Field Notes – HUDSON YARDS – New York City


by Dean Balsamo

They move like Transformers – or the avenging Trees in Lord of the Rings…

straining – stretching – trampling –

applying a Shanghai-worthy…Sci-Fi…sky-crape

To mid-town Manhattan from 9th Ave. to the Hudson

in the recently opened Hudson Yards.

I thought of the French Post Modernist Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle

As I grabbled the images of the new structures

from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen…

Somewhere between

a stone’s throw and a 22 caliber…




from streets that looked like this:

“There goes the”….yeah well it happens everywhere.

Gonna wipe out the rail-yards

the little cubby’s and sidewalks where street people pitch their shit

and the usual criminal and sexual outsiders that give their twist to the genres near the tracks.

It’s always a clash

We enter the large tower anchored by Neiman Marcus off 9th Avenue. We’re meeting my brother at Napa Chef Thomas Keller’s bakery on the 4th floor. My brother’s in the trade –it was one of his projects.

We have a light lunch – it was fine. But the whole retail experience…featuring ..everything you see on the streets from Dior to H&M

Leaves me cold.

This “upscale mall,” has the aesthetics of a casino…cold, cavernous passages surrounded by polished granite-like surfaces. Out of date.

To me it was like walking in the tomb of a cold  retail cadaver.

A tower filled with babel…one percenters with their largely unoccupied penthouses above…retail aimed at..who knows who below. But I did discover a new urban survival strategy …an outgrowth of our Progressive times when I chose to use the private washroom the building provides for un and non-gendered people  – instead of waiting in the lines. I exit to find a Japanese family with kids waiting to use it as well.

The real draw at Hudson Yards is…

The Vessel.

(The Vessel through the windows of Neiman Marcus)

Euro architect,

crafted – assembled – disassembled –

then reassembled in New York by Italians

Everyone’s going there.

The 16 floor high structure is a natural magnet for  crowds. It’s a perfect compliment to the High Line it anchors. People are happy as they take selfies and meet friends.

It reminded me of a gigantic sculpture dedicated to world piece Ernest Neizvestny – a Russian sculptor I knew in NYC – wanted to create. It was his life long dream. He based it – see below for the photomontage mock up – on a twisted mobius strip as template.

It was to have “peace” inscribed in various languages all over the structure. You can see he wasn’t messing around with the scale.

You can see more about Ernst here:

The End of the Americans–My Russian Stories

Anyway The Vessel isn’t a bad diversion for a city that’s in constant motion.

And although we didn’t catch the smell of cannabis here as we were around other parts of the city…my guess is it’s only a matter of time before Manhattanites make the Vessel their own.

All the photographers are by the author.

More photos can be seen on my Instagram. Handle: arcanespace.


CBD – The New Soy for Men?

by Dean Balsamo

“What is there that is not poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison,” Paracelsus  – Renaissance physician   (1493–1541),

CBD – The New Soy for Men?

by Dean Balsamo

Not sure how to characterize this post. Disclaimer? Public service inquiry? Maybe it’s just a cannabis tale – something that goes up in smoke… but…it does have a happy ending…

A year–long experiment with cannabis tincture gave me a story with three acts: Falling in Love – Sick Puppy – The Restoration… 

And a Finale with a message:

Men who wish to main maintain optimum sexual health and function – will treat cannabis tinctures the same way we’ve learned to treat soy products:

Minimize – avoid – eliminate

“Heresy” “BS” Enthusiasts cry – CBD bestows calmness…a feeling of well being…miraculous healings… I don’t doubt it. Several years ago I alluded to these qualities when I discussed my early experiences with the tincture. I wrote:

As for effects while these things are always individual I found the tincture to work well with regards to just a subtle “lift” to the mood, a sense of well-being, as well as, an ability to help focus on a task-which may seem counter to the usual cannabis experience except the tincture’s method of preparation isn’t meant to deliver a knock- out punch.


But after a nine-month cannabis tincture regime incorporating eight to twelve drops a day – five to six days a week – I feel like I poisoned myself…

Over dosed on the CBD component in the tincture. The body-mind connection short-circuited. My body couldn’t…wouldn’t – respond. The CBD had me by the balls…it happened three months ago when…

My erection wilted. My body refused to manifest my mind’s desire. And nothing brought it back.

Paris Street 2009 –  “Looking ahead”.

We passed it off as one of those man things. But I was mystified. There was no alcohol, drugs-medication, fatigue involved…

and no sexual strength or response either.

More of the same for the next two weeks. Officially freaked out… I apply the famous strategy of the Moist Robot: “ Trial and Error.”

