“Oh, I can’t believe I’m holding this in my hands!” I handed her the book expecting a pleasant, “Nice.” But her reaction was a pleasant surprise. For only a dollar, I bought the book at a sale. Published in 1927, The Modern Library of the World’s Best Books’ collection of Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell has an Introduction by the Author. On the front end-sheet, there’s the original owner’s name, the date – 1928, and a two-cent stamp with the image of George Washington - a column in itself. To me the treasure was within - Russell’s writing. Mathematician, logician and philosopher, his History of Western Philosophy is considered to be, “one of the most important philosophical works of all time.” (Amazon) You may have read it in college. Although he was unquestionably brilliant, and as the Sixth Earl of Russell a member of the British Aristocracy, he was able to make complicated subjects understandable. Russell’s essay, Education, has so many timeless insights that it’s hard to make a selection. I will include only a few sentences with my comments here. However, I hope that if you find it of interest you will take the time to read the entire essay. “No political theory is adequate unless it is applicable to children as well as to men and women.” As I teacher, I found that new programs were introduced to the adults with the children being only an afterthought at most. For instance, the political reality of English Only overwhelmed the solid research of Bilingual Education. “Those educational theorists who had a knowledge of children, such as the inventors of Kindergarten and the Montessori system, have not always had enough realization of the ultimate goal of education to be able to deal successfully with advanced instruction.” Having taught both at the Kindergarten level and in Higher Education, I can attest to that. The opposite is also true. When I was teaching First Grade an Assistant Principal told me, “Perhaps Mr. Cromshow should be teaching at the University.” Stick to the basics, “See Spot Run.” Don’t expose them to a map of the world or have the children draw flags as an art project. “Where authority is unavoidable, what is needed is reverence.” The child in school is often thought of as merely a cog in the education machine. That’s another story. Have you ever read Bertrand Russell on Education? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written September 6, 2017
Happy first day of school chatter fills Beantown in Sierra Madre. One mother bounces her baby girl on her knee. Another wheels her two boys in a double-seater high-end baby stroller. The infant begins to cry, stops to take in the world of the coffee shop around him. It's not very interesting to his two-year old brother. A father orders at the counter, one arm wrapped around his son perched on his hip. Children secure in their parents' care.
Houston, two weeks ago. The same scene is repeated in coffee shops around the Texas oil capitol. Nice city Houston. I've been there once. I was on the Pacifica Foundation Radio Board and we visited the studio from which KPFT broadcasts. It's in a grand old house in a residential district. It proved to be the station's salvation when Harvey struck. Water was so deep that people who worked at the station couldn't get there. That's when something amazing happened. Volunteers from the neighborhood kept the radio station on the air. Sister station KPFK 90.7 FM in North Hollywood provided programming. The day after Labor Day Hustonians were treated to Old Time Radio on the Roy of Hollywood Show. Radio to cheer them up. You can listen yourself if you go to, somethingshappening.com/program guide, and click on What Happened.
Without Pacifica I would have been pressed to find out much about the devastation in Houston caused by Hurricane Harvey. Mainstream media seemed to concentrate on property damage, deaths, rescuers, politicians and other coverage making use of the real-life reality show put on by nature. Nary a word about Climate Change. Ditto, insurance coverage. Developers are still building in flood prone areas. Chemical and petroleum leaks are quickly passed over. The expanded role of government in disaster relief is definitely off the table.
Back to Beantown. "Nice day," the man behind the counter said about the first day of school hubbub. The man placing his order solemnly replied, "Sometimes it looks like a nice day but it's not. I just got the worst news possible; I lost my sister." Life changing events are like that. Suddenly your whole world is turned upside down. Like any impending doom sometimes it's worse when you know it's coming. What will Irma do to Florida? That's another story.
"We were on our way to Big Sur," my friend told me. He was on vacation with his family. "The road ahead was blocked. The road behind us was blocked. We had to go on a side road." He was anticipating a traffic nightmare. If there were too much of a delay his two young sons would certainly get antsy. But this story turned out differently. "There was no one on the road. No one! We travelled through this beautiful countryside. It was amazing!"
I was complaining about midday traffic to a friend who lives in Calabasas. She was sitting on her back porch watching birds on the lake. "It's my little bit of paradise." I told her I thought there were times traffic quieted down. "That was years ago," she said. She's right, It's rare nowadays that you don't encounter traffic any time of day. I remember leaving USC at four o'clock on a Friday afternoon. When I got to where the 57 crossed the 10 there was no traffic. I would arrive at the Wrightwood post office before they closed at five-thirty. Five-thirty? When was that? The 80s? Oh, right. That was a long, long time ago.
The forces that molded Southern California created a car culture. A web of freeways were good for builders, developers, and real estate agents. People tired of the city could escape overcrowding and congestion and move to the country. Over time what they were trying to get away from followed them to their little bit of paradise. Now people are moving back to the city, discovering the joy of walking to a neighborhood store, of leaving their car in the garage. Metro now rents bicycles and even cars. Uber makes owning a car unnecessary, yet, for millions of commuters traffic is still a way of life.
If you're stuck in traffic, it might be a good time to listen to Traffic. The British pop group from the 90s, that is. Available on You Tube, Traffic's versions of This Holy Ground will stay with you. The song begins with a haunting bagpipe instrumental. Lean back and listen as the long line of cars crawls along the highway. You can wonder along with Traffic, "What are we doing to this holy ground?" That's another story.
Have you ever considered what we can do about traffic on the highways? Please email email@example.com.
Written August 16,2017 What Can Eclipse the News?
If you find yourself in Pasadena on Monday, August 21, you might want to stop by Cal Tech. From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. the Astronomy Department is sponsoring what could be called a solar eclipse party. The eclipse is not total, “only two-thirds” one Cal Tech Post-Doc Astronomer told me. Because even one-third of the sun’s light is so intense you might not notice the eclipse. Unless you look up, safely of course. Cal Tech Astronomers will provide eclipse-viewing glasses. If you’re planning to view the eclipse on your own, be careful. Serious eye damage can result if you look directly at the Sun; solar radiation during an eclipse is so intense it can burn your retina causing permanent damage. You may have heard that Amazon has recently warned purchasers of certain solar eclipse glasses. Using them may be dangerous because these glasses have not been properly certified. Don’t use them. Throw them away. Account credit is on the way. On Monday, August 21, President Trump returns from vacation. More accurately, a working vacation. Better still, all work, no vacation. But a headache, nevertheless. He could make use of Air Force One in an historic way. Fly over the South, the states Trump won, to view the total eclipse of the sun from the cabin of Air Force One. Astronomers have determined the exact time the eclipse will be in totality. At precisely 1:28 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the total eclipse of the sun can be viewed from Tennessee. The irony wouldn’t be missed on Al Gore. The Prince of Tennessee failed to capture his own state, losing the election to President George W. Bush. Incidentally, Bush and his father George H.W. Bush both denounced racism in response to the current controversy. Charlottesville, Virginia was known as a quiet college town. Protests, counter protests, death, denunciation and defense have overshadowed everything else. The media’s ability to focus on one issue has been stunning. After days of controversy we can only imagine what the inner circle of the White House is doing at this moment. How long lasting will the fallout be? The issues raised have eclipsed any previous disagreement. Lest we forget, Mark Twain used a solar eclipse for political purposes. That’s another story. Have you ever wondered what can eclipse the news? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written August 9, 2017 T. C Boyle
The Road to Wellville was a movie adopted from T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel by the same name. When I read it, I was impressed by the cast of characters and the eccentricity of Dr. Kellogg. As distinctive as the corn flakes which bear his name were Kellogg’s concepts of health promoted in his sanitarium. Boyle captures the beginning of the twentieth century, its sights, sounds with carefully crafted prose. Despite Anthony Hopkins and Jane Fonda’s performances the book was better than the movie. I rediscovered T.C. Boyle a couple of months ago when I happened upon an advance readers’ copy of his latest book of short stories. The Relive Box is the name of the first short story in the collection and the title of the book. Boyle introduces us to some time in the future, which looks a lot like the world of today. In a darkened room a man positions himself in front of an electronic device. It relays sights and sounds from his past life. The images projected into his retina are interrupted when someone walks in front of the relive box. That’s what his daughter does later in the story. He has been searching for the exact moment when something critical happened in his life, rewinding the past events by days, hours, minutes or even seconds. Intriguing, isn’t it? It could be an episode from the Twilight Zone. I hadn’t read anything else of Boyle’s writing in the nearly twenty-five years between the novel and the short story. But I was so impressed I told my friend about The Relive Box. “I love his writing, I read everything he writes as soon as it comes out.” My friend is a very literate Austrian, a graduate of UCLA. So, when I found Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain at a Wrightwood Friends of the Library sale, I told him about it. “What a coincidence,” he said. “My daughter just called me from Munich. She was just cast as a stand-in for the lead role. She’s performing it in Spanish.” Some coincidence! The Tortilla Curtain begins with a passage from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, “They ain’t human. A human being couldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand to be so dirty and miserable.” That’s another story.
Have you ever read any of the writing of T. C. Boyle? Please email email@example.com.
Written August 2, 2017 Who’s your real-life Political Superhero?
There used to be only two superheroes - Superman and Batman. They were joined by Stan Lee’s stable of larger than life Marvel comic book characters. Each has a distinctive super-power. The latest Superhero movie, whatever it is, attracts audiences of all ages. Everyone except young children are in on the joke - Superheroes are make-believe. I was surprised by the childlike enthusiasm a middle-aged man showed during opening weekend of “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Are there real-life superheroes? Reality TV stars, movie stars, rock stars, sports stars, the star-studded list goes on and on. My favorites are real-life political superstars with memorable stories. Both Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus were real possibilities. They were pushed out of the picture by Anthony Scaramucci. He was perfect - brash, funny and fowl-mouthed. Scaramucci only lasted ten days. Not to worry. Vladimir Putin remains. “The Putin Interviews” recently aired as a series on Showtime - written by, directed by and featuring Oliver Stone. You probably have seen at least one of Stone’s films. His first, Platoon, told the story from Stone’s perspective as a soldier in Vietnam, Sheer noted that it took twenty years before we found out that President Lyndon Johnson had provided a false narrative. Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin Incident to reverse JFK’s policy and get us deeper into war. I told a friend that KPFK was sponsoring a fundraiser with filmmaker Stone and journalist Robert Scheer. As far as Showtime, my friend said, “I hear it’s a fluff piece.” The evening at Immanuel Presbyterian Church wasn’t soporific, but the parts I was awake during seemed surprisingly tame. I had expected a film that looked at Putin with an even-handed approach with a critical eye to one of the most controversial politicians living today. Stone said he asked Putin hard-hitting questions. The questions couldn’t have been too hard-hitting or Stone wouldn’t have been invited back three times over two years. I asked a millennial what he thought about Vladimir Putin. “He’s very intelligent. He is former KGB so he knows exactly what he wants.” Is he manipulative? You might remember when President George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin he looked into his soul. Bush must have liked what he saw. Maybe Putin’s superpower is sincerity. That’s another story. Have you ever decided who’s your real-life political superhero? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written July 25, 2017
The last time I went to the Hollywood Bowl with a friend, she convinced me to pay for premium parking. “It’s great. No long lines of traffic. You just get in your car and drive.” She drove. We shared the parking fee. Twenty dollars each. This time I took a shuttle. Big white busses leave from a dozen cities in the Southland every half hour for a couple of hours. Mine left at 5:35 p.m. from Pasadena. Online reservations totaled $8.75. Parking was a bargain at $5. Dinner? Cold Taco Bell soft chicken tacos from Pasadena for $2.29 and a cold brew coffee ice cream float for $7 at the Bowl. A great evening for less than $25. My ticket was free. A friend offered me Hollywood Bowl tickets. I was delighted. She and her boyfriend went to the Playboy Jazz Festival and everyone started giving them tickets. They kept a few for themselves and were giving the rest away. All classical. “Take a couple of pairs,” she said. I chose two very popular performers Dudamel and Yo-Yo Ma. Then came the fun part when I tried to give the tickets away. No luck. One friend was in Italy with her daughter. Another was in Hawaii with her family. I decided to go by myself ,and my friend OKed offering the extra ticket to someone in the ticket line. At the Bowl a generous woman was trying to pass out tickets. “Here, Pass out this too.” She handed me a ticket. I gave my extra ticket to a Japanese tourist. I offered the generous woman’s ticket to a man in line. “That’s a good seat.” I decided to keep it. Was that funny? There are all kinds of funny. There’s strange funny, a riot in the Land of Puns. There’s tongue-in-cheek funny. Vaudeville funny. There’s Broadway funny. Think Stephen Sondheim’s musical with Zero Mostel. I’ve never seen it. That’s another story. Have you ever been able to say, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Hollywood Bowl? Please email email@example.com.
Written July 19, 2017
Lobbyists Scuttle Healthcare Reform
The Healthcare debate has provided lots of material to interested politicians. They have enough rope to tie themselves up for the foreseeable future. Both Democrat and Republican legislators look to greener pastures. Lobbyists at work. Are those greenbacks? Better harvest the crop. There's plenty more where that came from.
Only four months ago President Trump renewed his promise to provide Universal Healthcare to everyone - better than Americans have now (YouTube, March 8, 2017). Maybe he was talking about Single Payer a.k.a. Medicare for All. Who does Donald Trump think he is, President of the United States? Mainstream media quickly complied with the hidden agenda of their corporate paymasters. Legislators whispered their marching orders behind closed doors. Forget Trump's promise. No Medicare for All.
Did President Obama follow orders more predictably than his successor? He immediately removed Single Payer from the table. That was before Congress started debating the Affordable Care Act. Danger - Medicare for All could save billions of dollars. Let's focus on an effective distraction - how bad Obamacare is. Legislators have to keep denouncing it using this politically charged name. If only the American Medical Association went along, and stopped hinting at Medicare for All. Bernie Sanders too - everybody knows he's a Democratic-Socialist. Whatever happened to the Insurance Companies? Why are they speaking favorably about Universal Health Care? Is it a viable alternative? Rats! The preexisting scheme is falling apart.
At a recent meeting in Culver City, advocates for Single Payer denounced California's Democrat Speaker Rendon for preventing consideration of a Medicare for All bill. Conservatives in the audience were relieved that nobody was blaming Republicans in D.C. for California's problem. People of all political stripes were upset with the Democrats. Hard as it is to imagine, some took swipes at Gov. Jerry Brown. Did he call in favors so he wouldn't have to veto the bill? "He got it in the 90s. Why doesn't he get it now?" a nurse leading the meeting asked. Brown's opposition is understandable given California lobbyists "invested" $309 million last year, latimes.com. For more information about the nurses' Single Payer campaign, go to healthcare-now.org
Only Big Pharma lobbyists never change course. Rock solid. It makes sense when you consider that current treatment for catastrophic disease can run $10,000 a month. That's another story.
Have you ever wondered how lobbyists scuttle healthcare reform? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written July 12, 2017
“Have you ever heard of NLP?” “I've heard of it.” “Perfect. Let me 'splain.I have two explanations - the analytical view and the gullible view. Which one do you want first?” “ Let's start with the gullible view.” “OK, gullible it is.”
‘Sell the sizzle not the steak,’ is a tried and true maxim used by those whose livelihood depends on getting someone to buy something. The buyer gets the something, the salesperson gets the commission. ‘We're all salesman,’ is another sales maxim. Not true. More accurately, We're all persuaders. That's not exactly true either. But we're being gullible, remember?
It's time to unravel the mystery of NLP. That's an abbreviation for Neuro- Linguistic Programming. Sounds mysterious and a little intimidating. Those big words. What do they mean? Here's the explanation you've been waiting for. But before you find out why don't we go to an introductory seminar? It's only one hundred dollars. What's the secret about the seminar? It's an extended sales pitch. The goal is to get you to sign on to an in-depth workshop. It's only $9,995. See how much cheaper it is than a more expensive sounding $10 K? Why so much? For what you'll learn it's a bargain.
Each level of explanation comes closer and closer to unraveling the mystery. However, if you're offering a class it must remain shrouded in mystery. Why? Someone with authority is hiding in the shadows, and will dole out the amazing answers at just the right moment. Always remember, there's money to be made. So, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
Now, here's the analytical view. NLP recycles the work of selected psychologists, most of whom are unnamed. Two researchers, Behaviorist Albert Bandura and Psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe, are put forth as founders of NLP. It's not easy to substantiate that claim in their peer-reviewed publications. Bandura is famous for his work in social learning theory (1977). Wolpe established his credentials with his work involving what he called systematic desensitization thirty years earlier (1947). Search the web for more about the research of Bandura and Wolpe.
Doesn't Tony Robbins teach NLP? Didn't the Kardashians recently go to one of his seminars? Did their feet get blistered on the fire walk? That's another story.
Have you ever been exposed to NLP? Please email email@example.com.
Written July 3, 2017
The Reagan Show
When Ronald Reagan made a speech endorsing Barry Goldwater in 1964 he captured the imagination of the Republican Party. But LBJ was on a sure path to victory following the assassination of JFK the year before. Reagan waited patiently in the wings. In 1980 he swamped incumbent President Jimmy Carter in both the popular and electoral vote. That night I applauded as I watched Bedtime for Bonzo on TV. Reagan had won by a landslide and he could do no wrong. That’s the attitude The Reagan Show captured on film using footage, from White House TV filmmakers, discovered at the Reagan Library. Following the showing, Akiva Gottlieb, Communications Manager of Independent Documentary Association interviewed co-writer Josh Alexander. Then, they opened it up for Q and A. I asked Alexander, “What effect will your film have on those who idolize Reagan but love war?” He answered my question with a question, “What do you think?” I said, “It may disarm people enough to slip through their defenses.” He replied, “That’s what I had in mind.” Round one: President Reagan proposed the Star Wars defensive missile program, Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev saw it as an attack. They decided to leave the issue on the table. To the surprise of the world, these two international leaders then tackled nuclear disarmament. Not surprisingly, it was a TV movie, The Day After, that shook Reagan’s world. Hollywood icon in an earlier life, President Reagan understood the power of movies. He and half the American population relived long-forgotten fears. The morning after President Reagan embarked on a course of nuclear disarmament. He was convinced that it was the only way to preserve life on this planet. He put his political capital on the line and became embroiled in battle with members of his own party. When Reagan finally went to the Soviet Union, he had in hand the Nuclear Disarmament Treaty, approved by the U.S. Senate. It has become part of Reagan’s legacy. Late in his presidency Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. He challenged the Soviet Union’s dominance of East Germany, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan the diplomat won round two when Gorbachev not only tore down the Wall; he dismantled the Soviet Union. That’s another story. Have you ever seen a movie like The Reagan Show? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written June 28, 2017 George Orwell's masterpiece, 1984
On April 4, 1984, at one o'clock in the afternoon, I sat in my car at Mountain Top Café, started my cassette tape player and listened to the opening line of George Orwell's 1984. "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen." Later in the book Orwell gives the exact date - April 4. It was a once in a lifetime experience I could only have imagined when I first read the book in high school.
Orwell wrote 1984 in the wake of World War II. Totalitarian states led by Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Stalin were part of a collective nightmare. Orwell wanted to warn everyone of the dangers authoritarian regimes pose. His words - Big Brother, Thought Police and Newspeak - have become part of our vocabulary. The mottos of the dystopian society Orwell describes are chilling. "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." Today 1984 is back on the bestseller list. It's a play on Broadway. A radio version, recorded in 1975, was broadcast on Tuesday this week from 6 o'clock in the morning to 9 o'clock at night on KPFK.
Last Sunday I went to a book signing by Marvin A. Goodman. He wrote, Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider's Account of the Politics of Intelligence. Goodman denies the Agency's role in the so-called Deep State. No matter, Andrew Gumbel, a Guardian reporter told me. People have access to the truth because of the internet. Still, the power of denial can overwhelm reason. BBC and Guardian reporter Greg Pallast reflected on KPFK's broadcast of 1984. "We all have Big Brothers and we all ignore the dark side of our Big Brothers."
Here's a book which takes up the mantle of George Orwell - On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Author Timothy Snyder presents each lesson in a short, easily digestible format. One lesson seems especially relevant for an Orwellian world. Lesson 10 is Believe in Truth. Snyder warns, "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom." He writes, "truth dies in four modes." Consider the first one, "open hostility to verifiable reality." Now, think "alternative facts." Add to this reports of "fake news." We find ourselves in a state of confusion. We don't know what to believe. Very 1984, isn't it? That's another story.
Have you ever read, seen or heard George Orwell's masterpiece, 1984? Please email email@example.com.
Written June 14, 2017 Birthday Suit Bicycle Ride
When Rod Stewart sang, “Every picture tells a story don’t it?” I wonder if he had in mind something like the picture accompanying my column this week. I took it through an open window while I stopped for a red light. The photo features a mirror in the foreground and some people on bikes in the background. You can’t tell from the picture but many of the male and female bicyclists are wearing their birthday suits. Fred Hanrahan as Goldminer Vincent would have said, they were “n’ked as a bluebird.” My mirror does the work of a fig leaf so the picture can be published in the family friendly Mountaineer-Progress. Here’s the tale behind the picture for “Story Thursday.” Late last Saturday morning I got off the Pasadena Freeway at the Chinatown exit. I was on my way to the Los Angeles County Law Library. A colleague and I spend several hours doing legal writing in preparation for the California Bar Exam. He’s taking the exam in July; I’m taking it next year in February. Since the Presidential Inauguration in January we’ve found the streets blocked with protests from the Woman’s March to May Day. The Worldwide Naked Bike Ride was a protest too. Let me unwrap it. It’s part of the “Green Revolution.” The Los Angeles bike ride was headed north on Hill Street. What caught my attention was the police escort. People on bicycles were waiting patiently to be escorted across the street when the light changed. Then I noticed that those in the front of the line weren’t wearing any clothes. I took another picture of the police escorts and the long line of bare flesh stretching more than a block. Then the light changed. Peripheral vision being what it is I was only able to get side glimpses of the bicyclists. Occasionally someone would slow down enough so it was safe for me to catch a furtive glance. Up front were the bodies of trim athletes. Toward the rear were fat-shamers’ fantasies. That’s another story. Have you ever taken a birthday suit bicycle ride? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written June 7, 2017 It’s About Russia
You have probably heard every old Woody Allen joke several times. Here’s one that bears repeating. After taking a speed-reading course Allen bragged that he had read War and Peace in an hour. “It’s about Russia.” According to Wikipedia, War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, which is regarded as a central work of world literature...” It’s 1,225 pages long! Russia is part of this week’s news cycle. Reuters reports on Tuesday, “U.S. lawmakers press intelligence chiefs on Russia ahead of Comey hearing.” Bloomberg reports on Wednesday, “Comey Hearing Pits Ex-FBI Chief Against Trump Over Russia Probes.” On Thursday, the focus will shift sharply to the United Kingdom. According to The Sun, “General Election 2017 polls - latest updates on who will win as Theresa May’s lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party slips to 1 point.” We’re supposed to switch gears as quickly as a Woody Allen speed-reader. At more than 20 pages a minute, or just three seconds a page, how can we keep up with what’s happening in the world? There’s no time to analyze, evaluate or understand. Maybe we should try to follow the Kindergarten advice Slow Down Snail gives to Impulsive Puppy, “Slow down. Stop and think.” I spoke to a High School teacher who’s trying to help his 10th grade English class make sense of their world. This is finals week and he wanted to help students get ready for their “writing prompt.” They have read fiction and non-fiction from Julius Caesar to the Holocaust. Students need to think about the issues these works of literature raise. Then comes the hard part. They need to relate those issues to their lives. Now. Where they live. “Opinions are wonderful,” he said, “but I want students to be informed. To think for themselves.” That’s a real challenge. Do you want to know more about Tolstoy’s masterpiece? Amazon fills in some blanks War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812...” In that year most people in the United States were focused on our own domestic war. Invading British forces burned down the White House while Napoleon was engaged in an historic struggle. He couldn’t come to the aid of our struggling democracy as France did during the Revolutionary War. That’s another story. Have you ever thought it’s about Russia? Please email email@example.com.
