In B. Traven’s book, the bandit leader replies angrily (and colorfully):

“Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabron and ching’ tu madre!”

Email me, Paul K. Haeder, @  haederpaul (at) gmail (dot) com if you have an agent or director in mind, don’t you know! Really!

The First Thanksgiving

No, really, it isn’t any trouble at all. I’m thrilled that you’re interested, because I love to tell the story of this place; I feel the story is part of its healing quality, you know, and that is why you’re here, why we’re all here. And it wasn’t always like you see it now—by no means! We had to work at it; we really had to create it from nothing, but we did it because we believed in what we were doing, and, you know, when you really believe, the universe makes a way…

I think it helped that we were all, the group of us who started it, of truly like mind. We’d been meeting at conferences for years; we’d been talking and thinking and hearing about all these wonderful ideas for a different way of life, as things just kept getting worse and worse in the world–you know, the wars, and the destruction of nature, and the terrible violence in the cities–and everyone was thinking the same thing: there’s got to be a better way! We need to stop just talking about it and actually start to live it. For the sake of the planet!

So our minds were definitely starting to form a gestalt; we were all thinking along the same lines, and when we talked about it we discovered we all agreed on the basic ideas, and it was finally simply a matter of when, not if.

(Of course, the other thing it turns out we all had in common, which some of the others who tried to “do” sustainable living around the same time didn’t, was investments. Which we were also savvy enough to liquidate before the Crash—that’s the “creative class” for you, I like to say!)

Now, even though we had been urban or suburban people all our lives, we knew that to create the kind of community we really wanted, we needed land. I mean, humans are really village dwellers, you know, that’s how we’re meant to live. We made such a mistake throwing away all those thousands of years of social and spiritual evolution for a life of high-rises and traffic and concrete! And I say this even though I used to love my little local café, and going to the movies or the theater, and the museums and so forth… But really, we felt the cities were a terrible mistake for humanity. Of course, that mistake is evident to a lot of people now, but most of them are trapped. They don’t have the money or the education to escape, even temporarily—and we learned, once we took our rose-colored glasses off and actually started building this place, that sustainable living really requires both. Someday it may be different, it may be accessible to everyone, and, of course, we all pray for that day, and focus our ceremonies on the hope that humanity is moving towards that understanding, but in the meantime, we simply try to serve as an example of what is possible.

Later, of course, we’ll take the full tour, so you can see all our beautiful straw bale and cob houses, and Irv will explain the water system and the solar system—I mean the solar heating, of course—and the rest of it; it’s really quite fascinating! It required a lot of planning and outlay of resources to set it all up, and this was happening right around the time of the coup, just after the Crash, so we had to work out all sorts of exotic deals with the contractors, some of which were almost like guerrilla actions, you know, because, as you recall, everybody was being ordered to spend money in certain places in order to keep the economy going, and peoples’ bank accounts were all being frozen if there wasn’t enough activity on them, and, well, you remember! It was chaos! But we’d been predicting something like that would happen, so we were readier than most. It helps to have a financial analyst or two in your core group, let me tell you!

But, you know, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself here. People always want to know how we chose this particular place. I’d like to say we did it all by some process of divination, feng shui or whatever, but, of course, if I’m honest, I have to tell you there were more practical concerns involved! You noticed the old sign on the road in from the airstrip? So you know that this is—well, was—“reservation” land. You see, during the crisis, a number of laws were suspended, for economic reasons, of course; I’m sure you remember, but most people didn’t know that one of them was actually the inviolability of the Indian reservation lands! The government, even as it was falling apart, was trying to make a huge land grab. We were on the side of the tribal people, of course—they had taught us so much; they always presented at our conferences, and many of our ideas of sustainability came from them! So, through some contacts that one member of our group had with this tribe because he used to come up here to hike and fish, we offered the native people a deal. We would buy up the land, keep it out of the hands of the government, take a small piece for our community, and, of course, all the native people living there would retain the right to inhabitation in perpetuity—it was all in a contract, and the lawyer who drew it up was even part Native American!

We thought it was a really perfect solution. Especially because, while we had all the technological ideas of sustainable construction and solar power, and composting toilets, and bio-dynamic farming and so on, we had been city dwellers for so long—generations, in some cases—and we all had our separate careers, and our own apartments, and so we really had no idea how to actually live in community, you know! We thought we would need to learn from the ancient tribal people in our midst just to survive in this new context. So we saw having them here as really an asset for us.

