Thursday, January 28, 2016


The Donald
Nature's perverse humor
      I keep searching the side of the political coverage scenes, looking for a flash of Joel or Ethan Coen or George Clooney. Seeing them smirking around the edges of the political swamp would bring relief, this is all a joke.
    Warning bells are ringing. No less a traditionalist than conservative and Republican David Brooks laments and pleads for sanity arguing that neither Trump nor Cruz can be elected, he hopes.  Ditto for Sanders. They are not stable he argues so America will not take them on as long term companions. But the venerable Mr. Brooks is not convinced so he says he will spend the next few months in denial. He's not alone in the GOP, the Gagging Old Party.
    It's now an old joke-TV News has become all Trump all the time. There's far too much truth in that. It's the funny pages moved to the front page. The freak show moved to the big top. Donald is so colorful the modern journos can't help themselves.
    Ah, but they can.
Rachel pounds Flint 
    As so much of the media universe was making silly over the entirely over rated politically active Iowans and Donald Vs. Megyn, or basking in the annual Super Hype, Rachel Maddow did something different-real journalism. Like her or not, approve or disapprove of her tilt, she had the presence of mind and conscience to focus a big media light on an  unbelievable American disaster. 
    The story of lead contamination of 100 thousand Americans, including 9,000 children is symbolic of how broken, morally bankrupt and politically corrupt this nation can be. The story of Flint is something you'd expect in Russia or North Korea.
    Her town hall meeting was a tangible and credible effort at understanding yes, but also a beginning pursuit of doing something about it. Honestly, Flint is a helluva lot more important than the Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire Primary and the clown car media carnival they have fostered. And more honesty-crumbling infrastructure is not the exclusive problem of Flint.  How wide spread might it be? If you really want to know, pull up a map and begin counting every major city in America. When you've counted them all you'll have your answer.
   The modicum of good news in this post is the picture above. Moisture and green, in California. It hasn't been easy.
    We are sorry El Nino has produced serious problems elsewhere, but here on the California coast and into the high Sierra we are getting relief from four years of drought. Nothing is back to normal yet, but it is getting better. Lakes are no longer bone dry and the mountain snow pack is healthy. We have several more weeks in this rainy season and we are grateful for the additional moisture on the way.
       By the time the political circus comes to town out here our lovely green may have begun to fade into our golden season. The June primary here will be the end of the preliminaries and the eve of the national conventions. In the last few years the conventions have been nothing more than television programs, a sort of perverted telethon. There has been nothing to decide, so the delegates gather to party and offer up platitudes. This year could be a bit different.  We'll see. And how I hope I see the Coen's.

     See you down the trail.

