Arizona Road Trip: Some Signage

The first basic rule

Don't be a dick.
Don’t be a dick.
don't be a dick 1a
I thought I told you, don’t be a dick.
No, really, don't be a dick.
No, really, don’t be a dick.

 

‘Sharing,’ in the immortal words of Thee Faction’s ‘Better than Wages’, ‘like you tell your children’.

The second basic rule

Try really hard not to do obviously stupid things.
Try really hard not to do obviously stupid things.

Name your highways ironically

yeah, right.
yeah, right.

Whenever possible, drive over scary dirt roads in the mountains to stencil signs in not quite the right placeparty animals

Always lie about the efficacy of local art

oh no it doesn't
oh no it doesn’t

Also found in Miami, AZ

CSI Miami
CSI Miami

The one that got away

Keystone
Keystone
Cops
Cops


Just around the corner from Keystone Rd, Miami, is the police station.

Just around the corner from the police station in Miami is a road they consider a no-go area.

For obvious reasons.

Sadly, there is one dog in Arizona who does not come running up to the fence barking at passersby

strange dog

The winner

do not push button
Remember the second basic rule.

This sign is not in itself amusing until you know its location. Air Force Facility Missile Site 8, aka Titan II ICBM Site 571-7.

It is now the Titan Missile Museum, and the sign merely means ‘do not touch the exhibit’ rather than, say, ‘do not launch a 9 megaton intercontinental ballistic missile’.

William Barton and Michael Capobianco, Fellow Traveler (1991)

675521This is one of those books that’s been lying around the house unread for a couple of decades. I bought it on the strength of a positive review in Interzone, probably, or perhaps SF Eye. It has made at least two previous trips to the US and back with me, and tomorrow it will be on its way to the charity shop. It is not a great book, or even a particularly good one, but it is odd in an interesting way. Or interesting in an odd way. In the opening years of the 21st century, Gorbachev aborts a Soviet moon-landing in favour of a mission to divert a near-Earth asteroid, Sinuhe, into a cislunar orbit, using nuclear bombs for propulsion. There, it can be mined for materials with which to revitalise the Soviet economy, build a lunar base, stage missions to Mars and generally open up the solar system. The US, however, views it as threat to the pax Americana established by their successful SDI programme. Fellow Traveler is hard sf of a particular engineering kind, a thriller rather lacking in thrills. It reads like one of the mission checklists its cosmonaut characters religiously plod through. And the cosmonauts themselves are largely ciphers, something they seem to acknowledge about themselves when discussing problems with a pair of cabin-feverish mission specialists who threaten to contaminate the novel with melodrama:

Neither one of them’s had any training in how to hold things in. They . . . can’t suppress themselves like we can. Emotional bullshit. Not pilots. Not engineers. … What can I say? They’re wet inside. (188).

Barton and Capobianco attempt to counter this flatness by interlarding into the present (in)action flashbacks about growing up in the Soviet Union and becoming involved in the space programme. In this regard, Fellow Traveler recalls novels from Gregory Benford’s ‘when he could be bothered’ phase – In The Ocean of the Night (1976), Timescape (1980), Against Infinity (1983), Across the Sea of Suns (1984) – which imported some of the lessons of the American new wave into hard sf, but it is far less successful. What makes Fellow Traveler most worthy of comment is its rather peculiar politics. It is deeply critical of the path taken by NASA since the 1970s, arguing that the visionless, military-dominated, mission-by-mission status quo needs to be replaced by an expansive and exploratory space programme. However, it does so by giving that grand old upwards-and-outwards vision at the core of what John Clute calls Agenda Sf over to the Soviet Union, lock, stock and barrel. When Gorbachev addresses the Congress of People’s Deputies (78-9), he could be a huckster shilling for Wernher von Braun or Willy Ley on a 1950s Disneyland episode. Later, in private, he says of the Sinuhe mission,

It is not only a beautiful idea, as the torso of a woman is beautiful, it is simplicity itself. Mankind will have made a genuine leap, not the paltry step the Americans made so long ago. (91)

And, according to the first of the novel’s appendices, this mission was in 1991 ‘possible – though just barely possible – using … off the shelf technology’ (382) the USSR, but not the US, possessed. Barton and Capobianco attempt to shame the US into colonising the solar system. Furthermore, their general critique of the shallowness and tawdriness of American consumer culture implies they would prefer limitations to democracy and a degree of autocratic centralisation if it got the US an offworld foothold. While the American president, government, military and media are depicted as, respectively, weak, ineffective, paranoid and carelessly sensationalist, overt approval of autocracy is only expressed by non-American characters. One of the cosmonauts, for example, thinks

