SUNRISE AT DEATH VALLEY-Photo by Tom Cochrun

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DISPATCHES FROM MOTHER AND A STEELY DAN

ARE WE BETTER FOR IT?
    Earth Day was born in a setting very much like this. In fact the actual site was 2 hours south along Santa Barbara. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson had seen the ugly tragedy of the 1969 west coast oil spill and conceived of a day to spark an awareness of planet health and to take advantage of the political activism of that era.
    It was a far different age in 1970.  Democrat Nelson got the cooperation of California Republican Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair and the rest is history. But what kind of history has it been?
    Environmentalism is an international movement, but some deride environmental awareness. Nations now have Environmental Protection Agencies and clean air and water laws, but politicians in cahoots with industry find ways to put money first.
    Precious forests are being cut or burned, waters are poisoned, there are dead zones in the ocean, the air is unbreathable in cities, the climate is changing and industry groups pay billions to stop remedial efforts or change laws.
    An alarmist view is sounded by author Naomi Klein who says the world's economic systems are at war with planetary health and well being. At another extreme some refuse to acknowledge the planet's climate is changing at all, even by natural causes.
   We can recall Earth Days that have been celebratory, noting passage of laws and clean ups of hazardous sites and spills. Today Earth Day strikes me as an effort at emergency triage. We know what's wrong. We know how to prevent or fix most of it. But we seem emasculated. Rather than vigorously pursue planetary health which is also the health of human kind, we continue sewing seeds of demise. The leading player in this tragic farce is greed.
    Earth Day is too important about which to become passé.
What do you think?  Do we need a shot of activism? Would it make difference? What do you think is to come?
SNAPSHOTS FROM THE MOTHER SHIP 
   A group of folks gathered recently at lands end and on old earth and seabed to learn from geologist Dr. David Chipping.

    The play of earth and sea never ends.  Faults and other forces of nature create and change terra firma.

  The story of centuries are written in layers of rock and stone. As Dr. Chipping said of the cut away below "There's a nice picture. It tells a story."  
   Layers that speak to ages of sea, wind, sand and earth in continuous dance and tumble.
BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS
   Warmer than normal Pacific waters teamed with wind currents have produced an unusual phenomena along the central coast-millions of Velella velella. They are zooids but rather mysterious. Something like Portuguese Man of War, they have a sail that carries them over the water. In the last week, they have been washing ashore along California beaches.


   They bleach out and loose the top sail and the vibrant blue, but become a kind of wave marker.
GOOD FOR THE PLANET'S EARS
  Recently saw Walter Becker and Donald Fagan and friends, AKA Steely Dan in a kind of pre-tour warm up. They will hit the road for a major tour this summer, sharing a bill with Elvis Costello.  If they come to a venue near you, and if you like mastery of sound in a rock/jazz fusion, make sure to see them.
  They lay out a sound structure, like a building. It is an intricate combination of individual instruments and voices that you can follow or you can widen out and hear some of the most intricate, complex and sweet musical creation on the planet.  
   These guys stopped touring until they could master the intricate sound system required to capture the artistry they produce.  This is a link to a quick look at some of the best musical players on mother earth.

    See you down the trail.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A NEW WAY TO THINK

