Monday, March 30, 2009

How about a cinema bailout?

My wife and I had a rare treat Saturday: A kid-free night. So we spent it in a rare way: We went to a movie.

We passed a couple of fun hours entertained by this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire. And it was, in our minds after seeing it, a well-worthy recipient of film's most prestigious honor. I'm glad we got to see it on the proverbial big screen, too -- there's nothing to replace seeing a theatrical movie the way it's meant to be seen: Big.

That this film was so worth a night out -- complete with sharing popcorn and holding hands in the dark in front of the big screen -- was no surprise. That we shared it with an audience of only six others was.

Granted, we saw Slumdog many months after its release. And our hometown theater is a small venue in a small town. Still ... as I tallied our total outlay for out little night out, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps something else was contributing to so few others sharing our Saturday night at the movies.

Perhaps the same thing that makes it such a rare experience for us: the excessive, exorbitant cost.

I realize seeing a movie in Durango is still a relatively inexpensive experience compared with life in the Big City, where seeing a movie can run you upwards of $12 -- but that only adds to my argument.

My wife and I paid $19 for the two of us to see Slumdog down the road from house. Then we coughed up another $6-plus for popcorn -- served by three guys working behind the counter (and it seemed to take three of them ....) even though we were the only people in the lobby at showtime in our downtown duplex cinema.

So, $25 for two of us for a two-hour movie. Is it any wonder we so rarely venture to the movies? That so few others are willing to pay up for a night out?

Now, I'm no economic genius (for evidence, ask aforementioned wife), but doesn't it make sense to ... charge less and put more people in the seats? Have people buying more popcorn and soda, even if they pay less per unit??

I like going to the movies. And I know I myself, and my wife, would go to the theater several times a month -- there's usually that many good movies, and it's that enjoyable to see a film on the big screen (even if those screens keep getting smaller -- our own High Five Theater in Durango now is home to seven screens -- and the average home TV keeps getting bigger).

And I know we would go more, a lot more, if it wasn't $8.50 a pop to go. Half that -- even a nice even $5 -- seems fair. And much more reasonable. And doable.

At that price, I wonder how many more seats they'd be filling. I wonder how more neighbors we'd be sharing our night out with, if the studios and mega-cinema corporations had that kind of vision?

How much more fun would that be?

I also wonder how many teens would be out there, too. I know in a little town like ours -- like in most towns of any size anywhere -- teens are always looking for social things they can do. And they all like going to movies. So, make seeing a movie cost a square and affordable $5, make a bag of popcorn a simple buck or two, and don't you think kids would be flocking in? Over and over and over??

Folk wisdom says motion pictures helped keep America peaceful and together and uplifted during the last depression, during the real Depression.

Where, I wonder, is the wisdom now?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congress protects public lands

This just in from the National Wildlife Federation and
Today Congress passed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. This historic plan to protect America's public lands provides the largest expansion of wilderness in fifteen years.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act will conserve critical public lands and waters, which provide important wildlife habitat, natural resources and recreation opportunities to continue America's great conservation traditions for generations to come.

Specifically, the Act will secure wilderness designation for more than two million acres of public lands, protect thousands of miles of rushing rivers and establish a 26 million acre conservation system-- the first new system of conservation lands in the United States in more than 50 years.

More news stories about it here and here and here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Bum Family Tradition

It's corn season.

I mean my favorite kind of corn: corn snow groomed into a smooth lake-like surface, or corn snow sculpted into long fall-lines of steep waveforms that ski like surfing white-water chop.

I mean like the corn snow we found awaiting us on the first day of Spring at Purgatory this weekend.

So, as we do for a couple dozen days every ski season, we made some sandwiches and poured some coffee and put on our ski gear and jumped in the truck and headed up through the morning-glory blaze of the amazing Animas River Valley.

Another Wright family rite.

Skiing has been the sinew and tissue of our family. Since holding our three-year-old son under his arms so he can sail on his plastic boards on Chapman Hills' meagre slope, through our teen kids' having to wait for us -- sometimes with visible exasperation -- as their telemarking parents huff and grunt their way to the bottom of the lift, five months of our year is woven together with days passed skiing together.