Well, as it turns out, it was a much more complicated situation… There were only about ten native families left living on the land when we came here. Three of them had all their young men in prison or the National Guard. Ironically, one of the mothers told me her son was actually patrolling the city where I lived, during the riots just before the coup. The Crash and all the fighting basically cut him off from going back home, although at least he was still able to send some money… But frankly, I have never seen people living in poorer conditions than those families, and I’ve been to Africa! And the drinking! It seemed like everybody that was still there was drunk all the time! And the fighting! I almost despaired when I saw it; I said to myself, how naïve I was about these people! They’re a mess! Who knows if we can learn anything from them at all?

But you can’t push the river, as they say. The land was bought, the deed was done; we had gotten out of our city lives just in time, and couldn’t go back; now we had to make this work. We had to deal with what was there. We had to see what would come of it.

So we started out meeting with the families, just to try to make friends, you know, and letting them know, in spite of our reservations—no pun intended!—that we really respected their culture and wanted to learn about it. The response we got initially was, I have to say, somewhat mercenary. It was basically: “that’s great, but what can you do for us?” And we had to explain again, well, we’re letting you stay here, remember? And we’ll pay for what we need, just like we always used to pay the presenters at our conferences—quite well, actually…

It was a terribly slow process. We hit a lot of walls just trying to find out who were the right people in the tribe to talk to; one person would tell us one thing, and somebody else another; it got really tiring. We couldn’t find anyone who was interested in helping us with spiritual knowledge, or ancient wisdom, or anything like that. Everybody we talked to just wanted to complain to us about something somebody else in the tribe had done, and tell us not to give them any money! I think at some point the light dawned on me that what we were learning about village life was exactly the opposite of what we wanted to learn: we were learning about deviousness, and manipulation, and resentment and backstabbing—it was horrible!

Then the first winter came, and suddenly things changed. With what was going on after the coup, I don’t think we realized how totally cut off we were going to be, and the builders still hadn’t built much, and were working out a lot of kinks in terms of the techniques they were trying that, of course, no one anticipated at the time. That was when, in an odd sort of way, the Indians really came to our rescue. I mean, they had learned to survive with nothing for so long! When our truck broke down in sub-zero weather, one of the women—the women, mind you! fixed it just like that. When our stores froze because we hadn’t dug the root cellar properly, we found out they had a whole garage full of macaroni and cheese and other army surplus stuff, that their kids in the Guard had been sort of appropriating and bringing home on leave—in truckloads! It wasn’t the organic produce we’d been hoping to be living on all winter, but it was food! (I mixed sundried tomatoes in with the macaroni and cheese and got to quite like it!)

And then there was the Dramatic Rescue, as I call it, when five of our little group of pioneers went ice fishing and totally miscalculated the depth of the ice! My goddess! These two old men we’d never seen doing anything but sitting in front of their broken-down trailer drinking beer appeared from nowhere and got them all out before they had time to feel the cold, as my husband said. And never said a word the whole time, just disappeared after they’d built a fire and dried them out and dropped them off back at our log house. And meanwhile their grandsons pulled enough fish out of the hole in the lake to feed us all dinner that night!

There must have been a dozen other little incidents like that that winter. We got through, miraculously! And we were very grateful to them, of course, and tried to pay each time they helped us, and they wouldn’t take anything, so we didn’t know what else to do.

But I think in the end we realized that we’d been on the wrong track with the idea that we could learn about community from the native people. Because what we saw was that the community only kicked in when you were on the verge of real catastrophe. Then everybody put aside their grievances and suspicions and helped out. Once we learned that, we saw there was really nothing else they could teach us. It made more sense to focus on trying to follow our sustainability plan and manage our assets well so that this place could give us all a good income. That was something we did know how to do. I mean, it seems obvious perhaps, but who wants to live on the verge of catastrophe all the time? Our aim was to be sustainable and comfortable.