PERSPECTIVE
    My brother John was apparently an effective psychotherapist. Even psychiatrists, with the capacity to order medical intervention, hired him to work with extraordinarily troubled patients.
    I was fascinated by an experimental technique he employed where in he had schizophrenic patients draw maps of their brains, including neural circuits. He would,  step by step, navigate them through a thought or reaction beginning with the sensory cues. The therapy was to "reroute the traffic," to find a new way of thinking, responding and reacting.
    As the 2016 Presidential circus launches don't we all need  a similar "intervention" as regards the mix of information and its delivery and how we feel or reason? Coverage is obsessively about the horse race and is more silly, shallow and of dubious focus and proportionality than during Obama-Romney. Much of it is ideologically or politically skewed and overly generous with pundits and hot air. It is long on entertainment and presentation value and short on thoughtful, non pack, intellectually independent journalism and inquiry.
   Electoral politics also populates the prismatic effulgence of the Internet. Almost no view is left unstated. And we've all got one, at least, so there is a law of diminishing returns at work. 
     It is a renegade American Idol. We'll see the parade of GOP hopefuls in a traveling fight and we'll wait for Hillary to stumble or crumble. Independents and Democrats either like her or they don't. Those who are Republicans must come to accord with one of their multiple choice field. But can there be many undecided or non-committed between D's and R's. Is there enough to compose a "significant difference" in the interim? 
    Before the media and campaign gillies roll, minds are set, but the carnival will go on for a reason certain. Money. Politics, especially presidential politics, is an industry and commerce is good. Billions are churned and much of it gets spread around the media that has no interest in shortening the season, silly or otherwise. They're in it for ad dollars. 
    Plan on plenty of silly, inane, irrelevant, hyperbolic, partisan, mean and self important. Analytical numbers, polls, probabilities and indexes, will be creatively displayed. At the game's end, numbers win.  
     Sadly much of this will play without benefit of Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. David Letterman is riding off into the sunset too. Yikes! We're being left without our media "neural circuit" traffic cops. What is our protection? 
     Cheers to the inventor of the off switch!
WESTERN DIVERSIONS



    See you down the trail.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

CHANGE-REAL AND IMAGINARY

CHANGE IS A LAW OF LIFE*

     Some change is more difficult to abide. The change to Cambria's rare Monterey Pine forest is heart breaking and so too is big change in a little church.


   Slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains, hill sides and canyons display the unmistakable damage, wrought by drought, disease and management practices. It is sad to see though a reminder of the tenuous grasp of life and health.

AN IMAGINARY TALE OF 
NOT SO IMAGINARY CHANGE
     Imagine a small town rich with diversity of intellect, life experience and birthright. Picture a charming little church where people of all sorts gather in friendship. This is a cast of actors who represent a cross section of ideas, politics, influence, economic profiles, levels of education and attitudes. 
      See this extended family stand by each other in good times and bad. They celebrate together and they comfort each other as they mourn. They know they have their differences, in the secular world, even in theology, but it is their unity and family which holds them together, so they may grow as people and believers. And they do.
      Then a Pastor tells them a danger is lurking. It is the danger of homosexuality and forces in the larger church and world who advocate for equality and full human dignity. But  gay and lesbian people are sinners he says and the church should take a stand. 
       A division shakes the happy family. Some protest that all people are God's children, made in God's image. Others act as sheriffs "enforcing" the Bible. Whispering begins. Distortions are spread. Friendships unravel. Couples quarrel. The men who wrote the Bible are on the most quoted list. Others say look to what Jesus said and did. The Bible becomes a tool of verbal warfare. People are sickened, sad, angry. There is no joy in the once happy little church. Some depart. Others warrior on, convinced they must take what is left of the little church to a new order where gays and lesbians absolutely will not be permitted to be a preacher.
        One group says all humans deserve dignity to teach and preach and be regarded as fully human and equal. They say it is good to have a diversity of view and to discuss and debate even our deepest beliefs. Another group says no, those are progressive ideas, we are meant to be bound by the authority of the word.  Which word, the others ask, which interpretation, which translation? The words of Paul and other men or the words of Jesus? And so it goes.
        This imaginary little church learns about change.
       
       Droughts of spirit and love, disease of anger, fear and management practices must also affect imaginary little churches.
       Change is hard. Sometimes imagination can help. 

