Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Search For the Perfect Record by Peter Reum

What is a perfect record? For more than 50 years, I have listened to thousands of recordings in nearly every genre. Anyone who has loved music can probably tell you about a peak experience that they had while listening to something that literally blows their mind. The criteria for a perfect record will vary according to each individual's taste in sound. But, there may be some criteria that we as listeners all have in common.

The first criterion that we all probably have is an immediate attraction to the sounds upon first listen. A second criterion would be that the recording would take on a desert island disc feeling.....that would be that if you could only have a small number of recordings on the island you would live on for the rest of your life, and you can only take between 5 and 10 recordings and never have any more, what would you take? The third criterion would be that you feel impelled to share your discovery with people you know. we go. These are the perfect records that I have selected. They are not in any particular order. Feel free to share yours in the comments section following this article....

My perfect records in no particular order...

I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos-This record is timeless. It captures that time in life when you find the love of your life and carry a torch that burns brightly. The feeling is euphoric, unlike any other high, like Bogie and Bacall.

Jumpin' Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones-What would a perfect rock and roll record sound like? Tongues firmly in cheek, The Stones describe suffering in a manner that drips the Blues, but in a rock style. I used to play this record just before going to work at a hospital job that I loathed. It did the trick!

Porgy and Bess by Miles Davis and Bill Evans-Miles Davis and Bill Evans' trilogy of albums from 1959 and 1960 are hailed as masterpieces. Kinda Blue, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain have brought me innumerable hours of listening pleasure. Porgy and Bess, the second album of the trilogy, was my first Miles Davis album. The arrangement by Bill Evans brings out a dimension of George Gershwin's melodies that for me remain timeless. When you hear an album like Porgy and Bess, it becomes an itch that only repeated listens can relieve. The tones here are so varied that they offer a beauty that is inspirational. If you are like me, each listening will make another facet of this diamond shine.

Don't Worry Baby by The Beach Boys-How does one pick out one record from a plethora of perfect records? Fortune smiled on Brian Wilson, and the gift he was given is now a gift to the world as a whole. Don't Worry Baby expresses in a little over two minutes what most of us take years to know how to express....Roger Christian's evocative lyrics and Brian's simple, yet elegant track. To paraphrase another record producer, Terry Melcher, "I'd sell my soul to just make one record as perfect as Don't Worry Baby!"

Peter and the Wolf,Op. 67,Composed by Sergei Prokofiev, Performed by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Symphonic Orchestra - When I was about six years old, my mother presented me with this version of Peter and the Wolf. It is an album that fulfills Sergei Prokofiev's intention to compose an orchestral work for children that helps them fall in love with classical music. For me, it worked. I developed an insatiable desire to hear symphonic works that continues to this day. Specifically, I have come to really enjoy Russian composers' work. If this album is still in print, invite your children into the lifelong pleasure of symphonic compositions.

Cancion de Mariachi (Morena de Mi Corazon) - by Los Lobos - These guys have been together more than forty years. They were the main band that played at rallies for Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Union. They are masters of all forms of Mexican and Chicano music,as well as rock and jazz. They are bilingual, as most of us from the Southwestern United States are. They are probably the best band playing today, and all of their albums are worth a listen. Give them a'll be glad you did!

5:15 by The Who - 5:15 - When older Sixties fans assemble over some form of intoxicants, the debate usually comes around to who the best band of the Rock Era was. Usually three bands come up. They would be The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. Because I believe that Pete Townshend is the finest songwriter during that time from the UK, The Who occupy a place of honor among the artists that comprise my collection. Pete successfully wrote two long form thematic compositions, Tommy and Quadraphenia. His work on a third, Lifehouse, was also incredible, and when finished to Pete's satisfaction in 2000,it became the second longest gestation period for an unreleased album in rock history. I could have picked any number of songs...but my affection for 5:15 from Quadraphenia won the day.

Rhapsody In Blue as recorded by George Gershwin and The Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra - The premier of Rhapsody in Blue was on February 12,1924 at Aeolian Hall in New York City. The piece was commissioned, lending anticipation that it would be a long form serious work. George Gershwin already had a reputation as a songwriter for musicals and Broadway variety shows. The piano was played by Gershwin himself, accompanied by Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. There were at least two recordings of the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. The one I like is the 1924 recording, with Gershwin playing himself. The version from 1924 lasts a shade over nine minutes. This version was arranged by Ferde Grofe, Whiteman's arranger, who later wrote another personal favorite of mine, Grand Canyon Suite. The familiar clarinet glissando that begins the Rhapsody was a happy last minute addition, suggested by Whiteman.