I did a lifestyle scan: Everything – the same as it ever was. Natural foods based – wide macrobiotic focus – some animal and dairy, moderate wine and beer, no medication, mature but not old, hike – two – three miles a day @ 7000 ft., five American Spirits – five hours of sleep – some Herb – no unusual stress…

The only thing I’d added was… the cannabis tincture I’d started taking it nine months before. So I stopped taking the tincture.

Having some experience over years with Herb, plants like Sativa, herbs, teas…I’m familiar with some of manufacturing – processing strategies and this is what helped drive my decision.

It seemed to me that if anything like the approaches used to boost cannabis THC potency…are used for CBD…then it’s entirely possible the normal CBD elements are strengthened, amplified…distorted…maybe even turned into a poison with the wrong dosage.

By poison in this case – I mean over time it appears to have a side effect like some of the antidepressants – that come with warnings about losing sexual potency and desire.

Shortly after my decision The Economist published an article discussing the rise in psychotic episodes in emergency rooms traced to the high potency commercial cannabis now available to the masses.

That triggered my memory of a personal experience with the Supercritical Method of processing plants…a powerful extraction method resembling those used to process today’s cannabis products.

It was fifteen years ago in Baltimore – when it was still funky down at the waterfront. We were doing a booth at the Natural Products Expo – still dominated at that time by Enthusiasts and their incestuous threads …

The Kava Kava craze was hot…this was before reports came out about the effects LARGE DOSES of Kava Kava have on the liver.

The Black rep with the French name invited us to a gathering Levi… 40’s, a pious Jew – yarmulke – gray beard – the things around the shoulders…

was holding in his hotel suite. This dude was THE MAN you went to see about procuring Kava Kava.

We enter the suite…and it’s déjà vu…60s-like…only instead of pot or acid…. it’s Kava Kava …that has people sprawled out on sofas, talking quietly in corners…moving like they’re in a dream…

Levi takes central stage – middle of the room – and like the showman he is – says something…I understand as “let the games begin”…

A young woman glides across the floor with a large platter…topped with an ochre-colored substance shaped like a MOUND – texture like toothpaste… bean dip…krazy glue…surrounded by a ring of sugar-coated ginger pieces.

I grab a healthy portion. As soon as it hits my mouth. My lips go numb – followed the sense of my body…melting. . It wasn’t Sativa …I didn’t collapse but…I had to sit down to enjoy the feeling.

A few hours went by. It was 1:30 AM Sunday. But since the show started later that day …I took more. Big mistake.

I don’t remember getting back to the hotel. I do remember how wasted I felt when I tried to get up later.

I was hung-over…but I didn’t have anything to drink. I’d felt calming effects and mild body relaxation with kava kava in the past…

But nothing like this. I stumbled through day feeling like shit. Not long after…articles about Kava Kava’s effects on the liver began to appear…which confirmed my own experience.

Someone should look at this. Maybe the Israeli’s with their focus on the Medical use of cannabis can look at the tincture effects. See this post for more about their approach:

Regarding cannabis tinctures…I know from my research for a script I’m developing..that the US Army experimented on volunteers with cannabis tinctures in the 1950’s but discontinued the tests because they made people sick.

All I know is… now…three months later…after eliminating the tincture…my sexual health is restored. Everything’s back to normal. I attribute the incident I experienced to the processing and amount of CBD my body had accumulated.

So now that the obstacles to research on cannabis, mushrooms etc…are falling away… maybe it’s time to conduct some controlled experiments on the tinctures with high CBD content.

I can see prisons being a good place to start. Recruit paid volunteers and give them the tincture. I would think that anything that promises to reduce sexual tension, create a calmer environment for study, learning new skills and creative arts…would be worth examining for this setting.

60’s Suite – Detail – The Left Handed Path 
As for myself…I’m done with cannabis tinctures. Happy to have my sexual health back I now understand that for myself – when it comes to cannabis – I’ll stick with the smoke.

Dean Balsamo




NOTRE DAME — from the tower.  Photo: Dean Balsamo


The last time I was there I wrote these lyrics:

A Rapper’s Prayer

I wanna be a star in Paris

kiss French girls everyday

thank the God who made them

perfect in every way

I want to weep in churches

overcome the strife

look on the Tower Eiffel

for the rest of my natural life.

I wanna be a star in Paris

Then I know I’ll be free

to live the live of someone

who know’s what it’s like to be.

I wanna be star in Paris

kiss French girls everyday

thank the God who made them

perfect in every way.

C by Dean Balsamo


The New Green Deal Goes Nuclear

By Dean Balsamo

(Mark up of the MIT cover by the author)

“Less we say about it the better.