Written May 31, 2017 A Quintet of Stories for June
June 2017 is unusual in that it has five Thursdays. For readers of the Mountaineer Progress that means five opportunities to enjoy your favorite small town newspaper. For many columnists it means finding something to write about. For me it means selecting only one of the many topics I'd like to share with you.
Story 1. You have heard it said that everyone has a book in them. A reader from Phelan commented on my column last week, "JFK at 100." She shared her memories of that day. She also wrote about the personal losses she suffered in her life. I could visualize the scenes as she portrayed them. Interesting, well written and touching.
Story 2. Conspiracies are everywhere. A man from Wrightwood sent me an article about how the government, the media, and anyone who can get in a counterfeit story are filling our heads with psychobabble. That's not exactly what the article said but that's how I saw it. One of the mysteries of writing is how readers can interpret it individually.
Story 3. The little village in the San Gabriel Mountains! In 1981 I was looking for a place to write, both academically and creatively, but there was a long waiting list. Realtor Harry Krig intervened. "You're the kind of person we want in Wrightwood." Over the years Harry and Pat became an important part of my life. Farewell, dear friends.
Story 4. Talking to children or even noticing them can be a challenge. A mother I met in a coffee shop gave me this example. "When we go into a restaurant the waitress ignores him. He's four years old - he needs a fork to eat his food." Maybe only parents and teachers understand how important it is to acknowledge children.
Story 5. Tweeting while Afghanistan burns. More than 127,000 people retweeted President Trump's tweet. Now "#Covfefe" will enter the urban dictionary. Seriously? That's the only news people care about? A typo? How many tweets were there about the suicide truck bombing outside the German embassy in Kabul? It killed 90 people. We have met the fake news and it is us.
People who journal every day have a rich storehouse of material that they could share with others. This June, why not resolve to share something original every Thursday? That's another story.
Have you ever written a quintet of stories for June? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written May 23, 2017 JFK at 100
When John Fitzgerald Kennedy ran for president in 1960, the Senator from Massachusetts had just about everything going for him. He was young. He was handsome. He had a beautiful wife. He was rich. He was a war hero. But there had never been a Catholic president. Some feared that Kennedy would put his religion first and take orders from the Pope. JFK assured people that his loyalty to the United States of America came first. Kennedy's younger brother Bobby helped put him in the White House. In 1960 Bobby suggested the first presidential debates. Vice President Richard Nixon readily agreed because he was supremely confident he would win. Those who listened on the radio though Nixon won. Those who watched on TV thought Kennedy won. Charisma. When JFK became president it was the closest election in U.S. history. Bobby became Attorney General. Nepotism. Their youngest brother, Teddy won Jack's Senatorial seat. Dynasty. On Inauguration Day, JFK, forty-three, was the youngest man ever elected president. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." He established the Peace Corps and young people answered the call. During the Cuban Missile Crisis JFK stood up to Soviet Union President Nikita Khrushchev, guiding the U.S. away from nuclear disaster. Kennedy earned his reputation as a statesman.. Dallas: November 22, 1963. JFK's full head of red-brown hair shines in the morning sun. Jackie's pill box hat and pink Chanel suit make her look elegant. A motorcade. Three shots. Was it a lone assassin? The Warren Commission says yes. Congress concludes it was a conspiracy. So does Oliver Stone in his movie, JFK. The two sides of the debate are still at it. Only Senior Citizens remember JFK. Aging Baby Boomers have faint memories. Gen X has other concerns. Millennials are busy making their place in the world. This week corporate media will aim to settle it once and for all. Memorial Day: May 29, 2017. Ceremonies throughout the country will remember those who have fallen in war. World War II land based bomber pilot Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Ceremonies may also honor those who survived. On his 100th birthday, you may want to revisit Lieutenant Junior Grade John F. Kennedy's bravery as told in the book and the film, P.T. 109. "They sank my boat." At the Wrightwood Veteran's Memorial the Tri-Community will remember Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Harry Krig. That's another story. Have you ever thought of remembering JFK at 100? Please email email@example.com.
Written May 17, 2017 Propaganda is a Stone’s Throw from North Korea
To be effective, missiles require a sophisticated delivery system and a significant payload. The missiles of North Korea fall over, fizzle, or drop into the sea. Their nuclear bombs explode underground. Troops carry out military exercises. These actions are seen as veiled threats to its neighbors. On Monday James McIntyre wrote in the Washington Examiner that, “Trump may be the real ‘smart cookie’...after all.” The President said it would be an “honor” to meet Kim Jong Un, who has ruled the country since the death of his father in 2011. Trump appears confident that he can iron out those differences, which pose a threat to U.S. interests. The supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was honored in a 2012 film project, Propaganda. According to CNN it “backfires on North Korea.” It is a “documentary intended as a portrayal of a happy family,” but, “has instead become a behind-the-scenes look at how the country’s authorities manipulate appearances.” Beware. There is more to the film than meets the eye. It is, after all, propaganda. It’s available on IMBd and YouTube. If the White House is looking for a political operative to help broker a deal, Get Me Roger Stone might be the answer. Of course, the Netflix documentary released last week challenges viewers’ gullibility. Did the president fire him? Stone says no. He quit because he was offended by the misogyny he saw. Never mind that Stone and his wife were involved in a scandal several years ago. He’s not bothered if people hate him; he’ll just have to live with it. As Stone tells it, he played a major role in politics from Nixon to Trump. He was the youngest person named in the Watergate investigation, dirty tricks division. He was the first to put forth Donald Trump as a serious presidential candidate. In fact, if you let Stone spin the story, he made Trump president. Should you take Stone at his word or dismiss it as propaganda? You decide.
I talked to a woman whose 95-year old mother has nightmares about North Korea. She watches television all day. The woman agrees there is a threat but relies on economic publications. “That’s where I get the real news.” How much is propaganda? That’s another story. Have you ever considered that propaganda is a stone’s throw from North Korea? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written May 10, 2017 A Play, a Musical and a Movie Preview
The Originalist by John Strand just ended. I saw it at the Pasadena Playhouse, which is California's State Theater, built in 1917. The play is a fictionalized account of exchanges between the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (Edward Gero) and a young Black woman, Cat (Jade Wheeler). They are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Scalia is in his late seventies and Cat fifty years younger. President Ronald Reagan nominated Scalia to the Supreme Court in 1986. Scalia shows pride in his son of Italian-immigrant heritage saying that's what America is about. His originalist philosophy looks to the intent of the Founders. He calls the U.S. Constitution, "the best thinking about law and justice in the past 300 years."
Disney's Beauty and the Beast has been a favorite since Disney's animated movie 26 years ago. The 2017 live-action film is the highest grossing PG film ever, and a mainstay of musical theater. Last weekend's production at Chaffey High School cost $75,000. However, with 6,000 ticket sales projected through last weekend, the Visual and Performing Arts Department will recover its investment. You can see it this weekend. Then, Department Chair Dave Masterson told the audience, there will be no performances in the 1937 auditorium for more than two years while it's being restored.
Paris Can Wait was written and directed by Eleanor Coppola and stars Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin and Artaud Viard. Imagine a foodie's travelogue through the French countryside. Add stays in expensive lodging, meals at classy restaurants, tours through museums, exotic food markets, and photographs of food and wine glasses filled with the finest French wine. Before the film began California's Coppola wines were served at the Preview. I heard chuckles, whispered "Boring!" and gentle sounds of breathing as the audience settled in to all-too-comfortable chairs at the private directors' theatre in Beverly Hills. You might have guessed Coppola's movie is billed as a romantic comedy. A bland Bridges of Madison County in a French setting.
The musical and especially the movie recognize the contributions France has made to culture. This past weekend it was especially appropriate since in long-awaited elections France chose a new President, Emmanuel Macron. I've heard that since Brexit he speaks French, not English, in public statements. That's another story.
Have you ever, in one weekend, seen a play, a musical and a movie preview? Please email email@example.com.
Written May 3, 2107
When the English Fall
Last Sunday at four o'clock in the afternoon "Politics or pedagogy?" went on the air. Wrightwood's own independent award-winning filmmaker Suzanne Bauman joined me at the KPFK studio in North Hollywood. She and four other guests helped with President Trump's 100-day report card. We enjoyed a couple of prerecorded numbers by Wrightwood's singer-songwriter Gayle Dowling and took listener calls. You can find the show archived at kpfk.org.
After a light dinner with my volunteer producers, I headed a few miles down the freeway to Skylight Books in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was hoping to find an advance reading copy of a good book. Then I was heading to the mountains. But curiosity spurred on by the marquee of the movie theater next door led me in a different direction. Almost like an explorer. More about that later.
I did find an interesting novel, which will be released in July. The cover of When the English Fall by David Williams depicts a tree torn up at the roots and split in half by a bolt of lightning. Brexit? Maybe you've been following the news about the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Prime Minister May refuses to engage in a battle of press releases but preliminary negotiations have not been harmonious. May has her hands full with political maneuvers on the home front. There's even talk that Scotland and possibly Wales will abandon England to stay in Europe. With so much speculation under my belt I was surprised that When the English Fall is set in the future "of postcollapse survivalist fiction."
I asked at the box office if "The Lost City of Z (zed)" was a zombie movie. No, according to the poster, which I could see in the lobby, it was based on a true story that took place in the early 1900s. The main character is a real-life archeologist searching for a city of gold in South America. He's also an English military officer with a young family. The tension mounts as the movie brings us to a World War I battlefield. In 1915 people believed the war was so horrendous there would never be another one. They called it the War to End All Wars. That's another story.
Have you ever read a novel that you can compare to, When the English Fall? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written April 26, 2017 Are Lawyers Ethical?
On my way down the hill I stopped by the Mountaineer-Progress office. There's something nice about being in a small town newspaper office. Gone is the clank of the presses, the smell of ink, files of clippings strewn across the editor's desk. It's all been replaced by a quiet tap on keys and images flashing across a screen, but copy editors still give good advice. It's the stuff movies are made of.
Inspired by an ethics seminar I attended last Friday; the film that tops my list is Absence of Malice. It's a nail-biting drama in which an unethical prosecutor leaks false information to a journalist. A man's life is at stake, so the reporter better get the story right. It's a heavy burden. What about the lawyers? What are their ethical obligations? Aren't those the questions we want the legal profession to tackle? That's what's been happening in the two decades plus since A Civil Action or The Rainmaker was in theaters.
Last Friday I attended the twenty-first annual statewide Ethics Symposium, sponsored by the State Bar of California. It was held at Loyola Law School - Los Angeles. A Catholic Law School, it has an Ethics Department. The Girardi Advocacy Center where the Symposium was held features a 2009 dedication to a Chair in Ethics. Most of the attendees were at the Symposium for CLE (Continuing Legal Education) credit. I was fortunate to attend on a pass.
Suzanne Burke Spencer, Chair, Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct gave a brief history of the committee's work and why ethics is so important to the legal profession. Michael Waterstone, Dean, Loyola Law School, spoke of the leadership role Loyola has played in inspiring other law schools to develop their own ethics programs. Jim P. Fox, President, State Bar of California, said that one purpose of the Symposium was to improve the image of attorneys. However the other, and more important, purpose was to protect the public.
On the second floor of the Girardi Advocacy Center is a 1990s courtroom. It is used for mock trials. That's one way law students can learn to be trial attorneys. Another is at home watching one of the Top 25 Courtroom Dramas Ever, moviefone.com. One speaker at the Symposium mentioned a popular courtroom comedy, My Cousin Vinny. That's another story.
Have you ever wondered, Are Lawyers Ethical? Please email email@example.com.
Written April 19, 2017 Is there a doctor on board?
"There are two gods in our culture," my psychology professor said, "doctors and lawyers." A couple of years later, when I was in credit and collections, I repeated the statement to a coworker. He added, "And the guy who keeps their books." He was studying to be a CPA. If gold is the measure of the man, and increasingly, the woman, political forces have moved to dull their shine.
Take a recent example, which given the flurry of so-called news, you may have almost forgotten. Think of it as a fable. Once upon a time there was a huge flying machine with people on board ready to soar. There was a problem. All passengers had paid tickets, and were seated. The flight was not overbooked but four company workers had to get somewhere in a hurry. "Four of you have to get off. We'll pay $800." No takers? Time for an "impartial" lottery. Three went quietly. One man refused. "Get off!" No, he was a doctor and had patients to see the next morning in Kentucky. "We want your seat!" The airline escalated the situation, and the man was eventually dragged off the plane. Yes, he was a doctor, but in four out of five categories he failed the test. First, he was a man. It's OK to rough up a man. Second, he was small. Good, a flyweight surrounded by heavyweights. Third, he was Asian. Easy, there were so many racial slurs to inspire them. Fourth, he was elderly. Great, no fight left. Fifth, yes, he was a doctor but he was probably taking a job from someone born in this country.
The next part of the fable is still being written. The doctor suffered serious injuries, was taken away in an ambulance, and was hospitalized. Surgery? Occupational therapy? Permanent disability? He hired a lawyer. No doubt his accountant is already evaluating an investment portfolio. All because, in the words of a Kindergarten teacher with conservative values, "He disobeyed!"
I spoke with an experienced civil rights attorney about his work. Litigation is often the first choice of attorneys who get personally involved. That's a mistake. Any lawsuit must be weighed according to what the laws are and how the judge is likely to rule. "The only place you can win is in the court of public opinion." That's another story.
Have you ever asked, “Is there a doctor on board?” Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written April 11, 201
The Power of an Image
Attorneys in a court of law, both for the defense and the prosecution, are limited as to images they can present to a jury. Evidence must inform, not inflame. The judge decides what will be admitted. For example, images of a bloody murder scene could tilt the jury toward convicting the accused. "Who's on trial for this horrible crime?" Jurors might become enraged. "Somebody has to pay!" They persuade others to vote for conviction. If they live in a state that has capital punishment, and all appeals are exhausted, the person convicted of the crime is executed. Years later, prosecutors discover DNA evidence proving the person executed by the state was innocent. Too late.
Last week, turning your attention to news from the White House happened so fast it could have given you whiplash. At the beginning of the week it seemed as if the administration were in support of keeping Assad in power in Syria. President Trump turned his gaze toward Asia and so did we. We didn't do it on our own. The media served as our travel guide. Look at North Korea. It's a danger. The President of China was on his way to Mar-a-Lago. He'd better do something about it or we will.
Out of the blue, nerve gas bombs were dropped on a civilian target in Syria. The images of dead children, their lifeless bodies draped over their parents' arms, was too much for President Trump. Boom! U.S. missiles struck a Syrian air base. The media was enthralled by the fiery images of explosions. It was enough to silence critics, engender political praise, send a message to friends, and a warning to enemies. Powerful political images can't be fact checked. Or can they?
Tomorrow is Good Friday. The image of the cross will be everywhere. Theology aside, think about the variety of expressions you'll see. The simple cross is used by many mainstream and evangelical Christians. The Catholic crucifix has the corpus of Jesus in a loincloth. Because they follow a different calendar you can expect to see the Orthodox cross in next week's news. That cross sometimes portrays a flat image of Christ in ecclesiastical robes with a diagonal footrest at the bottom. Hopefully, images we see during Easter will be ones of peace. That's another story.
Have you ever considered the power of an image? Please email email@example.com.
Written 4/4/2017 Spring Break Conversations
Normally, on a bright Spring Wednesday morning in Wrightwood I would enjoy coffee and conversation on the porch of the Village Grind. The group manages to solve half the problems of the world. It's best to save the other half for next week. An adult student sent an email this morning joking about soda and candy machines being installed on campus. Part two of her pipe dream is that the school is planning a nice Spring Break for the students. Being accommodating, I replied in an email, "BTW I may be mistaken, but I think...soda and (2) candy machines...Spring Break is already being planned, an all-expense paid vacation to the fertilizer plant in Hacienda Heights. It has a great view of the dump." I told that to one of the "porch philosophers" and he laughed. I hope you get a chuckle out of it too. On a serious note he told me that a mutual friend in Wrightwood is in hospice, "I'm dying," the man said. Our Lions Bingo games will not be the same without him. Just yesterday at a coffee house in Pasadena, I spoke to a woman who is semi-retired from her public relations firm. John Van de Kamp, former California Attorney General, died of a heart attack. The woman, who owns the P.R. firm, had helped me twenty years ago when I was looking for "a neutral third party" to moderate a panel discussion. Open Court Reading had been adopted by the Los Angeles Unified School District. It was strictly enforced by a group of literacy coaches. That had to be done because teachers were used to being independent. Many experienced teachers and those with advanced degrees saw Open Court as more of the same recycled old, failed approaches to education. The school district, and even the teachers' union would not tolerate any opposition. Despite internal political maneuvering within the teachers' union I was able to schedule the large auditorium. John Van de Kamp was an excellent moderator. He was professional, experienced and straightforward. He knew how to keep the panel discussion moving with an uncanny sense of fairness and impartiality. He understood the audience. Every time our paths crossed over the years I thanked him for his help. "All things must pass," is what songwriter-philosopher George Harrison wrote. That's another story.
Have you ever had memorable spring break conversations? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written 3/29/2017 Understanding the Issues
Politics or pedagogy? has been on KPFK since 2003. It started out as a three- minute weekly news segment. I still do that segment, but five years later the radio station added a monthly one-hour show. Most of the time my show is a call-in. People want to talk about education. The show that aired last Sunday was "Education in the Time of Trump: Understanding the Issues." Here's my one-minute PSA (Public Service Announcement) to the President:
“I gave my guests a challenge. If they had one minute with you, Mr. President, what would they say? The challenge presents a discipline of word and thought, almost like a poem. And that's my suggestion to you. With so much going on, the chatter must be so strong at times that you can't hear yourself think. Maybe you can do what I did this morning - listen to The Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keillor. A new short segment is available every day. Today's, March 26, 2017, is especially meaningful. It's the birthday of Robert Frost. He was Poet Laureate of the United States and President John F. Kennedy asked him to speak at his inauguration. It was a cold day in Washington, DC and school was cancelled in New York City because of the snow. You may remember that day. Perhaps you shared the same dream that many boys had - to one day become President of the United States. What an awesome responsibility!”
Each of my guests had a turn at the mike. Daniel Diaz has a doctorate in urban anthropology and is a third year law student. He asked that President Trump address the issue of race more critically. Lisa Karahalios is a teacher for LAUSD. She wants President Trump to "show the Democrats who's boss. Put public education first, not politics and profits." Foad Dizadji-Bahmani has a Doctorate from the London School of Economics. He teaches in the Philosophy Department at Cal State University Los Angeles. He would politely decline. He said he doesn't see in President Trump a willingness to learn. It was a pleasant surprise when Daniel's fifth-grade daughter, Malinali, spoke to the radio audience. She told about a social justice project she and her classmates have succeeded in developing - a solar powered helicopter. That's another story.
Have you ever had success in understanding the issues? Please email email@example.com.
Written 3/21/17 Both Sides of the Story
Because I had an early morning appointment in Arcadia I had to leave Wrightwood at 5:00 a.m. The timing was perfect. I was the first customer at Cinnamon's bakery. Fortified with coffee to go, a "healthy" breakfast bar and a pleasant conversation with the owner, I headed down the hill. Bean Town in Sierra Madre was a convenient stopover, for coffee and conversation, this time with a complete stranger. It was appropriate on St. Patrick's Day when the gift of gab is celebrated. Here's our conversation.
As I was ordering, I heard the man discussing the election the day before in Holland. When I stepped over to the coffee bar to fill up my container the man stepped up to get a refill. "So, the election in Holland had winners on both sides," I said. He looked surprised. "I overheard your conversation." He responded, "It depends on your point of view." "There's something in it for everyone." "The media spins it!" "Both sides spin. It depends on which media you read." "Bingo!"
In a place not so far away and not so long ago, people had a snappy comeback when they disagreed with someone. "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up." It was said with a twinkle in the eye, the humor apparent. Then, "Let's agree to disagree," became popular as differences increased in intensity. It was better to stop talking and remain friends. Occasionally, someone would revert to a less civil exchange. Decades ago, I remember how that approach was encapsulated in the hostile attitude of one adolescent youth, "Shut the f*ck up!" His rebuff carried with it a not so veiled threat of physical confrontation.
Nowadays, many people assume that if you express the slightest thought not 100% in agreement with them, you are a no good $?&@!#% liar. When "truth" is so neatly defined, civility goes out the window. What can we do to encourage honest thoughtful discussion?
Thoughtful discussion was the hallmark of the Pasadena City College "The Courier" which I looked forward to reading when I was a student. After 100 years, the print edition ceased publication, in early March. I found out what "the digital demons" had wrought in the Sierra Madre Weekly, "Your voice, your community, since 1996." That's another story.