Waiting For Columbus (especially Fat Man In the Bathtub by Little Feat - In the Seventies, the title of best LA band was usually given to Little Feat, led by Lowell George and Bill Payne. My favorite album of any year is Waiting For Columbus, featuring the Tower of Power Horns, who toured with Little Feat in 1977. In this case,my preference for a live set is not because the studio versions of the tunes on Waiting For Columbus are inferior. The live versions simply transcend the studio versions because they selected the best live versions from several concerts recorded. In some cases, the live versions were remixed or a part that did not sound right on the raw mixing board tape. This is standard for live recordings. The version of Waiting For Columbus that I prefer is the Rhino version, which adds thirteen songs to the original album's fifteen. Fat Man in the Bathtub has become a personal anthem for me, because of the rhythmic pattern of the song and Lowell George's depiction of a dissipated musician in LA. His description of his tunes as "cracked mosaics" is there to enjoy on. Fat Man in the 🛀 Bathtub. Oh damn, I forgot to close that parenthese!

Music From a Painted Cave by Robert Mirabal--My ties to New Mexico are strengthened by the work of Taos Pueblo's Robert Mirabal. I have come to love his music and sense of humor, which is often ironic or often funny in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves. For many Indigenous People, the sheer fact that they survived an American campaign to either "whiten" them, or even kill them means they can laugh at themselves and the dominant Caucasian way of doing things. The album I have chosen to be an example of Mirabal's work is designed for live performance. Aspects of the Taos Pueblo oral traditions and history are presented in a highly visual manner, at times using rock music. I caught his live performance here in 2001, and before the evening show for the general public, he had already done two shows for Indigenous youth that afternoon which filled the venue completely. To say these kids were awed by Mirabal's show would be an understatement. While Music From a Painted Cave, may not be the most traditional Indigenous album Mirabal has recorded, it is the most accessible of them.

There you have it...those are my perfect record selections. Feel free to share yours in the comments section below!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Atomic City by Peter Reum

The Interstate 25 corridor through New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming is often nicknamed America's Nuclear Highway. Within 100 miles of that Interstate on either side of the highway are situated many of the United State's most strategically significant nuclear defense installations.

As the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings have passed with numerous media articles and segments presented, the controversy surrounding the decision to deploy the bombs against Japan is as vibrant as ever. In New Mexico, the National Laboratories entrusted with the maintenance and development of nuclear weapons are alive and thriving. The discussions about dealing with the toxic cores of obsolete missles and bombs, and the proposed replacement of the old designs with new and more deadly weapons at an estimated cost of over $1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) dollars boggles the mind.

The Atomic Age began in New Mexico. The test of the plutonium core of the Trinity Site bomb was a leap into the most complicated and dangerous period in world history. Los Alamos, one of two New Mexico cities I call my hometown, is the site where the research designs of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were done. In the case of the plutonium bomb, Los Alamos National Laboratory also tested the bomb before it was dropped on Nagasaki. The National Laboratory system, which includes numerous scientific research labs, has two National Laboratories in New Mexico, Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratory, located in Albuquerque.

My father came to wartime Los Alamos in 1944. He worked for nearly 32 years at Los Alamos, retiring in 1975. My half-sister graduated from the high school in Los Alamos in 1949, with me graduating in 1971 and my younger sister in 1975.

To help explain Los Alamos as a community, it is good to cite a few statistics. Los Alamos has the highest percentage of Ph.D graduates in the United States, the highest county per capita income of any county in the USA, and was selected as the most desirable small community in the USA by a national publication this year.

My first seven years of schooling took place in the Rio Grande Valley below Los Alamos in a small city called Espanola. The Espanola Valley is a beautiful valley situated between two major mountainous canyon systems along the river. The Valley, as it is called by people who live there, is roughly 85% Indigenous Pueblo people and Hispanic, and 15% Caucasian. In Los Alamos, the percentages are roughly the opposite, 85% Caucasian and 15% Hispanic and Indigenous people. Los Alamos is a relatively new community, begun in 1943, although ancient Anasazi occupation dates back to pre-Columbian times. In the Espanola Valley, Pueblo tribes have been present for at least 1200 years, and Hispanic people came in 1598.

