Monday, December 5, 2016

The Time Has Come and What Is Life?

    The real Christmas season arrived, carried on rich strings, voices and delivered in a "conversation that turns back the clock."
     From its hill side perch over looking Cambria's east village the historic Santa Rosa chapel was aglow, as it has been over more than 140 Christmas seasons. It is a special night, a "homecoming" that blends more than a century of lives, hopes, meditation, music and the unique poignancy of Christmas. 
   Each year is special, in its own way. We were accompanied by Jack who only recently lost his beloved Lydia, a dear friend. Jack is a masterful Viola player and has performed in Strings in the Chapel, but on this night he could enjoy and be soothed by the wonderful sounds.
   As frequent readers will recall a special moment of the evening is when Judith Larmore reads a Christmas Reflection. They are beautiful and vivid nostalgic gifts that weave the magic of memory and heart felt moments into a kind of garland symbolic of the season's emotional glow.
   This year she began with an apology. The very recent loss of her sister, the passing of Leonard Cohen, the emotional division of post election America, and other stresses left her depleted. So she went to the "archive" and presented a letter home she wrote a few years ago. As her work is, that letter was timeless. Given the losses, setbacks, worries and fear of of so many it was the perfect gift.
    Judith said even when people are gone and times change we can "go home again," in our memory.  She said we can see people who are "older but more beautiful" and we can experience a "deep love." This is a season where time "stands still with people we love." And as change is on the wind Judith noted our remembrances allow us to "look back before moving ahead."
     Bruce Black's humorous tales of adventures with his grandmother and his recitation of Twas the Night before Christmas, the extraordinary music in the candle light and the gathering of friends filled me with a great cheer that has been recently absent. Christmas time has arrived. In its way it is a light from darkness, a joy amidst loss in hearts and life. Specific thanks follow below.

searching for life
    Some of the brightest minds on the planet are gathering in Irvine California this week to discuss Searching for Life across Time and Space.
     The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has convened in advance of pending missions of exploration to discuss what is life, what does it look like, how would we know if we have discovered it in some distance from our home planet? The curious can examine the agenda here.
     They are good questions. No one knows what life may be like away from earth, under different conditions and dynamics. In 2018 the launch of the James Webb space telescope signals the beginning of examining planetary atmospheres. We'll be more "hands on" when we launch a probe to Europa, a moon of Jupiter to examine what we presume to be water. 

better late than....
    Finally the federal government has acted with something close to honor. The Army Corps of Engineers refusal to permit final approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline shows respect for native nations and first citizens. The Obama administration was slow to act, but the refusal is a temporary victory for those who gathered at Standing Rock to protect water, sacred land and Sioux tribal rights. 
    The Sacramento Bee said it well in an editorial:
"The about face is miraculous and rare.  Throughout history, various arms of the U.S. government have shamefully dismissed the rights of tribes, usually siding with those seeking to make a profit."

Read more here:
      "Shameful" indeed! Nothing can make up for the illegitimate birth of our nation by invasion and thievery but this small gesture is important though the Trump ascendancy  remains a menace. Trump has financial interests in DAPL.

going to be watching you
  A warning to elves--someone maybe watching you back!

well done
   Thanks to Jill Poulos celtic harp, button accordion, Justin Robillard guitar, Eric Williams guitar, William Alpert 1st violin, Mario Ojedo 2nd violin, Peter Jandula-Hudson viola, Grant Chase cello, Helene Robillard vocalist, Lyra vocalists, Jan Callner, Mary Anne Anderson, Diane, DeMarco, Rebecca Hendricks, Barbara McDonough, Lorna Mumpers, Nancy Taber, Vocal Quartet-Wayne Attoe, Steve Dowding, Ted Key, Ken Dunn.
    See you down the trail.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


    Fidel Castro turned me into a smuggler.
    On assignment, my first trip to Cuba and I had the opportunity to buy a print that knocked my socks off. Ernest Hemingway and Fidel on the day Hemingway departed the island for the US.

