Thursday, August 28, 2014


    The incident in Arizona is tragic. A shooting instructor is dead and a 9 year old girl must live the rest of her life with the trauma of having killed a man. Tragic yes, but avoidable and criminally stupid.
     There is something repugnant.  Pay a couple hundred dollars and go from your hotel in Vegas to a shooting range where your child is given a chance to handle serious and obviously deadly weapons and then finish with hamburgers?Bullets and Burgers! Has the All American vacation come to this? What impression does that leave on a young mind?
     Having used an Uzi and knowing the kind of power it possesses, I think it should never be put into the hands of a child for commercial purposes. I've been instructed by FBI firearms instructors and US Army trainers and state police trainers and know from personal experience that lethal weapons are meant to be handled and used in ways other than at a tourist shooting range where sissy or junior can fire away and eat a hamburger before going back to that cultural bastion of Las Vegas.
      A friend wrote yesterday she thinks the parents should be charged with manslaughter. Maybe so. But certainly age limits should be imposed or perhaps the operation shut down entirely.
   That is smoke above the camp chairs, drifting into the 70 degree plus late morning temperature. It comes from the  fire ring located immediately adjacent to bone dry grassland scrub near a forest suffering the third year of a drought. I can think of no sane reason the state of California permits open fires. That is more so during summer, especially in drought years.  A careless act or a wayward ember could create a disastrous consequence.  It happens.  
   I've enjoyed camp fires in California parks, but during winter, near a stream or the Pacific and never in a drought.  Even then I thought the practice was foolish, deep in a forest or under majestic redwoods. The potential consequence is simply too much for a practice fraught with carelessness, inexperience and hazards. 
    Stupidity stalks us when you see a cigarette butt on a dry and dusty trail.  It is rude when people drop butts in public places, but it is idiocy A) to smoke on a trail and B) to drop a butt near tinder like scrub in a drought.  Duh! How can anyway not see the folly in that?  As is obvious this offender failed even to stomp and mash the butt to assure no hot ash could be left to create a fire.

     Indianapolis Raceway Park in the '70's.  There was a time I'd jump at any chance to get in any racing machine.
    On this day we were running hot laps, going for speed with no one else on the track. That was probably a good thing.

     See you down the trail.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


     The former senior resident inspector at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant believes the plant should be shut down until it can prove that it can withstand an earthquake along the newly discovered Shoreline fault. The plant is  90 minutes down the coast from the scenes below.
     California Senator Barbara Boxer plans hearings to examine the earthquake risks at Diablo Canyon. The AP reports Boxer says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is failing to do its job to protect public safety.  The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports the NRC says it "does not have a  timeline" for its response to the inspector's criticism.
    News organizations report intelligence officers are close to identifying the masked jihadist seen speaking in a video of the beheading of American Journalist James Foley.
     Sophisticated analytical technology has driven the search. In an irony of life the super sleuthing and spy systems, invasive as they are, are tools needed in a world of terror.
      Protecting freedoms and lives in the shadow world is tricky going. It takes a continuous attention to the thin and often permeable line of balance. What may be needed in espionage and intelligence may not look so good in the light of day. A sense of history, judgement and wise oversight is mandatory
       In 1993 my daughter Katherine read The Giver, the newly published Lois Lowry book about a seeming utopia. The book gained attention then as the utopia of the overview was revealed to be a dystopian state where people were medicated daily to eliminate emotions and where others were killed though the euphemism was "released to "Elsewhere."
       Back then Jeff Bridges was so taken by the story he turned it into a home movie staring his father Lloyd. Now Bridges himself stars as the wizened Giver, the holder of wisdom and history, in the Philip Noyce directed film.  
       I watched the film with my daughter and we discussed how 21 years later the idea of finding a balance where negative emotions and behavior could be controlled for the greater good is still a vexing question. "Nanny state" laws and regulations, preemptive policing, an increasingly medicated populace, an almost ubiquitous surveillance, algorithmic data capture and analysis, political influence of financial interests and etc eerily echo the Lowry premise as well as Orwell's more profound 1984. 
      The Giver transfers beautifully to film, populated by good acting.  Meryl Streep is haunting as a ruling elder. Katie Holmes turns in a solid though limited role as a mother. Newcomers Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush and Cameron Monaghan are all excellent.  Monaghan has already earned acclaim as one of the sons in the dysfunctional family drama Shameless.
     Though published as a young adult novel, the 2014 spin of The Giver makes for an entertaining sci-fi posing challenging questions about balance and how much is too far? Not unlike how far do democracies go to protect liberty?  How invasive do we become before we violate what we set out to protect?
      There is nothing good in the IS. Islamic State is a dangerous menace to a modern world. Disturbingly they are tenacious, manipulative, effective and should be broken and then destroyed. Eliminating an evil like IS will raise hard questions for the world's modern nations, especially democracies.

