Author Archives: Jill

Random Roswell Ramblings

1. I’ve been craving hot cocoa and tamales, classic local winter fare. Chocolate is, of course, a Mexican food that was traditionally drunk with cornmeal and chile. It took Europeans to mix it with milk and sugar, however. I don’t put sugar in my hot cocoa because I have an aversion to sweet flavors unless they come from fruit. In that sense, the hot beverage I’ve been drinking in the morning is a mix of European and Aztec tastes; drinking it by the side of hot tamales lends the meal an even stronger Aztec aesthetic due to the chile and masa. I don’t normally eat corn, as it’s part of the trifecta of grains that cause intense digestive discomfort: corn, wheat, and oats. But if I eat corn, it might as well be in the form of masa soaked in lime because it’s more digestible after soaking and processing. But honestly, it’s the combination of chile and chocolate that is warm and energizing to the body in winter. Since I don’t really like sugar, but crave the bitters and spices, I might as well have a cup of hot chocolate with chile added to taste and skip the corn altogether.

2. There are times when I should probably skip the energizing nature of beverages like cocoa and coffee, however. If the day starts out at 25 degrees, it will likely reach 70 by afternoon. The sun is intense here. There are people who live off sunshine. Purportedly. I’ve also heard of monks who live off 3 hours of sleep a night because they spend their days meditating out of doors. That is, they do nothing. And sunshine eaters usually have secret fast-food habits. I live off about 3 hours of sleep, as well, but no amount of meditation kills the sudden bouts of intense frustration caused by a lack of sleep combined with an ever-encroaching social world. At some point, I’m going to find myself leaving my house and behind the wheel of a car. Frustrated people should not drive. Especially not in Roswell. Or perhaps in all of New Mexico because there is this thing called the 4-way stop, and nobody knows what to do with it because the New Mexico driving manual teaches right-to-wait instead of right-of-way. So people sit and use elaborate hand-waving techniques during the day and light-flashing techniques at night. One night, I found myself in an elaborate battle of wills with another driver, as we ludicrously flashed our lights at each other. He had stopped first, and he would go first. Damn it! With the frost and intense sunlight of winter mornings, however, nobody can really ascertain hands waving in other cars. Yeah, it’s really time to lay off those stimulating beverages when you find yourself banging on the wheel in utter frustration while trying to conform to the local social system but not getting it at all. Okay, I don’t really try to conform. Half my problem.

3. If you think New Mexicans are dopey because they are quite happy to just sit and sit and wave at each other, they aren’t half as bad as the rest of the nation that still has no idea New Mexico is a state and has been for over a hundred years now. Look, if New Mexicans sit at stop signs, try driving down in Mexico, where you think New Mexicans are from, and where traffic laws are more likely to be maybe you have a right to wait, maybe go, but don’t get it wrong, or that cop waving his hand over there will bust your ass. In other words, accept the New Mexicans for being the friendly and patient citizens they quite clearly are.

4. If you were in my house right now, you might think you were in Mexico due to my preference for listening to Mexican music. I’ve been rediscovering my old favorites on YouTube, as most of my CDs have been damaged. I like classic norteño and banda, such as Ramon Ayala and Banda el recodo. Just now, I looked up a song I really like by Sergio Vega. The song is familiar, but I’d never purchased an album by this artist. Imagine my not-surprise when I read he’d been gunned down by members of a drug cartel. This has happened to a number of my favorite musicians. That’s another point in favor of New Mexico: the culture here has long been cut off from Mexico, even when it was under Mexican rule. That part is neither here nor there; it’s just reality, but it does mean New Mexicans don’t go in for gunning down their most popular musicians, or penning songs that turn drug-runners into heroic revolutionaries. Folk songs in every culture tend to be dark, but they don’t all celebrate the darkness. Ah, well. At least we can share tamales and chocolate as common to both cultures. What do New Mexicans share with the United States? Science cities, I guess. And McDonald’s, which serves really awful hot chocolate, sorry to say.


Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves

This little volume by Fenton Wood* is one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. At core, it’s a coming-of-age tale of twelve-year-old Philo and his friends, who go on wild adventures in their attempt to set up their own local radio station. By “wild,” I don’t mean they engage in warfare or slay dragons while getting embroiled in warfare with trolls. Rather, this group of interconnected stories is firmly rooted in the nostalgia of an American childhood that instead has brushes with the supernatural and magic, the kind you might find in ghost stories around the campfire or in a Western.