Every year we make that big financial outlay in ski passes for the family. But, this, in my wife and my minds, is an sound investment in our family-health care. In fact, these frequent and, given Sarah's and my lives built around skiing (we met living at in a ski town, and married at the base of the town's ski area), damn-near religious days passed together on the nearby mountain -- and up in our nearby, amazing, gorgeous home-mountain range -- are the why of the what we have built our adult lives around.

We went from being ski bums to parenting bums.

The lift rides alone are worth it. This is why I hope they never really get around to replacing Purgatory's backside Lift 8 with that high-speed quad chair they've been threatening for years: Not only do I welcome that long rest after a long ground down the face of Paul's Park, but this is some the best time I get to spend with my kids: sitting on the chair and having the space in which you can only free-form chat.

Now, knowing there's only a few years of this frequent, ritualistic, intimate time left in our relationship with our kids, I savor every opportunity I get with them like this. Just-talking time, rather than the more common and pragmatic day-to-day talking-about-something-specific time. Time shared in some magnificent place. Time spent out-of-doors and honing and exploring a physical skill.

And the chance to teach them -- to show, not just tell them -- what I think life and living really are:

Do more. Want less.

The Bum life, however those values are manifested.

Watching them schuss the slush, I think they get it. And watching them run into their friends on the mountain -- friends of their often raised by friends of our who, too, live here to be Bum Parents -- I'm thinking they all -- the "Western Ski Bums: The Next Generation" -- get it, too.


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hip hop hits Durango!

Now that was fun!

Living here in little ol' remote Durango, we don't get many tastes of Big City Culture. And if I miss anything of living near one of them Big Cities, it's the music culture.

Sure, we get some great underground folk and bluegrass -- such as The Gourds playing the intimate and historic Henry Strater Theatre (a.k.a. "The Hank") last week, and Martin Sexton who will be making his guitar sing as ornately as his voice Sunday night.

But beyond that, the big acts (aside from the occasional acts who were big back thirty years ago when I was a teenager living near one of those big cities, and who are today more like a bit of traveling history than a true, vibrant musical experience, i.e. The Beach Boys last summer, or upcoming shows by the Charlie Daniels Band and Stephen Stills) tend to -- of course -- bypass our little hamlet set so far off the interstate in favor of those Big City venues.

Well, we got a sweet taste of contemporary culture last night, when The Mighty Underdogs brought their dynamic and groovy hip hop beats to the stage at the Abbey Theatre. It was a welcome and invigorating breath of Big City air, right here in our little mountain town. A nice bit of what we might call Hick Hop.

The Mighty Underdogs feature my personal favorite MC and song writer, Gift of Gab, from the fantastic San Francisco-based rap duo Blackalicious. Gabby's song writing is not your usual rap: his writes tight, quick, snappy lyrics wrapped in rhythmic grooves, and generally delivering thoughtful, positive, and witty messages -- what I only partially tongue-in-cheek refer to as "Buddhist Hip Hop."

The Mighty Underdogs -- featuring performers culled from other bands, kind of like a 70s-style supergroup (so you other oldesters out there can compare, like, say, the 21st century equivalent of Bad Company or Asia, but without the stadium shows) -- is, along with Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truth Speaker, of Latyrx, and producer Headnodic, of the Crown City Rockers.

Now I realize I'm just a middled-aged small-town hillbilly white guy, but I love this stuff. And I particularly like this particular genre of rap music often labeled "conscious hip hop." I think it's good stuff, with a good message. And I'm glad my kids and I, particularly my high-school-aged son, can share an appreciation for this modern music together. And I must say that it's pretty cool to be able to say I was the one who turned him on to these fine, fun beats.

And last night I was really glad we could share it together, live on stage, right here in Durango.

To be sure, my wife and I and our buddy Todd -- also a music junkie and conscious hip hop fan -- were the oldest kids at this all-ages show. But that was okay. And it even added to the cultural insight for us middle-aged hipsters. Standing along the rail on the balcony over the main dance floor, we had a prime view of the hundred or so of our town's high school kids and college students (many of whom we knew or recognized) getting the big-city kicks.