  And taking his or her place amongst the pelicans, cormorants and gulls is a heron.

   Our cats sleep around.  They'll find a spot, settle in and then in a couple of days, maybe a week,  they move on.  It never ceases to amaze us where they find a bed.  Joy rests here on a box of oil paints tucked at the back of a work desk in Lana's studio.

   See you down the trail.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


     Growers in the Paso Robles Appellation have already begun harvest, earlier than normal.  The drought and weather seems to have rushed the calendar, but the crop is expected to be extraordinary.
   The Brix level, the amount of sugar in the fruit, is reportedly very good and that leads to a better wine. 
    Many vineyards "dry" farm, which causes the roots to extend deeper into the soil, that also produces a better fruit.  Some varietals need water, so the drought has forced some irrigation, still the overall report is the 2014 harvest
in Paso will produce extraordinary wine.  Cheers to that!
     The good nature and spirit of friends make sure we note the click of yet another year.
     Though other plans kept me from this gathering at Sebastians, our Friday Lunch Flash Mob was full of good cheer and well wishes.  Sorry I missed those brownies!  Thanks to our "hostess" and wonderful friend Jeanie for the photo.
     We were able to enjoy the American Provence' with dear and sweet friends.
      A dinner and concert with former Hoosiers Griff and Jacque gave us a chance to marvel again at the extraordinary music talent residing here on the central coast.
   This is an aggregation of talent that has individually toured or recorded with the Steve Miller Band, Carol King, Diana Ross, Tower of Power, Eric Clapton, Smokey Robinson, Diane Shurr, Inga Swearingen, Marvin Hamlish and others. Most of them are also composers and their music has scored TV and film.  
    Though you can't see Diane Steinberg-Lewis, her music has been recorded by Natalie Cole and Cleo Lane.  She was also the original Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds in the Robert Stigwood production of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  On this night, she, Kenny Lee Lewis, Danny Pelfry, Ken Hustad, and Dean Giles were producing a new video. A special birthday gift for this boomer.
    And there was a poignant moment that provided a profound perspective reality check.  I chatted with a friend who also worked in the video and media business. I met him 7 years ago when we came to the central coast.  A couple of years ago we learned he faced a serious health challenge. Last evening he told me that his doctors had missed something and he had just been told that he is likely to be gone by October.  He said he would like to be awake at his death, though that is not likely, given his illness. In the meantime he is making the most of the days he has left, traveling when he can, watching his daughter who was the guest artist for a couple of numbers last night and he prepares.
      That afternoon I was interviewed and engaged in a  conversation with an eminent author/theologian from San Francisco. She is now in recovery from lung cancer. A non-smoker who was surprised by the diagnosis last year, she has endured chemo, radiation and surgery and is learning with live with the affects and altered lifestyle.
       On this day when my mother brought her eldest into the world, I am grateful for health, family, friends and the wonder of life.  Speaking with Paul and Mary and my prayers for them were gifts of another sort, and of exquisite and priceless value.  My birthday wish is that we all enjoy and celebrate each day. Life is precious. 
Look carefully

