Sunday, March 28, 2021

An American Window/Eyes of Innocence

     It's a funny business, this matter of innocence. Complex and even paradoxical. 
    I am riveted by the innocence, the state of nature, in the eyes of these elephant seal pups. I employ them here as allegory; soon they face the overwhelming challenge of what life can throw at you. Were we not all more innocent before Covid?
    Also on our mind is the window, the uniquely American window, of the President and the Press, where this matter of innocence reads itself out in revealing ways. We'll take that up later.

    Pictured here are weanlings from the Piedras Blancas rookery north of San Simeon California. These 3 or 4 month old elephant seals are "out of camp," forced to flee the rookery because of king tides, Pacific storms and overcrowding. 
    They've invaded one of our favorite sand dune beaches and, like a human chump, I've been grousing about that. Fortunately few of my specie come here and these photos were gathered using a zoom lens. 
    These innocents have bigger problems than me disturbing their naps.

    Birthing season peaks in January. Once born an elephant seal gets only a month to 5 weeks of mothering. They nurse on a milk that runs from 12% to 70% fat and grow from about 70 to 300 pounds in that month. The Friends of the Elephant Seal group has studied and protected this rookery since they migrated here from Northern California in the early '90s.
    Mom cuts the pup off after about a month and while she enters mating season the pup, now a weanling, is on his or her own.

    They live on their blubber and get nothing else to eat until they learn to hunt, which follows learning to swim, that involves learning to dive and breath and see underwater. They get no coaching and it is this time of year that life, in the form of hunger, comes calling. 

        Days of napping or hanging with buds are over and they've  got to get into the water, learn it all, and then begin forage eating as they head north. Males go to feed off the Alaskan coast, females head to northern Canada. If they survive they will return to the rookery.

    Once they are return they fast and slumber in a crowd, but while navigating the dangers of the sea, they are on their own. 
    The little guy above has no idea of what awaits. If he's lucky enough to make it back to the central coast he'll have one of the best bunks in the world-a spring fed lagoon, on the Pacific Ocean, and with a Castle view.

the president and the press

        By nature the press and the Presidency have an adversarial relationship. 
        Press freedom is enshrined in the constitution so the founders understood the value of the process. The history of the relationship is uneven, based largely on the manner of the President and/or the overwhelming events of the term. Sadly, the advent of television added the dimension of theater, performance, personality.

        The first Biden press conference was revealing and certainly a departure from the last four years. Our effort here is to examine the nature and grounding of the questions he received and suss out what it tells us about where we are.
        I watched and then viewed highlights. I studied the verbatim transcript. It is a drill of which I am experienced.  Working in radio and television I reported, edited, and analyzed Presidential news conferences starting with Lyndon Johnson.

an old news directors analysis

        In the midst of the pandemic, after the signing of a massive relief bill, historically expensive, and the announcement of doubling the goal for vaccinations, there were no questions about any of it. Surprising and telling. 
        Part of the balance in the relationship is the press assertion of "setting the agenda." I get that, but there should have been some drilling down on the number 1 crisis or issue in the world. The AP's Zeke Miller opened the foray by surfacing immigration, gun control, civil rights, climate and asking the President how far he was willing to go to keep promises.
        The nature of the question was not substantive about those issues, but about personal political action by the President, " far would he go?" That is not out of bounds, but it tilts toward politics and away from policy. The answer could be interesting, but not likely to add new information.

       In the last four years Presidential-press encounters were mostly personal and politically divisive. They were about the President and his performance in the spotlight. He spoke frequently of the "ratings!" The White House press corp now has some adjusting to do.
        The tone of some questions was off, too political, too gotcha, too gaming. It is too early too early to begin covering the 2024 campaign. Out of touch with the mood of the nation.
        A Cecilia Vega question about detention centers at the border became wrong headed when it asked "reaction to images, is what's happening inside acceptable to you and when it is going to be fixed?" Trying to get a timeline is worthwhile, but asking an obvious question about his personal reaction takes us to the personality matter, again, and away from the issue and how can it be fixed and when. 
    The personal reaction of a President to something is not unimportant, but not as important as the nuts and bolts of issues. The personal is a hangover of a President and press that was addicted to Twitter.
        Kristin Welker took up a good cause, getting press access to the detention sites, but she used her national moment to press the President about when the administration would commit to transparency, 3 times. No questions about what are the hang ups or obstacles to getting better facilities, no discussion about the use of Fort Bliss and how that will work, are the kids being given counseling, is there any Covid on site, how are they being fed? She pressed him, theatrically, to get cameras in to see the kids. It was "Scene over Substance" and missed opportunities to get on record questions about the kid's well being.
    Nancy Cordes' political question about Republican voter suppression turned to if the president "didn't manage to pass voting rights legislation" his party would loose seats. Personal again-if "he didn't manage" when we all know it is more complicated than that. She also missed the larger issue-that voter suppression affects more than the President and his party, the most significant victims are American voters. The entirely too early question about if he's decided to run for reelection, came just 60 some days into his term. Wrong tone.
Too much reliance on the "horse race" which has dominated political coverage. There are more important matters before this nation than the next campaign.
    Kaitlan Collins asked good question about moving to eliminate the filibuster, but then brought up the reelection campaign again, a "running mate?" would he be running "against Trump?"  This at his first news conference? Too early, at best, silly, faux hard ass and irrelevant. How many of the Americans tuning in had any of that on their mind?
    Yamiche Alcindor asked about the immigration issue, straightforwardly asking how they are deciding who stays and what was the timeline for fixing the issue. In a follow up she asked directly about a filibuster rule. To the point, prompting a response on substance.
    Ken Walsh asked directly about the May 2nd deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. He followed directly, "will there be troops there next year?"
    Justin Sink asked directly about banning imports on forced labor products and cutting US investment or Chinese access to international payment systems. He followed about a manufacturer liability bill or executive action going after ghost guns. To the point, relevant, substantive. 
    Like the President, the White House press lives in a bubble. Reporters are career minded, and sometimes out of touch. They work in a hothouse where politics is a constant and they live in a world of click bait, ratings, breaking news and manipulation. Those pressures can have too much impact on the quality of the work.
    There were too many questions that were reflective of that atmosphere,  seeking personal reaction, and  reporter posturing that seemed to miss the depth of the issues, their complexity, substance and sometimes even the issue itself    

