Sunday, May 31, 2009

Iron & Wine :: Resurrection Fern

Sugarpiehoneybunch turned me on to this song on the way home from Sängerrunde Hall (two step, swing and me and two followers dancing a few tangos and milongas) last night, dodging deer and dillo's on the dark road back to the ranch.

Apparently, Iron & Wine is based just around the corner in Driftwood. There's some amazing musical/artistic talent out here in the Hill Country, not to mention Austin, the 'Live Music Capital of the World'.

Amazing, world class musicians, who choose not to be on the world stage - well except that this band appears to be fairly 'big' in the music scene. Most of these folks are content to simply make music on the riverbank, or wherever, never seeking 'fame and fortune' in the suckass music industry. You will never hear, or hear of, the vast majority of these folks, and will be blown away by the beauty of their talent and creativity.

I'm lucky to have experienced this in my life. I'm blessed to have one of these very unique and beautiful and talented people in my life. I spoon her each night, holding her tight in my sleepy embrace and wake to her smiling face every day. Blessed is the word of a speechless man.

The song is available on iTunes if you want to download it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Heads Must Roll


Let's face it. Our government is impotent. Think Hurricane Katrina - the slow response after the storm, the formaldehyde laced trailers for temporary living quarters, the lack of funding for rebuilding. No, excuse me, the funding is there, there is just no way to get at it through the briar patch thickets of red tape. I recently drove along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. There's not much going on there. City halls and banks and libraries are still operating in temporary trailers. Don't even get me started about the Katrina ice debacle.

Think "The War on Drugs" and "The War on Terror". Think about the high costs, rampant inefficiencies, and low performance of Medicare and Medicaid. Think the collapsing federal interstate highway system. Think Department of Homeland Security. Think of the lazy-assed secretary at the IRS who hasn't hit a lick in two years and then gets promoted to a G13 to get her out of the fucking office. (You can't fire her because of the union.) Think of the billions, no, trillions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars that are wasted each year. Just pretty much think the entire Federal Government and all of its activities (expenditures) across the board, coast to coast, internationally, and outer space as far as the planet Mars.

It's as though our government has evolved into a self-fulfilling entity. It exists for itself. It feeds itself on taxpayer dollars. It has ceased to be about serving the people, serving the country. They try, but they just can't be effective and efficient anymore. We throw money at our problems like no one else. No real plan - just throw money at it and the restless natives will be happy. Too big. No one in charge. Too many chiefs and not enough indians. Bogged down in their own bureaucracy. So much red tape to give the appearance of protecting the taxpayers' dollars that a hammer and a toilet seat on the space shuttle cost multi-millions of dollars. So much red tape that our money goes and goes and goes to nothing but mostly fund the government behemoth itself.

Snakebit. A bleeder. We've got a bleeder on our hands folks.

It starts at the top - in the legislature - with self-interested, special-interested, self-absorbed career politicians who are only there to line their pockets and for the killer lifetime retirement plan. To me, given the lack of performance over the past 20 plus years, and the current economic state of the world, ALL BETS ARE OFF.

All bets are off in the sense that there is no more Federal Retirement plan, or it should at least be severely scaled back, with a fucking broadaxe. No more federal holidays out the wahzoo. Get your collective federalized asses to work! What about salary reviews and pay cuts? What about firing the worthless pieceofshit sonsabitches whose only daily contribution is to be a doorstop or a doormat or a hurdle to getting things done.

We KNOW these people exist. They are only there to collect a paycheck and make it to retirement. WE, WE THE PEOPLE, have the right to change all of this. We have the responsibility to change all of this. Our very economic survival depends on our getting off of OUR collective asses and actually doing something about it. Yes, I'm talking about changing the Federal Government. Changing the way it thinks and sees and operates.

Sure, there are some recent bright spots of hope. States and local governments are realizing we can't afford "The War on Drugs". It seems I heard the Federal drug czar even saying something about this. There is talk of releasing all the non-violent drug offenders from prison - talk of treatment in lieu of incarceration. Duh. Finally.

There is talk of a national high speed rail system. Good. There is talk of revamping our educational system so that people have actually learned how to read and count change after 12 years. Good. There is talk of the greening of our energy systems - clean coal (questionable, but no other option for now), solar, wind, geothermal. Great.

