Friday, June 26, 2015

Gathering in the Aftermath: Heart to Heart with Mary Shoemaker and Patty Shure


All photos (except for the last) by Dinah Vargas

"We knew we had a hurting kid," said Patty Shure adoptive mother of 16-year-old Victor Villalpando, the youngest victim of New Mexico police violence in the very bloody year of 2014. "We were on it!" added Mary Shoemaker, Victor's other adoptive mother, explaining that they were attentive to their son's tendency to depression, his confusion about his personal edges, and uncertainty about who he was in a general sense. In fact the very day before Victor was shot in the street by Española cop Jeremy Apodaca, the moms had been assured by a psychologist with whom they had consulted that things weren't so bad, that Victor did not need to be placed in the intensive out-patient program they'd been actively considering for him.


Our topic was self-recrimination, and there was plenty to go around.


Victor had wanted to go visit his birth grandparents that week, but his mothers wanted him to finish his online classes for the 9th grade. "We put roadblocks in his way; as his mothers we set boundaries for him," Mary explained. "He hated that." As a compromise he was allowed to study by day and spend Saturday night at his friend's house in Española. The following morning, Sunday, June 8th, he told his friend he was going out for a walk, a walk from which he never returned.



Shure and Shoemaker reject the narrative as it's told by the police and repeated uncritically in the media: the facile, and in this case particularly baseless, "suicide by cop" theory one hears so often. Their lawyers, who have filed a tort claim on their behalf (no lawsuit is currently planned), have examined the surveillance video that captured Apodaca's 15-second encounter with their boy, other specialists too. "It gets grainy, there's no audio, there were no lapel cameras. Inconclusive, " Mary says. But something wells up in Patty. "I was trained to be a nice girl. For a year I've been saying Victor's death, when Victor was killed. But now I say our boy was murdered," Patty says. "Murdered by someone who thought he was a threat."


Though Victor was shot down in Española, the family resides in El Rito, a rural village located 18 miles to the north. "I wish we had had a chance to teach him not to mess with the cops," Patty said. "My immediate regret was that. He was raised by us inside our sense of white privilege, with no street smarts, out in the country where there are no police. In those ways he wasn't savvy, and I...I didn't know to teach him that.

"It's part of this journey," Patty explains. "The relentless 'What else could I have done?' And then you turn your attention somewhere else. Because you have to."

The couple, who were married in California, have three other children, one by birth and two other adoptees. They received Vic, as they sometimes call him, from the New Mexico Children Youth & Family Department just after he was born. "He was always of two worlds," Mary said, and Patty elaborated. "His birth mother, who died two years ago from a heroin overdose, went into early labor as a result of a drunk driving accident. She was airlifted to UNM hospital, and told me that she was paddled back to life three times en route. As a newborn Victor had cocaine and THC in his bloodstream; the nurses said he was going through withdrawal. That was the soup in which he was formed."


The narcotics and alcohol affected him in various ways. On one hand he was something of a motor skills prodigy. "When he was still two," Mary remembered, "he was already riding a two-wheeler. He convinced an adult to take off his training wheels and he was cycling around the churchyard. But he was slower to talk than our other children, and definitely slower to potty-train."


"Socially, he was younger than his age," Patty added. "And he was remarkably empathic and kind. His pre-natal life showed up in unexpected ways. He was concerned for the panhandlers we'd see in Española, who are often addicts. He'd say, Mom, that guy is still there, what can we do? We had endless conversations about how to support a person's humanity without supporting his illnesses. Finally I got him to accept, to agree, that he would not give them his lunch money every single day. But I always had to have some Taco Bell gift cards on hand, and we'd give those out. I have them still, a few, in my wallet. That's Victor."

"He took everybody's pain," Mary said. Once a family friend perished at their dinner table, shockingly dying during the meal from a massive heart attack. While the arrangements were being made Victor, though just a boy, stayed with the body the entire time. "He wouldn't leave his side," Patty recalled. "Another time, I'd hurt my foot and was bedridden for a while. Victor nursed me. Before he'd go to elementary school he'd look in on me. What can I get for you, mom? Do you need anything?"



"Victor was a little kid, with a big presence," Patty said. "We've lived here for a long time. Mary's retired now but she taught for 26 years, and I've been involved as a social worker. Over the years we've met a lot of people. But since his death, we've realized that he had more connections than the two of us together. If there's solace to be found, it's there, that we're not the only ones missing him. Everyone in his life has similar feelingshow could we have helped him more? That's a part of losing someone in this way, violently in the streets."

For months Mary and Patty went to the grave site every single day. They'd find toys or other tokens there, left by the children to whom their son had taught dance and gymnastics at Moving Arts Española. One child left a rosary from his first holy communion. Seed balls and heart-shaped rocks are not uncommon; colorful flowers crafted from duct tape grace his resting place, and homemade carved crosses have appeared from strangers who are simply moved by the family's unbearable loss. One day they plan to cover the mound where he rests in a mosaic of heart-shaped rocks. For now they re-mound the dirt when it loses shape from erosion, or tidy up the various memorial tributes when they're knocked over by the wind and rain.


"When they told us in the hospital they wouldn't be able to save him, I started to keen," Mary said."I didn't know the word keening before I did it. For the longest time, I had to make myself get up in the morning. I wanted to hide. People stayed with us after the funeral. It was a good thing they did: they reminded us to breathe, they made us eat. I've lost ten pounds this year, which I find astounding. I cry many times a day. I notice how it makes my body feel, I acknowledge the sorrow. But lately that's side-by-side with joy, seeing the sunset again."

Patty began grief counseling about a month ago; it's helping she feels. "It took me so long to get into counseling. I have moments of more acceptance and then there are times when I'm just No, no, no! And I really question why I have to stay here on this earth without him? I don't know the answer, but I feel that I do."

Physically, she has odd aches and pains, bouts of sleeplessness. There are challenges with stress-related activities. She finds herself over-reacting at times to situations that before their terrible loss simply would not have ruffled her. At first working was out of the question, but she's come back in stages. She used up all her leave, co-workers generously donated theirs, and she was away for a full month. Then she returned on a part-time basis, and though she's now back full-time she no longer engages in direct service to kids and their families. Her role now is primarily administrative. She tells herself that someone who cares has to do that job too, even with its bureaucratic frustrations.

And they have fears, terrible, terrible fears. Mary's concerned about what she calls the "out-there kids," all the other kids like Victor, who maybe "take up too much space." She doesn't want a single other one dead, "pain in the butts that they are." About the police, Mary has felt Fuck you, fuck you! "But I change that tape, I've played around with it. Now I say 'peace on your journey.' I say it, but I've lived in terror that I'd be pulled over, and especially by Apodaca. Sometimes I'd see him, or think it was him. If that happened... I don't think I could control it."