*John F. Kennedy is credited with the quotation. The complete sentence is "Change is a law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
    
     See you down the trail.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

FROM OUT WEST-LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT AND GOVERNOR BROWN

LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND
GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN
    Dear Sirs,
          California and the federal government have an opportunity to partner in problem solving while advancing technology, creating employment and improving quality of life. The state and federal government should design and build ocean desalination plants and a network of pipelines to deliver water to communities and the agricultural zones including of course the Central Valley.
          California abounds in technological and engineering knowledge and has been the crucible of innovation. California produces food that feeds America and much of the world but we can't make it rain nor end an historic drought. However we can respond with imagination and progress.
          A state and federal partnership accomplishes a great deal; regulatory compliance and clearance and a capacity to get it done. Think such a venture is impossible? Consider the extraordinary response of this nation to the crisis of WW II. Consider also the zeal and achievement of the American space program when the nation was committed to a moon landing. This nation could benefit from a good swift kick in the butt to get back on a path to excellence. This project would do that and you can make it happen.
          More good happens in California than in Washington DC. Bipartisan government occurs and while it is not perfect, things get done and problems are managed and solved. Aside from the public business of California, there is also the extraordinary success and life changing impact of technology, communication, transportation and space businesses. But we cannot make it rain. 
          Life depends on water and entering the fourth year of  historic drought clouds are on the horizon and they are not rain clouds. Historically this part of the US has sustained life altering droughts. There is meteorological and climate science now that suggests we could be in another such  period and that it could extend decades. It is arrogance to forget it has happened, repeatedly. Unlike previous eras and epochs we have science and technology to interact with the Ocean.
          The Pacific must be protected and proper environmental and ecological management is mandatory. A state and federal oversight can work to those ends. The peril is too severe to leave such things to a free market, profit making set of values.
          The design and implementation can be founded on the best science and engineering and most of that is already here and could be augmented by others in a critical review and project management.
         As the project(s) move forward each community could  undertake an ascertainment of need including the calculation of a sustainability index. i.e., how much water is needed now vis a vis anticipated growth? how is that water used-commercially, in homes, for agriculture, etc.? what are optimum growth and expansion frames? what are fair water rates in a tiered system?  What is a community's sweet spot to be truly sustainable? All of this would be managed and navigated by an oversight process that is long on academics, scientists, economists, planners and engineers with project management expertise drawn from the best and brightest in business-e.g., Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison and such peers. Think of that quality of individual to be your managing partners.
         Notice who is peripheral to all of this?  Elected politicians. Once the public's business was the trust of the United States Congress and Senate. Recent history only disqualifies them from running and likely delaying or destroying such a venture. Of course this will take funding and in that way they will need to be stakeholders, but how to affect that and how to contain their negative influence  is what you both are being paid to do as Chief Executives.
         Private investment could be tapped, in lieu of tax or other incentives. All business has an interest in the viability and sustainability of life and agriculture.
         Mr. President, Mr Governor you wield power and influence and have the ability to summon the "best and brightest" and to establish and pursue vision.  Even if we can water ration and restrict and even if it suddenly starts to rain laying siege to the notion we are in extended drought or climate change, we know that on a strategic world stage, water supply is a critical pointer. We even plan for future wars being fought over water. California and the federal government could evince a scenario that tends to a present need and allows for good options in future need.
         Executives lead, this is your way to lead us through problem solving and to create a legacy that includes a better way of doing things.

APRIL OUT WEST





   See you down the trail.