Photo by Osvaldo Salas -print from Tom's collection

  I purchased another print too, a photo by a new friend who had known Castro since the early days of the revolution.
   There was a catch, a stumbling block. It was illegal to possess or trade in images of Castro. Che Guevara was the political saint, his image is everywhere, but Castro demanded his own image be off limits. He was trying to avoid what communists called "the cult of the personality."
 Photo by Roberto Salas print from Tom's collection

   I purchased the image from the photographer Roberto (Bob) Salas, an historic guy in his own right.
  Bob was New York born, his father was Cuban and famed photographer Osvaldo Salas. The senior Salas shot for Life Magazine and the New York Times. He was a documentary shooter, but a fine art photographer as well. Some of his New York fire escape shots are iconic. 
   Osvaldo took his family, including his teen apprentice son back to Cuba to cover the last year of the Cuban revolution. Osvaldo stayed in Havana with Batista while Bob went into the mountains to be with Fidel.
   Roberto Salas at home in Havana 

   Father and son reconnected in Havana when Batista fled and Fidel claimed power. 
    In the early days of the take over, Castro, Che and their top staff took up residency in a Presidential palace. Bob stayed with them, taking over a bathroom as his dark room and sleeping place. One night he woke and heard a conversation not far away. He grabbed a camera and emerged into a room to see Fidel and Che lighting cigars.
     A journalist, Salas is a realist. He's been shooting and sparring with Castro for decades. Bob pushed on matters of artistic freedom and expression. He deplored some things about Cuban life and Castro, but given a chance to live in the US or on the Island, he chose Havana. "It is not a perfect revolution," he says, "but we made it. It is ours, no one else."
    As a side note, Bob is the only journalist I know who covered the Viet Nam war from the North and the South. He's a dual citizen, an American and a Cuban. He had unique access.

      He and his father captured extraordinary images of the revolution and its early days. Some of their work is in a limited edition book.
 Book by Osvaldo and Roberto Salas

    The book and the prints signed by Bob and his father are  prized possessions.
Che by Roberto-plate from book

     On my first trip to Cuba I was fortunate to be accompanied by a student government ally and friend from college who had gone on to a distinguished and adventurous career of his own as a photographer and later a professor. Jon met Bob on one of his first of many trips to Cuba. Travel there was off limits to US Citizens without special visa. Jon was an old Cuban hand by the time he introduced me to the Island.
     Back to the smuggling. I thought the US government could care less if I had images of Castro, but I knew Cuban security would care, enough so I could end up in a tough spot. There is nothing good to say of Cuban prisons. Being a Hemingway fan, I wanted to get the print as well as Bob's shot of a laid back dictator, back home to the US. 
     I carefully wound the prints around our camera tripod legs, wrapped brown paper over those and inserted them into our tripod hard case tube.  It was a time in my life when I was in and out of nations and airports and through all manner of screening and security checks. It seems most nations have security that are naturally suspect of journalists and the press. Usually that meant delays, hassles, opening cases, explaining pieces of equipment, battery chargers, inverters and the like. We went to the airport with an uncertainty in our gut. Jon had been through enough times he knew a couple of things that got us past the security without needing to even open the tripod tube. 
      On this trip to Cuba we flew in and out of Canada. Jamaica was another option. Coming in from Canada the US customs agent raised his eyebrows when I told him I was a smuggler. When I explained and showed him the prints he chuckled. Still he wanted to know how I could have purchased a box of fine cigars and a bottle of Rum for less than $100 dollars-the amount of goods our Treasury Department stamp permitted us to import. I showed him the bills of sale. "Yeah?!" he grumbled.  
        As I noted, Jon was an old hand and knew his way around Cuba. Some Cubans got a kick out of "sticking it to" the embargo.
after fidel, what now?
    Castro was many things including a despot. The charismatic, passionate and idealistic revolutionary became a dictator. Though his own disastrous "economic planning," the US embargo and the Soviet's abandonment trashed his economy, good things happened on the Island and not everybody despised him.
     Consider these brief facts-even adjusted to population differences-Cuba has more doctors per citizen than the US, Cuba's literacy rate is higher, the infant mortality rate is lower, they have a strong educational system, everybody has health care, foreign nationals travel to get Cuban care and Cuba has minuscule crime compared to the US and mass killings are unheard of.
     They have serious economic challenges, there are still political prisoners and it is not the Democracy of the US.
     On my last assignment there I spoke with young economists, political scientists and activists. They had already begun to refer to Fidel and his brother Raul as "the historic leadership." It was a type of early shaping of history. They appreciated the independence of the nation, the universal health care and education, but they were realistic and knew that further accords and arrangements would be needed with capitalist governments. There were a lot of scenarios tossed around as to how to move Cuba ahead.
     The Obama overture to normalize relations is long over due. Those who were hurt most by the embargo were the people, they were forced to do with out. It is my hope Trump's business instincts sees more value in Northern investment in Cuba than continuing some out dated, punitive and ineffective policy left over from long ago.
      The Cubans are resilient, warm, hospitable and occupy a gorgeous and lush island nation. There is immense opportunity at this juncture and if played properly can be a win win situation for everyone, with the exception of the 1.2 Million Cuban American Nationals, an estimated 0.58% of the US population. Some of them hold grudges and a desire to be repatriated with their homes.
       I've told friends to visit Cuba now in the Felliniesque era before it's modernized and transformed. Uncertain time is ahead, but modernity can not be denied.  Let's hope the US is on the right side this time.
      Now that he is gone and beyond the "impurity" of cult of personality, it's my guess Fidel's image will join that of Che's as a secular saint. No one will need to smuggle images in a tripod tube.

