Thursday, October 30, 2014


   Change can be proscribed even expected or not! Sometimes nothing is ever the same.
    A telling face of the California drought is Lake Isabella in the southern Sierra Nevada. The 11 thousand acre lake sits where the north and south forks of the 
 Kern River meet in Kern County outside Bakersfield.  The reservoir can hold 586 thousand acre feet of water. It is a fraction of that.

   The recreational activity has been devastated. 

  However fishermen find an advantage in their search, as do the
   campers who have the diminished lake to themselves. Those small white spots are RV's
   From the high Sierra, through the central valley and to the coast, Californians need rain and live with the consequence.
  The amount of water is a concern, but something this seaside mountain village suffers no shortage is opinion.
   We're electing Community Service District board members. The Cambria Community Service District (CCSD) is "government" in this unincorporated village. Roads, public space, water and sewage are under CCSD care. Nominally the board oversees the function of the professional staff who in turn manage utilities and crews.
    Three years of drought now fuel the latest chapter in a decades long battle over water sources, village size and the protection of nature including the rare Monterey Pine forest. The election has prompted a water paranoia but that is not without some value. California's Governor Brown asked everyone to reduce water use by 20%. Cambrians are as ingenious and caring as they are opinionated. The village has reduced use by as much as 30-40%. 
     This new "water sensitivity" reveals how gallons can be saved or recycled. But while they do it, Cambrians grumble. Catching sink or bathwater and carrying buckets to irrigate landscaping or flush toilets is not what people want to do. Nor has this village of gardeners been anything but distressed by the toll of drought and restriction on their hobbies and passion.  
     Enter the "blue shirts" who have upped the ante in the old fight. They remind the village of the 1990's twist in the tale. Cambrians for Water (C4 H20) rally to support two incumbent members of the board by remembering  how a previous board had hooked up funding and the permitting for a desalination operation until a recall election tossed the board members and reversed the desal plans. This new group, an amalgam of residents, lot owners and business people have taken to wearing blue shirts bearing C4 H20. They've begun speaking at CSD meetings, writing letters to the editor, campaigning for the incumbents and working to marginalize and even vilify the opposition. The blue shirts say the challengers are only a vocal minority of "no growthers" or environmentalists who are, in part at least, responsible for the lack of water.
    The challengers and their supporters are an amalgam of another sort. They are activists who have challenged rate hikes, residents upset by the manner in which the CCSD board has functioned, people who believe the advent of a desalination plant would be a green light to development, environmentalists who seek to protect the forest and/or natural habitat, and citizens who put a greater value on the needs of residents than the needs of tourists and the businesses that do the commerce with them.
     The lines are not always clearly drawn and there are those with even conflicting values. No one doubts the need for water and most admit to being worried about it. Saying you are "for" water implies others are not, which is a bit disingenuous. It appears to me the difference is over the means by which to get and/or protect the resource and the length and cost to which to go to do so. But it is a season when people are not inclined to search for agreements, so they've divided and have aligned with candidates who share their view or something close to it. It is the practice of electoral politics, though in a village. And it is a village where everyone is rather convinced of the rightness of their own view.
     People here are, or have been, decision makers, leaders,   successful in careers. Cambrians are literate, studied, individualists, achievers, committed, active, eccentric and thus produce a rich field of opinions. The official population is around 6,000, but fewer year round residents. It is very much like a big high school.
     The incumbents have approved the building and financing of an emergency water system (EWS) utilizing a desalination of brackish water and treated waste water that has been pumped back into the ground and reprocessed. The blue shirts like this and want to return the two to the board of five. Cost of the EWS is estimated between $9-$13 million.
     The challengers question the escalating estimated costs and the delays in the operation date. They criticize the inconsistency of CCSD actions. (The board began by saying they wanted to allow more water hook ups so there could  be more home building, then observed a water emergency and imposed restrictions on use while they allowed a 24/7 pumping from a community well for use on gardens, some of that water was even commercialized, then it declared emergency levels in the wells and stopped the give-away and warned the community could run out of water.) One of the challengers questions the, wisdom, business practices and transparency of decisions. Another says current residents should come first, he opposes much growth and wants to see the approved forest management plan funded and put into effect.
     In a broader context it is also a battle between those who favor growth and building and those who oppose changes that will require more water or impact on the forest and nature. There are some who want to maintain the village pretty much as it is. Others want to sell or develop lots and build up the population. The state has said growth will be limited until a new water source is in place. Is the emergency treatment plant just for droughts and crisis or will it morph into a permanent operation? At what cost? That too is a dividing line. Is the water for residents, or tourists or how do you achieve a balance that is fair and equitable? That is another demarcation. Should the board use emergency water system funds to pay for a hired mouth piece? There's a lot of choosing sides in a village where interaction cuts across social groups, clubs, tennis, lawn-bowling and pickle ball courts, service organizations, coffee shops, supermarket, farmers market, the board walk, hiking trails, dog park, beach and the drug store.
      And there are all of those opinions and expertise. It's been a little loud. It's been a little touchy and we are finally near the home stretch for the November election, ironically a couple of days after the new brackish water desal emergency system is supposed to start delivering water.
     My bias is toward sustainability and affordability.  Several years ago my daughter Katherine launched my conversion to belief in sustainability. It is the only practical way forward. This village needs to determine what sustainability means in this area given to historic droughts. I advocate for a better system of rainwater diversion and capture, implementation of home gray-water conversion systems, long term large scale storage. We should explore systems of fog harvesting as we are blessed with an abundance of marine fog. Those would help, but they alone are not solutions. Figuring it out will take the hard work of determining what vision of Cambria we pursue. How large is big enough, how much water will that require, what will it cost, how do we pay to manage the forest, how important is the forest, what makes Cambria unique, how do we achieve a balance between all of the opinions? And I wonder, is anybody listening in such a process or are we be too busy opining?
      Ebola, ISIL, mid-term elections, the world series, and all of the other news of the day are being trumped here. I guess we have chosen to prioritize that which is closest to us, opinion first and foremost.