The show began with an hour of Denver-area mash-up artist DJ Vajra mixing beats for the swarming mass of kids on the dance floor. Here we got a visual treat and surprise: the dance floor parted and -- I swear, in what was like a modern reinterpretation of that classic dance scene from Saturday Night Fever -- kids would jump into the middle of the circle and offer whatever break-dancing moves they could muster for their fellow patrons pleasure.

And everyone seemed very pleasured, even by the meagerest of dancing attempts. It was a great, fun, appreciative teen-tribal spirit flowing around the place. And some of the dancers -- like the guy who spun a few moves, then mimed pulling two girls out of the crowd on an imaginary rope, followed by all three performing a synced and crazily-well choreographed chorus-line dance -- were quite good.

But then came the Underdogs, and for an hour and half the trio hopped and rocked the place. You felt they, too, were loving it, and they played it hard, worked the crowd well, and spread those truly good vibrations that some old, worn out dog-and-pony show of a one-time big-time band could never bring to our little town.

Long live the kids! Of all ages!

Check out the Mighty Underdogs:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

20 years after Abbey's death -- I mean LIFE!

Twenty years ago today I was in my kitchen in my little apartment in Boulder doing my dishes and listening the usual daily dose of the usual daily news, when over my head came a very unexpected item: Edward Abbey was dead.

The fact that two decades later I can still cite that -- still feel that -- as one of those "where were you when ..." moments says something about the impact Edward Abbey and his writings had on me, and lots of others.

And still has.

Because I believe that 20 years after the end of Ed Abbey's life, his life is what still lives on. Here's why:

Edward Abbey wasn't wasn't a journalist, he was an artist. In the same way, he wasn't an environmentalist, or even an environmental writer. He wrote about other things, bigger things -- about living, about what it means to be a human being -- and from that came what we would consider an environmental stance.

And this is because Abbey didn't write so much the whats and hows of whatever he wrote about, whether it was fiction or essay, article or short story, environmental or experiential or fictional -- he wrote about the whys.

Abbey may have been an "activist" -- but it was in the truest sense of the word: Action. He wasn't against things as much as he was for things: For living differently. For living for different things. For being guided by different whys. Abbey's message, I myself think, was that to move ahead -- to continue to survive and thrive as free, compassionate human beings in a healthy habitat -- we need to go, not back, but backward. Not back to hunting and gathering, but back to applying those perspectives and needs and skills and understandiings in our modern world. Self, Place, Life, Tribe.

And he believed that those shifts, those changes, is each and everybody's choice -- and responsibility. He conveyed that message by modeling that behavior, then sharing it with all. And sharing it well, t'boot.

Abbey has been tagged with lots of labels, from environmental activist to eco-writer to regional writer to nature writer. But throughout his career what Abbey really wrote about was, as he himself called it, his "camping trips."

And for Abbey -- and this is what makes him relevant today, and relevant any time -- he lived his whole life as "camping" -- adventurous, creative, out of doors oriented, principled. For Abbey, his real art was not his just his writing, but his living the life that he wrote about. His was not a perfect life, but it was his life. And that, too was the point he wanted to make: To not do what he or any other guru or authority or cultural norm says, but to do what is you.

I argue, was what he meant by "monkeywrenching."

And that is what persists: Abbey's perspective on living -- not how to live, but why to live. What to live for. And the impact of that Abbey-vision was rested less in what Abbey said and more in the actions he instilled and inspired through his rendering of what he did in his own explorations and experimentations in what it means to live well -- and therefore what we need to live well: Land. Wilderness. Community. Freedom.

Regardless of his written words -- which fortunately, and not surprisingly, nearly all remain in print today -- it is more the many-faceted interpretations of Abbey's perceptions manifested in his fans that matter. What matters and what persists is how people put what Abbey inspired in their own actions, into creating their own lives: those who have built their lives, usually with some challenge and difficulty, around living differently, around living for different things: Place. Tribe. Adventure. Meaningful work. Being true to their Selves.

And those who will fight for the habitats -- physical, social, ecological, political -- that nurture, encourage, and support those lifestyles.

And that is now blossoming in a second-generation post-Abbey -- the offspring of that generation of Abbeyistas who molded their lives toward Abbey's ideas and ideals -- yielding yet new evolutions and interpretations and applications of ideas that passed through and poured from Edward Abbey's pen.