Make it up as we go along.

Feet on the ground.

Head in the sky.

It’s okay.

I know nothing’s wrong.


(This Must Be the Place- A Naive Melody — The Talking Heads.)


“Undeserved misfortune,” is the label screenwriters give to the strategy they use to elicit our empathy for the story’s Protagonist in the early moments of the film.

For instance. Fade In : we open on a white male, 50’s, in the midst of being fired by the new owner who’s  downsizing the company. The unfortunate employee’s been there so long he’s like the furniture. But he’s fired through no fault of his own –his 20 years with the company mean zip. His wife’s sickly—a couple of kids in college…

It’s the stuff of life…the conflict gives form to a character’s life — allows us to feel a deeper connection with the Protagonist.

This is how I feel about the slap down The New Green Deal got this week.

It doesn’t deserve to be shot down like this.

It’s a brilliant piece of Persuasion…it’s on everyone’s mind. And who doesn’t want a greener future.


(Bird #1 survivor)

But it’s like the movies…you have to satisfy your audience…give them the “obligatory moment,” the genre’s beats demand…

Like when the couple finally..kiss, screw, fight…the inevitable stuff the audience is expecting to experience through the characters.

It wasn’t much of surprise. The strategy was telegraphed in the media weeks before. It was a ritual. A public slaying ritual – a sacrifice to gain favor from the gods that govern the Simulation.

The audience got what it expected.

Okay. It’s done.

Now let’s go


Yes. That nuclear.

The nuclear that had us  doing Pavlovian dives under our desks with sirens -and drove the nightmares that fed the print and movies we consumed…

And painted still -terrifying scenarios of the meltdowns from the last 40 years.

(Metior #25 Red by the author)

But like an archaic echo of the Atoms for Peace program from the 50’s…

The things I’ve been consuming lately convince me that going nuclear is the only feasible way to take a serious step towards getting off fossil fuels…getting to a cleaner environment… While keeping the economy from melting down in the process of converting.

Whatever you believe about the merits of higher taxes on the uber wealthy and Socialism…

These memes won’t power anything but discord by trying to sell the NGD with them.  Nevertheless since AOC gave us the NGD…

Bill Gates..Time Magazine and Periscopes by experts and influencers… have come out promoting the new GEN IV reactors.

And I’m with them. Let’s give them a try.

American companies are currently building three of them in China. So why not here?

From what I can tell going nuclear with the Gen IV reactors is the only way we match what we’ll be giving up by eliminating fossil fuel and maintaining the integrity of our grid – our society.

The new Gen IV technology that Gates –backs:

  • Doesn’t melt down because it’s not water-cooled-no explosions.

  • Can use different radioactive fuels.

  • Some consume their own waste

  • Are more compact and efficient.

  • Are scalable and reproducible.

  • Safe.

If we go about it the right away ultimately we’d be able to…

  • Bring desalinization plants on line that can finally serve the masses since we’d have all the power we need for them.

  • Minimize and eliminate oil pipe and electrical transmission…lines from crisscrossing sensitive cultural and scenic landscapes and reduce the risk of harmful accidents. 

    Make the localization of energy creation a reality—powering cities with small, efficient, safe reactors located nearby.

( abandoned mine shaft that will house Gen IV reactor in the mountains)

Maybe I’ve become immune or jaded but even though I’ve lived half my life within 35 miles of Los Alamos…I never think of nuclear danger…although we’ve always joked about the mutations we must all be experiencing because of the uranium tailings in the air from previous mining here….

But I think the best thing we can right now is create


Like the original– bring together the best minds and experts and figure out how we can tie the new reactors into our grid by creating a must win scenario.

. My feeling is we’ll be surprised at how tasty the nuclear offerings look on our plate. Let’s get the New Green Deal off to a flying start.

The biggest challenge at this point though…is getting its promoters to even consider the potential for nuclear. I feel this is shortsighted. It’s not good science. My hope is the NGD sponsors will reconsider their stance on nuclear.

Dean Balsamo






I wonder what we’ll get… do you think it’ll be a bi-partisan barrier solution informed by the experts?…

Or… the same grab bag of personal animosity, “moral” invocations and resistance for resistance’s sake….that makes it impossible to deal with this challenge in the way it should be dealt with:

A problem-solving exercise. 

In the previous post I began framing a third way to look at the southern barrier.


Since most of us already agree – that it needs to be addressed…I don’t see the need for the antagonistic elements above. Since all they do is kick up dust – add nothing germane to the situation…I remove them from consideration.

