Saturday, April 26, 2014


NOTE: This editorial is solely the opinion of the author, who is vice president, board member and a programming committee member of the Chesapeake Film Festival. 
This year there is a new Programming Committee screening films for the upcoming 2014 Chesapeake Film Festival.  The new committee is under the very able leadership of Tracy Beckett.  Tracy has worked in the White House as Director of Communications for Clinton administration Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta.  She has also worked in the private sector as Vice President of Development and Regional Production for the National Geographic Channels International in Washington, D.C., and has worked as a consultant for All Roads Film Festival Tour, Gospel Music Channel, Wag TV, and as a US representative for a UK-based production company.
The Programming Committee plays the pivotal role in determining which films make the final slate to be shown in our annual Chesapeake Film Festival.  The idea is for each of the committee members to screen all films, share their opinions with other members, and ultimately to vote on which films we accept.  Discussion is had and votes are tallied at monthly meetings.  It is a more democratic process than in the past.  Formerly, the committee would go through the motions and then the director would exercise what were essentially dictatorial powers to accept or reject the will of the committee as a whole.  So now, whereas there used to be one “decider” with the façade of democracy, the new Programming Committee is more of an exercise of democracy-in-action – or is it?
This year’s Programming Committee is made up of ten members.  Unfortunately, of these ten members there are only a handful who actively screen films; of these, hardly any report their reviews back to the other committee members; and only three or four turn up for meetings.  The problem, of course, is getting volunteer committee members to abide by their commitments to actually do what they have each agreed to do; one cannot easily chastise a volunteer.  And so, what began as a revamp for more democracy-in-action seems to have reverted, due to the apathy and inaction of uncooperative members, into a kind of oligarchical clique who now decides on the final acceptance/rejection of films.  
Moreover, the Programming Committee also determines critical policy as to whether to establish rigid acceptance criteria for the submission of any film being proposed.  The acceptance criteria issues, which led up to a canvassing of the Programming Committee members, are two: 1) whether films should be limited to only recent ones that have premiered only in the past two years, and 2) whether a film should be excluded from consideration if it can be watched for free online.  Tracy was in favor of initiating such rules.  Programming Committee member Kurt Kolaja, a Chestertown filmmaker (and also a board member) agreed.  Of course, the inactive members were sought out for their vote on policy too.  But these folks either fell in line by sheepishly siding with the clique-in-charge or offered a non-committal response.  And so the imperfect democratic system slogs on. 
Now, it seems, films which have fallen through the cracks and are discovered too late are perpetually doomed as no-go festival material.  Thus, films such as Resonance: Beings of Frequency (2009), a British exposé that educates the public about the toxic microwave environment that has been created all around us, have been relegated to the dustbin for being too old and available for free online.  Similarly, films that are not a part of the corporate distribution machine and just want to educate people to the truth of what is happening to their constitutional rights, such as Molon Labe (2013), are excluded from consideration because they can be watched for free online.  Molon Labe is the definitive treatment on the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the treachery of gun control.  In other words, films that challenge the status quo, whether due to corporate profits that trump the well-being of people, or the mad rush by New World Order types to disarm the citizenry, are first marginalized by the mainstream, only to then get sidelined because of the CFF’s new “acceptance criteria rules” proposal.
One board member, against showing films that are more than two years old, suggested an exception: “No to older films with exception of something unique.  Sophia Loren attends CFF to give a talk and show a film.  No rules apply in such a situation.”  OK, to this board member Sophia Loren constitutes “something unique.”  Sounds awfully subjective to me.  
Another board member who seemed equally opposed to films over two years old also tried to carve out an exception: “In the "old days" we had a one year shelf life policy. We wanted to keep the programming fresh. This is even more important with UTube. [sic] Take them some place they have never been. We made exceptions for arty classics like Cassavetes.”  Then comes a further exception qualifier:  “That said, if there is an amazing package that draws a great speaker or community tie in, then think about how big a splash you can make.”  This was the same Programming Committee member who, some four years ago, sponsored Ashes and Diamonds, a 1958 film from Polish director Andrzej Wajda (1958). 
Two other committee members stayed on the fence on the issue, one willing to “go along with whatever the consensus is.”  Another suggested that we offer a “guided presentation using video material available on the Internet” of online free films (as part of the mini-treatise emailed on the subject).  Another disjointed email by that same member discussed Molon Labe via such a schizoid analysis I wondered whether this contribution was the result of multiple martinis. 
If this were a democratic election process, a referendum that seeks the vote of our movie-watching constituency would be a better way to accept or reject such rules.  Ah, the democratic process! – it’s clumsy but it works, I suppose.  
The bottom line is this – if a film is germane to a current issue, even if that film is five years old – and this film does a good job educating the public, it is a worthy film.  The CFF cannot and should not be a rubber stamp for the mainstream media or mainstream culture.  Even if a film can be viewed for free online, viewing a film with others in a theater format is different, especially if experts are on hand to offer a stimulating panel discussion following the showing of that film.  This is the rationale for charging a fee to view a film that is otherwise free online. 
Certainly a film festival should premier new-ish films.  But a film festival is more than just a showcase for new releases.  Its festiveness is all about the wonders of film, truth, and new dimensions of reality they impart to us.  Classic films have timeless qualities and much to teach.  Documentaries too.  So why not leave the acceptance criteria open a crack?  That’s all this is about and it seems the consensus is moving in this direction.  That is, no absurd rules to hamstring us! 
Therefore, I argue that to establish rigid rules on acceptance criteria, as has been proposed, does nothing but bind ourselves and the Chesapeake Film Festival into a straight jacket of our own design; it is a form of self-censorship that rivals modern politics in its ability to shun the past and the lessons of the past in favor of something “new and improved!”  And to this I, for one, exclaim, just as Gerard Depardieu did in the film Cyrano, “No, merci!”