Kruschev had been such a crude old peasant, embarrassing on the world scene and, in the end, cowed by a handsome American boy. But, like Mussolini, he seemed to have the knack of making things work. Maybe that was important. (17)

And the novel is so incapable of imagining cultural difference that it repeatedly defines characters in absurdly nationalist terms. The Italian Anselm Bustamonte, contemplating the way the Soviet mission renders the Piazzi II probe to Sinuhe redundant, thinks:

It was a miracle of engineering, and would have thrust Italy into a central position within the newly reformulated ESA overnight. Certainly the country’s prestige within the EEC would have been strengthened as well, reclaiming the technological lead she had lost during the late Renaissance. (166)

Elsewhere, the stereotyping is less overtly nationalist, but every bit as hilarious. Russians, for example, are given to saying things like

Hegel would be proud of you, Academician. (23)

and (in 2002!) of a Moody Blues (!) track:

It is bourgeois and repetitive, performed by cretins with the skill of dancing bears, and, worst of all, encourages the most antisocial of behavior. (186)

Which is, come to think of it, pretty accurate, if hard on ursus terpsichoris. Russians also tend to think in terms like these:

It was May, but the winter had held its iron grip on Moskva like a true bureaucrat, deferring any real changes until the last possible moment, afraid to take responsibility for anything new. (70)

This nationalist stereotyping tendency is best captured, however, by Hermann Oberg, the imaginatively named German director of the European Space Agency.1 The voice of reason trying to mediate between Soviets and Americans, he sometimes adopts what he considers a more French approach, since French is the language of diplomacy, but other times he is a lot more, well, ‘German’:

What was it Hitler had said? Yes, on the occasion of the first V-2 launch, he said, ‘Es war doch gewaltig!‘ Too true … Bastard had the soul of a poet. … After all, anyone who loved dogs and blondes couldn’t have been all bad. (37)

And, directly before addressing the (privately disdained) UN,

He was imagining himself standing before an outdoor amphitheater, filled with thousands of black-clad, torch-wielding young men. Iron Christians. The crowd was chanting something, Horst Wessel Lied, perhaps. (148)

By the time of the novel’s epilogue, fifteen years after the principal action, Oberg is President of the Federal Republic of Europe, and the Scandinavian states have joined a renascent USSR, while the US, whose unilateral intervention nearly destroyed the world, languishes in decline. Clearly what Americans needs is a collective goal. And a vastly more ambitious space programme And a dictatorship. That way they can get to live in space and have a thousand year Reich all of their own. Or something like that. 1 It it difficult to tell whether this is laziness or homage. Other minor character names include Zarkov (yay!) and, more peculiarly, Jo-Lee Hooker and George Buckminster Smiley.

Through Gates Pass on the Road to Old Tucson Studios

impairedRight, so we are out past Little Italy – built under a truce so that elderly mobsters from rival families could retire to an exclusive desert community and live side-by-side in peace – but even so, I don’t think martini drinkers are the problem.

Out here, it’s much more a drive-your-pickup-offroad-and-drink-a-sixpack-in-the-setting-sun-while-taking-potshots-at-cacti-and-signage kind of country.

 

snakesAnd anyway, the major threat to human wellbeing seems to be neither drunk drivers nor stray shotgun pellets, but giant arrow-headed snakes that can move faster than you can run.

 

rocksOh, and rocks.

Ambulatory
creophagous
rocks.

‘Global Recession in Century 21’, from Jason Wyngarde, Neo-liberalism and Other Economic Fantasies (Verso 2023)

The first major international organisation to fallwasp victim to the global recession was WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. Funding cuts saw it broken up into smaller national units, many of which were immediately disbanded. Marineville, that icon of postwar internationalism and sixties marineville 2design, was auctioned off to International Leisure, a division of Tracy International. It now combines a high-tech gated community with an exclusive resort. Its successful hosting of G7, G8 and G10 meetings, far from the media and even marinevillefurther from protestors, only enhanced its reputation among business elites. A retirement village for the super-rich is currently under construction.

ASP-UK, advised to expand its range of activities while right-sizing its operations, diversified into pollution monitoring, landfill management and recycling facilities. Around this time, mute amphibian beauty Marina became a marina1subject of interest to Immigration Services. Sans papier and facing internment, she quietly disappeared, apparently preferring to return to life beneathtroyatlanta the seas as one of Titan’s slave-girls. Six months later, Captain Troy Tempest, fresh from rehab, married Lieutenant Atlanta Shore. Acrimonous divorce followed within the year.

