Category Archives: Ground Level Conditions

Ground Level Conditions

“Interactive Wagering” as a Poetics of Masculinity

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The evolving legal status of gambling, according to a recent NY Times article, includes a rebranding of the activity itself: “interactive wagering” would now become the sanitized legislative nomenclature; the whispered adjustments to pending bills at lunches with lobbyists would fawn on this discreet disguise. The bottom line, however, is that government revenues dependent on the “vigorish” of gambling amount to an indirect taxation on working people. Perhaps “democracy” is the political magic act of giving “the people” what they want. If they want a carousel of carousing currency, of liquor with loose cash as a flotation device, then it wouldn’t be a good idea for a politician to rebuke this deplorable inclination.

*. *. *

Compulsive gambling can infect anyone, regardless of gender, but the elusive object of desire in sports betting is not neutral. Rather, it all too often reflects what is now called “toxic masculinity”: violent competition imbrued with phallic hubris. Today’s “Stupor Bowl” offers a magnified glimpse at this perverse carnival. It is hard to see how legalizing gambling on sports events such as professional football would not also valorize the very thing that is currently denounced as abhorrent in its social effects. Since the games that would primarily be bet on are played by men, their values as athletes are precisely what would be underwritten by the insurance policy of impulsive contingency, aka betting. (I would note that I am also highly suspicious of the ease with which “toxic masculinity” as a term has been vetted by a group of over-privileged psychologists.) The gender imbalance is precisely one of my major concerns: there is no mention in the recent article that anyone would ever bet much on women’s sports. How often do you think you’d hear, “I’m putting a hundred on her to win the NCAA 100 meter race.”

*. *. *

Now to play the devil’s advocate for a moment, I can understand the extraordinary appeal that one aspect of gambling must have. Just as critics have pointed out how a film such as “Toy Story” is about the “downsizing” of an economy and the ramifications of losing one’s job, no doubt the encroachment of AI (artificial intelligence) will only make people want to gamble more. If algorithms can be made to serve those who depend on predictability, then why not give of ourselves to something that often has the unpredictable as its outcome? “In a year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.” At any given instant, in a sports event, the allure of those odds and its payoff is almost overwhelmingly irresistible.

*. *. *

Perhaps there is no way to forestall this movement towards interactive wagering, and maybe poets should get hip to its possibilities. Maybe the NEA could raise money for creative writing fellowships by instituting a wagering window: if you think a poet or fiction writer deserves a fellowship, then put your money where your poetics claims to hold down your corner of imagination and demand that you be given decent odds on her or him winning an award. And that’s just the small-time stuff. Consider the possibilities of legal betting on the Nobel Prize. Put a thousand dollars down on an obscure writer in Vietnam, and you might well win more than the Nobel Prize itself. I believe, in fact, that “interactive wagering” on the Nobel Prize already takes place in more enlightened countries. It’s time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

The Laureate sweepstakes! The West Coast Trifecta! The California Arts Council will look back on its parsimonious days under four terms of Governor Jerry Brown and savor the transformative power of long-shot financing.

*. *. *

Of course, there are other things to mull over, eh?


Listen: Is our universe a hologram?

To which the only appropriate response is: “Who’s taking bets?”

Baseball Ground Level Conditions Painting and Sculpture

Sister Wendy Beckett; Jameson Taillon; Syed Ali

Wednesday, December 26, 2018



“I’m all for atheists. They have rejected the false god. Now it’s on to find the true one.” — Sister Wendy Beckett (February 25, 1930- December 26, 2018)

* * *

“The quality of your coffee sets the tone for the day. It’s the first moment you have to gather yourself, so why would you want to do it over a crappy cup of coffee?” — Jameson Taillon

* * *

Let us remember, too, that there are police officers out there demonstrating tenacious courage and extraordinary acumen in dealing with situations fraught with potential for tragedy. We should all give a salute of appreciation to NYPD officer Syed Ali, who certainly deserves better treatment he received at the hands of Trump’s bureaucracy.

Books Ground Level Conditions

Happy Winter Solstice

Friday, December 21, 2018

Linda and I send everyone our best wishes for a renewed commitment to social justice and time spent in imaginative meditation on alternatives to the corporate control of our daily lives. May the solace of fulfillment find replenishment in our quiet choices.

