Tuesday, October 17, 2017


   The Sierras are their domain and they roam as they wish.
    This is a young bear and not fully grown. He or she was rooting for a mid morning snack about 10 foot off the trail.

   We encroach into their wilderness with our cleverness.
   Still nature is the dominant component of the equation.

    Normally good spirited and cheerful, Californians have been understandably heavy hearted the last two weeks.
     The horror and fiery devastation has been cut into our psyche. We all have friends in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and points north or south. We've read the heartbreaking accounts of loss of life and destruction of homes, businesses and life dreams. The loss seems incalculable and personal.
     I was particularly taken by what Thomas Fuller, the San Francisco Bureau chief of the New York Times wrote. 
Thomas Fuller, the San Francisco bureau chief for The New York Times, describes his experience covering the fires in Northern California.
I keep a satellite phone in the trunk of my car, the same one I used to cover disasters and insurgencies in places like Myanmar and Nepal. But I never thought I would need it in Napa Valley, not for a wildfire anyway. 
During a week spent covering the fires in Northern California, I fell back on my training as a foreign correspondent: finding the satellite on the smoky horizon, locking in the phone’s antenna and dictating paragraphs to patient editors. 
But this was not a foreign land. It was my own country, and the conveniences that we take for granted had collapsed. Traffic lights went black and commerce shut down. 
Streets that were normally filled with tourists in the charming towns of wine country were deserted except for crews of exhausted firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and a few reporters. In the evacuation zones, rows of destroyed houses made it feel like a country at war, emptied of its civilian population. 
Small fires seemed to pop up everywhere. As I raced down narrow country roads to meet deadlines, I caught glimpses of smoldering embers on tree stumps a few feet away. I felt vulnerable while driving through tunnels of vegetation — it would be easy to be surrounded by fire and trapped. 
Everything smelled of smoke: my clothes, my car, my bag, my fingers. 
I feel enormously grateful to the dozens of people who took the time to articulate their grieving, some while standing in the rubble of their homes. The fires stripped away their privacy. Their kitchens, their exercise equipment, their hobbies — their lives — were in cinders at our feet. 
I think back to meeting Lisa Layman, her azure eyes staring at the ashes of her home at Coffey Park in Santa Rosa. She was recovering from cancer and recently had a kidney removed. The night before, she had escaped with her Bible and a scrapbook of her son’s early years. That is all she had
It is a reporter’s job to bring empathy to disasters like this. But I wondered how I could ever comprehend the magnitude of her loss.
  There were all too many times when my assignments 
put me at locations of devastation-tornados, floods, fires, explosions, hazardous waste derailing or leaks when I asked myself the same question. This week millions of Californians are mulling such.

   I'm not a fan of "piling on" when someone is down, but the #metoo response in the wake of Harvey Weinstein being taken down is healthy. 
    Though sadly delayed, by years, the news finally exposed Weinstein's loutish behavior. His fall from power and influence is stunning and appropriate. We are still waiting for justice for those women who donald trump sexually assaulted. We can hope another fall is in order.

    See you down the trail

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


twilight for the elders?
    They are the largest and among the oldest living things on  planet earth and after thousands of years they are in peril.
     A recent retreat to Sequoia National Park and the Sequoia National Forest produced a shocking bit of information.
     The keepers of these ancients say that because of global climate change they can no longer guarantee the health and well being of the giants.

    I am among those who are awed, inspired and spiritually moved by the magnificence of these ancients. They have stood silent witness to the history of this globe for millennia. 
     Now we are told that, for whatever reason(s) you may chose to ascribe as the cause(s), the climate change is doing what nothing else has, threatening these giant elders of life  on this blue marble.

     It seems we are of an age where we must endure and brave incalculable loss and violence to our own species and to our elders.

straight news
    All news organizations have spent more time dealing with Donald Trump's character than with his policies according to new data from the Pew Research organization.
     This is true for news operations with right or left leaning audiences and for those with a mixed audience.
      However the research on over 3000 stories found a wide variance in the "sources" used by the 24 news platforms that were studied. The important take away is that right leaning news organizations used fewer sources, fewer types of sources and less comparison in their reporting.
      Right leaning news organizations offered more positive and fewer negative evaluations of trump and the reporters "were less likely to challenge something the president said than those with audiences that were more balanced or were left leaning."

