Monday, August 25, 2008

Remembrance of mountains past

Last Saturday, after we had delivered cars to people and run some errands, we had some lovely late afternoon time with Rolf and Kristy to just sit around and bask in the presence of mountains. Austin has some nice rolling hills and the west-ward sweep of the Hill Country for hundreds of miles west is great, but I sometimes miss having some big mountains on the horizon.

Sandy tells me of an essay written about Utah by Ed Geary, called "The proper edge of the sky," talking about how one gets used to seeing a horizon of a certain shape, particularly when it is dramatic as Utah's is.

The first photo here shows Rolf and Kristy, sitting across from Sandy and me, by an irrigation canal at the edge of a park near where we used to live in Provo in the mid-1990s. The canal itself brought back many memories. When I was young in Idaho, irrigation canals were a big aspect of life. Our farm was across the street from a river bed that had been turned into a large controlled canal for delivering irrigation water to the farms around. And our own farm was crisscrossed by several medium sized canals and a bunch of smaller ditches to get water to fields, pastures, orchards and a large vegetable garden. We swam in them, explored them, worked with them to get the water flowing. I learned the magic of how to get water flowing through a large siphon tube with a few careful flicks of my hand. So the canal-ness was magic all by itself.

Not to mention the mountains showing the proper edge of the sky. It looks like we may well be in Austin for the long foreseeable future, which is exciting for work, music and all kinds of things, but I miss the mountains.

The next photo shows Sandy, Kristy and Rolf, standing at the edge of the hill we used to live on in Utah, Grandview Hill in Provo.
Remembrances of things past can be sweet indeed, particularly when you get to see them again, now and then.

U.S. Highway 491 and 191

Another couple of amazing scenic western U.S. highways are U.S. 491 and 191. We drove parts of both last Saturday morning from Cortez in the southwest corner of Colorado to Monticello on 491 and then on 191 north through Moab, Utah. You can see a snippet of the map here, reflecting some of the most scenic parts.

We had left Shiprock very early, around 4:30 a.m. so we got to watch a long slow, gorgeous sunrise gradually grow around us.

Here is an example that Chris snapped out the window with my iPhone (not a particularly high resolution camera, but not bad) on 491. You can see the sun just coming up.

Here is another example a few minutes later.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Visting Rolf's new house, job, view and dog

We went to Shiprock, New Mexico, two days ago to visit our son Rolf, who is doing Teach for America there and his wife Kristy, second from right in the photo, who is working on community mental health and counseling psychology, which she is doing a Ph.D. in.

This is Rolf, Sandy, Kristy and our son Chris, in Rolf's new classroom, where he is teaching twenty some third graders (roughly eight years old). He seems to like it so far. (He taught last year in Harlem, so this is his second year of Teach for America, which seems to be a very good program.) Here is what he is teaching. (Local people come in to teach the Navajo language and culture part.)

Rolf and Kristy have a two bedroom apartment supplied for teachers on the Navajo Reser- vation, since otherwise, only Navajo are supposed to live, or at least own land, there. They just barely moved in the day we came, but they had a new dog, a "blue" (grey) pit bull named Smiley, who you can see here with Rolf. She seems to be a very friendly, sweet-tempered dog.

They also have an amazingly nice view from their backyard. You can see THE Shiprock for which the town is named (its real name is The Stone with Wings in Navajo, Tse' Bit'ai) in the distance, and they have very nice sunsets. Here is a view of Shiprock and the desert horizon, taken from in back of their duplex apartment.

U.S. Highway 550

We have been helping our two sons drive a couple of cars out west. Rolf will be teaching third graders in Shiprock in a school on the Navajo Reservation, through the Teach for America program. While he did not need a car in New York last year, while teaching there, rural New Mexico is quite different, so we are passing on our much loved and much driven 1998 Subaru, which Rolf seemed quite pleased to have show up at his door.

On the day before yesterday, we drove from Albuquerque, NM to Shiprock, NM on U.S. Highway 550, which you can see in the clip of Google maps here.

It is one of the more scenic highways we have driven in a long time. Sandy had driven it before once with Chris, going the other way from Utah to Texas. (Seems like we are criss-crossing this part of the world a lot. Good thing we like scenery and driving.)

The scenery was mostly classic red rock cliffs and bluffs, much like southern Utah. Here you can see two examples.

The first in from my brand new iPhone, which has a pretty good camera in it. So the photo here is not bad.

The second shot, which is from an Internet site, shows a nice view of some of the red rock sliffs.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Teach your children

Interesting what you can find on the Web these days.

One of my favorite early 1970s songs was Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I think I mostly liked the very catchy integration of pedal steel guitar into a straight-ahead pop song with the usual pleasant CSN harmonies, but I also rather liked the sentiments about how children and parents might change. So I went to see what versions of the song are on YouTube.