In April, she did get pulled over for driving slightly over the speed limit. But it was by a San Juan tribal officer, and luckily he was gentle in his demeanor. "When I went to court I said to the judge, Please thank the officer. I lived in fear that if I was pulled over, I'd end up in jail."


But Mary's worst fear is for her other children. "I worry that something just as bad could happen to them."

One of the ways Mary copes with her anguished anxiety is to do the work to bring the change"here, or even more far-reaching"we all so desperately want: an end to police violence against the populace. Last Monday she sent off an information packet to the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, at President Obama's request. It included the autopsy report and other official documents filled with wrenching details: like Eric Garner in New York City, Victor's last words too were: "You're hurting me, I can't breathe."

The reform agenda is mighty: both she and Patty advocate jury trials not grand juries when an officer is involved in a shooting "so that the victim's voice is represented too." Secondly, the officers should be interviewed promptly (not 12 days later when they've all had ample opportunity to sync up their stories) and by a completely independent agency, not the New Mexico State Police who are all bound up together with the local departments. Mary and Patty want the lapel cameras turned on and with audio, so we can hear the conversation. (If only we knew what was said to Victor that made him turn his back on the officers, was it something shaming? Or did one of them say they were going to contact his parents? Did he turn back and offer them his cell phone, and was he shot for being helpful?)

They're also, as we all should be, interested in the conversation about disarming the police altogether. "How else," Mary asks, "are we going to break the cycle of fear?" She'll be discussing these and other ideas on the radio tomorrow at noon (KUNM) along with representatives from New Mexicans for Gun Safety.


Other proposals have to do with increased mental health policing and providing real alternatives to calling 911 in the first place, such as another three-digit hotline number that could bring real help. They want revisions to police training curriculum that would lead to a shift away from the focus on warrior cops shooting to kill. "But," Mary reminds us, "none of that will bring my kid back." And our thoughts return to Victor on that Sunday morning last June: why didn't they knock him down, tase him, shoot him in the leg, talk to him for more than 15 seconds?!

Would you ever call 911 again for any reason I ask Patty and Mary, to which they reply in unison: NEVER!

A powerful statement, especially from Patty who works on behalf of some really distressed families and and is aware of the array of dangerous possibilities. "Safety," she so wisely says, "is in your skills."

Patty Shure and Mary Shoemaker have been united in love and family for three decades, but they are fighting to hold onto their relationship. The truth is that many families don't stay intact after this kind of traumatic loss. Mary says they have to keep their family together for their 13-year-old daughter, and that they're giving each other a lot of space. Apodoca's bullet has ripped them apart, but says Mary, "It's gotta make us stronger. It's gotta."


Patty explains: "We're both in deep grief. It's hard to survive myself, and then to nurture someone else...I have to remind myself when I see Mary weeping, in a matter of seconds my own sorrow can be activated, that it could be me in the next moment feeling destroyed."


And too, Patty explained, for over 25 years they've led a quiet life, working in community, raising their children. But now peoplestrangerssome less than tactful, feel free to approach them and say things to them, sometimes terrible things. "Oh, that was your son. Well, what did he think would happen?" Mary added too that Victor's slaying has outed them as lesbians in a small rural town. One woman recently told them she'd always thought they were sisters (though they look nothing alike). The whole ordeal has propelled them into the public light, a place they never wanted to be.

Mary confessed: "We had a hard time getting ourselves to the memorial service for the anniversary. We just wanted to be with family. But it was organized by community members who also love our boy. So we go. And then we see him in the mural, twenty feet tall, planting seeds, exuding life. Communitythat's what his death has doneit's strengthened our community."




"I wake up in the morning, and I have to remember that he's no longer here," Patty said. "But whatever your beliefs, he's accessible to me: I talk to him. A lot. When Beau Biden died, I said, Hey, Vic, did you welcome him? And then I had to remember that Vic wouldn't have given a crap about a politician... So then I switched it up and asked him: Hey, Vic. Is Tupac dead, or not?

"And I heard his laughter, howling. But he didn't answer."









Friday, June 19, 2015

Anne Farrell at Currents 2015: The Anti-Gravity of The Island of Pal


All photos by Frances Madeson
so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens

The Red Wheelbarrow—William Carlos Williams

Today in these United States of Insanity, we grieve, we mourn, we shriek with the rage of the powerless, and the luckiest of us turn to Art for solace, for refuge, for healing, for momentary escape from the pain.  

In Anne Farrell's The Island of Pal little red skiffs float on undulating waters, but so do armchairs, fully made beds, and spiraling severed horses' heads in the throbbing air. Three toy horses are posed on synthetic turf in a theatrically raked trapezoidal corral bordered by tiny rope footlights. No bridles or saddles are ever in view; these are wild horses temporarily and ever-so-lightly penned in by a white picket fence. Enclosed inside the skewed geometry and oblique angles the equine visitors—a palomino named Pal, a buckskin called Bonnie, and her sometimes partner, the black-coated Clyde—are here to entice playmates.
A Plexiglas case contains two 3-D printed plastic spoons, one long and white, one short and black, each fancifully decorated with a frilly wide bow, suggestive of extravagant gifts and luxurious party dresses. Despite their differences in size and color, these spoons—emblems of the acts of feeding, digging, music-making—cohere; a second case protects a single small boat devoid of either passengers or cargo, its red and black paint painstakingly applied to appear weathered, and by inference, traveled. But how, with no oars or engine or agent, human or otherwise, aboard?

Projected on the far wall are two separate animated images, picture window size. On the left is an island in the distinct form of a leaf, and a pond in the shape of a giant amoeba in which renderings of magnified corpuscular cells pulse on the surface like fibrillating lotus blossoms. These projections of leaf island and amoeba pond, which foreground the rippling, writhing  instability of both land and water, help attune us to Farrell's primary preoccupation in this work—the shape of things. In all meanings: the particular external forms of her objects, but also their condition, what shape are they in? What is their fitness for continued existence and what will be the quality of that existence in a world where lands are gobbled for development, water is poisoned by industrial polluters, and beautiful wild things go tragically extinct, daily.
 

Farrell terms them “maps,” but hers is no ordinary cartography, at least the directions are not cardinal points on a magnetized compass, and the landmarks are referenced by her quotidian spoons and beds and chairs and skiffs. We might call hers an "onto-cartography" in that what she's mapping is being itself. Why would Farrell even attempt new maps, even symbological ones, if not to urge the need for, and possibility of, a reorientation? Maps are invitations, future forward ones; they move us onward, if only in our imaginations. Discovering the depth of the realms being sounded and charted by Anne Farrell, or at least trying to, is but part of the joy of engaging with The Island of Pal.