Sunday, April 13, 2014


The weird thing about the winter of 2014 was that once-in-a-while there would be a day or two of magnificent Spring weather.  Overall, though, that winter was bitterly cold, snowy and endless.  Even the last week of March, as I hurried to pack my bag, the US East Coast was being pummeled yet again with snow.   A good day to disappear, I thought, to a sunnier clime.

We had to sit in the aircraft while they sprayed de-icer on the wings.  But soon we were aloft above the gray mucky clouds and on our way to the pit stop in Atlanta.  It was a Tuesday.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays were good flying days because fewer passengers fly on those days.  I had an aisle seat.  There was a frumpy blonde gum-chewer sitting at the window, and no one sat between us.  The rest of the passengers seemed like the usual crowd of self-absorbed wannabes who can be found anywhere and at any time around the Washington, DC area.

Ah, Atlanta!  I felt a better vibe right away as I exited the landing terminal and picked up on the people around me.  There was that same American slovenliness going on, but with less pretension.  And looking into the bearded faces of some of the men, I pictured them wearing Johnny reb caps, invisible of course, except to me as I called up in my mind that certain Southern something radiating from the Anglo-stock faces that are so common down South.  And I sensed the same, national, hyper-consumerist sensibility in the finely accessorized women – even with the tattooed-and-pierced crowd – they want to be pretty and desirable.  Were there more blondes down here or was it my imagination?  Many of the black folk also seemed to have a fanatic attraction to consumerism; I judge this by the faddishness of their clothing and their loud gaming with consumer electronic gadgets.
Besides the gaming throng, as I marched along to the international departure terminal of the airport I was treated to a history lesson on the City of Atlanta.  This being the home turf of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there was an abrupt change in that history starting in the post-war years.  From that point on it appeared as though African-American history became the history of Atlanta. This was topped off by a large photo of a proudly beaming black mayor as I came to the end of my long march.  The city was doing what cities do – taking particular pride in all of its development and in how many big businesses it has attracted to its flashy-new bosom.  I was convinced now, more than ever, that the movements for black civil rights and gender equality had devolved into a striving for money and materialism; a buying into a system that co-opts and absorbs the spirit of all who aspire to its power and privilege.  But enough with the over-analysis and introspection – definite markers that a vacation is surely in order.
This trek to Ecuador was no vacation in the ordinary sense.  Some call it “dental tourism.”   Sure, it was a chance to get my teeth fixed by a knowledgeable dentist, but just as important, it was a chance to explore and investigate the Cuenca area as a possible retirement location.  It was a working vacation of only one week to accomplish both objectives.
The reason I was heading for Ecuador was because of Dr. Robert Dowling.  Dr. Dowling is the founder of the North Carolina Institute of Technology.  He estimates that 95% of people have oral pathology.  What this means is the presence of a root canal, wisdom teeth that were improperly removed, or a tooth that has been improperly capped.  Oral pathology can be suggested by a thermal image (which can find tumors in women’s breasts 10 years before a mammogram can).  However, the prefatory step to actual dental extraction is to have a CAT-scan of one’s mouth.  Is this a stride forward from the old dental X-ray technique?  That depends upon who you ask.  Standard X-rays offer more detail, but a CAT-scan is supposed to show “cavitations.”  One gets a whole panorama of the mouth, top and bottom, in one large X-ray-like glance.  According to Dr. Dowling, removal of the dead tooth (i.e., root canal tooth) from the jaw will put an end to the neurotoxins that fester here and that spread throughout the body.  These are the cause of many degenerative diseases, e.g., cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, etc.  This, together with Dr. Dowling's proprietary enzyme liquid supplement and bio-ablation of any tumor(s), offers hope to those who would otherwise be slashed, burned, and poisoned by the traditional treatment.  As a result of his work, Dr. Dowling had been harassed and threatened, and he finally relocated to Ecuador in order to continue his research into healing otherwise hopeless cases.  Do the research yourself; read the testimonials from many, many people who have been cured after the medical cartel (using surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) gave up on them.