Christmas Lights - 2018

(our porch; Long Beach, California)

P.S. from Rupert:
As for a holiday present, what else could anyone ask for but one of “The Jazz Standards”! It’s not too late to start perusing the possibilities.

Rupert - The Jazz Standards

Ground Level Conditions

American Massacres: From Pittsburgh to Thousand Oaks

Thursday night, November 8, 2018

It’s been a week since I’ve posted on my blog, and some things have changed, and others keep somersaulting in the same predictable arc.

Linda and I drove up to Santa Paula this past weekend to attend the wedding of her niece, Sarah, and her beloved, Margaret. The event was held in a large, open space adjacent to the cottages in which the vineyard’s workers live. Well over 100 people from both sides of the couple’s families attended, ranging from Linda’s nephews (Mason and Luca) to the son-in-law of Linda’s sister, Karen (who is Sarah’s mother. In the late evening, we drove back towards Thousand Oaks and stayed at a motel on Thousand Oaks Blvd. The next morning we visited Linda’s sister, Sharon, and her mother, Noreen, who live in a house that is also occupied by a young student from France named Margot. We chatted briefly before the student left for her Sunday morning jaunt.

The traffic on the way home was heavy, and we were quite tired when we arrived back in Long Beach. In addition to dealing with wet bedding from Rupert’s decision to urinate on our bed to express his displeasure at our absence, we also had to address the fact that we had been rear-ended on the way to the wedding, and it turned out that the other party had a “coverage problem,” according to the person at the second company who called us in response to our inquiries.

This morning, I woke up early to learn that a massacre had taken place at a bar that was less than 1000 yards from the motel where Linda and I had slept on Saturday night. When I called Sharon around 7:30, it turned out that she had been awake for five hours. At 2:30 a.m., Margot had knocked on the front door and rung the door bell until the noise roused Sharon from her sleep. Margot had gone dancing at the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks and had been in the bar when the shooting began. She had gone there before she was heading back to France to celebrate the holidays with her family on Friday, and her friends had wanted to see her before she left. In escaping from the bar, she left behind her purse with her keys and cell phone, and was unable to make her way back to her residence until 2:30 a.m.

President Trump wrote in a tweet that he had been “fully briefed” about the massacre, and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in honor of the victims. “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.” That is the sum total of his public leadership in response to the latest massacre, which follows all too closely on the devastating murders at a Pittsburgh synagogue by an anti-semitic follower of President Trump who seems to have felt empowered by the innuendoes of Trump’s rhetoric. The tepid, boilerplate response of the Commander-in-Chief is hardly of a caliber that will persuade the mentally ill in our society to refrain from acting out their pathological scenarios of revenge. “God bless all of the victims….” What the living hell is that supposed to mean, Mr. President? What does trotting out words that you don’t actually believe in accomplish for any victim? To start with, put a number on “all” in that statement. My guess is that you don’t have a clue.

Linda and I have spent a considerable amount of time in Thousand Oaks during the past two decades. In fact, we were married in Sharon’s backyard on May 19, 2001. Somehow, the airplanes that flew into the twin towers in NYC a few months later seem to have obliterated more than just an architectural landmark. The still billowing dust has corroded the capacity of this country to breathe the truth without choking on it.

The haze seems unlikely to grow less hazardous.

I mentioned at the start that some things have “changed.” The Democrats may have retaken control of the House of Representatives, but that political shift is just a twitch. Yes, there are 100 women in the House of Representatives. Yes, one of them is the first lesbian Native American. Yes, the state of Maine has its first woman governor. Ask those who died at the Borderline Bar how much difference these “changes” will make in forestalling the spread of this epidemic of violence. They know all too well the extent of our indifference to their fate.

Part Two: The Massacre at a Pittsburgh Synagogue

Sunday, October 28, 2018

In the past week, several packages containing potentially explosive materials were mailed to prominent political figures, all of whom were associated with the Democratic political party. On Saturday, a gunman entered a synagogue and murdered eleven Jews.

It is Sunday morning, 9:52 a.m., in Long Beach, CA. I look outside a side window of the house my wife and I rent. It is still slightly damp and chilly outside, and there is little traffic. It seems like an “ordinary” Sunday in my neighborhood, and I suppose that many of my fellow citizens will find a way in the coming weeks and months to absorb the news of this massacre in Pittsburg and somehow relegate it to the status of an “aberration” in the American social fabric. I’m afraid it is inherently part of this country’s social DNA; if this is a democracy, its normality can only be described as “differently abled.”