After that winter, things slowly improved every year. We learned from our mistakes, believe me! By the time the national situation stabilized enough, with the whole GovCorp reorganization, martial law was lifted so people could travel, and money was circulating again, we were ready to open the retreat center. Within a few years we could bring in spiritual teachers from all over the world; we’ve had Maoris, Bushmen, Mayans—although, of course, the amount of fighting going on in all these different parts of the world, and the restriction of flights because of the Climate Laws makes that a very expensive process! But such wisdom is really a priceless commodity, and our guests realize this, and know how fortunate they are to be able to afford it.

Anyway, that was when we finally figured out how to work out a mutually beneficial relationship with the native people here. We needed staff, to take care of the guests; they needed jobs. At first, we said, we could only pay very little, but as things picked up there would be good jobs, and more jobs—tending the biodynamic gardens, and repairing the lodge, keeping the vehicles running! And so on. And laundry, of course, there’s always a lot of laundry! Being a laundress here is skilled labor! We sun dry everything; there’s a real art to the way our sheets are done that you will experience for yourself…

In the last couple of years things have really taken off for us, particularly since GovCorp liquidated the old national parks, and set up the Extraction Zones there, so that people have had to come to private reserves like this even to experience nature, much less natural living! Well, it soon became obvious that we really needed more land to expand the resort, so we said to the families: look, most of you are living on the grounds already, let’s just acknowledge the reality of the situation; if you let us build on the land your few old trailers are still on, we’ll take care of it, we’ve shown we know the real value of it, after all, and you can live in beautiful, sustainable houses that we’ll build for you, (although not in exactly the same spot, of course, so you’re not on top of the guests) and you can just work for us to pay them off! No strings attached! How about that?

A few individuals balked at this, and mentioned wanting to look at the contract again, but most of the people recognized a good deal when they saw one. There wasn’t much choice, really, and we could have been much less generous if we’d wanted to; they knew what it was like in the outside world… One or two of the men ran off, grumbling about how they wouldn’t take it lying down, and we should watch out because they had fought in the Mid-East Wars, and knew about armed resistance, and all this very primitive talk, frankly. That was a brief scare; we did purchase a few guns and keep them around the place after that, but we’ve never had any problems, and we’ve never seen them again from that day to this. Which just goes to show, this land is truly blessed!

So that’s our story. I hope I haven’t tired you out—I know how dreary that flight over the Wasteland is. So sad, to think of all that land poisoned by one reactor in a single incident. At least it makes you truly appreciate havens like this one, yes? And that is what we are here for. To make sure you get the healing and renovation you need during your time with us. Just leave all your worries behind! You’re in the Running Brook house, I believe? You just follow that path over the little bridge. I’ll have Akwesane bring your bags.

The Pied Piper of Shenanigonia: A Tale of Guns and Rats

Once upon a time, on the banks of a great river in the north of our world there lay a land called Shenanigonia.  The citizens of Shenanigonia were honest folk who lived in peace in their stone houses.  The years went by and everyone prospered and lived healthy lives.  Then one day, an extraordinary thing happened to disturb the peace.  Shenanigonia had always had guns, plenty to tell the truth, but the people had never felt they were in danger.  Why?  Well, of course, because the elders had always solved the gun problem in the usual way — by regulating them.  Suddenly the guns had begun to multiply. In the end the wave of guns swarmed over the whole land unleashing an epidemic of death and destruction.  The terrified citizens hoping to free themselves from the plague of violence joined together in gun control defense committees.

Meanwhile on the other side of the land of Shenanigonia, in the town of Corruptina, The National Gun Association, known by the common folk as the N.G.A., was holding a meeting of the Board of Directors.  The president said, “These gun control committees are multiplying like rats we must come up with a plan.”  Just then there was a loud knock on the door of the N.G.A.  The door was opened and there stood a tall thin man dressed in brightly colored clothes, with a long feather in his hat, and waving a gold pipe at them. He then spoke in a thunderous voice, “I’ve freed other lands from gun control organizations and for $10 million in gold, I’ll rid you of yours.”  “$10 million!” exclaimed the Board of Directors, “We will give you $1 million only if you succeed”. At once the stranger hurried away saying: “It’s late now, but by dawn tomorrow, there won’t be any gun control organizations left in Shenanigonia.”

The sun was still well below the horizon when the sound of a pipe wafted through the streets of the land.  The piper made his way through the streets and as he passed the gun control offices and their banks they all vanished into thin air.  By the time the sun was high in the sky there was not a single gun control organization left in the land.  There was a great celebration taking place at the headquarters of the N.G.A.   When the piper came to claim his reward, the N.G.A president exclaimed: “$10 million in gold? Never!”