   Earlier I posted on Gary Webb's reports on the CIA involvement in importing crack cocaine to fund the Contra War as depicted in the current film, Kill the Messenger. 
   December 1987, Leon Nicaragua the largest anti government rally and demonstration since the Sandinistas took control. This was during the height of the Contra war.
That is not an ammo belt over my shoulder, rather a battery belt that fed a camera and recorder.
    Getting home for Christmas.  Arrival at Andrews Air Force Base after flying with a US Congressional Delegation that had been in Nicaragua trying to get peace talks on track.

      See you down the trail.

Monday, October 27, 2014


 Not being clever enough to know why, I've noticed that a long lens capture of people against the sea takes on what I call an "oil painting" quality or texture.
  A pixelation occurs that creates an affect as though it had been rendered by a paint brush.
   It is no doubt a technical faux pas, but I'm fond of it because it indulges my desire to oil paint.  At least it permits a "composition" to aspire to an oil.
Killing the Messenger
     Before you read on, please note this is a bit like a personal confession or a public therapy. 
     The film Kill the Messenger strikes a nerve and activates a strain of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
     The story is true and it points fingers at dishonorable behavior in a dark chapter of recent American history. San Jose reporter Gary Webb put together pieces that detailed how the CIA flooded South Central LA, and other American cities, with crack cocaine to fund the contra war in Nicaragua. 
      The Reagan administration couldn't get Congressional funding to fight the Sandinistas so they sold weapons and drugs to raise the money. Remember Colonel Oliver North and that saga? 
      In Dark Alliance, Webb broke the story, then the CIA fought back and broke Webb.
       It wasn't until later the true implication of Webb's reporting was confirmed. Sadly Webb did not live to see full vindication. He was dead from two bullets to the head, supposedly a suicide. Think about that for a moment.
      This film directed by Michael Cuesta, based on Webb's book and starring Jeremy Renner hits close to home. Webb's reporting was an active element during my own investigative and documentary work. It was the source of professional conversation and workshops. 
      After first playing the Webb revelations other media like the LA Times, Washington Post, New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN backed away and/or  turned on Webb. Media "elites" were played and manipulated by CIA spinners and deceit. The film sets the record straight and reveals duplicitous and cowardly behavior. Webb's reports and the reaction they created was something we thought a lot about back then. It is good the truth is seeing the light.
      I thought about it when I was in Nicaragua during the Contra War. But like other journalism it becomes just another episode, another old story, getting colder, being filed away in the memory bin. But Renner's portrayal awakened old memories. It is fair so called "distinguished" media enterprises are shown for their role in trashing Webb and his story. Some of the principals may even feel a sense of shame. Beyond that however, is the visceral response to the vivid depiction of the grueling challenge and emotional drain of balancing investigative reporting with family and their safety. That layer of the film hit me like a gut punch. 
       What I write here now may have no significance save to a precious few, and I hope that few, my wife, my daughters my close colleagues and their families can take a measure of why we were the way we were-our behavior, our pre-occupation, our fears. Those who put self at risk, who endured harrowing and obsessive hours, manic months, giving up pieces of lives with loved ones, did so with a belief that what we were about meant something and was important.