In thermal imaging, areas that are hotter than others are likely indicators of infection and show up as white or red.  I went to see Dr. Dowling in order to take a thermal image of my whole body.  There were two hot-spot areas in my mouth, and other hot spots on my neck and upper chest area.  The images were sent out to team of medical doctors who interpreted the thermography.  I received the results about two weeks later.  Their analysis was that there was something going on with my endocrine system and the right leg showed excessive heat. (I have only one root canal: on the lower, right side.)  I understood the report to indicate that inflammation was present.  According to their interpretation, there was no particular disease, per se, but I still wanted to remove my root canal and change out my mercury fillings.
Bob Dowling was back in the states at this time and was not able to meet me in Ecuador.  Instead, my point of contact when I arrived in Cuenca was an associate of his, Mason Connors who met me at the airport.  He was tall, well-groomed, and sported a chin beard tied up with a rubber band.  We set off immediately via bus.  There is a serendipitous synchronicity that occurs with purposeful travel and I was about to rediscover that once again…
Mason directed me to a hostal he knew of.  The AlterNative Hostal is a clean and simple hostel run by a young couple, Javier and Nicole.  It is situated on Avenida Huayna Capac at Calle Largo (or just where Calle Largo turns into Cacique Duma) and cost me $11 per night.  Calle Largo turns into the happening strip in downtown Cuenca.


Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador.  They use the U.S. dollar here. Though they have their own coins you can also use American coins.  It costs 25 cents to ride any bus and $2 for a taxi to take you to just about any place in the city.  There are four rivers that transect the city, but one main river raged in a torrent through the center of town and this is what oriented me to the landscape. Mason gave me a map of the city and invited me over to his apartment to have lunch later that day.
Finding sustenance was easy.  I asked where I might buy some provisions and Nicole, who had spent time in Canada and spoke English, told me there was a SuperMaxi supermarket about a ten-minute walk across the river.  I checked it out since it was closer to the hostel.  As I tend to do, I got a little lost looking for it, but finally found it.  And yes, it was the typical, Western industrial food store.  (Soon I was making trips to the big Mercado down at the other end of Calle Largo.)

That first day I schlepped over to Mason’s apartment.  Here I met his wife, Marietta, who works from her home fabricating dentures.  They have a five-month old baby boy, Dylan.  There was also an American, Claude Whalen, who was staying with them temporarily and who was also having his teeth worked on by the same dentist.

It wasn’t until I got to Cuenca and was hanging around in Mason’s apartment, that I heard about the odyssey of Bob’s clinic.  It turned out that Mason had built this clinic for Bob.  It was out of town a bit, along the PanAmerican Highway.

Apparently, unbeknownst to Bob, all of the land surrounding the clinic was owned by some big local strongman who didn’t like having this interloper so close by.  As time went by, the clinic was broken into twice and Bob had also been intimidated by a gun-toting carabaneri.  He ultimately decided it would be best to sell the property and to start over in a more propitious location.  So his new clinic was now only a fading memory.  It was due to be sold right around the time I arrived and Mason was scouting for a location to build a new clinic.

The only thing I was able to do on my first full day in Cuenca, was to go to a radiology office to get a CAT-scan of my teeth.  Mason and his wife brought me over there.  I stood perfectly still while the machine did a circle around my head.  It cost me only $20.  And, after waiting just a few minutes, I was presented with a large x-ray-looking sheet in an envelope.  It showed a panoramic view of my jaw and all the teeth in my mouth.  It looked pretty impressive.

It turned out that the dental clinic was about three miles from my hostel.  It was a pleasant walk along the river, for the most part.  I managed to get two appointments for the next day, Thursday, at 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

I set out walking the next morning, and of course I walked the wrong way.  Totally confused and time running out, I decided to hop into a taxi.  He drove a long way.  (I had not yet determined that I had walked the wrong way along the river.)

Soon I arrived and met my dentist, Dr. A.V. Clermo.  The only gripe I have is that Clermo had no idea I was coming until about a week before I arrived.  He had to cancel quite a few appointments to accommodate me.  I felt bad for those folks who had to wait (Claude was one of them) but I also felt fortunate that he was able to fit me in.  Here it was, the last week of March and I thought Bob had already set up my appointments after I called him in early February, but I suppose he didn’t get around to it until I called about a week before my departure.  It was now clear to me that Bob was an absent-minded professor type who seems to have trouble following through on things.  No matter.  The dentist was very accommodating under the circumstances, knowing that I had flown all this way to see him and that I had less than a week now to complete the work.  In the end it all worked out.