Monday, April 6, 2015

NEW CHAPTERS-IN IT TOGETHER

PLANET KINDRED
     We're in new territory now. California is in the fourth year of a drought and experts say the state has never been drier, though that may not be true. It's problematic.
      The tree above is a neighbor, one of many Monterey Pines in this area's unique pine forest, one of three natural such forests. I'm worried about the tree and many of its kindred.
     The drought has exacerbated other problems and some predict a mortality rate of 40-80% of the forest. When trees die and suffer so does the abundant wild life in the area.
      We've shared the ridge with this tree and a few that have died and thinned the copse. We've watched a marvelous cycle of life now in peril. 
      First we hear the plaintive cry of a young hawk, then in time we watch flying lessons and still later we watch the aerial combat of hawks and families of crows who have also lived here for generations. Wild turkeys seek refuge in the shade, bob cats, fox, deer and many species of birds roam or roost here. Skunk, raccoons and squirrels are here. Mushrooms spring in the under thicket, wild flowers patch their way into and share the sun. When an old tree goes, life changes in profound ways.
      This blue planet is in the midst of changes and so it has always been. Woodworkers and scientists tell us areas of California have endured droughts that extended decades. Decades! Historians have written of extended droughts that ended eras of cattle ranching. There is a theory the last 100 years have been the anomaly, wetter than normal. 
      We are all in this mystery together and largely we are powerless. We can respond and we have. People of our village have reduced water use by as much as 45%. A newly built system uses waste and brackish water to supply a percentage of our needed supply.
      Meteorologists discuss a Pacific Decadal Oscillation, intense high pressure and variations in the jet stream though, regardless of cause, we live with uncertainty. In our time on the ridge we've seen 37 inches of rain in a season and as low as 8. The last four have been the driest and that brings us again to our trees. 
      It has become necessary to thin the forest of dead trees, to reduce danger. Problems; how to get it done, how to pay for it, what to do with the old wood? Citizens, elected representatives and a variety of experts are in a kind of scrum to chart a course of action.  
     California Governor Brown has renewed the water restrictions and serious people are asking even more serious questions about what this means to California's agriculture, which feeds the nation. Many look to the Pacific and see what could be a water supply, but not without cost and process and politics.
     The good citizens of this marvelous and vast state move toward a future with unmeasured dimensions and uncertain challenges. This is a state of enjoyment where so much of life is lived outside, where the light is vivid and saturated like the colors, aromas and flavors of diversity. These are people who have built technology empires, entertainments and lifestyles where relaxation, kicking back, hanging out bespeak attitudes and spirit.  But it's a new time. Changes are coming.
      Our approach to forest management is likely one of those changes.  Neglect and inattention did not create the problem, but they did not help.  Earlier cutting, thinning, better stewardship and management would have dialed back the fire danger.
      In our village a forest management plan was written years ago, agreed to by levels of government and regulatory agencies, but it has never been funded.  Shame on us!  It is too late for too many trees. I hope my neighbor will survive and I hope we may learn in the uncertain future that we all have a stake in every aspect life on this blue marble.
      Pollution in China, nuclear radiation in Japan, overwatered golf courses in the desert, neglected forest management, toxic waste in rivers, whirlpools of plastic in the oceans, chemicals on lawns, lack of conservation, and on and on, are all ultimately local issues in every community and threatening problems to all life. They respect no boundaries.
   We are all in this together.