     It is telling that the lowest use of Trump or his administration as a source for reporting came from the right leaning administration. That combined with the fact right leaning news groups used fewer sources in reporting a story should be a warning to those who rely on them.

    Californians are shell shocked and deeply saddened by the fires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. The devastation and loss of life is horrendous. To our friends in that part of the state, the best we can do for you now is send prayers and thoughts. Rebuilding efforts will prompt more response later.

      See you down the trail.

Monday, October 2, 2017


    A horrified and heart broken nation must endure more needless pain as the NRA whores for more of their gun industry pimps.

    The NRA, more than anything else, has twisted and distorted the constitution. They've done it for money.
     Legislation is now pending that would make suppressors more readily available in the US.
Photo by Niki Chan Wylie for NPR
      They are also called "silencers." What you need to know about silencers is what you've seen in film, television or have read about in fiction.
      The gun industry is now trying to say silencers will protect the hearing of hunters. That is Wayne LaPierre style bull shit at it's million dollar best. There are other ways hunters can protect their ears.
     Suppressors also suppress flash, meaning in a situation like Las Vegas a silencer would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to sight where the shooter was. 
     The only people who "need" silencers are assassins or criminals, or the agents of government trying to combat them.
      The NRA may once have provided an important role in American culture. That ended when they became shills for the gun industry. They lie and they distort and they help kill.
      I hold Wayne LaPierre partially responsible for the Las Vegas slaughter. I add to that those members of the US Congress who defeated gun tightening legislation that followed the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre in Newtown. The majority of Americans wanted the legislation and it looked as though lawmakers got the message. That is until LaPierre and the NRA began spreading their favors. They enable terror. Their fingerprints are all over Las Vegas.

      See you down the trail. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Sculpture by Lana Cochrun

    The recent work by Lana seems an appropriate symbol of this post.The woman wears life and the cumulative affect of unseen forces and her manner is haunting.

Photo by Playboy 

     Hugh Hefner's passing at 91 is a moment to consider who we are and what we have become.
     It seems a mistake to consider only the lifestyle of Hefner who seemed to patent the idea of a playboy. There is much about how he portrayed and used women that people can find offensive and demeaning. But Hefner and Playboy made an impact on America that is to our benefit.
     He was an early advocate for racial equality and took bold steps to make an integrated society the norm.
     He was a tireless advocate of free speech and expression. He fought against censorship and a government's heavy hand.
    He was an advocate and supporter of feminism a maturing of his own sexual views.
    His early TV show was the essence of hip, cool and intellectual discussion and fostered a new format.
    Playboy brought sexual behavior and practice out of the bedroom and into the light of analysis, study and public discussion. 
     And as cliche' as it may have been, he provided a forum for writers, published excellent literature and journalism. It published scores of brilliant articles and probing interviews. 
     He advanced music, art and genuine scholarship.
     In a roundabout way he helped launch Gloria Steinem's writing career.
     Yes, he published pictures of naked women. But the naked human body is nothing to be ashamed of, it is a rather marvelous signet of life on this planet. 
      One's view, on possibly everything we consider, may well change over time and the arrival of heirs.
       I did not hope that my daughters would grow to be Playboy Bunnies, and there was a time when both of them thought the magazine was exploitative. As they aged they came to see modern sexuality in their own enlightened ways. Hugh Hefner contributed to America's maturation.
      As a high school and college boy I enjoyed the magazine, including the beautiful women. I make no apology for that. My hormones were kicking on, sexual experience was a very present motivation in my life and I enjoyed the slick and polished style of Playboy magazine.
     In college I was able to visit a couple of Playboy Clubs and enjoyed the experience. Later, as a journalist and speaking with "Bunnies" and Playmates I gained a broadened view about what those women experienced and the difficulties of it. I saw the truth behind the pretense.
     As a correspondent I profiled one of the magazines leading photographers and accompanied him as he and his crew shot for a feature on mid western women. Let me explain a moment that forever changed my attitude about the models.  
     I'll start with the finished photo. It featured a beautiful young women, partially dressed with a come hither seductive look on her face. The truth is she was an 18 year old kid who found poses only because the photographer's assistants helped her attain them. The seductive look on the page of the magazine was in real life a confused "what do you want me to do?" expression. There was nothing sexual in her mind or behavior and the "look" the magazine was trying to attain was an accidental moment that a skilled photographer was able to glean. The "sexiness" of the shot was nothing in that kid's mind or experience.
       I met Hefner and he was an endearing man, well read and highly intelligent.  Years later I interviewed his daughter Christie when she became CEO. She too was endearing, articulate and deep thinking. 
       In later years Playboy seem an anachronism and even a bit silly.  Hefner's lifestyle seemed the same and perpetually adolescent.  But that does not negate the innovation he brought or the good battles he fought. He was an original.