There is only one problem. We are depending on the idiots in the government to accomplish all this effective, efficient, critically necessary change. We are depending on the idiots to dream up new concepts, plan, organize, draft and formalize policy and theoretically ultimately actually implement - all on our dollar. We're in for trouble people, if we believe this.

I feel for Obama. He's got the vision. He's got the drive. He's got the heart and soul. I fear he doesn't have the staff (that is, every single agency of the Federal Government) to get with it and get 'er done.

Vision, drive, ability, experience, initiative, heart and soul, or your head must roll. Or you must roll on down the road and let someone who wants to work, who wants to serve, who wants to make a difference in this beautiful country of ours take over. Lead, follow, or get out of the fucking way.

It's time. We are going to have to fix this ourselves. We can't depend on the idiots anymore. There is a movement afoot to replace all the worthless assholes in Congress with real citizens - working folk who know how to get shit done. It's called GOOOH - Get Out Of Our House. It may be a novelty and a longshot right now - but they have the right idea. They have the right idea in that our government in its present form is debilitated.

We, the people, have two choices. Option One is to peacefully take back control and operation of our Federal (and State, and county, and city) Government over the next two years, not twenty, and make substantial changes in the way things are run. We, the change agents. Option Two is revolution.

Oh, and there is always the "Do Nothing" option - people always forget about this one - and boy-oh-boy we are oh-so-good at this one. Stick our collective heads in the sand and raise our collective asses in the air. That's what the American people are best in the world at - the "Do Nothing" option with regards to our own governance. What, you want me to go to a town hall meeting? Write a letter to my representatives? But what about the game on Monday night? What about my tee time on Saturday? What about...? Hey, you know what? The "Do nothing" option is okay. Under this option, Mother Nature takes over. You might call it evolution. Perhaps mankind is destined to devolve into oblivion - to shit ourselves in the name of dollars until our Mother Earth can no longer support us. Until she refuses to support us. Until she decides to give us a wake-up call. Until she decides to kill us all off - the idiot children of Mother Earth who can't figure out how to live clean and green and sustainably and with abundant love for all of our brothers and sisters.

I'm not advocating that we all give up on rest and relaxation and recreation. I'm advocating that we all give up on the time wasting bullshit we have in our lives. You know what it is that I'm talking about. The vast majority of us have it in our daily lives - way too much of it. It's difficult, but I know we can do it. No more TV. No more Facebook. No more video games (not me, but many young and grown men alike). No more shopping for shit we don't even need. Read more. Talk more. Think more. Write more. Go to conferences and workshops and events that interest you. Go on green home/solar house tours. Grow a garden. Eat healthier. Learn a trade. Learn how to make shit with your hands. Get more exercise. Figure out how to do a water budget. Take shorter showers. Go to your city council meeting. Find a local committee or commission to serve on or volunteer for. Follow your local activist blog. I found one covering groundwater rights issues right here under where I live. The point is this - engage. Engage in life, and in your own governance.

Engage. Please. Before it's too late. Please, please purty please?

I'll leave you with this quote, attributed, I believe, to writer Edward Abbey: "True patriots must always be willing to defend their country against their government."

And this one, from the GOOOH website:
"If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin." Samuel Adams, 1776

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bandoneón :: A poem by Mario Benedetti

Terence Clarke just wrote a piece about the death of Mario Benedetti, a notable Uruguayan writer. He died on May 17 in Montevideo. Here is his article from the website "Red Room...where the writers are..."

Terence included this poem by Benedetti, along with his translation into English:

Mario Benedetti

Me jode confesarlo
pero la vida es también un bandoneón
hay quien sostiene que lo toca dios
pero yo estoy seguro de que es Troilo
ya que dios apenas toca el arpa
y mal

fuere quien fuere lo cierto es
que nos estira en un solo ademán purísimo
y luego nos reduce de a poco a casi nada
y claro nos arranca confesiones
quejas que son clamores
vértebras de alegría
esperanzas que vuelven
como los hijos pródigos
y sobre todo como los estribillos

me jode confesarlo
porque lo cierto es que hoy en día
quieren ser tango
la natural tendencia
es a ser rumba o mambo o chachachá
o merengue o bolero o tal vez casino
en último caso valsecito o milonga
pasodoble jamás
pero cuando dios o Pichuco o quien sea
toma entre sus manos la vida bandoneón
y le sugiere que llore o regocije
uno siente el tremendo decoro de ser tango
y se deja cantar y ni se acuerda
que allá espera
el estuche.