The contrast between the Espanola Valley and Los Alamos County is so different that it is impossible to understate. What makes Los Alamos different than almost any community in the United States is the manner in which people live there. The higher percentage of Ph.D.s in town makes for unusual expectations with respect to primary and secondary schools, as well as the sheer number of different organizations reflecting the interest of residents. The expectations parents have is that their kids will get into the best colleges, and follow their dreams. At a time when parents across the USA are shuddering at the cost of higher education for their children, Los Alamos families retain a strong faith in the value of higher education.

The families in Los Alamos and Espanola are also different in daily life. Many Espanola Valley residents have been on the land their family owns for centuries, especially the Pueblo peoples. The economic impact of the Los Alamos National Laboratory on the Valley is dramatic. There is an impact that the Laboratory makes by purchasing numerous goods and services from the Valley and other towns in a 100 mile radius from Los Alamos.

The Pueblo peoples and the Laboratory also have a high level of secrecy in common. Pueblo peoples guard their ancient beliefs from a prying world due to attempted interference from the Christian church in the long history of Hispanic/American/Pueblo conflict over traditional  Indigenous religion and missionary work that several Christian sects have introduced over the centuries. Los Alamos families do not discuss what mom or dad did at the Laboratory today over dinner due to the high levels of National Security that most of the Los Alamos staff have to observe. This secrecy is especially prevalent in new weapons design and testing. If friends ask what your mom or dad do at the Lab, it is common for most kids to say that their parent works at a particular Tech Site in the numerous canyons and mesa tops that make up the Lab.

Recently I watched a miniseries called Hiroshima. It covers the events leading up to the Hiroshima bombing on August 6, 1945. The three hour film, which appeared to be produced by the Hallmark Channel. The film used archival film from World War 2 along with new footage with actors portraying various leaders and other people important in the story.

The story of Los Alamos is intimately and permanently linked with the fear that someone or something will invade and take over the USA. We as a country have lived in fear of potential enemies since the "day that lived in infamy," to paraphrase President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor. Since that attack, our country has lived in fear of it repeating. When it did on September 11, 2001, those people who died, became not only martyrs, but a reason for more protective armament to keep out foreign threats.

It is difficult to overstate the fear that pervades today's world, and we appear as a country to believe that the size of our military forces increases the level of safety our society has. In a state as impoverished as New Mexico, the billions of dollars that Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories bring to the state are crucial to its financial health and employment of New Mexicans statewide. That the sheer number of businesses related to defense related work is crucial to New Mexico's economy is not surprising. Throughout the West, the Representatives and Senators from Western states actively seek new contracts from the United States Departments of Energy and Defense. We are dependent on those dollars.

My parents were conservative Republicans when they came to Los Alamos. This was the way both sides of our family had been affiliated for generations. Naturally, when the time came to register to vote, I did what I thought was the right thing to do, and became a Republican. It was a comfortable association that pleased my parents, my adult friends, and most of my friends in high school. After graduating from Los Alamos High School, I decided that of the five colleges I had applied to, I would matriculate to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was and is still a college dedicated to liberal arts, and then had a new way of holding classes called The Block Plan, which reduced a semester long class into a month long form which a student took, eliminating the traditional form of learning by taking several semester long courses simultaneously.