     It surprised some the NFL Owners and Commissioner lined up with the players in the battle of words with the occupant of the White House. 
      It would be nice to think these plantation owners firmly believe in the full benefits of free speech and expression. But consider another angle.
      The players and the league are locked in a battle over the NFL's policy of dropping player's medical insurance after a time. That time is usually about the time the players begin suffering the maladies of the game's brutality.
       The biggest concern now and one that some of the public is finally starting to pay attention to is CTE. The statistics of former NFL players with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is shocking. Many are wondering if it is not a matter of IF, but WHEN NFL players begin to experience the disastrous destruction of their brains and their lives.
       Getting locked into a battle with the twitter in chief is a great diversion from the CTE concerns. Remember this is a league that tried to prevent a popular movie about CTE from being made, released or advertised. Changing the subject is like an audible change made at the line of scrimmage. 

     See you down the trail

Monday, September 25, 2017


   As a kid in school or later sitting in an office or newsroom I always wanted to be outside. I could satisfy that urge in my reporting days, though was stifled when I got to the executive suite. 
   A day with a good portion of it spent under the sky is a good day.
    But when I see something like this I begin muttering about the intelligence and even parenting of those responsible. 
     This is under a bridge on a trail to the coast near Harmony California. It's a state park and a magnificent trail, so how a slob ends up there dumping trash is beyond me. And I wonder how anyone can be that arrogant and disrespectful!

it broke the nation
    Watching The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary series on PBS has been rough because it evokes old wounds, though it is important we do so.
      Analysts have observed that Vietnam fractured the nation as much as the Civil War did. The divide remains a half a century later and many live in and with residual pain.
     Novick and Burns tell the story on a human scale and it is expansive. We see and experience it personally; North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, and Americans. We are immersed into the political machinations of all of the governments, military organizations and the battle field. And we see the insanity of war and its dehumanizing and evil impact. 
    Our generation fought the war and fought against it and we  lived with nightly television news that was graphic, painful and dangerous to gather. 
    Over the years there have been many thorough historic volumes and accounts. I've read a lot of them and have talked with the authors; soldiers, journalists, intelligence operators, politicians and anti war activists. But most Americans have not. And even those of age during the war have tried to put it all out of mind and move on. It just hurt that badly. Living through it was emotionally searing.
     Despite the intentional avoidance most of us have experienced those moments or an occasion when something said or done would move us to the fault line fissure the war created. It was politic or polite to avoid going there. It was a way to avoid the pain and anger. But no longer.
     Novick and Burns give us a history we must address, national sins and errors we must confront. There is time for the generation of the war to square it in our hearts before we are gone. If we will but do that. There is much to learn about ourselves and our national experience in the Vietnam war and our response to the vets. 
     It is not courageous to face the truth, it is wise. Wisdom comes with a price, and that price has been paid so we must  remember the accounting. This documentary series does that. It also leaves a telling for our heirs. 