Bandoneón (translation by Terence Clarke)

I’m fucked, confessing it,
but life too is a bandoneón
there are some who hold that God plays it
but I’m sure that it’s Troilo
since God can hardly play the harp,
and that badly

whoever it is, the one sure thing is
that it stretches us out in a proper pure solo
and then brings us down to so little almost nothing
and for sure drags confessions from us
clamoring complaints
the vertebra of happiness
hopes that return like prodigal sons
and above all like refrains

I’m fucked confessing it
because for sure, right now, today
want to be tango
the natural tendency
is to be a rumba or mambo or chachachá
or merengue or bolero or maybe casino
and at the very last a little waltz or milonga,
and a pasadoble? never
but when God or Pichuco or whoever
takes in his hands the bandoneón life
and suggests to it that it weep or cheer
you feel the tremendous decorum of being tango
you just go ahead and sing and you would never agree
that there awaits
your casket.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tango Demons

I just went-a-checking on my MySpace page after a long hiatus/absence. I had asked another MySpacer if I could post one of her (myspace) blog entries on my blog a long time ago. I thought it was a very good treatment of "tango demons", from a follower's perspective obviously.

It seems that there is an undercurrent of tango demons running through the blog and dancing worlds these days. Things just don't seem to be, or feel, 'in the groove' for many of us. For me, I think it's a natural evolution or growth in my own tango world. I think it's partly due to the ongoing economic destabilization. I've got other things on my mind. There is a world out there that needs changing. Change by sheer force of will by the knowing minority. Change by doing and not talking. As they say, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way..."

Anyway, tango seems to be taking a reduced part in my life - really over the past year. It's as strong as ever in my heart and soul, I think about it every day, but I don't 'need' it as badly as I did in the past. I don't need it as frequently. I developed a 'quality over quantity' mindset fairly early on in my tango. It seems that mindset is solidifying to the point I can go for a few months with no milongas.

My demons. We all have our demons in life, and in our tango. It's part of life and it's part of tango. They will make you a better dancer, those demons will.

So on to the primary subject of this post...

Her name is Carrie Whipple. She's a dancer/teacher/Comme il Faut pusher in Portland. With her permission, here it is...thanks Carrie!

Tango Demons
January 23, 2008
By Carrie Whipple

The last time I visited Argentina, I went reluctantly. I went because I had a plane ticket, purchased a year before, that I'd already postponed once and I couldn't push it back again. I went because I felt like I had to, but I wasn't excited about it.

I was nervous to go because I had recently had a tango epiphany, and it was this: I didn't care. I didn't care about doing the technique of a particular turn perfectly, or of pointing my toes or using my heels or lifting my sternum or tucking in my tailbone. I was over it.

The first two and a half years of my tango life were full of these kinds of obsessions, these tango technique nightmares. I was constantly practicing, even when I was at a milonga, I was always thinking about everything I was doing wrong. Everything that proved I was failing.

Part of this self-destructive mindset was a result my unique situation at the time, which put me under an unusually bright spotlight while out dancing tango, but I now know that this particular brand of self-torture is not uncommon for the women of tango. There's a certain kind of personality that finds herself attracted to this dance. The perfectionist excels here, for a while at least. There's something in the fierce challenge of the dance, it is so hard, and so complex, and there's so much to think about, it's a thrill at first. But for some of us, after a time, it becomes impossible to shut down that internal dialogue cataloging all of your mistakes in your head.

At around that two and a half year marker, my personal life caved in around me, and I just gave up on tango. My situation forced me to realize that I wasn't perfect, that I never would be, and surprise, even if I did manage to attain perfection, it wouldn't make me any more in demand as a partner (in life or tango). In fact, the more precise I became in my technique, the less in demand on the social dance floor I seemed to become. I realized that this was because the unique nature of tango. The teamwork required to dance tango well is so much more important than any one person's individual technique.