That said, I do wonder how we’re going to tackle the issues around Wetlands,

and Preserves plus the private property that sits at the border.

I understand why walls and slats are used in the dense urban– border areas.

Dusk Exit- Tijuana-Caravan #2 :Border Barrier Suite

But what can we do in the more rural expanses…where large, wide-open, landscapes and a lack of people set the tone? And ecosystems we want to avoid disturbing? Where presumably most of the concerns about the issues above …are concentrated.

Given the partisan nature of our hot button issue debates…It looks like an impossible situation. To many people to please—too many agendas to serve.

But maybe we don’t have to panic.

Last week on Periscope I watched – a broadcaster mention an

off-the shelf product

that offers the best solution I’ve heard thus far about barriers around these sensitive areas:

Fiber Optics.

Apparently fiber optics is so pressure-sensitive that it can detect everything from cars to coyotes and everything in between that crosses its path.

Israel whose “wall” is mostly fencing — uses various configurations of fiber optics with great success.

We can bury it in the ground…

in our barrier-sensitive areas — where it will read the traffic coming over it.

The upside for the areas of concern is… this minimal, “smart” approach is about as non-invasive as you can get—requiring less land and doing less damage…no huge backhoes… since installation should be comparatively minimal for laying the cable.

This could then make the barrier issue more about easements…

instead of full – scale appropriation or major changes to the exiting land.

As for patrolling the area…

Night Helicopter Caravan #3 Tijuana: Border Barrier Suite

given the landscape and lack of population…

it’s hard to imagine many barrier-crossers avoiding detection…

Agents, drones, and robots responding to the fiber optic signals should be able to handle most of the situations.

The ROI on this approach will be great as costs are a fraction of what walls and slat approaches would run.

Now if only we’ll start looking at our divisions as problem solving challenges instead of an abyss.

Dean Balsamo



Sunset Through the Slats: Border Barrier Suite       Mixed Media. By the author


Before our…umm…discussion about the..Wall…fence…”wence”…barrier —

on our southern border…I knew virtually nothing about what goes on down there.

And even though I was buried in an avalanche of work around a treatment for a streaming series on spies….I was fascinated like everyone else.

These images are my response. They’re drawn from the area around El Paso/Juarez…where more urban styled approaches are taken. Actual walls and slats.

I get that most Creatives don’t want to weigh in on walls. It’s not a popular ideological stance to most and between social media and group think—you could generate some problems for yourself.

But barriers aren’t going anywhere soon. There’s a global surge in building them.

So I took an ideological-agnostic view– one that left me free to create the images here.

They deal with utilitarian, design and artistic modes. My feeling is this is a way to round out the edges of the barrier discussion– take it from the bottom of Maslow’s primal needs…and elevate the concept by subjecting it to humanizing expression.


Sunset Solar Collector: Border Barrier Suite

Though I’ve heard of some discussions about using solar at the barriers I’ve yet to see an actual image suggesting what it can look like.

Here you see the solar collectors mounted so they don’t show on the Mexican side. This way no one’s tempted to destroy or steal them.

On the U.S. side the solar arrays generate energy and experiments with new energy distribution approaches.


Sunset Urban Wall: Border Barrier Suite (FROM MEXICAN SIDE)

Designers are also absent in popular discussions of the barriers. Too bad. It seems like there would be a lot of opportunities around materials, shapes, patinas and colors…aesthetics…that offer a great arena for designers to play in …actually add something beautiful to the landscape on both sides.


Sunrise glimpse of nirvana: Border Barrier Suite (FROM MEXICAN SIDE)

It would be a shame if in this age of branding…image…and avatars…if all we were to do was put up gray concrete walls and industrial grade slats. What kind of image do we want to project….a gulag?

Why can’t we have a look to our barrier that suggests something great on the other side? Something that kindles not crushes dreams. If we take more aesthetic approaches we’ll not only polish our brand but also create a visually appealing object for the Mexican landscape…like land art does.

You could even have cross-border mural-painting barrier parties where Mexican muralists do something on the US side and our artists on the Mexican side…

My feeling is…

If you can re-contextualize the barrier you can re-frame the challenges.


Dean Balsamo



He was a god without a prayer. A master without self-–realization.

Or a combustible appropriation— a snap chat for neurons.

Something that runs like blood. Electricity. The Sun.

Something that takes that step …

off the side…

without a second thought.

Confidant GOD will intervene…

Send angels….good vibes…

or it’s a plunge to an inglorious obliteration below.

No in-between. No measure of happiness.

No reason for sadness. Eternal psychic pallor.

Bardo bedlam a new normal.




As a writer I’m always asking, “what if ?”