     See you down the trail.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


   Dominica is one of my favorite places. The little volcano mount rising out of the eastern Caribbean in the Leeward Islands is one of the more untouched places in our hemisphere. It has now been crushingly touched by Hurricane Maria. 

   Structures like this cannot fare well in a Category 5 storm.
Dominica appeals to me for its lack of development. It is natural, native, local and unpretentious.  It is the "Nature Island" and great place to immerse in nature and away from commercialism.
    Documentary and news assignments allowed me to spend a lot of time in the Caribbean. The people of Dominica were among the most genuine and hardworking I've encountered. 
     Fishing is a major source of income and the small boats and harbors the Dominicans workout have been seriously assaulted. 
       Awaiting casualty reports and other news I reviewed memories and shots taken during an assignment on Dominica.
       Late one evening my colleagues and I were having dinner at a local family restaurant on the main street when we heard a cacophony below. Car horns, drums and other percussion sounds. It was late and we were the only people in the place when the waitress and cook began a nervous dialogue rich in patois. 
       What is it I asked?
       "Oh my, it tis Lapo Kabwit" she said, "not allowed now."
      It was a growing crowd of dancers and chanters moving through the darkened street. They were led by a drummer playing a tambou le'le' and they were dancing backwards.
       Someone had connected a car horn to a battery and others were banging sticks creating an African-Caribbean rhythm.
     At the time of this assignment Lapo Kabwit-an hypnotic sort of Carnival dance was forbidden because there had been outbreaks of knife fighting and violence.
      We left our dinner on the table and took gear in hand to join the snaking crowd under a clear star field and to record the event.
      Our hostess was pleased we returned safely and she warmed our meal. Eventually Lapo Kabwit was allowed to return to a formal Carnival celebration, but authorities frowned on the spontaneous late night eruptions. I could never square the idea of Dominicans fighting with each other as they are people who seem to appreciate the rare peace and beauty they enjoy.
      Now I worry about their well being and their long road back.

     See you down the trail.

Friday, September 15, 2017


    Spoiler alert-there is a bit of positive thought ahead but first the news.
    Child psychologist Dr Ava Siegler says we are in the midst of a "national disaster" and parents are the first responders.
    Dr Siegler and others in psychology says decency, civility, knowledge and truthfulness "are not values of the trump government."

data points
     The recent George Washington University poll finds
  • 71% of voters say trump's behavior is not what they expect from a President
  • 68% of Americans believe his words and actions could accidentally get us involved in an international conflict
  • 63% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track
    Another study tells us what we learn from the news, most Americans are anxious about trump's affect on the surge in white supremacy.

the therapy
    David H. Rosmarin a professor at Harvard Medical school and the director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital has good advice.
    Rosmarin says we should set aside 1-3 minutes a day to worry about the worst things that can happen and accept the reality that we are not in control. 
     He suggests we take time off from the news and social media. 
     Dr Rosmarin and many of his colleagues tell us that in these days of trump we should eat well, work out, and work on personal relationships.
     There is a consensus we should spend time with friends and loved ones and focus on enjoying the company and the good feelings of the moment.
     Indeed many of us feel a sense of depression. Normally mellow and relaxed people are trapped in a sense of anger and even rage. 
     As parents and grandparents we should tell children the meanness, selfishness, ego centricity  and lies of the president and some of his supporters and advisors are anti American, wrong and-this is important-will eventually be punished or corrected. 

     This reminds me of the "bad things happen to good people" advice and help books. Most of us have faced challenges and difficulties, uncertain of outcomes. In those periods we are counseled to rely on those we love and care for, people and belief, to understand however desperate a situation there are things for which to be grateful and to remember, all things change, this too will pass. 
     I'm not advocating this, but simply reporting-as we have communicated with our grand daughter, and even with  adults, about how wrong is the behavior, tone and mood of the president, especially his pathological lies, we feel better.
    Telling the truth and affirming the positive values that once undergirded this democratic republic is a one day at a time way of combating the tension, toxicity and corruption of this time in America.

catch the good beams when you can

    See you down the trail.