Here was my big "I get it" moment: I discovered that I was spending all this time in my head critiquing my dance, and my partners could feel my judgment and they felt that I was judging them. Often, I was. When you're in that self-degrading headspace it just flows right over onto those around you, so of course the person in my arms could feel it. If something wasn't going right, I was quick to judge and blame, both myself and my partner. Neither of us was immune. No fun for my partner, I'm sure. And no fun for me, either. I hated tango. Why am I doing this? I asked, again and again.

So, when my world collapsed, and that critical something in me broke, I gave in to my imperfections. I stopped caring about mistakes, and I just started dancing, and the joy of the partnership was suddenly clear to me in a way it hadn't been before. Suddenly, I realized that there was a human being on the other side of my embrace. A person who had maybe had a really rough day at work, or had just received great news from far away, or had just eaten a huge dinner and felt uncomfortable with me leaning against his spaghetti belly. A person who had his own things going on, someone outside my perfectionism, a partner to meet in the middle. It took me out of my head, my relentless thoughts, and gave me something else to focus on, which was good for me.

This was my mindset when I realized I had a free ticket to BsAs that was nearing its expiration date. Going to Argentina was scary for me because I didn't know how to hold on to this new side of tango, the part outside my head. I was worried about the dance floors of Buenos Aires, with all of those experienced dancers sitting on the sides watching everything. And talking about it. I was terrified of dancing with the old milongueros who seemed to be looking for something in me that I wasn't sure I had, even with all that technique. I was worried that I'd slip back into my head too easily if I didn't learn how to stop myself.

So, I made a choice. A choice that seemed incredulous to those whom I told about it. I decided not to take any privates and few classes during my two months in Argentina. I decided to go to the milongas and practicas, and just dance. That's it.

I had demons I was wrestling. Personal, internal, and mean. I needed to focus on the really hard parts of tango. Not the physical, where-do-I-put-my-foot-during-that-sacada parts, but the really hard stuff; the emotional and mental sides of tango. The fears and self-doubt that come up when so-and-so doesn't ask you to dance, or when he does ask you to dance and you mess up. The feelings of exclusion and not being good enough, and even just the incredible frustration of the learning process. These are the hard parts. These are the things I was working on during my last trip to BsAs. I didn't want technique to distract me from that stuff, as it had for the two years before.

And, I believe that that's really the moment that I became a good dancer. It was when I stopped caring about the stuff that really doesn't matter. The partnership. Mutual respect, teamwork, compassion, that's the good stuff.

I'm writing about this now, 2 years later, because I am finding that the stumbling blocks for my students in tango aren't the moves, the steps, the physical parts, though those things can be challenging, for sure. I find that people give up on tango because of the emotional and mental sides of tango. The social interactions that irritate, the frustrations of the learning curve, the downward spiral, all of that. Those things that cause the exact same problems in one's everyday life, but are magnified in tango because of its intensity. People don't leave because they are unable to master ganchos. They leave because they don't want to deal with their demons, and I think that you have to, to stay in tango.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Momentum of Apathy

ACS Image of NGC 5866

Courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope, shuttle mission launched today to make some repairs for another five years of service from the telescope...

From the Hubble site::

This is a unique NASA Hubble Space Telescope view of the disk galaxy NGC 5866 tilted nearly edge-on to our line-of-sight.

Hubble's sharp vision reveals a crisp dust lane dividing the galaxy into two halves. The image highlights the galaxy's structure: a subtle, reddish bulge surrounding a bright nucleus, a blue disk of stars running parallel to the dust lane, and a transparent outer halo.

Some faint, wispy trails of dust can be seen meandering away from the disk of the galaxy out into the bulge and inner halo of the galaxy. The outer halo is dotted with numerous gravitationally bound clusters of nearly a million stars each, known as globular clusters. Background galaxies that are millions to billions of light-years farther away than NGC 5866 are also seen through the halo.