      See you down the trail.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


November Surf-Cambria
    We were emotionally spent as we walked from the theatre when we encountered a friend and her husband who there with other couples. They are mixed race couples who gather annually to celebrate Mildred and Richard Loving, the Virginia couple who's love changed the US Constitution.
     Married in 1958 they were arrested in Virginia where state law forbade black and white to marry, live together, bear children or to love each other. Forced to move to Washington DC, where they had been married, they began a family and longed to return to their beautiful rural home.
    Director/Writer Jeff Nichols has crafted a quiet and understated powerhouse film that tells history but also speaks to the current American dilemma. 
     Joel Edgerton delivers an Oscar worthy performance as a white stone mason Richard Loving who simply wants to be left alone to love and live with his wife. Edgerton's quiet strength and reserve emotes with a power that smolders from the screen. Ethiopian Ruth Negga is vulnerable, gentle and long suffering as Mildred. 
     Nichols, born in Little Rock and educated at the University of North Carolina has an instinctive feel and sense of the southern culture and history that created the Loving case. Nichols became interested in the story of the Supreme Court case and the role of the ACLU in bringing justice to the Lovings when he viewed a documentary by Nancy Buirski, who is one of the producers.
    There is an authenticity played marvelously by the cast. Loving won the 2016 Palm d'Or at Cannes.  This 2 hour study of American history and love has a message that should be heard. Be prepared to ride a roller coaster of emotion.

Photo by Oswaldo Salas-print from Tom's collection

 Frequent readers may recall previous posts from the Cuba File. I'm gathering reaction and preparing a new post for later this week. 

the vote truth and consequence
   It looks like you have to go back to 1876 to find a presidential outcome that rivals our recent travail. 
    Back then Democrat Samuel Tilden shellacked Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote, but he lost in the electoral college, only after some still controversial maneuvers.
     Of course we know at least 2 million more American voters wanted Hillary Clinton to lead us than wanted Donald Trump. Once again the archaic and out balance representation of the Electoral College deprives the majority of Americans their choice and once again hands a gift to the Republican candidate who received an underwhelming minority of votes. 
     Does it matter? Indeed and here's how it is likely to. President Trump leads from a position of weakness. He does not have a mandate as most voting Americans didn't want him. While the Republicans control the Senate and House, they will be dependent upon Democrats to get a majority of votes to pass legislation. Democrats have vowed to protect programs enacted under President Obama. I'm hopeful the Democrats will take a realistic and collegial position, willing to engage in give and take. That would be a drastic reversal from the Republican leadership which vowed on day 1 of the Obama administration to guarantee the first African American President fail and not be reelected. 
     Donald Trump's election is also a repudiation of that Republican scorched earth policy. People who were fed up with government or who felt neglected also blame the congressional grid lock engineered by the Republicans. While a minority party it is our hope the Democrats behave as Americans first and partisans second. That's a far cry from the past 8 years. 
      We live in historic times eh?

do you see a face in the surf?
   look a little left of center of the frame. see anything that resembles a face or head of lion or ???