In any event, Dr. Clermo was gracious.  He looked at the CAT-scan and we talked about what I wanted done.  The scan showed only one root canal but also ten mercury fillings.   First, he said he would extract the big, dead molar (root canal) on the right side of my mouth.  This required surgery.  He injected lots of local anesthetic.  Then proceeded to do some cutting and tugging.  The tooth was brittle and broke into many pieces but it finally came out.  I felt no pain.

From Clermo’s office I walked over to a Farmacia he recommended to buy my prescriptions: some antibiotics, some pain pills and powder, and some antiseptic mouthwash.  I also bought some vitamin-C tablets.  My 2-3 years of high school Spanish started to kick-in.  I still wonder at my ability to remember some of the vocabulary and a little grammar after so many years.  But it only takes a day or two of immersion and I do pretty darn well in present tense!

I returned that afternoon (after noting my directional error and correcting for that).  It took about 50 minutes to walk there.  He immediately proceeded to install a rubber dam and remove two mercury fillings and replace them with a non-toxic, composite material.  It was harrowing at times.   No anesthetic was used.  As he got a bit too close to the nerve endings there was some sharp, jolting pain.  And while this drama played out, the Turkish Rondo suddenly sounded (somebody’s ringtone). This lent an air of comedy or a sort of keystone cops sensibility to the scene.  Soon he finished and now there were two down and eight to go.  My third appointment was the next day, Friday at 11:30 AM.

Friday’s appointment was spent on the two teeth with the deepest fillings.  These needed to be replaced with in-lays.  A silicone mold was taken and sent off to the local lab.  There, zirconia in-lays (partial crowns) were fabricated and, I suppose, were returned the same day because I had an early appointment the next day, Saturday, at 8:00 AM, and they were ready.  (However, Clermo was not satisfied. “I want them to fit perfectly,” he said.  He took another silicone mold and sent this off for them to be fabricated over again – on a Saturday!)  My final appointment would be on Monday at 3:30 PM.

After my Friday appointment, I went over to Mason’s apartment.  I had been pestering him to show me around Cuenca and maybe some outlying towns.  After lounging around at his place for a bit, he asked if I wanted to take a walk.  Off we went.  We headed down Gran Columbia to Av. Huayna Capac and right by my hostel, heading down toward the river.  Almost from the start of our little meandering we got into a far-ranging dialogue about life that went from the philosophical to the metaphysical.  Mason was 35-years old.  I noticed back at the apartment he was reading a book entitled J. Krishnamurti in Conversation with David Bohm.  He is a spiritual seeker, but unlike many such seekers, Mason is intensely focused, with a knowing certitude that is slightly disarming.  As we walked, I listened to his life story.

His childhood and that of his siblings sounded pretty grim.  He had a brother in jail who remains unrepentant.  In fact, Mason had done a stretch himself for assault and attempted murder.  But, unlike his brother, Mason had come around during his confinement; he had opened to some universal truths and was actively working to overcome his former demons. I believe he said his father was an alcoholic and porno addict.  His sister had been murdered.  There was a lot of early drug use.  It all sounded so intensely debased that it was remarkable Mason was able to transcend it all.  He had given up drinking alcohol about six months prior and he appeared to be devoutly dedicated to his new path of righteousness.  Speaking of which, Mason had even studied to be a Christian preacher.  Part of that training was to present lectures around various parts of the country.  This familiarized him with the Bible and strengthened what seemed like very natural public speaking abilities.  In short, I liked Mason.  He was a man of both contemplation and action.  He articulated his stance on various things with strength and conviction.  He had a ready smile and a no-nonsense approach to most things.  Though young, I sensed an old soul as we walked and talked and hung out at the city park, a massive lot of green where the central river melded with the southern branch.  Here, we rested a bit while talking about whether the use of violence is ever appropriate.  It was a fine, sunny day and our conversation took us places.  Slowly, we made our way back toward my hostel.

There we parted ways.  I went to take a nap.  We agreed to meet a few hours later at the symphony hall, just a block from where I was staying.  And we did just that – we attended the symphony that evening with his business partner and that partner’s lovely Ecuadorian wife.  It wasn’t half bad, as symphonies go, starting off with Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.  But we all got a little bored and took off after about two-thirds of the way into the program, and called it a night.

Hostel life, especially on the weekend, was more than a little raucous.  The one window of my small room overlooked the kitchen area.  There were some Dutch girls and some Germans too, with a sprinkling of Aussies and Americans and who-knows-who – all gathered around in the kitchen and the TV lounge area.  It was one loud party Friday night.  I was holed up in my room, alternately screening films and trying to get some shut-eye.  The party would take up again Saturday afternoon.  Lots of drinking and loud talking and kids being kids.  Still, it was manageable.