NGC 5866 is a disk galaxy of type "S0" (pronounced s-zero). Viewed face on, it would look like a smooth, flat disk with little spiral structure. It remains in the spiral category because of the flatness of the main disk of stars as opposed to the more spherically rotund (or ellipsoidal) class of galaxies called "ellipticals." Such S0 galaxies, with disks like spirals and large bulges like ellipticals, are called 'lenticular' galaxies.

The dust lane is slightly warped compared to the disk of starlight. This warp indicates that NGC 5866 may have undergone a gravitational tidal disturbance in the distant past, by a close encounter with another galaxy. This is plausible because it is the largest member of a small cluster known as the NGC 5866 group of galaxies. The starlight disk in NGC 5866 extends well beyond the dust disk. This means that dust and gas still in the galaxy and potentially available to form stars does not stretch nearly as far out in the disk as it did when most of these stars in the disk were formed.

The Hubble image shows that NGC 5866 shares another property with the more gas-rich spiral galaxies. Numerous filaments that reach out perpendicular to the disk punctuate the edges of the dust lane. These are short-lived on an astronomical scale, since clouds of dust and gas will lose energy to collisions among themselves and collapse to a thin, flat disk.

For spiral galaxies, the incidence of these fingers of dust correlates well with indicators of how many stars have been formed recently, as the input of energy from young massive stars moves gas and dust around to create these structures. The thinness of dust lanes in S0s has been discussed in ground-based galaxy atlases, but it took the resolution of Hubble to show that they can have their own smaller fingers and chimneys of dust.

NGC 5866 lies in the Northern constellation Draco, at a distance of 44 million light-years (13.5 Megaparsecs). It has a diameter of roughly 60,000 light-years (18,400 parsecs) only two-thirds the diameter of the Milky Way, although its mass is similar to our galaxy. This Hubble image of NGC 5866 is a combination of blue, green and red observations taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys in November 2005.

One light year is the distance light travels in one year which is equal to 5.88 trillion miles. So this galaxy, NGC 5866 is 44 million light years away from Earth. Doing the math, I get 2.5872 x 10 to the 20th power miles away. 1 sextillion is 1.00 x 10 to the 21st power. Arg! I shoulda paid better attention in algebra, calculus and physics.

258,720,000,000,000,000,000 miles from Earth, equal to 13.5 megaparsecs, which at least makes it a little easier to say, if comprehension escapes us. My brain literally feels like there are ants crawling around inside it right now. Is it comprehension to cognitate that something is incomprehensible? No. Not even close.

I'm struck with this: We can build a space vehicle to launch this telescope that is capable of taking high resolution photographs of a beautiful galaxy 13.5 megaparsecs away, but we can't figure out how to all get along, and live our lives sustainably, in a manner that respects mother earth and all of the other creatures we share it with.

Can we overcome the momentum of apathy?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Milonga Campera :: Ezequiel Farfaro y Milena Plebs

I think this is from CITA 2003 [Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino] - the CITA dvd with some of the best performances ever, in my view. The audio is de-synched a bit. In the original (on the dvd), their musicality is dead on.

These are two dancers with no pretense whatsoever, and it shows in their dance.

Also, please note that this is "NOT" nuevo tango.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chatterbox Orchids

In the wild, this morning, near my humble abode...apparently, a very rare Texas wildflower...

Chatterbox Orchid 1

Chatterbox Orchid 2

Malevito on Ego ::: Part One

Mi compadre Malevito just made a post titled "Ouch! My ego." Malevito speaks of the "reality versus self-perception" conundrum in tango. Do we leaders think we are better dancers than we really are? All of us? Always? Or is it only a few? Sometimes?

My comment on his post was getting too lengthy, so I'm expanding that comment into a post.

He speaks of the balance between humility and ego. Humility bringing with it the ability to admit one is wrong, or the admission of a problem and the need for improvement. My own experience with this came at year one, roughly. I thought I was doing pretty good. I thought I was coming along in my tango. Dancing and practicing lots - classes every week, visiting teacher workshops out the wazoo. The Denver Memorial Day Festival with more classes, lots of classes, had just taken place, as I recall.

Then, I saw some video of myself - dancing tango - walking. God was that a painful moment. This tango fucker seems to be fraught with painful moments. Was it this humility thing that allowed me to see my tango reality - that I had a fucked up walk? (That's what I came to call it, my "fucked up walk".) Was it ego that made me angry at my teachers and friends for letting me walk like this asshole (that would me, the asshole) for a year without saying anything?