Have you ever tried to hear both sides of the story? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written 3/15/2017 The High Window
Have the trials and tribulations of everyday life gotten you down? Too much fake news, too many alternative facts, and too many unanswered questions? Why not forget the ongoing reality show and escape into a good book? I'm just finishing The High Window by Raymond Chandler. It’s a mystery novel set in the Southern California that used to be. His insights into human nature sometimes rise to the level of poetry. Consider this passage toward the end of the book. Private Eye Phillip Marlowe is speaking to a man who doesn’t want to speak to him. "She's a cold ruthless grasping woman, but hurting you would make a wildcat out of her. She wouldn't care what happened." Marlowe hints at the truth and begins to unravel a sticky web of lies. The man freezes. "He didn't move. His hands were rigid with strain on his knees. His eyes almost disappeared into the back of his head. They were doomed eyes." When I read the above passages to a friend he repeated, "doomed eyes." It's an image that stays with you. Chandler knows how to build tension like no other author I've read. True, there are some spy novels that have you at the edge of your seat, to use a common phrase. Chandler avoids clichés. In his inimitable style he describes the interaction between these two men so skillfully that you can almost hear their hearts beat. You know something is about to happen. Raymond Chandler plies his unique gifts in his vivid description of settings. Pasadena on a hot day is cooler inside a huge house with a stained glass window the size of a tennis court. He turns his attention to Bunker Hill in Los Angeles. He describes the once grand homes, and cheap apartment houses, and the people who live there. Chandler has a wry sense of humor. Characters call him a tough guy. He brushes it off. Usually, he pokes fun at them or sometimes himself. There is an element of the autobiographical when Marlowe reaches for a bottle. Chandler had a drinking problem. In 1961 I visited Bunker Hill with my uncle who worked for the California Division of Highways. It was much as Raymond Chandler had described it. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (no relation), which would transform downtown, existed only in blueprints. That's another story. Have you ever read The High Window? Please email email@example.com.
Written 3/9/2017 Your Constitutional Rights
The latest book from Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California School of law is, Closing the Courthouse Door: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable. Here’s a small sample. In the Preface, Chemerinsky writes, “I have been teaching constitutional law and federal courts for thirty-six years and have witnessed dramatic changes in the law.” Chapter One: Why Do We Have Federal Courts? “The preeminent purpose of the federal courts is to enforce the United States Constitution…This position should not be controversial, yet it is so at odds with many legal doctrines that it needs to be justified.” “Most dramatically, those without political power have nowhere to turn except the judiciary for the protection of their constitutional rights. The reality is that participants in the political process have little reason to be responsive to the constitutional rights of prisoners or criminal defendants or those who are not citizens. These individuals lack political power - they do not give money to political candidates, they generally are prohibited from voting, they are unpopular and often unsympathetic.” In the Acknowledgements, Chemerinsky writes, “This book is dedicated to my wife, Catherine Fisk. She helped me formulate the thesis for this book and encouraged me to write it.” Because I’m writing this column on International Women’s Day, I want to acknowledge the importance of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was a hard-fought battle. John Lennon, as a songwriter, independent of the group that made him famous, sang, “I don’t believe in Beatles.” He had worked hard to forge his own identity, but he didn’t do it alone. John Lennon acknowledged that he could not go forward without the help, inspiration and support of his wife, Yoko Ono. He was born John Howard Lennon, but changed it to John Ono Lennon, so they would have the same name. In his song “Woman,” which he dedicated to Yoko, John referred to women as, “The other half of the sky.” That’s another story. Have you ever thought about your constitutional rights? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written 3/1/17 Speak. I’m listening Listening is a skill usually not taught in school; one of four communication skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing. Some linguists classify listening as a “passive” skill. However, it’s a foundation skill that requires active processing. If we tried to understand what someone was saying, many communication problems would be resolved. I was very interested in President Trump’s listening sessions. One that caught my attention was a recent meeting at the White House with representatives of historically Black colleges. Forget the faux pas of kneeling on the couch with high heels on. That’s for cross-cultural etiquette experts to sort out. Forget the mixing up of acronyms for those colleges. That’s for psychologists to evaluate. Forget the policy implications of such a meeting. That’s for policy analysts to debate. What I want to focus on is listening, really listening, and how hard it is to accomplish. Here’s the first example. The other day I ran into a former colleague and his wife at a coffee shop down the hill. He and I taught third grade at the same school. We shared the same admiration – please catch the tongue-in-cheek reference – of our former principal. “I sat next to her at several retirement dinners,” he said. I had a similar experience with her, so I knew how uncomfortable that could be. We both laughed. When I spoke to her on that occasion she didn’t hear a word I said. I’m sure his experience was similar, although we didn’t go into it. The teacher and I discussed travel, photography, education and politics. With that last issue we had our differences. But our conversation was friendly because we were used to going back and forth on a variety of topics over the years. When he excused himself for a moment his wife, who is a native speaker of Spanish, shared her thoughts. She hadn’t said a word when the two of us were talking. I listened carefully because I knew English was her second language. The next day, at the same coffee shop, I joked in Spanish with a friend of mine who went to the same law school. For the first time the cashier, who I thought had never heard a word I said, looked surprised. She heard me for the first time. I was speaking her language – literally. That’s another story. Have you ever said, “Speak. I’m listening.” Please email email@example.com
Written 2/22/17 Storywriters Start With Real Life
Many years ago I was teaching in the Employee Program at USC. I started as a teaching assistant at the beginning of the school year and by the end of that academic year the program was going to end. Why? The answer then as now was the same - money. The funding source dried up. I knew that the students could send their children to school with tuition remission. Why couldn’t they put themselves through school? It turns out they could, although it had not been done before. It creates a big income stream for the English as a Second Language Program. Here’s a story I shared at the Wrightwood Writers Workshop. Every time we meet we spend ten minutes writing which we then share. I hope you like this story. It’s true. One of the students in the program was a gardener. He came to class one day after work excited about a new project. “I saved enough money to dig a well. Ten thousand dollars!” It was the third time he was attempting to find water on his land. Twenty thousand gone and ten more to follow. Thirty thousand dollars in all. I was surprised, “That’s a lot of money to dig a well!” He said, “It’s one thousand dollars to dig the well and nine thousand for the man who works for the water company.” A bribe. Having studied Spanish in Mexico I remembered that they call it “la mordida” - the little bite. If this well was successful he would return to his country. I knew he was from a desert region in the North. Taking an educated guess I asked, “What do you want to do, grow cotton?” He replied, “Oh, no. I want to work for the water company.” He didn’t mind the bribe, it was just that he was on the wrong end of it! He didn’t seem to realize the irony and I didn’t point it out to him. He knew I wouldn’t judge and so he felt safe telling me his innermost thoughts. It was OK with me, besides he was practicing English. So that’s a real short snippet of what could be part of a larger story. The advice I gave at the workshop was to start somewhere but be consistent. Keep writing. That’s another story. Have you ever heard it said that storywriters start with real life? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written 2/16/17 Who Understands Political Wrangling?
Are you looking for a Monday-morning quarterback? Do you long to find someone, anyone who can make sense of it all? Maybe there's somebody out there you could trust to explain those executive orders, tweets, Grammy statements, court decisions, shouting on both sides of the aisle, questions about ethics and ongoing attacks on Sen. John McCain? One woman voiced a frequently expressed sentiment, "I don't watch Reality TV." Of course, you may have found those 100% reliable sources you want to share with your friends on Facebook.
Rather than get lost in the blogosphere, I revisited a trio of classic authors. Let's begin with The World of Raymond Chandler - In His Own Words edited by Barry Day. We need to be aware of how language is used because "...its impact is sensational rather than intellectual...which is being molded by writers to do delicate things and yet be within the grasp of superficially educated people." The well educated do not escape criticism. "You hear American doctors and lawyers and schoolmasters talking in such a way that it is very clear they have no real understanding of their own language."
When it comes to lashing out, Charles Dickens has no equal. In Bleak House he writes about a woman who "...has a watchful way of looking out of the corners of her eyes without turning her head which could be pleasantly dispersed with, especially when she is in an ill humor and near knives." In the same chapter he writes about, "A man of very ill-regulated mind...An extremely dangerous person in any community. A man of very low character of mind...He is obstinate."
None of that matters to hard-core supporters. There's no room for discussion and debate. Eric Hofer explains why in The True Believer, "All mass movements...breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them...demand blind faith and single-hearted allegiance."
To see how these ideas play out all you have to do is turn on the TV. Flynn? Rhymes with spin. Bad West Wing drama. He has the President's full confidence, Conway says. Don't know, is Spicer's analysis. Survivor? Lips sealed, deadpans Miller. Lied to Pence? Words of the Apprentice ring true. You're fired! Or did he resign after all? Fake News at 11. That's another story. Have you ever wondered who understands political wrangling? Please email email@example.com.
Written 2/8/17 Who really wins?
My Constitutional Law professor emailed his analysis of President Trump's travel ban on seven mostly Muslim nations. Namely, from the beginning of his run for the presidency, candidate Trump signaled his intentions and fulfilled his campaign promise. If you watched Tuesday's Senate Confirmation Hearings or listened to the arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals you know how convincing each side of an issue can sound. Who's right? Who's wrong? Were you persuaded? We've been conditioned to think that one side is always right and one side is always wrong.
Philosophers dedicate their lives to understanding an issue, dissecting arguments, and reaching a conclusion. Take, for example, Immanuel Kant. When he was in his late 50's he read David Hume. Kant wrote, "It awoke me from my dogmatic slumber." He went on to become one of the most influential philosophers in history. "Kant was one of the earliest exponents of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation." (Wikipedia)
Legal scholars delve deeply into the U.S. Constitution. When I was in law school my Constitutional Law professor challenged us to think about the issues. He wanted us to come up with arguments that supported our point of view. I tried for two semesters, but could never convince him. He used the Socratic method. If you saw "The Paper Chase" you'll understand how challenging that can be. I knew what I believed but I couldn't seem to muster the right arguments. One day, toward the end of the final semester I made my case on an issue. My professor said, "I agree." I was stunned. He went on, "I've always agreed with you as a human being. This time I agree with you as a lawyer."
Wall Street makes decisions that affect the lives and fortunes of billions of people around the globe. What do Stock Brokers do when they know nothing about a company? They consult one of the Expert Network Firms, which provide careful analysis. I wonder how much philosophy and expert opinion has influenced politicians, journalists, pundits and lawyers who have been filling our airwaves with their take on the Constitution?
Maybe you cheered when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced. Why argue? Who has patience for it anyway? There's nothing to be learned. That's another story.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Who really wins?” Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written 2/1/17 The Pretenders
The Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) is well known for their “free” outdoor productions in Griffith Park. Bring lawn chairs, a picnic basket, a blanket or two and be prepared for an evening of live theater. You can expect a few surprises before the final curtain, even though there is no curtain. I was surprised last weekend because ISC has an indoor space and was offering a staged reading at their Independent Studio in Atwater Village. The Pretenders is a tale from medieval Norway written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It combines elements of psychology and politics in a surprisingly modern way. You may be familiar with A Doll’s House, which was the most produced play in the 20th Century. “A scathing criticism of the marital roles accepted by men and women which characterized Ibsen’s society.” (Wikipedia) If a title could say it all, An Enemy of the People certainly speaks to an all-too-modern trend in which criticism of political leaders is equated with treason. The Pretenders’s struggle between two men who vie for the crown is fierce. Who is best suited to lead? Whose vision can guide the nation into a more prosperous, secure and enlightened future? The play is so modern that I asked Director Joseph Culliton if the new version by Charles Edward Pogue had been rewritten. “I had a conversation with him,” Culliton said, “and he told me he had added only one line.” An amazing work of translation since the notes tell us that Pogue “was totally unaware the play even existed until 15 years ago.” I downloaded a free online version of The Pretenders for a snowbound day. Worth considering are certain parallels with Hamlet. Both Ibsen and Shakespeare based their plays on Scandinavian history and legend. “The hero as fool” will never leave us. ISC has “pay what you can” productions through the month of February. More information at www.iscla.org. As I was leaving the theater I saw Bennett Kaiser, former member of the LAUSD School Board. He was driven out of office when millions of dollars from those who want to privatize public education overwhelmed his campaign. Bennett told me a similar effort is underway against pro-public education Board Member Steve Zimmer. Political struggles from medieval Norway to the Halls of Congress seem to revolve around money. That’s another story. Have you ever seen, read, or even heard about The Pretenders? Please email email@example.com
A Joyful Protest March
Last Saturday, as I headed for the L.A. County Law Library, I found myself in the middle of the Women's March. The streets were blocked by a mass of humanity, men, women, and children. Fortunately, I was able to get through before the LAPD cordoned off the streets. My Bar Exam Prep colleague and I usually meet at the library around noon. I arrived only a couple of minutes late. He kept me apprised of his progress through texts and phone calls. He never made it.
Aware of the tens of thousands of people just outside their doors, library staff screened everyone individually. "Are you here to do research?" They were surprised by the size of the crowd, the likes of which I have never seen. "There were only a couple of hundred people on Friday," (Inauguration Day). Police estimates put the number at "well over 100,000." Giving a significantly higher total, organizers "estimated three-quarters of a million" marched. However, it wasn't really a march - too many people. It was a "gathering" - festive and fun. People were in a joyful mood, laughing, some wearing knitted pink caps with little cat ears. Many were carrying protest signs. For example, consider the new breed of sign that was emailed, printed in color and mounted, reading, "Build a wall around fear, bigotry, inequality, violence, oppression, hate."
On Friday, I went to a UTLA-Retired meeting. The teachers' union coordinated with LAUSD enabling students at school sites to express their concerns. UTLA has organized many marches over the years, including against the War in Iraq. That sticky web of fact and denial, claim and counter-claim took years to unravel. In May 2016, Frontline reported that, "Colin Powell has called his 2003 speech to the United Nations, laying out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq, a 'blot' on his record. The speech set out to detail Iraq’s weapons program, but as the intelligence would later confirm, that program was nonexistent." That's another story.
Have you ever thought you would see a joyful protest march? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
War of Words
Trending on Tuesday morning is this item from Fox News. Greg Gutfield's Opinion: Stone Age Liberals. He took on a Newsweek columnist who criticized him. The columnist rebuffed something Gutfield said on The Five, "Your premise is factually incorrect. But keep on cashing those checks." Gutfield reacted strongly reminding readers that direct deposit has replaced check cashing. He attacked the unnamed columnist in particular and liberals in general. They are out of touch, behind the times, living in the past and ineffective. Nobody listens to them any more. Gutfield did. And by calling it to our attention he gave the criticism new life. Gutfield takes for granted that Liberals are against him, and conservatives are on his side. He doesn't consider how middle of the roaders see it. That's a lesson politicians must learn. The war of words cannot be won with a dictionary.
Let's look at how the war of words is playing out on the inauguration stage. KFI commentators said that Congressman Lewis started it. In a way they're right. On Sunday Lewis appeared on Face the Nation with MSNBC's Chuck Todd. As a broadcast journalist Chuck Todd seems to focus on the issues. He is also NBC News’ political director and servers as on-air political analyst for Nightly News with Lester Holt and TODAY. It's something I might like if I watched television.
Congressman Lewis told Chuck Todd that he didn't consider Donald Trump's presidency to be legitimate. In a tweeted response Trump attacked Lewis and his congressional district. That response unleashed a furor in that Lewis is an "icon" of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965 he was with King in Selma as MLK led the march across the bridge. In 1972 Lewis was beaten on "Bloody Sunday." On the day this column goes to print 55 members of Congress have joined Lewis' boycott of the inauguration.
As I was writing the final words to this column at Peets in Pasadena a man came up and said, "That's a small computer." I met him years ago and we've had many interesting conversations since then. He said he was a student at a Bible college in Michigan in 1965, "I marched with King in Selma." That's another story.
Have you ever thought you would see Member of Congress John Lewis and President elect Donald Trump engage in a war of words? Please email email@example.com
Written January 4, 2017 A Rose from the Parade
For the past several years I've gone to the pre-Rose Parade lineup. It's a fun way to bring in the New Year. Since January 1 fell on a Sunday this year, the Rose Parade was postponed one day. In the words of the song, "What a difference a day makes." The mood was not as festive, restrained, almost somber. Baristas in coffee shops that had extended hours on January 1 were disappointed. Comments such as, "People were done partying," or "It was a lot slower than expected," were expressed in a resolved way. Nevertheless, there was enough activity on the pre-Parade route to satisfy me. The floats are normally lined up along Orange Grove and its side streets. Each of these streets, like tributaries of a river had been set aside for, say, equestrian groups or marching bands. Street parking around midnight had been ample but sought after. One car would pull out of a parking space and another would be waiting to take its place. Not so in 2017. Block after block was marked no parking. Everything seemed to channel in new strange directions. I missed the one float I wanted to see, the Lions 100 Anniversary float. I did catch a glimpse of it, however, when a friend said, "I see 100." I thought that was the float number and by the time I realized it must have been the Lions float, it was already moving to parts unknown. Trying to play catch up was an impossible task. In the words of one of the Rose Parade personnel, "If you can keep up with the floats, you're doing good. Otherwise, stay behind the lines.” Despite that disappointment I did find a traditional stand offering "John's flowers." Although I have not asked before, how could I resist this year? It turns out that in order to get a flower you have to tell a joke. Mine was, "If it squawks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's Donald." Not a good joke, I must admit, but I made it up myself. And it was good enough to win a flower. It's a yellow rose, for friendship, which I texted to a dozen ladies on my friends list. That's another story.
Written December 27, 2016
See Your Way to Mindfulness
Once upon a time I wrote two poems a week. I was bitten by the poetry bug after going to a reading at the Laguna Beach library. The leader of the group talked at length about the visit of Galway Kinnell, a legendary poet she described in glowing terms. I hadn't thought of Kinnell in decades until someone at KPFK lent me; see your way to mindfulness, a book by David Schiller. The introduction concluded with the words of Galway Kinnell, "The first step...shall be to lose the way."
I remember getting lost in the San Gabriel Mountains. It was a strangely beautiful experience, although somewhat disturbing at the time. The crunch of leaves underfoot, the sound of lively voices in the distance. When you are in Wrightwood you live with nature, keenly aware of the beauty and the perils. White hills and cars in ditches, the latest examples.
At the heart of Schiller's book are photographs taken on an iPhone. Brief essays about the themes precede the 26 Exercises in his book. What follows is a carefully crafted combination of words and images designed to make mindfulness accessible. Here are Schiller's first five themes and my reflections.
Exercise 1: sit still and look until the you disappear The challenge here is that we usually put ourselves at the center of everything. By focusing on our surroundings we get lost in what we see.
Exercise 2: look for what is changing (p.s. everything changes) We often think of things around us as fixed and permanent. The quality of light, a subtle movement plus the unexpected provide ample opportunities to see change.
Exercise 3: look up Watch the leaves in the trees, swaying gently in the breeze or a pine branch bending to drop its burden of snow.
Exercise 4: appreciate the imperfect Symmetry and perfectly curved lines help form the images we find in advertising. Go to a farmers' market and find bumpy, mottled tomatoes, which are a world apart from the supermarket variety.
Exercise 5: draw what you see We spend time talking to ourselves when we are drawing. That's not right, says our critical voice. Schiller recommends Betty Edwards book, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." I met her at a conference in Mexico where we were presenters. That's another story.
Written December 21, 2016 Mindfulness for the Holidays...Merton
"I want to become a Trappist monk," I told the Brother who was teaching religion at my parochial high school. "I don't think you'll make it, Mr. Cromshow." He was well acquainted with my talkativeness demonstrated in the speech club, which he coached. Nevertheless, the Trappist vow of silence was supplemented by scholarship, which interested me. Winemaking and hard physical work, which were two other pillars of the religious order, had no appeal to me.
Thomas Merton was one of the Trappist monks whose writing lives on. Merton's most popular book, The Seven Storey Mountain, inspired generations of youth. So, when I discovered The Asian Journals of Thomas Merton, at the Wrightwood Friends of the Library sale, I gladly invested fifty cents. There are bargains waiting for you just in time for Christmas!
Thomas Merton, "The monk of Gethsemani (Kentucky) did not desert his own in indwelling heights when he climbed to meet the Dalai Lama in the Himalayan mountains." Although "These pages reveal the character and circumstances of a rare and beloved person. It is a book which seemingly ends in tragedy." In Thailand Merton stepped out of his bathtub only to be electrocuted by the currents running to an electric fan. He was fifty-three.
Merton writes, "The contemplative life must provide an area, a space of liberty, of silence, in which possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices - beyond routine choice - become manifest." As part of the Ecumenical movement inspired by Vatican II, Merton discovered the wisdom of Asia. He recorded this Tibetan saying the Dalai Lama had quoted, "People who make no mental effort, even if they remain in mountain retreats, are like animals hibernating in their holes, only accumulating causes for a descent into hell."
One day my high school classmates put my Trappist intentions to the test. They bet me I could not remain silent for even one hour. They picked the most challenging time - lunch. I successfully resisted all their attempts to lure me into speaking. My resolve evaporated, however, when we were walking back to class before the bell rang. I was in the lead when Brother James, our rather intimidating principal, barked, "Where are you going?" I had to answer because I wanted to survive the day. That's another story.
Have you ever explored mindfulness for the holidays with The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written December 14, 2016 The Russians Are Coming
The Cold War was a half century ago. Both sides armed themselves with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in fierce propaganda wars, each calling the other liars or worse. When tensions rose to a peak some comedians intervened. They wanted to defuse the explosive situation. In 1966 Director Norman Jewison gave us a funny antidote in “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.” Not lightweight, it was nominated for five Oscars and won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Movie - Comedy or Drama, and Best Actor for Alan Arkin. Repeating the title of this war-comedy helped covey the panic Arkin and cast felt. It’s available on amazon.com. IMDb summarizes the plot, “Without hostile intent, a Soviet sub runs aground off New England. Men are sent out for a boat, but many villagers go into a tizzy, risking bloodshed.” The operative phrase here is, “Without hostile intent...” Is the same true of Russian hacking during our current election cycle? The CIA report issued a few days ago re-stoked the controversy that from time to time raged spanning the last several months. It followed on the heels of a request by the Obama Administration for a full report before the President leaves office on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. President-elect Trump and his closest advisors hotly deny the claim that the Russians hacked into Hillary Clinton’s email in order to benefit him. A bipartisan group of electors wants more information before they cast their votes in the Electoral College on December 19. Appearing on Face the Nation this weekend Sen. John McCain called for a select committee made up of representatives from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee. Sen. McCain said. “...You can’t make this issue partisan, it’s just -- it’s too important. A fundamental of a democracy is a free and fair election.” Sen. McCain is concerned about President-elect Trump’s statements regarding Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. McCain wants the public to comprehend that “Putin is not someone to be underestimated.” Is Russia’s former KGB operative, former Prime Minister and current President a friend of the United States? Can he be trusted? Are the Russians coming for us in cyberspace? That’s another story. Have you ever seen The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming? Please email email@example.com
Written Dec. 7, 2016 Step Back in Time with Cinderella, White Christmas and Jackie
If you have been to the tree lined Chaffey High School campus, I think you will agree it is like stepping back in time. The campus was established in 1911. For a time it was home to Chaffey College, which later relocated to Rancho Cucamonga. After the Spring 2017 production the theater will be closed for a two-year restoration project. Cinderella is the current Chaffey High School musical. My friend's sister-in-law who teaches science and math there gave complimentary tickets to her family. She was generous enough to include me in the Monday night festivities.