At my 8:00 AM appointment on Saturday Clermo removed the remaining mercury fillings and replaced them with non-toxic composite material.  I was out by 10:15 and headed toward the market to investigate how things went on the weekend.  The “hill ladies” were there with their trademark hats and colorful peasant dresses.  Vegetables and fruits were overflowing from the lines of stands; meats were hanging or sitting in platters and folks were cruising up and down the aisles, gawking and sometimes buying.  In the back of the market there were lots of shoes for sale.  Closer to the town square I had been eyeing a pair of high top dress shoes like my grandfather used to wear.  But here the shoes looked like cheap China knock-offs and nothing appealed to me.  There were lots of other things too, hardware and tools and stuff you find in markets worldwide.

I went up to the second floor and got some just-made carrot and alfalfa juice, followed by a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice.  Then I wandered over to the prepared food section.  Stalls were lined up in a horse-shoe.  Each stall featured a whole roast pig and potatoes and salad. A portion of each pig was gone, to one extent or another, having been carved up and served.  There were tables and chairs within the horse-shoe where families were gathered with their plates of food.  I got some potatoes and salad, then moved on to shop for grapes and bananas and apples and such.

The mornings, like the evenings, were cool, but now it was warming up.  I made my way down Calle Largo with my bags, heading for my little hostel refuge.  When I got there I noticed there was not much activity.  Most were still sleeping off the antics of the night before.  The rest of the day was spent lollygagging around.  I decided I needed a mental health day of doing nothing but resting up without much mucking about.  After all, I had really been on the move since arriving.

Sunday, March 30, was a balmy day with blue skies interrupted now and again by cloud banks. At mid-morning I set off for Mason’s apartment and ended up taking a walk with Claude. It was his birthday. He was 63. We again headed for the same park.

Claude was from Seattle but had also lived in California.  He told me his father had grown up in Berlin, MD.  On this walk, and another one we took later, we talked of many things – mineral supplements, the JFK assassination, the New World Order, Zionism, fractional reserve banking, even extraterrestrials.  Claude knew a lot about “Billy” Meier and I asked him to tell me what he knew about this modern-day, quasi-Gurdjieff-like character.  He had some startling revelations about this deeply spiritual man, now living in Switzerland, and I made up my mind to pick up some of his books soon.

We were getting hungry and by pure chance ended up at a place called the Inca Bar & Bistro that overlooked the river.  It turned out to be what I would call a gringo bar. The American owner, Mike, was in and he introduced himself.  He seemed like a nice guy.  I soon regaled him with stories of Stubby Knuckles and, after telling him he ought to have some live music in here, was told that he had live music in there all the time.  He said he has a PA and even has an electric piano with weighted keys.  It was definitely a serendipitous synchronicity.  I made sure to give him my card and told him that I would return and play here when I did.  He seemed pleased to hear that and I had that good feeling of having found a gig in a special place.  (This was not the place I have seen in a “prophetic” vision, but it was close enough and I already long to return and to play here.)

Monday arrived too soon.   I was down in the kitchen early, washing and cutting up some vegetables and fruit.  A charming and lovely young lady strolled in just then and I offered her some of my bounty.  Her name was Emma.  We hit it off immediately and ended up going out onto the veranda, where we got into a very spirited conversation while sharing some grapes.  It turned out she was close to graduating from law school when she suddenly experienced a phase of extreme ennui.  And so she was off to travel around for some months to chase away this demon.  She looked strikingly like my sister, Jane.  In fact, her father was Algerian and her mother was French.  She was from southern France.  She had just arrived at the hostel the night before. She spoke English rather well and I invited her downtown to "show her everything that I had already discovered." She eagerly accepted my invitation.  She was just 25 years old.  I felt fatherly (brotherly, actually) toward her and I just really enjoyed being with her.

We went to the juice bar at the Mercado.  There were some huge eggs on display at this stall.  She inquired about them.  They were ostrich eggs.  She wanted some of that in her juice.  She was an adventurous lass to say the least and we traded contact info.  Soon we returned to the hostel.  Although I invited her to lunch, she went to take a nap and ended up sleeping for hours, way beyond lunchtime.  I saw her later, briefly, and in my mind I lamented that I would soon be leaving...    

It would be my last full day in Cuenca and I decided to buy some gifts for the family on this day.   I had been eyeing some woolen goods at a tiny shop along my usual route to the downtown area.  So I went there and bought a lovely white wool sweater with a hood ($22) and a pink poncho made from a mixture of lamb’s wool and llama wool with a stylish, pink woolen watch cap/beret ($33).  Marietta dragged me to a souvenir market where I picked up a pair of maracas with “Ecuador” carved into them.

My final appointment was on Monday at 3:30 PM.  This time the inlays fit perfectly and they were put in place.  Clermo offered to give me a periodontal cleaning for $100.  This was the finishing touch.  The total I paid was about $1750 (for surgery to remove the root canal tooth, ten mercury fillings removed and replaced, including two molar inlays, and a cleaning).  This was probably about one-third what I would have had to pay in the states.  As for replacing the tooth that had been extracted, Marietta took a look and quoted me a special price of $120 to fabricate a removable denture.  There was a waiting period of at least six weeks before that can be attempted.  My regular dentist has agreed to provide her with a silicone mold or whatever is needed for her to do the job when the time comes.