    This is the sort of after action analysis I managed with reporters, producers and photographers when I was a news director. The short summary, too much style over substance. Too much snark and not enough intellect. Performance over probing.
    It would be good for this generation of TV reporter, most of those asking questions were from that medium, to watch old press conferences, lots of them, and understand they a part of an important national ritual with more significance than ratings or gossip.

    Stay safe.
    See you down the trail.       

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

We've been here before.....

                  guard tower at manzanar internment camp, california                                 

   We've been here before. It is in our story.

     It was this week in 1942 an offense against Asian people  began and it betrayed American principle and idealism.
    Immigration is a recurrent political thorn and people suffer. There are seasons of hate and victimhood changes by ethnicity, heritage, and nationality. As violence and animosity toward AAPI peoples accelerate, we recall how the American federal government crossed a line of ignominy. 
     Manzanar is emblematic of the mistreatment of people of Asian ancestry, and their resilient grace in sustaining.  


        The National Historic Site is history as a window to our national soul. It's also evidence of a test of civility and a benchmark on doing what we say we believe.

        In this instance it was people of Japanese heritage. We know however, our villainy has been felt by Native citizens, Africans, Jews, Irish, Germans, Italians, Mexicans, and others despite we are a nation of immigrants. Immigration makes us better, and more culturally rich, but our history condemns us.

       The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, followed days later by submarine attacks on central California marine targets unleashed a public mania that empowered a low in American history, the internment of nearly 120 thousand Japanese Americans during WWII.

      The Manzanar Site, ironically near Independence California, tells the history and testifies as to how fragile our civil liberties are.

      Operated by the National Parks Service, the Manzanar Historic Site, 200 miles north of LA, provides an intelligent  account of the life that began there in March of 1942. It conveys emotion.

     10 thousand people lived in 504 barracks the internees built. Tar paper shacks, windy, cold and snowy in winter, blown by sand and sweltering in the 110 degree summers.

   Surrounded by barbed wire, armed guards, and watch towers, entire families tried to make the best of life in a kind of prison camp. 
   They had been uprooted and forced to live in a cramped adversity with communal latrines and showers without stalls. Personal space and privacy taken from them.

    They worked, digging irrigation canals, raising fruit, vegetables and livestock. They made clothing and furniture, camouflage netting and rubber products for the military. They were paid between $12 and $19 a month. With their limited funds they published a newspaper, operated a general store, bank and barbershop. 

   Without due process, the Federal government gave Japanese Americans only days to decide what to do with homes, farms, businesses, cars and all property. Most sold their possessions at a significant loss. They took only what they could carry.

      Not one Japanese American was ever charged with espionage. 
    Nearly 26 thousand Japanese Americans served in the US Military during WWII, many serving with distinction and  decoration.  
    In the frame below is Teru Arikawa the mother of PFC Frank Arikawa, the first soldier from Manzanar who was killed in the line of duty.

        Most of the Japanese American soldiers served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in North Africa, France and Italy. The unit had the highest casualty rate and was the most highly decorated Army unit of its size and length of service.
    The quote below is from President Harry Truman at a White House ceremony honoring the 442nd and 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard.

         President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 on February 19,1942 authorized relocation and/or internment of "anyone who might threaten the US war effort."  
       With that simple order American civil liberties and justice were savaged.  
        Processing and reporting centers were opened and Japanese Americans were forced to depart.

     Ten relocation camps were built. Without the rights due them, American citizens were forced into internment, with no idea of how long they would be held. No charges were brought against them.

