Turtle Burn the Video (Regional Burning Man in Taiwan)

In April I went to the Spark Decompression. It was great, but in fact was was a practice run in leading up to last month’s amazing Turtle Burn!

This is the official regional Burning Man event for Taiwan, located on a campsite in the mountains of Yilan and featuring an array of activities including drag shows and fire-dancing. And a muppet serving waffles.

Please enjoy this video I made about my experiences, and for more information please check out: turtleburn.com

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2013: My epic clusterfuck drama year

Previous: 2011 to 2012: Turning thirty, weddings, and the end of the world

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2013 – My epic clusterfuck drama year: It should have been nice, I joined a writing group ad even got a newspaper job. But endless relationship drama kinda’ ruined everything, such as when I got a stalker and also some of that all-encompassing despair of heartache…

Book Review: The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller makes for a somewhat different kind of book review.

Well, I did it. I slugged through the entire report. It’s all free online, don’t even have to steal it.

As eBooks go, this is not the most entertaining page-turner. There are a lot of footnotes, for example, which tend to interrupt the flow.

Moreover, as a narrative this is one of the all-time most anticlimactic stories ever told.

Rather than a book to be judged on its own merits, it’s really more about the news cycle context than anything else.

All this makes it rather difficult to review.

But let us try. Firstly, the context of Volume I: This section heavily details Russian interference in that infamous 2016 election via social media spamming as well the DNC hack. Is this still a controversial fact in some circles? If you are interested in learning about the IRA—the Internet Research Agency—this report is as good a source as any. If you dismiss it as a left-wing conspiracy theory fake news or something, then apparently nothing will truly convince especially some legalistic government report.

The schizophrenia of the U.S. government at this time is quite fascinating, how the highest level of the executive branch can have such a different spin than the entire intelligence apparatus (although recent tweets may have finally admitted that he had help, if tweets are something we are going to get into then).

Which perhaps is the whole point. In these post-truth times, can anyone be convinced of anything anymore?

Then we have endless detail on collusion. Yes, outright collusion. There’s a colorful cast of characters, such as foreign policy “expert” George Papadopoulos and the ever-present diplomat Sergey Kislyak. There’s Richard Gates, Roger Stone, and of course Don Jr. and the big tower meeting. What a stream of reports and reports and reports about how much they welcomed Russian help and even tried and failed to further collude but couldn’t get as far as they’d have liked due to incompetence.

It does not make for a very satisfying read. To learn all this, and then find out that the legal definition for conspiracy is so narrow that they ultimately find it inconclusive and ultimately don’t charge the big guy. Cue the insipid right-wing exoneration talking points.

One particularly close example of what may be illegal, as far as specifically trading campaign work for favors, is the question of the Republican party changing their stance on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine at the RNC convention. This highlights the entire problem with the report right there–we have a question that is unanswered. Did or didn’t officials in the campaign trade influence? This subject even part of the written answers with the president, which were dismissed and sadly not followed up on. More on that failure of a Q & A below.

These near-misses continue; again and again it’s a running theme. Was it illegal for Don Jr. to have a meeting with Russians, whether or not it was really about adoptions? The answer is yes, due to campaign finance law, that’s clearly against the law. But then… they say let’s go ahead and not charge him because he probably didn’t know it was illegal and it would be hard to prove intent in court and whatever in this case ignorance of the law is apparently a valid excuse.

So much painstaking research, and so much giving up. These impossible standards keep making it frustrating for the reader.

Not that there aren’t plenty of convictions and crimes uncovered. Paul Manafort was a pretty large get, let’s acknowledge that. But when it comes to the most powerful of the powerful, there is a sense of exasperation. That in the end, America is about protecting those who are too big to lose and the system will always find a way to make sure those on top will never face the consequences they deserve.

And at least we reach Volume II: Obstruction. Here is where it may or may not get good. There are the ten examples of the president unambiguously obstructing justice to the best of his ability. Public witness-tampering, changing the story on firing Comey, live on TV no less, demands of loyalty, et al. There’s quite a lot of that whole thing.