Chaffey's Cinderella is based on the 1957 musical written for television by Rogers and Hammerstein. Although the music dates back nearly 60 years, the book was rewritten to reflect 21st Century sensibilities. Some references are as up to date as today's headlines. For example, a reference to "security concerns" made the mostly teenage audience laugh. Taken in context, Cinderella's dilemma is one sometimes faced by stepchildren. Her stepmother wants everything for herself and her daughters and abuses her late husband's daughter. Confiscation of land by the state, and a child-king with his self-serving advisors make the musical very contemporary. It plays through this weekend.
My friend and I were seeing different movies in Hollywood on Sunday. She was at the Pantages seeing "White Christmas" from 1954. It capitalized on the famous song by Irving Berlin. My friend preferred the original version from "Holiday Inn" in which a songwriter dreams of snow at his desk on a warm day in Beverly Hills. "They made the song faster," my friend said. She thought it lost some of that special quality Bing Crosby captured in "Holiday Inn," which I remember enjoying at a Serrano High School Senior Holiday luncheon.
"Jackie" stars Natalie Portman and is currently playing at the Arclight in Hollywood. The film takes us through those dark days in 1963 surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Recreating the events surrounding that day Dallas was central to the drama but the focus was on Jackie. How did she react? What was it like returning to the White House without JFK? Her story is told through an interview with a reporter. It ends with Lerner and Lowe's "Camelot." That's another story.
Have you ever wanted to step back in time with Cinderella, White Christmas and Jackie? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Heavens to Betsy
Statistics make my palms sweat, although I understand the subject well enough to smell a rat. Politicians realize people's fear and loathing of numbers, so they take advantage. In 2000 my Elementary School Principal introduced No Child Left Behind. She claimed every student would be above average in 2014. "Impossible!" I said, thinking of the normal curve. The 400-page legislative jumble, supported by President George W. Bush, was reportedly not read by co-sponsor Senator Ted Kennedy.
NCLB weakened public schools, standardizing sub-par education. It started with curriculum that didn't let teachers teach, promoting overpriced scripted programs as a panacea. Even experienced teachers were compelled to follow line by line. Compliance, enforced by academic coaches, led to a testing fetish and teaching to the test. LAUSD kept scripted programs in force for ten years, to the tune of one billion dollars. In the end, scores did not improve and a generation of students lost the opportunity to become critical thinkers.
The cost of scripted programs was so high that an impoverished education had to be put in place. Art, music and drama were eliminated. Class size increased. Enter the charters, some promoted by large organizations and their billionaire sponsors. LAUSD, for example, now has more charters than any other school district in the country. The Stanford Study showed that charters do no better than public schools. Nevertheless, School Board elections attract millions of dollars from out of state. There's money to be made.
You can trace the assault on our nation's public schools to 1983 with the publication of, A Nation at Risk. With false premises, bolstered by shaky statistics, the report laid the groundwork for turning public education over to private parties. For thirty-three years the whispered mantra of education profiteers has been, "They's gold in them thar students!" Betsy DeVos, President Elect Trump's choice for Secretary of Education is well acquainted with turning public schools into private charters. Vouchers and weakening teachers' unions are welcome byproducts. DeVos and Trump can sing a Billionaire's duet on the joys of destroying public education.
I had an interesting post Thanksgiving dinner conversation with a friend's nephew. He argued that public education was failing because of welfare mothers and lazy students. He didn't blame teachers. His two aunts are teachers and they were listening. That's another story.
Have you ever said, Heavens to Betsy? Please email email@example.com
Written November 21, 2016 Thanksgiving Wishes
“I wish somebody would share the news,” Neil Young sings in his latest song, “Indian Giver.” He’s concerned about Standing Rock, North Dakota. You may have gotten a glimpse of the ongoing protest. The Native Americans call themselves “protectors” because they are taking care of threats to the environment. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the pipeline permits to the Dakota Access Pipeline Company. The project is designed to construct a 30-inch diameter, 1,172-mile pipeline to transport petroleum to Illinois. The only time the ongoing protest breaks through the 24-hour news cycle is when it would look interesting on television. Militarized police vehicles, law enforcement in riot gear, something burning, spraying protesters with water cannons, mist streaming through the freezing night air. I wish the media would cover the news, dig beneath the captivating images, drill through to the story below. That takes hard work. Infotainment is a lot easier. Reality TV is a lot cheaper and simpler to produce than an investigative report. Old-fashioned journalism, Walter Cronkite announcing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Although the investigation following that tragedy was questionable. At least news departments endeavored to get to the truth. Last Friday a good friend and I went to The Tragedy of JFK at the Skylight Theatre in the trendy Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. I phoned to let her know I would be a little late. She called from an Italian restaurant, Palermo. By the time I arrived dinner was on the table. Delicious and soporific. As is my habit, I fell asleep during the performance. Anyway, I knew how it turned out. The surprise was that the role Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson played was front and center. Finally, I wish for a half-dozen tickets to Hamilton. I wasn’t interested in the musical until this week, when Vice President elect Pence recommended it. Checking online I found that seats are available in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The reason I want six tickets is because of my recent theatre going experience. Six tickets to Hamilton would allow my friend’s two daughters and their boyfriends to join us, Should I fall asleep during Hamilton, she would have someone to talk to. That’s another story.
Have you ever made a list of Thanksgiving wishes? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written November 16, 2016 The Electoral College vs. the Popular Vote
Both candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election have recently commented about the results. One won, one lost. Each argues his or her case in different ways. Donald Trump was declared the winner on November 9. Hillary Clinton gave a concession speech the same day. Trump actually raised the issue before the election saying that he found fault with the process. Clinton took it for granted that her projected win was in the Electoral College and based her campaign strategy on getting to the magic number of 270 Electoral Votes. What a difference a vote makes! The candidates and their supporters’ views notwithstanding, I want to share my thoughts about the Electoral College. I have long been a supporter of that system established by the Founders. It makes perfect sense that without counting Electoral votes candidates would campaign in population centers only. Rural states or rural areas within states would be ignored. Go where the votes are. During my October radio show a caller raised the issue of the Electoral College. He said that it was established in order to protect slavery. I knew that but deferred to my guests. They didn’t comment so I answered only one question the caller asked. It concerned the Powell Memo, which established a strategy to change the face of future elections. After the show I wondered how I knew that. Upon reflection I realized that a while ago one of my guests told me I had a Southern textbook in my elementary school. Why? Because I had learned about the War Between the States rather than the Civil War. The authors made sure that the argument was clear and had devoted quite a bit of text to it. Back to Trump-Clinton. To me you start a game according to a set of rules and you finish it accordingly. Like it or not Presidents have always been elected according to Electoral College votes. This close election reminds me of the controversial election of 1884. That’s another story. Have you ever debated the issue of the Electoral College vs. the Popular Vote? Please email email@example.com
Written November 9, 2016 Listen, Liberal
I’m writing this column before the presidential election hits the fan. Either I’ll be celebrating or bemoaning the unpredictable turns of fate. Truly unpredictable because polling is an inexact science and there is talk from both major political parties of rigging the election. One side claims, for instance, that dead people are voting while the other side claims that long lines prove voter suppression. We can’t rely on the mainstream media since their focus is on the horse race and personalities. Issues count for nothing. Regardless of their political point of view, the majority of people I’ve spoken to believe the system is broken. I made the mistake of showing Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal to a woman with long polished fingernails. Her imitation of the pointing hand on the cover made me realize how targeted Frank’s book is. The uncompromising author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? subtitled his latest, “What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?” He’s disenchanted with the political process. As the dust jacket makes clear, “Frank recalls the Democrats back to their historic goals - the only way to reverse the ever-deepening rift between the rich and the poor in America.” Two quotations establish Thomas Frank’s theme which likely rings true to people on either side of the aisle. The first concerns how politicians use their abilities. It’s from Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America. “It is doubtless important to the good of nations that those who govern have virtues or talents; but what is perhaps still more important to them is that those who govern do not have interests contrary to the mass of the governed; for in that case the virtues could become almost useless and the talents fatal.” The second quotation concerns the well connected. It’s from David Halberstam, author of The Best and the Brightest, 1972. “McGeorge Bundy, then, was the finest example of a special elite, a certain breed of men whose continuity is among themselves. They are linked to one another rather than to the country; in their minds they become responsible for the country but not responsive to it.” I set up an appointment with my taxman for the day after the election. “OK. As long as there are no problems.” “Problems? What problems?” “Rioting.” That’s another story. Have you ever read a book like Listen Liberal? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written November 3, 2016
Which Side Are You On
“Which Side Are You On?” is a song by Frances Reece, a precocious 12-year-old. She writes about the mineworkers’ strike affecting her father in 1912. Fast forward to the 1930s when labor disputes are still going on. As Harlan County takes center stage for folksinger Pete Seeger, we find violence on both sides. Lyrically Reece reminds us, “There are no neutrals there...”
Political disputes are an important part of U.S. history. In a conversation on Tuesday morning, a friend quoted Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” And you can’t be neutral during the 2016 Presidential Campaign unless you’re ProCon.org. I’ve written about this online reference before. It’s highly respected by history teachers and journalists because it presents both sides of the story. Honestly!
If you’re tired, but not that tired, you might want to give the political process one more try. Candidates’ statements have been compiled as they took a stand on important issues. All you have to do is visit the website procon.org. Click on “4 Candidates. 75 Issues. Take the Nonpartisan Quiz that May Change How You Vote.” Choose AGREE, DISAGREE or UNCERTAIN.
The categories are broad. As an example, within each one I have included a (subtopic) that is of most interest to me as far as candidates’ positions are concerned: Crime & Justice (Native American Treaties); Economy & Taxes (Trans Pacific Partnership); Education (Tuition-Free Colleges and Universities); Elections (Debates / 3rd Party Candidates); Foreign Policy (Nuclear Deal with Iran); Guns / Second Amendment (Gun Control); Health Care, Abortion & End of Life Issues (Mandatory Vaccination); Immigration (Syrian Refugees); Labor & Wages (Family and Medical Leave); Marijuana & Alcohol (Medical Marijuana); Military & War on Terror (Collaboration with Russia); Race (Black Lives Matter); Science & Environment (Renewable Energy); and, Sex & Gender (Religious Liberty).
Click when you’re finished. Your answers are compared with Clinton-Trump-Stein-Johnson statements. How do your views align with each candidate? Who’s your best match? The results may surprise you.
Let’s go back to our songwriter Frances Reece. When she died in 1986 she had seen several of the seeds of today’s political struggles take root. Her lyrics are relevant to many people today, “Us poor folks haven’t got a chance Unless we organize.” That’s another story.
Have you ever been asked, Which Side Are You On? Please email email@example.com.
Written October 25, 2016
Scary Halloween Radio Show
In 2003 I started in radio with a three-minute weekly news segment on KPFK, second of five Pacifica stations. In 2008 "Politics or pedagogy?" evolved into a monthly one-hour program, between all-too-frequent fund drives. I learned at the National Education Association it was the only show in the country covering education from a teacher's point of view. In the Tri-Community radio reception for KPFK 90.7 FM is sketchy. You might prefer to listen online at kpfk.org. Of course, thanks to Al Gore we have the internet! LOL.
My Scary Halloween Show, airs Monday, October 31 at 2:00 PM, featuring three teachers, Cheryl Ortega, Raleigh Warner and Wrightwood's own Gayle Dowling. They will be joined by City Garage Theatre's Charles Duncombe. Why is the show scary? Imagine the following eight days when supporters of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton awake in a cold sweat. Their nightmare is that the scary opponent wins. Since it is nearly impossible to defeat an incumbent, it's likely this election will follow the pattern of the last two. Why not have an eight-year accountability campaign? Eight days, eight years.
Cheryl supports Proposition 58, which allows school districts to establish bilingual education programs that were largely abandoned for decades. Gayle has mixed feelings concerning charter schools, good in concept but bad if they lead to privatization. Raleigh believes in the importance of debate, and that candidates for public office need to master the basics. Charles will discuss his latest play, "Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth," imagining what an alien who drops in on the 2016 Presidential Campaign would encounter. Scary! They'll take listener calls at (818) 985-5735.
Pacifica, the only non-corporate owned radio network in the USA, started on a shoestring in 1949. With commercials flooding the airwaves it was time for listener-sponsored KPFA in Berkeley. Would people actually pay to listen to the radio? With five radio stations and fifty-seven years broadcasting, the answer is still "yes." It hasn't been easy and for a long time the future looked bleak. Listener-sponsors are optimistic following the recently completed elections in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Washington DC. Activist, politician and author Tom Hayden, who died this week, was a supporter of KPFK and Participatory Democracy. That's another story.
Thanks to independent media and the Internet I found out that Bernie Sanders was speaking in Hollywood last Friday to Reduce Drug Prices. The Yes on 61 rally was the second time I’ve heard him in person. The first time was at the Sports Arena in August 2015. Although 27,000 people attended it was a blip on the news. The Sports Arena was razed last week but Bernie is still with us. His pro-Prop 61 rallies throughout California have gotten a lot of press. Here’s a short summary of Bernie’s Yes on 61 campaign, “Sen. Bernie Sanders is back on the campaign trail, but this time his target is not Hillary Clinton, it’s the soaring cost of drugs and the fear of financial ruin for cancer and HIV/AIDS victims.” (MyNewsLA.com) On Friday, Bernie spoke to hundreds of supporters gathered in the Federation of Musicians Hall parking lot. He gave many examples of pharmaceutical companies’ exorbitant prices. He said they have been able to get away with it because Big Pharma has two lobbyists for every Member of Congress. Bernie Sanders’ Vermont home is only 50 miles from the Canadian border. Decades ago he escorted a group of female cancer patients to Canada. Prescriptions cost a fraction of what they do in the United States because the Canadian government can negotiate prices. Big Pharma is afraid, Bernie said, that the rest of the nation might follow California’s lead. Last week I spoke to a Wrightwood man currently serving in the military. He’s a conservative voter, but is bothered when a pharmaceutical company charges $600 for an Epi-pen, “And the ingredients are $5 to $8!” Would you like impartial information about 17 Propositions on the November 8 California ballot? The League of Women Voters Guide is available online (www.easyvoterguide.org) or at the public library. A few days before Bernie’s Prop 61 rally in Hollywood, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Committee said his lyrics rise to the level of poetry, fulfilling the role of the Bard in times gone by. Take “Desolation Row,” for example. It is the final song on the album Highway 61 Revisited released in 1965. In it Dylan describes a world gone mad. Sounds like politics in America circa 2016. That’s another story. Have you ever considered a campaign song Proposition 61 Revisited? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written October 10, 2016
Why Watch the Debate?
I watched Sunday night's Presidential debate with a friend, one Affordable Care Act provision helped because when her daughter graduated from college she was under 26. The next day I looked for Monday-morning quarterbacks. One woman summarized the majority sentiment, "I don't watch Reality TV." Two of those I asked had watched the debate live - a woman who supported Clinton, and a man who supported Trump. There's a hidden bombshell I discussed with both of them. Regarding Syria - in the Vice-Presidential debate Pence espoused a policy that was essentially John McCain's and closer to Clinton's than to Trump's. Trump countered, "He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree." Trump's non-interventionist policy avoids a confrontation with Russia. Rather than get lost in the blogosphere, I went to classic authors. Let's begin with The World of Raymond Chandler - In His Own Words edited by Barry Day. We need to be aware of how language is used because "...its impact is sensational rather than intellectual...which is being molded by writers to do delicate things and yet be within the grasp of superficially educated people." The well educated do not escape criticism. "You hear American doctors and lawyers and schoolmasters talking in such a way that it is very clear they have no real understanding of their own language." When it comes to lashing out, Charles Dickens has no equal. In Bleak House he writes about a woman who "...has a watchful way of looking out of the corners of her eyes without turning her head which could be pleasantly dispersed with, especially when she is in an ill humour and near knives." In the same chapter he writes about, "A man of very ill-regulated mind...An extremely dangerous person in any community. A man of very low character of mind...He is obstinate" None of that matters to hard-core supporters. Eric Hofer explains why in The True Believer, "All mass movements...breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them...demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance." CNN showed how women are treated in a post-debate analysis. One female reporter began speaking but was interrupted by the man next to her. Moderator Jake Tapper ignored her and asked another man to comment. The woman's body language said it all. That's another story.
Have you ever wondered why watch the debate? Please email email@example.com.
Lemmings And Glass Houses
Just before exiting Washington D.C. for their fall recess and not to return until after the November 8 Election, Congressmen and Senators voted en masse to override President Barrack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Prior to enacting the bill into law, which would permit 9/11 victims and families to sue Saudi Arabia, nearly one fifth of the Senate released a letter expressing concerns but then they voted for it anyway. In doing so, Congress ignored warnings from the U.S. Intelligence Community and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and instead being caught up in the emotionalism of the 9/11 tragedy, struck down the principles of Sovereign Immunity that protect our armed forces, officials and diplomats from foreign court proceedings. After the bill became law, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell commented, “It appears there may be some unintended ramifications of this bill.” He then blamed Obama for not explaining things. However, the damage was done and the halls of congress went dark after anti-Arab sentiment was increased. Prior to JASTA, U.S. nationals were permitted to sue a foreign state for injuries, death or damages from an act of international terrorism if that state was designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State. However, the American military ally of Saudi Arabia has not been named as such. What JASTA allows is for 9/11 victims and families, who opted out of the Victims Compensation Fund approved by Congress in late 2001, to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for pain and suffering, based on the fact that 15 of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens. In the Victims Compensation settlement, claimants received up to $8.5 million individually with total payouts reaching $7 billion. In vetoing JASTA, Obama contended the bill takes authority to determine if a state has become a sponsor of terrorism away from the Federal Government and places it in lower courts, which may have incomplete information. For 9/11 victims and families who opted out of the Victims Compensation Fund, the entire process is a gamble to receive more than $8.5 million with attorneys eagerly circling to represent them through years of costly litigation. For politicians, it was absolutely despicable to vote on something they had not researched. Like lemmings stampeding into the abyss, there was zero consideration for the pandemonium that would ensue. The United States had hoped that Arab partners could intercede in the wars of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. However in the theater of glass houses, negation of sovereign immunity can be turned around against the United States if not respected. Drone victims and their families worldwide will be the first to sue.
Written September 28, 2016 Debating a Debate
You’ve probably had the experience of rehashing an argument. Relationships are a perfect testing ground, “I should have said this when she said that.” When a man tangles sentences with a woman he usually ends up on the losing end. Why? Linguists point to differences in the brain, which make women more verbally adept than men. If you add an audience it ups the ante. I just overheard a conversation between a man and his agent. She wanted to book him on a speaking tour. He told her, “When I look out at the audience I freeze.” Think how much more stressful it is when the director says, “Lights, camera, action.” A debate is a formalized argument. Point, counterpoint. Put in context, the first Presidential Debate on Monday was the ultimate challenge because so much was at stake. Hillary Clinton had to show that she was knowledgeable, likable, honest and trustworthy. A pretty high bar. On the other hand, according to one pundit, all Donald Trump had to do was to “not throw the spaghetti on the wall.” Did either succeed? As far as I’m concerned, Trump succeeded and so did Clinton. So, where does that leave us? There’s always the Tuesday morning quarterbacking, how performances could have been tweaked to get the better of the opponent. I decided to attend a debate gathering hosted by KPFK’s Margaret Prescod at the Holman Methodist Church in Los Angeles. The historic Black church in the historic Adams District was once headed by James Lawson, a colleague of Martin Luther King. Would there be any surprises? After all, California is Blue State where results are not in question and Black voters have long been loyal to the Clintons. I noted, however, that when asked who won the debate, most thought Trump did. There also appeared to be an enthusiasm gap. When President Obama was scheduled to speak at a National Education Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC he had to bow out. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared instead. There was lots of security, each of the 9,000 delegates had to arrive early and go through metal detectors. Still, Hillary’s appearance seemed very ho hum. It was quite different four years earlier when candidate Obama was greeted at the NEA like a rock star. That’s another story. Have you ever found yourself debating a debate? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written September 20, 2016
Films, Books and Politics
Snowden is Oliver Stone’s latest film. It is a fictionalized account of the life and times of Edward Snowden who released classified documents. It has made him a hero in some circles, a traitor in others. Both major party political candidates have spoken out against him, so at least they have that in common. In Snowden Stone takes us behind the scenes of Citizenfour winner of an Academy Award for best Documentary Feature in 2015. Filmmaker Laura Poitras and reporter Glen Greenwald put their careers and liberty on the line to make the documentary. They were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. “Snowden” is in theaters and Citizenfour is available on HBO. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy is a book that became a film. Author Greg Palast is an investigative reporter who’s worked overseas for the BBC. He provides evidence to show that elections in the United States have been stolen in the past and efforts are underway to steal this one. Palast has been making appearances all over town to promote his film. A couple of weeks ago he appeared on “Coast to Coast” with George Noory. On Monday, thanks to his publicist, he was on my show, “Politics or pedagogy?” He even removed his trademark fedora during the interview. If you’d like to hear the show send me an email request and I’ll forward you a link. The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection is the latest book by political activist Medea Benjamin. She and Jodie Evans co-founded Code Pink fourteen years ago. Benjamin told an audience that one of her supporters got into trouble in Congress for carrying a sign that read, “I can’t believe we’re still protesting this sh*t.” In her presentation she pointed out the double standard that is applied to Saudi Arabia compared to other countries in the Middle East. Congress finally passed a bill, fifteen years after 911, allowing U.S. citizens to sue Saudi Arabia. Why? Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi. President Obama said he will veto it. The Washington Post has joined the voices condemning the effort to ask the President to grant Snowden a pardon. Journalist Glenn Greenwald noted online in the Intercept that the newspaper won a Pulitzer for reporting on documents Snowden released to them. That’s another story. Have you ever been interested in films books and politics? Please email email@example.com.
Written September 14, 2016
It’s Possible to be Objective
Politics is one of the two topics we’re told not to discuss. Why? Is it because people become emotional, irrational and get upset? To accept that argument is to give way to those who deny what makes us human - our ability to reason. Critical thinking can be part of everyone’s mental tool kit to help us tackle the important issues of the day.
Are you eager to get started? The Presidential Election takes place in 55 days. In the politician’s grab bag of promises is plenty of misinformation, spin, wheelin’-dealin’ and almost anything you can hope for. A few days ago I heard an episode of A Prairie Home Companion originally broadcast in 1995. In a country-western song written in 1877 a woman asks her man if he still loves her. “Answer only with your lies,” is a refrain that could be the politician’s mantra.