As an Enthusiast for cannabis-derived medicinal products I asked myself;

“what if a different market focus and a different approach was taken with retailing CDB products ?”

With the inevitable change in Federal laws concerning cannabis (come January it seems like a perfect bi-partisan project to me) this is a good time to look at different retailing strategies for capitalizing on the mass-market potential for CBD products.

Here I scatter some nuts and bolts from the world of mass market retailing – specifically focusing on a CBD sales channel for

GROCERY STORES—particularly chains.

Though I label my sketch of a CBD program a “retail thought experiment,”

There’s nothing experimental about the main elements it uses:

Product. Merchandising. Placement 

These are the key components I focused on while doing Marketing/Sales

along with store design ( check stand areas)

for 18 years on behalf of a magazine distributor to upscale/specialty grocers around the country.

My efforts revolved around projects with Whole Foods, Sprouts, Fresh Thyme, New Seasons, Berkeley Bowl, Central Market in TX even Aldi –among others.

In my opinion in order to maximize the sales of your CBD products you want to strive to be at the check stands, the Point of Purchase area—-the number one Impulse Purchase Zone in the grocery store.

The check stand fixture pictured above is an example of the type of merchandising vehicle I helped design and place in these stores. This is the area you seek to have your products.

I can guarantee if you can get them placed here you’ll see at least a 300% increase in sales volume if you’re already somewhere else in the store.

Or find you have to radically readjust your sales projections should you find a spot at the check stands.

So here’s what my theoretical program build looks like:


For this discussion I’m using CBD Pet Products. 

Why? Because people love their pets. They often take better care of them –then they do of themselves when it comes to matters of health.

And the category is rapidly expanding in sales—with more attention to customized care for pets.

They also have less regulation.

They’re not technically formulated for humans so they have fewer protocols to satisfy for certification. And grocers may feel more comfortable putting these products up there first knowing they’re combining two hot categories: CBD and pet products.

To me it’s a good foot- in- the- door kind of approach. You make it easier for grocers to get involved with your offering—especially if there’s a good margin for the retailer.

My suggestion is you go after the stores with several products or Lines. Not one product but a number of them.

You can approach this as a distributor with various brands or a manufacture who goes direct with their own products.

Or what I would suggest trying:

offer to do Private Label manufacturing for folks like Kroger, Albertsons and Lidl for instance. Think of how you can integrate your CBD manufacturing with their private-label natural banners.

Ideas for Lines: 

Below are some ideas off the top of my head for an eclectic line of pet products:

  1. Sparrow: a gentle daily formula like a tincture in a dropper form for domestic pets. Dogs, cats, pigs, birds, rabbits… A general supplement kind of approach that can be added to their water or fed directly into their mouths.

  2. Drama: this is a Rescue Remedy- influenced product treating the trauma that an of-the moment incident creates. Fight scenarios: dog on dog, cat on dog, dog on raccoon. Or a long trip. Or just a sensitive creature. It works on the animal’s emotional plane to soothe upsetting states.

  3. Prince and Princess: Male and female biscuits for dogs. Vegan-based and specifically formulated for each gender—they help the teeth, gums and digestion. Your dog can’t get enough of them.

  4. Savory Balm: a balsamic salve that treats wounds, scratches, burns, rashes…wherever some topical treatment makes sense. All natural ingredients like olive oil, beeswax, herbs and minerals are formulated to compliment the nourishing and healing CBD. Think homeopathic remedies like Stop Sting.


The next building block in this program is the merchandising vehicle for your lines. A Fixture.

If you can infuse… essence- of- Apple Store, like the MedMen dispensary in Hollywood…

…into a dedicated fixture – your visual merchandising approach–

for the Point of Purchase

..something that adds a positive aesthetic component to the retailer’s existing check stand area…

…you’ve increased the likelihood off success for you and the retailer.

You wrap the “pitch” for your products around a Check Stand program featuring a fixture you’ve created to showcase your line and drive sales.

Since the purchases at the check stands are characterized as “impulse” buys…

with CBD on everyone’s mind you can exploit typical customer behavior which has a lot do with rewarding themselves and automatically looking for something to catch their eye.

You could come up with a MODULAR design like you see below—something that can be retrofitted into an existing set up.

In this particular example you can spice up the set by adding a space for a small cooler that can be filled with… your CBD water? Your soft drink?

And you give this fixture to the retailer


In lieu of slotting fees you can offer this as part of your strategy to help the retailer choose you.


High volume sales are supposed to be what check stand areas deliver. But new consumer buying habits means the traditional products

…magazines, candy, gum and soft drinks…

are experiencing declines and irregular patterns in their sales.