     We reasoned once we published or broadcast information that a legion would then care, would believe and that right or justice would ensue. The reality is something quite different. 
     Killing the Messenger plays it true. Sometimes it's like the guy who gets knocked down, and kicked in the ribs and then kicked in the face. The pursuit of an approximation of truth, of facts, of the story doesn't have a happy ending. The truth of that as revealed in the Renner film woke up old pain, heartache and self reproach. 
     As tears dried I felt a sense of grace, a gratitude for my family who braced and supported me and for the good fortune of having emerged from that life to something with hope and joy. Man, how easy it would have been to slide into deep cynicism. 
     Ben, my late friend, producer and partner in many Quixotic adventures used to say, "It's like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels good when you stop!"  We were able to stop. Some of our efforts produced change, but human kind is always up to the same old stuff and lot of what investigative reporters do has only passing effect. You learn to live with it. Some victories are short. Some never come. Webb didn't get the advantage that some of us did- to live longer lives and to take that, even if it means living with ghosts. Kill the Messenger rattles old graves.

      See you down the trail.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


   Take a hike with us on the Morgan Pass Trail in the Muir Wilderness above Rock Creek in the Sierra Nevada. At this point we are at about 9,600 feet.
   It's brisk and there is a growing breeze.
   Warnings were posted about an increase in bear activity.
In previous years we've seen only bear scat.

  As we gain altitude we get better looks at peaks in the eastern Sierra.

  Moving into open meadows the wind begins to gust.

   At this point I'm fascinated by the spire like chalk white peaks on this portion of the range.

   Getting closer to 11 thousand feet Lana puts on gloves, the temperature dips and we see patches of ice on the trail.

 We find a spot that partially blocks the wind so we can take a picnic break.
   Our view is another lake and meadow.
   Down the trail after lunch it's time for a rest. Legs and knees can use a break after a few hours of trail and the stone ledge retains the warmth of the sun.
   When we set out we didn't know we'd need to layer on
vest, over fleece, over shirts, but that's why you fill your packs for any number of eventualities.  One thing you can always count on is the sheer beauty and awesomeness of the mountains.
Photo by Lana
Walking Stick created by Moto Groove
1964 Warren Central High School Track Team.
  Hard as it may be to believe I ran the 100 yard dash, 180 yard low hurdles, a leg on the relay team and was captain of the team. Any guess on who of these lads I am?  My brother John, the high hurdler, is missing from the photo.

  See you down the trail.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


  Some think of California as LA, Hollywood, SoCal, San Francisco, freeways, beaches, show business and population.
   Many forget California is "the west."  Sure, there are eastern states where they can wear the title of "the west," but none are as western as California. I frequently see cowboys, on horseback, riding the range, tending to cattle. We have friends who are ranchers and a lot of what they do is traditional cowboy work.
    So while happy hour can be a cold beer, glass of wine or cocktail, it can also be this.

     Seeing horses on a mountain side, kicking up dust in the long slant of evening sun, I feel as though I'm in a cowboy movie-in my case it would be Billy Crystal's City Slickers!!!  