Do you think the previous paragraph is objective? Hardly. Please keep that in mind as we focus on an election closer to home. In March 2017, four months after the November election, Wrightwood voters will decide on the proposed CSD. The mailing from San Bernardino County about a protest scheduled for September 22 has everybody talking. Since my picture appeared on the front page of the Mountaineer Progress last week people have been asking for my opinion. I brought a friend to Editor Vicky Rinek for more information. She said that I was a “low- information voter.” Perhaps, except that I am not registered to vote here. However, I have been persuaded to join the Wrightwood Property Owners Association. There’s a group of dedicated members meeting every week. They’re preparing an extensive analysis of the proposed CSD. You might be able to read their report before the protest meeting. It will be objective.
Vicky wanted me to include an invitation in my column. Readers, you can submit a letter for next week’s Mountaineer Progress. Presenting both sides of an issue is the fairest way to go. One letter for, one against Pro-Con is the method developed by Benjamin Franklin to help a friend of his decide whether or not to marry his cousin. It helped in that case because Franklin’s friend decided not to get married.
And to think, I was going to write this week about toothpaste. That’s another story.
Thirty years ago I realized how important it was to remember a local San Gabriel Mountains hero - Vincent Dougherty. He was recognized officially when Vincent Gap and Vincent Gulch were named after him. He was commemorated in books such as The Mountaineers and The San Gabriels. But I wanted to write a living memorial - a one-man show. There are so many historical tribute shows nowadays. One-man shows have become increasingly popular - Mark Twain, Harry S Truman, Tom Paine. Why not Goldminer Vincent?
Fred Hanrahan read the script and was eager to perform. He arrived at my house dressed in character. I couldn't believe it! Although Fred had never seen a picture of Vincent he was outfitted almost exactly as the photo on my mantle. Twenty-nine years ago Fred succeeded in bringing Goldminer Vincent to life. By the way, they were both born in Ohio.
There are many other synchronicities between Fred Hanrahan and Golodminer Vincent. After performing for decades, the flannel shirt Fred had worn during the performances wore out. He went to a local thrift store and found the identical shirt. Fred portrayed Goldminer Vincent for twenty-eight years. Vincent died in 1926, twenty-eight years after his encounter with three bears in 1898, as reported in the L.A. Times. Fred's wife Kathy pointed out that both of them went to the hospital and never came out. That loss still hurts.
Join us Labor Day weekend to memorialize Fred Hanrahan as Goldminer Vincent. We'll sing songs, watch a video, and judge a Goldminer Vincent look-alike contest on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. The next day we'll meet at Vincent Gulch 10:00 a.m., for a hike to Vincent's cabin. Join us.
You can think of history every day of the year. There's always some event to commemorate. The day this week's Mountaineer-Progress is on the stands is September 1. On that day in 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Adolph Hitler was sending warning signs for years. The United States stood on the sidelines until Germany's ally Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. And September 1 is an important date in my personal history. That's when my family completed a cross-country journey, on historic Route 66, arriving in Los Angeles on a bright September morning. That's another story.
A week ago Tuesday I was putting the finishing touches on, “Letting Nature Tell the Story,” thinking of the Wrightwood Writers Workshop, scheduled for last Thursday at the library. So much has happened since then it’s hard to know where to begin. I was on a time-sensitive mission, leaving the Grind just before eleven, Tuesday morning. Einstein’s Bagels in Pasadena was offering a free cracked egg sandwich that day only. Perfect for lunch sitting outside the L.A. County Law Library, followed by a three-hour study session with a friend and colleague. He’s preparing for the February 2017 California Bar Exam. I’m on a “just in case I have to take it again” backup plan. Results are available November 18. On Highway 15 I passed a huge plume of smoke and a blazing hot fire contained in a small canyon. Thick bright flames leapt into the air in a solid block that looked like the tip of a candle. The fire was so intense that twenty minutes later the highway was closed. But I couldn’t stop. I had to get down the hill. Think John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” As it turned out, when I called my friend he said he forgot to let me know he had another last-minute obligation. By the time I finished lunch at Einstein’s the fire had spread so quickly. You know the rest of the story. I found it impossible to study, went to the radio station but found it impossible to edit. Found some respite in my voice over class that evening. It was a relief to phone people who had stayed in town and those who had evacuated. Breathless tension mixed with a spirit of gratitude - that’s how I would characterize it. When the evacuation lifted and I was able to return friends shared stories, each of which could be a chapter in a book. Over the weekend I went to a seminar. “Evolving Out Loud” with Kyle Cease is a positive self-development seminar, which helps people become their better selves. Exchanges with others helped participants discover the hidden jewel in each person’s life. It left me with a hopeful feeling for the future. That’s another story. Have you ever thought of the old TV show, That Was the Week that Was? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written August 18, 2016
Letting Nature Guide the Story
Every book has its own history, starting with something as mundane as publishing dates. Take, for example, Death Comes for the Archbishop, a book I’m currently reading. Willa Cather wrote it in in 1927. The copyright was renewed by her estate in 1955. It was published in a leather-bound gold-tooled volume by Bantam Books in 1986, part of The Greatest Historical Novels. It’s still in print 30 years later. A classic! I bought Death Comes for the Archbishop at a Wrightwood Friends of the Library sale. There it was, sitting on the shelf waiting for me. Officially, the library doesn’t have Friends anymore. As I understand it, the non-profit support group disbanded over a year ago. Unofficially, the Library has many, many friends. Willa Cather is an engaging writer, a true master of the historical novel. She tells the story of a French missionary who is appointed a Bishop. He oversees the vast New Mexican territory before it became part of the United States. Cather advances the story book by book, each with a small number of chapters. She packs a lot into each one. In about ten pages she writes what is really a short story, a piece of the puzzle she is crafting. Cather often begins with vivid descriptions of the harsh landscape, weaving it seamlessly into her tapestry. Every page in Death Comes for the Archbishop has so many beautifully written sentences; it’s hard to chose which to share. Here’s an example, “At one moment the whole flock of doves caught the light in such a way that they all became invisible at once, dissolved in light and disappeared as salt dissolves in water.” After the Wrightwoood Writers Workshop met a few months ago a man who participated left me a couple of photos. There were two of the many photos he has taken on his journeys around the world. In the photos are great spotted cats in a stark landscape. I can hardly wait to hear the story behind it. Have you taken a picture that calls out for a story to go along with it? Bring your own photo and work on crafting words to go with it. Join us this Thursday, 3:30-5:00 p.m. Something to write about! That’s another story. Have you ever tried letting nature guide the story? Please e-mail me email@example.com.
Mindful Leadership Training
I went out to my car to retrieve my new CD set, Mindful Leadership Training. I had decided to write about that topic for this week's column. When I returned to the coffee shop a woman was telling a business colleague, "You have to live in service for others; it's built into your budget." Her words captured what I had just been listening to! I found myself once again echoing the words of my friend, "There are no coincidences." Obviously, in these days of intense political campaigning, leadership is on people's minds.
The 4-CD set, Mindful Leadership Training: The Art of Inspiring the Best in Others by Leading from the Inside Out, provides 4 hours and 35 minutes filled with practical steps you can take. Author Michael Carroll writes, "In this audio program, we will explore how to unleash our leadership talents, open courageously to life's circumstances, and recognize how to skillfully inspire our world."
In a conversation with Tami Simon, founder of Sounds True, Carroll "identified the number one quality he believes is most important to develop as a mindful leader: Openness." If you think about the current presidential campaigns, can you identify leaders who have this characteristic? How about local politicians? Do they really listen to their constituents? More importantly, arethey willing to change, or at least look into what is important to voters? Narrow your focus to the organizations to which you belong. Do you find that the leaders of your group are open to the ideas of members? Finally, look into your own heart. Are you open to others and willing to change or are you convinced that you have all the answers? If only others would listen to you! Those issues and more are explored in Mindful Leadership Training. You can hear a pretty substantial sample at soundstrue.com
Klatch, on Foothill Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga, is fast becoming one of my favorite places to write this column. I like the atmosphere. It's located in an old winery brought back to life as a gathering place for people who work, live or study nearby. I discovered it because the Village Grind started featuring Klatch coffee and cold brew. In some ways the two buildings are alike. Solid, functional, with a sense of history. That’s another story
Have you ever considered the importance of Mindful Leadership Training'? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Trade Zombie Attack
Can you picture this summer blockbuster? A huge zombie towers over our cities attacking centers of trade, leaving devastation in its wake. The Trans Pacific Partnership is that zombie and our economy is its target.
President Obama promoted the TPP in his final State of the Union address, claiming it would, “open markets, protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.” He argued it “cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, and supports more good jobs.”
The President has been lobbying Congress for quite some time. Did they want “to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.” In June 2015 Congress approved Fast Track Authority, which means they limited themselves to an up or down vote with no debate. Did the American people expect that when they elected them?
In a rare bipartisan effort both Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA 8), who represents the Tri-Community, and Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12) were among the Members of Congress who voted “No” on Fast Track. How did other Members of Congress vote? One of the groups opposed to the TPP (GMOinside.org) provides a list of each Representative’s vote.
During a 45-day public comment period I emailed my concerns.
“Here are but a few objections: The TPP is harmful to American interests, viz. employment, economics, health and safety. The WTO (World Trade Organization) requirement that country of origin of meat not be listed is an example of what lies ahead should the TPP pass. Skirting constitutional requirements, it is not labeled a treaty, which it surely is. Fast tracking deprives our elected representatives the right to debate the issue. A private three-person tribunal’s decision would lead to predictable non- accountability while negating state regulations. Finally, the TPP has been under a cloud of secrecy.”
Do you care about the TPP? Call the U.S. Congress at (202) 224-3121. During business hours a member of your Representative’s staff might take your call and pass along your message.
Trump and Clinton are opposed to the TPP. Let’s hope they tell the lobbyists “No!!” President Obama might even try to get it passed during the lame duck session when termed-out Representatives are looking for a job. That’s another story.
Have you ever worried about the international trade zombie attack? Please email email@example.com
“Coaching the Presidential Candidates”
Do you yell at the television? And this is just the beginning! This month’s political conventions aim to inspire supporters with images of Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates side by side. On the other hand, their political opponents may be barely able to restrain themselves as Republicans or Democrats fill the screen. Can we find a solution to make the rest of the presidential campaign better? University of Iowa Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz reminds us, “There are a lot of opportunities to lose during the course of the year…” Some football-style coaching might help candidates of both parties.
Let’s begin candidate coaching with a website which gives solid bi-partisan information. I interviewed Kamy Akhavan, President and Marketing Director of ProCon.org. They have a team of researchers who spend hundreds of hours finding quotations from reliable sources on both sides of the issues. Candidate statements give us a clear record of where they stand. Supporters may think that they know where their candidates stand. Here’s a fun way to find out. ProCon.org has a 62-question survey, which you can take in real time. Are you and your candidate - Trump, Clinton, Stein or Johnson - on the same page? Find out by taking the survey.
Next step in our coaching effort is to help candidates prepare for the seemingly endless array of meetings they will have on the road to the White House. In Meetings Matter – 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Author Paul Axtell “offers eight powerful strategies for fixing our meeting problems...and managing the experience for everyone in the room so people leave feeing heard and appreciated.”
To hear my interview with ProCon.org’s Kamy Akhavan, tune in to “Politics or pedagogy?” which airs on KPFK 90.7 FM on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. Also featured are interviews with Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UCI Law School. You can learn about “Smart Alec” an alternative to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Former LAUSD School Board President Jackie Goldberg tells listeners about a new City of Los Angeles program, which brings together public and private forces to provide 5,000 jobs. Finally, the pre recorded show is stitched together with conversations between me and Gayle recorded in Wrightwood in Tommy Dowling’s studio. That’s another story.
Have you ever thought of coaching the candidates? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written July 14,2016
Where to Invade Next
Who expects a political debate at Trader Joe's? That's what happened last week when I overheard a man who was loudly proclaiming his partisan beliefs. His first language was not English but he started attacking ethnic groups and foreign countries, including his own. Here's a film I would like to have recommended, Where to Invade Next?
Thanks to the American Film Institute I was able to get a sneak preview of Michael Moore's latest documentary two months before its release in February this year. Where to Invade Next? is now available on DVD. Moore begins with a tongue-in-cheek meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They admit to him US foreign policy based on militarism has been a complete failure. Could he do better? Moore "invades" European countries where no hostilities are taking place. In Italy he discovers that workers have long vacations, paid parental leave and factories where employee wellbeing is important. In France children eat delicious nutritious meals in school. In Slovenia, education all the way through college is absolutely free. Many Americans are studying there. These ideas came from the United States, abandoned by us for political reasons.
Moore told the audience at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre the impact Fahrenheit 9/11 had on Georg W. Bush advisor Carl Rove. According to Wikipedia, "The film takes a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media. The...highest grossing documentary of all time." Rove was shocked after he showed the film to three focus groups. Ten percent of Republican women said they would either vote for Bush's opponent or stay home on Election Day. Rove determined to prevent people from seeing it. How? By demonizing Michael Moore and calling it unpatriotic to see Fahrenheit 9/11. My cousin said in 2004 Moore was, "a big fat troublemaker." Late last year a friend told me, "I don't believe anything he says." She had not seen any of his films. Rove's strategy is still working.
Peter Schweitzer's book, Do As I Say (Not As I Do), offers, Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy. Rather than refute Moore's claims the author engages in virulent personal attacks. This month, as the Republican and Democratic conventions take place, "Stick to the issues" might be a better approach. That's another story.
Have you ever seen Where to Invade Next? Please email email@example.com
June 30, 2016 News with the Letter B
Radio host Garrison Keillor hosts the last episode of “A Prairie Home Companion” tomorrow night at the Hollywood BOWL. After forty years on the radio he’s calling it quits. I debated going but since I have a class bright and early the next morning, I decided to skip it. Besides, you may have experience getting to and from the Bowl. You might find yourself stuck in traffic for an hour or more on each end of the journey. The show has a whimsical quality, often combining odd bits and pieces from the week’s happenings. After forty-three years the British people decided to leave the European Union. They called it Brexit. Sheer marketing genius! With a clever combination of British and exit, how could it lose? Prime Minister David Cameron put his reputation on the line, fighting hard to keep Britain in. When Brexit won Cameron announced his resignation. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also campaigned against Brexit. Now that it lost, Labor Party traditionalists want Corbyn to resign. They claim he lacked enthusiasm and have just held a no confidence vote. Complex social and economic issues are wrapped up in this political struggle. Did you hear the story this week on BBC (BeeBC)? Kew Gardens in London is the world’s largest urban garden. You may have heard that bees worldwide are endangered. So a new installation, which brings visitors into the center of a beehive, is timely. The massive structure surrounding you provides an echo chamber for buzzing bees. When you leave you’ll feel like you are a part of nature. And you didn’t even have to get stung! Disney’s latest venture into animation is huge. Big Friendly Giant, Roald Dahl’s 1982 book is full of colorful characters, an imaginative plot and a language all his own. A new dictionary puts Dahl’s neologisms in one place. It took editors two years to put together. Not since Shakespeare has someone added so many words to the English language. Director Steven Spielberg adds his brand of cinematic magic into the mix. Unfortunately, there’s the bombing in the Istanbul airport, not anticipated when I started working on this column earlier this week. The recurring topic has once again reared its ugly head. That’s another story. Have you ever looked at news with the letter B? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 23, 2016
A coffee house is an ideal place to get down to business. Let’s say your column is due at the Mountaineer-Progress. What better place than the Village Grind on a hot summer morning? Coffee, bagel, word processor. Quiet. No other customers. Someone walking by once in a while. Trees across the street sway. Flags wave in the light breeze. OK for the first paragraph. But the raw material, the stuff the rest of the column is made of, where will that come from? In large part from my favorite coffee house down the hill!
Peets Coffee in Pasadena sits on the corner of California and Lake. I was doing MBE (Multistate Bar Examination) questions when I overheard a conversation with two men and a woman sitting at the table next to me. The woman mentioned that she had just earned her J.D. (Juris Doctor) law degree. “Me too. Have you passed the California Bar Exam?” Not yet. Her degree is from Hong Kong. Yes, she knew about Fleming’s Fundamentals of Law. I’m taking their live bar review course in Orange County. “I’ve heard of it,” she said. No wonder. FFOL’s courses have many online students.
The woman works for a Hong Kong recycling company. She was dismayed when I showed “Concern over illegal dumping” the front-page article by Al Morrissette, (M-P, June 16-22-16). We’re going to miss your reporting, Al. Her employer, HKBEE, is a non-profit promoting “the scientific and educational interests of bio-energy and eco-energy.” She showed me photos of their computer-recycling program. You can visit the website, www.hkeia.org for more information.
In many ways Peets Coffee is at a Crossroads of the World. Down the street is Cal Tech. A few blocks north the Rose Parade brings millions to the city on New Years Day. People line the parade route while billions across the globe watch the broadcast. Many of them are Lions.
Talk about connections! At the Timberline Lions meeting last Thursday 2nd Vice District Governor elect Bill Hannon asked the Wrightwood Club to support the Lions International Rose Parade float in 2017. Next year the world’s largest service organization will be 100 years old! That’s another story.
Have you ever wondered what could happen when business goes international? Please email email@example.com.
June 16, 2016
Are you a teacher? Are you close to someone who teaches? They Call Me Mr. Fry is an award-winning solo performance by a friend who introduced me to the Hollywood Fringe Fest. He now uses the stage name Jack Fry. His dramatic presentation about his first year as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles brought applause and tears. Jack’s retired that performance for now, and has embarked on a new award-winning performance, Einstein. More about that later.
“What is Fringe? The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community-derived event, celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts.” Did you find that description vague? Here are the kinds of entertainment offered: Cabaret and Variety; Comedy; Ensemble Theatre; Events and Workshops; Musicals & Operas; and, Solo Performances. You can go to hollywoodfringe.org for more about the 100 or so events at 28 venues. The Hollywood Fringe runs through June 26. I’ve seen two performances so far this month.
One Step Over by Playwright/Director D.B. Levin presents a day in the life of a Wall Street inside trader. While memories of the bailout are fading, this play brings the financial crisis of 2008 into sharp focus. At the heart of insider trading is greed - What’s in it for me? All the cast members are men, although I know a former Stock Broker who’s a woman. But male dominance, something for the “big boys” at the highest level, is at the heart of this drama.
When I told a friend about My Mañana Comes, he wanted to know how many Latinas were in the show. None. The bus boys in this case are treated as “little boys” who can be overworked, underpaid and mistreated as the need arises. The cast of four helps make the current minimum wage, immigration and ethnic minority issues personal. Playwright Elizabeth Irwin manages to do something rare in theater, as a patron told me before the show began, “At the end everyone is crying!”
On Friday I’ll interview Jack Fry for KPFK. The topic is, “Einstein, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and the Future of Education.” Tune in Saturday morning at 10:57 a.m. to hear from the playwright of “Einstein.” That’s another story.
Have you ever heard of the Hollywood Fringe? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
June 2, 2016 An Honest Primary Campaign
Are you a political junkie? Wonder why Gov. Brown, in his last-minute endorsement of Hillary, spoke highly of Bernie’s proposals? Mainstream media focuses on the horse race, on hair, voice, emails, tweets, tax returns and the powder on a candidate’s face. Join me as I wade through some of the political campaign smoke and mirrors. Think about the issues.
Name-calling is part of the rhetoric. It distracts us from what really concerns California voters. A few months ago a friend called me a RINO. He explained it meant - Republican in Name Only. Monday morning I heard a radio broadcast in which Hillary Clinton was called a DINO - Democrat in Name Only. RINO, DINO - what’s the difference? According to Ralph Nader the difference between Republicans and Democrats is Tweedle-dee, Tweedle-dum. How do they treat party loyalists?
Reince Priebus is Chairman of the Republican National Committee. When the primary season began there were 17 candidates. Jeb Bush represented the establishment. He was the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee. Slowly but surely Donald Trump emerged. Through it all Priebus remained even-handed, scheduling many debates in prime time.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz is Chair of the Democratic National Committee. People never knew or have conveniently forgotten that Schultz worked on Clinton’s previous campaign. Hardly neutral, she engineered as few debates as possible. To make matters worse she scheduled those debates when a small audience was guaranteed. Incidentally, Hillary just backed out of a California debate.
KPFK host Jimmy Dore voiced many complaints on Tuesday’s election special. I spoke to him at the radio station before he went on air. Dore shared an observation from fellow comedian and political analyst Mort Saul. Speaking of the Democrat’s nomination process, Saul concluded that it’s not the conservatives but the lefties who will undermine Bernie Sanders.
The presidential campaign has struck a chord with people tired of establishment politics. Donald Trump survived largely because he knows how to work the media. Hillary Clinton has managed to stay afloat largely because she knows how to work the system. May I suggest another political acronym? GORILLA - Goading Oligarchic Rulers Into Leading Libelous Attacks. It’s dangerous to be a gorilla nowadays, especially in the Cincinnati Zoo. That’s another story.
Have you ever longed for an honest primary campaign? Please email email@example.com.
5/26/2016: Talking to Strangers
I am an inveterate schmoozer. The online New Oxford American Dictionary defines the terms nicely. Inveterate means, “having a particular habit, activity or interest that is long-established and unlikely to change.” To schmooze means, “to talk intimately and cozily gossip.” Here are seven of the people I’ve schmoozed recently at Peet’s Coffee in Pasadena.
Realtor: Having taken the first third of the courses at a real estate licensing school I was very interested in what a Realtor had to say. She had just completed her renewal course online. “It was very intense,” working alone at her own pace and on her own schedule. She studied diligently, doing every exam question she could find. “It was more difficult than I expected,” she said.
Barista: When we hear of people being underemployed, her example proves the point. She’s a pharmacist. Her practice is to be a naturalistic one. She studied in India. “They are the best in homeopathy.”
Screenwriter: He actually sold a screenplay. He’s usually busy working on the word processor with other online-based projects. Sometimes he is so focused that he is barely able to say hello.
Turkish Architect: In the world between computer-assisted design and drawing blueprints by hand, “People are more creative when they draw.” He remembers studying in Turkey while learning from that kind of architect. “Nowadays all the client cares about is money.”
Austrian Documentary Filmmaker: He’s currently looking into a legal matter involving settlements. “A lawyer will tell you he’s not interested. Then, when you say it is a $300 thousand case, the lawyer changes his mind. He thinks, ‘If I don’t get it someone else will.’”