Spectrum also suffered massive cuts as European governments shifted military funding away from international collaborations. Angel Interceptors were replaced with ill-suited Eurofighters, cloudbase11band the cost of retrofitting them to Cloudbase’s unique launch systems became just one more reason to scrap this ‘airborne monument to Keynesian folly and excess’. Helicarrier_(Earth-80920)When irreconcilable differences in management styles saw attempts to share resources with SHIELD collapse, the fate of Spectrum was sealed. It slowly shrank to a clearing house for commissioning Private Military Contractors before formally disbanding.

Captain Scarlet, once the heroic face of this proud organisation, spent his final years as a Spectrum agent attending corporate events in a desperate bid to find alternative income streams. The extent of this desperation captain-scarletonly became apparent when footage of a five-thousand-dollar-a-plate event was leaked onto youtube, showing Scarlet being shot and killed – over and over again – by drunken executives at ten thousand dollars a bullet. You can see in his eyes that he knows it will never be enough.

In later years, Scarlet became the repeated victim of Joe McClaine, a stalker suffering from multiple personality disorder. As a child, Joe was the joe90subject of systematic abuse by his scientist father, apparently condoned – and certainly covered up – by his employers, the shadowy World Intelligence Network. During the course of his trial, Joe manifested as many as 90 different personalities. Ironically, Scarlet and his would-be killer are currently in separate wings of the same asylum.

One figure to ride out, and indeed profit from, the recession and era of austerity was billionairre Jeff jefftracyTracy. His reputation, however, took quite a beating. Media outlets controlled by Tracy International depict him as a very private man, withdrawn and introspective. Critics, however, insist that he no longer dare show his face in public after the scandals that rocked International Rescue. Did the CIA really subcontract extraordinary Thunderbird2rendition abductions to International Rescue? Was Thunderbird 2 being used for human trafficking? What exactly happened to that refugee flotilla that sank without a survivor less than a mile from Tracy Island?tracy island

Jeff Tracy sporadically attempts to win back public support, philanthropically endangering the lives of his poorly-trained sons (and bystanders) by disregarding health and safety regulations in emergency situations. Courtesy of striking firefighters and ambulance crews, the once-lauded Tracy brothers are now commonly known as Scab Rescue.

 

29/10/10

Geoglyphs, Central Arizona Plateau

Today we rented a small plane – the smallest and scariest I have ever been in – from a private airstrip north of Tucson. Fortunately, the pilot stubbornly refused to comply with any of the appropriate stereotypes – not a slightly nutty veteran or a UFO abductee or an alcoholic, neither a barnstormer nor a cropsprayer. Indeed, Celeste bore no resemblance whatsoever to Randy Quaid. Just paying off her student loans as best she could. She was very calm, very professional, all business. She gave us a strict talking to about the differences between big-ass passenger jets and single props, and as soon as she realised we were not really interested in all the other tourist stuff, she flew us low and fast to the escarpment, and then climbed steeply up and over the Central Arizona Plateau. She know exactly what we wanted to see – something that can only be seen from the air.

plateau 1
Triple Cross geoglyph

These highlands are believed to have been occupied by a people the Navajo call Anaasází, which means ‘ancestors of our enemies’ but is now taken to mean ‘ancient people’ or ‘ancient ones’. The Anaasází date back to the 12th century BCE. The immense geoglyphs that adorn the Plateau are older even than that. There is no consensus among archaeologists about their age, other than that they predate Peru’s much better known Nazca lines by at least a millennium (that is, to the time of ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom); but they may be far older than that.

They were discoveredby a geologist called William Dyer during the Great Depression while he was testing equipment – aeroplanes and cold weather gear – for an Antarctic expedition, but little else is known about his subsequent career. He is said to have been sceptical about the patterns his pilot discerned –  the designs are generally abstract, and there are certainly no zoomorphic or phytomorphic designs like those found in Peru – until he observed the regularity of the lines in the Triple Cross formation. Later expeditions, funded through Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, mapped some four dozen geoglyphs; excavation of several sites showed the figures, some of which cover several kilometres, to have been formed by digging shallow trenches into the surface rock so as to reveal darker rock below. To date, though, archaeologists have found few traces of the people who created the geoglyphs. Anaasází oral tradition offers no real clues, either.

We could only afford our pilot and plane for a few hours, so reluctantly we turned back in the early afternoon. I will post a full gallery of photos on Facebook when I get a chance, but here are a few more that we took.

plateauplateau 7plateau 6plateau 4plateau 3

1 Pueblo Indians claim always to have known of the geoglyphs, and there is no reason to doubt them. Although the forms are said only to be visible from the air, many of them can in fact be made out from the upper slopes of the Barrier Mountains at the north and east of the Plateau.