“Give me at least $1 million in gold” cried the pied piper angrily.

The President screamed back: “The gun controllers are all out of business now, so be grateful for $100,000, or you’ll not get even that amount…”

His eyes filled blood red with rage, the pied piper pointed a finger at the president of the N.G.A. and said: “You will bitterly regret ever breaking your promise,” and then he vanished. A shiver of fear ran through the room, but the President said: “Don’t worry; we have saved over $9 million.”

That night, freed from the gun controllers, the N.G.A. Board of Directors slept soundly with their favorite pistol tucked under their pillows.  At dawn the strange sound of piping was heard only by some.  Drawn as if by magic, they came into the streets: the N.G.A. Board of Directors, their lobbyists, firearms industry and corporate backers all flocked at his heals to the sound of his strange piping.  The long procession soon left the town and made its way through the woods and across the forest until it reached the Washingtonian Obeliskic Monumentous. When the piper arrived at the foot of the Monumentous he played the pipe even louder still and a huge door slowly opened. In trouped the piper with everyone behind him and then the door slammed shut.  A few moments later the Obeliskic Monumentous shot up into the sky like a bullet and just as it disappeared into space the sky exploded in brilliant colors of red, white and blue.

The Yasukuni Gambit

Fresh off his election victory, Japanese Prime Minister Kobe as well as several of his cabinet members and top party officials, visited the Yasukuni Shrine outside Tokyo. As usual, reaction across Asia was hostile to the PM’s visit to a shrine that honored Class A war criminals that had been part of an Imperial Japanese war machine that had slaughtered and enslaved millions in the run up to and throughout World War II. Nowhere was the anger more sharply felt than in Korea, whose 1100 years as an independent kingdom had been brutally ended by the Japanese in 1910, followed by a harsh occupation until the end of World War II.

This time reaction was even more strident than usual, probably aggravated by the fact that the new Japanese PM had been speaking ominously about Japan taking a more aggressive military stance and their recent joint military maneuvers with the US, South Korea and Australia had been the largest ever seen in the North Pacific. The heated rhetoric from Pyongyang had been dismissed as the ranting of their crackpot leader and the heightened military readiness and missile tests he had ordered had caused the normal condemnations from the US and it allies but little real alarm.

At 5 am three days after the PM’s visit, North Korea launched three Taepodong-2 missiles at the Yasukuni site. All the missiles struck their targets and their high explosive warheads totally demolished the Yasukuni Shrine. Without waiting to organize a joint response with its US ally, Japan immediately launched a missile counter-strike on the North Korean capital, Pyongyang,  as well as at the nuclear power plant at Yongbyon. The reactor was seriously damaged and a massive radiation leak ensued…there were serious doubts as to whether a complete nuclear meltdown could be avoided.

Meanwhile, the South Koreans sank two North Korean submarines that it claimed were trying to sneak special forces into its territories and the US placed all its forces in the region on high alert and ordered the Sixth Fleet aircraft carrier group to sail directly towards North Korea.

Then it happened! North Korea launched three more missiles that detonated 25km over Japan, including one near Okinawa, home to massive US bases. These were nuclear-tipped and the resulting electro-magnetic pulses had the effect of shutting down most of the Japanese electrical grid, caused extensive damage to the electronic infrastructure and, more importantly, degraded radar, defense and surveillance systems.

Within seconds of the atmospheric detonation of these missiles, twelve nuclear missiles were launched at Japan. Half of them were aimed at US bases in Okinawa and the others at Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as well as Fukushima and two other nuclear power plants. Shorter range Rodong-1 nuclear-armed missiles were fired at Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon and the nuclear power plants at Hanul, Wolseong and Hanbit. Both Japan and South Korea were left with their countries’ major population and industrial centers devastated, a crippled electrical grid and a massive nuclear contamination problem.

Simultaneously, another attack was launched on the US Sixth Fleet involving five nuclear armed Taepodong-2 missile used in air burst mode. The first two detonated 60km from the carrier group to blind and degrade the defense systems and the others managed to get over the middle of the fleet before detonating at an elevation of 2 km. The carrier survived but was incapacitated and most of its supporting surface ships were sunk or badly damaged.