Native New Yorker and his daughter: A man threw his jacket on the table to save it. I commented to a young woman when she arrived. She’s his daughter. “He’s from New York.” We had a conversation that reminded me of an old joke. He is 100% Italian descent. I’m half. It turns out that we went to the same Elementary School and were afraid of the same teacher! We liked an Italian restaurant that sold pizza by the slice. He recommend “the best pizza in Los Angeles...Village Pizza in Larchmont Village.” I’ve been there twice since. It’s good! That’s another story.
Have you ever found yourself talking to strangers? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 19, 2016:
Renaissance Faire Costume
How far is it from the modern day village of Wrightwood to an English village during the Renaissance? Fifty-seven miles in your four-wheeled carriage. When you pass the 57 Freeway you're almost there. As my friend travelled from Eastvale, she texted me en route. She was waiting at the entrance gate when I arrived. First stop, the food court. Along the way, lots of people-watching. Turkey leg, corn and a root beer float - something we look forward to all year! Then, on to the booths, exhibits and shows. Here are two of my favorites.
VaNa MaZi offers "Old Country Music from the New World." Their performance on the Golden Jubilee Stage is worth the price of admission. The cello a young woman was playing looked very expensive. My friend said, "They are talented musicians." Quite a compliment from her, a music teacher, member of a church choir, and accomplished piano player. VaNa MaZi are great entertainers as well. I asked a woman who was dancing to the music and selling the group's CDs, "What language are they singing?" She said, "Italian." I asked, "Are they Italian?" She answered, "I am, and two members of the group are." VaNa MaZi heads to Europe in June where they will be performing in Belgium and Berlin.
Sky Kings Falconry Birds of Prey, "is dedicated to the Education, and Preservation of our planet’s wildlife, and employing its natural abilities to correct environmental issues." The performance on the Midsummer Stage is not to be missed. The falconer took the stage with two assistants in the wings. Once released from enclosed cages each bird flew from perch to perch as the assistants put out food rewards. Featured birds in this performance were a kookaburra, a hawk, an owl, a vulture and a falcon. Sitting in the back row, the hawk's feathers brushed across my head. I didn't have time to gasp. The rest of the audience did when it swooped past them on several passes. The owl was silent as its huge wings allowed it to float across the outdoor auditorium.
As we were leaving my friend asked, "What costume do you want to wear next year? Do you want to be a monk?" Maybe I should let my beard grow. That's another story.
Do you play Scrabble and are always looking for a word, that combination of letters so you can win? Perhaps you’re a crossword puzzle fan gearing up for the latest challenge. Maybe you share my interest in word origins. Linguists love going on an etymological dig. I found three interesting words recently.
Green Room is a new film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. It’s a chillingly realistic horror flick starring Patrick Stewart that was reviewed on KPCC. Young punk rockers in a band accept a gig in a club in the Oregon wilderness. When they get on the wrong side of the owner, Stewart’s character, they encounter the “fleischwolf” which is a German word meaning “meat grinder.” Having studied German I had encountered the word, which translates literally in English as “flesh wolf.” That’s especially eerie when we discover what Stewart is referring to his ferocious guard dogs. Warning - this movie is very graphic.
Sworn off a meat diet? How about some Chobani yoghurt? In 2005 HamdiUlukaya arrived in the U.S. from his native Turkey. I heard a radio interview with him. He started the company in the small town of New Berlin in upstate New York; he reopened a yoghurt plant that Kraft Foods had closed down. There were still people around who had worked in the plant. Hamdi hired a yoghurt master and was on his way. With continued success he was able to built a huge new plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. As founder and CEO, Hamdi recently made headlines. He gave 10% of his $2 billion fortune in Chobani stock to his 2,000 employees.
Do you like the Weekend Edition’s Sunday’s Puzzle on NPR? It’s something I almost never miss. I know a teacher who plans his week around puzzle master Will Shortz’s weekly challenge. It’s great fun and always challenging. Shortz has been at it for decades. He is also the crossword puzzle editor of New York Times. Will Shortz is the only person known to have a college degree in puzzle making - Enigmatology.
Here’s a word I introduced to my friends and neighbors when we gathered on Tuesday for coffee. Diastema is the space some people have between their two front teeth. That’s another story.
Do you enjoy going to live theater? Looking for low-cost alternatives? You might find community theaters, smaller venues, and student performances just the ticket. Raving about high school productions one theater goer told me, "It's unbelievable they're kids. They are so talented. I was sure they were older." That's exactly the impression I had this weekend when I saw a production at Chaffey High School.
In the Heights is a Tony Award winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda produced by the Chaffey Theatre Company. The lush campus on Euclid Avenue in Ontario was once home to Chafffey Junior College. Efforts are underway to fully restore the auditorium built in 1937. On stage the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City was realistically recreated. A community of immigrants from many Spanish-speaking countries tells the story through music and dance. Their message unfolds like flags from the Americas.
The Dig is a one-woman show written and performed by Stacie Chaiken. Twelve years in the making, the world premiere was produced by the Latino Theater Company. As a member of the audience you sit in the basement of an historic bank building on Broadway in Los Angeles. It's easy to imagine you're at an underground dig in Jaffa. Chaiken's play weaves elements of her personal history, conflicts in the Middle East, and the ancient mystery she is trying to unravel.
Othello-Desdemona by Charles A. Duncombe is a world premiere production, the third and final play in the Shakespeare in the Digital Age series at the City Garage. "Othello, in the midst of an identity crisis, examines and rejects his status as a servant of the Venetian State...Desdemona, a Lolita trapped in a caged bed, is a spoiled brat with a mind of her own and a hunger for fame...this is a love story that, just as in Shakespeare, is going to end badly." The City Garage is located in the Bergamot Art Center in Santa Monica. You can take the new Metro Line there beginning May 20.
The hottest ticket in town is to Lin-Manuel Miranda's newest musical, Hamilton, a Grammy award winner. Playing at the Pantages from August through December all performances have already sold out! That's another story.
April is National Poetry Month. The celebration is over in two days, Saturday being the last day of the month. Celebration? A couple of weeks ago I went to a poetry event at Skylight Books. It’s an independent bookstore in trendy Los Feliz. More about that later. Poets at Work featured ten local poets reading their favorite poems about Los Angeles. Each poet read from a published collection and shared one to three of their own. Garrison Keillor’s radio broadcast, The Writer’s Almanac, always ends with a daily poem. Several High Schools are planning poetry slams.
Haiku is a structured three-line poem which originated in Japan. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven syllables, and the third has five syllables. Haiku was a great vehicle for teaching Language Arts to bilingual First Graders. I wrote students a haiku in Spanish. It was about lightening that frightened them in the schoolyard. The next day a boy wrote a haiku about a cricket and a tomato.
You might want to write one. At the most recent Wrightwood Writers Workshop I gave participants a way to ACE their own haiku. I modified it from what I taught my bilingual First Graders. To start, give your haiku a title that comes from nature. Then, choose one word for each line: first, Adjective, second, Color, third, Emotion. Keeping your title in mind, complete the three lines of your haiku.
Here’s the haiku I wrote at the Wrightwood Writers Workshop.
Swift flight makes a sound
Flashing green in the bright light
I recently wrote a haiku for a family that once lived happily in Porter Ranch. Mom’s a lawyer, Dad’s a teacher. Their two boys are in elementary school. Off the front page, although residents are still living in hotels, the media is done with the issue.
Dormant in the ground
Colorless but deadly gas
Vicious when unleashed
You might want to accept Skylight Books’ Saturday, April 30 invitation, “Join us today as we celebrate the 3rd Annual Independent Bookstore Day! After the popularity of the inaugural California Bookstore Day the event has gone national and been proclaimed Independent Bookstore Day by the rest of the country!” That’s another story.
Have you ever wanted to write an everyday haiku? Please email email@example.com.
April 21, 2016 Millionaire vs. Millionaire Party
“Democracy Now!” is a broadcast phenomenon. It started simply enough. WBAI in New York asked Amy Goodman to host a daily news show covering the 1996 election. Scheduled to end on Inauguration Day, Amy kept going. “Democracy Now! is the largest public media collaboration in the United States, broadcasting on more than 1,400 public television and radio stations around the world, with millions accessing it online at democracynow.org.” Amy Goodman is on a 100-city book-signing tour. It’s her twenty-year retrospective written with journalists David Goodman, her brother, and Denis Moynihan. When I arrived at Skylight Books in Los Angeles Friday afternoon, it was packed with 250 people. Two twenty-something women waiting in line after Amy spoke had travelled from Las Vegas to meet her. On Saturday I responded to an email from a public relations agent. “A big guerrilla counter-Clooney Big Bernie bash tomorrow at Clooney’s equally-millionaire neighbor... while Hillary is literally next door at her $100K/per plate fundraiser. It’s a millionaire versus millionaire party, except the Bern bacchanal is limiting donations to the standard Sanders’ $27.” As BMWs, limos and SUVs made their way up the hill, a well-known Hollywood actress urged people to be respectful. Some going to the Clooney’s party seemed to enjoy the demonstration. I went inside missing Hillary’s motorcade. I returned to, “Dancin’ in the Steet.” Bernie supporters gathered dollar bills they had tossed at Hillary’s motorcade. I left the party later that evening just as Clinton’s entourage - a dozen motorcycle officers, two CHP SUVs followed by two black Escalades and one grey SUV - passed by. I walked down Fryman Road to Laurel Canyon with a young couple. They were hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains when they accepted an invitation to join the party. College graduates saddled with debt! “It’s all I think about from the time I wake up,” the young woman said. On Saturday in San Francisco, George Clooney told Meet the Press reporter Chuck Todd that the amount of money in politics is “obscene.” In her book Amy Goodman writes, “...the sixty-two wealthiest people--a group that could fit on a bus--control more wealth than three and a half billion people.” That’s another story. Have you ever been to a millionaire vs. millionaire party? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Andersonville Trial
It’s been called “The War Between the States,” a term used in the southern textbook adopted by my parochial elementary school in New York. The more familiar phrase, “The Civil War,” is avoided in some circles because it’s considered controversial. Why? Because “civil” means the struggle was between people not ideologies. Some political analysts frame the war on America’s soil as a political struggle, states rights versus a strong federal government. Looking at it that way slavery becomes an economic issue. “Civil War” puts the core argument front and center. Civil society was at war, “brother against brother.”
Historical dramas, such as Gone With the Wind paint a picture of a genteel southern society with sacrifices on both sides. Ruthless northern generals send innocent civilians on a death march. Carpetbaggers from the North take away the last semblance of dignity from a conquered people. All of which leads to an impassioned cry, “The South will rise again.” If today’s political campaigns are any indication, that sentiment is still widely held.
The Andersonville Trial by Saul Levitt, largely based on transcripts of the court proceedings, brings us face-to-face with realities of the Confederate prison. The trial took place at the end of the war, four months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, when nerves on both sides were worn to a frazzle. Director Gary Lee Reed writes, “a single man was tried for the war crimes of an entire nation.” Levitt’s play was also made into a movie.
Adjunct professor of history, David Fouser recommended That Noble Dream by historian Peter Novick. The classic work, “assigned a thousand times,” was the first and the last book Fouser read in his Ph.D. program, Novick explains how narratives of American history have been juggled so that both sides, North and South, end up as winners of the war.
Would you like to see this drama play out on stage? You still have the opportunity. The Andersonville Trial closes this weekend. It’s at the Grove Theater Center, a 99-seat theater in the middle of a large park in Burbank. From West Olive Avenue you’ll walk past a Lockheed fighter jet on display, Technology may change but the elements of war remain the same. That’s another story.
Have you ever seen The Andersonville Trial? Please email email@example.com.
March 31, 2016
It’s been my routine for the last several weeks to make the round trip on the Metro from Arcadia, where I have an evening Tai Chi lesson, to the Los Angeles County Law Library where I practice essay-writing with a couple of California Bar Candidates. If I told you it was great fun, I would be exaggerating. But as the old Cunard Lines ad noted, “Getting there is half the fun.” On Tuesday I was looking forward to discovering a restaurant row in Arcadia recommended by Vicky Rinek, Mountaineer-Progress Editor.
It was rush hour when I left the library. Standing on a crowded Red Line car I heard someone call out, “John. John Cromshow.” It reminded me of a joke I’ll share with you some day. At any rate, a teacher I’ve known for more than a decade was the one who called out to me. He rides three subways a day to and from his Fourth Grade class in South Los Angeles to his home in Highland Park. We got a seat on the Gold Line and naturally, we talked about the Supreme Court 4 to 4 tie vote that day.
Ten California Teachers filed a lawsuit claiming that being required to pay fees to a teachers’ union violated their First Amendment rights. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Pasadena, a short distance from where I’m writing today’s column, turned it down. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, Justice Antonin Scalia asked probing questions that made it clear he would soon join in a 5-4 majority to uphold the appeal. In so doing the Supreme Court would have overturned its 1977 case validating unions collecting dues from non-members. Scalia’s death meant a tie was possible.
Here’s a local example. Belonging to UTLA for twenty years I knew one teacher who was a “fee payer.” She did not want any part of the teachers’ union but acknowledged she benefitted from pay increases and certain protections.
“Saving Private Ryan” was a Tom Hanks movie that told the story of a World War II rescue. Maybe someone could make a documentary about how citizens fought for the greater good in, “Saving Teachers’ Unions.” That’s another story.
Have you ever thought about the importance of teachers’ unions? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 24, 2016
Off the Radar
In Eye in the Sky Helen Mirren plays a determined British Colonel on a mission. She reports to an equally determined General played by the late Alan Rickman. The struggle they face gives Director Gavin Hood’s point of view on the ethics of war in the age of pilotless drones.
There’s a lot of handwringing as the question of “to bomb or not to bomb” goes back and forth. The US and British military are deeply involved. So are their diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. Hood depicts the humanity of the participants, their priorities, their values. The drama hinges on what it called “collateral damage” and the importance of saving human life.
Ironically, the action takes place in Kenya involving Somali terrorists and suicide bombers. Tuesday’s bombings in the Brussels airport and subway help us put that issue in real-life perspective. It’s a high-profile story that’s likely to play out in the presidential campaigns. Off the radar, and unlikely to surface in the debates is the drone bombing of 150 Somalis earlier in the week. The State Department tells us they were terrorists.
Eye in the Sky focuses on the human drama as members of the US Air force wait in a bunker in the Nevada desert. British soldiers answer to the Colonel, with her tough-minded focus. The camera brings us into the village to see the people whose lives are on the line. Military forces driving around with machine guns. Terrorists plotting. Baking bread and selling it on the street. Playing in dusty yards. Slipping under the radar, like a little camera on a drone, “Are we at war with Kenya?”
The movie opens with a quote by Aeschylus, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” The film ends with the British General’s response to a critical diplomat. “Don’t ever tell a soldier about the cost of war.” Alan Rickman musters all the sincerity of Snape, a role the late actor brought to life in the Harry Potter movies.
On Tuesday I travelled on the Metro Rail. At the top of the stairs for the Gold Line at Union Station one sheriff had a dog and two sheriffs wearing protective vests carried camouflaged automatic weapons. That’s another story.
Have you ever found issues you think are important but are off the radar? Please email email@example.com.
March 17, 2016
The Ides of March
Can you identify these quotations? Hint - all are related to Italy.
1. "It is better to live one day like a lion than 100 years as a sheep."
2. "Veni, vidi, vici."
3, "Beware the Ides of March."
4. "So much blood in him."
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's quotation was tweeted by Donald Trump to his 6 1/2 million followers. When the press questioned him, Trump said it was a good quote and it didn't matter who said it. Lost to history, and so-so reporting, is Mussolini's attempted conquest of the Lion of Judah, a.k.a. Ethiopia. The Fascist dictator wanted to restore the glory days of the Roman Empire. He failed in his campaign. At the end of World War II Mussolini was brutally murdered and strung up by his own people.
"I came, I saw, I conquered," is a quotation from Roman general Julius Caesar following his quick victory over enemy forces.
In Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, The Bard quotes a soothsayer who warns Caesar, now Roman dictator, of pending danger. Unswayed, Caesar goes to the Roman Senate. He meets his death at the hands of treasonous senators. A couple of side-notes. The Ides of March was a mid-month marker in the Julian Calendar, which was established by Caesar himself. Plutarch's Lives was Shakespeare's historic source. Albeit less poetically, Plutarch's soothsayer delivers the same prophetic message.
In graphic imagery hard to forget, Shakespeare captures the scene of Caesar's assassination. The Roman dictator was stabbed to death by senators who had turned on him. At Caesar's funeral Marc Anthony reminds them, "You all did love him once, not without cause."
Did you know Wrightwood's Italian connection? Our Lady of the Snows was named after a church in Italy. When the late Fr. John Keleghan was the priest in the early 80s I told him about the St. Joseph's Table at St. Peter's Italian Catholic Church. He adopted the custom, with Irish music playing in the background!
Thursday's St. Patrick's Day. You can join the Wrightwood Writer's Workshop, "Leprechauns and Shamrocks," in the library, 3:00-5:00 PM. Saturday evening, on St. Joseph's Day, you can savor delicious Italian food in the Wrightwood Community Building. That's another story.
Lisa Garr hosts The Aware Show on KPFK. A few months ago we talked at the radio station about her new role as a host on Coast-to-Coast once a month. Her memoir, Becoming Aware: How to Repattern Your Brain and Revitalize Your Life tells about her brain injury and near-death experience. She embarked on a “journey of self-healing.” During the KPFK fund drive she offered tickets to the Conscious Life Expo. She said she would be on a panel with Coast-to-Coast host George Noory. I pledged for a pair of tickets and offered one to a friend who is a big fan of George Noory.
The George Noory Forum, The Future of Humanity, asked the question, “In a thousand years...What will be the fate and destiny of humanity?” Lisa Garr, the only woman on the panel, joined Dannion Brinkley, William Henry, David Willcock, Nassim Haramein and James Redfield. Tickets sold out early and there was already a line when I arrived an hour before the forum began. The room was packed with 400 people. Garr and Noory were the only ones I had heard of but each panelist seemed to have a legion of fans.
The forum topic was replete with a new-New Age spirituality, filled with ancient wisdom, otherworldly influences and a sprinkling of the paranormal. George Noory did ask the audience a question I found intriguing. “How many think that Apple should cooperate with the FBI to unlock the iPhone?” He was shocked that not one hand went up. It so surprised him that he shared the results with his Coast-to-Coast audience the following night.
At a free event before the Forum, George Noory presented Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Ruiz was a Medical Doctor when he found himself in a life-threatening situation. After he survived that challenge Ruiz devoted himself to discovering the wisdom of the Totecs, an Indian people from Mexico. His book became an international bestseller, with millions of readers worldwide.
A booth “Do you know what’s in a vaccine?” was timely since school children are now required to be vaccinated. For more information see www.LearnTheRisk.org. That’s another story.
Have you ever been to a Conscious Life Expo? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
March 3, 2016
Lord of the Flies
I’m intentionally writing this column on February 29, Leap Day. It’s an event that only comes once every four years, just like Super Tuesday. I want to weigh in before political pundits explain the results. They feast on political battles, which gives many people a feeling of nausea. Why? Consider a few references from English literature and history. The English have a way of capturing what’s important.
Lord of the Flies tells the story of boys marooned on an island. Author William Golding narrated a book-on-tape I got from the Wrightwood library. In the introduction he explains that a society of boys represents the world in general. He admits he doesn’t know why. But the savagery Golding describes fits in with many sad chapters in human history. The “Lord” in this case, is a boar’s head on a stake, attracting buzzing flies. Sounds like some political campaigns, doesn’t it?
Brave New World is Aldous Huxley’s well-known classic. He paints a picture of a society in which traditional human values give way to a society governed by the World State. Human beings are cloned to produce several distinct classes. Venturing from the Brave New World to a world of misfits and back again creates an uproar. Huxley, who lived for a while in our mountain community, predicts a very strange future, which in many ways is here with us today.
1984 introduced the phrase, “Big Brother is Watching You.” George Orwell’s book has passed into folklore, referred to many times as an indication of how our world is going wrong. He depicts an authoritarian society controlled government that monitors and severely limits its citizens. There is, of course, a hero who fights the repression.
“Antidisestablishmentarianism” comes to us from the pages of history. It was the favorite of spelling bees as the longest word in the English language. In 1838 there was a movement to disestablish the Church of England. The establishment fought back, hence the anti. In the political season in the United States, political establishments are engaged in a fierce battle.
As Super Tuesday’s candidates survey the world before them, perhaps they’ve incorporated some of these ideas into their campaigns. Pay careful attention to their victory speeches. That’s another story.
Have you ever read Lord of the Flies? Please email email@example.com
February 25, 2016: Oscar Predictions
On Sunday afternoon I went to the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for the 2016 AirTalk Film Week. KPCC’s Larry Mantle hosted the fourteenth annual show. He was just as good-natured and unassuming as I remember him when we passed in the hall at Pasadena City College. The pre-recorded show featured selected clips of nominees in major categories, critic commentaries and audience participation.
Southern California Public Radio is one of the premier radio stations in the country, taking full advantage of being in the film capital of the world. I stopped by their Pasadena headquarters on Washington’s Birthday and spoke on the phone with one of the show’s producers, Jasmin Tuffaha. She confirmed what I had in my notes. There was no agreement between critics’ choices for most deserving, most likely to win, and audience consensus. You can hear AirTalk Film Week, Friday from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. on KPCC 89.3 FM.
The panels of critics were fun to listen to. Some advocated for their favorite choices. Others made witty comments. My favorite was about the impact of social media, “We used to be a byline - now we’re tomatoes.”
Here are some of the near-consensus predictions I agree with, sort of.
Best Picture: “Spotlight” - excellent acting, investigative journalism. Subject matter may be too sensitive to win.
Actor in a Leading Role: Brian Cranston in “Trumbo” - good portrayal of a well known blacklisted writer. Will Oscar take a stand?
Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larsen in “Room” - very intense. May make people feel uncomfortable.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): “The Big Short” - the shady side of stock trading. Will Oscar take on Wall Street?
The 88th Academy Awards will broadcast on Sunday from the Dolby Theatre, a couple of blocks west of the Egyptian. It will be watched by more than a billion people worldwide. Host Chris Rock is going to “shake things up a bit,” predicted one woman knitting at the Grind. That’s another story.
Have you ever made Oscar predictions? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
February 18, 2016
Last Friday I was talking with my friend Barry in front of the Desert Community Bank. We were discussing changes he’s observed since moving to Wrightwood in the 80s. He turned to look toward Highway 2, a short distance to the north, running like a ribbon through town. Quiet now but bustling with traffic whenever snow draws hoards of visitors from off the hill. Then, our two-lane mountain highway is transformed into a miles-long traffic jam. To my surprise, that wasn’t where he was going with his musings.