Although the story does have actual magic in it, its interest for me lies in another kind of magic altogether than the kind that causes inanimate objects to come alive or that summons mythical creatures. The magic is the kind where kids make great schemes but only have their own ingenuity (maybe with the help of an adult here and there) to solve their problems, and their bicycles as transportation to turn their schemes into reality. This is the very essence of childhood as I remember it, and there are few books that capture this magic while keeping the story from being too dumb or cute, as kids’ books often are. One of the most successful attempts at this type of magic in my youth was The Goonies; however, the kids’ problems in this film involved the parents: the kids rode off on their bicycles not just to find pirate treasure, but to save their houses from destruction because their parents were too poor and/or weak to rise to the occasion. In Wood’s book, there is no overarching reason for the kids to create a radio station. They don’t need to do it; they aren’t trapped behind enemy lines and trying to contact the outside world or some other nonsense. The radio station is an end unto itself.

I don’t know why simple adventures like this aren’t done more frequently. Why are authors always tempted to create backstories involving parents and/or siblings and Big Stakes? It’s as if they can’t create the tension necessary to uphold a simple adventure and must use dramatic events to cover over their own authorial inadequacies. In fact, Wood allows us one very small glimpse into the parental world of Philo, and it’s so small that the parents come across as artificial creatures pushing traditionalist propaganda…I tend to agree with traditionalist propaganda, but that’s not the point. That’s a minor criticism, by the way. The scene with Philo’s parents could have aided the narrative better; however, it’s such a small part of the book that it doesn’t really matter all that much.

I’m giving this book four stars because it’s incomplete. It leaves a cliffhanger at the end with the promise of another book that won’t be out for a while. Once that book is out, I might upgrade to a five-star rating, but it’s too difficult to judge the cohesiveness of the plot (or world) without having the second part. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this book. The way the boys brainstorm their way out of problems with airing a small local radio station is worth every minute.

*I can’t find a link for the author; if somebody knows where to find him, I’ll add one.


Rules For Life

Vox Day just published an appendix of his own set of life rules to go along with his book Jordanetics, which is a critique of the popular writings/speakings of pyschology professor Jordan Peterson. As a caveat, I haven’t maintained sufficient interest in Peterson to purchase his book of 12 rules to live by, but they appear to be a compilation of too-basic ideas (stand up straight) and too specific (pet a cat/don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding). Granted, I’m sure he wrote lengthy chapters that detail what these rules actually mean…but that’s Peterson’s problem. People remember basic lists, but they don’t remember nuanced descriptions. Furthermore, people tend to — if you’re lucky — remember the last two or three points in a list of instructions. If you’ve ever been in management, you’ve probably learned this the hard way. Jordan’s last two instructions are the specific yet irrelevant head-scratchers I already mentioned: don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding; pet a cat. If I walked away from his book with those pieces of advice stuck in my head, my life wouldn’t demonstrably change much. I already give wide berth to skateboarders when I’m walking, and I’m not likely to take up a new hobby of petting stray cats. I already coo at babies and wave at puppies, but violating a cat’s personal space just isn’t who I am. His advice which comes third to last (I had to look it up because I couldn’t remember) is to be precise in your language. But if my goal were to emulate Peterson’s success, I would do the opposite. Have you ever heard Peterson ramble on his videos?

Now I’ll move on to Vox Day’s rules. He has five available at the link above. The rest you will find in Jordanetics, also linked above. Caveat: I haven’t read VD’s book either because I already have a backlog of books on my Kindle. However, he’s a known quantity. By that, I mean that he is actually precise in his language. He’s not likely to get cute in his rules and advise you to pet a random cat when what he means is that you should get in touch with the beauty of nature/fleas. And I’ve never thought to myself, gosh, Vox is a regular Thoreau; i.e. I doubt he would advise getting in touch with nature. [My insertion: Why would you have to? You’d have to construct a rigid an artificial life to avoid going outside, in which case, you’d need more than a list of rules.] Vox’s rules are, rather, principles that you should know instinctively by the time you reach adulthood, and that you should only need to be reminded of by a person you respect — the right words at the right time to get your life back on course. If each one requires a lengthy diatribe to understand it, chances are the list isn’t going to be helpful.