I think back to various points during the presidential campaign of 2016, and how Trump as a candidate cultivated those who promoted violence against those with whom one disagrees. For instance, “Mr. Trump praised his New Hampshire state co-chairman, State Representative Al Baldasaro, who said recently that Mrs. Clinton deserved to face a firing squad over the F.B.I.’s investigation of her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.” This is not fake news, just as Trump’s suggestion that those who support the Second Amendment should take matters into their own hands, should Hilary Clinton be elected. The failure of the Secret Service to release a transcript of its interrogation of Mr. Trump on suspicion of threatening the life of a presidential candidate is a dismal reflection of how little power citizens have in moderating civic life and discourse. We had a right to such a transcript. Where were the Russian hackers when we needed them?

Trump cannot disclaim responsibility for generating a virulent pathology of antagonistic moods, although he began to do so before the yellow tape around the synagogue had been taken down. He blamed the incident on the victims themselves, in claiming that they should have had an armed guard at their place of worship. Among a multitude of other things Trump misses, he fails to note that it is his manipulation of ideological fanaticism that has fanned the embers of anti-semitic hostility and permitted their volatility to incandesce.

“Climate change” will have to find a way to become plural in its encompassing of the political ecology, if we are to have any hope of tampering down this conflagration of hideous animus.

Ground Level Conditions Photography

Call Box Sunset

August 28, 2018

I taught fiction writing at Idyllwild Arts for 20 consecutive summers (1995-2014). One evening, on the way down towards Banning and Beaumont, I pulled to the side of the road and caught the last notch of the day’s switchbacks. I used a disposable camera to take this sequence; the third shot is probably the “best” in that the bolts that attach the sign to the pole (under the “e” and above the hyphen) play off against the red dot of the sun; and of course the call box itself is visible, too. The bottom to top diagonal goes way back as a compositional element, of course, and if it seems old-fashioned, so be it. I take it as a compliment.

Call Box Sunset-1

Call Box Sunset-2

Call Box Sunset-3

Books Ground Level Conditions Small Press Publishing

Beyond Baroque in 1998: The 30th Anniversary Rededication Candlelight Walk (Photographs)

Beyond Baroque in 1998

Twenty years ago, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California celebrated its 30th anniversary. Founded in a storefront on West Washington Blvd. by George Drury Smith as the headquarters for his nascent publishing project, Beyond Baroque magazine, the project had spawned a weekly poetry workshop, free and open to the public, that still meets on Wednesday evening, a reading series that has featured some of the most famous poets in the United States (Philip Levine, Mark Strand, John Ashbery, Amy Gerstler) as well as fiction writers, such as Charles Baxter. Under the direction of Alexandra Garrett, Beyond Baroque cultivated a superb library of small press publications, and it still operates a bookstore that can provide any young writer with a chance to peruse books not easily found at Barnes and Noble.

Beyond Baroque will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on November 10th with an extraordinary evening of featured artists, but before I write in this blog about this upcoming event, I first want to share with you some photographs I took of the evening on which poets recommitted themselves to this project. The president and artistic director of Beyond Baroque at that time, Fred Dewey, and I had come up with the idea of holding a brief pilgrimage to mark the 30th anniversary, and so we gathered at the Old Venice City Hall, lit some candles and walked up to West Washington, which now goes by the name of Abbott Kinney.

CandleWalk - BB30

The storefront in which Beyond Baroque operated was the first floor of one of the taller buildings on West Washington. The lot to the south was empty and used only in a minimal manner as a boat building and repair lot; it is occupied by a popular specialty. restaurant, Lemonade. This first picture focuses on George Drury Smith, and it appears that he is gazing offstage at road taken, and retaken, mulling over the changes on Venice Blvd. as we made the 12 minute walk. Just over his shoulder is Harry Northup, and he is facing Frances Dean Smith, one of the first members of the Wednesday night poetry workshop, founded by John Harris and Joseph Hansen.

GDS - BB - 30

This next photograph features John Harris, wearing a blue cap; he is obviously enjoying the company of Barry Simons, who gave several memorable readings at The Bridge on the other side of town in the early 1970s; since Frances Dean Smith could hardly afford the services of a babysitter in the early to mid-1960s, she often brought her daughter, Marina Bukowski, to this very room to listen to poets who now regard Ellyn Maybe (dark hair, blue pullover), the only one of this quartet still alive, as a writer who has truly honored their legacy with her vivacious poetry.