     A comment in a program about women in war launched me on a thought trail. No disrespect to that issue.  In fact I encourage viewing of  MAKERS, an excellent series on PBS, but this concept of "being a man" is stuck in my head.
      It was said it used to be the only way a male could prove his manhood was to go to war. If I were an anthropologist I might refute that historical premise. However, in our age, manhood certainly comes in many faces, roles, and iterations.
      A life of labor, providing for a family come to mind. Setting aside individual dreams to assure a quality of life for children is a very manly thing. There are countless journey's to "manhood"-living honorably, true to ideals, teaching, being a cop, staying sober, back breaking labor, medical work, emergency services, mentoring, emigrating and starting over, building, leading a church choir, driving a cab, being a lineman, editing a newspaper, plumbing, lawyering, running a business, investigating hate groups, challenging bad laws, standing up for the abused or disenfranchised, being a correspondent, philanthropy, creating, and on and on. Women do these things too and making such a point should serve to underscore how gender judging ideas like "manhood" or "womanhood" are anachronistic. Maybe it is better to think of our humanity instead.
     There is still combat, danger, crime, evil, hatred and other, perils, disasters and destruction's of life. Men and women will  respond and sometimes in heroic and sacrificial ways. I think a nation is indebted to those who go into harm's way (There is very little that is manly or womanly in the way this nation has historically responded to our service personnel. But that is another discussion. And too medical workers and journalists who endure combat or natural violence, without weapons, are rarely remembered for their service)
     Valor and courage are fine human attributes, but they can also be manifest in hard work, sacrifice, loyalty, reliability, honesty and devotion.
      We've all known good men and good women who have simply been brave in the way they have lived good lives. 
      If we can think of manhood in diverse ways, beyond the context of struggle, then maybe we can start putting down our clubs, spears, guns and bombs.
Courtesy of
    Ben Bradlee was no saint, but he was a helluva of good newspaper man. He spoke his mind, guided the Washington Post to an era of greatness, presided over the courageous Watergate coverage, was friend and confident to Presidents, an advocate of a strong and free press and an entertaining story teller.
      To generations of journalists he was a kind of patron saint, a standard bearer. 
       Ben Bradlee, 93. -30-

      See you down the trail.

Monday, October 20, 2014


  Tis the time of year when the blogosphere fills with fall color. Here's a contribution.
   Mid October in the Sierra Nevada is a treat. Providence provides a majestic palette.

   Perpetual gratitude to Ruth Armstrong who first alerted us to the wonders of the eastern slope and to Art Edis who suggested a fall color expedition in the June Lake region.
     Color hunters from around the globe share the mountain roads, lakesides and vistas in a joyful and hushed reverence. 
a divergent view
   The David Fincher film based on Gillian Flynn's well read book and powerfully written screen play is getting a lot of buzz. Fincher is a superb director and superb too are actors Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Kim Dickens. Pike's role is award nomination worthy. Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry bring a lot in their small but important supporting roles.
   Some reviews have focused on the tight intrigue and mystery while others have plumbed the portrayal of marriage, manipulative madness, deceit and how truth can be quite a relative thing.  Fincher does all of that while moving a compelling story line ahead.  All of this is good.  Some of this is serious.  The brutality and deceit are troubling.  Still I left the theatre thinking what a clever joke it had been. I don't know if that is because of Flynn's writing or Fincher's directing or my sense of things after a life in journalism.
    Gone Girl was entertaining, with an emotional ride, but in the end was a kind of satire.  Look at how silly the media, especially cable news, and stories that spark feeding frenzy mobs really are. What does it say about the media and those who consume this stuff?  Look at how mercurial are fame and reputation.  Look at how vulnerable and relative "truth" is.  Look how a clever and deceptive mind can lead police, justice and media astray. Look at what happens in relationships.  Look what is says about honesty in being who you are.  Yep, Gone Girl does all of that and I think Fincher and company did it all in such a way that at the end we really need to chuckle and perhaps shake our heads. 
     I suspect most viewers wonder what happens next. You may have your own theory. The audience at our viewing left with a range of reaction and vocally so, which I understand happens with this film. Intense, even searching drama it was, but I wonder how many may see the humor in it all?

     See you down the trail