On the installation's side wall near the floor, its lowly placement a curiosity in and of itself, diminutive images of certain selected elements are projected in a slow and steady slide show. The lilliputian display reminds us to read the objects qua objects, absent their environments. Here we can let all of our uncensored associations froth to the surface—charms in a board game, Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, Kandinsky's psycho-spiritual canvasses, the horse's head in The Godfather, coinage of fallen empires, and so on. We're also cornered into a consideration of dimensionality, as we share space simultaneously with the artifacts themselves and their various pixelated visual representations. Transformation too is in the mix—spoons were once pixels (before they were read and 3-D printed) and become pixels again in the digital animation.

The ambient sound-scape permeating the installation offers no aural clues to an easily identifiable reality: ambiguity is amplified, mystery resounds, here ecstasy is still possible.

 Inside a bricolage gilt frame is a screen upon which a ten-minute video containing all of these disparate constituents (and new characters too) is played in a loop. Also called The Island of Pal, the video is a dream narrative of Pal, Bonnie, and Clyde (neo-mythical names for fantastical beings) delighting in an idyll of grasslands and wildflowers. The animation makes no attempt to be lifelike. While the horses' plush tails do swish, their legs don't bend; they don't gallop so much as absurdly hop all four legs at once from point to point, or they hurtle through space without touching down at all.
The video has its own soundtrack filled with the ringing tones of chimes and plinking, tinkling bells, accessible by headphones. One comes to feel that this music is generated from our host Pal's own imagination as he frolics and flies about the landscape, striking notes and chords all beautifully pleasing to his toy horse ears. Decorative flourishes like cascading stars and dancing curlicues stir the atmosphere into a climactic vortex, but without any sense of menace or negative consequence in the controlled chaos of creation. A gleaming metallic robotic mannequin sits on a boulder contemplating the marvelous "natural" setting, peaceably co-existing with all beings—parasites and pollinators, alike; at first the robot is bare, but then covers itself in a diagonally-striped tigerish mini-dress. Amongst a deluge of falling leaves, it departs, its “spirit” stirred and refreshed, ready to hit the dance floor.



Currents 2015 website page on Island of Pal

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Because Khuza'a


Before and after the Israeli bombing in Gaza, Summer 2014. Click here for a vivid and detailed account of the battle as reported in Jewish Journal, September 4, 2014. It's an unforgettable read, a long piece by necessity.


One of the many buildings--part of the ceiling, the walls, and most of the furniture--damaged in last year's madness housed the local kindergarten, and Friends of Khuza'a New Mexico is raising money to rebuild it. Who are the friends of Khuza'a in New Mexico? You and I are. Just people who feel the need to restore a little dignity to the proceedings of being human, and who wish to provide the children a clean safe place where they can heal in community with loving teachers. 

Jeff Haas, one of the Santa Fe organizers, has relayed that the folks on the ground in Khuza'a have sent a budget for the restoration of the kindergarten. They need to buy zinc metal sheets to replace the walls, 20 chairs, five tables, and materials to build some playground equipment. They can make the needed purchases, transport the supplies to the construction site, pay the laborers, feed some volunteers, and have an operating kitty little left over for picnic supplies, food for the children, and miscellaneous sundries, all for $5,600.

The other urgent need is a water filtration system for Khuza'a Primary School, which operates in two shifts and serves 1,200 students (700 girls and 500 boys). Though it officially reopened on March 23rd, testing has revealed high biological contamination of the water in the region as a result of deteriorating infrastructure due to the bombing.The price tag for the water filtration system for the school is $13,000.

A lot of wonderful people are coming together to raise that $18,600 to cover the two projects, and events have been planned in Santa Fe and Albuquerque next weekend, May 15th and 16th to make it happen. In fact a friendly challenge has been issued and the hope is that Burquenos will contribute half of the needed amount and Santa Feans the other half. Tax deductible contributions can be made on line at this link, or checks can be sent to MECA (the Middle East Children's Alliance), 1101 8th St. Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94710. Indicate your contribution is for the Khuza'a Project. 

Middle East Children’s Alliance had wanted to send its Director of Gaza Projects, Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician from Gaza whose extended family suffered nine deaths in the bombing, on an "Out of the Rubble" speaking tour throughout the US. But Israel has denied her exit permit visa. She has also been denied an exit permit visa to travel to England to attend to her daughter who is ill. The humanitarian appeals on her behalf so far have fallen on deaf ears.

Instead, a Santa Fean who has just returned from meeting with Dr. El-Farra will present. From the press release:
Kathleen Christison, an internationally recognized political analyst and author, will be speaking and showing slides of her recent trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza at Tipton Hall on May 15 from 7-9pm.

Christison is the author of three books on Palestine, including Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy and The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story.

Christison’s writings have been described as a "scrupulously honest and well-researched history of the Arab-Israeli conflict..." Christison has an acute and in-depth understanding of the Middle East, in particular, the history of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the dispossession and displacement of indigenous Palestinian populations prior to and after the creation of the state of Israel. She was a political analyst for the CIA between 1963 and 1979 where, for more than 7 years, her work focused on the Middle East. Since her resignation from the CIA in 1979, she has dedicated herself to researching and writing about the realities of life in occupied Palestine. Christison was also a member of the National Book Critics Circle for many years and has lectured around the country and in Europe.


Also in Santa Fe on Friday, May 15th from noon to 1pm, Santa Fean Issa Malluf, a Palestinian-American percussionist featured in the video below, will perform a concert with his ensemble. There is no cost for the music, but donations for the kindergarten and water filtration system will also be happily accepted there.

The Friends of Khuza'a Albuquerque event the following night will have a slightly different flavor. “Eyewitness in Gaza: Nakba 1948 to Current Humanitarian Crisis,” will feature a presentation by Ayman Nijim and Samia Assed. Nijim has developed programs to help children and mothers in Gaza cope with occupation, displacement, and assaults by the Israeli military; and Samia Assed is a Palestinian American, activist, and board member of the Albuquerque  Peace and Justice Center.

There will be Middle Eastern snacks, live music, tabling from social justice groups, and photography. Yes, of pain, destruction but also resilience.  




The fundraising event will be held at 7-9 pm on Saturday, May 16th at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church, located at 1300 Girard Blvd NE. 

Ayman Nijim, a graduate student  in peace-building conflict transformation skills at the School for International Training in Brattleboro Vermont is one of the featured speakers on Saturday, May 16th. His wife and two children still reside in Gaza.
School for International Training in Vermon
School for International Training in Vermon

I want to thank the organizers of these events in advance. Like so many others, I find the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians unbearably agonizing (I have family in Israel--my elder sister who emigrated there under the Law of Return, three Israeli-born nephews, and first and second cousins), and I tend to avoid the pain there when possible by focusing my activisms on struggles closer to home. Until now I had never encountered the term Nakba Day, nor did I know the details of the carnage in Khuza'a, or that here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we could do anything concrete to make their situation even a little better via restoring the kindergarten class and providing clean water for the children. It's a true relief, and not just for them.

