Ashes To Ashes

“It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

Samuel Adams reported that the Oklahoma Militia was willing to fight in support of Nevada rancher’s grazing rights on federal land. Members of the right-wing militia says it has 50,000 volunteers ready to go, if the
Bureau of Land Management once more attempted to confiscate Cliven Bundy’s cattle. Their leader Scott Shaw said to the website, “Evidently in America we don’t actually own the property anymore if you ever did. A showdown is up to the feds. The ball’s in their court! You can do this legally or if you want to try to do a land grab violently, you can do that. We’re going to resist you! Just look around the country, they are doing it everywhere. If they can do it in Nevada, they can do it in Colorado, Texas. I mean, what’s to stop them from coming to Oklahoma? The only thing to stop them is ‘We the People’.”

Senator James Inhofe was quick to criticize the militia.

You’ve got a bunch of people there trying to take the law into their own hands and they shouldn’t be doing that. And the Bureau of Land Management is not government-owned, it’s publicly owned. There’s a big difference there. I blame both sides.”

Me, I blame everyone involved, but armed insurrection against the USA is never a good idea.

Just ask the South.

The Unmagic of the BBC

Varanasi on the Ganges River is one of the oldest cities in the world and considered by many to be the spiritual center of India. Archaeologists date its origin to over three thousand years ago and Siddhartha formulated the tenets of Buddhism upstream at Sarnath in a sermon entitled ‘Turning the Wheel of Law’ in 528BC. Mark Twain visited the storied city and 1897 and famously said, “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

I visited the ghats in 1995.

The fiery funerary rituals offered a spectacle unknown to the West, but occidentals can not accept the beauty of the Orient without seeing fakirs behind the miracles.

Today a BBC reporter wrote that the sunset tradition of sadhus standing on plinths was enchanting, but added that he later learned that the supposed ancient rites were the invention of a hotel owner to spice up the evening on the Ganges.

According to his article he stated that ‘a couple of days later I was sitting in the BBC studio in Delhi with a young Indian journalist who had come in to comment on the election campaign. He heard my report in his headphones.

“You were in Varanasi?” he asked.


“And you recorded something at the ceremony they have on the river bank there.”

“That’s right.”

“In a boat?”

“Yes. It was wonderful.”

“You know the whole thing was invented by the manager of a luxury hotel in Varanasi about 20 years ago. He was trying to drum up the number of tourists coming to town.”

“I see. Right.”

Journalists get lied to so often that they generally end up fairly cynical, or perhaps to put it more kindly, sceptical. And let me say straightaway that I am not accepting the journalist’s account without question.

Even if I went back to Varanasi and investigated the matter I have no doubt that some people would insist the ceremony has been going on for centuries.

That’s the way with these things. But still it was a bit of a shocker. Perhaps you can never quite go far enough in questioning why things are happening – what purpose they really serve.

I emailed my boss.

“About that ceremony,” I said. “You might well have been right.”

I told him what the journalist in the studio had said.

“Ah yes,” he replied. “The invention of tradition. Happens everywhere.”

The article ended there, but not all magic in life has to have an origin.

On my travels throughout Asia in the 90s I carried a worldband radio. At night I would listen to the BBC braodcast from London on the other side of the world. The World Service was a century old tradition for expatriates living abroad and now the Cameron government has been neutering the radio shows.

They will not be able to demystify India or Varanasi.

It is as old as time itself.

Same as radio waves traveling to the stars.

Kansas Shakes

Last year Oklahoma was hit by eighty-three tornadoes. Twenty-three citizens were killed on May 14 in Cleveland OK and on May 20 thirteen cyclones struck the state. No one in the state government mentioned global warming as a cause of the upswing, despite temperatures breaking records throughout the summer.

Oklahoma is not only the Buckle in the Bible Belt, but authorities are fiercely anti-science on evolution and climate change.

Kansas has no shortage of flat-earthers judging from the response from oil and gas industry about the increased number of earthquakes due to tracking across the state.

“In Kansas, there’s no evidence that the earthquakes are being caused by fracking,” said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Seismologists argue the opposite, since the fracking process requires the injection of 7.5 barrels of salt water to extract on barrel of oil.

Like putting ten pounds of cow paddy in a one pound bag.

Something is bound to break and Kansas is that egg.

Hot As Bangkok

I’ve been going to Thaialnd since the early 90s.

I quickly learned that April was the hottest time of the year.

2014 will be no exception and according to the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand this coming Sunday the sun will be directly over the City of Cmiles.

It should be a hot one.

Stay cool.