[And please don’t give me that line about how there can’t be obstruction if there’s no underlying crime. 1: That’s not true, period. If it was true, wouldn’t it be an incentive to obstruct because if it works criminals would get away with the crime? 2: More importantly, there were so many crimes! The president’s own personal lawyer Cohen lied about the Moscow tower, is in jail now, and let’s not even get into the campaign finance violation with the porn star affair hush money. If nothing else simply firing Comey in order to protect his friend Michael Flynn, a convicted criminal, then that is clearly obstructing justice. It’s not only about evidence of collusion/conspiracy at the top. There’s still plenty of obstructing investigations if only to protect his dirty circle. If that’s not corrupt, what is?]

So, then it all ends in a pathetically lame copout in which DOJ guidelines say they can’t indict so they don’t bother indicting. Yes, Mueller went on television trying to explain his logic puzzle of how you can’t charge a crime against someone who can’t go to trial, even though at the same time it’s not an exoneration, punting to Congress as he hints that only they can hold the office to account. Yeah, like oversight is going to go well.

This is the core frustration of this document, and of this entire era we live in. It is postmodern enough that everybody gets their own talking point. You get to interpret the entire investigation however you want. Witch hunt or a valid call for impeachment, pick and chose your own interpretation. Attorney General Barr certainly wants you to interpret it in a political way that benefits his side, based on his initial coverup-y behavior. Mueller simply wants you to be smart enough to read 400 pages and decide for yourself (one of the most naïve positions possible in this age).

In the end, everyone is unsatisfied and the waters couldn’t be muddier. So if you want a sense of closure after reading this, you will still have a long while to wait as we see how history unfolds. So far, to put it lightly, I’m not sensing anything close to a national consensus in the near future.

Isn’t it amazing? This was supposed to be it, and the polls show that right-wingers still believe what they believe, they even have a few quotes to highlight to defend their extreme rationalizations. While the rest of the country vaguely listen to mainstream news summations and have ever so slightly leaned towards kinda’ maybe let’s-investigate-more-and-maybe-impeach-even-though-it’s-for-naught-cause-of-the-Senate.

Sadly, it seems that perhaps obstruction totally works and the people will never know. The appendix in which the president submits his written answers are certainly more of the same. Mueller even says more or less outright that the questionnaire isn’t enough, but he must give up because a subpoena would take too long and he wants to get this damn thing over with. Over thirty answers of “I don’t remember” with no chance to follow up. Once again, the system let’s the powerful get away with anything.

Hell, perhaps all the good stuff is redacted. There are a lot of redactions. So if this is a coverup, then one can only conclude that coverups work.

The story is still continuing. The television drama won’t be over any time soon. In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans will not read this free report. They won’t even read the summaries.

I suppose all that’s left is to depend on the Democrats, and that is a sad notion indeed.

The country is in trouble.

For these reasons above, for this humble reader at this particular time in history, one can only judge this book however full of facts to be a terrible disappointment.

2011 – 2012: Growing up, turning 30, weddings, and the end of the world

Previous: 2009 to 2010  The Expat Life: A new decade living it up in Shenzhen, China 

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2011 and 2012, beginning with my Guangzhou year. Didn’t work out well, so I returned to Shenzhen. Meanwhile so much travel, all over Southeast Asia and returns to Israel and Japan. Plus foreshadowing in Taiwan, and Hipster Pacific Northwest too. And I go to both my sister’s wedding and my best friend’s wedding. Growing up!

 

Fracture: short story by Xie Hong

Fracture is a short work of Chinese fiction written by Shenzhen-based author Xie Hong, translated by Ding Yan and edited by yours truly. Below is the link as recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel, please enjoy reading:

https://chinachannel.org/2019/04/11/fracture

 

Fracture

2009 – 2010 comics: Experiencing the new decade as an expat in China

Previous: 2007 to 2008 How Burning Man and psychedelics led me to China

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2009 and 2010, the beginnings of a new decade, as I become acclimated to life in Shenzhen/Hong Kong and have fun traveling in Southeast Asia (and America), and family stuff… plus I start dating somewhat regularly. Crazy, right?

 

Taiwan’s very own Burning Man!