I’m writing about this because at one time, I did find Peterson interesting. However, after listening to him for hours and reading his life rules and maxims, I have nothing to hang my hat on with him. Of course, his audience is primarily composed of young males, so perhaps I don’t get it. I also have a personality quirk in which I prefer people to speak directly. Maybe some people need a softer, more roundabout approach just to get them to the point where they can stand up straight. But — I protest — pumping iron (Vox’s first rule) fixes the inability at the foundation of the problem. Actually, my favorite point “Envision perfection and pursue excellence” (number 4) is even more foundational because it touches on every other life rule. For that, it’s the most motivating and simultaneously frustrating rule there is. And that’s what I’m looking for always: a foundation. A core. What is Peterson’s? I still don’t know.


Joseph McCarthy’s Birthday Is Today

Joseph McCarthy has been much maligned by the media, high school history teachers, and textbooks. But like many of history’s maligned characters (e.g. Andrew Carnegie, NOT men like Hitler), I find him fascinating. While much of his work to root out communism has been relegated to political mudslinging, witch-hunt madness, and conspiracy theories, it’s just as likely that we remember him this way due to a more subtle form of political mudslinging. That is, nobody is attempting to keep McCarthy out of office due to his being long dead, but those who teach history refuse to give the man’s crusades any credence at all.

It is important to remember that McCarthy went up against the CIA. The CIA is known for dodgy dealings, from the days of its predecessor organization, the OSS. By “dodgy dealings” I mean that these intelligence agencies had goals that didn’t necessarily include the subversion of communism. This is a big subject, to be sure, and not one that I can address in a short blog post, but it would be good to remember that the Soviet Union became our ally during World War II because we were fighting against NAZI fascism. There is a fascinating .gov article about the history of our early intelligence agencies, and their interactions with the Pond, which was a private intelligence agency intent on keeping tabs on communism…which was not the government’s biggest concern at the time. You can read the article here.

This is an excerpt:

From his first months in the War Department, Grombach [the head of the Pond] was constantly on the lookout for communist subversion, a propensity that repeatedly created friction with others. In 1942, with Alexander Barmine, a Soviet military intelligence officer who had defected in 1937, he identified a “list of Soviet agents working in the OSS.” But 1942 was a desperate time, and the accusations of a mid-ranking Army ideologue did not cut much ice in Washington. The accusations brought only a reminder that the Soviet Union was now America’s ally.22
Grombach stayed on the trail of subversion, however. As the war progressed and the Pond began to collect intelligence from overseas, Grombach found, to his dismay, that 80 percent or more of his reports about the Soviet Union and communism were being “eliminated”—not used in intelligence analyses and not passed to consumers.23 This was ideologically offensive to Grombach and ran contrary to his philosophy of intelligence.

The problem with McCarthy was not his witch-hunt against communism. It was his position as a politician with no real investigative skills, or at the very least, no actual position in any investigation agency. He knew there were communists operating in the government; he simply didn’t know who exactly they were. Also, if you go back to the government article on the Pond, you will see that Grombach was feeding McCarthy information that might or might not have been accurate (Grombach wouldn’t give up his sources). In turn, the CIA fed Grombach false information to pass on to McCarthy.

In other words, McCarthy’s information about communists was a bit muddy at best. However, history has proven McCarthy was right to have the suspicions he did. From Moscow transcripts made available in the early nineties to the publication of the Venona transcripts, it has become clear there were many communists and communist sympathizers operating in the United States during the Soviet era, even in the State Department that was supposed to be investigating them.

Why does it matter? It matters because, in the realm of free association and free speech, our country is extraordinarily vulnerable. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights assures us of these rights, but other systems do not. I.e., communism is a system that is essentially at odds with the American ideal of the sovereignty of the private sector. It can’t coexist with this Constitutional ideal because its focus is rather on the sovereignty of the public sphere which regulates the private. Despite that, we have the freedom to hold communist ideology and to associate with communists…ultimately, a self-defeating freedom.

McCarthy, no matter how misinformed and obnoxious he was, was attempting to upheld Americanism. For that, I’m remembering him on his birthday. *I would like to write more about this, but I have to run. Perhaps tomorrow. Abrupt ending for today.*


No Pink Beams Yet

Apparently, the people who are successful with writing vast quantities of words in one sitting write excessively detailed outlines. If I do that, I have no need any longer to write a book. I always operate off a loose outline, but the story must surprise me at some point. Without the surprise, I cease to find the work interesting. And God knows, I don’t make a living off it, so the reward has to be mental stimulation. I’m only bringing this up because I wrote nearly zero words today. Weekends are harrowing at times. However, I did manage to bring the characters to a crucial moment in the story. Do you want a glimpse? Okay.