In a way, 20 years later, we find that we Western ski bums and river runners, tree huggers and desert rats -- and also all of us passing those lifestyles onto our kids -- are all the bastard children of Edward Abbey.


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Join us for a celebration of Edward Abbey at Maria's Bookshop at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 16. Learn more here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm tired, too

I received one of those viral mass-mailed emails this morning. Okay, I got several of those already today -- that's the nature of the wild, weird, wonderful nature of the great Internet Ocean we all swim in now. But this email was one of the rare ones that was not only interesting and insightful, but even was worthy of a reposte. Or ... repost?

The email was birthed as a posting on the blog The Old Jarhead, by Robert A. Hall, a Vietnam Veteran and ex-Marine, and a former Massachusetts state sentaor.

His post titled "I'm Tired" starts out lyrically:

I'll be 63 soon. Except for one semester in college when jobs were scarce, and a six-month period when I was between jobs, but job-hunting every day, I've worked, hard, since I was 18. Despite some health challenges, I still put in 50-hour weeks, and haven't called in sick in seven or eight years. I make a good salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, there's no retirement in sight, and I'm tired. Very tired.

Then, though, the piece picks up its rythmic --and thematic -- refrain:

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth around" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy or stupid to earn it.

What follows is essentially a reptition of that refrain, followed more complaints and annoyances over topics ranging from drug and alcohol addiction, to illegal immigration, to racism ("I think it's very cool that we have a black president and that a black child is doing her homework at the desk where Lincoln wrote the emancipation proclamation. I just wish the black president was Condi Rice ..."), to Michael Moore and Al Gore, to ... well you get the idea.

I found it an interesting read, a laundry list of traditionally so-called "Conservative" complaints, concerns, and general irritations.

And I found I generally agreed with many of his points.

But that wasn't what got me to write a response.

So, with all due respect to both the friend who forwarded me this bit of viral inspiration and to Mr. Hall, whom I honor and respect for his service and his life built upon his personal integrity, I toss this post into the great Internet wilderness :

I'm tired of people who are tired of people.

I'm tired of people who are tired of people who disagree with them.

I'm tired of the "I'm tired of people who ..." perspective, because it's the rhetoric of the punk and the dictator, with its broad, vague generalities, false dichotomies and either-or fallacies, name-calling in place of reasoning, and the simple-minded and beligerent "it's them!" drumbeating.

I've seen that alcoholism can manifest as both disease and laziness in different people, and that some deserve help and others deserve a slap upside the head.

I understand that unlimited immigration is a burden on our country's resources, yet I also remember that my non-Native American ancestors at some point immigrants here, for some very good reasons, and were likely seen as a burden on our country's resources. And I bet most illegal immigrants today put themselves through that experience for good reasons, as well.

I've seen that many people deserve the wealth they've accrued, but I've also seen that even the people working at the lowest ranks in society help make the overall system work, and deserve at least a minimum amount of livable and enjoyable benefits -- some shared social wealth -- of the grander system we are all a part of.

I've experienced the actual value of a government-run social safety net, yet I also loathe and want to stop abuses of those systems.

I honor and respect those who choose to serve our country in the military -- in fact, I think military service should be compulsory for all U.S. citizens, so everybody has a vested interest in the care and use of that necessary part of our national defense -- but I also honor and respect the person with integrity enough to resist service if it goes against their conscience.

I too am wary of terrorism and Islamic Jihad and support efforts to defend ourselves and defuse those explosive movements, but I also feel it's wise and in the best interests -- in our truest national interest -- to at the same time look honestly and critically at our own role in creating and fomenting those movements, and to changing that behavior in a way that benefits all parties in the future.

I've learned that there are full spectra of people and paths out there, and that's a reality we need to work with, that it's in our own best interest to recognize, that those are the boundaries we need to live within -- and that it's more fun and interesting to see and explore what's lies in that terrain.

nd that we can never, ever allow ourselves to become tired of that reality.

This does not mean we cannot say what we mean -- we should speak, and we should debate. But it's about how say what we feel, think, mean, believe. The style is the message. Who we are is how we do whatever we do.