It is very interesting to see someone do a simple but effective slide show to the song to turn it into a critique of the effects of the Iraq War on children, that tries to be sympathetic to what many U.S. GIs there would like to be, while showing the inevitable impacts on kids of the U.S. under Bush deciding to do social change through a war.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fallen arches

It seems like I have spent a large part of my life coming and going through southern Utah. I have really enjoyed the variety and sheer dazzle of the out of doors there. Utah nature is hard to beat.

One of my favorite places is the Arches National Park. We have gone through several times, particularly back when we were looking for creative, scenic non-short cuts from LA to Michigan, when we lived there.

Here is Wall Arch, one of the most famous ones, which I remember relishing.

Well, all our arches fall, eventually, I guess. Here is the photo showing what happened August 11, when erosion and gravity took their toll.

Here is the way National Geographic described what happened.

August 11, 2008—In a scene out of a Road Runner cartoon, a soaring sandstone arch has plummeted to the floor of the Utah desert, forever altering an iconic American landscape. But neither Wile E. Coyote nor the Acme Corporation is being fingered for this collapse in Arches National Park.

Erosion—the same force that largely formed the park's arches—and gravity are the most likely culprits for the destruction of Wall Arch sometime last week.

"They all let go after a while," Paul Henderson, the park's chief of interpretation, told the Associated Press.

Wall Arch—shown at top in an undated photo and below on August 5, 2008—was more than three stories tall and spanned 71 feet (22 meters).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

TV events and patriotism

It has been interesting to read the barrage of media coverage about the Beijing Olympics. I think the most insightful parts have been about two tricky balances. How the PRC wants to show itself internationally as having arrived as a major player without being too threatening. And how the country wants to show itself as modern while also claiming the longest and one of the most interesting cultural histories of anyone around. The government and the film maker producing the opening ceremonies seem to have struck an interesting balance on both. Lots of images out there today, but this slide show to the official song gives you the idea.

It is also interesting to see how Chinese people seem to be responding with strong pride and patriotism, which you can see below in a clip from the LA Times. It sometimes strikes me as odd that U.S./Western coverage has a hard time understanding that the Chinese are being very patriotic about the games, not to mention their new prosperity and place in the world. It's an old, powerful force and we better take it into account in dealing with China. This scene also reminds me of the power of big TV events to powerfully reinforce this kind of nationalism, or patriotism, if you prefer. All the iPods and iPhones in the world don't replace that kind of power, although they bring in a new layer of individualism combined with networking that cuts across it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Me and the Bulgarian Second Secretary of Embassy in 1977

We were watching Charlie Wilson's War tonight on DVD, which is much better than I expected. The movie spins him as a heroic guy who against all odds gets something big done. (And leaves the unforeseen results of our intervention still blowing back into our faces in Iraq and elsewhere.) Here is what the real guy looked like, not quite as slick as Tom Hanks, but smooth enough to charm lots of folks into his project.

He and his CIA partner who produced the U.S. intervention in the Afghan war against the USSR are the kind of renegade cowboys that you expect spies to be, from spy novels. 

Most spies are a lot duller. In 1977 I was an Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer in the U.S. Foreign Service in Brasilia, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up and trying to get a dissertation topic together, in case I decided that what I wanted to be was a college professor (which is as we all know how the story worked out). In the meantime, I was doing a kind of cultural diplomacy, organizing U.S. academic, media and cultural world speakers to come to Brazil to talk about points we wanted to make in Brazil.

But there were some very interesting times along the way in my career as a very junior diplomat. My own personal favorite encounter with the world of spies was the night I went to a Soviet Embassy (this was 1977 after all) party as the escort of one of the senior Brazilian national employees I worked with, a very interesting lady name Asta-Rose Alcaide, who was an ex-opera singer and the very cultured head of the Brasilia opera society. You can see her as she looks today in the photo here (courtesy of the Web).

As soon as we walked into the Soviet Embassy for the reception, I saw several people sizing me up and presumably assuming that I was a new CIA guy there to get familiar with the competition. At least, a very squarely built Second Secretary of the Bulgarian Embassy made a beeline over to talk to me while Asta-Rose was circulating around to talk about opera to people. (The Soviets were clearly relieved to be able to talk about something they actually liked and that made them look good.)

I don't think the Bulgarian had  been trained to be much of a conversationalist. After a while I think he decided I was either who I said I was, a very junior guy who worked with Asta-Rose in the cultural section, or I was under deep enough cover that it would take a lot of work to pry it off.

I did see quite a few of our own CIA guys there. I remember thinking that the evening would certainly count as work, not fun, for them. A lot of wary circling around and chit-chat. It was an interesting window into a world that I was distinctly glad not to actually belong to.