"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Let's burn!

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Denver, it's interesting to note another large gathering in the Great American West which, coincidentally or not, is occurring at the exact same time: once again this week, I will -- in spirit, at least -- be joining the parade of freaks, hippies, seekers, revelers, kindred spirits, and just plain ol' folks as they trek to the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival. In the culmination of the event next Saturday night, "The Man" (the iconic stick figure at right, which represents ... well, anything you care to assign to it) will go up in flames in a grand pyrotechnic orgy of chanting, dancing and celebration. Although I've never been in person, I've been fascinated with this event for many years, and hope to make it some day. But the daunting logistics of doing so (not to mention the harsh desert environment of alkali dust which would play havoc with my lung condition) means I will, alas, be postponing the adventure for at least another year.

Burning Man, for anyone who might not know, is a counter-cultural celebration of freedom, art, and community. About 50,000 participants gather annually in the desert about 120 miles northeast of Reno to create Black Rock City, which for seven days becomes the third-largest city in Nevada, and is dedicated to (as their website proclaims) "radical self-expression and self-reliance". They depart leaving no trace of their presence on the playa. Unfortunately, the festival has acquired a somewhat undeserved reputation over the years of being a wild, drug-fueled debauchery of rave music, nudity, and anonymous sex. However, while some of these activities may take place (as they do in any city of this size), most participants are there for more than to just smoke dope and get laid. Indeed, many come with lofty spiritual goals; there will be a full-fledged Krishna temple and Rath Yatra from Puri, India at the site offering mantra meditation, yoga, traditional Indian devotional singing, dance and drumming, blessed food, and the sacred Narsimha Yajna fire ceremony. Assistant Director Rasikananda Das says:
Festival participants are welcome to get married in traditional Hindu style at the Camp. Temple priests will also give Sanskrit names to seekers. A marathon mantra-chanting day will be held at the Camp, which includes chanting "Hare Krishna" mahamantra (great mantra) for a continuous 24 hours. Besides no meat/fish/eggs, other restrictions at Krishna Camp are no sex, no gambling, and no liquor, although the Burning Man festival does not prohibit these.
In many ways, to me and other aging baby-boomers, Burning Man represents the ideals we held dear during our hippie-heydays of the late 60's and early 70's. As Kris Kristofferson wrote and Janis sang back then, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose", and it has always struck me as ironic that many people flee from freedom, finding it to be empty and foreboding. But at Burning Man, freedom not only allows one to do or be virtually anything for a week as long as you "do no harm to others" (in other words, follow the Golden Rule), participants also use their freedom to create art; the art becomes especially meaningful in that it's both a self-created act of personal expression, as well as being communal at the same time. Gigantic immersive sculptures on the desert floor invite people to not just view the work, but to experience it by interacting and becoming one with it. That may sound hokey, but it's the essence of the event; that all who attend are not merely spectators, but active participants in a massive cultural experiment.

This fact leads to the other guiding principle of Burning Man, that of community. As you may know, the festival is an environment without money, which relies on what is called a "gifting" economy. You bring with you what you need to survive in the desert for a week, and barter, exchange, or give freely with others for anything else. While there's nothing wrong with money as an accepted method of obtaining the goods and services we humans require in a large and diverse day-to-day world, it is also a cold common denominator that reduces us as individuals and forces us into stereotypical roles of "consumers" and "providers". The absence of money at Burning Man strips away this impersonal shell and encourages people to be generous and tolerant: two important ingredients to creating and maintaining community.

So when you put it all together -- art, freedom, community, generosity, and tolerance -- you have the essential elements of what the hippie lifestyle was all about way back then. Forty years later, if those ideals only bring 50,000 people together in harmony for one week a year ... well, I guess that's better than nothing. Plus, where else would a vehicle like the one below be considered "normal"?

For other images from the event, click here or here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Today's Inspirational Message

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Breaking political disaster news coverage

I found it quite interesting that the mainstream media finally decided to run with the John Edwards affair, which the blogosphere and other alternative sources have been covering at least since October of 2007. Many big-name news outlets are privately aghast that the supermarket tabloid (who can now justifiably crow "I told you so") beat them to this story, but the Enquirer has historically tended to not hamper itself with minor details like "proof" and "corroboration", which in this case were nearly impossible to come by until one of the players in the scandal stepped forward as Edwards himself did last week. I think it's sad that a bright star like John Edwards -- who still had much to offer to the Democratic party -- has now joined the ranks of dishonored public officials including Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, former NY governor Eliot Spitzer, and many others, who betrayed the trust placed in them not so much by having illicit sexual liaisons, but by lying about them afterwards in an attempt to cover them up.

And yet, there's another even bigger story that the MSM has neglected to report in depth: a national disaster of epic proportions that has so far caused thousands of deaths, and wreaked financial havoc in America. Once again we must turn to an alternative news source for the story, in this case The Onion. Watch the video below for the shocking details.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How hot is it?

Although we had a brief respite from the heat yesterday thanks to Tropical Storm Edouard (which brought a little rain but not much else), it's been a broiler down here since about the 4th of July, and the temperature is back into triple digits again today.

It's so hot that... (insert lame reference to frying eggs on the sidewalk, potatoes baking underground, etc., here. If you need assistance coming up with a witty thermal bon mot, see this site.)

Anyway, according to my handy-dandy indoor-outdoor thermometer it was this hot last Friday:

Displayed is the actual temperature, mind you, not the heat index, which is like 120-something. This is the price we pay in southeast Texas for not having to deal with snow in the wintertime. You folks up North may laugh, but all I can say is God Bless Willis Carrier.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hello from Nowhere, Texas

OK, we're now into August, and with only two, (count 'em, two!) posts all of last month -- both of which on the lame side -- I have to state the obvious: this blog is officially in the crapper, folks. I have no excuse, really. My motivation just plain stinks. I have occasional ideas for what should (in theory, at least) be really good, snappy posts, but can't seem to bring myself around to actually sit down and write them. Even typing this now feels harder than it should be. What gives? A close friend of mine wrote recently on the subject of depression:
It feels like waking up with an anvil in my chest. The weight of it is crushing but yet I am expected to move about my day. All of the stupid little things that you take for granted doing now seem insurmountable. Everything requires much more energy than you can muster.
That's exactly what I've been feeling like lately, so maybe we're onto something. Of course, it could also be just plain ol' garden-variety boredom, as nothing much has been happening here recently. My lung condition makes it harder for me to breathe in the extreme heat we've been having in Texas during the last month or so, and because of this I haven't been getting out much; sitting around the house like a potted plant does not for thrilling blog posts make. In any case, I don't like it, and am going to work on improving my attitude. In the meantime, until I give myself a good swift kick in the pants, pull myself up by my bootstraps, turn that frown upside down and "get over it", I thought I'd send a cyber-postcard to let y'all know I'm thinking about you. More meaty posts will follow later. Really.

PS: This is not the actual street on which I live. Things could be worse.