On Tuesday I came for a final visit to Mason’s apartment.  Somehow, Dr. Hulda Clark came up in the conversation.  She was a pioneer in vibrational healing frequencies with her “zapper.”  And wouldn’t you know it, Claude knew all about her work and even had a zapper with him.  He offered to hook me up for an hour and a half treatment and I gladly accepted.  It was all too much, really – synchronicity beyond serendipity!
The cultural mutant finds some friends

I feel that I have new friends down in Cuenca.  Clermo is a knowledgeable, soft-spoken, skillful and gentle dentist who gets things done.  Mason Connors is a good man.  His wife, too, is helpful and charming.  The other dental patient, Claude Whalen, turned out to be a fine companion as well.  It was refreshing to spend time with folks who are familiar with more subtle and esoteric subject areas, not to mention society’s artificial constructs and the cryptocracy (and all that that entails).  Especially around the East Coast (and in particular the DC area), people are so asleep – even friends and family – it is not so easy living and being here.  But I felt none of that alienation and separation when I arrived way south of the border.  In fact, Mason estimates that about 60% of the estimated 5,000 American expats down in Cuenca “see through the world,” i.e., are hip to the way it really works and can sense how absolutely corrupt and wrong-headed things have become.  I guess that’s a big part of the reason why they made the move to Cuenca – to get outta Dodge.

Cuenca is not a perfect place – what place is?  But it is quite a nice spot – it’s on the equator, but, being 8,000 feet above sea level, the temperature stays at about seventy degrees all year round – eternal Spring.  And if you can prove you receive at least $800 in income each month, you can immigrate to Ecuador and even obtain dual citizenship.  I’ve concluded that it would make an excellent retirement refuge.  I’ve just got to work hard for a few more years in order to build up my monthly retirement allowance and save a bit.  I turn 60 in early May, 2014 and I’m happy to bow out early, at 62.  I just hope the system doesn’t completely implode so the expected monthly check disappears. 

In any event, I’d like to keep in touch with my new Cuenca allies over the coming years. (I’m only sorry that Claude won’t be down there.  He’s relocating to New Zealand.)  Between gigs at the Inca Bar & Bistro and social security checks I might be able to eke out a fairly decent living.  I could conceivably do some teaching also – English or law, for example – or perhaps even assist somehow in the operation of Bob Dowling’s new clinic. 

And so, despite having to get used to the high altitude, being on antibiotics and pain meds, and undergoing an excessive amount of teeth trauma over a six-day period, I really did enjoy my little adventure.  I’m likely going to make a return trip well-before two years goes by.  I’d like to bring my wife so that she can start musing on a move, something she is absolutely not inclined to do at the moment. 

I am now worry-free concerning my teeth.  I could never have afforded to have the work done here and I was quite impressed with Clermo.  I went online and gave Clermo two rousing endorsements.  I am already receiving eager follow-up questions from interested parties. (I respond and blind-copy Mason and Clermo.)

At some point it would be interesting to have a follow-up thermal imaging done to see if the former hot spots in my body have cooled down.  It turned out that there were three or more cavities forming under one of the deep amalgam fillings.  Now that the dead tooth is gone, and the cavities have been attended to, I imagine there will be less inflammation present.  It would be great to be able to check that.  I only wish that I had checked my C-reactive protein and homocysteine levels before having the dental work done to have a chemical benchmark for comparison.  Bob Dowling had promised to send me some of his latest enzyme solution.  I await that as soon as he gets around to following through. 
Battling for good health is becoming standard in a nation that has adulterated its soil and food and the environment generally.  Cuenca offers an alternative to the New World Order’s Agenda 21 and its depopulation plan.  If nothing else it is a refuge (at least for the time being).



Monday, March 3, 2014


Tractor-trailer driving was a compromise.  I had wanted to do something that was contributive to the overall welfare of humanity – and oh how I tried!  I spent months looking for the right writing/editing job, the right law or teaching job (if such things really exist) – I even looked at various and sundry oddball opportunities like bar tending and some crazy-but-respectable whatever-it-was overseas.  Nothing panned out.  As my unemployment benefits ran dry, my wife was relentlessly chanting, “truck driver! truck driver!”  Quite frankly, I thought she was off her rocker – how completely absurd!  Here I was, a fellow with a law degree and a Ph.D. who might be working as a lawyer or a professor – and I was opting instead to be a “road scholar.”

Well, as time slogged on and the poorhouse loomed larger, truck driving started to make sense to me.  For sure it appealed to my wander-lust of wanting to see what’s over the next hill; of moving, ever and always, moving.  And I wouldn’t have to work around any knuckleheads – just me, myself and I, rolling down the road.  At bed-time, wherever I might be, I’d be tucked away in my sleeper, gypsy-like, King of the Road.  Yes sir, and it paid tolerably well – that is, once you established yourself as a safe and responsible driver.  After two years of playing your cards right, and with luck, a driver could pull in $150K/yr.  So, suddenly, in the end it seemed like the right thing to do.