I'm eager to hear the unmediated firsthand reports and to see the pictures and videos that will be presented at next week's events. I really do appreciate the opportunity to be informed, and also to confront whatever cruelty must be confronted in community instead of alone behind a computer screen. It's important.  

I want to keep this post as short as possible in the hopes that people will at least peruse the Simone Wilson article on last year's invasion of Khuza'a. 

Because.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Flicking Stanley Crawford's Innerly Switch

"Art objects to the lie against life that it is pointless and mean." --Jeanette Winterson

The only "ism" mentioned in SEED is the aneurism that felled protagonist Bill Starr's wealthy wife leaving him alone as he nears the end of his own cushy if isolated days, his only companions paid caretakers--Ramona the housekeeper, Jonathan the lawn boy, Patty the bookkeeper, Max the auto mechanic. And yet SEED is a deeply political book.

SEED is Stanley Crawford's surgical dissection of an unrepentant beneficiary of the spoils of U.S. empire, a post mortem on a mindset capable of articulating this polite yet shockingly immoral soliloquy, in which all the violence of contemporary neo-liberal capitalism is erased and replaced with seductively pleasurable language:
"Leave me alone in my bubble please. Do not disturb my complacencies, thank you. Deserving of my privileges, I claim. But untenable, I know. Injustice earns good profits, distributes them wisely to the blindfolded, the ear-stoppered, to those with duct-taped lips. Who am I to refuse the benefits? Capital, the encrustations of misery grown up and filtered and refined and purified into the sweetness of the good life. By what right me? We give up our seats for the old, the sick, the very young. But just our seats, mind you, and only for short periods of time. Not our reservations. Certainly not our tickets."
Starr represents an advance in authorial boldness over another of Crawford's creations--billionaire buffoon Leon Tuggs, the protagonist of Petroleum Man. In that more pointedly satirical novel, Tuggs gifts his grandkids, one boy and one girl, custom models of the many cars he's owned over the course of his rise to billionairehood, accompanied by letters to the future containing his vehicle-specific personal history, thinking, wrongly, that they'll be valued. While Tuggs' monomania provides more laugh out loud jokes and ridiculously fun and chaotic scenarios, Starr in his, relatively speaking, reduced circumstances, is far more relatable. It's one thing to laugh from afar at a narcissistic degenerate billionaire and another to look in the mirror and reflect upon Crawford's "Certainly... not...our...tickets."



As his surname suggests, this character is attuned to the sublime beauty of nature; he catches and makes visible in words the effects of light--Rococo moons, "feeble blanched dawns,"--and he waxes magnificently lyrical about weather events, internal and external:
There is a switch somewhere, innerly, to flick, in order to be rocked and cradled by the wind, to sing to the lashings of rain against windows, the gurgle of drain spouts, to submit, to be swaddled, to drop into slumber. But I can't find it. Stubbornly, they remain irritants, affronts, slaps. A distant crack and thud. Another one of the trees in front of of the Partons' gone down? Chainsaws will howl and whine tomorrow. The front storm door vibrates and rattles.

From the safety and comfort of Starr's insulated bubble, a gracious private house and gardens in some lovely unnamed hamlet in western Massachusetts, Starr initiates a game of sorts, inviting members of his extended family--nieces and nephews, progeny of various cousins--to visit him to collect the often weird and sometimes bizarre souvenirs from his iteration of the aforementioned "good life."

Most of his visitors are young people, or "Somewhere between twenty-one and forty-nine, my keen eye would estimate: young, in short." There is a tension throughout the novel between old and young as Crawford explores the borders and depth of the chasm. "The young. Terra incognita. When the future is still distant and vague and shimmering, not pressed right into your face, cold like plate glass, but taped over  with white butcher paper on the inside." Like Voltaire in Candide, where beauty does not just fade into a paler version of itself but is hideously transformed into "withered necks" and other grotesqueries, Crawford is unsparing in confronting the loss of physical beauty, and the depradations of decreptitude.
Jonathan. Time stops in his simple brute radiant presence. My cells cease the aging process, stop in their tracks. Wait, they say. Hark, they say. Youth is present, they say. How can we go on like this, they say. There must be some mistake, they say. Did we take a wrong turn somewhere, they ask. Why can't we go back, they demand. Is reincarnation the only way out of this incarnation, this deteriorating carnation, they wonder. Embracing a tangle of creeper vines to his hairless chest Jonathan disappears around the side of the house. After a sigh, aging resumes unabated, cell by cell, perhaps even at a slightly accelerating pace. I can feel them all grumbling like passengers in an airliner that has been circling to land far too long.

Starr is aware but unconcerned about the petroleum his far flung kin must burn to reach him, the time and energy they must borrow from other pursuits; and still he plays with those curious enough to make the trip, toying with their expectations and hopes for a prize or a deeper familial connection, as he bestows his trinkets and white elephants and accidental wisdoms on them.

Hillary, I say.
Halley, she corrects.
Halley, daughter of Liquor Lily.
What?
Oops. I didn't mean to say that. Family nickname. Awful, I know. Sorry
A silence, glacial, rigid, in which dust mites can be heard to turn with little crepitations.
She was called Liquor Lily in the family for obviously good reason, I advance into the void.
Suddenly she bursts out laughing. That's so funny! Almost hysterically. You all called her that behind her back? More laughter. If only I would have known!
Would you, in retrospect I so inappropriately ask, would you like a drink?
I can't wait to tell my brother! Liquor Lily! ... I'm sorry, she says, wipes eyes. That was worth six years of expensive therapy.
I chew my cud, speechless.
 For his part, the visitors who stop by barely encode on his exhausted and preoccupied brain; the seekers seem almost interchangeable and are often objectified, reduced to body parts. "Her bare knees stare at me from across the room like buttocks or breasts." Pages later...
But Hillary, your name is Hillary, isn't it?
Halley.
Halley, of course, how could I forget, how could I not forget.
Starr explains to the visitors when they ask that he's seeding narratives, narratives that involve him personally, into the future.

Things are seeds. I wish to plant mine into the future, deliberately, though I am not yet clear as to the eventual intended result, if there can be one, intended, within the vast fields of contingency that lie out there, ahead. A futile hope? If any hope is, if all hope is.


But is this really Starr's project, (or Crawford's, a kind of literary rehash of the turf covered in W. David Hancock's Race of the Ark Tattoo)? If so, he gives scant material for those narratives, sometimes just handing the thing off without any explanation at all to the stunned and disappointed relatives. Or in the case of the "holy cigarette lighter" Starr foists it upon a Latter Day Saint proselytizer as recompense for having told him to "go forth and screw yourself...with the spurting blessings of your magnificent hot god-created organ..."