On the other side of the scale, ego. Was it ego that motivated me to immediately seek outside help? Professional help. The first private lesson involved a drive over the mountains and through the valleys down to Santa Fe for a Cecilia Gonzales workshop. Coincidentally, I just the other day re-watched the video I made of that lesson. Ouch! My ego. Painful, very painful to watch now. I couldn't even lead a molinete with my leading shoulder. That pain must come from humility. Perhaps.

Nine months later, after many more out-of-town privates, many more workshops, many more festivals, a helluva lot more awareness of my body and what it was doing in time and space, and I found myself with a group of friends in Buenos Aires. We're there to participate in one of Gustavo & Giselle's intensive six day seminarios. Luckily, I've done a little advance research, and I know my partner and I are going to be in over our heads. I know what we're in for kindasorta. Their seminarios intensivos are designed for advanced and professional dancers. We were barely strong beginners. Barely.

This seminario was at the C/D level - their thematic program in "Cambios de dirrecion" - Changes of Direction. When we walked in to Leonesa the first day, there were dancers milling about, stretching in various positions, looking like professional ballet dancers. The freight train of memories came pulling into the stop of my mind. Eleven years old. Fifth grade. New Orleans, Louisiana. Basketball try outs. My mom and I opening the large, squeaking door to the gymnasium. Everyone on the far side of the gym stopped and turned to look when the door opened. I promptly wheeled about and told my mom "Let's go, I don't want to do this anymore".

How many times have we all felt this in our tango? "I don't want to do this any more." Which is it that beats us down? Ego or humility?

That first day of the seminario, I very nearly walked back to the apartment, packed my bags, and taxi'd to the airport to catch the next flight home. I was there for the wrong reasons. Female problems. Partner issues. I knew we were in over our heads. Our teacher had organized the trip for herself. We were simply along for the ride - to pay her way to BA really. Did ego trigger the "walk away" response in me? Was it humility that told me I had no business being there?

Was it ego that reasoned with me to stay, buck up, and make the best of it? Or was it humility? I'm glad I did stay. I didn't want to abandon my partner. I didn't want to abandon my own adventure of my first trip to Buenos Aires. My partner and I went from being at the bottom of the class (40 couples) the first two days, to being in the middle of the pack for the remainder. I reasoned that if I did not retain one single element from the six days, not one single concept, that it would still make me a better dancer. Not immediately. Not the next month. The next year? Perhaps. My rationale was that the workshop material would sink in through osmosis - over time, things would come back to me. And I was right about that. It was a humbling experience for me, that first trip to Buenos Aires. Tango has been a humbling experience for me. Methinks if it's not humbling you, there's something amiss.

In my life (thanks to a few books on Taoist principles), and in tango, I try to tend ego to zero, and tend humility to the infinite. I joke, mostly to myself, about "Me, myself and I" - the three entities at work with regards to "Alex". I say to myself, "Self, now is this me, myself, or I at work?" Me is me. The true being, the true essence of energy that is me. Myself is my self. Perhaps my physical self that is closer to the me side of things. I is the asshole, the pure bad ego sonofabitch that I have pretty much rid myself of. I count myself lucky that I never really had much I in me. Me is the humble. I is the arrogant.

It's kinda like cholesterol. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. I think there are two egos. Good ego, the me ego. Bad ego, the I ego. Good ego, the spiritual acknowledgment of self, the ego of humility, the ego of selflessness. Bad ego, the earthly manifestation of self interest and selfishness.

But now I sit here and wonder, is this post, this entire blog, fueled by ego? Fueled by I? Or me? Or myself? I once updated my Facebook status line to read, "Alex is glad I'm me." I like that. Or is it me likes that? Third person verbal worm hole.

Dammit! I got sidetracked again. Once again, thinking too damn much. More on the tango-centric aspects of this post another time. I've got to get ready to drive out to Bandera. Sweetie-pie honey bunch has a gig out there on the banks of the Medina River. Plus, I've got to go get those photos of the wild chatterbox orchids we found on our bike ride yesterday.