    See you down the trail.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

QUEER AT THE MAIN STREET BARBER SHOP

THROW BACK THOUGHTS
     Dave Letterman said it the other night. The Indiana on display in the last week is "not the Indiana I remember."
        Letterman continued, "folks were folks.  We breathed the same air. We were all carbon based life forms. We all wore shoes, had the same organs, had hair, went to the barbershop…" Indeed!
       My dad had patronized the Main Street Barbershop in Muncie, since he was school kid and later when he played on the famed Muncie Central Bearcats basketball team. Though back in the mid '30s if they lost or had not played well they might get their "ears nicked a little."
      I looked forward to our Saturday morning visits.There behind the big plate glass window next to the rotating  red, white and blue barber pole was a social mecca of sorts. It was a bright, cheerful gathering place which is probably why dad took my younger brother John and me to the venerable spot every other week. It was a kind of magic place.
      The long mirrored room with ceiling fans smelled great. Hair tonics, shave cream and lotions were exotic aromas. Claude, the owner and one of three or four barbers, always greeted dad like a hero. He'd open his pop machine and invite John and me to pull out our own bottle of Coke. Sometimes he'd toss us a bag of salted peanuts, pulled from a metal clip stand near the cash register.
     As dad and the others in the crowded room chatted about all manner of things, I tuned out and instead got absorbed in the stacks of magazines. This was very special. There was of course Field and Stream, Argosy, Life Magazine, Look and Science Digest. But what I liked most were True Detective, Stag and Confidential.  
     The art of True Detective featured woman in nightgowns, or garter belts, perhaps a revealing a stretch of leg. They appeared to be being rescued and/or there was a guy with a gun in the picture-or some such. It's been a while. Stag and Confidential though were the big score and those images are more fixed.  
    As dad and the guys chatted, I sat there and saw things probably not intended for an 8 or 9 year old. What exotic things they were!  I think I became aware that women had breasts by scanning those pages. That is where I met Jayne Mansfield. And it was there I discovered women wearing high heels in a bathing suit had a certain, something. I didn't know why, but I liked it.
     Understand, those glimpses of Stag and Confidential were furtive. They were also short lived adventures, especially when using the eyes in the back of his head, dad would grumble from the barber chair "hey, what are you looking at there?"
       To be certain I spent more time looking at the fascinating photo journalism of Life and Look or being awed by the futuristic designs of Science Digest. What cars, houses and cities  we had to look forward to.
     I also listened to more of the conversations than I  understood but I got a sense of different opinions about ball teams, insurance plans, politics, politicians and people.
     There was a guy who would come in frequently and he was just different. Jerry's voice was different and he walked differently but he was greeted just like all of the other guys. One Saturday when the door clicked closed behind Jerry, Gil, one of the barbers, said "Old Jerry sure is as queer as a three dollar bill." There were quiet chuckles from a couple of the chairs.  
     Claude looked down the line of chairs at Gil and said something like "But he's sure a good customer. Regular as prunes. Same time every week." 
     "He's been a great piano and organ player since he was kid" my Dad offered, surprising me with his wide knowledge.
     "Oh, he's all right, but you know," something to that affect Gil rejoined.
      On the way home I asked Dad if he had any three dollar bills and then asked what is a queer?
      Dad was always straightforward and he didn't miss a beat. He said some men were born differently and for whatever reason they weren't meant to marry a woman or have children. He said they wouldn't be interested in those men's magazines at the barbershop.  But he also admonished us to never use the word Queer. It's not nice he said. Everyone deserves your respect. He said we'd understand when we got older and he promised to tell us more sometime.  
      When I was older we had that talk, complete with old Army health information he used as a drill instructor-but that is a story for another day.
       Sometime after the "three dollar bill incident" dad introduced me to a legless man on a rolling platform. He was selling pencils on the street, not far from the barbershop. He explained he'd lost his legs in the war and sold pencils to make ends meet. They chatted a bit and I could tell they'd known each other since school. Dad gave him some money and told him he still had plenty of pencils from the previous purchase. On the way home he told me to never tease someone who is different, again reminding me everyone deserves respect.
       That's exactly what my old college friend Dave was saying on his program and it's what many others have been saying to Governor Mike Pence and his Indiana political allies who tried to used a so called religious freedom bill to treat others with less than respect, to treat them differently.
       I hope the "fixes" they are talking about will repair Indiana's image and maybe fix their own hearts.

     See you down the trail.

Monday, March 30, 2015

IS IT WRONG TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST A GAY OR LESBIAN COUPLE?