I was recently lucky enough to be involved in a regional Burning Man festival, a precompression in fact, here in Taiwan.

I haven’t been since 2008, and I can hardly believe an entire decade has passed. The epic art festival out in Black Rock Desert was a pivotal experience in my life, and I’d always wanted to go again. Or, at least, go to a regional Burn somewhere else in the word.

Luckily, there’s the Turtle Burn!

It was technically called the Spark event which I went to last week, a sort of dry-run rehearsal for the larger burn coming up this June. Over the past few months, I’d met up with the organizers a number of times as we discussed the values and plans for this local Burner community in Taipei.

(And what synchronicity that I just did some comics about my Burn years as well…)

At last, during the Tomb-Sweeping holiday weekend, all was set up. Bronwen and I bought some costumes, reserved a tent and other camping supplies, and volunteered to set up a figure drawing workshop.

Our journey began with a bus to the east-coast country of Yilan, and then we negotiated a taxi to take us up the mountain to the remote 杉林奇蹟 camping ground. Absolutely stunning scenery overlooking the ocean. The family that ran the site were totally supportive, and they even had the cutest beagle. Partying times or not, I definitely recommend the place to everyone.

With only about forty people, it was amazing how much of the true Burning vibe they recreated. There was a free bar to hang out at, only rule is to bring your own cup. And of course, other party favors. There was a dome with pillows for chilling out and massage, a mutant art car, and an outdoor dancefloor complete DJ set as projections lit up the forest. And at last, a bonfire for the final night.

The performances were excellent, with burlesque shows and drag queen lip-singing as well as an impromptu puppet show. Some of the workshops included sign-making for your own camp (we chose to be called Elf Camp as you can see), improv comedy, a modeling lesson, and more.

As per the whole gifting economy, we gave away popcorn and sparklers. Plus, our own contribution to the workshops was in the form of two figure drawing workshops. I’ve been drawing quite a bit of late, so I tried my best to teach the fundamentals of the human form while using various materials to create some hopefully quality sketches… And, it only seemed fair that I modeled myself!

On Sunday we all took down our stuff and cleaned up thoroughly. Leave no trace behind, as they say. A bus was organized to go back down the perilous mountain, and I must admit I was rather tired when I got home that evening.

I was so happy to share the Burning Man experience with Bronwen, and I think most of the “Burgins” there had a great time and valuable introduction to the ethos that make these the best festivals on Earth. I heartily thank all those who helped made this happen, truly the best crowd.

Now, I can’t wait ‘till June!

Check out the website for more information if you’d like to participate in the Turtle Burn:
https://turtleburn.com/

2007 – 2008: How Burning Man and psychedelics led me to China (Finally!)

Previous: 2005 to 2006 Mid-Aughts

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2007 and 2008 were quite the years: a time of friendship and drug experimentation and further travel, and then back to Burning Man… Which leads to the moment you’ve all been waiting for, at last I move to China!

 

Review: Kiss and Tell

Kiss & Tell by Japanese-American artist MariNaomi is quite the hypersexual graphic memoir. (Which was recommended to me by a friend who compared this work to my own comic project, if I may say so.) To be honest, these tales have left me with mixed feelings. I always like a good uncensored tell-all, and I certainly respect the bravery of the artist to share all her most personal intimate moments.

But that sure was a whole lot of underage teenage sex, and it seemed wrong to me somehow. Am I losing my own “edginess”, or is it that in the post-Metoo era this 2011 book hasn’t aged well, and now we all know better when reading about high school girls fucking guys in their twenties… Like, is that what everyone in the Bay Area was like in the 80s and 90s? For this reader anyway, it was a bit much.

(Not that these experiences are celebrated exactly, but the straightforward way the memories are swiftly paged over makes one wonder if there’s some kind of a lesson missing or not. Perhaps I’m just missing the point though.)