“I take umbrage at that sign!” he said. “What sign?” Barry pointed to the stop sign at the corner of Park and Highway 2. To him it signaled an obstacle to the free flow of traffic. A change which meant restrictions from the city were making inroads into our little village. “You are one of the few people I know who would take umbrage,” I replied. I was referring not to the content but to the vocabulary. Umbrage is a word I have rarely heard. I cannot recall using it myself.
As we were standing there in front of the bank, with good reason, because it was Customer Appreciation Day, my friend Glenn and his wife Nancy greeted us. I made the introductions, Nancy went into the bank. Glenn stayed on the front deck. He wanted to talk to me about last week’s column, Economic Debates. “I take umbrage at what you wrote.” An issue involving Bernie Sanders. I was stunned. The reason for my incredulity? Within five minutes two of my friends had used a most unusual expression!
I promised Glenn and Barry that I would write this week’s column about taking umbrage. However, both of them did signal their approval of the column I had been considering. GMO bananas. Probably not as interesting as another topic that sprung into the headlines on Saturday. The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
My neighbor Gayle thought I should share two more observations with you. “I never would have thought of them,” she said. First, Barry and Glenn have last names which begin with the same letters as their first name. Second, their first names both have doubled letters. So does Gayle’s husband Tommy. Word play! That’s another story.
Have you ever found yourself taking umbrage? Please email email@example.com
February 4, 2016
“Coaching the Presidential Candidates”
Do you yell at the television? If you’re so inclined, Super Bowl Sunday provides a good opportunity. How about the Presidential Debates? Maybe you could barely restrain yourself as Republicans or Democrats took the stage. There’s plenty to complain about. Can we find a solution to make campaign performance better? Since this week’s primary was in Iowa, let’s start with a post-game quote from Kirk Ferentz, coach of the winning University of Iowa Hawkeyes. “There are a lot of opportunities to lose during the course of the year…” Some football-style coaching might help candidates of both parties remember that fact.
Let’s begin candidate coaching with a website which gives solid bi-partisan information. ProCon.org is one of my favorites. Quotations from candidates on the issues give us a clear record of their positions. It’s important for candidates to know what their political opponents are saying and how they themselves are being quoted. Avoid websites with a clear bias, EducationToAdvance.com, for instance. “Most (and Least) Educated 2016 Presidential Candidates” concludes that Ted Cruz, clearly their favorite, tops the list. He’s ahead of all other lawyers and even MDs, Rand Paul and Ben Carson, who had a specialty in pediatric neurosurgery.
Next step in our coaching effort is to help candidates prepare for the seemingly endless array of meetings they will have on the road to the White House. Start by reading, Meetings Matter – 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations. Author Paul “Axtell offers eight powerful strategies for fixing our meeting problems, and within each strategy, he provides concrete advice you can put to action immediately such as limiting participants, being vigilant about what gets on the agenda, designing the conversation for each agenda item, and managing the experience for everyone in the room so people leave feeing heard and appreciated.”
Call it serendipity, but I opened a previous column to use as a template and randomly selected “Making up Your Own Mind,” from January 2015, “I’ve just finished reading The Best Man, a play written by Gore Vidal in 1960. He brought the drama of a presidential campaign to the stage. It was also made into a movie in 1964. More than fifty years ago! Ancient history or as modern as tomorrow’s headlines?” The heart of the play involves a scandal which threatens a presidential candidate’s ambition. That’s another story.
Have you ever thought of coaching the presidential candidates? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 28, 2016
Is a currant a raisin?
For the last week or so I’ve been thinking of you, dear reader. You might enjoy a journey into the obscure. “Is a currant a raisin?” was spurred by Annie’s scones baked for the Village Grind. Yummy, with bits of chocolate or butterscotch or a combo of white chocolate and cranberries. “Could you make currant scones?” Her all-too-brief answer. “No.” Tom Mekel, born in England, was at the counter. “Or raisins,” he said, “Those are the only kind we had.” That bothered me because raisins are dried grapes and in Botany I learned currants were a different fruit. I speak with a certain authority (LOL) since at Cal-State L.A. while the professor was cloning carrots I was tending to the hothouse. When I asked Annie’s father Greg, co-owner of the Grind, he was one of the few people who answered, “No.”
A couple of days later I got a scone at Buster’s in South Pasadena. “Currant?” The man behind the counter said, “No, raisin.” I asked two of the sisters who own the coffee house. One agreed with him and the other agreed with me. I researched it and shared the results. Currants were banned from the United States in 1911 because of a toxic fungus. The Greeks then supplied dried black seedless grapes from Corinth as a substitute. Reportedly, they were labeled currant because of a mistranslation. Are you intrigued by this discussion? You can learn more about Black Currants at www.currantc.com. Do you bake? Maybe you could send them a Black Currant scone recipe.
The best answer to my question came in a text I received this Wednesday morning from Clint Kearns. He and his wife Susan recently moved from Wrightwood to Durango, Colorado. He texted a weekly greeting because a group of us would gather on Wednesday mornings at the Grind. I asked him to answer “off the top of his head.” He texted, “A currant is like a raisin that comes from a species of grape. But is not a raisin. But there are true currants that come from a bush and another type that are not true currants that come from vine grapes. True currants are tart not sweet.” You can see why I call Clint, “my friend who knows everything.” That’s another story.
Have you ever asked is a currant a raisin? Please email email@example.com
January 21, 2016
Horrible Trade Agreement
In his final State of the Union address, President Obama spoke in favor of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). He said the trade agreement would, “open markets, protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.” He said it “cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, and supports more good jobs.” To ease worries about the world’s second-largest economy, the President added, “China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.” President Obama urged Congress to pass the TPP, “You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”
I emailed my concerns at regulations.gov during a 45-day public comment period.
“Here are but a few objections: The TPP is harmful to American interests, viz. employment, economics, health and safety. The WTO (World Trade Organization) requirement that country of origin of meat not be listed is an example of what lies ahead should the TPP pass. Skirting constitutional requirements, it is not labeled a treaty, which it surely is. Fast-tracking deprives our elected representatives the right to debate the issue. A private three-person tribunal’s decision would lead to predictable non-accountability while negating state regulations. Finally, the TPP has been under a cloud of secrecy.”
In June the final Fast Track vote was Yes 219, No 208, Not Voting 8. It passed, which means Congress will not be able to debate the TPP. Instead, they will be limited to an up or down vote. Is that what the American people expected from those they elected to represent them?
What stand did your Member of Congress take? One of the many groups opposed to the TPP (GMOinside.org) provides a list of how Representatives voted to fast track TPP. By the way, in a rare bipartisan effort both Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA 8), who represents the Tri-Community, and Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12) were among the Members of Congress who voted “No.”
Do you have an opinion about the TPP? You can still express your thoughts by calling the U.S. Congress at (202) 224-3121. It’s answered by a real person. Maybe you’ll only be able to leave a message, but your Congressional staffer might take your call and relay your message. That’s another story.
Have you ever thought that’s a horrible trade agreement? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
January 14, 2016
An Evening Buzzing with Flies
The James Bridges Theater is a gathering place for filmmakers. It hosts many events. A state-of-the-art facility, it’s the main screening room for UCLA’s Department of Film, Television and Digital Media. On Friday night the venue was packed for a showing of The Fly Room by writer-director Alexis Gambis. After earning his Ph.D. Gambis embarked on a new career to become a filmmaker. He wanted to bring the excitement of science to a broader audience. While still a student in film school he made a documentary, A Fruit Fly in New York. What better way to understand genetics than with the humble fruit fly?
The Fly Room is Gambis’ first feature film. His inspiration was a small lab dedicated to studying flies enabling scientists to unlock secrets of DNA. The film “straddles the lines of documentary and fiction, mixing documentary and fiction, mixing objective scientific prospectives with surreal and magical worlds, and often breaks down the stereotypes about scientists making them more human and relatable.” The film begins with captivating images of buzzing flies. Then the voice of a 95-year-old woman. The camera focuses on her hands. The daughter of an eccentric genetic scientist, her story unfolds in the 1920s when she was eight-years old. With cinematic artistry Gambis captures the look of that bygone era as he reveals the story.
In a lively Q and A after the showing Gambis spoke about his efforts to humanize science and scientists. He was pleasantly surprised that his film played to a packed audience of scientists in India. On a political note he recalled Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin making fun of people studying fruit flies in Paris. Doubly ironic since he is French and the history of modern genetics was written based on fruit fly studies.
If you think of films as a feast for the senses, sounds and sights are the main course. Of course, you’ll want something for your sweet tooth to complete the meal. Maybe that’s why the James Bridges Theater featured a desert bar after the showing. Deadly! One woman piled two plates high with many many delicious tidbits. I pointed it out to my friend. “Take home,” she said. Funny, there wasn’t a single fly buzzing around. Probably too cold. That’s another story.
Have you ever spent an evening buzzing with flies? Please email email@example.com
The Storm's A'comin' by John Cromshow M-P
Early Monday evening I was leaving the Wrightwood Post Office when I saw Mike Troeger in the parking lot of Mountain Hardware. "I hear snow is coming," I said. Mike looked at the sky, "Doesn't feel like it." That hometown prediction made me feel better.
Later that night I drove to the Yodeler for their Monday night tacos. Since it was the first Monday of the month, I planned on dropping by the Village Grind a bit later for some good music. I really like Gayle and Company. But the coffee shop-wine bar was so dark I thought it was closed. One of the regulars explained. She said it was a bar atmosphere. My eyes eventually adjusted but not enough to finish fail fail again fail better by Pema Chodron. I spent time on my iPad Mini.
The big news of the evening was the coming snowstorm. One customer was checking his phone every few minutes. He shared satellite pictures of green and lavender cloud belts heading toward Wrightwood. As he painted the picture, our little mountain village was at the center of a doomsday storm. It would hit at precisely 7:00 a.m. Tuesday.
I don't have chains. Foolish, I know. Many cars ago, shortly after I moved to Wrightwood, I did have chains. Parked in front of the post office I attempted to wrap them around my tires. It was trickier than I expected. The chains slipped over one of the axles. We still had the Auto Club in town and I called them. A couple of decades later I drove to Wrightwood from down the hill. I could get no further than Mountain Hardware. I tried to buy chains but they didn't have the right size. So I bought boots and cleats and they let me park there overnight. Now I can traipse all over town in the snow. Nevertheless I was troubled by this coming storm.
I told Gayle, who is my neighbor, that I would be heading down the hill. "It can't snow. I have a hair appointment at 10 o'clock." We laughed. The next morning she, her husband Tommy and I were talking over cups of steaming coffee. I told them about Mike Troeger's prediction. "He knows a lot about it," Gayle said. Mountain country wisdom. That's another story.
Waiting in a long line in 2004 to see Fahrenheit 9/11 I didn’t know much about Michael Moore. A teacher friend had convinced me that it was worth the wait. According to Wikipedia, “The film takes a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media. The...highest grossing documentary of all time.”
Thanks to the American Film Institute I was able to get a sneak preview of Michael Moore’s latest documentary at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. In Where to Invade Next, Moore begins with a tongue-in-cheek meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They admit to him US foreign policy based on militarism has been a complete failure. Could he do better? Moore “invades” European countries where no hostilities are taking place. In Italy he discovers that workers have long vacations, paid parental leave and factories where employee wellbeing is important. In France children eat delicious nutritious meals in school. In Slovenia education, all the way through college, is absolutely free. Many Americans are studying there. These ideas came from the United States, abandoned by us for political reasons.
Moore told the audience Carl Rove was shocked when Rove showed Fahrenheit 9/11 to three focus groups. After watching the film ten percent of Republican women said they would either vote for Bush’s opponent or stay home on Election Day. Rove determined to prevent people from seeing it. How? By demonizing Michael Moore and calling it unpatriotic to see the film. My cousin said in 2004 Moore was, “a big fat troublemaker.” Last month a friend told me, “I don’t believe anything he says.” She had not seen any of his films. Rove’s strategy is still working.
I’ve already mentioned the hostility directed at Michael Moore following Fahrenheit 911. In, Do As I Say (Not As I Do), Peter Schweitzer offers, Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy. Rather than refute Moore’s claims the author engages in virulent personal attacks. That’s another story.
Have you ever seen a film like Where to Invade Next? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Fred Hanrahan as Goldminer Vincent at the cabin. Photo by John Cromshow
Freddy, We Hardly Knew Ye
“I have some very sad news,” Kathy Hanrahan said. She phoned me because my longtime friend, her husband Fred, died in the hospital the night before. He was my sponsor in the Timberline Lions in 1981. We worked together at Our Lady of the Snows, in the Wrightwood Community Players. Fred starred in a number of plays I wrote over the years, the Wrightwood Mystery Theatre, and Goldminer Vincent. Because he was Irish to the core, his unexpected death reminded me of the book Kenneth O’Donnell wrote about John F. Kennedy’s trip to Ireland.
When I began at Pacifica’s KPFK in 2003 with “Politics or pedagogy?” I was happy to see that drama is part of the Pacifica mission. In 2008 I wrote an old-fashioned radio drama for Christmas, “1938 Lulled to Sleep.” Management approved. The radio comedy-drama, simulated news broadcast and interviews have been on the air every year since. When it came time to produce the play, I cast Fred first. He took on two very challenging roles. He played a likable country lawyer and a mean-spirited high school principal. His wife, his brother and his niece joined the cast.
Early in the morning before Kathy called me, I outlined the second of a planned Christmas trilogy, “1949 Peace Prosperity and Loyalty.” It had been gestating for seven years. I was ready with roles for Fred and Kathy. I’m going to rewrite the play now that Fred’s gone.
Fred Hanrahan brought my one-man show, Goldminer Vincent to life. For twenty-eight years he devoted himself to the role. Next Labor Day weekend at Table Mountain Amphitheater you can help us pay tribute to the lives of both mountaineers we’ll never forget.
This Christmas day you can hear “1938 Lulled to Sleep” at 4:00 p.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM or online at kpfk.org. I joked with Fred that he was twice as good as any other actor. That’s another story.
Have you ever thought of how hard it would be to say, “Freddy, we hardly knew ye”? Please email email@example.com
For Two Cents
December 17, 2015: A couple of weeks ago I went to San Bernardino to be sworn in as a Notary. Usually I don’t travel east of the 15, so being on that side of the freeway was something of an adventure. Heading back to Wrightwood I decided to go to the San Manuel Indian casino. Was I there before? Only when walking from the parking lot to the casino did the landscape look vaguely familiar. Obviously, it hadn’t made a very big impression. Nowadays, gaming establishments look pretty much the same. And they don’t build those shrines to gambling by giving money away.
I followed my usual money-management strategy, allocating ten dollars to the experience - five dollars for lunch and five dollars for the slot machines. Two street tacos and coffee took care of part one. I then set out to find Blackjack for a penny. That’s my ideal. When circumstances dictate up to five cents on a Poker machine is acceptable. No luck. Machines did take cash but I didn’t want to put five dollars in any one machine. A dollar at a time slows the pace nicely. Finally, I found a change maker. It rejected the bill quickly spurting it out. One of the floor people helped me find another. That change maker didn’t work either. She suggested I go to the cashier’s cage. Five crispy dollar bills later I was ready to “let the games begin.”
“A funny thing happened on the way to the” slots. I found a coupon for thirty-eight cents. At that penny slot machine the minimum bet was fifty-five cents. But I decided to look on the bright side. Some generous soul had abandoned the coupon so I could make my fortune! That’s the way an old joke went, told back in the day when a dime was a dime. But it’s 2015. What could I do with thirty-eight cents? That required a bit of a search. It wasn’t easy. Finally, I settled down to a penny machine that had bets ranging from three to eight cents. As I was carefully studying the payoffs I inadvertently pushed the wrong button. I was down to twenty-two cents. I cashed out. Eventually I found a nickel machine. Whoosh. Gone. Time for me to go. That’s another story.
Have you ever thought of what you could do with two cents? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bridge to San Bernardino
December 10, 2015: I checked out a DVD of “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” shortly before the attacks in San Bernardino. The film tells a story set in eighteenth century Peru. A rope bridge crossing a deep gorge in the mountains broke sending five people to their deaths. One monk spent six years investigating. How were the lives of those five people tied together? He was satisfied that he had uncovered all the hidden facts when he presented his findings to a church tribunal. The Archbishop questioned him. He was troubled because he said the monk should have looked to theology for the ultimate answers.
Although Thornton Wilder wrote his timeless tale in 1927, between the World Wars, the questions he raised are still relevant today. Here is the classic struggle between good and evil, the search for the truth. Why does a bridge to a safe world fall?
Over the weekend I went to BINGO off the hill with a teacher friend. She drove and on the way picked up one of her neighbors who goes to the same church. On the way their conversation took a religious turn with political overtones. “We’ve got to watch those people.” When I questioned their reasoning they backtracked to concerns about target shooting in the backyard. At the BINGO one of the volunteers was a young woman wearing a headscarf. On the drive back I mentioned her and asked, “Would she be one of the ones you want to watch?” Their stance softened.
Earlier this week I replied to an email from a friend about a current argument concerning political correctness vs. free speech:
“Is Political Correctness a cover for hate speech? Cover for what, you may ask. Let’s start with acts that hurt others. For example, in Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. Never again!
There are notable consequences for abusive speech in the USA. Defamation? Take the risk of losing a civil lawsuit. Remember the classic prohibition of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater? Expect criminal charges.
Is it OK to mock, humiliate or shame others?
I wished my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah! Important to remember the persecution they have suffered.
I’m just reading a book you might find interesting. It’s Noam Chomsky’s latest, What Kind of Creatures Are We?” That’s another story.
Have you ever thought about the bridge to San Bernardino? Please email email@example.com
December 3, 2015: Thankful on a Five-Day Weekend
On Thanksgiving, I joined friends Doug and Marla to observe the American Open chess tournament at the Doubletree Hotel in Orange.They know International Master Tim Taylor, who competed that day. He was playing Round One, as my friends and I enjoyed turkey dinner in the restaurant. Taylor and his opponent, a young woman, played on Board 9, meaning they were among the top players. Observers watched thoughtfully as only ticking chess clocks punctuated the silence. After six-hours Taylor’s match ended in a draw. He joined us for a quick dinner before Round Two, which began at 7:00 p.m. I’m thankful the event rekindled my budding interest in chess.
On “Black and Blue” Friday, I hosted “Politics or pedagogy?” giving KPFK listeners, “an analysis of education policy and practice that affect our public schools.” Jackie Goldberg, former LAUSD School Board President, David Fouser, Adjunct Faculty at Santa Monica College, and Wrightwood’s own Gayle Dowling had pre-recorded segments. In studio were Sharon Kyle and Dick Price, publisher and editor of the online “LA Progressive.” On the phone were Peter Mathews, author of “Dollar Democracy” and Daniel Diaz, an urban anthropologist. We took listener calls. I’m thankful that we can hear the show archived at kpfk.org.
On Saturday, I watched the Wrightwood Christmas Parade from inside the Village Grind, savoring Greg’s famous chili. A customer called it “the best seat in the house” because I could still see the parade. Later, I walked down to Beverly’s Books and chatted with owners Laurie and Mark, both Timberline Lions’ members. I’m thankful that I bought a great coffee table book about the history of the English language.
On Sunday, I was thankful that I finally got to see “Mockingjay.” It took on new meaning because of Jennifer Lawrence’s recent political comments. On Cyber Monday, I was thankful that a new employee from Boston answered my questions at the Apple Store in Pasadena.
We don’t have to wait until next Thanksgiving to be thankful. Walk down Park Drive toward Highway 2. Past the driveway to the Community Building, at the base of the flagpole, there’s a bronze plaque. The Timberline Lions asked me to write the words and order the memorial from the San Gabriel Monument Company. It honors our departed member who started the Timberline Lions directory. Thank you, Grant Cornelius. That’s another story.
Have you ever been thankful on a five-day weekend? Pleas email firstname.lastname@example.org
November 25, 2015: Good Readings for Thanksgiving
In our Brave New World we get most of our information from electrons flowing through the ether. It's an amazing feat when you stop to think about it. Your phone, your tablet, your laptop and your home computer can talk to one another. Those devices can be linked to every other device in the far corners of the known universe. People you know and those you don't can monitor every keystroke. For example, I'm writing this column on a iPad mini that can communicate with the Cloud. However, although I usually fact check with the internet, on this Thanksgiving I'm going back to an old standard - books on paper.
Prof. Gregory Ghica's autobiography tells the story of his life as he emigrated from Romania to the USA. In A Life to Remember: From the Dungeon of Communism to the American Dream he writes about arriving in New York, "I saw from the air the majestic Statue of Liberty, which welcomed those of us who were 'tired and poor, you yearning to breathe free,' I felt nervous. Down below, a new world was waiting for me." Then Ghica writes, "...I received my American citizenship, a moment of great pride and joy and a moment when I felt grateful to this country for accepting me as one of its citizens...exactly six years after arriving in America..."
In American Courage: Remarkable True Stories Exhibiting the Bravery That Has Made Our Country Great, editor Herbert W. Warden III writes about The Pilgrims Farewell. William Bradford recounts his experience in Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. "...(the wind being fair) they went aboard and their friends with them, what tears did gush from every eye, and pity speeches pierced each heart...that stood on the quay as spectators could not refrain from tears. Yet comfortable and sweet it was to see such lively and true expressions of dear and unfeigned love...But the tide, which stays for no man, calling them away that they were loath to depart...then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another..."
Have you ever shared good readings for Thanksgiving? Please email email@example.com
A Story for Thanksgiving
‘Tis the season to tell stories. Halloween, Thanksgiving and the New Year lend themselves to joining with friends and family to share holiday tales. Here’s a true story someone shared with me. It’s a very different Thanksgiving story that I think you’ll enjoy.
The Mad Hare of Lone Pine Canyon
What animal do you think of on Thanksgiving? Turkey, of course. Memories of the table laden with food, friends and family gathered ‘round. Some offbeat tales for children even have the turkey as a guest at the table rather than the main course on the table. A local story I heard recently adds a new animal to the Thanksgiving treasury.
Many many years ago on a bright Thanksgiving afternoon a fall chill blew through Lone Pine Canyon. Children ran around the yard playing games. Parents busied themselves in the kitchen preparing the turkey. Suddenly, gales of laughter turned to shrieks. The children came running into the house. “It’s chasing us!” they yelled. “Who’s chasing you?” mom asked. “The rabbit!” Mom went outside to see for herself. It wasn’t a rabbit. It was a large hare. Running in circles around the dusty back yard. Faster, faster.