Monday, January 25, 2016


     Regular readers may recall Chef Giovanni of Harmony Cafe and his ability to delight all. Giovanni has moved from Harmony California, population 18, to Main Street, Cambria. He brought along the culinary magic.
        These, from his current monthly lunch menu, are examples.
    At the top the polenta and wild boar ragout with lentils. Just above is the sausage burger and cannellini beans.
  As you may discern after study of this recent lunch menu, making decisions here are a challenge. He tells me he stays up late thinking of new offerings. 
 Chef Giovanni has moved into Cambria's famed Pewter Plough Playhouse, decorated with caricatures by the New Yorker's late Al Hirschfeld. 
   True to Cambria's bohemian and art colony nature, the unique wooden tables are the creations of craftsman David Plumb who is a singer and minstrel extraordinaire'.  
  We share this with trepidation. Locals enjoy the masterful and inventive culinary skills and time to chat with Giovanni, a delightful character. When foodies discovered his location in rustic Harmony we found ourselves sharing it with those who came from LA, San Francisco and further afield. But great is great, so if you get to California's central coast, Cafe Harmony at the Pewter Plough is guaranteed to be an authentic joy.
    In a future post we'll tease you a bit with some of his homemade dessert and coffee creations and his garden patio.
   After seeing Beasts of No Nation I told friends that all of us, everyone, regardless of politics or belief, should be held accountable for something that has been reported but largely ignored, the weaponizing of children. 
     It happens in many places, but director Cary Fukanaga tells the story of an African orphan turned into a solider by a charismatic commander played masterfully by Idris Elba. Elba's performance is cited as being ignored by the Academy Awards nomination process. It's a shame there's no category for first time roles. Abraham Attah, the young Ghana native  who plays the orphan is extraordinary. His final monologue, as he relates to a therapist what he had endured changing from a gentle boy who prayed regularly and loved his family to a hardened killer is both a chilling and haunting performance. Tragic reality undergirds this difficult but important film.
     Straight Outta Compton, posted previously, achieves something important as well that I failed to note. It provides a sense of the life that explains better than any politician, professor or activist why young blacks can grow up with an attitude about police and the larger society. Though some will bristle, as they did at the time, NWA was justified to have the anger and frustration they spoke so boldly.
     Revenant is an epic. Its scale as story, production and ultimately as a film is huge and overwhelming. I understand why DiCaprio has been nominated. His work is phenomenal. However, in my estimation at least, Eddie Redmayne's performance in The Danish Girl is even better. Redmayne shows more diversity, range and complex emotion than did Di Caprio, as good as he was as a frontier scout fighting for survival. 
      In the last analysis the Oscars come down to something more than mere performance. Politics, culture and money are involved and DiCaprio's film is larger in all ways. That could make a difference. So too the fact Redmayne won last year for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking.  
      After all, the Oscars are not about curing disease, winning wars, ending oppression, bringing justice or anything earth shattering.  They are professional awards given by an industry where the bottom line is just that-commerce.

     See you down the trail.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


    Something is amiss in Hollywood and friction over the Oscar nominations is the smoke signal.
     The make-believe world of the film industry cannot use special effects to escape a few painful realities. Debate over to or not to boycott this years Academy Award presentation is  one plot turn. Another is will the Academy do something about its award deciding process?
      The Academy is made up of Branches, relating to the various skills and crafts of film making; directing, acting, cinematography, writing, design, editing, and etc. Membership comes only through a sponsor and though the Academy is private about who belongs, an LA Times investigation revealed statistics that show it is a predominately white male organization. Some say the representation of male and female membership is roughly equivalent to the percentage of people working in film, but there's no way to be sure. Even that however does not speak to a couple of other story lines.
       The film industry itself is a largely white enclave notably in the film studios and leadership, and mostly male as well. As George Clooney noted recently the current debate about the whiteness of this year's nominees goes mostly to the lack of African American talent but says little about Hispanic under representation that Clooney says is another problem.
       Close to the core of this friction is a legitimate debate-Many believe the Oscars should recognize achievement and not be about pushing for diversity. It is an award, not social engineering. That's touchy in this age of racial sensitivity and lingering racism. It's even touchier when one consider the majority of Academy voters are white and male. True, the Academy is the private club of an already self indulgent professional culture so in a theory, one can argue, they can run the club house however they wish. But this is the 21st Century and we know about colonialism, imperialism, feudalism, racism and bias. And after all who makes the industry important? Movie goers! The fans are the ultimate power here. 
         Though we are marketed to, hyped, pitched and hustled we decide fates and fortunes by deciding to watch or not. If we are more than white males, it would follow what we get should be about more than white males. And that is true, but the disconnects exists.
        Personally, I can't understand why Will Smith did not get a nomination for his courageous role in Concussion-based on  a real character who too was brave and historic. As I watched Straight Outta Compton I wondered why Oshea Jackson, Jason Mitchell or Corey Hawkins were not considered for supporting actor roles. I have yet to see Beasts of No Nation, but people whom I respect say Idris Elba was excellent in his role.
         Nothing against those who have been nominated. I've seen most of the nominees and indeed there has been masterful work. But I have to wonder if there were more women, more men and women of color in the process of selecting and eventually electing the winners, would we see more diversity.  I think so.
        The end of this drama is to be written. Will we see a large scale boycott? Will Chris Rock emcee or boycott? If he works, how will he handle the issue? Will a presenter or a recipient do a Marlon Brando?  Will viewers shun the telecast?  Will commercial sponsors show guts?  Could an ad agency advise a big sponsors to tailor a special message respecting the quality of the nominees but lamenting the lack of diversity? Perhaps the biggest mystery is what will the Academy do about fixing what is clearly a problem in a system that bears a lot of resemblance to a plantation?
    We pause here under our blooming Jade, a sign of good luck, prosperity and friendship to congratulate our eldest on the birth of her daughter, our first grandchild. Congratulations also to our other daughter, an RN who was part of the delivery process. Everyone is doing well, including grandmother who can't stop smiling. Grandad got the news on the tennis court and had to wipe away a few tears before he got back to playing. 
     God bless that little darling and all of her generation. It gives this boomer more incentive to care about justice, fairness, peace and planetary health.