I went to a clinic for my DoT-required medical exam.  I studied for the written portion, passed that, and got my learner’s permit.  Then I signed up with a training facility to learn the pre-trip and driving skills that are necessary to pass the MVA test to get my Class A Commercial Driver License (CDL).

Halfway through my training to drive a tractor trailer I started to think about the nature of the freight I would soon be hauling.   Freight is material stuff, and all stuff is not equal.  Most stuff is complete and absolute crap – like the canned or packaged, processed glop that passes for the food commonly found in industrial grocery stores; like the second-rate junk that comes from China and is sold at WalMart; like the cheap, limited-life building products that are used to build the next, ugly tract housing project; like the knick-knacks, brickety-brac, fric-a-frac, and doo-dads that are sold in dollar shops; or the multitude of spare parts and other stuff that is needed to keep the whole shitaree, consumer society afloat. 

For whatever reason, trucks and interstate highways replaced the railroads.  This was a post-war commercial conspiracy among the oil and tire companies, truck manufacturers and the roads lobby.  In short, the overwhelming majority of what trucks haul is whatever corporations buy, import, produce, and sell – or simply transport.  Trucks are the corporate delivery cog in the corporate wheel.  And today, the truck driver is closely monitored by in-cab electronic equipment and continually hassled by the feds (DoT) and the state police. Why oh why did I not think about all of this before deciding to become a truck driver?  Pretty soon, the generalist/humanist/anarcho-primitivist-populist in me was in open revolt.  But oh, what to do!?

I wondered whether any truck drivers or truck companies out there cared about what they hauled.  I looked around at the other trainees and wondered the same thing.  At first I thought it would be best not to even raise the issue.  But toward the end of our training, I thought, “what the hell,” and chirped up about it.  There was a complete and uncomprehending silence.  I wasn’t about to elaborate and immediately wished I had not opened my mouth.  Thankfully, someone changed the subject and that was the end of it.

I did do an internet search or two and found nothing.  I thought about what freight I might prefer to haul.  All I could think of was organic vegetables and fruit, or perhaps cases of vintage wine.  However, now that I have had some more time to cogitate on the matter, I have come up with additional options: quality garden tools, wood-working tools, metal-working tools – uncomplicated hand tools, mostly – ceramic supplies, art supplies, or maybe musical instruments.  My criteria were simple: something passed muster as long as it was not stuff that is generally used by the seven main cartels that seek to position themselves at the top of the control hierarchy.  These are the government, military, intelligence community, energy, money, media and medical cartels.  To this we could readily add the law cartel; and we can certainly add the “hi-tech” sector and all other commodity fetish-type markets.  I might add “books” to the list – but only certain books, like vintage wines, would be worthy of getting to their destinations.  (These days, most of what is published is determined by the dictates of the media cartel and the mostly idiot demands of a dumbed-down populace. So books are out.)  Perhaps we could add organic seeds and fertilizer to the list of good stuff. 

But finally, the moment of truth arrives: what trucking company would limit itself to such a short and select but varied list of “good stuff”?  Even if such a trucking company exists, it would likely not pay very well.

So, it certainly looks as though the existential angst being suffered by the socially conscious truck driver will never be assuaged.  Yes, he appears to be doomed – destined to a fate of forever hauling crap, and more crap, and more crap.    Palm Apodaca's (Helena Kallianiotes) timeless nagging attack on modern society in the film Five Easy Pieces (1970), starring Jack Nicholson as a talented pianist recently fired from his job as an oil field roustabout, who eschews both the bourgeois values of the upper middle class (with its “pompous celibate” intellectuals) and those of the petty, rule-abiding working class.  He finds temporary refuge with his simple-but-real girlfriend (Karen Black).  Lost and restless, at the end of the movie Nicholson escapes his life by nabbing a ride in, of all things, a tractor-trailer.


Thursday, February 27, 2014


Should Friendship Heights have its own coat of arms?  This author thinks so, despite the trifling caveat as to the propriety of doing that.

At the dawn of the 20th Century, two families owned large tracts of land from which Friendship Heights would come to be: the Elds and the Shoemakers.  A coat of arms, traced respectively, to British and German origins, is associated with each name:

      If these coats of arms are used as the raw material for creating our own design, we of course can be accused of falling into the common error of accepting these as family coats of arms. (See endnote.)  In fact, the Shoemaker and Eld individuals represented by these coats of arms may very well have been completely unrelated to the Shoemakers and Elds of early Friendship Heights.  Still, the symbols within these coats of arms represent laudable qualities that are worthy of our consideration.  Moreover, we might adopt them on the basis of a pragmatic rationale that makes it more logical to use these coats of arms rather than ones associated with surnames unknown to the founding and early days of Friendship Heights. 