New York in the summer of 1981 was everything it hadn’t been in the winter. The 90+ temperature boiled the asphalt. New Wave had replaced punk and somehow the city had escaped bankruptcy. Money flowed on the streets and even the East Village exhibited signs of regeneration, since abandoned tenements can only be burned so many times before their ashes won’t catch fire.

People had work. Mine was menial construction on an after-hours club along the Hudson River. After paying rent I had enough money for Chinese take-out and beers at CBGBs. I lost weight and thought about robbing a bank. Whenever I entered one, guards placed their hands on the guns like they were armed with ESP.

I was no Jesse James.

Daytime employment was the logical solution to my desperate situation. I had a college degree. My permanent record was clean. I had worked nine-to-fives before and real jobs didn’t kill you, however Arthur, the nightclub owner, had promised the construction crew various jobs once the International opened its doors.

At our previous gig I had coined $500-700 a night. We hoped to open before Labor Day. On August 13th the club was $20,000 short of our goal and construction lurched to a halt, however the International was saved by a cash infusion from a criminal refugee from Odessa. His money was rumored to come from smuggling Tsarist icons. The source was unimportant. The club was a dead issue without his help.

Arthur said that Vadim had a beautiful blonde girlfriend.

“Almost cover girl pretty, but too short to succeed on the runways.”

“Sounds like your old girlfriend.” Danny Gordon, the DJ, had heard that the gangster’s girl came from Buffalo.

“No, that would be too much of a coincidence.”

Last November Lily had left for a modeling job in Milan. I hadn’t heard from her since.

No calls.

No letters.

When I spotted her in a French lingerie magazine, I almost flew to Paris, except she could have been in London, Milan, or Munich, so I remained in New York to be haunted by her imagined footsteps on cobble-stoned European streets.

“Coincidence is destiny crossing paths.”

“No chance of that. Lily’s gone for good.”

“No one leaves the City forever.” Native New Yorkers like Danny considered anywhere other than Manhattan to be purgatory. “She’ll be back.”

“I’ve been dreaming of that day,” I said, but in truth I had been forgetting her piece by piece.
The smell of her skin after sex.

Her mocking laugh after I told a bad joke.

Buying leather jackets together. Hers white, mine black, yet some memories had lives of their own.

No matter how many drinks.

No matter how many days.

“Still it would be funny if it was her.” Danny wasn’t letting go either. He had a thing for her. Any man would if she looked his way.

“Funny, but not ha-ha funny.”

“Not for you, but me. I can’t wait to see your face when she walks through the doors.”

I chucked a hammer at his head. It missed by a foot and put a dent in an op-art sculpture from the 60s.

Arthur noticed the damage a week later.

We denied any knowledge of how it got there.

The Russian’s money accelerated the final stages of the construction. The walls were painted lilac purple and the sound system was wired through the club. A Labor Day opening appeared realistic and on the hottest day of summer Danny and I were tearing down a last section of the ceiling. It was a dirty job and rat dust caked my sweating flesh.

The door opened for three shadows.

We lowered our tools.

“Guys, I want you to meet Vadim.” Arthur shouted from the entrance.

A muscular man in his late-20s entered the club wearing a pastel linen suit. We muttered hellos. Mine was silenced by the sight of a slender blonde in snug Versace. Lily’s b-grade beauty was as haughty as a dethroned princess checking into a Holiday Inn.

“So much for the lack of coincidences.” Danny nudged my ribs.

“It’s a small world.” My throat tightened to a knot. “And a long life.”

“Think she recognizes you?” Danny wiped a layer of grime from his face.

“Not unless she looks my way.” My body was black with soot

Her head turned to our perch.

She recognized me and the dice roll of jade green eyes indicated my lack of social progress had not disappointed her low expectations for a punk poet.

“No, she hasn’t forgotten.” Danny laughed at my pained expression, as Vadim, Lily and Arthur disappeared into the office.

Right before our lunch break, Lily and Vadim exited from the office.

She covered her mouth with a scarf.

Vadim shielded his a thick hand and they left the site without a glance in our direction.

By 4pm the ceiling had been replaced and Arthur called it a day.

As the rest of the crew filed from the club, Arthur pulled me aside.

“This isn’t going to be a problem?”

“What?” I played dumb.

“You and Vadim’s girlfriend.” He was serious.


Over the past year her name had floated in my mind a million times.

This was the first time I had said it.

“Is it a problem?” Émigré Russians from Odessa were notoriously violent.

“No, she’s nothing to me.”

“Good, then stay away from her.” He lifted a finger. “Vadim is a piece of work.”

Obeying his advice wasn’t hard.

On every visit Lily ignored me and I couldn’t blame her.

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