      See you down the trail.

Monday, January 18, 2016


     Anger.  The ML King Memorial speakers provoked an anger.  I was angry that a university cross culture staffer was also angry enough to rail against cultural bias.
     Angry that an African American woman student confronted the kind of racism mostly borne of ignorance. Micro aggression she called it, white boys would date her, but only in private, never in public. Insidious racism in questions about how often black students wash their hair, or did she have any thug buddies?
     Angry that a pastor who grew up near Selma and who worked in Birmingham said even all these years later "we still have work to do."
     Angry that indeed the battle is far from over. Angry that prejudice and racial intolerance are still enemies of the Republic.  Too many battles, too much suffering, too much residual poison, too much anger for too long. All of this should have been fixed decades ago.
     I wondered as speakers pointed to old enemies, that should have been vanquished, if Dr. King would not now be pointing to the enemies of economic disparity, sexual and gender discrimination as well as the kind of racism seen in police murders of black citizens, or voter registration entanglements or a Mitch McConnell saying on day one of the Obama administration his job was to prevent the president's re-election.
      Hats off to Pacifica Radio Archives for finding a "lost" Martin Luther King speech.You can link here to learn about and listen to a 1964 speech in London, just days before he received the Nobel Prize.
       By April 1967 Dr. King had grown angry. If you are interested you can hear the address delivered at historic Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, a year before he was murdered. The speech was called Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence. It is considered the most controversial speech of his life.

   Sean Penn told CBS's Charlie Rose he considered his interview with the Mexican drug kingpin a failure, because it failed to foster a wider conversation about America's own failure, the long and tired War on Drugs, being waged since the Nixon administration.
    Some have attacked Penn for doing the interview, faulting him for his lack of journalistic perspective. Penn challenges what he says is a failure in American journalism. 
     What Penn offered up in Rolling Stone was a personal piece, his experience with and his take on the drug Lord.  It was not meant to be a thorough and full examination of the Mexican cartel, its leader and his violence. It was however the first public comment from a twice escaped international fugitive in hiding. That he got him to speak, even under conditions is better than anyone else has done. Did his interview offer great illumination? Probably not, but it offered more than we knew previously. 
       It is not the kind of journalism being celebrated in the Academy Award nominated Spotlight, but it was a snapshot of a public enemy while on the run. Penn may have wished for more.  Envious journalists and embarrassed law enforcement may take their shots. Still on balance, Penn risked his own well being, displayed a curiosity and produced an honest account that on balance brought up the information level on a legitimate story. No great success perhaps, no Pulitzer winner, but neither was it a failure. At the very least Penn deserves credit for giving it a shot.

    See you down the trail.