The Vietnam War was in full force, and veterans were coming to Colorado Springs, trying to readjust to life. They often wandered onto the Colorado College campus, often high or intoxicated. It would have been easy to condemn them, but I took time to talk with them, often over beers or cheap wine. The men I encountered were from a variety of backgrounds. They had been drafted, and then were assigned to various locations in Vietnam. They generally were non commissioned troops. I listened to them relate their stories while serving in Vietnam, being careful to not be judgemental. As time passed, their inhibition would leave them, and the horror of that war would descend upon these young men. The stories they related were only shared when inebriated or high on some other mood altering substance. These men were not cheered for when they came home. They were verbally condemned.
The experiences I was fortunate to be able to hear from these guys, and the insanity of the entire Vietnam War as a whole, profoundly changed my political views and my faith in a Higher Power as well. I was able to read the New Testament, especially the four gospels, and nonviolent literature from a variety of people and eras. The whole period of study, which lasted about two years, showed me that war was always futile. I became a conscientious objector, and served two years in a hospital after graduation.
I became persuaded that the use of war as a means to solve disputes between sovereign nations was wrong, on both a spiritual and a humanitarian basis. The Jesus that I loved told his followers to turn the other cheek. The writings of Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi Martin Luther King, and so many others, in my mind showed that me that wars against Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, and Mexico were either designed to gain territory or to enrich stockholders in American countries. Coups authored in Iran, Chile, and so many more countries were proof to me that the country I loved as a young Republican had an extraordinary dark side to it.
The fact that my immediate family had participated in the making of a weapon so heinous that it could bring about the decimation of humanity and other species as well shook me to my foundation. This realization early in my nonviolent approach to resolving conflicts in turn had an effect upon my view of Los Alamos.
I read everything I could find that had been published on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the decision making process that led to the deployment and detonation of these bombs. What became apparent to me as I progressed in my literature review of both sides of the question as to whether these bombs should have been dropped made me feel conflicted. I had grown up with my family knowing scientists who were instrumental in the building of the first atomic bombs and subsequent "new and improved" atomic weapons in the decades after the first atomic bombs were dropped. It began to be irrational when the hydrogen bombs were built by the USA and USSR. Then, bombs were put on ICBMs and submarines. The world was almost destroyed in 1962, were it not for the extraordinary common sense of a Soviet submariner. The irrationality of our public servants who fund the building of and support the deployment of bombs that kill people but left buildings intact had reached new level of insanity. Who,pray tell, was going to use these buildings when the radiation therein would not allow people to be near them?
Then came Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and ultimately Fukushima. The whole nuclear proposition began to stink like rancid fish. I became familiar with Los Alamos scientists who were part of the World War 2 scientists who later became avid and vocal opponents of nuclear weapons. Men like Robert Wilson, Richard Feynman, and Andrei Sakharov. What these men had in common was the strong conviction that nuclear weapons would be the means of the human race destroying itself.
I read probably 75 books and another 100 papers on the subject of the strategic use of nuclear weapons, their history, the ethical arguments against and for their existence, and the personalities of prominent scientists who were instrumental in the creation and dramatic increase in power of their destructive capability.
I came to the conclusion that the laboratories in the American West that build this most deadly of weapons have become an economic necessity for many of the regions in which they are located. To close these labs would devastate the economic stability of their surrounding communities. This is the rationale that begs the ethical issues that such powerful defensive (and offensive) weapons bring forth. Our elected officials, executive, legislative, and even judicial, have to grapple with the question that they have to confront, which is "why should we support the downsizing or closing of such facilities in the Western USA, when other parts of the country thrive on them?"
This is how the armed forces in the USA and other nuclear capable nations have perpetuated the nuclear and defense industries. For the Western USA, these facilities are thought to be irreplaceable. It is mind boggling to even count the number of installations in the West. In New Mexico alone, there are the Los Alamos, Sandia, and Manzano labs, the White Sands Missle Range, and the nuclear waste disposal facility near Carlsbad. California has Lawrence Berkeley and Livermore labs, Edwards Air Force Base, and the Jet Propulsion lab. Nuclear missles are a reality in Montana, Wyoming, and many other Western states. Even Hawaii and Alaska are home to defense sites involving nuclear weapons. The Las Vegas area has the site now known as Nellis Air Force Base, with Area 51 and the area once known as The Nevada Test Site.
The thing that makes this nuclear reality so unstable is that we now have knee jerk Republican Tea Partiers with apocalyptic fervor in both houses of Congress who would welcome a nuclear war, expecting Jesus of Nazareth to come riding in from heaven on a white horse wearing a cowboy hat and making war on the unbelievers. None of them have ever experienced the power of a 50 kiloton bomb from thirty miles like my dad did. I hope that nations around the world consider the implications of an all out exchange of nuclear missiles. The prevailing opinion is that such an exchange is unlikely to occur. With the rise of fundamentalists in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the world is far closer to destruction than any time since the Cold War. My dad's boss once removed has this quotation attributed to him after a U.S. President visited Los Alamos to be briefed
The quote went something like this..."Maybe if we put these SOB politicians on a boat in their underwear 30 miles from a 50 kiloton hydrogen bomb explosion, they would get rid of these bombs or at least agree to dismantle them." You know, maybe he was onto something!

Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum - All rights reserved

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Do You Work This Out?-Reflections On Disability by Peter Reum

When I was a boy, a neighbor child named "Butch'' V. lived near us. My friend Butch was 10, and I was 6, but Butch was fun to play with because he always wanted to play whatever I wanted to play. This was fun, and although Butch was "a little bit slow" as my mother termed it, he was always welcome to be at our house. I grew to really like him, and when we moved from the Rio Grande Valley to Los Alamos, I made it a point to say goodbye.