ANSWER THE QUESTION GOVERNOR
     Those of us with Indiana ties have been busy the last several days following the avalanche.
      Since Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restorations Act (RFRA) we've been watching years of progress unspool.
      From a purely good government point of view, Mike Pence has failed, aided and abetted by politicians who are more interested in personal or political agendas than they are concerned about what is best for the state.
      It's been a media carnival. Companies are to stop to doing business there. Celebrities, politicians, educators, scholars and citizens are embarrassed and decry the event. Charles Barkley has even suggested the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, pull the Final Four out of there. In the meantime, the NCAA is in emergency mode and distressed by the Governor's signature. Millions of dollars of convention trade and other business may wash out of Indiana. Three thousand people marched to the State House. 
      The stupidity of the Governor in signing the bill is trumped by the idiocy of his not listening to a chorus of people who warned him about it. Intelligent minds, business leaders, mayors, chambers of commerce, ministers, academics and legal scholars tried to wave the ambitious Mr. Pence away from signing. 
      It is a cynical political bill that seeks to take advantage of a loophole in Indiana code that does not specifically protect gay and lesbians from discrimination. Pence and his supporters won't acknowledge that. 
      There is a strong right wing and evangelical current that runs through Indiana and they have been apoplectic about recent advances in human rights that extend marriage, union and freedoms to LGBT people. Despite all of the "defense" that, "gee, we are only doing what the federal government did under Bill Clinton" their argument is instead the product of that California specimen pictured above.
     I've known Mike Pence since before he was a radio talk show star with political aspirations. Mike ran and lost over a a few years but he continued to learn how to play to a base. He was eventually elected to congress and left radio politics behind. Mike has been a clever media student. Though a little "slick" for my tastes he was smart in mastering "messages," but he blew it on ABC.
      5 or 6 times George Stephanopoulos gave the Governor a chance to answer a straight yes or no, "Can an Indiana business refuse to serve a gay or lesbian?"  Each time Governor Mike weaseled out of it, trying to turn the shame of the situation back onto an hysterical media. Again and again he was asked for a straight answer. He could have moved the issue a long way with an answer, but he was defensive, not candid. That in itself speaks volumes about what is wrong in Indiana.
     One of Pence's supporters, a right wing evangelical political power broker, with a long history of worrying about non heterosexual matters, opined as to how the RFRA will now empower people to refuse to serve gays or lesbians, if they feel their religious beliefs would be violated in doing so. He has influence and sway in the Indiana legislature. The legislation is in lock step with an obstinate mindset.
    There has been plenty of legal scholarship and debate on this measure. Many who supported the legislation Bill Clinton signed now say they regret it or that it wasn't necessary. But in Indiana, and probably in Arkansas, Mississippi, Arizona and other places of such "enlightenment" and intellectual vigor, the RFRA is a backdoor defensive block to the extension of human rights to people right wing evangelicals think are "sinful."  
     The Indiana bill creates confusion, lacks focus and will set up conflicts. That may be part of the intended flack. Scholars say it affects the delicate balance between religious liberty and other rights that was already in place after years of federal and state legislation, history, practice and precedence. Religious liberty is not strengthened by this ploy and is probably weakened by placing stresses on the precious balance that has been achieved and respected. Scholars argue that has been the history of RFRA laws.
     Mike Pence must not be as smart as I thought he was, or he is  blinded by political ambition and panders to the extreme religious right. Either way he is now the captain of the ship that may well sink decades of improvement that was inspired by and then presided over by people like Richard Lugar, William Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, Bart Peterson, Bob Orr, Otis Bowen, Frank Obannon, Mitch Daniels and countless other Republicans and Democratrs who assisted these mayors and governors who worked to create a climate of progress in Indiana. Those bi-partisan and practical combined objectives for Indiana did not aspire to be on the Pence list of cronies-Mississippi, Arizona, Alabama, etc.
    The current Indianapolis Mayor and those of large Indiana cities were among the chorus who warned Governor Mike to toss the bill into the trash.  Instead it is Indiana that is being trashed.
     I've heard from many Indiana friends, including Republicans who are angry, embarrassed and fearful of what happens to a state they have served and for which they have aspirations. The bill was ill conceived and the state was ill served by the Governor's signature. Maybe Pence's presidential ambitions and the state's retrograde image can be halted by an "Indiana Spring."  
     An intellectual, moral, economic and political twilight could halt what has been three of decades of genuine advancement and a heady private-public participation. It is time for the light of decency and intelligence.
     

    See you down the trail.