With the mass marketing of CBD on the horizon you can offer smart retailers a way they can capitalize on the wave and re-charge sales in their impulse zone by reshuffling products at the check stands.

And one of the ways you can help your case is to give the retailer a fixture combing great aesthetics with great function for great sales.

Of course there are always details.

In you contractual dealings you want to be sure to protect your investment.

It has to stay at the check stands, other products can’t be put on it without your consent…things that like that.

You’ll also have to work out fulfillment. Is it a turn -key program—with the retailer filling the shelves with the product you send UPS or Fed X?

Or does the retailer expect the fixture to be serviced? Is that something you can do?

Or can you afford to farm fulfillment out to the 3rd party the chain already uses to merchandise various products—from magazines to kitchenware?

Grocery stores have their own kinds of logistics and expectations pertaining to their providers—so you’ll have to work that out individually with the retailers whose interest you awaken.

But if you can dig in and strive to customize the program for the retailer…

…the right product in the right place at the right time

…makes it all worthwhile.


I’m an Enthusiast without a home– in the cannabis industry.

But I’m happy to look at working with anyone in it around consulting or various projects. Please feel free to get back to me with any questions.

Here are some previous posts where I looked dispensaries –their layouts and products.

Dean Balsamo



  • The drawings here are by Colorado resident Craig Christenson, an engineer/designer I’ve worked with for 15 years on hundreds of projects for retailers of the caliber named above.

Craig’s email is


Santa Fe: A Conference of Spies

Santa Fe: A Conference of Spies

by Dean Balsamo

Do you feel unappreciated at work? Have you been passed over or demoted because of your race, religion or gender? Are you getting divorced? Feel like getting revenge? Just like to break the rules?

… Work for a foreign ministry, military or spy agency?

….And handle classified information?

You  just might take the bait when the CIA officer who’s cultivated your friendship for the last few months or years—

Taking note of these kinds of “stress points” in your life-

Decides the time is right to “show a little thigh,” …promise to show you some goodies if you’ll show some of yours.

The “bait” is usually money. The play is primal—Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–entry points for a spy’s designs on the information you  possess.

The scenario above is drawn from a talk by a Soul Catcher—a CIA agent trained to recruit assets from foreign governments.

He was one of a handful of CIA veteran presenters at a recent conference on spies I attended in Santa Fe entitled:

Spies, Lies and Nukes

Inside International Espionage

(Plame with a “Soul Catcher”) 

Organized by rock-star resident Valerie Plame , the venue offered a rare chance for the general public to not only see and hear presentations by “legends” in the world of spies– but actually get the chance to talk individually with them during the meet and mingle portions of the program.

It was evident from the talks that seduction, optics, and the Art of Persuasion form the backbone of spy-craft. This extended to the structure of the conference itself – it was designed to create an empathic response on the part of those attending.

Not that most of the audience needed any special maneuvers to get them on board. There was a unique atmosphere to the event. These were spy Enthusiasts—many of whom I found out—had that Six Degrees of Separation thing happening…they were aware of the projects, knew the players and even participated in aspects relating to the things that were discussed.

The crowd was friendly. In fact the word that came to me was “fraternal”…like the Masons or the way my Dad and his comrades got together in the early 60’s when I was a kid

The contagious atmosphere was heightened by the fact we were holed up from 8-4 in a downtown hotel—with meals and coffee breaks –perfectly scheduled to allow presenters and audience to get to know one another.

The latter is what made this venue for me. I found the men and women I met were…just like us…except the life of the spy was their calling and a greater than normal sense of public service was their mission.

Talk about polishing your brand…if this had been an official CIA event designed to influence Americans about their work they couldn’t have found a better approach.

Listening to them give their presentations and panels –and most of all –getting a chance to speak with them —gave me the chance to see them as the individuals they are.

(some of the speakers)

Boomers are going to gag, but my attitudes about the CIA underwent a huge change. I no longer look at the agency as a monolithic entity sending automatons out on nefarious assignments around the globe.

While united on certain things – none of them believe Russian influence in our system is anywhere near the levels our media claims it is for instance– there were also plenty of divergent feelings and passions on display that countered the group-think image I had of the agency before the conference.

It was  a strange feeling for a person like myself– who over the years has delved into much of the so-called “conspiracy” literature and opinions from Left to Right about the agency’s activities.

I went home the first night thinking I’d been the subject of mind control—an operation designed to specifically create the feelings I now had.

But by the second day I was all in. It was fascinating to hear what those behind the scenes had to say about their objectives and roles.