Crawford revealed at the recent Moby Dickens bookshop reading in Taos, that Starr's unstated objective in dispossessing himself so improvisationally (he matches the object with his experience of the encounter in some internal logic or intuition in the moment) is to find a "spiritual heir." For Starr that means discovering a strong shared aesthetic.

In truth they are all his spiritual heirs, every single one who shows up, the callow and the crude perhaps most especially. He outright rejects his stepson Terrance as a legitimate spiritual heir for having the "brain of an auctioneer" who "works every crowd to find the highest bidder." But isn't that arguably a survival adaptation in the face of worldwide consolidation of wealth and power?  Surely he doesn't expect Terrance to "give up his tickets" or not earn the money to pay for them with ease in the first place?

And too, Starr is often blind to his own boorishness. For instance, he occasionally kids his housekeeper Ramona about her illegal status:
Somebody coming to see you. This afternoon.
Who?
No understand name.
When this afternoon?
He talk funny.
Oh, la migra guy, I know the one.
She steps back, wipes her hands on her apron. Senor Es-tarr, please do not make me fright.
Just yoking, I say, just yoking.
 "Yokes" as welcome I imagine as those told by Clarence Thomas to Anita Hill around the water cooler back at the EEOC. Like some aging hipster, he playfully commands Ramona not to come back until she has "read the entire works of Winston Churchill."  In this teasing way he can acknowledge their neo-Colonial power relation without feeling he personally has to do a damn thing to remediate it.

One of the subjects of Starr's joshing is prepositions, the 150 words or so in the English language that show the relations between words. Starr urges her to use them, but Ramona preserves for herself a kind of freedom in their absence.
I interrupt what she is going to say: Si, no, le, lo, la, y, que, qui, to name just a few of your crumb words, Ramona.
Not crumbs, they are clothespins, hold things on line, so handy.
Quite the linguistic theorist, my Ramona.
 For her there are other compensations that perhaps offset his condescension, frills beyond her servant's wages. She's in the will--she'll get the silver service (which she already polishes) and his dead wife's jewelry, and he tells us that he's taken care of her nieces and nephews and grandkids "lavishly," whatever that might mean. He doesn't specify but it's understood by all parties that these promises are meant to secure Ramona's loyalty until his last breath, and preserve his dignity beyond it. She will in all likelihood be the one to find him when he does finally expire; hers may be the last pair of eyes he looks into as death comes. Will he find some measure of kindness there?

As time goes by, Ramona ups the ante. In this exchange, one that exemplifies their wary trust, he agrees to hire her nephew for day work as a handyman.
You told me, Ramona, about a nephew way back when. Carjacking, arson, grand larceny, assault and battery, something like that, some or all of the above.
Was mistake.
He was innocent?
Silence.
Little innocent, little guilty.
A fine fellow, I'm sure. I resume tending the remains of my sandwich.
I give you word. How do you say?
Million dollar bond, for example?
Her chin swaying, she turns, stabs at her chest with a soapy finger, No, mi palabra, my word. I give.
Is he legal?
Nobody legal any more. They let him go.They make mistake.
I tell her I'll find something for him to do in a week or two or a similar eternity. Maybe that's the solution. Hire a known pilferer and sit back and watch the place get cleaned out. feign absentmindedness. Or feign more absentmindedness. Flaw: Ramona would keep an eagle eye out, pat him down at the end of the work day.
Starr indulges in making more "yokes" about the criminal aspect. He doesn't consider that but for the accident of his having won the birth lottery, it could have been him cooling his heels for two weeks waiting and hoping for a day's wages which his aunt had to dramatically arrange with her employer, striking just the right operatic notes, pointing soapy fingers, and so forth. And that the ease with which Starr pigeonholes and slurs Victor --"In his twenties or early thirties, silky dark skin, close cropped hair."--who he sizes up as a junkie and a thief and a ne'er-do-well, is as infuriating and enraging as any petty property theft crime Victor might ever perpetrate against him.

One has the feeling that Starr's racism will outlive him, that its ugly residue will be lacquered on his  stiffening corpse when it's picked up by the local medical university for scientific research. And whether the smoke from the crematorium where his body will ultimately be burned reaches their nostrils or not, Starr's undying contempt is part of the air Victor and Ramona must breathe every single day as they serve their white masters.

When it comes time to pay Victor for repairing the gutters along the back porch and carriage house extension, Ramona serves as a buffer.
 Dice cien, she says, hundred.
Take it out of my wallet.
She opens the screen door and passes him the money. Her long warbling cajoling harangue in Spanish is punctuated by his monosyllabic grunts of Si, No, Bueno, Claro, OK, Si, Si, Si.
She closes the door.
He say thank you.
Me say De Nada.
Did he put all the tools away? I ask.
He put tools all nice.
Minus, I think, the ones now bouncing around in the back of his Ford pickup on his way to the next fix. But maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe he didn't take anything this time, not a thing, because maybe there will be a second time or a third time.
Starr most certainly is being unfair; he cedes nothing to Victor. Not a jot. It's the kind of intransigence that invites the guillotine. And though this may seem over-the-top, I keep thinking of an alternative ending for SEED, instead of the clean getaway Crawford's arranged for Bill Starr. One in which Starr is savagely raped and beaten in his own home, like Lucy in Coetzee's Disgrace. One in which he's splayed across his chaise longue and sodomized with all the castoff crap (see items 2, 4, 9 and 12 below) or mounted via his anal cavity on the hood ornament of his precious Pierce-Arrow. One in which the chickens of inherited privilege and hurting innocent others through empire expansion and neo-colonial conquest have come home to roost and rage. Close-up on the rapists' seedy spunk sliding out of Starr's ruptured asshole rendered exquisitely in Crawford's often perfect prose as the novel's ultimate image--Bill Starr's bloodied brown eye winking at the future.

Maybe next book.
 