Friday, January 15, 2016



    Lana, a decades long veteran of jigsaw puzzle work says this ditty from Liberty Puzzles is the toughest she has confronted.
    Alone and with friends she has worked much larger puzzles and with hundreds more pieces. This wood puzzle with interesting shaped cuts may be small, but mighty.
    Al Hunt is one of the last of the old boy political analysts, descending from a craft where watching and observing were the tools. Unlike most talking heads now, eager to predict or pontificate, Hunt watches and takes measure, often finding foundational facts. Hunt believes what Eric Sevareid said many years ago, you cannot predict politics.
     The other evening as a pollster and other political technicians were doing a horse race assessment and talking about likely outcomes, Hunt reminded them it was impossible to predict what could or might happen or how it could affect a race.
      Too much time and too many words are spent  handicapping outcomes. Coverage is numbers crazy, doing the simulated sports coverage of the campaign, how to win or lose the game. A lot of wordage seems motivated by career posturing or boosting a media profile. Missing in the heat is illumination or thoughtful analysis. Attention spans and historical perspective seem to suffer a deficit disorder.
      Spend a couple minutes here, time traveling to 1977 when television news analysis was indeed thoughtful and provided depth and significance. Sevareid provided this role for CBS News. You'll better know  the quality and intellect of that time and work by seeing this, Sevareid's last comment at the time of his retirement. Walter Cronkite's follow also shows us a perspective that we miss.

cow and lens
    San Simeon Creek Road, northern San Luis Obispo County, California

     See you down the trail.

Monday, January 11, 2016



An Uncertain Road
    The road to November 8 will exhaust us but this juncture of the journey hints that something is coming true. The test of the hypothesis is Trump and Sanders.
     In lectures and addresses audiences have been told of what I call a divide between the informed and the entertained. As Americans became more media dependent,  consumption of entertainment eclipsed serious information gathering, either by book, magazine, newspaper, documentaries or broadcast news, which has morphed into something less serious, more personality and ratings driven. 
     To the point, more people "follow" Kim Kardashian than President Obama. More know her than the Speaker of the House or the Defense Secretary or Scott Pelley, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer or Megan Kelly, even combined. 
      Teachers and professors thanked me for speaking of the eventual divide between those who are entertained and those who are informed.  Those who use media like fast food and those who seek intellectual nutrition. Consequently those who would be led and those who would lead.
       About Donald and Bernie-both are in their own way populists. This is not to demean followers of either candidate, but to draw a generalized comparison. People in both camps  fall outside these definitions, but they are exceptions to my rule. Both men seem to channel an anger, a resentment with the status quo. 
       Trump channels those who don't like government, worry about immigrants, fear federal over reach, are upset with gridlock and inaction. Trump, who offers no specifics but plenty of bombast is "the man." They are unlikely to look deeply into an issue, including Mitch McConnell's pledge to make government stop working and John Boehner's failure to make the House function, the nexus of gridlock and the failure to fund enforcement efforts to keep the money hustlers in check and out politics. Trump even brags about how he bought politicians.
        Sander's followers know the nature and genesis of "the problem" and agree with Bernie's articulation of the disparity and role of big money. Their anger is at the 1% precisely, investment banks and the way Congress has specifically rolled over for big money, in their individual PACs and wallets and to the influence that has been purchased by lobbyists and special interests who also write the legislation that becomes law.
"Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore"
        Both groups are angry. One is just mad and fed up in general. Their candidate offers no tangible solution. The other is studied, specific and understand what kind of legislative remedy is needed. In a very real sense these two populist movements underscore the point-entertained or informed? 
         We have become an increasingly frivolous nation, less well educated than historically, though we are certainly entertained. The nation is materialistic and consumption oriented, with little sense of history, exhibits poor critical reasoning skills, is more fragmented and with a dangerous lack of a sense of commonweal. We can be selfish and too often our religion is mean spirited, judgmental and exclusionary. Madison Avenue appears to have had more impact than Academia. Entertaining diversion trumps educational vigor.
       Traditional Republicans are sick that someone like a Donald Trump or a Ben Carson can be taken seriously when others with relevant experience, regardless of what people  think of them, can hardly move the needle.  Who are the wind in Trump's sail? The entertained.
       Hillary Clinton, a traditional, professional politician is being nudged, feeling a bit of the Bern. Like her or not she is the old fashioned pol in this fight. Who are the people empowering Sanders? The informed.
       Sure, there are informed followers in the Clinton camp as there are in the supporters of Bush, Christy, Paul, Fiornia, Kasich.  The sad joke however is Republicans are now reaping McConnell and Boehner's influence and that of the Tea Party. Recent Republican strategy has so empowered evangelicals, freedom caucus wackos, conspiracy theorists, birthers and the one issue mouth breathers they now have an orange haired, impolite, hate mongering, ego freak of a  clown running strong. Scary stuff when low information voters can also do more than pose for all of those weird Walmart shopper photos.
      There's a lot to be said for being informed, even if it requires using the brain and bumping up against hard questions, complex issues, challenges and difficulties that elude simple solutions or rehearsed sound bites. Gaining knowledge and being informed is not a simple as sitting and staring.
      Being upset with the way things are is a good thing. It's a start. Ideas need to follow.
     History is a relentless scribe, though it could be such a nurturing companion if we were but to embrace it.