Outside of Aspen, think tanks, and Fortune 500 level executives the general public just doesn’t come in contact with this milieu and its perspectives.

I came away from the event thinking that spying—when connected to those Maslow needs—is something that grows naturally from our DNA—wrapped around the thing that trumps everything — survival.

I had to do a mental balancing act. On one hand the presenters gave their takes on various events they knew from experience and agency lore— it was exciting and gave me a lot more confidence about the CIA and those who comprise it.

At the same time they did their best to paint the agency  in a positive light. They are spies after all. Dealing with the underbelly—the darker impulses driving the “moist robot,” or our Homo sapiens selves– has got to generate some moral dilemmas but as usual there’s always someone willing to take on tasks others find they can’t. A good thing.

The presentations covered a host of subjects from the aforementioned recruitment strategies to behind the scenes of the Cuban Missile Crisis to a discussion of the “rendering” or torture the CIA was tasked with doing after 9/11 to (of course) a discussion of JFK’S assassination.

The later talk was slightly disappointing because the presenter offered Case Closed by Gerald Posner as his definitive source on the subject. It’s a book serious researchers consider a whitewash of a “whitewash” as the speaker surprisingly called the Warren Commission.

But then his talk was one he had given  to some generalist society at Harvard—not an audience in Santa Fe.

Calling it the “The Single Shooter Theory” would have been more accurate in my opinion. And then say a panel covering the 5 top questions about the tragedy–which would naturally touch on the idea of multiple shooters.

But as usual at conferences and trade shows it’s the off-handed remarks and gossip that really ups the ante in terms of the take- a-ways from the event.

Things like: the presenter above explaining anomalies around Kennedy, drugs, and MKULTRA as products of the “rogue” culture of the CIA in the 50’s/60’s, Kennedy bringing his favorite mistress to the White House so she could be evacuated along with his family should a nuclear war break out with the Russians, yes Russia does train “sparrows,” women agents using sex to carry out their tasks, and…

the various theories about the agency’s activities– members of the audience shared with anyone who would listen.

In one case an elderly man brought a brief case filled papers outlining an ongoing litany of sins committed by the agency . Needless to say he did’t exactly have a crowd around him.

Thank God Plame handled the Q &A portions of the program like a press conference…at least how we normally envision them…

This being Santa Fe this part of the program could have gone off the rails –but she enforced a …save the diatribe…what’s your question …discipline that kept the conference moving.

(from a set here in Santa Fe–a TV series about the Manhattan Project)

If the presenters had a message it could be boiled down to two main themes:

One; Russians (or Chinese etc.) can do nowhere near the damage we do to ourselves –our own divisiveness does the main damage to our society.

And two; Nothing can replace “presence,” …agents embedded in countries around the globe… as the prime focus for intelligence gathering.

Valerie Plame and those she worked with to mount this special event deserve kudos for running it with both precision and heart.

As for myself I came up with a series of topics and themes to address in some future event and/or a TV series on Netflix, Amazon– the usual suspects. Some of those ideas follow below.

Rogue Culture: The CIA in the 50/60’s:

  • UFO’S, LSD, JFK, MKULTRA and AI/Robotics – what are the implications and dangers involved in working with hackers and things like Block chain and crypto currencies.

FBI-CIA Relations Through the years

What’s worked, what hasn’t?

The Art of Persuasion and Recruiting:

More about the techniques a “soul catcher” uses. They seem like useful ideas for business and everyday life.

The CIA and the Abstract Expressionists

Is the CIA responsible for creating the market for these artists—based on the way they used the artwork to show the world what a free society we have?

Sparrow and Spy

Discuss the Russian methods of using agents and sex. Talk about famous cases like Anna Chapman and Kristine Keeler for instance.

The Real Americans: Russian Activity in the 1980’s

Yes a shameless play on the TV program. I’m sure there’s a “hook” here.

I’d be happy to go over more with a producer, show runner, writer etc.

Thanks for reading.

Dean Balsamo


Mexico City: Images at an Exhibition

Mexico City: Images from an Exhibition

(Subject from the Zocalo, subjected to the author’s eye and hand)

Mixed media.

Tangents blur. Lost in footsteps and eye contact. Neurons leap out of the skull.

In a previous post about Mexico City (CDMX) entitled:

Mexico City Our Pilgrimage Paths,

I call our recent trip there a “psychogeographical tour,” a type of wandering focused on capturing the historical psychic atmospheres found in unaccustomed places and especially foreign cities.

In this post I’m sharing the flavor of the impressions I came away with– by posting select images from an exhibition my wife and I are having at a Java Joes, a popular café here in Santa Fe. It’s up all of November.