Haris - FDS - BB30

Holly Prado and Harry Northup, who met as a result of Harry reading FEASTS, the first major success I had with Momentum Press in the 1970s, are talking with George Drury Smith in the next photograph.

Holly - Harry - GDS - BB30

Ellyn and Frances again:

Ellyn - FSM -- BB30

John Thomas and Philomene Long drove from the Old Venice City Hall to the original site. John Thomas’s eponymous first book of poem had an extraordinary influence on the first generation of Beyond Baroque workshop poets.

John - Philomene - BB30

David James, on the far left, read his poems on a Friday evening in 1974 with me as the other featured poet. It must be said that David’s poems were far better received than mine were, as they should have been Although he eventually concentrated on film criticism, his poems are still a crucial contribution to my second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985).

David James - BB30

And now for some “cameo” photographs of other poets in attendance:

BB - 30 - CAMEO-1

BB - 30 - CAMEO2

BB -30 - CAMEO3

(All photographs (c) copyright Bill Mohr. Permission required to reproduce or disseminate these photographs in a form or medium.)

Autobiography Ground Level Conditions Military Life Teaching

From the Greatest Generation to the Search Engine Generation: A Field Report

Sunday, August 19, 2018

It’s been almost a month since my last post. My mother seems to have settled in at the skilled nursing facility she moved into a month ago. I visited her this afternoon, after attending a meeting to welcome the new contingent of M.F.A. students in creative writing at CSULB. My mother’s face lit up when she saw me. Even though I have very few happy memories of my childhood, other than having enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep (no small things!), it’s hard to resist the appeal of a very elderly face realizing that the outside world has not completely forgotten her. She will be 97 years old in December, and she only dimly understands what I do from day to day as a teacher. If I were to have told her this afternoon that I was interviewed this past Tuesday by KCET for a television program on Venice West that will be broadcast in two or three months, it would mean no more than an announcement that I have had my 20 year old car painted by a local auto body shop, owned by a man whose son is studying marine biology at CSULB. There is no longer an hierarchy of significance to retain as a plumb line for social value and accomplishment. The impingements of frailty have left her unable to remember even how old she is, or how that span of endurance might even give her oldest son a reason in its comparative meditation to gaze beyond his own youthful privation. The stubbornness in my mother’s eyes has begun to yield to an acceptance that is less judgmental of her fate and misfortunes. Until recently, that stubbornness was the provisional aspect of her resilient willpower as a resource bestowed upon her in compensation for the penury of my father’s 20 year career in the U.S. Navy. Now she has let the grip of that lifetime of economic restrictions be someone else’w concern. I let her nibble at a very ripe banana. She savors it, not as if for the first time, or the last, but with a gratitude that it exists at all.

I will be on sabbatical this semester, so I could have excused myself from being at today’s MFA meeting, but I wanted to meet some of the students whose application I read in the spring semester. They seem eager to get to work, and I believe they will be pleased to have chosen CSULB to get their “union card” of a degree. We have an exceptional faculty: Stephen Cooper, Lisa Glatt, Suzanne Greenberg, and Ray Zepeda teach fiction; Patty Seyburn, David Hernandez, Charles Harper Webb, and I teach poetry. In the middle of the last decade, only half of the current faculty were on the roster of the Department of English, so it’s a program that has grown despite few chances for the students to work as teaching assistants. On the whole, it’s a veteran faculty, with over 200 years of combined teaching experience and publication in several hundred literary magazines. Not everyone necessarily benefits from academic training in creative writing, but if one is going to choose this path, then you can hardly do better than to study at CSULB.

I suppose one piece of encouraging news on the domestic side of things is that Linda has found some studio space in San Pedro. It’s a bit of a drive from our residence in Long Beach, but more than worth it to have space where we don’t have to worry about having a palette of oil paint traipsed though by a resident feline and then tracked across the floor. Linda will move in on September 1st, and we are looking forward to a chance to work on some big canvases, which is hard to do in one’s daily dwelling place.