    See you down the trail.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


      Shades of Edgar Allen Poe or the Mystery Writers of America.
   These guys are the "power crew."
      Free flight
     A congress gathers.
    The right wing…
    The left wing
   Hey, I'm talking to you.
   We had to chuckle when one of the meathead/terrorists in Oregon took the money they raised, went to town and burned the cash on booze and a motel.
    What they've done is an act of sedition. It behoves us all to study up on their alleged "grievances." They are losers, free loaders and want to be further subsidized by tax payers. Their sense of history and knowledge of government is lacking. They complain about government but gladly have taken subsidies and are trying to raise cattle  at a 93% lower rate than say ranchers in my neighborhood or anywhere else in the west. Meatheads!
     Not sure what the Feds will eventually do with these domestic terrorists. As Stephen Colbert said the other night-leave them alone as they invite all other militias to share their isolated wilderness compound in the dead of winter. What better place could there be. Now if only Quentin Tarantino could direct their final act.

   See you down the trail.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


  Creeks and waterways are beginning to resemble their old selves again. The vaunted El Nino has been producing rain in California, including on the drought stricken Central Coast.
 Driving in the rain in California is akin to driving in snow or on ice elsewhere. Since rain is about the only diversion from sunshine and blue skies in most of California, rain is a big story.
    But after four years of drought, every drop is a cause celeb.
   Here on the Central Coast, half way between LA and San Francisco, it looks as though we are in for a week of rain, with a few hours between cells that allow the ground to soak it up.
   Back in Indiana we never gave much thought to rain, unless it was ruining a picnic, ball game, wedding or etc. due in large part to the fact there is so much rain. Here it is a seasonal oddity and some people and most animals are frightened by it. Really!
   So we begin with the end, before the tail, or tale.
 Joy, on the left and Hemingway are young enough to have missed what a California Central Coast winter is like. All they know is the abnormally warm and dry winters of the past couple of years. So this year, cooler temperatures and rain have them in a dither.
  Because of allergies, they spend their time on the deck and porch and in the garden on the hill. They sleep in the garage.
     To help them through their first real winter and recognizing their love for boxes, Lana made a Cat Condo. They've taken to it. The connecting "door" allows cuddling.
   Hemingway was perturbed I disturbed his nap for a photo op.
   Nighty night!

   See you down the trail.