You  see, Butch V. was not going to school at all, and the State of New Mexico did not provde school for children who were slow learners. Many parents who had children with special needs would pool their time together, and trade off with each other to give each family a break (now called respite care) from their special needs parenting. In the Fifties, children with special needs were either sent to an institution run by the State they lived in, or their parents took complete responsibility for their developmental learning. The Education for All Children Act was two decades away from its passage by Congress, and school districts were not legally bound to provide special education.

Between my freshman and sophomore years at Los Alamos High School, I volunteered at a day camp run by the Association for Retarded Citizens, an organization of progressive parents of children with special needs who advocated for better childrens' educational services and adult developmental services for people with special needs. The word "retarded" back then did not yet have the terrible stigma that it would in the future. The ARC, as they are now called, remains a powerful and effective group of parents and advocates for both children and adults with developmental disabilities. My experience in this Los Alamos ARC Day Camp would dramatically impact the path my vocational career would take in the future.

I found that my self-esteem was improved by the experiences I had with the day campers. There were children with a variety of types of developmental disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome, Autism, Cornelia DeLange Syndrome, Reyes Disorder, Praeder-Willi Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and what we now know as Fragile X Syndrome. But, for that week, it did not matter WHY these children had developmental disabilities, it only mattered that they were with volunteers who played with them, taught them games, and accepted them as they were. There were picnics, hikes, horses to ride, games to play, lunches to prepare, and friends to make.

That single week was the highlight of my summer. Like many people who volunteer at these wonderful programs, the reward was simply the chance to make a peer with a disability a little happier.

 A cynic would say that we were there to make ourselves feel better. That would be partially true. There is always a hint of "but for the grace of God, I would be disabled." The fear of people with disabilities and their relative invisibility in the history of American life through being institutionalized or being homebound was palpable, even when I was a teenager. The idea that people with severe and profound developmental disabilities could live and work in their own communities was unthinkable.

People with quadriplegia lived in iron lungs. Blind Americans had special workshops set up for them, and their mobility training was provided by sighted teachers. State schools for people with blindness and deafness were where people with sensory disabilities were educated. People with Mental Illness were housed in State Hospitals, and in some cases cruelly lobotomized, never to recover.  The whole picture, considering all types of people with disabilities, was that people with disabilities could expect that they would be treated as invisible, inferior, and unable to work or otherwise function as citizens with full rights under the law.

As high school progressed, my time was split between my studies, extra curricular activities, and volunteering in special needs classrooms in Los Alamos High School and helping establish the first community based residential program in Northern New Mexico, Santa Maria El Mirador. I knew that my friend in the Rio Grande Valley, Butch V., would need a place to live, because his parents were getting old, and his siblings were living their own lives.

Through Youth ARC, I had the chance to work in the classroom for children with disabilities at Los Alamos High School, and to invite other students to  come and volunteer, and the idea of inclusion of students with disabilities on regular classrooms was 2 years in the future. Los Alamos High School's physical education teacher, Mr. Cox, made me a permanent squad leader in PE class and proceeded to assign three special needs boys to my squad. Although I was okay with that, some of my peers got tired of having to make adjustments to their presence in PE activities and sports. The guys with special needs were well treated, however, and saw themselves as peers with other members of my squad. That was a small triumph.

The Key Club for which I was an officer in my junior and senior years made the decision to choose the renovation of an eighteenth century adobe hacienda which had become a geriatric home, and then an estate owned by a wealthy heiress from Chicago. We cleared about five acres for gardens and greenhouses. We arranged for several union plumbers and electricians to renovate the buildings on the property, so that they would pass building codes for group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

The first residents moved in shortly after my high school graduation. The property was developed into a working model of what was best about community living for people with developmental disabilities at the time. There were growing pains, as the founder was removed by the State of New Mexico for spanking adults with developmental disabilities. The staff expanded and services multiplied over the next decade at an astounding rate.

Santa Maria El Mirador today is the largest provider of services to people with developmental disabilities in Northern New Mexico. The hacienda in Alcalde is still in operation, having expanded to Espanola, Santa Fe, and Los Alamos. I served on the founding board of directors, and our Key Club in Los Alamos won some awards for our role in helping Santa Maria El Mirador get off the ground. The story of my experience with people with disabilities began with Key Club, and continues today, in my retirement.

When asked what the correct nomenclature is to talk about people with developmental disabilities, I always use the word "citizen," which helps nondisabled people realize that people with disabilities are equal under the law in this country, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the world's first law in the world that guarantees equal rights for people with disabilities in the USA. We have come a long way, but the journey is just beginning.

Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum - All Rights Reserved