For those who wish to meditate on the gifts Bill Starr attempts to bestow qua objects before seeing how they're worked into the novel's composition, I have excerpted the relevant passages for your contemplation. Quite a collection!
  1. The Flamboyant Ring
    There's this ring...bought from a tourist stall in Mexico City in the year, well you won't remember the year, being so very long ago, so forget the year. Silver, a large solid silver ring in the general form of a class ring and set with a faceted synthetic stone, alexandrite, chrysoberyl, berryllium aluminum oxide, not that you'll be much interested in that—more so, perhaps, in the faintly intriguing fact that the stone changes color in different lights, from pink to green to amethyst to blue. I bought it for its very flamboyance. Me, flamboyant? Well, my puppy, I will confess while handing it over to you, the deep dark secret that I too was once your very age—imagine that!--but will not allude to the paired thought that stands upright beside us like a mirror and suggests, glares, even shouts, that someday you will reach—attain--crawl to----be wheeled into my exact age, the gods of time willing. Here, it's yours, I wore it for ten, fifteen, twenty years, a mere blink of any eye, its changing color reflecting my youthful ambiguities: was I weird, different, exceptional, straight, bi, gay, poly, or just normally overheatedly sexual, happy to hump anything soft that moved and smiled and laughed?
  2. The Train With No Engine
    ...for whom I had boxed and wrapped up in tissue paper the complete but incomplete (no engine) electric train set, used, very used, given to me by my father before the war, a war, some war, any war, doesn't matter which, as a Christmas present, an engineless used electric train set with two turquoise (badly chipped) passenger cars with roofs that came off to give access to the small electric light bulbs within, an orange box car, a flatbed car, which in fact were from another set another brand, and didn't fit or hitch to the passenger cars, and a few lengths of O-gauge three-rail track, my first train set, engineless.
  3. A Sharp Buffalo Gun
    Our grandfather's or great grandfather's buffalo gun, a Sharp, would not go down well in the overhead bin of business class, would it now?
  4. Two Alaskan Totem Poles
    I point over to the west windowsill at either end of which are two totem poles brought back from Alaska by the common ancestor during the gold rush where he hoped to recoup the family fortune much diminished by a market crash.
  5. Starr's Own Corpse
    Did you get the forms from the university medical school? I ask. Oh, she says, those. She takes the clipboard back and thumbs through to the last sheets. Here they are. Are you sure about this? Of course, I should get a good tax credit for donating my body to medical science. She stares, then laughs. But tell them before you send them in or deliver them that I want to meet someone, I want to meet whoever is going to come and get me. You do? Make it a condition, even, I say, and scribble my signature on the highlighted lines of several release forms. Soon. Tell them my shelf life is running out.
  6. Fake Rolex
    The Rolex, I point out, is fake. Canal Street back in the last century, grasping for status, the chunky stainless weight of the thing, knowing that I alone could see the sliver of a fraction of an inch the jerking second half was off by in relation to the raised metal minute and second markers, wore it through countless marketing meetings until I could afford the real thing, oddly a letdown, and also a worry, I preferred the counterfeit, still wore it until it finally quit.
  7. Elgin Pocket Watch
    And this one? He holds up a gold Elgin pocket watch from an even earlier century on a leather strap. Genuine, not working, my great-grandfather's, the one who married a Gromley second or was it third time around, your great grandmother's sister, if I have that right. Take both.
  8. French Pocket Dictionary
    Hartzweil, I gave the little dictionary to a Harzweil, mother's side, the German side, Gem Pocket French, pages of bible paper, bound and rebound by a friend decades ago, containing in the flyleaf the four Paris addresses of my youth, rue de Four, rue des Saints-Peres, rue Grueze, rue de Cherche-Midi, over which he made a great show of a great fuss, or feigned, confused, who knows. Keith, I seem to remember. Post doc in some obscure field. Lichens? Mosses? Then tried to hand it back to me not having understood the first time, Here, take it, it's yours. Mine, to keep, you mean? Yours, keep, yes, good basic Anglo-Saxon words, n'est-ce-pas? What? He said. Yes, of course. Keep. Keep. You got it. Well yes I do. Thank you. Pas de quoi. He waved it up in the air as if to toss it over his shoulder, brought it back down, looked down at it with a possible show of veneration, shoved it into his corduroy sports coat pocket, in the course of which the fragile front cover was quite ripped off. Thinking I was of an age to no longer notice such details, he fingered the dangling cover over the lip of the pocket and stuffed it inside. Thinking, no doubt, that it might fetch twelve cents on eBay. Or even less now, with its detached front cover. We stood frozen into the attitudes of benefactor and beneficiary. Thank you, he said again. He did not say, I will treasure it, having already trashed it.
  9. Stone House Key
    From a hook there hangs an ancient key that weighs a good pound and is of the approximate dimensions, lengthwise at least, of a fully inflated male member of generous or mildly legendary proportions, as was pointed out in the Greek island village once its home. It once opened the thick wooden gate to the courtyard of a two-story stone house I spent a licentious summer in, when licentiousness was still possible, much drinking, occasional coupling on dry land and in shallow water, with both sexes, names written down somewhere, I'm certain.
  10. Cigarette Lighter to the LDS Solicitor
    But wait. Your reward. I look around the room and wonder what can I give him. There is on the mantelpiece a tall tinplate cigarette lighter of vaguely Victorian inspiration from a Piraeus brothel I once whiled away a few of my salad days within, amazing offers in all sexes, ouzo, retsina exquisite calamari and octopodi, the only problem being the round trip distance between the front door where I'm still standing and the fireplace about thirty-five feet distant, for a total of seventy-five feet, impossible this early in the morning. Could you bring me, I ask him, that odd cylindrical metal appliance on the mantelpiece. What? But he understands and, swift-footed Mercury, strides across the room, though unlike Mercury, trips on a Berber throw rug, rights himself, continues to destination, picks up the object, which no one yet has described as phallic, and he and his people certainly won't, and brings it back, hands it to me. I look down on it fondly, then hand it back to him. It's yours. Your reward. But what is it? A holy cigarette lighter. Though be careful not to fill it more than half full of lighter fluid. Otherwise it could explode.
  11. Desdemona, the Pierce-Arrow
    Stu, tap one-two-three-enter on to the keypad there. He does. The garage door stutters upward, halts momentarily at half mast, clears its throat, continues. She stares out at us, grand headlights emerging from the tops of the tall dark blue fenders, tall verticle chrome grill, windshield squinting from the depths, Desdemona by name. Pull out keys, paper, shove them at him. Here, she's yours.
  12. Two Ugly Vases
    Those. I point across the room at another side table west of the far sofa. They turn. Toward two tall Victorian ormolu vases with tarnished gilt fretwork,a pastiche of Troisieme Empire motifs, with no practical use: where one might think to insert flower, liquid, ambrosia, there is no orifice, only a spherical plug of pot metal, an extension of the fretwork. Kevin Blue stands, crosses the room, picks up both of them, carries them back. God, they weigh a ton. Solid gold. I'll bet. Or some metal or other. He drops one onto Kevin Red's lap. Catch. Red gasps. There follow profuse hypocritical thanks, so nice to see you after all these years, take care of yourself, yourselves, and I watch them shoulder their way out the door and swagger down the walk, looters of the temple, looking right to left, the incredibly ugly vases swinging from arms, somebody's wedding gift, sitting around family houses for a hundred and fifty years because nobody dared throw them out, an ancestral hosanna booming down from the clouds, Thank god he got rid of them at last. Though through a child's eyes they were mysterious and stately, endlessly stared at, fondled, speculated about: why did they have no vase hole when everything else had a hole of some kind?
  13. Three Photo Albums
    She's standing. I really must go, she says. I've overstayed.
    Not at all. Overstayed? I'm the one who's overstayed. Years over. Decades over. Now see that bookshelf over there.
    She swivels around.
    Behind the glass doors there are three photo albums, far right, upper shelf?
    Yes?
    Take them. All three.
    What?
    Take them away. They're yours.
    She walks over to the bookcase, opens the doors, reaches up, takes them down.