The narrative is scattered, from one youthful vignette to the next, that is okay as a work of this nature. The most engaging parts do seem to have a greater story structure however, such as when she was a teen runaway or dated the guy who was in and out of jail–is it too judgey to point out her apparently questionable taste in men– and then the most interesting sort of storyline is towards the end when the author is in her first longterm relationship fraught with the challenges of an open relationship. That always makes for interesting drama! The same-sex encounters once she hits her twenties also somehow come across deeper than the earlier dramatic flings. Oh, and lest I forget to add the LSD psychedelia experiences were also drawn with much heart. Both sex and drugs make for a good read…

Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 is presented in the understated indie comics style, with simple pure art and it works well in that context. I’d definitely agree that an autobiography the cartoon form is an excellent way to delve into the roughness that is one’s own memories. As a whole considering the emotional depth, art, and storytelling (discomfort or not), I’ll give it 3.5 stars and I’ll even round up.

I humbly thank MariNaomi for sharing.

Mid-Aughts 2005 to 2006 – Around the World: London, Paris, Hollywood, Girls

Previous: 2002 to 2004 Early-Aughts

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Covering the years 2005 to 2006, in which I traveled to Europe (with my mom), met my first true girlfriend, and finally re-moved to California. There I failed in L.A., but I did make some short films. And I began to write… 

Micro-Author Interview with Ray Hecht

The Ghosts of Nagasaki: A Novel

Ray is the author of the novel “South Morning China Blues” and many other works of fiction and autobiography.

At the moment, he is working on an autobiographical graphic novel entitled “Always Goodbye”. You can follow his progress on Webtoons here:

https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge…

What does being an indie author mean to you?

To me, being an indie author means being an author by any means necessary. The writing and story-telling and creativity in-of themselves are more important than being part of some big publishing company. Learning to market oneself is key, of course, but ultimately the fact that I’m willing to put myself out there without a big support structure shows that the writing is at the core of being an indie author…

What are your writing quirks and habits?

I used to stay up late writing, because it’s a quiet peaceful time and everyone would leave me alone. I don’t…

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Early Aughties the comic: feat. California, war, college, Japan

Previous: New Millennium 2000 – 2001

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2002 to 2004, featuring moving to California for a year, terrible Bush-era politics/war, then triumphant return to Cincinnati–in which we live in a party house and go to college and grow up. And I go to Japan!

 

2000 – 2001, New Millennium: On Teenage Sexuality (or lack thereof). And 9/11

Previous: Late 90s

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2000 to 2001, Happy New Year! I finally somehow graduate, Israel travel x 2, and some reflection on girls. Then, yet another national tragedy… Welcome to the 21st Century

 

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Wishing a Happy 2019! And may this all be over with soon…

Happy New Year!

So at this time of reflection, I think back on 2018 and all that’s happened. It was yet another great personal year, while the world around seemed to fall apart…

Obviously, if you’ve been paying attention, my own big news is that I’ve been working on my autobiographical comic Always Goodbye. Stay tuned for more. Eventually, a completed book. (Guess this is replacing my ‘career’ as a prose author, huh)

This past year I moved to the more central part of Taipei, and I’m continuing to enjoy living in Taiwan. As more and more news develops from the bamboo curtain–like that social credit score everyone is talking about but I’m not even going to get into–I’m quite glad to have escaped the People’s Republic.

I kind of did a ridiculous amount of travel in ’18. I started out last New Year’s in Japan,  then went to Africa,  and in the summer I returned to America to sadly sell my entire comics collection. For 2019, I plan to not get into an airplane even once.

And there were a whole lot of superhero movies.

As for the rest of the world. Well, politics. It was an exhausting year in which most things seem to have gotten worse, but there was also a bit of hope. Personally, I’m so very over it. Perhaps it’s all finally coming to a head. This chapter of history needs to close already, doesn’t it?

It’s been a while since I felt like writing an entire overt political post, and I’m sure you all know by now how I truly feel. American has learned some dark things about itself, and the time has come to get better. Consequences may be in the coming. And once it’s over with, I hope to never ever say the T-word for the rest of my life because that guy has gotten enough of my bloody attention and I’d just rather focus on other things.

Well, here’s hoping!

Please have yourselves a great 2019, everyone 😀

 

Ray

 

Late-90s: High school! Depression! Punks!

Previous: Mid 90s

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1997 to 1999… a time of new friends, crippling depression, and various punk scenes as the kid struggles to keep it together while high school just ends

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