   See you down the trail.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Pedneault
    Executed by an IS jihadist, American journalist James Foley is the most recent to die while pursuing news.
   Faces of journalists killed in the line of duty.  Below is the memorial wall at the Newseum in Washington D.C.
   Most give very little thought to the dangers encountered by those who work to keep us informed.  We are in their debt.
      In critiquing the performance of the police in Ferguson Missouri, Norm Stamper the former police chief in Seattle told the LA Times the first thing he thought when he saw the images was "When will we ever learn?", the lines from the Pete Seeger song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary.
     He said he was thinking, "please learn from my mistakes." Stamper made a few when his force was vilified for the way they over reacted to the WTO protests in 1999. The incident spawned books and movies.
     Scenes like those in Ferguson are familiar to many of us. If you are old enough you remember police dogs and fire hoses being turned on civil rights protesters and the media by police and sheriffs in the south in the 1960's.  Most infamous perhaps was racist Bull Connor in Birmingham Alabama.
      The 1967 Kerner Commission report on the spate of riots and violence in American cities concluded that frustration at lack of economic opportunity was the powder keg.
      In that same era I covered protests, street violence and police thuggery.  In 1968 the Walker Report called the action of the Chicago Police Department a "police riot" during the Democratic National Convention.
      I've been tear gassed, and bullied by police, knocked out by flag pole in a scuffle between anti war and pro war demonstrators and I've seen protests from Washington to conflict zones in Central America, the Middle East and Africa. There was a time when it seemed police had learned, as Norm Stamper did, though in his case after the fact.
      Ferguson reminds us there is still a long way to go. There are a few simple things that can happen immediately-
       ---police need to remember that a peaceable assembly to protest is a guaranteed freedom.  And protesters need to remember the good lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King-peaceful protest or civil disobedience, which will precipitate likely arrest, but in a peaceful way.
       ---As Stamper said "don't tear gas non violent and non threatening protesters and for God's sake don't bring dogs out…it's a throw back to Bull Connor."
       ---Stamper and others who are experts in law enforcement and security also decry the militarization of local police departments.  They look like army units, ready for invasion. Maybe there's a place for that, but it's not in an emotionally tinged protest over questionable use of lethal force. Pointing loaded weapons, that look like instruments of war, at unarmed civilians is stupid and dangerous. It is a scene you'd expect from Syria, Russia or someplace other than the American heartland.
       I've accompanied police on armed drug raids, waited hours with SWAT officers in highly charged hostage sieges, and seen officers, including friends, gunned down in shoot outs. I've been there as folded flags that draped a coffin were presented to grieving wives and children.  It is dangerous work they do, but that is no excuse to trample liberties, rights or to abuse people who have committed no crime. Restraint is required on both sides of the line and the same goes for the media.  In our case, the media, we need to remember proportionality and perspective. The sun needs to rise on reason.

    In normal circumstances this wetland and pond would be alive with birds.

   See you down the trail.

Monday, August 18, 2014



    As regards Ferguson Missouri-
          --The right to assemble peacefully does not include looting and vandalism.
          --Targeting media is stupid and could be criminal.
          --Some say the media should ignore protests. When masses of people and armed, militarized police mix, someone needs to watch.
          --Media presence cannot help but influence or charge a situation, but what is the alternative?
          --A predominately African America community with a predominately white police department does not make sense.
          --Local police agencies have become increasingly armed and militarized.  Homeland Security and other federal funding for the weapons and arms industry is partially to blame.
         --Many, if not most, police agencies need better training and preparation of officers to deal with civil disturbance, protests, crowd control and general social skills.
         --Police work is not military work. The US has troubles on this point.
         --Demonstrators and protesters should remain civil, non violent and need to better control themselves.
        --Hoodlums, thugs, thieves and criminals always take advantage of social discord on this scale.
         --The level of violence in America is troubling, not understood and a search for understanding of root causes is long overdue.
     The HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY is as delicious and entertaining as we expected.  Again Helen Mirren is masterful. There is a scene where she merely arches an eyebrow and nods her head and it is as though she could change the course of rivers. Manish Dayal as young chef Hassan is superb and shows enormous potential as does Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite. It is impossible to see and hear this French ingenue and not think "precious." Vetran Om Puri as Pappa can do more with an expression or his voice than most. He's a delightful foil to Mirren.
      Lasse Hallstrom has created a beautiful entertainment and homage to food. You'll leave entertained, feeling good and hungry.
      While some make it a sport to trash Woody Allen films, the man is a brilliant director, writer and his ear for music is among the best. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is a case in point. So start with that, add the beauty of the south of France, set it in the late 20's with jazz and wardrobe from the era, add an intelligent, light and playful examination of God, faith and spiritual mediums, turned by Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, and Eileen Atkins and you've got a great 97 minutes.  It's especially great if you like that era of jazz. 
      Firth's performance is worth the ticket alone as a pompous, rationalist who falls under the spell of a gorgeous Stone.  This is fun, pretty, superbly directed and told and is a perfect date night film.
Paso Robles
   Paso Robles appellation wines are are known around the world.  Rapidly, the regions olive oil makers are becoming the favorite of chefs and home kitchen culinary artists. 
  Today's post presents scenes from this year's Olive Festival in the park in Paso Robles. 

      It is getting as difficult to choose between great olive oils as it is great wines.  A lovely dilemma here in the American Provence'.

       See you down the trail.