  14. Tibetan Brass Bowl
    He reaches up and picks it up by the rim, a small Tibetan brass begging bowl, turns it around in his hands, blows the dust out of it, studies the markings on the side.
    It's yours, I say. Every financial advisor ought to have one.

  15. Two Boxes of Letters
    Your mother's letters, I explain. He looks at his watch. A large gold watch, which conveys the message that this is a large expensive heavy gold watch worn by important men it is safe to invest with, ha ha.
  16. White Dress Shirt
    Jonathan stands paralyzed. Max leans in the back and puts down both rear-facing jump seats. Ramona eventually returns, limping, shaking out one of my white dress shirts from my button-down French-cuff silk-tie days of yore. He slips it on, misbuttons two buttons, hops on to a car seat.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Approaching Omega Point in Swepi v. Mora County


For many of us following this case there's a growing inclination that Swepi's dog won't hunt!
U.S. Judge James O. Browning, usually an alpha dog in his own courtroom, rolled over and showed his belly in Friday's hearing in Swepi v. Mora County. Unable or unwilling to continue to perform Swepi's heavy lifting, he sent Plaintiff's attorney back to Santa Fe, tail between his legs with a whole lot of explaining to do to his colleagues and client about how he lost not only the day, but the momentum.

As we reach the winter solstice, the “Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance”is still the law of the land in Mora County. In fact, the darkest days in defense of the historic ordinance may be behind Mora. Thanks to Browning's ruling to allow the Intervenors (Mora Land Grant and Jacobo Pacheco) to take Discovery, Mora is now empowered to have its requests for information answered by Swepi. And though it is not always true that knowledge equals power, in this case, it could. The game completely changes if Mora can show that Swepi  has no imminent or realistic plans to drill their leased properties, and therefore no Standing to bring the suit. For Mora County and Mother Earth, it was a good day in court.

By contrast, the news that Swepi's General Counsel is soon going to have to fire up the photocopier and fork over proprietary documents to the Mora legal team, could not have been even the slightest bit welcome at Royal Dutch Shell headquarters. That very day the oil giant was busy buying up 165,000 of its own shares for cancellation, propping up its share price in a petro-world gone awry. In an environment of fallen and falling oil prices, these are strange days for big oil and gas, and maybe even strange enough to persuade Swepi to drop its ill-conceived suit. As Judge Browning said yesterday: "A lot can happen in five weeks."


Judge Browning should know. He hails from Leveland, Texas, where fracking wells pop up at an alarming rate of frequency! Once Oil & Gas are in, there's no stopping them. Hence Mora's desire for an outright ban.
The sequence of events on Friday went something like this: First, Browning denied Swepi's Motion to Stay Discovery. It was an old motion that had been kicking around since the days Judge Scott was presiding over the case, prior to the suit being reassigned to Browning. Browning's Opinion consists of 40 pages of various iterations of no can do (with one of the sexiest footnotes citing the case of Pres. Clinton v. Paula Jones on a technical point about scheduling). 

Second, he granted both motions filed by Mora County (the Defendants) and the Mora Land Grant and Jacobo Pacheco (the Intervenors), allowing them to take Discovery. Following his own logic, he had little choice but to do exactly that. Having allowed the Intervenors in the case, however reluctantly, Browning felt he couldn't now not allow them to fully participate in the Discovery process. Jeff Haas, who represents both Mora County and the Intervenors on a pro bono basis, said it best: allowing the Intervenors in the suit but preventing them from taking Discovery would be a Phyrric victory. Browning had to admit that indeed "it wouldn't be fair." 


Swepi's White Collar Crime Expert. Attorney John C. Anderson was 0 for 3 on Friday. 
Swepi attorney John C. Anderson, who is Of Counsel at Holland & Hart in Santa Fe, whined and whimpered a little, saying repeatedly that Haas was trying to do an "end run" around the court. He claimed the Defendants had already had a chance to take Discovery and had not done so "consciously and strategically." But the Mora attorneys provided a satisfactory explanation as to why they hadn't, and Judge Browning, looking down at Anderson from his lofty bench, asked: "Don't the Intervenors have you over a barrel?" 


The bottom line is that oil prices have fallen to less than $57 a barrel.
Whipped on this point, Anderson urged the judge to at least limit the scope of Discovery, reminding him that he had the authority to impose restrictions. This seemed to appeal to Browning who asked Anderson for more specifics: "What would I do? I have the power, but how do I use it? How would I write it?" Clearly vamping, Anderson answered vaguely that he was sympathetic to "the analytical difficulty in fashioning appropriate Discovery..." But in the moment it mattered, he seemed totally unprepared to provide much to Browning in the way of practical guidance.

Specifically, Anderson urged the judge 1) not to allow duplicative requests from the Defendants and the Intervenors. Well, this point had already been agreed to. Furthermore, if a duplicative request somehow did manage to slip through, all Swepi would have to do is make reference to the previous request, and move on; 2) to limit the number of documents that Mora can request (though presumably Browning would have to justify his reasoning for such a limitation, which could be more trouble than it's worth as it's not in Mora's interest to overwhelm itself with extraneous records); and 3) (and here he repeated himself) to use his powers to restrict the scope of the requests. Again, easier said than done in a case that has garnered international attention. 

Anderson insisted that Mora was going on a "fishing expedition," hoping to get lucky. He seemed almost adolescently miffed at Browning for not finding a means of preventing Discovery from going forward.

They tussled politely over the elements of proving Standing. Browning revealed that he was already 20 pages into writing about the Standing issue alone, and certain things still remained unclear, like for instance the profitability issue. He didn't explicitly say so but if extraction isn't profitable, who's going to believe that a for-profit corporation with a fiduciary duty to its shareholders would go ahead and frack in certain knowledge that big money would be lost? In such a scenario Royal Dutch Shell would likely be vulnerable to criticism, perhaps even legal action by its own shareholders. 

Overtly, as well as at the level of subtext, Browning seemed to be urging Anderson to be reasonable, to appreciate how difficult it would be for him to write a credible opinion "on this poor record." And it's true. Given that Swepi would lose money if it tried to frack now, and everyone knows it, how can Browning possibly craft an opinion in Swepi's favor that wouldn't be received as ludicrous, even farcical? Mr. Anderson, Throw the old dog from Leveland a bone! 