To do otherwise is to at best grow mean-spirited, and at worst to invite fascism.

And we're all tired of both of those.

* * * *

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Friday, March 6, 2009

The Traveling Teacher

I like to think of one of my so-called "careers" as that of an anti-career counselor.

I mostly practice this on an as-can basis -- meaning, where ever and whenever I can slip in my subversive messages, I do: into writings (of course), conversations (especially with kids), college-class discussions, interviews, karate classes ... where ever a teaching moment may arise, I endeavor to grasp the opportunity to impart the message of The Option:

You don't necessarily have to join the rat-pack racing for the job, house, cars, toys, etc. etc.

You really can choose to live a life, rather than merely make a living.

The Option is to realize and recognize that there are options. And to realize they're real, and valid, and worthwhile, and attainable.

And so it came to pass that one of those most recent teachable moments arose around the barbeque grill. (An anti-counselor must always be ready to dispense wisdom ...) I was with my nephew, a 17 year old fresh out on his own, seeking those first tenuous, troublesome steps into the Big World, out there.

His big question, it seemed to me, was, what to make those first steps toward.

He is a thinking man, it's obvious, since he already has the insight to question the well-trodden, downright traffic-jammed, trail toward paycheck and pension oblivion. He also made it clear he'd much rather be following less-traveled roads toward faraway places and exotic other worlds beyond the one he grew up in.

A boy of my own heart, for sure. And I, of course, had an answer -- one he perhaps hadn't heard much from the other adults around him (being from a big city back East), or school, or on TV:

Yes! Travel, yes!

Make a life of traveling, yes!

If I could give my nephew anything at that point -- at that moment in time together, and at that point in his life -- the best I could do, I believed, was to give him that: a big fat yes!.

Then, though, I had to really be a counselor: I explained to him that while I believe being a traveler, even a bum -- not just someone who takes trips, but one whose whole life is traveling -- is doable, even preferable, to a "normal" career path, it is, nonetheless, a "career": It still requires learning, preparation, patience, persistence, and strategy to make it happen, and to make it work.

That might mean working two jobs for a while to finance a trip; or it can meaning acquiring skills that you can use to work while you do extended trips -- for years, even. (I, myself, found restaurant work and professional driving (buses, trucks, limos, taxis) to have paid for a lot of traveling and bumming for me.)

Mostly, though, I urged him to start now, immediately, to make those dreams of his come true -- even when he goes back to that big city back East. No matter what he did. In everything he did.




And do those with persistence and patience.

That, too, is the traveler's journey. That, too, is Yes!

Take it from your anti-career counselor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Supreme Court decides case argued by Durango attorney

This from the Western Environmental Law Center:
The U.S. Supreme Court [on March 3], in a very limited 5-4 decision, reversed the lower courts’ findings that had overturned a Bush administration rule that denied citizens the right to have a voice in the management of national forests. (Summers v. Earth Island Institute). However, the Court rejected the Bush administration’s attempt to create a broad ruling that would have severely limited citizens the right to challenge any unlawful government regulation.
The argument in Summers v. Earth Island Institute was argued before the Supreme Court in October by Durango attorney Matt Kenna. The suit was a legal challenge against the Forest Service's attempts to exclude public input and environmental reviews from timber sales. Matt had been involved with the case for more than five years when he was selected to make the argument after the Supreme Court accepted it in Dec. 2007. The case had been brought by Earth Island Institute, Heartwood, Sierra Club, Sierra ForestKeeper, and Center for Biological Diversity.

“We are disappointed that the Court reinstated these harmful forest regulations,” says Kenna. “However, the Court’s ruling was narrow in scope and did not accept any of the government's broad theories that would have precluded citizens from challenging a federal regulation except when applied to a specific project.

"This was the most critical issue at stake- if the government had prevailed on its theory, citizens would have had to file thousands of individual suits to challenge harmful regulations on a case-by-case basis while the government could continue to apply the regulation even in the face of multiple court rulings finding the regulation unlawful.”

Summarizing, Kenna said, "It was very close- 5-4 with a concurrence by Kennedy. It was decided on a narrow basis that will not cause too much bad precedent for the future, which is good, but it would have been nice to have won!"

Read the decision here.