                  We now proceed by combining certain elements from the Eld and Shoemaker coats of arms into a unique one to suit our purposes.  Here is the proposed coat of arms for the Village of Friendship Heights:


                  The background of the shield is silver.  Silver symbolizes nobility, peace and serenity.  These qualities undergird the Village of Friendship Heights.  It is a noble place, a refuge that is at peace with itself and the world beyond its borders.

                  The chevron signifies protection of one engaged in some notable enterprise or faithful service.  This symbol honors the enterprising early builders, the later developers, and community activists who all worked hard to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood.  The chevron is blue.  The color blue stands for piety and sincerity.  In this sense, the Village can be understood as a neighborly place where all co-exist together (as if under one roof). 

                  The tree symbolizes antiquity, life, beauty.  It is combined with the castle, which signifies strength and fortitude; a symbol of defense and of steadfast individuals.  To the Village this dual symbol has a double meaning: 

1) that the beauty of the natural landscape (its green spaces, the so-called Bergdoll tract, and the life-giving waters and farms, fields and fruit trees that once abounded here) is not forgotten despite the towering edifices, and

2) that its strength inheres in the well-grounded individualism of its people, molded as it has been over a century of persevering life’s challenges – a century that has witnessed two world wars, economic depressions, and socio-cultural changes, adversity and malaise.  Surrounding most of the castle is the color red.  Red is the military color for excellence and fortitude; symbolic of nobility, boldness and ferocity – qualities characterizing the travails of the past century that were distilled into the fabric of the community known as Friendship Heights.

                  The knight with battle-axe stands for strength, intellect, and authority exercised in the execution of one’s duty.  (The battle-axe faces away from the partridge, as if defending it.)  The Shoemakers were Quakers and Quakers are advocates of non-violence.  The meaning here is that a strong defense is predicated as much upon strengths of moral character and intellect, as it is upon the force of arms – arms used only to defend oneself or others.

                  The partridge is a symbol of truth.  This community is savvy about who we are as a people and about what is really going on in the world around us.  We realize the fragility of that truth and willingly stand up to defend it.  To do so is the noblest undertaking of all.

                  Depicting three devices on a shield brings a balance steeped in tradition. The tradition of the Village of Friendship Heights is, as the name suggests, friendship – as this tradition was then, it is now and ever shall be.

                  The family crest is situated on top of the helmet.  The four plumes (feathers) represent the four directions of the physical world – north, south, east and west.  The star in the center of the crest symbolizes spirit, hope, constancy and celestial goodness. 
                     Finally, the red, white and blue found both in the family crest and in the shield identify the Village’s colors with those of the American republic.
PROPOSED:  That the community members comprising the Village of Friendship Heights adopt the newly minted coat of arms, thereby embracing the foregoing symbols and identifying with the qualities that these symbols represent.                                                                                   

     Heraldry, an invention of European feudal society, is a formal system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated.  Heraldic symbols can be used by being paraded about in colorful ceremonies.  When used in this way these symbols impart to spectators the character of those taking part, as defined by the composition of their coats of arms and other armorial bearings that are on display.  Similarly, when used on clothing or letterhead, for example, a coat of arms acts as a kind of icon, logo or branding instrument.
        Strictly speaking, and contrary to popular belief, a coat of arms was (and still is) bestowed by a sovereign upon individuals only.  A coat of arms does not even belong to the rest of that individual’s particular family or its progeny, let alone to other families who happen to have that same surname.  And so, for purists, to consider assigning a coat of arms to an entity such as Friendship Heights probably seems a bit absurd.  However, symbols are symbols, whether they are heraldic or not.  
        The meanings that symbols have garnered over time are capable of evoking an immediate, primordial awareness in observers.  These symbols might be explicitly understood or only subliminally apprehended.  Either way, a coat of arms composed of a myriad of symbols is a collective construction conveying multiple meanings.  By so doing a coat of arms sends a powerful message. 
        To construct a coat of arms, therefore, is to construct a collective imagery that identifies its bearer.  It can be deciphered at a glance.   To limit such a useful device to the formal system of heraldry would be to reserve its use only to the elites of those nation-states who control the heraldic system.  In other words, to feel inhibited from using heraldic devices would be to abdicate one’s own sovereign power to the state; it would be an overt admission of the inferior position of the individual to that of the state.  This nation was founded upon the inviolability of the individual – the only source from whom the state derives its power.  To deny oneself the innate value of the image as portrayed in a coat of arms is to deny one’s own sovereign liberty.  And so, to randomly choose symbols common to heraldry in order to design a homespun coat of arms is a noble act undertaken by the sovereign self.  Such an act typifies the fiercely independent character of those who claim Friendship Heights as their home.