    21st century Americans can visit Manzanar and see the vestige of a time when emotion, paranoia, awful political judgment and prejudice combined to create a despicable shadow on the life of this nation. It was a time that revealed our promise of freedom, liberty, and justice to be hollow and hypocritical. 

    It is both moving and frightening to see the names of those American citizens, who, because of heritage, were, without any legal recourse, treated like criminals and put into internment camps. Their freedoms were denied by an executive order, as a nation stood by.

    A driving and walking tour also covers the memorial ground, where those who died are remembered and where ashes were spread. 

     Post Trump America holds new paranoias and hatreds with new generations who are the target of zealots, racists, ideologues and politicians seeking favor.  
     I asked once if Manzanar could happen again? Could we again suspend due process and trample civil liberties because of fear and a perceived threat? With the Trump-McConnell appointees on the federal bench, and all the believers of the big lie, it's a valid question still.

      Manzanar can be explained, but not excused, by the fear stemming from war. Now it is another affliction that stalks us. Ignorance, brutality, political expediency and radicalized hate have aggregated to threaten our way of life, our beliefs and our future.
       We have soul searching and soul work to do.

       See you down the trail. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Resurrection Turtles


    Rainbows are one of those natural prompts that seem to always lift our spirits. We captured this one during a recent storm.

    Another natural phenomena that prompts human behavior is the calendar of our revolution and rotation in the solar system. 

        For as long as there is a human history, solstice and equinoxes has prompted response. Do you wonder when and how humankind first calculated a solstice or equinox. How did those ancestors harness observation and calculation? How was the knowledge, the "science," shared?

   It didn't take long for humans to turn the Spring change into ritual and events.

    Some regard spring as the new year, others call it a resurrection of the sun. Egyptians, Persians, and Chinese  advanced celebrations with eggs. Anglo Saxons celebrated fertility and the "moon goddess." Druids too celebrated a goddess of fertility, known as a Flower Woman.

    The Dionysian Mysteries were one of the Greek's mystery cults observing spring rites. They essentially drank or drugged themselves to the point of "loosing control," so the power of their gods or the universe could enter them. 

    There were elaborate observations of the solstice at ancient stones and archeological mystery sites. Some dug up decayed pigs. Cultures picked flowers and danced around around poles. 

    Islam celebrates Ramadan. Jews observe the feast of the Passover. Christian's observe the passion of the Christ. Holy week features Palm Sunday, a triumphant entry, marred by Maundy Thursday a betrayal and arrest, Good Friday when Jesus is executed on a cross, Easter Sunday when Christians celebrate the resurrection of the Son.

    It seems we cannot see the greening of the season, blooming of trees and flowers, the warming of the sun and not think of life, maybe new life from the dead of winter or more.

    Well, here's a little anthropological story. I call it 


    My brother John and I somehow won a couple of little turtles at an elementary school Ice Cream Social. It might have been one of those fishing games, or musical chairs, I can't recall. We went home with two turtles, in little boxes along with turtle food. 

    We acquired an old fish tank, and built our turtle "biome" with clumps of dirt, grass, twigs and leaves. The turtles flourished and we lavished them with attention. They were our first pets and we loved them.

    As fall came on we noticed they were getting sluggish, not eating all of their food and we worried. One morning we discovered the turtles had crawled under some of the dirt clods and were not moving. Mom said they must have gotten old and died. She promised to bury them near the back stoop and put a rock on the ground so we could remember them. We got on and eventually the loss had less sting.

    Spring came and one day my younger brother John, a bit of a rascal, even at that age, suggested we dig up the turtles so we could have turtle skeletons. Sounded interesting to me so we proceeded. We moved the rock and began to dig. Instead of finding skeletons, we found a turtle, fully intact and it seemed to be alive. It turned its curious head our way. We dug on and found the second turtle, not as animated, but clearly not a dead skeleton.

    We called them our Resurrection Turtles and went about the neighborhood telling about it. Our turtles were Resurrection Turtles.

     Mom, somewhat amazed and somewhat embarrassed soon realized the turtles had been merely hibernating. She did a good thing in burying them by the back stoop. 

    Soon she and dad began to explain to us, the difference between death and hibernation and advised us the turtles were not really resurrected. But still, after all these years, I can remember the surprise, the elation, the wonder and the chuckles about our "resurrected" turtles.

    To this day the grass still seems greener, the flowers more beautiful, the world a little brighter and more joyful at Easter. However you observe or reflect at this time of year, I hope it brings a sense of renewal, energy, cheer and warmth.

       Our celebratory inclination is as old as the first human spring.

     See you down the trail.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wishing you....


Wishing you a life that is green...

...a comfy spot...

...a good story...

...a place to quench a thirst...


...a timeless mystery...

...something to love...

...spirit and commitment...

...something to believe ....


...friends with which to share...

...wit and wisdom and the soul of a poet....

...and a life that breathes an ageless story.


See you down the trail.