As oil prices fall, the road seems to be rising to meet Mora County's plight to protect its water, land and inhabitants from the well-documented ravages of fracking. And while no one explicitly  brought up New York State's recent fracking ban, it perfumed the air of Judge Browning's courtroom. Is Browning supposed to ignore the fact that the Empire State has effectively declared fracking a health hazard and banned it statewide? Do New Mexicans have some inborn immunity to those same hazards? Of course not. Arguably Browning now has to be even more scrupulous as to the fairness and transparency of his process. His actions, especially in the face of these contingencies, are subject to intense scrutiny, and he can safely assume that his every error in judgement will be magnified, exponentially.

"See my problem?" Browning said to Anderson at one point. But Anderson didn't see it, or pretended not to, and insisted that Swepi already had unimpeachable Standing for each of its claims simply by virtue of having mineral rights in Mora. Browning, however, was unconvinced that the other factors weren't relevant to the discussion. Anderson seemed annoyed at having to inform the judge that the issue of Standing does not rise or fall with the price of gas and oil, and further that the price of oil has no effect on Swepi's "Takings claim." 

But Anderson's assertion extended to its logical conclusion is frankly absurd. He seems to be suggesting that Mora County could somehow be construed to be harming Swepi by enforcing the Ordinance and preventing Swepi from inflicting financial self-harm upon itself.

Anderson is further suggesting that because Swepi is the possessor of some leases in Mora, Mora is not entitled to substantiate for itself that Swepi is ready, willing and able to extract the oil and gas that may or may not exist at those leased properties. Rather, they must take Swepi's word for it, even as Swepi pretends to insist that it will proceed at all costs, even at a financial loss.
For a Fordham Law graduate and experienced white collar litigator,  John C. Anderson has managed to back himself into quite an idiotic corner.
We understand that big oil and gas wishes the Ordinance would disappear from the law books, that they experience it as an affront to corporate hegemony over community rights, and want it gone. But the Ordinance has been alive long enough to have etched itself on our consciousness, to show us another world of possibility, and that can't be undone. As DeLillo writes in Point Omega:
"Consciousness accumulates. It begins to reflect upon itself. Something about this feels almost mathematical to me. There's almost some law of mathematics or physics that we haven't quite hit upon, where the mind transcends all direction inward. The omega point," he said. "Whatever the intended meaning of the term, if it has a meaning, if it's not a case of language that's struggling toward some idea outside our experience."
"What idea?"
"What idea. Paroxysm. Either a sublime transformation of mind and soul or some worldly convulsion. We want it to happen."
"You think we want it to happen."
"We want it to happen. Some paroxysm."
 He liked this word. We let it hang there.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Team Mora Kicks Judge Browning's Bootie (In His Own Goddamned Courtroom)




On December 5, 2014, in what can only be described as a 92-page hissy fit, U.S. Judge James O. Browning, who we must never forget was appointed by torturer-in-chief George W. Bush, let his freak show for all the world to see.

I am referring to Judge Browning's Order GRANTING the motion of the Mora Land Grant and Jacobo Pacheco, as Intervenors in Swepi v. Mora County. This is the suit that Swepi, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, has brought against Mora County to try to overturn its historic anti-fracking ordinance. With every fiber of his being, hizzoner wanted to deny the motion and send the Intervenors packing, but he was hamstrung by...wait for it...the law! From page 2 of the Order:
The Court disagrees with the relevant Tenth Circuit environmental case law, but it is bound to follow and apply the law fully and faithfully. If the Court were not required to grant the Motion under rule 24(a), however, it would not permit intervention...
Most of the other 90 pages drive that point home every which way. His clerks must have been burning the midnight oil faithfully writing their exhaustive critique of the Tenth Circuit's decision that forced Browning's hand Mother Nature's way. The experience of reading Browning's Memorandum Opinion and Order is like being cornered by a too-close-talking drunk at a bar who thinks he is witty (but mostly just smells like salami and weird socks) while he rants at you about his endless tedious feuds with people you don't know. And all that while you're still waiting for your first drink!

But on and along page 80 of the Order appeared a passage on creativity and the law so anomalous that it begged for scrutiny. Browning writes:
Moreover, with the Tenth Circuit’s lenient rules in finding a protectable interest, any
private party, with a creative enough attorney, can intervene in a case in which the government is a party.
Creativity, in the judge's parlance, is not a good thing--egads, it leads to partycrashing!


Judge Browning continues:

One intervenor may have an interest in hunting in a flat grassy region of the county and another in a mountainous wooded area.One intervenor may have an interest in fishing in lakes and ponds, and another in fishing in streams and creeks.
Here Judge Browning's examples belong to the realm of topography. I turn to philosopher Levi Bryant who makes a distinction between topographical maps and vector maps in Onto-Cartography, An Ontology of Machines and Media (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). According to Bryant, a topographical map is a "sort of snapshot of worlds or assemblages at a particular point in time." But vector maps "chart the trajectories along which worlds are unfolding."


This is our fundamental conflict, Judge Browning's and mine. He's judging from the position of Mora's present unspoiled landscape without a thought to the trajectory that will unfold as a result if Swepi were to somehow prevail. He continues:
One intervenor may have an interest in studying specific foliage, and other intervenors have interests in studying other foliage.
"Specific" and "other" are his descriptors for foliage. There's an almost autistic dispassion at the thought of leaves.
Leveland, Texas where Judge Browning was raised. Not a leaf in sight!
 He has no terms to differentiate one from another, even for purposes of illustration.



No wonder creativity is so threatening, a theme he returns to in this next passage:
One intervenor photographs the forests and the landscapes; another paints. With a creative enough attorney, an intervenor -- or dozens of intervenors -- can think of specific enough interests that a case may impair, and, once the interest prongs are satisfied, the intervenors automatically satisfy rule 24(a)(2), because, according to the Tenth Circuit, a government entity is incapable of adequately protecting these private interests in spite of the common objectives.
Now I understand that the Tenth Circuit is as dirty as they come. Be that as it may, I just want to say thank you to them that they were able to face that last bit of reality: a government entity is incapable of adequately protecting these private interests... 

Having the Intervenors join the Mora County Commission in its defense against Swepi has already strengthened the case to protect the Ordinance. The Intervenors are pursuing Discovery with all due diligence and on Monday, December 8th, they filed a first set of Discovery requests, which could lead who knows where...? Judge Browning will be hard put to dismiss these requests, 36 in all. He'd have to torture the law to make them disappear.

In Earth, Maps and Practices, the final chapter of Onto-Cartography, Bryant adds a third type of map--modal maps:
Modal maps map futures that could exist if we were to intervene...the environmental activist might note that the world is unfolding along a particular vector that will, in the future, lead to the extinction of thousands of organisms, world hunger because of changes in agricultural conditions, more destructive weather events, and tremendous economic and political instability as people fight over resources. A modal map would consist of acting on the topography of the present to produce a possible future that would avoid this fate.

I would like to remind Judge Browning of the oath he swore on August 1, 2003 during the Bush torture era when he received commission.  “I, XXX XXX, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as XXX under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”