The pieces start off as photos—- but through the editing process and mutli-media approach to treating them– they become a medium for channeling the residue history and culture have left behind.

Basically it’s all about the “vibes” one finds in leaving the usual tourist haunts whether the

Labyrinth streets of Cairo…

A ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul….

Or wandering nighttime streets of CDMX…

It’s all the same. You wander like a psychic sponge soaking up that certain something a place emits.

It’s subjective for sure. But never imagined by those who inhabit the place. As a visitor I’m free to free-associate and let the magic guide my impressions.


The infamous Tepito neighborhood grows from the outer edges of the Centro Historico area anchored by the Zocalo—the huge plaza at the center.

Tepito’s known for all things counterfeit, contraband and illicit. And…”I coulda been a contenda,” even some prizefighters.

It’s something of a no-go zone for Gringos and most Mexicans alike.

One night we wander the blocks and blocks of streets housing manufacturing and warehouses.

It’s just us. And our tail—a dark figure that follows us from street to street.

Finally after the shot above we turn around and stare him down.

He slinks into the shadows of a side street as we head back towards the Zocalo where the Aztec dancers drum, clang bells and chant in some plea for a forever -return of golden gods and a Feathered Serpent.


(Rain on the plaza)

Another night I find myself once again on the outskirts of Tepito—this time on the other side flanking the Alameda area where Plaza Garibaldi lies.

It’s famous for the music. Every night mariachi bands compete for the favor of the patrons in the pulgue and mescal joints lining the square.

Normally it’s pretty tranquil if a little rough on the edges. But about 2 months ago five people were dispatched here in a turf war between gangs when assassins on scooters carried out the deadly deed.

I grab a seat on a banco under some trees. And as soon as I lit my Spirit and began taking in the sights….

A 40ish looking man with a shaved head and hipster sunglasses like you’d see at a rave– came ambling my way. He was trailed by a man about the same age with a long face, crazy googly eyes and a laugh like a braying donkey.

I just sit. Nothing to be alarmed about. I’ll talk to just about anyone anyway.

The Folksy Pimp adopts the universal pose—a slightly hunched tilt to his body and open arms like he’s trapping game on the Savannah and a big friendly smile—that says, “I want something from you.”

“Polanco?” he says.

Meaning: the Beverly Hills area of Mexico City. Funny I would never have associated the travel-worn cotton sport coat I wore –with that area.

“No,” I say. And he immediately switches to English as most street hustlers worthy of the name can do.

We shot the shit about things. He was good at pacing the conversation. He didn’t come across as hungry or desperate. Finally in a low, guttural, conspiratorial voice he says,

“You want something freaky?”

He put special emphasis on the “eeeee” at the end. He sure knew how to make taboo-breaking sound tempting while dangerous at the same time.

“No not tonight. Gracias,” I answer. Then add;

“Hey take care.”

The Folky Pimp shifts his weight to one side and cocks his head to the sky…like he’s listening to some message from the heavens—and says:

“Take care. I like that.” Before disappearing into the sea of the plaza.


(detail from a Roma building)

Since we stay in Colonia Condessa next door, we find ourselves crisscrossing Colonia Roma all the time. It resembles the East Village 20 years ago.

Its Mercado and the old time shops and manufacturing this working class neighborhood once depended on—contend with the kinds of things you see folks creating in Brooklyn and Portland.

   It’s ripe for graffiti and tagging—we weren’t disappointed. Besides my attraction to street art I document because it can disappear under a rival’s work or a city’s paint crew.

It was here we searched for the building where Beat William Burroughs had a performance go wrong and ended up shooting and killing his wife. The building itself disappears into the background.

But a half block away was Luz Divina, a beautifully realized portrait of the kind of thing that’s always made Mexico City a popular place for Surrealists.

(Luz Divina–Roma)


When someone mentions “the pyramids “ in Mexico City they mean Teotihuacan, la Ciudad de los Dioses…the old pre-Aztec digs about an hour out of the city.

(Psilocybin Pyramid–Pyramid of the Sun)

We climbed the Pyramid of the Sun there– the subject of the image above and below. It’s the 3rd largest pyramid in the world after Giza and one in Southern Mexico. And it’s a sight.

And what can say about a pyramid. Viewing these large structures brings out something primal, something that exists at DNA level as far as I’m concerned.

(Pyramid of the Sun–photo/mixed media)

So I let my imagination carry the day. Somehow that feels like the Mexican thing to do.

The images you see here are all available. Printed on good paper they retail between $35 and $50 each –post paid. Contact me for details at: or 505.570.7325