     See you down the trail.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


      We've celebrated Thanksgiving as a national holiday of praise and thanksgiving since President Lincoln declared the day in 1863.
     As an odd year begins its exit we pause in our family to take note: Family, friends, faith, health, healing, memories, dreams & goals, kindness, love, courage, creativity and hope.
     History recounts the first American Thanksgiving as 1621 when 50 Pilgrims and 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe celebrated a harvest festival.
     In the beginning those English men and women, unhappy with the Church of England and English society and seeking a new life on this continent, treated their hosts with civility and appreciation. The immigrants and the first citizens celebrated for 3 days. History records those early accords were changed in time.
     Perhaps this year we can reflect on why and how those first good intentions were lost and why so much of this nation's history is built on an illegitimacy and a forced occupation. It is a not a weakness, rather it is a sign of integrity and greatness to examine our faults and ask where did we go wrong, how could we have done it more wisely and with honor, and how can and should we adapt, change and make better choices going forward?
     Is there also a further lesson? The first national Thanksgiving came midst the civil war, but Lincoln had the wisdom to ask for praise, prayers and thanksgiving. In our 2016 divide, should we do no less?
     I'm also grateful we live where we can acknowledge our wrongs, chastise inequality and pray for better ways, in our diverse ways.
     See you down the trail.

Monday, November 21, 2016


     An historic and brutal confrontation played out in North Dakota and most of the media was missing.
    The Standing Rock action against the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) was met with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in sub freezing temperatures. Hundreds of people were attacked by police and security.
    Social media provided live streaming but the story was ignored by major networks and newspapers 
     Here's a sample of the Twitter feeds that kept people informed.

Calling upon @BarackObama and @LorettaLynch to immediately step in and stop ND Police from further violence &abuses in #standingrock #NoDAPL

    There are several strands to the controversy that make this newsworthy. More betrayal of Indian rights, legal challenges, the determination of those who are there to protect water and land rights, behavior by private security and the impact on the pipeline. 
    Many of the posts questioned why major media have ignored the story. I wonder that as well.  Given the media's current penchant for visual events and the sensational, I'm curious why the dramatic confrontation didn't get attention.
    The Standing Rock occupation and protest carries a link to the founding of the American Republic. It's time it gets more attention from major media. Fortunately social media helps fill the information gap.

     See you down the trail.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


     If there is nothing in this year to cause your brain to explode here's a try: The Oxford Dictionaries has chosen "post-truth" as the word of the year. Post-truth is when objective facts are less influential than emotion or personal belief in a person's choice.
     This coronation in the hall of lexicon happens as western society and the American media in particular suffer through an inquisition of "fake news," its purveyors, sources and impact. Twitter and Facebook lead all social media in being scrutinized.
      Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Journalism Lab wrote after the election; 

        "Facebook has become a sewer of misinformation. Some of it is driven by ideology, but a lot of it is driven purely by the economic incentive structure FaceBook has created: The fake stuff, when it connects with a Facebook user's preconceived notions for sense of identity, spreads like wildfire. (And it's a lot cheaper to make than real news.)"