Finally, it is hard not to comment on the political contretemps of current American life. The ghastliness of Trump’s administration is on a scale beyond the normal limits of human comprehension, if only because I fear so many worse developments are yet in the making. In gauging his expectations that we should trust him, I am hardly the only one who has noted that President Trump has no capacity for appreciating anything but adulation. Far worse, however, is his pathological self-absorption, in which anything that can be ascertained as positive is supposed to be credited to his acumen. The current economy, for instance, is not thriving because of Trump, although it’s not thriving because of Obama, either. Rather, I believe that the prosperity bubble is largely due to the “work” being done by computers. The efficiency of computers has generated a considerable amount of wealth in terms of job productivity, and it is this factor that buoys things up for the time being. Unfortunately, very few companies, let alone politicians, have any idea of how to make best use of the this temporary benefit.

A couple of years ago, in this biog, I discussed how the current generation of youth should be called “the search engine generation.” It is a generation that was humiliated by the economic collapse of 2007-2008. The revival of the economy in the past four years does not erase the harrowing penalties of that debacle and its impact on youth people as well as the baby boom generation. That Trump has made no effort to compensate either generation for what they endured is just one of the things that causes me to despise him more than ever. If Trump is to be disposed of, it will involve the commitment of the “search engine generation” to a campaign focused on making his mendacity a matter of complete public knowledge. Given that he is no doubt tracking negative commentary with fanatical diligence, the willingness to speak up and risk being categorized as an “enemy of the people” requires more courage on the part of “the search engine generation” because they are the ones whose careers can be most decimated by Trump and his allies. Nevertheless, the rest of the electorate is truly depending on them to lead the way. Onward!

Biography Ground Level Conditions Photography Teaching

From a rooftop on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. — July 4

July 6, 2018

I worked as a fiction writing teacher at Idyllwild arts for twenty consecutive summers, starting in the mid-1990s. Several of my students went on to become published writers, including Sara Wintz and Julia Glassman. During the first fifteen or so years, during which I built the fiction writing class up from one session per summer to three sessions each summer, the first introduction to the students always took place on the first Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Then, with the shift to an earlier start of school years, the students gathered at the top of the mountain on the first Sunday before the July 4th celebration.

In my professional as well as personal life, Idyllwild is a significant part of the commitments I have made in my life. I cannot look at the July page of the calendar on my kitchen wall without thinking of that cycle of packing to leave and unpacking on my return, which always took more than a single day. The past couple years have brought me a new ritual: Linda and I gather on the third story rooftop of Rod and Tamiko’s home on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and we watch the fireworks jettison their transient glow on a scythe-swath perimeter of Los Angeles County. Other friends, including Olivier Bochettaz, join in. Olivier and Pauline had a child six months ago, and Luna is an exceptionally beautiful baby.

Rod J-4 one

Bochettaz Salute One

Bochettaz Salute Two

Bochettaz Salutre - Three

Rod J-4 two

Rod J-4 three

Rod J-4 four

Ground Level Conditions Presidental Election

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Wish Starts to Come True

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mexico’s Next President Elected!

I have not heard any reports of the percentage of the electorate that actually voted in the elections today in Mexico, but I can’t help but wonder about the beneficial effects of Sunday elections. Having the vote take place on a day on which most people don’t work has to influence the ability of people to participate in a democratic process.

The astonishing news, of course, is that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been elected the next President of Mexico by an overwhelming margin. It is fortunate that the polls showed Obrador with a huge lead. If he had only had a lead of two percent, as Hillary Clinton did heading into election day in the U.S. in 2016, I have no doubt that the results would have favored another candidate.

As I just mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, I remember Alejandro González Iñárritu accepting the Oscar for his exquisite directing work on a film about a floundering actor who once was the incarnation of a popular culture hero. In his acceptance speech, Iñárritu said, “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve.” He also mentioned “the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.” As of this evening, it would seem that the first half of Iñárritu’s reclamation of human rights has made more progress towards fulfillment than the second half.

I send my best wishes to my friends in Mexico, and hope that your expectations can be met as quickly as possible.

Ground Level Conditions

The Binary Special at the Zero Sum Cafe

The Open All Hours Zero Sum Cafe — The Binary Special (Served Daily)

Even when the odds are enormously favorable for a catastrophe, a pessimist braces for disappointment, and frets about how abashed he will feel if things turn out well; when they don’t, an optimist prefers to act indignantly surprised and perplexed.

As for myself, I plan on going on a meditation retreat as soon as possible, and taking my eligibility test for reincarnation as a bodhisattva. Most of my friends think I should wait another lifetime or two, but they’re just a bunch of pessimystics.

(In conversation with Linda Fry)

June 18, 2018