The North Koreans had used the majority of its entire nuclear arsenal in a decisive, preemptive attack against its arch-enemies; thereby unleashing a series of cataclysmic events that would rearrange power arrangements in the region at the price of its own demise as a state. All its major population centers and military installations were soon obliterated by US nuclear and conventional missiles and bombs, but not before launching a devastating swan song second-strike!

Long range Hwasong-14 missiles were fired from their launch pads in the North Pyongan mountains at Hawaii,  Alaska, the US North-West and the Darwin naval base in Australia. The new solid-fuel rockets had been test fired and achieved an altitude in excess of 2,800 kilometers. Western analysts had calculated that they had the range to reach the US West Coast but they had not realized that several of the new missiles were already operational and armed with nuclear warheads. One of the missiles, which had been aimed at Silicon valley, was shot down by the US missile defenses but Pearl Harbor, Anchorage, Seattle and Portland were hit, in addition to Darwin. The warheads were only in the 30 kiloton range but casualties exceeded 700,000.

But perhaps the greatest surprise was delivered by a “Suicide Trawler” that launched 4 Taepodong-2 missiles from 550 kilometers off the California coast at San Francisco,  Los Angeles and San Diego, whose massive naval base received two strikes. The civilian and military casualties exceeded a million deaths and several times that number of injured. The fact that the trawler was almost immediately sunk proved to be of little consolation to the victims and their families.

With over ten million North Korean casualties, millions of survivors flooded into China and the Chinese government virtually annexed a buffer zone extending 100 kilometers into North Korean territory and took the lead in the relief efforts and the reconstruction of the parts of North Korea not badly affected by radiation.

The actions of the North Korean regime would come to be known as the Yasukuni Gambit because of the incident that had triggered this critical chain of events, with its enormous geopolitical consequences. In hindsight, the North Korean situation had been a powder keg that could have been set off by any number of events, including the frequent simulated attacks on the country by the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Japan was finished as a regional power and indeed as an industrial power. Few tears were shed for her in a region that had suffered greatly under Japanese occupation up to and including World War II. South Korea similarly lay in ruins, a shattered shell of its former self. The American public were shocked that a third rate power like North Korea could cause so much damage to the US homeland as well as the destruction of an aircraft carrier group. The US voting public lost a great deal of its appetite for their politicians’ belligerence towards Russia and China.

Australians also reacted with shock and their outrage was soon channeled towards the ruling party that had been so enthusiastic about following the US in threatening North Korea. The subsequent election saw them resoundingly defeated.  The Taiwanese people voted overwhelmingly for association with Mainland China under a One Country, Two Systems arrangement, similar to Hong Kong and Macau. Other countries in the region became more reticent about hosting US forces and antagonizing China, not wanting to suffer South Korea’s fate as a nuclear battleground.

The US tried to find some strategic advantage from the situation; but with its two biggest regional allies, Japan and South Korea in ruins, its Pivot to Asia had suffered a serious setback. It would try to get the Philippines to take over the role of leading US Asian ally by promoting a color revolution against President Duterte, but with its much smaller and less sophisticated economic base and geographic location being so far south, the Philippines proved a poor replacement for the loss of Japan and South Korea. The result was that Russia and China, in tandem, came to clearly dominate the North Pacific.

Ironically, it was China that would benefit most by leading the rising Asian manufacturing states in making up for the lost industrial capacity of Japan and South Korea. The US, wounded by the loss or extensive damage to several of its cities and the smashing of the aura of invincibility of their naval power, was beset by a wave of populist movements that saw a large number of isolationists elected to the Congress and Senate. On the bright side, the decontamination and rebuilding efforts on the west coast stimulated the American domestic, non-military industry and created millions of jobs.

Another blessing to emerge from the tragedy was that the reality of a nuclear exchange and the resultant tremendous loss of life and property spurred the major powers to get back to the negotiating table to pursue arms control treaties that would prevent any repetition of the tragedy. This was supported by the fact that with the clear weakening of the United States and out of fear of suffering the fate of South Korea and Japan, a number of countries passed legislation to expel US military bases or to limit the number of military personnel and types of armaments that could be kept on their territories..

It had been a painful transition but a Multi-Polar international order eventually emerged from the Asian tragedy.