Mom let the dog out, expecting that their faithful pet would take care of the problem. She went back to the kitchen. But it wasn’t long before the children started yelling again. Louder this time. She went out to the back yard. The hare was running the dog in circles around a tree. Dog and hare were on a race track, and the hare was winning. Dad decided it was time to act decisively. He got his trusty rifle, took aim and fired. Dad put the dead hare in a bag and put it on the roof. He called Animal Control. It was cold enough to keep it fresh until the next day. Here’s the good news, with a pun thrown in for fun. The “rabbit” wasn’t rabid.
Inspired? Great! Please accept my invitation to join us at the Wrightwood Writers Workshop. We are meeting in the library next week: Thursday, November 19, 2015 from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. Do you have a story you want to polish? Just beginning? Jot a few ideas to share at the Wrightwood Writers Workshop. Mark your calendar now. That’s another story.
Have you ever have you ever wanted to write a story for Thanksgiving? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carrie: the Killer Musical Experience
Partners play important roles in the creative process, even rescuing discarded work from the junk heap. Pietro Mascagni wrote the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, for a one-act contest. Dissatisfied with the violent tale about a small town in Sicily, he put it aside. His wife submitted it and it won the contest. Today Cavalleria Rusticana remains a mainstay of the opera stage. Stephen King threw the first three pages of Carrie in the trash. His wife rescued it, insisting that he complete the manuscript. She helped him understand the challenges a woman faces. The advance from the book allowed King to quit teaching and become a full-time writer. Carrie, the first of King’s 54 books, was published in 1974. It made him a legend in the world of horror writers.
Popular since it was first published, Carrie has been made into a movie three times. Just in time for Halloween, we have a formula for a successful musical. Start with this timeless Stephen King horror novel. Add music and dance. Two-time Academy Award winner Michael Gore and experienced theater choreographer Lee Martino make a good team. Choose a memorable setting. How about a classic movie palace, the Los Angeles Theatre? Here’s where imaginative staging makes all the difference. Remove the 1930s seats and replace them with real bleachers. Assemble a talented cast. Hang two large disco balls overhead. People entering the theatre will be transported to a high school gymnasium in small-town America.
Ready for prom night? That’s a question that Stephen King asks, playing on the fears of teens who worry about not fitting in. He shows us the in-crowd and the outsiders. When it comes to dealing with someone who doesn’t quite belong, the teens in Carrie are especially cruel. King adds elements of isolation, religious fervor and extraordinary powers to the mix. His imaginative characters and the situations they are forced to face, etch this story into our memories. It may seem that the struggles King illuminates are too intense for a musical. But I found the production, which skillfully combines all of these topics, to be very entertaining.
I was surprised that the Los Angeles Theatre was sold out for the Tuesday night performance I attended. I was fortunate to have gotten a complimentary ticket. That’s another story.
Have you ever seen a production like Carrie: the Killer Musical Experience? Please e-mail email@example.com.
Students Who Overcome Adversity
Tri-Community students are fortunate to have a service organization like the Timberline Lions and a school district like Snowline Unified which cares about them. Add friends and family who lend support. It’s powerful when all agree that a child’s wellbeing is essential so that they can do well in school. And in life.
Last Thursday night the Timberline Lions honored “Rising Stars” of the Snowline Unified School District. Students were nominated by their teachers, counselors or administrators for the progress they have made in overcoming adversity. The stories I’ve heard over the years have been inspirational. Some of these young people have had to face the loss of a parent, physical injury, learning disabilities or behavior problems. Students face adversity every day.
Bullying? It’s so common that many teachers and even administrators get overwhelmed. In primary grades it’s mostly pushing and shoving. However, a young child can inflict serious injuries. I remember one angry boy in Kindergarten who punched, kicked and pushed his classmates. His mom defended him, “He’s only five.” The principal wanted to ignore it. I couldn’t because my obligation was to the entire class. Eventually the boy’s bullying stopped, his behavior improved and he became a good student. There are, of course, other problems unique to our modern era.
Overwhelmed by technology? We are surrounded nowadays by computers, tablets and smart phones. Put yourself in the student’s position. Imagine what it is like being in a classroom or trying to study. It becomes much more challenging. Teaching at the college level I notice that students seem to be lost when I ask them to put their devices away. To take notes in class they have to rediscover paper. Books? How quaint. Research online is the preferred mode. Cut and paste is a lifeline.
Whatever happened to critical thinking? If mainstream society is any indication, one point of view is more than enough. From the nightly news broadcasts to televised political debates, the key is to get the zinger in. A good one-liner is enough in most cases to leave viewers with that self-satisfied feeling. Explain what you’re talking about? Are you kidding, what planet are you from? Unless a student focuses on critical thinking, uncritical acceptance becomes the order of the day.
Pay attention? Fifteen seconds is about all we can manage anymore. That’s another story.
Have you ever known students who have overcome adversity? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
October 15, 2105: Debating the Debates
My friend Irma called me early Wednesday morning. “Did you see the debate?” she asked. “I did. What did you think?” She said, “I loved it! Bernie has my heart, but Hillary has my vote.” It was her call, so I didn’t pursue lines of news analysis, nor elements of debate. She’s planning on retiring next year as an elementary school teacher. She said she wants to start her own education-related business working with parents and students. “I thought you wanted to work helping teachers,” given her Labor Studies background. “No,” she said, somewhat discouraged. “I can’t talk with right-wing teachers, and there are a lot of them, and I can’t work with left-wing teachers. You know.”
Her summary captures what’s wrong with the American political scene. A lack of communication and a lack of cooperation. In Tuesday’s Democratic Debate five candidates squared off, but two who took center stage are really the ones the media has been focusing on. CNN host Anderson Cooper asked candidates, “Which enemy are you most proud of?” Hillary Clinton said, “Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies…the Iranians…probably the Republicans.” Bernie Sanders said, “As someone who has taken on probably every special interest that there is in Washington, I would lump Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry at the top of my list of people who do not like me.”
Candidate Martin O’Malley stated clearly that America does not need another member of the Clinton or Bush dynasty in the White House. Nevertheless, the money is flowing to these presumed front runners. Despite rumblings to the contrary, both lead in the polls. Multi-million dollar PACs have put their greenbacks on the line. Will the 2016 presidential race prove big money wins all elections?
By the way, “My Friend Irma” was the first in a series of Martin and Lewis comedies, which opened in theaters in 1949. According to IMDb, the movie was about the misadventures of “Prototype dumb blonde Irma and her slacker, wheeler-dealer boyfriend Al…” In 1949 Hillary Clinton was two and Jeb Bush was born four years later. I wonder if either of them has seen the movie. Of course, male and female stereotypes of three generations ago have given way to realistic appraisals of each person as an individual. Or have they? That’s another story.
Have you ever found yourself debating the debates? Email email@example.com
Arne Duncan Failed Education 101
Earlier this week, the White House made a long-awaited announcement. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is stepping down in December. Duncan has been overseer of what many teachers call a failed education policy. Substituting “Common Core” for “No Child Left Behind” is smoke and mirrors designed to fool the American public. Taking a clue from both programs, any failure is Duncan’s.
What’s the antidote to an uninformed education policy? Here’s a first step that, apparently, Arne Duncan never tried. Start by listening, really listening, to experiences of classroom teachers. The Department of Education could host conferences at each grade level, K-12. People not only need to be listened to, but must feel free to express themselves - without reprisal. Here are two conversations I’ve had in the last month.
A Los Angeles Kindergarten teacher told me about all the testing he was required to do. I was surprised in that the new term had just begun. “And it doesn’t even help me,” he said. The test scores were sent off to be tabulated; he wouldn’t get them until the end of next semester, if then. Meanwhile, he was required to begin a curriculum entirely unrelated to the testing he had given to his students.
The husband of an Inland Empire teacher told me about the struggles his wife experienced. She had a combination class, which required her to teach two different grade levels. In the name of balance the administration followed the usual pattern in cobbling together a combination class. Regular students in the lower grade level and low performing students at the higher grade level are supposed to balance out. I can say from experience, they don’t. To complicate matters, several of her students had serious behavioral and cognitive problems.
Both classes suffered from large class sizes. Twenty students in a class was once a requirement in California Elementary Schools. The money spent on testing could be used to reduce class size.
At the White House Press Conference, President Obama announced Duncan’s replacement, senior Department of Education official John B. King, Jr. Since King will serve as acting secretary until the end of Obama’s term of office, the president avoids a congressional fight. The next president can make the appointment, if congress doesn’t eliminate the Department of Education altogether. That’s another story.
Have you ever seen a news report explaining how Arne Duncan Failed Education 101? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Poem to Capture the Moment”
Late Sunday afternoon I searched for a half hour to find a parking space. Skylight Books had a poetry book signing but the lot was full. A film crew had been in the area all day filming a one-minute promo for Goosebumps. The movie, based on the best-selling book series, stars Jack Black. Just in time for Halloween, Goosebumps, in 3D opens on October 16. Producers must anticipate a blockbuster, since the last-minute production probably cost them at least $150,000. More money than most poets will see in a lifetime!
When I arrived, Martin Ott had just finished reading from his new book of poetry, Underdays. Rick Bursky took the podium. He read selections from his new book, I Am No Longer Troubled by the Extravagance. I must admit, when it comes to poetry, I don’t get it. In fact, I only liked Robert Frost and Emily Dickenson, which I read in high school. But I feel appreciation of poetry is part of a well-rounded education. So, I wanted to attend a reading by two poets I had never heard of.
When the reading was over, both poets answered questions. What is poetry? I found Ott’s and Bursky’s answers intriguing. Ott said prose and poetry are often confused. He sometimes writes a poem and turns it into prose or vice versa. Busrsky said fiction is about story, and poetry is about language.
An incident that evening, the fast approaching total eclipse of the moon inspired me to write a poem. I’ve combined Ott’s and Bursky’s ideas.
A couple of decades ago I was talked into joining a poetry group that met in a public library. Each meeting, the hosts allowed participants to read two of their poems. I wrote a few in a kind of informal competition. About the same time I was teaching my bilingual first grade class to write Haiku in Spanish. It’s a formalized Japanese form of poetry dealing with nature. I hadn’t thought much about poetry since then. That’s another story.
Have you ever written a poem to capture the moment? Email email@example.com
If I didn’t listen to Coast to Coast AM, hosted by George Noory, I would miss a lot. For example, I learned about the total eclipse of the moon on Sunday night (9/27/15). Around 7:51 p.m. the moon will be so spectacular I have violated one of the principles of good writing. I remember being taught to avoid having too many adjectives. Some creative writing teachers insist that verbs don’t need adverbs and nouns stand better without any adjectives at all. Does Sunday’s eclipse deserve to be an exception? Here’s my research. You decide.
What’s a harvest moon? Let’s start with the length of days. The days are gradually growing shorter. This time of year, the sun rises later and later, and night falls earlier and earlier. The autumnal equinox occurs when the length of night and day are the same. In 2015, the autumnal equinox falls on September 28. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox is called the harvest moon. This year the harvest moon falls on September 23.
What’s a blood moon? Due to atmospheric effects the moon appears orange. Blood is not orange, but “pumpkin moon” does not have the same impact as “blood moon.”
What’s a super moon? The moon circles the globe every 24 hours. Sometimes it is closer to the earth, sometimes it is further away. On September 23 the moon is at the closest point in its orbit around the earth. Since the moon will be full at that point, it is called a super moon. An astronomer coined the term only thirty years ago, but it is now widely accepted. I remember seeing a movie, Enchanted April, set at a villa in Italy during the 1920s. The cinematographer’s version of a super moon, hovering over the English couples seemed unreal. Incidentally, it was during the Vernal Equinox, which occurs in spring.
What’s an eclipse of the moon? We know the moon reflects the light of the sun, except when the earth blocks the sunlight. Sometimes our planet blocks some of the sun’s rays. When earth blocks all the sunlight, the moon goes dark. Don’t miss it.
Wait, there’s more. Sunday’s full moon is the fourth lunar eclipse in a row. This rare event is known as a lunar tetrad. That’s another story.
Have you ever seen a super-harvest-blood-moon eclipse? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Stranger Than Fiction”
This June, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to visit the Shroud of Turin. Many believe the relic is the burial cloth of Jesus. It, and a second relic (Sudarium of Oviedo in Spain), the “cloth (which) was wrapped around Jesus’ head,” are mentioned in the Bible. There is a third relic, commonly known as the Veronica’s Veil. Nine years ago, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI visited “the tiny, picturesque town of Maoppello, in Italy’s Abruzzi region, 120 miles from Rome.” Benedict was the first Pontiff to make the pilgrimage. When I read “The Holy Face of Jesus of Manoppello” was going to be at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, I decided to visit. I have limited my story to 100 words. Why? As a writing exercise.
Everything outside the massive doors disappears as I walk down the aisle of the cathedral. People are dwarfed by the modern, yet traditional, house of worship. Light filters softly through translucent alabaster panels onto stone, tiles and wood below. Beneath organ pipes high above the main altar is a small altar bordered by white flowers. Visitors are standing, kneeling and walking around a transparent silken cloth in a golden frame. A face is visible from both sides. Getting closer, I take a picture with my cell phone. The screen goes blank. After dozens of attempts I finally capture the image.
Have you always wanted to write? Your story might be pure fiction, arising from your imagination. Would you prefer to begin with a thread of a story and embellish the truth? You could take it in a direction that gets people’s attention. Maybe you’d like to start with a true story such as the one I shared with you. Indeed, creative nonfiction is becoming increasingly popular. You use techniques of fictional storytelling to dramatize actual events. Join us for the Wrightwood Writers Workshop in the library from 3:00 to 5:00 this afternoon. What’s your idea? Start with 100 words. That’s another story.
Have you ever been inspired by a true story that was stranger than fiction? Email email@example.com
“Stranger Than Fiction”
This June, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to visit the Shroud of Turin. Many believe the relic is the burial cloth of Jesus. It, and a second relic (Sudarium of Oviedo in Spain), the “cloth (which) was wrapped around Jesus’ head,” are mentioned in the Bible. There is a third relic, commonly known as the Veronica’s Veil. Nine years ago, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI visited “the tiny, picturesque town of Maoppello, in Italy’s Abruzzi region, 120 miles from Rome.” Benedict was the first Pontiff to make the pilgrimage. When I read “The Holy Face of Jesus of Manoppello” was going to be at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, I decided to visit. I have limited my story to 100 words. Why? As a writing exercise.
Everything outside the massive doors disappears as I walk down the aisle of the cathedral. People are dwarfed by the modern, yet traditional, house of worship. Light filters softly through translucent alabaster panels onto stone, tiles and wood below. Beneath organ pipes high above the main altar is a small altar bordered by white flowers. Visitors are standing, kneeling and walking around a transparent silken cloth in a golden frame. A face is visible from both sides. Getting closer, I take a picture with my cell phone. The screen goes blank. After dozens of attempts I finally capture the image.
Have you always wanted to write? Your story might be pure fiction, arising from your imagination. Would you prefer to begin with a thread of a story and embellish the truth? You could take it in a direction that gets people’s attention. Maybe you’d like to start with a true story such as the one I shared with you. Indeed, creative nonfiction is becoming increasingly popular. You use techniques of fictional storytelling to dramatize actual events. Join us for the Wrightwood Writers Workshop in the library from 3:00 to 5:00 this afternoon. What’s your idea? Start with 100 words. That’s another story.
Have you ever been inspired by a true story that was stranger than fiction? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Living as Part of the Forest
Your senses are awakened in the forest. Even if you have spent time off the hill, when you smell the Jeffrey Pines, you know you’re back in Wrightwood. Late at night you look in silent contemplation as the moon casts a beam of light illuminating the trees. Early in the morning you hear crunching from high in a pine tree. A grey squirrel is munching on a pinecone- enjoying breakfast - bushy tail bouncing in rhythm with chomping jaws, paws turning the cone with amazing dexterity. When the little rodent is finished, watch out! A neighbor assures me grey squirrels can throw pinecones with incredibly good aim. I wonder if Goldminer Vincent ever got beaned.
Until 1926, Vincent lived deep in the Angeles National Forest. How much time did he spend contemplating nature? Some. After wandering the desert for several years in search of gold, he discovered Big Rock Creek. It was welcome relief. Valyermo Postmistress, Mrs. Noble, records Vincent’s experience in her diary. He speaks of the beauty he found. When he followed the stream to its origin he came upon the “prettiest place in the world.” He built his cabin and lived in that spot for sixty years. When I first visited Vincent’s Cabin in 1982 his “meat locker” was still there. The long wire hanging in a branch of the tall pine tree kept hungry bears from stealing his game. He told Mrs. Noble he “killed to eat, not for sport. There’s a difference.” Living alone in the shadow of Mt. Baden-Powell, the forest sustained him. There’s much more to his story.
Join friends and neighbors 7:00 p.m. Saturday night in the Table Mountain Amphitheatre, as Fred Hanrahan brings “Goldminer Vincent” to life. Generations have grown up on his performance. Enjoy the campfire sing-along, led this year by Wrightwood’s own Gayle Dowling. Then, let’s meet at Vincent Gap for a hike to Vincent’s Cabin, on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. I wrote the one-man show, “Goldminer Vincent”, twenty-eight years ago, in part, to bring attention to Vincent’s Cabin, badly deteriorating at the time.
Back to the squirrel. We can imagine what could have happened if the little rodent beaned Vincent after discarding its breakfast pinecone. Vincent might have thought, “Dinner!” That’s another story.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like living as part of the forest? Please email email@example.com
Your Own Short Story
Human beings are born storytellers. In prehistoric times cave dwellers gathered around a fire to hear tales of adventure, close escape and survival. Today we go to the theatre, watch movies, devour cable series or hover over a computer. Through it all, what intrigues us is being there when the story unfolds. A well-crafted story has the power to draw people in and leave them clamoring for more.
This season the Wrightwood Writers Workshop explores the short story. Over the next several months we’ll better understand how this form of creative writing can be especially challenging. Why? Because in miniature it contains all of the elements of a novella, novel or play. A short story writer does not have the restrictions of the poem or play nor the open spaces of the novella or novel.
How short is a short story? There seems to be a short to long range. The shortest short story would be about 2,250 words. That works out to nine (9) pages. The longest short story is usually about 20,000 words, which translates into eighty (80) pages. Sound overwhelming? The best way to tackle any creative writing is one paragraph at a time. That’s only a start. Planning helps propel your short story forward.
Over the last several weeks I have talked to several people, encouraging them to take part in the Wrightwood Writers Workshop. Some have written several short stories for their own enjoyment. Others told me they had great ideas, which they have not yet committed to paper. One woman said although she had an intriguing real-life story, she was afraid that people she wrote about would recognize themselves. One man shared an encouraging success story about his cousin. He wrote thirty short stories before winning a contest. Herein lies the secret to short story-writing success – keep on writing. Did I mention, keep on reading?
All forms of storytelling have basic elements. In our first session this week we’ll focus on these four elements: character; dialogue; setting; and, plot. Ready to give it a try? For those of you beginning the journey we’ll start with a few simple exercises to get your wheels turning. Do you already have something to share? Join us at the Wrightwood Library today from 3:00-5:00 in the afternoon. That’s another story.
Have you ever wanted to share your own short story? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A Rally to Remember”
The outdoor amphitheater in Alhambra Park offered Ronald Reagan an opportunity to launch his political career. On that pleasant afternoon forty years ago he spoke to a couple of hundred people. The crowd was small but enthusiastic. It was my first political rally and I didn’t know what to expect. The consensus was that he was nice but didn’t stand a chance. History proved that assessment wrong.
When I learned that Bernie Sanders was speaking at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles I decided to go. I knew the area well. It’s in the historic Adams District, where I was Assistant Credit Manager at the Auto Club, my first job. A few years later I began my Masters in Linguistics at USC. Sometimes, I would walk to the Coliseum. The Sports Arena, nearby, had special historical meaning. John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination for President at the Sports Arena in 1960.
On Monday, I was surprised at how new construction had changed the face of the Adams district and USC, now in its own building boom. The first sign of the popularity of Bernie’s rally was the stream of people walking down Figueroa. The parking lot ($20 cash!) was slowly filling up. I found a good seat in the one of the loges. People kept pouring in. Music, cheering, warm up speeches and – finally - Bernie. He was wearing a long sleeved white shirt without a tie. He said, “27,000! 17,000 inside and 10,000 who are waiting outside!”
As I approached the Sports Arena I was dismayed because long lines of people circled the venue. Would I get in? I saw someone I knew from KPFK and asked him where the line began. He said, “You don’t have to wait in line. Follow me.” He ushered me to a no-line entrance, and I was in. True in life as in politics, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s another story.
Have you ever been to a rally to remember? Please e-mail me email@example.com.
8/6/2015: “Best of Rivals”
An insistent typo made its way into last week’s column, “Political Bridge: Donald and Perot, Bernie and Nader.” My spell check changed Jeb to Jed. Copy editor Terri Hill told me about it, made the correction and submitted it. Nevertheless, Jed appeared in the print edition. It has been corrected online, thanks to Vicky Rinek. But I was left wondering, “Who’s Jed?” How about Jed Clampett, of the Beverly Hillbillies? After all, he could add comic relief to today’s Republican Presidential Debates on Fox.
Networks are always juggling for ratings. It’s true today as it was in 1968. That was the year of the William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal debates, documented in The Best of Rivals. It was a pivotal year in U.S. politics. Incumbent President Lyndon Johnson did not run. Democratic frontrunner Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The top networks, CBS and NBC, planned gavel-to-gavel coverage of both political conventions. ABC was in third place, didn’t have the budget, but wanted to capture the television audience. ABC executives persuaded Buckley and Vidal to offer a TV first – political commentary.
Buckley represented the Right and Vidal represented the Left. Both were members of what could be called the power elite. Going to a prestigious boarding school, having easy access to political decision makers – from Kennedy (Vidal) to Reagan (Buckley). Both had served in the Armed Forces. They had a lot in common but they hated one another. The debates haunted both men as long as they lived.
Noam Chomsky was one of the Firing Line guests whose image briefly flashed across the movie screen. I knew him as a Linguist but his political astuteness surprised me. When I was in the Master’s program at USC one of the students gave me a copy of Chomsky’s appearance on Buckley’s show. I was expecting the usually sharp-witted Firing Line host to browbeat his opponent into submission. Just the opposite happened. As Chomsky marshalled fact after fact, in his calm academic manner, Buckley was tongue-tied. A brilliant performance, one that is relegated to the forgotten pages of history. Surprisingly, at 86, Chomsky could still shake up the uniformed today, if the networks would invite him. The only place I regularly hear him is on Democracy Now! That’s another story.
Have you ever seen a battle of wits like the one in The Best of Rivals? Please e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.