        Consider for a moment how much time millions of Americans spend on Facebook and other social media. It is where many get their news, only a lot of it is not news. It's fabrication, political spin on steroids and even fantasy. And even when confronted with facts people still continue to believe lies-President Obama was born in Kenya, climate change is not real, there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we never landed on the moon, etc.
       After each election the nation's media does a serious navel gaze. This year they should look into their combined fourth estate soul.
       In our lifetimes the media could be counted on. CBS Anchor Walter Cronkite was known as "America's most trusted man." When there were four major networks, a couple of international wire services and a handful of newspapers with strong Washington and international bureaus in a very competitive arena, getting it and getting it right was the currency that built a readership and viewership. Consumers were the arbiter. 
      As it was intended, the airwaves were public space and to have a right to do business there one needed to pledge to provide hours of informational and public service programming.
      Media deregulation brought a model that favored advertising and making money while shrinking the obligation to provide quality information and news. Then management decided news needed to be a profit center and ratings replaced the mission to inform as the priority and raison d'ĂȘtre. 
     24 hour news channels further "commercialized" news making it more of a "product." Social media with millions of blogs, postings, social chats, pages, and a blizzard of exchange further diffused and fractured the nature of information.  
     I have a petulant disregard for Roger Ailes and his news virus. He is the troll responsible for overtly politicizing news coverage and the father of the bastard "news with a flavor." Some will say Fox News came as an answer to the liberal media. That is malarky and those who believe it give proof to the propagandizing value of spinning news your way. It is a  mind control when beliefs and emotions count more than facts. Ailes first postulated the idea of a political control of network news back when he worked for Richard Nixon.
     In this "Post-truth, post-election" era consider the facts. The losing candidate had 2-4 million more votes. So unless the electoral college makes history, we will have a minority president, who either is a liar on occasion or indeed can own all sides of every issue or simply doesn't know what his position is. Whichever, it is a sure prescription for a lot of "news."
     We should watch for news organization to assert a legitimacy by dealing with truth, facts and being adversarial. That adversarial relationship is historic and has proven to benefit all parties, the White House, the electorate and most importantly the effectiveness of government. As much as ever, the media should play its role as a watchdog.
     Do we think the media is up to it? Good question. I expect little improvement in social media, it will continue to be the lowest common denominator. Another divide in this split nation is the fault line between those who consume diverse information wisely and those who hang around the sewer and/or listen only to that flavor they approve. 
     I saw CNN's Jeff Zucker mealymouth an answer about needing to do a better job. Ya, think so?  They spent much of the summer showing an empty podium with a clock counting down until the candidate who was shouting insults to races, religions and sexes took center stage. 
     It's time for the media to grow up and realize it's not about them and their addiction to hype, it's about reality, history in the making. A place to start is to look at their own archives and history, a kind of "back to the future." Election coverage was once sober, intelligent, issue focused. The last few cycles have been more about the horse race and personality and look at what our choices were.
     Users, even some of you gentle readers, get out of the echo chamber! Watch, listen to, read and consume a wider and even conflicting stream of information. The little visual at the top of the post is simply to suggest that beyond television and radio there are an infinite number of places once can find information. The internet is home to many real news sites, as well as those that are fake or fronts. There are many magazines and journals, research reports from think tanks and universities, and a multitude of newspapers and newsletters and pod casts. If you are paying attention to only one or two sources you are under informed. If you watch only a network that represents your take, you are not informed.
      There is no "post-truth." If it is not true, it is a deception!
   See you down the trail.

Monday, November 14, 2016

SLO Vibes and A Time to "Know"

     The annual Monarch migration gets us moving south to Pismo Beach.
    We were lucky to spot a couple of the beauties in individual profiles.
   A zoom catches them in clusters.

    Spotting scopes provide a close up look.

 Photo through scope by Katherine Cochrun

   After the butterfly viewing the beach is a great stop.

   A look in at Avila is always a great scene
    As is picturesque Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo
   Spotted in downtown SLO, a new experience in barber shops.

quieting the disquieting 
     The President-elect is getting positive response to his interview on CBS's 60 Minutes. Gone was the bombast and shrill and in its place was a subdued and even more pensive man.
     He is backing away from several things he preached on the campaign trail. He reflected on the good chemistry he and President Obama established, was emphatic in saying he "did not want to hurt" Hillary Clinton, acknowledged his part of a nasty campaign and said his "life has changed" and is now about something "more important than anything he has done" before.
     On hearing reports of incidents inspired by things he said he looked into the camera directly and told his supporters to stop it. But he's drawing severe criticism for appointing his campaign executive Steve Bannon to be an advisor. Bannon is the mogul at Breitbart, the right wing source of white supremacist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and hate articles. It is a cluster point for the worst of the domestic terror groups.
     Teachers and principals in several schools across the country report incidents since last Tuesday. A 10 year old girl was grabbed on the vagina by a boy who said he could do it "because the president did." In Royal Oak Michigan middle school students began chanting "Build a Wall, Build a Wall."
In Woodland Hills California a Muslim girl's head scarf was ripped off by a boy who called her a "towel head" and said she should be deported. White students called black students "cotton pickers." There has been rash of similar reports coast to coast.

An Episcopal Church in Brown County Indiana
 vandalized this weekend

a baseball diamond in Wellsville New York
vandalized this week

     Horrible things were said in the last year and some of his comments drew alt right extremists out of the shadows. He can't take back the irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric but in the 60 Minutes interview it seemed he was sincere in telling those responsible for the reprehensible incidents to knock it off. The Bannon appointment is a kind of political payoff, but it was a bad move and seems in defiance to his promise to govern for all.
     He told 60 Minutes those thousands who have taken to the streets to protest his election should give him a chance. He said they don't really "know him."
     We are about to learn a lot more and so is he.

     See you down the trail.