Monday, January 4, 2016


   At dinner the other evening our friend Jill Turnbow, an actor and director said the Academy might as well hand out the Best Actor Oscar now to Eddie Redmayne.  She's right. 
   We see a lot of films and it is hard to imagine how anyone can top the job Redmayne did in the DANISH GIRL
   His portrayal of Dr. Stephen Hawking won him the Oscar last year in a performance of a lifetime-that is until he portrays Einer Wegener a Danish landscape painter who becomes Lili Elbe in one of the first sex change operations.
    As Einer and then as Lili, Redmayne is extraordinary and that word is hardly sufficient. So much of the emotional story is portrayed in his face, his looks and takes and hesitations. His eyes are an acting force unto themselves. 
    There is a contemporary political charge to the story set in the 1920's. Redmayne's acting and that of Alicia Vikander as his wife Gerda reveal the psychological trauma of transgender  metamorphosis. It is a pivot in life fraught with unimaginable torment and distress. Still this is a love story that at least stretches if not redefines love. Vikander as the wife who looses her husband but who still loves the person creates a cinematic allegory that all of us can learn from. Oh how I wish narrow-minded and judgmental self appointed moralists would open their minds the slightest sliver to see and take in the truly human dimension of those who suffer as Wegener did.
      At least we no longer declare transgender people insane and we may be gaining a better sensitivity. Redmayne and Vikander under director Tom Hooper (The Kings Speech and Les Miserables) offer extraordinary testament to the human saga. And Redmayne creates a role that must be seen to know sheer genius and acting as a force of nature.
   Cinema as Truth
     It is a wonder the film CONCUSSION was made. If only a portion of what we read is true, the NFL and its henchmen and minions have done what they can from allowing this moment of truth to sneak out of their dark empire. What we read is true, of course and the NFL has finally come to grips with the fact their "game" is causing its players to loose their minds, health and lives.
    Will Smith deserves a nomination for his portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who made the link of serial concussions to the brain disease that was driving former NFL players into madness, despair, violence and suicide.The condition is CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) This is all true, though the NFL did everything they could to discredit Omalu, his research and the work of others.
    "This is not medicine, this is business" is a line from the film at a time when Omalu and a former team doctor confront an NFL medical representative. It is a huge business and if there is science that links the serial head jarring of football to later CTE the impact would be/will be massive. From pee-wee leagues to the pros, players are subjected to force that leads to a disease state. The statistics are staggering, though the NFL tried to cover it up.  Their settlement with the players, after years of denial and lies, further seals the information on what they knew about concussions and when they knew it.  
     Full disclosure here; I watch professional football. I have worked and socialized with active and retired NFL players and executives. I've had professional contact with a couple of NFL owners. With the exception of the owners, the men I know are good guys, competitors, athletes and are driven. Some players are thugs, criminals and tolerated because of their talent. Good guys or thugs the bottom line is money-big money. Players have a small window and know they will likely end up with ailments and thus want to earn as much as they can for using their bodies as they do. 
     Despite the spin they blather, the owners are rich men and women who extort money from cities for stadium and concession deals, who covet the big TV money, and are not above lying or heavy handed tactics to protect their pile of money. Even bigger money is their bottom line, adding to their pile despite who gets hurt, fired or trampled in the process. Truth is not a part of their modus operandi, as they have proven time and time again. 
    Albert Brooks, who is brilliant as Pittsburgh Coroner Cyril Wecht, says the "NFL owns one day of the week, a day that used to belong to the church." There is no doubt Americans love professional football. It follows then that all of us bear a responsibility in the spread of CTE and the pain and death it leads to. 87 former NFL players, now deceased tested positive for CTE. Those 87 are out of 94 who's brains were tested. The research is still in it's infancy. Imagine where this will go. 4,500 former players have sued the NFL.
     Former stars, Mike Webster, Terry Long, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson committed suicide. It was the horrible fall from fame into a life of darkness of Pittsburgh's iron man and community hero Mike Webster in 2002 that started Dr. Omalu on this trail. What did the NFL know before that? We'll likely never know because their commissioner and his masters, the team owners sealed the information as part of a package settlement. 
     CONCUSSION is a good film with moments of uplift and faith. It is also a speaking of truth to power. In this case the power is the NFL and in this role it is a powerful force of evil and greed.
      Will Smith, Albert Brooks, David Morse as Mike Webster, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alec Baldwin turn in great performances, but are also courageous for taking the roles in this very important film.
   See you down the trail.